Let's talk about my nurse, Andrea.
She came on shift at 5:00 Tuesday evening- 9 1/2 hours into my labor- and stayed with me until 5:00 am. The hospital that I delivered at has a policy that each woman attempting a VBAC has a dedicated nurse. This was AWESOME, because it allowed us to do a lot of talking.
At about 8:30, I sent DH home to be with LJ, knowing that I was in for a long night, and it was unlikely that EJ would be born before morning. I saw no need to keep the poor man up all night, just to watch me labor. Especially with LJ needing to be at school in the morning.
After he left, Andrea and I sat and watched Phineus and Ferb (don't judge me!) and shot the breeze between contractions, while she kept me in good spirits even though she made my them hurt worse by making me laugh through them. We spent a good part of the night walking the halls together, trying to get things to progress a little bit faster. At one point, a particularly heinous contractions grabbed me, and left me clutching the nurses station just trying to catch my breath. I managed not to cry, and actually remembered to breath through the whole thing. When it was over, I looked up to see my Dr. sitting at the desk. "Are you impressed?" I jokingly asked, proud that I had managed not to collapse during the contraction, "Not really." he said, completely serious. Andrea, just grabbed my hand, and helped me keep walking. We talked about how I knew I was losing support. At this point, I was about 18 hours in, and the staff was starting to talk. I was only dilated to about a 5, and even though my contractions where strong, and only spaced about 2 minutes apart, not much was happening (if only we had known...). With the attitude of my Dr., and the other nurses, I felt like I needed to defend my choice to keep going. I completely vented to Andrea, and told her why it was so important to me to try for the VBAC. I told her how I was scared to death that I was going to miss out on really experiencing Miss E's birth. I wanted to feel present, and like I was actually a part of it. I know that sounds crazy - but it is exactly what I missed with LJ. I didn't want that to happen again. I explained that a c-section felt like failure to me. Another sign that I wasn't meant to have children. I mean, here I am... unable to get pregnant on my own, and obviously unable to give birth on my own. How much more defective** can I be? I needed this experience to be a good one.
As we walked, she listened to me with her full attention. She was patient and kind, and did her best to be understanding. She never offered her own opinion, but was completely respectful of my choice. She never made me feel crazy, or like this task would be impossible. She was just what I needed. The more time passed, the crazier things got. Soon, the contractions where getting more and more painful. I still wasn't ready for an epidural, so Andrea suggested another medication that could be given through my IV. It didn't take the pain away, but it made it so I didn't really care about it. LOL Its effects didn't last long, but it was just enough relief to allow me to recharge for a bit. Luckily, I got the dose just before the whole breech scare, so it didn't panic me as much as it normally would have. Perfect timing.
At 5:00 am, I said goodbye to Andrea, and thanked her for being so wonderful to me. I asked if she would be there then next night, but she told me that she was off for the rest of the week. She told me that she hoped everything went smoothly, and hugged me before she left.
My new nurse was Peggy, a completely competent nurse I'm sure, but not what I'd call a "people person." Throughout the morning, she made little comments that put me back in a defensive state. She told me repeatedly that she was "ready for this labor to be over and this baby to get here." She said this in a completely irritated manner. As if I was inconveniencing her by laboring for so long. She didn't have any other patients, and obviously I was not exciting enough for her. When my Dr. came in to check on me and break my water, he was obviously frustrated. When I had talked to him during my pregnancy and asked him how long he would let me labor, he always told me "as long as you want." I just don't think he fully appreciated how committed I was.
Soon after my water was broken, my Dr. ordered the pitocin drip to be started. That's when things really took off. I had already been contracting, and thought that pain was pretty bad, but I had NO IDEA!!! I could not believe the intensity of those contractions. I asked for an epidural. I didn't expect two. When they didn't work, my nurse was annoyed. So was the anesthesiologist. Peggy was getting frustrated that it was so hard for me to breathe through the contractions. "No! Don't hold your breath! Breathe!", she kept saying. As if I was doing it on purpose. I honestly could not make my lungs inflate. The pain truly was crippling.
Around 1:30, in the middle of a horrific contraction, I opened my eyes to find Andrea standing in my doorway. "I just stopped in to see how you were doing." she said. Seeing that I was struggling, and becoming more distressed by the second, she calmly made her way to my bedside, where she took my hand and leaned over me just enough so that I could make eye contact easily. "You can do this." she told me. She modeled her breathing into a slow steady pace, gently talking me through the peak of the contraction. "Almost done" she said, glancing over to the monitor. When it was over, she explained that she had been there for a meeting and had decided to see how I was doing, but that she was on her way out. I thanked her for coming just as another contraction set in. I was already in tears and unable to speak when I heard her say goodbye and exit my room.
About 1/2 hour later someone knocked on my door. I was more than surprised to see Andrea walk back into my room... in scrubs; her street clothes peaking out from under the sterile green fabric with "central laundry" printed near the collar. "As I was leaving, I noticed they were a little understaffed, so I offered to stay and be your nurse." she told me with a soft smile. I never saw Peggy again.
For the remainder of the afternoon, Andrea sat in the chair next to my bed watching the monitors. She dropped the bottom of my bed down, and pulled out some foot rests that I was able to brace myself on, as well as handles that I could squeeze. It was the most comfortable position I could find. During each contraction, DH and Andrea took turns leaning on my knees, applying counter pressure to my pelvis to help alleviate some of the pain. I was exhausted. I hadn't slept since Sunday night, and the lack of sleep was working against me. Each contraction left me shaking uncontrollably, and sometimes sobbing. I tried meditation, and I tried talking myself through them. "It will go away... it will go away... it will go away..." Nothing was working. By 6:30 pm, I had reached my breaking point. I begged Andrea to turn off the pitocin. "I can't do it." I told her. "I'm just so tired." I sobbed. DH tried his best to calm and reassure me but it didn't work. The monitor showed that my contractions were right on top of each other, and it was impossible to find relief. I felt hopeless. Andrea checked me again. 7 cm, 0 station. EJ was "sunny-side up". Posterior. Basically, she was facing the wrong way, and it was slowing things down. All I could do was cry. I had never been in more physical pain in my life. Every contraction felt like a red hot poker stabbing my pelvic bone and each one got more and more painful. I felt like my insides were being ripped apart, and I knew there was nothing that could make it stop. I was desperate. I told Andrea to tell the Dr. I was done. I was ready for a c-section. It was just too hard. I wasn't strong enough.
I could barely get the words out. I couldn't believe what I was saying. It felt wrong down to my core, but I just couldn't do it anymore. I was in so much pain. DH and Andrea both just sat there for a few moments. Probably unsure of what to say. It was at this point that Andrea solidified herself as so much more than my nurse. "You can do this." she told me. "I know it's hard. But I know how much this means to you, and I don't want to leave here knowing that I let you quit." "No regrets." She said. "We're going to do this one contraction at a time. Can you give me just one more hour?" She pleaded. "You're in transition. This is the hardest part, but it goes quickly. 7-10 goes really fast. I'm not going to lie. It's going to suck. It's going to hurt. But you CAN do this." "Just one. more. hour." "I'd hate for you to give up now when you are so close. Just 3 more cm. Will you give me just one. more. hour."
"Okay. One more hour." I told her through sobs.
She was right. It sucked. It hurt... a lot, but I was so lost in what was happening, that I lost all track of time (tricky, tricky!). 2 1/2 hours later she checked me again. 8 1/2 cm. Just then my Dr. came in to check me also. "She starting to get a little puffy" he said. Andrea agreed and told him that she was going to have me try some other positions to see if it would help. She explained that it was my cervix that was "puffy" and she had me turn around and lean on the back of the bed (which was set up more like a chair). I think the hope was that it would help Miss E to turn so that maybe I'd progress faster than my cervix was swelling.
Now is where I should mention that my room was the room closest to both the elevators and the waiting room. Why do I tell you this? Well, because this position was the most horrifying, agonizing, and nightmare inducing part of the whole experience. I spent most of the next 45 min. screaming into the mattress at the top of my lungs, frightening every visitor that dared step onto that floor of the hospital, I'm sure. The pressure I felt was alarmingly intense, and coupled with the pain I was already in... well, I'm honestly surprised I didn't pass out. Between contractions, Andrea wheeled in everything we would need for delivery. The bassinet, the scale, and a tray of surgical tools were all brought in. I was getting excited. We were close, I just knew it.
After she set everything up she checked me again, and her face changed. She threw her gloves in the trash, and told me that it was over. "The baby is right there!" she said. But my cervix was swelling too quickly, and there was nothing that we could do about it. I had gone from an 8 1/2 to a 7, and went from being "paper thin" in effacement back to about 70%. Exactly where I had started. She looked so sad as she left to page my Dr.. It was so strange. I was equally devastated and relieved at the same time. There was finally an end in sight, just not the ending I had hoped and worked so hard for. When Andrea returned, she told me that my Dr. as well as the anesthesiologist were called into an emergency case, and I would have to wait an hour and a half. I thought I was going to die. "I know you need a Dr.'s order, but I don't care! Pleeeeaaaase turn off the pitocin!" I begged. "It's my body, and I override whatever the Dr. says anyway!" Andrea didn't hesitate at all and shut off my IV. She told me that it would only take about 10 minutes for the drug to be out of my system. Too bad my body didn't get the memo. All it did was slow down the contractions. They were still just as terrible, and just as intense. Only now, they were 3-4 minutes apart.
Everything was taken from my room. 2 other nurses came in and wheeled out the bassinet, and all the tools needed for a vaginal delivery. I watched them take my dream away.
"What do you need me to do?" Andrea asked. "What do you want me to tell the nurses that will take the baby when she is delivered?" I explained that I wanted to be there when she was weighed and measured. I wanted to hold her as soon as possible, and I didn't want them to bathe her until I could be there. She listened to everything I said and then disappeared. I didn't see her again until I was in the operating room.
As soon as Miss E was delivered, she was handed off to the NICU nurses in an adjoining room. DH went with her. As soon as he was able, he brought her back in and held her next to me. I couldn't stop smiling. As soon as I was sewn up, and they dropped the curtain, DH placed EJ in my arms and I held her as we exited the operating room. When we returned to my room, Andrea had set up the scale and a bassinet. She banned the other nurses, and she did all the measurements herself. I was so glad she was there. She was honestly so thrilled for us. She grinned the whole time she held Miss E. She happily made impressions of EJ's perfect little feet and then left us to have some time alone with our new daughter.
About an hour later, the spinal block had worn off enough that I could walk. I decided that it would be best for me to take a little jaunt through the hallways to help stave off the pain that I knew would soon set in from my incision. (Seriously, Girls... if you have to have a c-section, get up and walk ASAP. It will save your ASS!!!!) When I walked out into the hall, Andrea saw me and offered to walk with me. The whole time she praised me for getting up, and told me how amazing I was. "You're even standing up straight! That is sooo good!" She gushed. When I started to feel my legs weaken, I walked back to my room and Andrea stayed at the nurses station to finish up some paperwork.
At about 3:30 am, 14 hours after she had stepped into my room "just to check" on me, she knocked on my door to say "goodbye". She came in and held EJ for a bit longer, posed for a few pictures, and even wrote down her address so that I could send her a birth announcement. I told her how grateful I was for her, and how I would never be able to thank her enough for all she had done for me. I barely held in the tears.
When she left, I lost it.
The next day I made sure to talk to the Nurse Manager, Joyce, and tell her everything that Andrea had done. I cried through the whole meeting. I was so frustrated because no matter how hard I tried, I could not adequately portray just how important a role Andrea had played, and how grateful I was for her. I told Joyce how I was sure that I would not have gotten through the night without Andrea, and how amazed I was that she had even offered to stay with me when it was her day off to begin with. She seemed genuinely impressed, and assured me that Andrea would be recognized for such amazing care. She then asked if she could send the hospital's marketing director in to talk to me as well. I agreed instantly. He came in the next day, and I retold the story to him. He told me that they were having a special recognition dinner soon, and that Andrea would be invited and honored along with a handful of other hospital employees. I told him to give her a raise. Really? It was the very least I could do.
It has been 4 weeks. I have thought about Andrea frequently, and have started many letters to tell her "thank you", but haven't managed to get the words quite right. I'm not sure I ever will. There is so much I wish I could say to her, but it would probably just come out creepy and make me sound obsessed (which I'm sure I do in this post... sigh). But really? How do you tell someone who has affected your life so deeply just how much it has meant to you? I'm not sure the words exist. A letter is somewhere on its way to her home right now, and I can only pray that it makes her feel loved and appreciated.
I really hope she gets that raise.