Little Miss Eva as Annie Oakley and her trusted steed, Pony Boy*
Photos courtesy of Stephanie Gill Photography.
Gorgeousness courtesy of my daughter, Eva.
*Annie Oakley didn’t really have a horse named Pony Boy. But Eva sure does!
Little Miss Eva as Annie Oakley and her trusted steed, Pony Boy*
Photos courtesy of Stephanie Gill Photography.
Gorgeousness courtesy of my daughter, Eva.
*Annie Oakley didn’t really have a horse named Pony Boy. But Eva sure does!
…settling into the sofa, knowing I wouldn’t get up again for the next eight hours at least. Mike leaving for class or work, my chest tightening, deep breath, we’ll be okay. Stockpiling the end table with liters of water, pistachios, roasted almonds, dried cranberries, dates, dried apricots and dried cherries, a cup of coffee hot and creamy, an extra pair of breast shields, a nail file to file down sharp newborn nails, my phone, and all the TV remotes. Comfy clothes and lots of pillows and just me and Eva for hours and hours while she nursed, napped, nursed, napped, nursed throughout the day. I would tuck her, naked except her diaper, inside my loose shirt to keep her skin-to-skin. Leaving the sofa only to change her diaper or use the bathroom. Michelle or my mother would come around lunch time to fix me a sandwich and hold her while I ate. If they had a little extra time I’d hop in the shower while they cuddled her. I watched two seasons of “Call the Midwife” and season 6 of “Mad Men” this way…
…how terrified I was of dropping her, or of someone else dropping her…
…touching my face in the shower, my still half-paralyzed face, a face I’d spent years analyzing for flaws, hating and picking and feeling ashamed of. Touching this face with my fingers and feeling not my face, but my daughter’s face instead, and suddenly being overwhelmed with self-love, something I had not ever experienced in my entire life. Touching my belly, still big and round, now soft and squishy. Loving this big soft belly that housed my daughter, wanting to show it off and proclaim to anyone who would listen: THIS belly made this baby! This belly was her home! This gorgeous, big, round, squishy belly! How Eva kneaded my belly with her toes and how I was so happy and glad that my body was soft and big like a pillow for her tiny body to curl into…
…how proud and delighted I was when, at her three-day check-up, I learned she had gained six ounces since her birth, instead of losing weight like most babies do. My milk was making her nice and fat and I was amazed and thrilled when the doctor told me how she was thriving…
…the dark downy fur across the backs of her shoulders and her lower back, down into her bottom. My little monkey baby…
…how her fingers reminded me of an old lady’s fingers, how they were somehow familiar, like I’d seen those old lady fingers before, on my Aunt Sue maybe?…
…how she snuggled her face into my bosom after nursing, as if it was the world’s most comfortable, coziest pillow…
…the morning light filtering through the tree outside our bedroom window and Mike coming in with a smile on his face and a hot cup of coffee for me. My heart so full it might burst, our tiny, perfect child tucked into my arm, the two of us in a comfortable nest of pillows, her little hands massaging for more milk, suckling, suckling, suckling. I remember being so amazed that I was able to breastfeed, that I was making milk and that it was making her bigger every day. I have a thousand fuzzy cell phone photos of her little head on my breast, nursing, then milk-drunk and fast asleep…
…feeling afraid each evening as the sun went down, scared because the day was ending and no, I wasn’t ready for that, please don’t let the day end yet. Tomorrow she’ll be bigger and we’ll be one day closer to real life, going back to work, commitments and responsibilities. I wanted this time, this perfect peaceful time of rest and bonding to last forever…
…being afraid to turn off the lights and say goodnight because what if, when I woke up in the morning, she was gone? I worried about SIDS until my chest closed and I couldn’t breathe. I remember talking about my fears in our Newborn Parenting Support class, tears streaming down my face, what if what if what if? I read everything I could about it, knowing the information would either make my fears worse or ease them. It eased them. I did everything they say to do to protect her but even now I still worry…
…my father calling every day on his lunch hour, to check in, offer to bring me lunch, ask to hold the baby even just for a few minutes. Of course, Papa. I would say. Come! Hold your granddaughter… and then I could slip away and take a hot shower knowing Eva was in arms and listening to a beating heart that loved her…
…waking up in the middle of the night with her, so tired, so tired. Little cries. Is this really my life? This exhausted magic? Change a diaper, tip toe through the little dark apartment, her breath on my neck, little hands to her tiny mouth, small sucking sounds and chirps. My heart fluttering and my eyes bleary, the red light from the snake tank our only light. Shapes in the shadows, shhhhh, its okay, we’re okay, nothing can harm us, we’re safe…
…my mother bought us these incredible steaks and Mike fixed them with vegetables for a fantastic dinner, which we ate in bed against a pile of pillows, the baby on my knees, so small, so sweet. Awake, alert, watching us with her newborn eyes…
…my father, who’s never done a load of laundry in his entire seventy-five years of life, folding my sheets and pajamas and Mike’s underpants while I nursed a hungry baby…
…watching my beloved husband fall deeper and deeper in love with his daughter every day…
38, nearly 39 weeks pregnant – the night my water broke
38 weeks, nearly 39 weeks postpartum
Exactly nine months ago today I pissed myself on the landing outside my front door while leashing up the dogs for a walk. Except it wasn’t actually pee. Just, you know, amniotic fluid. Still blows my mind.
Tomorrow Eva will be nine months old. I can’t wrap my head around it. On one hand I feel like she was JUST born and on the other hand I can’t remember my life without her in it. How is it possible that just a minute ago she looked like this:
And now she looks like this:
Trippy trippy trippity trip.
She’s completely mobile now. She crawls super fast, pulls herself up on everything from the coffee table to my legs. She’s started cruising – taking wobbly steps while she she moves along furniture, the side of her crib, whatever. She loves bath time, chasing the dogs, licking their bowls, pressing her face into the screen door, going for walks with her papa. She still nurses nearly every two hours but also eats whatever I’m eating. Most of it ends up in her hair or on her lap, but every day a little bit more ends up in her tummy. I’m still squeezing her into my favorite of her nine-month outfits, but her twelve-month clothes fit better. She sleeps in her crib from about 7:30 p.m. until her first feeding after we’ve gone to bed, then I bring her into our bed to snuggle and nurse. Some nights she sleeps long stretches and some nights she wakes every twenty minutes. On those nights I remind myself that she will never again be as small as she is right now. And I take a deep breath, exhale, then smell the top of her delicious head, press my lips to her forehead and thank heaven for the gift of her in my arms.
In some ways I still feel like we are very much one unit, she and I. Like I’m still pregnant, almost. For 18 months my body has belonged to her and its been an incredibly profound experience. I’ve never used a stroller, but wear her every where. She’s never taken a bottle and so I’ve never left her with anyone for more than a couple of hours – and I can count on both hands how many times I’ve done that. I had no idea that I would be so comfortable belonging to someone else completely – but its been incredible. Like this was what I was born to do. This is why I exist. To mother this child. To care for her, protect her, nourish her, bathe her, encourage her, watch her, learn from her. I’ve never felt so alive, so full, so happy in my life.
But I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been days (and nights) when I felt like my heart was in a vice grip. Once when she was three months old and wouldn’t stop screaming I drove her to my mother’s house, handed her over, and went upstairs to sob until I had no tears left. The thought of spending the day with a screaming baby (she was not sick or dirty or cold, no diaper pin sticking her – she was just having a bad day) was too much to bare and it was either take her to my mother’s or put her in her crib and leave. I was lucky to have my mother so close by. And lucky because I knew it was normal to have that kind of day. But I think I’m especially lucky because those days (and nights) have been so far and few between.
So here’s to nine months of boundless joy. My love, my heart, my soul, my Eva Milan.
Empress Eva, 5 days new
Last Sunday, at the Pierce College Pumpkin Patch and Animal Farm
I did not intend to let so many months pass without a single post here. I thought that during my maternity leave I would write daily about my experience in new motherhood. I thought I would do so many things on my maternity leave. Twelve weeks of projects! Twelve weeks of accomplishments! Twelve weeks of doing All The Things. But I ended up doing just one thing during those twelve weeks: I loved my baby. I held her skin-to-skin for weeks. We cranked up the heater and neither of us wore clothes unless we absolutely had to. I pressed my cheek to hers and breathed in the scent of her newness. I studied her every feature, memorizing each eyelash and fingernail. I danced with her, sang to her, read to her, cried with her. I bounced her and rocked her and nursed her and every day fell deeper in love with her. The world fell away the moment she was born and nothing else mattered. I forgot about emails, phone calls, texts. I stopped reading blogs, watching television, checking Facebook. I didn’t do laundry or grocery shop or fix a meal for probably five months. (Thank God for Mike.) An old friend said motherhood had made me “lame” and I thought, you know what? I might be a totally lame friend, but I’m a fucking great mom. So, I’ll take it.
When Eva was seven months old I went back to the little hand-written journal I’ve been keeping since I was eleven weeks pregnant, to re-read all the entries since her birth. I hadn’t been blogging, but at least I’d been journaling all the wonderful moments I had wanted to capture forever. But there were only three entries. Just three in seven months. The realization was crushing.
That said, not for a second do I wish I’d spent a single moment doing anything besides loving my baby. I knew going into this that her infancy would speed past and I was determined to soak up every moment. And I really feel like I did that – I relished every day. But I do wish that I’d been able to write every day, even just a few lines, to fill in what are now blanks. So many moments have slipped like sand through my fingers. So I’m hoping to spend some time in the next few weeks using this space to write out the bits and pieces I do remember, in an effort to try and recapture as much of those early days as I can. Because more than this blog is for me, its for her now. I want so much for her to grow up knowing how treasured she is and has always been. And when I finally drop dead (hopefully a long time from now) at least she’ll have my words here to come back to.
In the mean time, here’s her birth announcement, which (of course) I intended to post last February…
Mike snapped this shot of Eva and me on his cell phone when she was 3 days old.
(I started this post months ago, but the days have a funny way of slipping by too quickly. So here it is, now, nearly nine months after the fact. )
That first night, as they wheeled us from Labor & Delivery to Postpartum, I was in shock, almost. Utter disbelief. We did it. Mike and me. We made a baby and here she was, living and breathing in my arms. I birthed a baby, with no drugs, just pushed her out and bam. I’d been dreaming of this moment my entire life and here it was, all of a sudden, as real as anything.
I barely slept. Not because the baby kept me awake but because my feelings kept me awake. My happiness. My body felt wrecked – like I’d been through battle – but my heart was so full I didn’t care. I couldn’t bear to put my tiny baby in a bassinet so she slept the night in my arms, waking every hour or so to nurse and I was only too happy to feed her.
Looking back, it still seems surreal. And I still can’t really find adequate words to describe the completeness and fullness of my happiness. I remember we kept the lights on in our hospital room and I never took my glasses off because I wanted to look at her, gaze at her nonstop. She was real. Tiny, perfect, alive, breathing, in my arms. Unbelievable.
This was all I ever wanted, in my whole life, since I was a little girl. A baby. I never had any real career ambition – I really tried to because its what you’re supposed to do, right? Be ambitious about a career? But my heart was never in it. I just wanted to be a mama. And now, finally, after all these years, I was. Am. Consider my mind officially blown.
The next day was still surreal. I think it was my unending joy, or the hormones, or both that kept me wide awake despite the fact that I hadn’t slept more than an hour in two days. Family came from all over Los Angeles to meet our sweet babe and we were delighted to show her off. We checked out of the hospital late Saturday night and went home. Michelle had stocked our fridge with food and the dogs were thrilled to see us, much more interested in the cheese Mike was feeding them than the baby in my arms. Mike snuggled Eva while I had my first (wonderful) shower since Friday morning. Then he showered while I nursed Eva on the sofa, a pamphlet about breastfeeding open in my lap. My nipples were starting to get sore and I wanted to work on our latch.
I don’t remember when we finally went to bed but it was late, after 11 probably, and I couldn’t bear to put her in our bassinet. I couldn’t bear to put her down, period. I’d waited my whole life for her, she’d spent nine months inside my body, how on EARTH could I be expected to put her down? I was too scared to try sleeping with her in our bed, worried I’d roll over on her or she’d smother, so I spent the night wandering in circles around our living room, whispering, praying, nursing, changing diapers. The dogs howled every time she cried and I winced, worried that this was our new life, dogs howling all night, the neighbors cursing us as they tried to sleep. I was so tired, so very tired, at some point I realized it wasn’t safe for me to wander with her in my arms – I nearly tripped once and another time almost bonked her head on a corner. At 4:30 a.m. I woke Mike up, asked him to take over so I could sleep. He was happy to – held her in his arms and walked with her, cooing and whispering and cuddling while I got four delicious hours of uninterrupted sleep.
The second night home we decided to sleep with her in our bed. I left all the lights on and slept with my glasses on because I needed to be able to open my eyes and see her there, safe and sound, still breathing. We slept on our bed bare of sheets, blankets, or pillows, the heater cranked up to keep us warm on that cool January night. I curled my body around Eva and Mike curled his body around me. I understand that bed-sharing is incredibly controversial, and we did not make the decision lightly. It was, in our opinion, the safest and most natural option. And it allowed me to tend to her every need immediately. She never cried at night but only peeped and I was able to nurse her immediately. We slept well together and Mike and I experienced no sleep-deprivation (until recently – ha!).
It took a few nights, but eventually I felt safe turning the lights off to sleep, taking my glasses off. I remember it was a few weeks before I could nurse her without turning all the lights back on and getting into a comfortable position. Eventually I figured out how to nurse her while lying on my side and then the benefits of bed-sharing really became clear.
You think, at the time, that you’ll never forget these incredible moments, the extraordinary ordinary minutes of every day. But they tend to slip away, fading out, until they’re gone. I don’t remember now what the first day home was like, not really. I remember pieces: The home nurse coming to visit, weighing Eva, examining me, helping with breastfeeding. I remember family coming to visit. I remember Mike cleaned the whole house top to bottom, did all the laundry, fed me whenever I was hungry, kept visitors out of the bedroom while Eva and I napped. I remember reading to her, curled up in our bed. I remember dancing with her in the living room, singing “At Last” and crying because I was so, so, so happy. Once, Mike found me sobbing over the baby. Terrified, he rushed over to find her sleeping peacefully at my breast. “What happened??” I looked up at him, and said between sobs, “I’m just so happy! So, so, so happy…”
That’s what I remember most about those early days of new parenthood. Being overwhelmingly, absolutely, so, so, so happy. Like every wish I’d ever wished and every dream I’d ever dreamed had come true. My parents ran errands for us, helped fold laundry, brought groceries. Michelle brought hot meals. Mike kept the house, cooked, changed every single diaper for a week straight. We never put Eva down, not once for several weeks. If I needed to use the bathroom or shower, Mike held her, or my mom or dad held her, or Michelle held her. But she was in arms always, listening to a beating heart, bathed in love and adoration.
It was approximately 6 p.m. I’d been laboring about five hours, but it didn’t feel like it. Time didn’t exist. I was aware that it had gotten dark outside, but it didn’t matter. I labored on my knees on the bed. I labored on the yoga ball. I labored while slow dancing across the delivery room in Mike’s arms, moving to the sound of my own groans, gushing blood-tinged amniotic fluid all over the floor. I thought I should care about the mess I was making but I didn’t. I wanted to push. I felt like a wild animal. With each contraction I took a deep cleansing breath and groaned, growled, screeched, sometimes I laughed maniacally, uncontrollably. The contractions tickled some foreign part of my brain. I thought it was hilarious. I was in a trance, this was labor-land.
“Release your shoulders, breathe, relax into the contraction.”
“I can’t relax!”
“Yes you can. Breath. Release your shoulders.”
I noticed that when I listened to Mike and Brenda and released my shoulders, flowed with the contraction instead of against it, it was manageable, tolerable, and over fast. Only when I fought against it did it become unbearable. In between I could hear Brenda’s voice, “How do you feel right now?”
“Good, I feel good.”
“You’re always going to come back here. Remember that. You’ll always come back to this place where you feel good and you can rest, okay?”
“I’m having another contraction…”
“Deep breath, relax your shoulders, breathe…”
Bethany was back. The nurse from the night before. I was glad. Catherine was great, but Bethany was a soul sister. She stayed beside us, comforting, helping. I heard her voice, “You’re breathing so well, Trish. You’re doing great.” And Mike, telling me how strong I was, how proud he was of me. “Each contraction brings us closer to our baby girl. You’re almost there. You’re so strong.” And Brenda, constantly reassuring and reminding me, soothing me.
Brenda asked if she could call my parents, let them know how I was doing. I nodded. She brushed my hair, Mike rubbed my back, I labored on. I heard her telling someone (my parents, over the phone) that my contractions were right on top of each other, but it didn’t make sense. There was so much space between them. I could rest, sleep a little. She told me later that there was maybe a minute between, maybe less. But in the moment those forty to sixty seconds felt like room to breathe, to recuperate. I labored on.
Soon I was feeling the contractions in my vagina, not in my belly. I guess they’d slowly been moving down for hours, but I hadn’t really noticed. I wanted to push. Was begging to push. Brenda took me by the shoulders, snapped her fingers in front of my face and told me to get out of the trance, come back to Earth, she needed me to come back. She said later that she was concerned that the Cytotec was making me feel like I was further along than I was and she wanted to buy me some time. She heated up the shower and told Mike to get in with me. I’d packed him swim trunks in case we labored in the shower, but he didn’t bother with them. I loved that.
Mike and I climbed in together, naked, and I thought I shouldn’t get my hair wet, I’d just had it cut and blown out the day before, but then I didn’t care. Like so many other things, it slipped away. I wrapped my arms around his neck and let my head fall back into the stream of hot water, let it pour over my face and my hair, run down my back. The contractions were bringing me to my knees now, literally. I was a tiger in her den, yowling, shrieking, growling.
We stayed like that until I was so pruney I couldn’t stand it. Mike helped me out of the shower, helped my dry off, put my bra back on, I collapsed to the floor in a contraction, he helped me through it, got himself dressed while I made my way back to the labor-bed.
“I want to push!” I was belching like crazy, I felt completely out of control. Each contraction felt like something else taking over my body. I was an exhausted passenger. I could hear Brenda telling Bethany that she thought I was in transition, that we ought to have the midwife come in and check me. But the midwife, Pat, was busy delivering another baby so we’d have to wait. I labored on.
Finally, I don’t know how much later, Pat came in. She had to wait to check me, I wouldn’t let her touch me while I was contracting. “This is so much harder than I thought it would be,” I groaned between contractions.
Brenda answered, “No, it isn’t. You’re doing amazing work. Keep breathing.”
I was on my back, writhing against a contraction when Pat declared I was at 10 centimeters. The relief that flooded me must have been palpable. I’d been thinking, as she checked me, that if I wasn’t fully dilated I was DONE. I was over this. Completely. I needed a hamburger, rare, and a good night’s sleep. But I’d been given the green light, I was almost at the finish line. I was so happy I wanted to cry. Instead I started telling anyone who would listen that I was STARVING and I couldn’t WAIT TO EAT. I was suddenly so hungry I thought I’d die.
Brenda talked to me about how I was going to push, we were going to be slow and careful. The room had come alive with women rushing around, getting things ready. I asked what the carts with all the instruments were for and Bethany assured me they were getting ready for anything, taking precautions, I had nothing to worry about. I pushed on all fours, it felt incredible, I was finally participating in this crazy thing that my body was doing, but the baby didn’t move down. I wanted to move to a squat, so Bethany set up the squat bar and I pushed like that, pushing the baby down, down, down. In between contractions I’d try to sit back on the edge of the bed, but it was like sitting on a softball – her head was right there. Bethany called Pat back in to see my progress, the baby would be here any minute. I wanted to cry when Pat said, “No, she’s not ready yet. I’m leaving.”
Bethany stopped her: “Watch her labia when she pushes. She’s ready, don’t go anywhere.”
Pat told me to get on my back and fold my knees up to my sides, hold my ankles. I wanted to stay off my back so I felt defeated. Put my head in my hands and tried to collect myself. Mike and Brenda whispered reassuring things to me, encouraged me, reminded me we were almost done. I lay back and grabbed my ankles, pushed, pushed, pushed.
“I can see her head! Reach down, Trish, feel her head!”
Oh hell no, I thought. And then, I did it. I reached down and felt the top of my daughter’s head as it came from my body, soft and warm. I kept pushing.
“Push! Push! What you’re feeling is the ring of fire – you’re stretching to make room for the baby, you’re almost there!”
This was the part I’d been afraid of, the only part that scared me. But I didn’t feel anything except relief to be pushing and an incredible craving for a rare hamburger, still. God I was so hungry. Make that a bacon cheeseburger.
“I see her forehead! Keep pushing!”
“There are her eyes! I see a nose! Keep pushing! There’s her mouth! Her head is out!”
I fell back, exhausted, trying to catch my breath. The cord was wrapped loosely around her neck, Pat unwound it and then yelled at me, “PUSH!” As I pushed she pulled and suddenly she was out. In that second I was slammed back into reality, could practically hear the brakes squealing as my dream-like state came to a crashing close.
“Look! Look! Look!”
“I can’t see anything without my glasses!”
Someone handed me my glasses and there she was, wet and squalling, slimy and pink.
It felt like forever (Mike said later it was less than a minute), but they finally put our daughter on my chest. It was the most surreal moment of my life. There she was, hot, sticky, covered in blood and vernix, and then she pooped on my belly and we were both covered in so much goo it was remarkable. She cried and cried while I tried to catch my breath, comfort her. I rubbed her back, tried to get a good look at her face. I could hear Bethany directing Pat, “Don’t clamp the cord until it stops pulsing! She said no cord traction, no Pitocin…” Bless her.
Pat showed us the cord, which had stopped pulsing. It was tied in three knots. Three knots. “Your baby is a miracle. We only see this in still births.” I held the tiny squirming child closer to my chest. My miracle. Pat clamped the cord and Mike cut it.
They told me to push again and I birthed the placenta. It felt good. Everyone admired it but I didn’t see it. I didn’t care about anything but the child on my chest. I had a one degree tear which Pat stitched up in no time while Mike and I marveled at the creature who had already found my nipple and was having her first meal outside my body. A nurse washed me and brought me a tuna fish sandwich, which Mike fed me in bites. It was no bacon cheeseburger, but it was delicious.
No one bothered us again for about two hours. Brenda kissed us goodbye. Michelle snuck in to take photos but only stayed a moment. The labor room was dim and quiet, warm and lovely. It was just the three of us, a new family, our eyes wet with happy tears, our hearts brimming with love.
My contractions kicked in again, almost immediately after the enema, within an hour of the first dose of Cytotec. Pat, the midwife, had given us two hours before I needed to get back on the baby monitor, so we were going to make the most of it. Up, up, up, up, up five flights of stairs. Down, down, down, down, down. Again. Again. Again. I was contracting every second or third flight and I needed to stop, hang off the stair railing in a squat, breathe, Mike putting counter-pressure on my lower back where the contractions reached around and took hold. We took a detour outside for some fresh air, but it was too warm for me. I found a dead bird and declared it a good sign, borrowed Brenda’s iPhone so I could take photographs of the sweet little thing, ants crawling all over it, making it their afternoon meal. Back inside and up, up, up, contraction, squat, breathe, up, up. Down, contraction, squat, breathe, down, down, down, contraction, squat, breathe. After every contraction either Brenda or Mike offered me water, working to keep me hydrated to avoid an IV later on. I must have swallowed fifteen liters of water that day.
“This is great!” I grinned. “I love this! I could do this all day. I want the contractions to get stronger! Let’s get this party started!” I patted my belly and encouraged Niblet to move down, get out, eviction notice has been posted! Up, up, contract, squat, breathe, up, up, contract, squat, breathe, up, down, down, and so it went. The three of us laughing and joking and visiting, contraction, squat, breathe. I couldn’t talk through the contractions anymore but they were good and strong and I loved them. “I really could do this all day! This is awesome! I want them to get stronger! Come on Niblet! Get a move on!”
“I’m going to remind you later that you said that,” Brenda said, grinning back at me.
Two hours passed like nothing and it was time to get back on the baby monitor. I was ready to stop climbing stairs and try something different – the yoga ball sounded awesome. The day nurse, Catherine, got me all hooked up while I sat on the yoga ball, opening my hips, contracting, breathing. She needed me to stay on the monitor for at least twenty minutes so she could get a solid read on the baby. I couldn’t do it. I needed to poop. RIGHT NOW. I made Mike come with me into the bathroom because my contractions were strong enough that I needed his support through them. This was the moment when all modesty and vanity flew out the window. Before this, I’d been trying to maintain some modicum of decency, keeping my lady-parts covered, the bathroom door closed while I pottied, that sort of thing. Suddenly I didn’t care, not one little bit.
Mike kneeled on the floor in front of me while I contracted and pooped for the next half hour. My arms wrapped around his shoulders, I breathed deeply into his neck through each contraction, shitting my guts out, gushing amniotic fluid.
“I’m just going to reach behind you to flush the toilet –”
“Nooooooo! I’m having a contraction!”
“Ok, I know, breathe, deep breaths, I’m not going anywhere, you’re doing great, I’m just going to reach right here and flush –”
“Ok love. Deep breaths. You’re so strong. Now I’m just going to give it one little flush –”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! I’M CONTRACTING!!!!!!!!”
Poor Mike. I couldn’t verbalize it, but I didn’t want toilet water splashing back up on my behind. He just wanted a courtesy flush. I won.
This is where my memory starts to get fuzzy and the whole experience takes on a dream-like quality. My memories are fragmented, but Brenda and Mike have helped me fill in the blanks.
The nurse, Catherine, was hovering. She was concerned because she wasn’t getting a read on the baby and worried that I was trying to push on the toilet. I wasn’t, I was just pooping. A lot. Mike asked if I thought I was done in the bathroom and I wasn’t sure, but I was willing to get back on the monitor just to make her leave us alone for awhile. At some point I’d ditched my skirt, annoyed at the lengths of fabric tangling between my legs. I remember pulling off my shirt because I was sweating. Mike spread one of the big square hospital pads, the ones they put on the bed to protect it from fluids, over the yoga ball so I could sit on it bare-bottom. Brenda raised the bed so I could labor on the ball, leaning forward on the bed with the baby monitor around my belly.
Catherine said she needed to put the hep-lock in now and I complained. I was worried it would drive me crazy, that I wouldn’t be able to think about anything but this thing sticking out of my arm. Mike stroked my hair and told me she had to do it, it was better than an IV, I wouldn’t even notice it after a while. Brenda coached me in my breathing, the contractions were coming harder and faster now. I wanted off the ball, I wasn’t comfortable at all anymore.
“I’m afraid I’m gonna shit myself!” I cried. “No, I’m gonna throw up, I think I’m gonna throw up…” Brenda and Mike were an excellent team, coaching me, comforting me, feeding me water, brushing my hair, rubbing my back. I remember moving from the ball to the bed, which had it’s back up so it was more like a big chair than a bed. I was on my knees with my arms draped over the head of the bed, Catherine trying to get the hep-lock in my arm while I cried, suddenly overwhelmed with happiness and love.
“Mike, I love you so much. I don’t know why I’m so emotional! I’m just so happy, so so happy right now. I can’t wait to meet our little girl. I’m so in love with you!” I was in active labor now, but I didn’t know it. I didn’t know anything but the love and happiness that engulfed me. And the contractions, intense and all-consuming.
I remember laboring on the bed like that for a little while, Brenda brushing my hair, Mike putting counter-pressure on my back. I started making noises, high-pitched groans. Brenda suggested lower, deeper tones and they felt better, so much better. With each new contraction I took a deep, cleansing breath and then groaned, deep in my throat, a low, rumbling ohhhhhhhhhh sound.
At some point Catherine came in and said we were moving from triage to the delivery room, just across the hall. Somewhere in my head I remembered that this meant I was really in labor, things were really happening, the hospital staff was finally taking this seriously. I remember worrying, barely, about all of our things spread all over the triage room, but knowing I had to let it go and trust Brenda and Mike to collect everything. Someone, I think it was Mike, helped me walk across the hall, past the nurses station, to the delivery room. The lights were low and in the back of my mind I remembered this was the exact delivery room I saw on the labor & delivery tour I had taken so long ago. I was glad – it was familiar. I asked Mike and Brenda to do an idiot-check in the triage room, to be sure they’d gotten everything. I got up on the bed to labor on my knees, my arms draped over the back of the bed. There was a blanket over me because I was sweating and freezing at the same time. I still thought I might vomit or shit myself and I was vaguely aware that with every contraction there was a rush of amniotic fluid pouring out of me.
This was right about the time my dad and one of my brothers wandered into the delivery room. I was ass-up on the bed, naked except for a nursing bra and a blanket.
“Hi! How are you!”
“Oh my god you guys….” I whined.
“We miss you! How is it going?” My brother sounded worried.
“PLEASE LEAVE. I DON’T WANT YOU TO SEE MY VAGINA.”
My father burst into tears. Brenda ushered them out, explaining that I was in active labor, that I was doing great, but that this was not a good time to visit. She promised to call them soon and let them know what was happening. I found out later that my brother texted my other brother, who was en route to the hospital, “DON’T GO TO THE HOSPITAL.” Good call, bro.
To be continued…
Disclaimer: This is a birth story. There will be talk of fluids and mucous plugs and poop and vaginas. You have been warned.
Thursday, January 16, 2014, approx. 8:30 p.m. 38 weeks and 3 days pregnant.
We finished an episode of “Justified” and I struggled to keep my eyes open despite how much I love the show. So tired. Always so tired. It was almost 10:30 p.m. I’ve got to stop staying up so late, I thought to myself. Gotta conserve my energy because this baby could come any day now (but she probably won’t come for at least three more weeks) and I need to have energy for her birth. Can’t be so tired. Tomorrow night we’ll go to bed early. I swear.
“Bed?” Mike asked.
“Bed. Will you fill the humidifier?”
“If you walk the dogs.”
“Ugh. Okay.” I got up, slipped some shoes on, led the dogs onto the landing to leash them up and promptly pissed myself. I was awfully confused because I had not pissed myself once in my entire pregnancy, and don’t pregnant ladies usually only pee themselves if they laugh or cough or sneeze? And I’d done none of those things. I stood on the landing, the wet spot on my favorite cozy pajama pants spreading, the dogs pulling at their leashes. Could it be my water breaking? It couldn’t be. Only 12% of women break their water before labor starts. But there were butterflies in my tummy. I left the dogs on the landing and went back inside. Sat on the potty to see if I just needed to pee when another gush of fluid came.
“Um, Mike? I either pissed myself or my water broke.”
“Does it smell like pee?”
I sniffed my pajama pants. “I can’t tell! I think it’s probably just pee. It has to be just pee.”
My water was not going to break. I was going to labor at home, peacefully, with no doctors or nurses bothering me, listening to my lovely labor & delivery playlist, while I shampooed the carpets and cleaned the baseboards. I was NOT going to spend my entire labor at L&D with a broken water sac.
“You should probably text Brenda.”*
Over the next half hour I texted back and forth with Brenda about whether or not I’d lost control of my bladder or broken my bag of water. I walked the dogs, fluid dripping between my legs. She suggested a maxi pad to catch the flow. Good call. The fourth or fifth time I gushed, there were two tiny drops of blood. Adrenaline rushed through me. This was not pee. Shit was about to get real.
“Oh. Yeah. This is definitely my water breaking. I guess I should pack my hospital bag?” I’d been meaning to pack it, but was sure I had plenty of time…
I called Brenda and she said she’d come right over. I wasn’t tired at all anymore, but wide awake, adrenaline coursing through my body. I’m having this baby tonight, I thought. And then, but I haven’t washed the dishes! Or shampooed the carpet! Or vacuumed! And the dogs need baths! And I NEED A PEDICURE.
I texted my girlfriend Michelle, “Water broke. I need a pedicure! Come over and paint my toes before we go to the hospital!” That was at 11:30 p.m., but she wouldn’t get the text until after 2 a.m. the next morning. No pre-hospital pedicure for me.
Brenda arrived, and Mike cleaned the kitchen (bless him) while I packed our hospital bag. I changed into the comfy skirt, top, and bra I’d planned to wear during labor. I looked in the mirror and felt truly beautiful for the first time since the Bell’s Palsy came on. Mike loaded our car with the laptop, a giant suitcase full of things we’d never touch during our hospital stay, and a yoga ball I’d borrowed from my parents. The car seat, installed just the day before, was ready with soft blankets to tuck around our girl on the ride home. We hopped in the car and I called and left messages to cancel my acupuncture appointment and pedicure (ugh!) for the next day. We checked into the hospital a few minutes after midnight, January 17, giddy with excitement.
“So… I think my water broke….”
“The theme of the evening. You and every other woman in here. It’s a full moon. Going to be a busy night. Are you having contractions?”
The nurse who checked us in led us to triage room 3 – the same room Mike and I had spent 12 hours in just 10 days earlier, when I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, which I suddenly couldn’t care less about. I was glad they put us in the same room. It was familiar. We’d be comfortable.
“Go ahead and undress, put this gown on –”
“I was told I could labor in my own clothes.”
“Oh. Well. As long as you don’t mind if we have to cut them off you in an emergency.”
“I don’t care.”
“Fine. Go ahead and give us a urine sample. Then sit bare-bottom on this pad so we can make sure you’re leaking amniotic fluid and not urine.”
I lost my mucous plug in the urine sample. Only I didn’t know what was happening.
“Ummmm…. whoa…. lots of mucous… whoa…. so…. much…. my word! What the…”
“Wahoo! That’s your mucous plug! Good sign!” cheered Brenda.
Once I was situated bare-bottomed on the pad on the bed in the triage room, we met the nurse who would be taking care of us until the morning shift change. Her name was Bethany and she was lovely. She went over our birth preferences and wrote them on the white board in the room. She hooked me up to the baby monitor and chatted with us about what my ideal birth would be like. My contractions were steady every 7-10 minutes, mild enough that I could talk and laugh through them. I leaked all over the pad on the bed so she let me get up and put my skirt back on, gave me some awesome mesh panties and a maxi pad the size of a canoe to soak up new leaks.
A little while later the doctor on call came in. I walked across the room and shook his hand, I think it put him off a little. He wanted to examine me to check my progress, but I said no. I wanted as few vaginal exams as possible. The prednisone for the Bell’s Palsy was screwing with my immune system and I didn’t want to risk infection. He confirmed I was gushing amniotic fluid and not just pissing myself. He confirmed that the baby was doing fabulously and that my contractions were regular, but that I still had a long way to go.
Brenda suggested we walk the halls to see if my labor would kick up a notch, so we did. We walked and we walked and we walked in circles all over the L&D floor, outside, around, back again. The night air was cool and lovely, the full moon shone bright. Mike or Brenda, I can’t remember who, challenged me to start walking the stairs, and I took that idea and ran with it. Over the next twelve hours we’d hike up and down five flights of stairs dozens of times. Up, up, up, up, up. Down, down, down, down, down. Again. Again. Again. Every 45 minutes we headed back to the triage room so Bethany could monitor Niblet’s heart rate and my contractions, but I refused to get into bed. I’d sit on the yoga ball, opening my hips, telling the baby to move down! Patting my belly and saying, “Listen kid. You started this. I was happy to let you stay put for a few more weeks, but you broke the water sac, so now you need to get out. Let’s get this party started.” The night turned to dawn, to early morning. We tried to nap but no one slept. We walked some more. My contractions grew further apart, not closer together. They got weaker, not stronger. Brenda and I walked to the cafe outside the hospital so Mike could get some sleep and she could get some coffee. We went for breakfast in the hospital cafeteria. The hospital staff changed shifts, the night doc introduced the day staff and I was delighted that there was a midwife on call who I knew and liked. She wanted to check my progress and again I declined.
We kept walking, left the hospital grounds and walked down Burbank Boulevard in the hot morning sun. I sent Mike home to get my running shoes so I could walk harder and faster, and because my flip flops were giving me blisters. I took a shower, tried twiddling my nips because nipple stimulation can kick up contractions. Michelle came by, brought coffees and gave me a pedicure while I kept my hands up my shirt, futzing with my now very sore nipples, praying my contractions would get stronger. Mike came back with my running shoes and with my toes painted and dry, I tied them on and we hit the stairs again. An hour had passed since my last contraction. I was starting to worry.
Around noon the midwife, Pat, came in to see us. Talked me into an exam. It had been more than twelve hours since my water broke and she needed to see what kind of progress I’d made. I was certain that I was dilating, so I was crushed to find out I hadn’t dilated at all. Not even one centimeter. I was 40% effaced, but that’s it. And my contractions had stopped all together.
“What are my options?”
“We aren’t going to make you do anything you don’t want to do. You can hang out as long as you’d like. Your baby is doing great, you’re welcome to keep walking the halls and going up and down stairs as long as you want to. But in all honesty, if labor was going to kick in on its own, it would have by now. So I don’t think it’s going to. I recommend a drug called Cytotec. It’s an oral medication that causes contractions. You might only need one dose, you might need four, we’ll have to see. But the nice thing is you won’t need an IV, you’ll be able to keep walking the halls, you can stay out of bed, it’s nothing like Pitocin. Your other option is, of course, Pitocin, but I don’t think you want that.”
“Can you give us a minute to talk together, in private?”
Mike and Brenda started googling “Cytotec” on their phones. We learned it’s an ulcer medication which (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) causes pregnant women to go into labor.
“Pat’s right,” Brenda told me. “You’ve done everything you can do to try to start labor naturally. The Cytotec is a great option.” Mike and I agreed. Pat came back in.
“I’ll take the Cytotec.”
“Excellent! How do you feel about an enema? An enema irritates the bowels which can also bring on contractions.”
“Um… I don’t want an enema, but I’ll try it. I’ll try anything.”
They brought the Cytotec with my meal tray. My mother came to visit and brought Mike and Brenda lunch. We filled her in on my progress, or lack thereof. I ate lunch and afterwards, enjoyed (HA) a lovely enema dessert. Then I sat on the potty and shit my brains out. And then we hit the stairs again.
*Brenda is a dear friend I’ve known for 17 years, who is also my doula.
To be continued…
I call this “gremlin face” aka the face she makes when she’s hungry and PISSED. It cracks me up when she screws up her face like this right before she CHOMPS down on my nip. My lord I love this kid.