Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Placentas and Mucus Plugs

Supposedly, there are several ways to know for sure that labor has started and the baby is finally on the way. I guess they're just a loose guideline, though, because none of them happened to me before Robert's birth. The obvious one is The Water Breaking, that's the event in every movie and sitcom featuring a birth. It's always shown as the very first sign, even before a contraction, although that's hardly the way it really happens for most women. Losing the mucus plug is the other Big Sign of Impending Birth, although that one is rarely mentioned in media, probably because it sounds so gross. Well, my water never broke, and I never lost my mucus plug; I just had contractions. That was my only indication that the baby was on his or her way. When I was about eight centimeters dilated, the doctor offered to break the amniotic sac for me, to 'speed things up a bit'. Don says that the doctor asked me several times about the 'plug', although I don't remember this. (I think there's probably a lot that I don't remember about the birth, to be honest.) He says that they asked me a few times, I kept telling them that it never came out, and then (apparently) they found it... I still don't know why they needed to know.

After the birth, once Robert had been thoroughly examined and I'd been stitched up and we were finally back together again, the nurse offered to show me my placenta. Generally, I despise trying to divide populations into neat groups, but in this case I think it's safe to say that people can be deposited into one of two camps: those that do not want to look at or even think about the placenta-- throw it into the medical waste bin and be done with it-- and those that are curious and want to see it. (Then there are those that want to take it home and eat it, but that's a whole 'nother category, I guess.) I definitely fall into the wants-to-see group. I mean, I grew this thing; it was the bridge between me and my baby for the last six months. To think that women grow this entire organ, in such a short time period, and it's disposable. It amazes me. For a long time, I seriously doubted my ability to grow a healthy placenta. One of the pregnancies that I lost (August 2007, AKA "the one with a heartbeat") went wrong right about the time when the placenta should have started taking over, and that was after we'd seen an embryo with a beating heart. The odds of miscarrying in those circumstances are very low, so I suspected a bad placenta or cord. This is pure supposition on my part, not based on anything the doctors told me, so it could all be in my head. But all through my pregnancy with Robert, I worried about our placenta and cord. The ultrasound techs probably thought I was a bit odd, because at each ultrasound, after determining that the baby was developing perfectly, I'd ask about the placenta and the umbilical. I'd ask them to show me where they were, confirm that they were perfect, too. Naturally, I wanted to see it afterwards.

It was interesting, larger than I would have expected, but then Robert himself was larger than expected. What really took me by surprise, though, was the amniotic sac, the so-called "bag of waters" that breaks-- or doesn't-- during labor. It was so much stronger and thicker than I expected. I guess I was expecting plastic wrap, and it was more like a zip-top freezer bag. The nurse showed it to us, actually lifted the whole placenta (which seemed to weigh a couple of pounds) by the sac, it was that strong. I think that if the obstetrician hadn't sliced it, the sac wouldn't have broken until the moment of birth (or, in our case, several long, terrifying minutes of birth), and that if we hadn't had the additional complication of the baby's shoulders getting stuck, he might have been born in it.

1 comment:

ayla said...

I really want to hear your birth story. Shoulders rarely truly get stuck. Hmm.