Note: After giving birth, I learned about the power and ritual in sharing a birth story. Each birth story is the unique and perfect experience of how a child and a parent come together for the first time. Families are created and expanded in so many ways, and this is just my story.
You were due on August 18th, and August 18th came and went. I was getting pretty uncomfortable towards the end of the pregnancy, mostly because I was unbearably itchy all over my entire body. Nothing that I tried would relieve the itch – benadryl, lotion, oatmeal baths – nothing. The only thing that seemed to help was ice. Sometimes, I would wake up at 6am and plunge my feet in ice water to get just a moment of relief!
Marc and I tried all the tricks in the book to get labor going. We took a 1.5 hour walk around the neighborhood. We played indoor, glow-in-the-dark mini-golf. I ate a lot of spicy food – at almost every meal – which was a big deal because I had crazy heartburn! I ate black licorice, pineapple, and anything else I read about on the internet that I thought might start labor.
On Monday, August 22, we went to see Leila Forman, our amazing midwife at Mount Auburn, and she decided she would sweep my membranes to see if we could get labor going. She also suggested I take Blue Cohosh, a homeopathic herb that induces labor. I went home that day and had irregular, but not painful, contractions for the rest of the day and through the night.
On Tuesday, August 23, I woke up (after a fitful night of sleep) and was feeling just a little bit off. So I decided that it would be my last day of work. For the previous two weeks, I would wake up and let people know I was still standing – baby-free – and work on things that I knew I could finish by the end of the day. I wanted to write notes of encouragement to my staff about how great they would be while I was on leave, so I went out onto the porch to start writing them. It was the last thing on my list. As I sat down, the phone rang. It was one of my assistant directors calling for advice on a major client relationship. He also told me that the office had started a pool on when I would go into labor. As we were talking, I felt a little rush of something wet. As I stood up to head to the bathroom – still on the phone – I realized that my water had just broke. My assistant director asked me if I thought the baby would come soon, and I said, um, yes, but I have to go right now.
It was about 1:15pm. We later found out that an earthquake shook through Boston right around that same time, which is perhaps a sign of the energy and change you were about to bring into our lives. I called to Marc from the bathroom, where I was stuck with fluid pouring out of me. He wasn’t even supposed to be home – he had a scheduled photo shoot which had been unexpectedly canceled. I was pretty calm – even though there was meconium in the fluid, which sometimes means the baby is in distress – and just called Leila, our midwife who told us to pack up and come into the hospital.
Marc, on the other hand, was a mess. I had created a whole BINDER of step-by-step instructions of what to do when I went into labor, and he didn’t even remember that we had a list entitled, “I’m in labor, now what?” So while I sat there in the bathroom, Marc ran off to pack his camera (which made me laugh hysterically). Eventually, we got ourselves packed, called our parents and my brother, and drove to the hospital. My parents happen to be in town that day for a grandparent class, so they just came straight over to our place to watch Lola, our dog. My brother rented a car and drove up that night from New York as well. I think we had three bags full of stuff, including Marc’s professional camera and lenses, a computer, and a bag of clothes. It was kind of ridiculous.
We got to the hospital a little bit before 3pm, and by then, I was having mild contractions every 3-4 minutes or so, but they were getting stronger and stronger. Because of the meconium, I had to be hooked up to a fetal monitor, but it was wireless so I could walk around. Marc and I settled into the room, turned on Law and Order, and ordered some food (I had a grilled cheese). By 6pm or so, the contractions had gotten much stronger and more intense. The TV turned off, and we turned on some music. Leila checked in on me, and we decided that we would just continue laboring and wait to see how far along I was since there was some risk of infection each time I was checked. The shift turned over around 8pm, and Julia Dickinson was assigned to us – another amazing midwife from the pracrice. She set us up to labor on the birthing ball for a while, got me a popsicle, and generally hung with us while I continued to have stronger and stronger contractions every 2-4 minutes.
By 10:30pm, I was getting really tired and uncomfortable, so Julia helped get us into a more restful position in the bed. I was on my back, half sitting up, and we turned the sound off on the monitor. Marc fell asleep next to me, and I tried to just get some rest between contractions. I didn’t really fall asleep, but I was drowsy and dozing.
At 11:30pm, I was suddenly awakened by several people in the room. They turned me over on my side and gave me oxygen, and there was a huge commotion in the room. Your heart rate had dropped significantly for a pretty long period of time, which was a sign that you was in distress. Lots of things happened at the same time – people were talking to each other and to me. They checked to see how dilated I was (3 cm), inserted a catheter, tried to insert an internal fetal monitor, started an IV, and started the paperwork for a c-section. It felt like there were 4 sets of hands inside of me. The anesthesiologist came in and looked down my throat. They were talking about general anesthesia because I didn’t have an IV or an epidural. It happened so fast, and was so incredibly scary. I remember looking at Marc standing there helplessly, as I was screaming and shaking from the fear and shock, and still having contractions every 2 minutes. I didn’t know if you would be OK, and I didn’t know if I would be OK.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Julia and Annie Liau (the OB on call) explained what was happening. They said your heart rate dropped to a scary level for a scary period of time. They said that moderate heart rate drops were normal, but not for that long or that low. You had stabilized for the moment, but something was causing you distress. They recommended that I have a c-section now. If your heart rate decelerated again, it would be a true emergency, and they might not have very much time to get you out safely. Remembering a lesson from my birthing class about reducing unnecessary intervention, I asked what would happen if we waited. Julia – a non-interventionist midwife by training – looked right at me and said she didn’t think it would be a good idea to wait. Annie also told me that there was a good chance I would be able to have a second baby naturally because this kind of experience was a fluke thing. I was so grateful that they took just a couple of extra minutes to talk to me and to Marc, and to make it feel like it was our decision to go ahead with the c-section, even though in reality, it was pretty much an emergency.
Almost instantly, they rolled me into the operating room. It was 11:50pm when I looked at the clock in the OR, and I still had to sign paperwork as they prepped me for surgery. Julia held me while they gave me a spinal – it took three tries to get the needle in but I was quickly numb all the way from my chest to my toes. Finally, Marc came in, and a few minutes later at 12:13am on August 24th, you came out screaming.
The doctor had to aspirate you to get the meconium out of your lungs, but Marc was allowed to take photos of you on the table, and then they brought you over to me. In an instant, it went from the most horrible, scary, traumatic moment of my life to the happiest and most joyful. You were all wrinkly, your eyes were open, and just looking around. Julia helped get your skin against my skin. We also got you to start nursing, right there in the OR. That was probably one of the most special moments of your birth.
Marc went with you to the nursery to be weighed, bathed, and checked out a little further. As Annie closed me up, she commented that you were a big baby (8lb 13oz) and that it looked like you may have been a little later than we thought – your nails were long, there wasn’t a lot of fluid left – all of which could have caused you some distress. After she closed me up, I was wheeled into recovery where I had to stay there until I could wiggle my toes. I chatted with the nurse, Brenda, who was awesome and comforting. She helped me come down from the adrenaline high of the last hour. Finally, Marc came back into the room with you and I just held you and laughed and cried and soaked in the first few hours of your life.
When I was pregnant, I didn’t realize that birth could be so traumatic. After the fact, I learned that many women have very traumatic births, and it takes time and support to recover from the experience. I was grateful for several close friends in my life who shared their experiences with me and helped me process my experience. I am also grateful for the tribe of unexpected c-section mamas who have helped me understand that it’s not a failure of my body, and there really isn’t such thing as a “regular” birth.
And Lucas, my sweet baby boy, I am so glad that we shared this birth together. It’s YOUR birth and it resulted in YOU, which makes it absolutely perfect. One year later, on your birthday, I can remember it like it was yesterday and all of the moments between then and now. I love being your mama, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings!