Thursday, September 18, 2014

pregnancy pain, epidurals, back spasms, and spinal headaches.

Note: this is not John's birth story. I do want to share that in time, but I wanted it to be a separate account from all the tough things that came along with his birth. He is happy and healthy and so worth every ounce of pain/discomfort it took to get him here.

It's been one week since our little John made his grand appearance.

In the past week (-ish) a lot of things that should have easily gone right, have gone seriously wrong. Which has resulted in a really tough time for me over here, if I'm being perfectly honest.

I don't know that I've had many super tough physical trials in my life....definitely not any big illnesses or physical set-backs of that sort. I've never even broken a bone or been to the ER (before this). In fact, the biggest medical struggle I've had aside from my current predicament came ironically, right after Rae was born. My recovery from her birth was kind of a freak accident....super rare and really really horrible. It was literally traumatizing for me and it was a huge fear of mine as we decided to get pregnant again. Garrett (and everyone) assured me multiple times that this recovery could never be as bad as Rae's...little did we know.

This past week has been a doozy for me. Heck, this whole pregnancy has been a doozy. I started having horrible hip/pelvis pain around 26 weeks. Pain so bad that I was pretty much on bed rest for the last quarter of my pregnancy. It would come on strongest at night, and sleeping became nearly impossible. Garrett woke up multiple times to me whimpering in my sleep as I tried to turn over or adjust my legs. For the past couple weeks, he would literally have to tuck me into bed...lifting up my legs for me to place a pillow just right. Simply raising my knee was too painful that body would ignore my command to do it.

At my 32 week ultrasound, baby was measuring about 10 days big. I was also having regular contractions, so my doctor was convinced that this baby would arrive early. We talked about inducing at 39 weeks (which my doctor recommended based on baby's size, to reduce risk of c-section), but he was certain that I'd go into labor on my own before then so we didn't officially put it on the schedule.

Well, week 39 came and went and baby did not come on his own. We tried to get on the induction schedule, but luck was against me and I kept getting pushed back. There were 3 or 4 nights that I went to bed hoping to get a call in the middle of the night to come start my induction...and I'd wake up in the morning with no missed calls and still very much pregnant. The physical pain of those last few days was only getting worse, and my mental capacity to handle it was seriously dwindling.

There were a couple spurts of regular contractions in those last few weeks, but since I was in so much pain, I couldn't walk or move to help them along. Because of the pain, I was basically on bed-rest, but being on bed-rest stalled labor, which meant that the pain continued. It was a tough catch-22. For a couple days I tried to walk through the pain, but it quickly became unbearable and there was really nothing I could do. I felt totally stuck.

I remember telling Garrett that in my mind, I was literally going to be pregnant I honestly could not see it ending...and I felt doomed that this was my new reality.

Through a bit of good luck, one day I happened to come in contact with the induction scheduler at my hospital, Meg. Normally she only works with doctors and nurses, but I happened to get in contact with her and was able to build a bit of rapport with her. I was totally candid with her about my situation (and I may have cried to her over the phone a time or two), and she ended up being a huge factor in finally getting me scheduled to be induced.

From the beginning of my pregnancy, with a due date of September 13th, I always hoped that baby would be born any day other than September 11th. But when that was my only chance to get this baby out, I honestly couldn't have cared less. At about 4am on September 11th, I found myself wide awake, literally pleading in prayer that I'd be able to get induced that day. The call to come in came around 5 and I started crying when the nurse told me that they had room for me....I'm sure she was so confused.

We threw our bags in the car and happily raced off to the hospital. Again, if I'm being honest, I tried to focus my attention and anticipation on meeting this little one inside of me, but really all I could think about was finishing this pregnancy.

They started me on pitocin and I told my nurse that I'd be happy to get my epidural at any point. I'd already been through so much pain throughout the pregnancy, I would have been happy to get the epidural weeks ago....I wasn't about to attempt to handle a single contraction.

The anesthesiologist injected me with litocane and let it sit for a minute to numb me before he placed the epi. But as soon as he poked me, I screamed out in pain. I could feel everything. I tried to hold still as the nurse grabbed me and wrapped my arms around a pillow for comfort. The anesthesiologist poked me again, and still I could feel everything. As hard as I tried to hold still, I know I was moving and writhing in pain. The nurse told me later that at this point she and the anesthesiologist were totally confused, and looked at each other like, "what the heck is going on?!" I shouldn't have been able to feel anything after the litocane, but I could feel everything and it was excruciating. He poked me one more time before jamming another whole dose of litocane in my spine. Finally, after his 6th poke, I was numb and he was able to successfully place the epi.

I've never had an experience in my life where I seriously questioned "why me?!" but after all that I had been through, as I was sitting on that table with my arms wrapped around that pillow, being stabbed multiple times in my back, I literally did a quick inventory of all the good things and the bad things I had done in my life. Now, I know that that's not how it works, and that I didn't do anything to deserve this...but in the moment I quickly apologized in prayer for my occasional swearing or unkind thought. I just couldn't believe that after everything, this was happening to me, and I felt like I must've done something really wrong to deserve this.

I wasn't surprised when my anesthesiologist told me that during one of his pokes, he had gone too far into my spine and punctured my dura. Which meant that my spine would start leaking spinal/cerebral fluid and I would get a spinal headache. I was later told that this anesthesiologist team only has this happen maybe twice out of every 100 epidurals...apparently it was just a really bad luck week for me.

I was told that they would do a blood patch immediately after I delivered in order to prevent the spinal headache, but in the mean time I started having horrible upper back spasms. At the time no one knew that the spasms and the dura puncture were related, and it was assumed that this was just a side-effect of labor and it would go away after I delivered. I found some relief laying flat and on my side, and switching positions often. So sitting up to push felt nearly impossible. Thankfully my doctor was kind of magic and I only had to push for one contraction. He literally pulled John out of me...I couldn't bear to push because of the pain.

They handed him right to me, but the spasm was radiating from my upper back to my neck and shoulders and down my arms. I tried to focus on my new little baby, but all I could think about was the pain and I just wanted to throw him at the nurses and find a way to relieve my back.

Before too long they took John to weigh and measure him. He weighed ten pounds, measured 20 inches, and had a 15-inch head circumference (the nurse said 13 is usually considered big). The doctors and nurses were all in awe that he was so big, but I wasn't surprised at all. I literally had to resist the urge to reach down and slap my doctor and say, "Duh! I told you so! Why do you think I've been in so much pain the past few months?!" Imbiott.

They took John to the nursery to do a couple more tests and my anesthesiologist came back in to do the blood patch. Basically they pull a ton of blood out of my arm, and then inject it into my spine in hopes that it will clot and stop my spine from leaking fluid. He told me that he was going to try to inject way more blood into my spine than would actually fit, because that made my chances of success better. But as you can imagine, jamming blood into my spine was extremely painful. Before he did it, I asked him what I should expect this to feel like. He said, "You think your back hurts right now....." and he left it at that.

Garrett was with John in the nursery, but thankfully the anesthesiologist and my nurse were really great. I don't have any negative feelings towards my anesthesiologist at was obvious that he was devastated at the pain he was causing me and he was doing everything he could to relieve it. He came to check on me 5 or 6 times during my hospital stay and was always so kind and concerned. I really don't blame him at all.

I was still having back spasms and as he injected the blood, the pressure was worst where my spasm was. This was probably the worst 30 minutes of pain of my whole pregnancy/labor experience. I held onto my nurses hand, and my anesthesiologist tried to go as slow as possible to make it hurt less. They left me alone and told me to try to be as still as possible for 30 minutes....but having a back spasm made that nearly impossible. Finally Garrett came back and I literally grabbed his hands and put them on my head for a blessing. And even when he finished, I just laid there and prayed/begged for the pain to go away.

As the pressure decreased, my back spasm disappeared as well. I ended up getting a slight headache that night, but by the next morning it was completely gone. We were optimistic that the blood patch stuck and that I would be spared from the debilitating headache. We went home thinking that I was in the clear.

I don't know if I overdid it coming home or what, but the back spasm and my spinal headache came back with a vengeance that night. I remember praying that Heavenly Father would send me angels to get me through the pain. I tried to sleep (and get my back spasm to relax) all night while Garrett and his mom took care of John. I didn't feed him (he drank formula), I didn't hold him...I did nothing. I was in full survival mode. In the morning I called the anesthesiologist on call and he was great. We realized that there was likely a correlation between the back spasm and the epidural and started to consider the option of getting another blood patch. Garrett was ready to go back to the hospital immediately, but I was terrified to get another blood patch. I couldn't bring myself to go in.

Finally after talking to a couple more anesthesiologists (and a lot of prayer) I felt good about trying again. Hobbling to the car took my breath away, but Garrett was so sweet beside me, doing anything he could to relieve the pain. I prayed so hard that my ER experience wouldn't be hell, and I really feel like my prayers were answered. They gave me valium for my spasm, which I feel like gave me some temporary relief until they could do the patch. I felt my back trying to spasm, but it didn't hurt and it was easy to relax.

When the anesthesiologist came in, my body immediately started shaking because I was so nervous. He walked through everything with me and at the end I asked him if my shaking would make things more difficult for him. Doing another blood patch is basically the same as doing an epidural, so there's a risk of puncturing the dura again. Seeing that I was so scared, he offered to give me versed, which is the happy-medicine that they give before going into surgery. I was thrilled. They gave me a dose before starting, and then upped the dose during the procedure after they couldn't find a good vein and I started crying. I actually don't remember him injecting the blood into my spine at all, which I really feel like was just a tender mercy. I'm sure it hurt, but I have no memory of it.

In a little over 48 hours I was poked (for one reason or another) a total of 17 times. My arms and back are full of bruises and leftover tape from needles and IV's.

Thankfully the second blood patch completely stopped my back spasm, and it gave me a lot of relief for my headache for about a day. I've still had to deal with a spinal headache as my body tries to replenish my cerebral fluid supply. 'Debilitating' is the word they use to describe this type of headache, and it is exactly that. For the past 4 days I've literally laid as flat as possible in my bed, with all the lights off and as little sound as possible. Sitting up to feed John has proven extremely difficult and painful. Hearing Rae cry for me to cuddle her before bed, but knowing that I'm incapable of doing so has been completely heartbreaking.

I've tried to make my way out to the living room at least once a day to see Rae, but it usually ends with a bit of sensory overload which causes me to throw up everything in my stomach (including my latest dose of medicine).

Honestly, I don't know that I've been able to fully comprehend what this past week (/month) has really been like. I think I'll look back on this time as almost a dream...a nightmare. Right now it's more a matter of survival, taking it one hour/day at a time.

Garrett and his mom have been my angels. I know that this hasn't just been hard on's been hard on everyone. Yesterday I changed John's diaper for the first time...he was 6 days old. I haven't fed Rae a single meal or read her a single book. The most I can offer is letting her crawl in bed with me to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while I close my eyes and plug my ears.

Thankfully though, there have been many things to be grateful for this past week as well. Like I said, so many things have gone horribly wrong...but the most important things went perfectly right. John is a healthy happy baby. He is the sweetest thing, and has been the easiest newborn in existence. He's an amazing eater and nursing him has been a dream (something I was really worried about after having a bad experience breastfeeding Rae). Garrett has had plenty of time off work, and even got sent home early one day when he tried to sneak in to turn in a couple assignments. Garrett's mom has been here for almost two weeks now, and she's seriously been an angel. Rae loves her to the moon and back, and I haven't had to worry about her or her happiness or well-being once. And other than the headache, my recovery has gone so unbelievably well (especially considering how huge John was).

It's now a bit of a waiting game to see when my headache decides to subside, but in the mean time I've been able to reflect and have a greater appreciation for the good health that I've been blessed with throughout my life. I am so looking forward to changing teeny tiny diapers, or just sitting up to burp my new baby boy. I am anxious to open the door to Rae's room in the morning and hear her gleefully shout "Mommmmmy!" like no one has ever been happier to see me. I look forward to heating up chicken nuggets and loading the dishwasher and giving my toddler a bath.

And I know that in the scheme of things, this whole experience is not the end of the world. People have it worse than me. And pain happens. And feeling the prayers of so many people in my behalf, well, that alone has been a really special experience for me.

It also doesn't hurt that in my worst moments, I have a teeny tiny newborn to cuddle and love on, and the sweetest toddler to brush my hair and kiss my forehead.


  1. Oh Kaela, I'm so sorry you've had to go through so much! Sounds like a complete nightmare! We are back in town now - let me know how I can help!!!

  2. Oh Kaela, I typed a whole comment out but my comment didn't post... Hm. The short story is that my heart aches for you. I had a spinal headache and three blood patches after Annie was born. In short, calling it a headache is the biggest understatement, ever. It's blood-curdling, head-splitting, black-out pain. Hang in there. If anything the contrast between the pain and the eventual sweet relief made my normal life feel more holy than I could've imagined.

  3. oooooooooooooooooooooohkay, you are a freaking rockstar. I remember exactly where I was when you first told me a bit about your recovery with Rae. Well.... this is a phenomenal sequel, my dear. You rock the casbah!

  4. Yikes, that's sounds terrible! I often asked myself during my pregnancies, deliveries, and recovery why it all has to be so hard. But in the end all we remember is the sweet angel baby we get out of it, thank goodness. Good luck with your recovery!! So sorry it's been so tough!


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