Monday, November 2, 2009
It's pretty normal for Geof and me to eat dinner late on a weeknight. But, it's not normal for me to feel nauseous after chowing down. That was my first sign that the Wonder Twins were getting ready to activate in a BIG way!
It was about 11 p.m. on the night of Wednesday, Oct. 14, and I had waddled my way upstairs to try and calm the unsettled feeling I had brewing in my belly. After heaving my hefty frame onto the bed to relax after a long day at work, I started feeling what I was fairly certain were contractions.
I had only had a few only encounters previously with contractions, and they were the Braxton-Hicks "fake" contractions. This time, though, I felt certain the sharp pulses of pain were the real deal. I started timing them to figure out how fast they were coming. Judging by my trusty alarm clock, they came about every six to seven minutes and lasted about 30 seconds each time.
Make that "Oh, girls!"
At that point, I looked at Geof and said, "I think I better call the doctor. I'm pretty sure I'm in labor." Geof did what any smart husband would do. He turned a bit pale, kissed me and furiously began packing suitcases for a trip to the hospital.
I reached the on-call doctor around midnight and explained to him the pace and strength of the contractions. "They aren't unbearable by any means," I said. "Just very uncomfortable."
Dr. Tosky, who sounded tired, asked it this was my first pregnancy. When I replied in the affirmative, he suggested I spend the next few hours trying to get some rest. He urged me to stop watching the clock and call back if I felt the pain intensifying or lasting for longer periods of time.
I agreed, but falling asleep was much easier said than done. Because Twin A was on my far right side and Twin B was sitting in the center of my belly, my balance was all out of whack. When I tried to lie down, it hurt my back. When I tried to prop myself up against pillows, it hurt my back. When I paced around the bedroom, it hurt my back. I could quickly tell there was not going to be much sleeping that night.
Around 7 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15, I dragged myself downstairs to the den where I plopped down on the couch and started timing the contractions once again. After a half hour, I deduced that they were coming every five minutes. I was too sleep deprived to tell if they were really stronger than the night before, but they were definitely coming faster.
At that point, I did two things. First, I called work and left a message saying I wouldn't be coming in that day, because I might be in labor. (Seemed like a good reason to me.) Second, I called the on-call doctor who happened to be Dr. Buckley, one of my favorite docs in the practice and the one I'd hoped would deliver my children. I laid out the events of the previous evening and explained what I was currently feeling. He asked me to come to the office for an exam.
Before we loaded up the car and hit the highway, I was bound and determined to take a shower, deep condition my hair and shave my legs. I figured if this was labor, there was a good chance I wouldn't be able to do any of those things for several days. Plus, I didn't really want to appall the staff in the labor and delivery unit with my leg hair. (Hey - it's hard to bend down to reach your legs when you're nearly 35 weeks prego with twins!)
Following this brief beauty regiment, we went to the OBGYN office where Dr. Gausmann examined me. She said I was already dialated three centimeters and was 100 percent effaced. I was in labor! A quick ultrasound showed the girls were both facing head down, so a natural delivery would possible as long as they didn't change positions before or during delivery!
We were elated. And nervous. It was really happening!
Dr. Gausmann sent us straight over to the hospital, which is conveniently located next door to the doctor's office, for admission into the labor and delivery unit. The nurturing nurses had me change into a hospital gown, took my vital signs, and hooked me up to an IV and several other monitors. The hardest part was getting sensors in the right places to track the twins' heart rates. The poor girls were so squished together in my tummy that it made it hard to separate one baby's heartbeat from the other's.
Shortly after getting hooked up, Dr. Buckley came in to examine me. He determined I was only dialated 1.5 centimeters. He said he'd be back in a few hours to check my progress, and if I hadn't made much by then, he'd probably send me home to let the twins "cook" a little bit longer. In the meantime, the nurses encouraged me to walk around and let gravity help move the situation along.
I did. However, I think it took me about 30 minutes to make a single lap around the labor and delivery unit - an unimpressive time for a long-distance runner. I was walking like an 85-year-old woman in serious need of a cane. Or hip replacement surgery. I also had to stop at times when the contractions were especially strong to breathe through them. Geof was there right by my side every step of the way.
As I walked, I sipped on ginger ale, because my tummy was feeling a little off. I hadn't eaten anything since dinner the night before, and no one would let me eat anything but popsicles now that I was in the hospital. Ugh. I was starving! Even hospital cafeteria food sounded good.
After completing my laps, Dr. Buckley did as promised and came back in to check my progress around 3:45 p.m. I was dialated four centimeters! The walking (more like hobbling) had worked. I would not be sent home... or as I joked with Dr. Buckley, he would not be voting me off the island.
At that point, Dr. Buckley decided to break my water. He used a odd, crochete hook-looking instrument to do it. It didn't hurt at all, but the quick gush of warm fluid felt really weird. It was like sitting down in the bath tub. Only I was in a stiff hospital bed, not my big garden tub at home.
In addition to the weird sensation, I was also surprised by how quickly my contractions increased in intensity. Before, when the nurse had asked me to measure my pain on a scale of one to 10 with 10 being "hit by a Mack truck," I said I was a four, maybe a five. The contractions post popping the bag of waters skyrocketed straight to eight or nine.
I tried to breathe through them, but implementing the relaxation techniques we'd learned in childbirth class seemed pretty impossible at this point. Imagining myself sunnying on a secluded beach was replaced instantly with the urge to punch anyone who told me "You're doing great! Keep breathing." Who knew hormones could induce such violent tendencies? :)
For their own personal safety, it was probably a good thing that Geof and Dr. Buckley were having an in-depth conversation at the foot of my bed about surfing. I had been participating in the conversation until the first mega contraction hit and cordial discourse was no longer possible for me. However, I do think it's pretty gnarley that Dr. Buckley is a surfer.
Once the medical team realized how much pain I was in, they called in another doctor to give me the long-awaited epidural. I can't remember the doctor's name, but I do recall how excited he was to hear that I was having twins. He is the father of twins, and as great I as thought that was, I really wanted him to talk less about his kids and focus more on injecting me with serious pain-relieving drugs. It's amazing how your tolerance level depletes when you're about to give birth.
About 15 minutes after receiving the epidural, my legs started to feel warm and a little numb. The pain of the contractions was slipping away, and I felt comfortable for the first time all day.
Hooray for the wonders of modern medicine!
Another check of my cervix showed I was dialated nine centimeters! In the span of about an hour and a half, I had dialated five centimeters! Things were moving fast now.
Somewhere around 5:30 p.m., the doctor determined I was fully dialated and asked the nursing staff to prepare me for delivery. They wheeled my big bed down to the operating room, because despite our intentions to have a vaginal delivery, it was a real possibility that things could change during the procedure, and I would need to have a C-section. By already being in the OR, the doctors could conserve time and focus on getting the babies out, not logistics.
I should also mention the great irony of the day was that Geof, a photojournalist by trade, did not have our camera at the hospital. We had left it at the home of our friend, Sloane, who'd thrown us an amazing baby shower the previous weekend, so the only camera we had was on Geof's Blackberry. Not exactly what I'd imagined using to capture the first images of our newborns!
Throughout the day, Geof had texted Sloane to see if she could bring the camera to the hospital. Unfortunately, her son was sick, and she didn't think she could leave her Wake Forest home to come all the way into Raleigh to make the hand off.
Thankfully, Sloane had a change of plans and was able to drop off the camera. Being the smart reporter she is, she did not just leave it at the security desk in the lobby. She made sure it got upstairs to the labor and delivery unit... and eventually to us.
It couldn't have come at a more perfect time. As Geof was assuming his position at my bedside in the OR, a nurse tapped him on the shoulder and handed him the camera! Alleluia!
After getting me situated on the table and putting my legs in these huge, transformer-looking stirrups (way scarier than the ones at the OBGYN), we were ready to begin. Remember, because of the epidural, I could not feel my lower body or the contractions, so the nurses watched the monitors and told me when to start pushing.
Geof was my cheerleader sans skirt and pom pons. When the nurses said "push," so did he.
"Push! Push! Push!"
Then, he'd start counting. "One! Two! Three..." Although the nurses appreciated his enthusiasm, they did say, "Mr. Demi, can you please count a little slower?" He agreed to reign in the adrenaline and count to their beat.
I personally liked his faster counting, because it meant less time thinking my eyes were going to pop out of my head. I had never pushed so hard in my life. Even when I was pulling nine Gs with the Blue Angels during a media flight in Tucson. The pilot told me to "bear down" like I was going number two. This was WAY more intense, and I wasn't even upside down thousands of feet above the ground.
The pushing paid off quickly. At 6:06 p.m., Avery Caroline Levine came into the world. Dr. Buckley held her wiggling 4.5-pound frame up, so I could see her, and she was beautiful! I was so moved by the enormity of the event that I started crying. I couldn't believe the little person I'd been talking to in my belly for so many months was finally here!
My state of awe didn't last long. As soon as they whisked Avery away for cleaning and analysis, the pushing started again. A mere three pushes and eight minutes later, Alexa Lee Levine was born. At 4.6 pounds, she was just as beautiful and perfect as her sister. Geof, the proud papa, got to cut her umbilical cord.
Although both girls were very healthy and attentive, they were taken post delivery to the Special Care Nursery, because they were about five weeks premature, which is normal for multiples. Thankfully, before the nurses took the babies there, they let Geof and me hold them.
This was the moment I had been waiting for for so long and the real reason why I had felt so strongly about having a natural delivery. I wanted to cuddle with them in the first minutes of their lives and let them know how much I loved them. Thanks to the obedience of the girls (for following our requests to turn head down) and the skill of Dr. Buckley and the Rex delivery team, I got to have my moment.