Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
+ + + + +
Shift change must be around 7 or 7:30 because at 7:40 we awaken to a flurry of activity.
Bam! Overhead lights blind my puffy eyes. Let the circus begin!
"Hi, I'm your new nurse Kathleen. This is Renu. She's a student and she'll be shadowing me."
But who are all these other people?? A stream of people is flowing into the once dark room, pushing carts, moving furniture, and generally throwing our fragile sense of balance into upheaval.
Amid the frenzy, enters a tall, brawny man with what looks like a fake tan. He's dressed in the typical blue-green hospital scrubs, but squeezed on his head is a scrub cap covered with bright yellow happy faces.
They look a little too happy to be worn by a man who wields large needles for a living and I start to feel like I'm in a scene from Pee Wee's Big Adventure. It is a nightmare sequence. Pee Wee is envisioning maniacally happy clown surgeons carrying very large sharp instruments, taking obvious pleasure in their sinister intentions, which, in the movie, entail some monstrous disfiguration of his beloved bike.
Except in my scene it's my wife.
Then, the anesthesiologist speaks.
"Hi, I'm Doctor Pf-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-feiffer. I'll be your anaes-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s," he tilts his head to get it out, "s-s-s-thesiologist."
I nearly burst out laughing and crying all at once. It is all I can do to bite my lip at the absurdity of it. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not poking fun. But at this moment of sleep deprivation and fraught nerves it is so unexpected and ridiculous I nearly lose it.
Dr. Pfeiffer sets up his supply cart next to Shannon's bed and the nurse sits me in a chair on the other side facing Shannon who is sitting on the edge. She sculpts us into position with Shannon arching her spine forward to allow for the needle, and me leaning forward with my forehead against Shannon's. Her breath is hot on my face.
This position is supposed to comfort the patient and keep her in the proper position but I think it's actually a precautionary measure: if the husband can't see the giant needle going into his wife's spine, he's less likely to go postal.
As we huddle there, Trene—you know, the nurse I'm not bitter at—rattles our privacy curtain one last time, tells us her shift is over, then leans in real close and delivers a final inspirational speech. Like we weren't weepy enough already.
"You know what you two?," her breath smells of coffee, "I'm very, very proud of you. The way you've worked together here in this room tonight is something special. You don't see that very often. And I know everything didn't go exactly how you wanted it to, but honestly it's not gonna matter. In eighteen years, when your little girl is standing up there graduating from high school, it's not gonna matter that you had an epidural. What matters is how you parent. And it's obvious to me from what I've seen here tonight that you're gonna be excellent parents."
The injection goes smoothly and in a few minutes the circus clears out of our room and Shannon starts losing feeling in her legs. The contractions don't hurt any more.
Thank God the contractions don't hurt anymore.
If the last attempt at a nap got me a little teary eyed, this knowledge that Shannon is no longer suffering, combined with the sudden quiet after the swift exodus of the freakshow ruptures my water main. I have never been so emotional in my life. It is our first chance—at least as a couple—to step back from the pain and urgency of the ordeal and really appreciate what it was we just went through. It is the first time we get to tell each other the story that we are still in.
I weep and ask forgiveness for being so selfish when I tried to sleep while she was still in pain. I finally get to tell her how hard it was to let her experience the pain and not ask them to fix it, right away, with medication. We laugh and hug and high-five.
With the pain gone, it feels a little like the process is over, like we have been tested, and whether or not we have passed the test, it is over now.
+ + + + +
Baby reminds me that she's still in there, just waiting to permanently and completely alter the course of our lives.
+ + + + +
The medical staff intermittently monitors the epidural and all Shannon's other vitals but she finally gets some rest.
Shannon's family has been in the waiting room all night, waiting to throw a birthday party. They are making the best of their time and have even become the unofficial hosts of the waiting room, greeting newcomers, getting to know other expectant grandparents, watching movies on their laptops, and doing whatever it takes to cope with the extreme anticipation of not knowing what is happening behind the security doors. They haven't heard any news since the Pitocin started.
Whenever our nurse wanders into their domain they ask her for an update but the nurses, for legal reasons, aren't allowed to disclose such information. And frustratingly, instead of telling the Graceys about this communicational hurdle, Trene, or whoever, merely says they will check on us, and then barges into our room in the middle of some incredibly intense contraction and tells us that "the parents" want an update.
Well, as hard as I'm sure it was for Louie and Teresa (and Alli and Taylor) to wait for the news, I wasn't about to leave my wife in agony. But now, finally, with Shannon really resting, I meet Teresa in the hallway and tell her that Shannon and baby are both still safe and healthy, that Shannon has had an epidural, that we've re-introduced Pitocin and we're still hoping for a vaginal birth.
+ + + + +
On the next episode of Birth Story: Goodbye Vaginal Birth