Photo – Dan Warner
Yesterday, at 10:58 AM:
I got a promotion! I was promoted – officially – to Mother. Though I’ve been responsible for my baby since December, yesterday my baby breathed her first air and it’s official.
Now, it is 4:15 AM on Friday. I am eating applesauce in our kitchen at home, on about three hours of sleep… which feels amazing. It’s not that I’m lacking a full overnight sleep; it’s like an afternoon nap. And I’m home.
I have not felt inclined to write much during my pregnancy. It was a good experience. She and I were healthy throughout, and there just wasn’t much to say about it except that I was immensely grateful.
But my birth story is the richest experience of my life to date.
I began my medical leave on Friday afternoon, August 12th. My due date was estimated to be the following Thursday, August 18th. I would have a baby Leo during the Olympics. How special. But an overwhelming amount of first-time mothers go past their due dates. I would be one of them. The fourth time that my doctors swept my membranes was the charm.
On Tuesday, instead of the usual various activities I did to try to induce labor at home, I was set on labor to begin like the near future appointment we had set. I ran a couple of errands. I ended the day with a pedicure, and indulged in the massage chair as I always do. But as the chair was pounding on my upper back and shoulders, I had a pretty decent contraction. I remembered pressure points toward my shoulders and quickly powered off the machine. It was the first time in a month that I really didn’t want to go into labor spontaneously. I was easily 40 minutes from the hospital and didn’t yet have the paint on my nails (color: “bubble bath”). I didn’t go into labor at 3 PM.
It happened about three hours later, though.
At my last pre-natal appointment, Dr. Abbey swept my membranes. 28 hours before my scheduled Wednesday 8 PM induction. Ken and I had dinner. And then they started, four minutes apart, fairly strong, definitely regular. We reported the news to my doctor, who said to keep monitoring, and we checked in again an hour later. Contractions were still regular, and we agreed that I was going into labor. She asked if I was ready to go to the hospital. Yes!!!! My bag had been packed for a month; the nursery had been ready for four ; I was off of work and wanted to meet that baby. I ate a pb&j sandwich and took a quick shower, and then Ken and I were off to triage.
We were held in triage for the next six hours. At least three of the four rooms were occupied by women like me, all in early labor, waiting to be told whether we could stay (if progressing) or be sent home (if not progressing.)
Here’s what is key for this part of the story. I had told my doctor on the phone that I wanted to go to the hospital, but did not want to go if I would possibly be sent home. It was just too much travel given the pain I was in, and I didn’t want my water to break on the way back home… and get more difficult and rushed. She said: “Honey – I’m the boss.” The resident doctor would defer to her judgment… It was assuring.
So, two hours after my exam, my contractions were still as regular but I was not more than 4cm dilated; 90% effaced; and baby somewhat of still a little far position. But I wanted those contractions to be productive. I was breathing through some, fighting tense through others, listening to a hypnobirth on my headphones, and focusing on a photo on the wall of a baby skin-to-skin with a mother who looked radiantly beautiful. (I had seen that photo throughout my doctor visits and wondered if it was set up, because her hair looked salon professional in a natural, beach wavy kind of way.)
The resident checked me again in two hours at my doctor’s request. Still nothing – nothing, how was it possible? He was fixing to send me home. My doctor kept me there. The nurse was upgraded me to a more comfortable triage room when it became available… brought me ice water… inserted an IV needle in my hand just in case I’d be admitted… and then offered me the jacuzzi. She said – it’s just you. So she opened the room, and I took a wonderful relaxing heated dip. My muscles relaxed more, I still felt the contractions, but I put my hands and feet up to the jets to activate my pressure points, and did my best to be comfortable.
I was sufficiently warmed, and about to face judgment a third time. My contractions were now more painful and an unbearable 1 minute apart per the monitor. I was losing my humility, sighing through the pain, then crying… I was tired, and panicky – but only crying because of the pain, feeling helpless, without an invitation to be admitted so that I could access the full resources of the hospital. Yup – at that point, my fluid birth plan was going in a new direction. I would not continue with it naturally – I wanted the pain to go away.
Ken left the room to advocate for me. The resident returned pretty soon after, and asked after my position. I said my 6 had become an 8 on the pain indicator scale of 1-10. He again called my doctor. He returned and said “[She] asks if you’d like an epidural? (Ooh!)
“And you’d be admitted,” he explained…
I was wheeled up to the labor unit and it was 4 AM or so and the anesthesiologist was available for me. I was concerned I was one of the very few women who wouldn’t be able to remain still for the five-minute process, but it wasn’t an issue with the support of the nurse and Ken to encourage me. I was in a semi-fetal position, crouched over my contracting midsection, about to feel a wave of numbness.
Once the epidural took effect, my cervix dilated to a full 10cm by 7 AM. Incredible! My doctor appeared in a beautiful black and white dress, smiling, and manually broke my water. Ken had grabbed a quick breakfast and the tiniest of naps, and when he awoke he was surprised that it was go time. I was so surprised. (So was the resident who had wanted to send me home!)
I pushed for over two hours. I quickly understood this part of the movies. Pushing is sweaty. It’s tiring. It’s good to make some noise. And as the baby descended to a point of visibility, we saw the most amazing dark full head of hair. It was a total surprise to see the fullness of the hair on her head. I touched it, and couldn’t believe I was touching something not mine.
I was exhausted. The pushing takes a LOT of energy. The attending nurse described it as rocking her forward – it was also described as two steps forward, one back. I was ready to give up and asked about my options. I asked my doctor how she could help me get the baby out. The options were too risky, I realized. I reserved to keep going. My final pushes were simply because I tired of pushing. I had to finish it. I screamed. She was there – a head of pressure, then shoulders and a long body worth of pressure. My doctor said, “look at those feet – she’s going to be TALL!” Stella emerged. The placenta followed quickly. I saw it and understood why my doctor called it the tree of life. The richness, and the quality of the vessels – incredible.
There’s a photo of me in the bed holding Stella. We were about to lay skin-to-skin. In it, I look awake, energized, warm, happy, and I have good wavy hair. It isn’t really that different from the seemingly staged poster I had admired at so many doctor visits and in triage.
My baby is my teacher. She has taught me how to break down walls. I can endure more pain than I knew. I am stronger than I knew. I am more patient than I knew.
And much more.