Charlie Pauline Dannheim

It was a completely mundane Saturday night. I was standing at the stovetop, making quesadillas for a late dinner after a long day of running around. All of a sudden, I felt a pop and water gushed down my legs. I ran over to Mike and with a shocked smile, said to him, "I think my water just broke."

For context, let me backtrack a little bit. I was "due" on Thursday, September 28th, 2017. On that day, Mike and I went in for a visit at Hollywood Birth Center, which had been caring for me throughout my whole pregnancy. I had chosen to work with a birth center over a hospital for a number of reasons - I don't like hospitals, I wanted a more holistic approach, my goal was for an unmedicated vaginal delivery, the list goes on. The only hiccup is that birth centers can't care for you after 42 weeks, they have to pass you along to the hospital. So my midwives started to get slightly concerned when at 40 weeks, I wasn't showing any signs of progress. I wasn't dilated and my cervix wasn't very soft. They gave me a bottle of herbs (blue and black cohosh) and instructions to start pumping using my breast pump to stimulate oxytocin in my body. They also recommended evening primrose oil and lots of walking.

"Great, I can do that", I said.

After my due date came and went, each day afterwards felt like it lasted an eternity. At one week overdue, we headed back in for another appointment. This time was for a biophysical ultrasound and NST or non-stress test. This was to check on the baby to see how she was doing  in there - they assessed her amniotic fluid levels and how well she was handling my Braxton Hicks contractions. Everything looked good and we were sent home with a clean bill of health for the baby. But still no signs of labor.

On Saturday, October 7th - nine days past my due date - we went in to see the midwife again. And again, not a lot of progress. Even after a week of herbs, breast pumping and daily walks, I wasn't opening up. My cervix was starting to thin, but I was only 1 cm dilated. She recommended moving thing along by doing a membrane sweep - which feels about as sexy as it sounds. They essentially use a finger to break up the membranes that hold the amniotic sac to the uterine wall. In short, since I wasn't dilated, it was brutal. She checked the baby's vitals and everything looked good. She sent me home with instructions to do more herbs, pump and walk and see how my body responded to the membrane sweep. Mike and I got lunch at the Hollywood Farmer's Market and took an evening walk on the beach. Afterwards, we hit up lululemon and Whole Foods and went home to make dinner. And so there I was, standing in the kitchen when I felt the warm rush of amniotic fluid running down my leg.

I immediately texted my midwife and my mom. "It's happening!" I thought to myself, not really sure what was expected to happen next. Mike took over making dinner while I changed my clothes and we settled in to watch Game of Thrones - our late pregnancy addiction. My midwife advised me to get rest if I could, so we went to bed that night and in the back of my head I kept wondering when my contractions would start.

I had some trouble sleeping but woke up at 7:30am the next day to a text from Mimi, my midwife, asking "how are you doing?" I gave her a call to let her know I hadn't had any contractions and was able to get some sleep. She was perplexed. Because my water had already been broken 9 hours at this point, she advised me to eat a big breakfast and take two tablespoons of castor oil to see if that would jumpstart things (it irritates the digestive tract which can often trigger labor). I blended the castor oil into a smoothie and waited. Nada. No contractions. Meanwhile, Mimi also arranged a labor inducing massage for me which used aromatherapy and trigger points. At 11am, the therapist arrived and halfway through the massage, I started getting contractions. But when she wasn't hitting the trigger points, they subsided. After the massage, she recommended I lay in bed with Mike, as the closeness between a couple also can trigger oxytocin and contractions. It worked. We snuggled for an hour, timing my contractions, which were strong and painful... and finally working into a rhythm. We called Mimi and we all agreed to meet at the birth center at 3pm. The only problem was that once I stopped cuddling with Mike, my contractions stopped. 

Once we arrived at the center, Mimi checked me and let me know I was still only 1 centimeter dilated. It was a frustrating revelation, as I knew I had to get to 10 cm for a vaginal delivery and it meant the painful contractions earlier weren't doing anything. She also started me on an IV of antibiotics since my water had been broken for 16 hours at this point and the risk of infection was rising with each passing hour. At the birth center, we tried all kinds of things, breast pumping, laying with Mike, walking and even though the contractions were incredibly hard on me, still - no progress with dilation. I was hurting so much that I went into the birth tub for relief. But despite the pain, my body wasn't responding. At 8:30pm we knew it was time to make a decision. My body wasn't making progress with contractions and even though the baby's vitals were fine, we were losing time. We needed to transfer to the hospital.

Mike and I got in the car and drove with Mimi to the hospital. After we did our paperwork, they stuck me in a wheelchair and wheeled me up to our labor and delivery room. The OB/GYN came in, who we had met at a previous appointment because he works directly with the birth center, and we had all hit it off there, so I felt comfortable with him. As we explained our predicament - water had been broken 24 hours at this point and I was only dilated to 2 centimeters - he asked "ok, so what are we gonna do here?"

"I'd really like to try for a vaginal delivery," I told him.

So he ordered a bag of pitocin and we started the hospital labor journey. Our nurse, Flavia, was a total godsend - keeping me calm and collected even though we were in the hospital - the last place we wanted to be. I had thought about it on the ride over and remembered what many moms had told me before... don't try to be a hero, so let them know that I wanted an epidural, especially since I was going to be laboring on pitocin - it's like contractions on steroids. They wanted me to dilate to 6 cm before they issued the epidural, so we settled in for the wait. At 1am, I got hooked up to the IV of antibiotics and pitocin and gradually my contractions started to get more intense. By 4am, I was in some pretty serious pain and was only dilated to a 4. Mike was lying in the hospital bed with me at this point, holding me through the contractions. Having contractions on pitocin without an epidural was hands down the single most painful experience of my life. The pain was so severe that by 6am, I was on the floor, sobbing and crawling on hands and knees in pain. When a contraction hit, I would curl into childs pose and cry. It was terrible. They came into do another internal check to see if I had made it to 6 cm and I was in such searing pain, I couldn't even fathom the thought of having an exam. "I need the epidural!" I kept shrieking, "I can't do it anymore". They paged the anesthesiologist and finally she arrived, at the moment when I seriously was contemplating if life was worth living. I was in a dark, dark place. I was having such severe contractions that I could barely hold still for her to administer the epidural. I hunched forward, tears pouring down my face and then... bliss.

I'd never been so relieved. It was like the gates of heaven opened. The change was instantaneous. I could finally relax my body, and hopefully the stress reduction would let my uterus do it's thing and continue to dilate. They had asked Mike to leave for the epidural (not sure why) and when he came back in, I was a new person. And I felt like that too. I wouldn't wish the pain from my pitocin contractions on anyone. On the epidural, I was numb from the waist down and couldn't move my legs anymore so Mike and I hung out in the room, napped a little - and even watched an episode of Game of Thrones. Everything seemed to be going fine - the baby's heartbeat sounded great and I was still contracting, just without being able to feel the pain. The nurse came in around 2pm to checked my dilation and said "You're good." "I made it to 10 cm?!" I asked. "Yes, and 100% effaced. We're going to get you set up to start pushing. But first we need the baby's head to move down more so we're going to turn you on your side." 

I was so excited. I started thanking them for letting me take the time to labor on pitocin to get to fully dilated. Mike and I turned to each other, "we're going to meet our baby soon!" I couldn't wait.

After resting on my side for a while, a group of nurses came back in to get me set up to push. The OB/GYN on call came in as well, since my preferred OB had already left at that point. I gave the first push, and they noticed the baby's heart rate dropped as I was pushing, but went back up once I stopped. They re-evaulated my position and had me push a second time. And on the second push, the baby's heart rate dropped again. Only this time, it stayed low after I pushed. They gave me one more chance to push - and this time the baby's heart rate dropped to the lowest it had been. All eyes turned to the heart rate monitor next to my bed. The heart rate stayed low. Scary low. Normally a baby's heartbeat sounds like a fast horse gallop. This was like a slow drip of water. Thump. Thump. Thump. The tension in the room was palpable. The OB/GYN turned to the nurses. "Prep the operating room NOW. We have to do an emergency c-section." 

Everyone got into action. In a matter of seconds, they unplugged me from all the machines and started wheeling me towards the OR. In the process, they broke the top of my IV line. They rushed me into the OR and took Mike away so he could get scrubs. Because I was no longer hooked up to the heart rate monitor, I couldn't hear my baby's heartbeat anymore. I had no idea if she was still alive in there. All I could do was go deep inside and pray.

Once in the OR, they immediate started prepping me for surgery. They put up the curtain so I couldn't see what was going on. It was such a blur for me. The anesthesiologist and doctor were talking, saying how they couldn't give me any anesthesia because my IV line was broken. The anesthesiologist turned to me and said "we're going to have to put you under." I screamed out, "no fucking way! I am not going to miss this!" There was no way my child was coming into the world without me being present for it. But they had to make moves, so they started cutting me open using just the epidural, since I was still pretty numb from it - even though it was 8 hours after it had been administered. Everything was frantic. Was she alive? Where was Mike? I started screaming. "Where is my husband?! WHERE IS MIKE?!?" and a few seconds later, I heard it. The happiest sound on earth.

A baby's cry. My baby's cry.

Tears of fear and pain turned to joy. Mike yelled over to me, "I'm here, I'm with her!" 

Once they pulled her out, Mike was allowed into the room - and the first thing he saw was my stomach cut open with insides laying on my belly. He looked away before he could pass out and a nurse grabbed him, ripped his scrubs open and then put the baby inside his shirt for skin-to-skin contact on his chest. Meanwhile on my end, the epidural was wearing off. As they stitched me up, I was able to register the intense pain. "Ow!" I yelled, "I can feel that!" They scrambled around and gave me a shot and somehow managed to make it bearable again.

Mike came over to me with the baby inside his shirt. We were both sobbing as I saw her for the first time. "She's perfect, she's just so perfect," I said between tears. Another nurse helped to lay the baby on my chest so that we could get skin-to-skin. For the first time, I felt my daughter on the outside instead of the inside. I never wanted that moment to end. It was everything dreams are made of.

They finished stitching me up and wheeled me off to triage for recovery and sent the baby to the nursery to be checked. In triage, they gave me more pitocin, more antibiotics (my water had been broken 42 hours by this point) and another drug to start contracting my uterus that made me shake uncontrollably. I was so drugged and so exhausted that I felt like a shell of myself.

Since we hadn't expected to be in the hospital, and the past 24 hours had been traumatic, Mike headed home to shower and regroup before our long hospital stay. A few hours later, they brought me up from triage into our maternity suite and moments after that, they wheeled our precious baby into the room. I was able to register her whole body, her perfect little face, her ten fingers and toes and rosebud lips. Later on, we found out that the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and there was meconium in the amniotic fluid - a sign that the baby was in distress. Her birth was not at all how I planned or wanted it to go, but it was exactly how it needed to happen. And I am so grateful for everyone who helped to bring Charlie Pauline Dannheim into this world. I couldn't imagine my life without her and I'm completely obsessed with this little being. Despite the stress, the chaos, the exhaustion, we received the most incredible gift and miracle. And it's probably the hormones, but I love her so much, it makes me cry to think about it. I love you, Charlie, and I'm so happy you're here.

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