It’s been six weeks (!!!) since our Maelle made her appearance, and I’m only just now finishing the story of her birth. That #newbornlife is NO JOKE.
My lackadaisical attitude toward the writing of birth stories–both before and after I got pregnant–has always baffled me. As a woman, I understand the desire–need, even–for a mother to process the momentous event of her child’s birth, whether with a friend over coffee or on paper. As a writer, I understand the epic storyline and suspense found in the telling of one’s experience laboring and delivering a child. Yet, writing the story of my own child’s birth was not one I was bursting at the seams to document. Even now, I’m probably penning this more for posterity or ‘completeness’ rather than out of enthusiasm, but trust that my feelings will warm in the process of the telling.
In the wee hours of Monday, July 15–after only three hours of sleep–our alarm clock sounded just after 4 am. Induction day dawned as we drove to Sister’s Hospital and checked in, very matter-of-factly, to labor and delivery. There are extra risks associated with AMA (advanced maternal age) and IVF pregnancies, so my OB wasn’t interested in letting me go much past my due date. While I wasn’t a huge fan of being induced, the longer I stayed pregnant without signs of imminent labor, the more I worried about a tragic outcome, if only a little. Now at 41 weeks, I was ready for our little girl to to in my arms.
We were greeted warmly by the night nurses and settled into our room. It was surreal to look around and comprehend that in just a few hours (I was hoping less than 24!) I’d be having a baby RIGHT HERE. I could tell my anxiety was building when the brusque demeanor of the daytime nurse brought me to tears. She immediately softened, and as I wiped them away, I regained my composure.
My birth plan did not include pain medication; I wanted as few interventions as possible during labor and delivery, while still remaining flexible since birth is unpredictable. Most importantly, I wanted a birth experience I could feel proud of. I wanted a strong performance, to give my best effort under whatever circumstances came my way, much like my marathon a couple years ago. Knowing I’d be induced made me re-think my plan a little, as Pitocin is known to make contractions more painful. But, after a chat with my doula, I remained optimistic that I didn’t have to throw my entire birth plan out the window.
Despite being “0-0-0” (zero dilation, zero effacement, -4 position of baby; typically a bad candidate for induction) when checked by the resident that morning, my spirits remained high. Normally, that would mean I was a poor candidate for induction, but my doctor was confidant things would progress well. I was, after all, here to have a baby. My Pitocin drip began running at exactly 8:06 am, and was bumped up every half hour to bring on contractions.
The first six hours were a breeze. Andrew and I called our doula a couple hours after my Pitocin started, not knowing how quickly things would progress. My friend, Stacy, also came to add to the moral support crew. As the Pitocin increased, my contractions grew from ‘almost unnoticeable’ to a very noticeable tightening of the uterus, but still remained relatively pain-free.
At 2:00 pm, my doctor made his first appearance and checked me. I’d dilated 2 cm, was 80% effaced and the baby had moved down to a -2 position. Not a huge amount of progress, but progress nonetheless. He broke my waters, which would speed things up. Within an hour, my contractions were stronger and more painful. The doula rubbed my back while I was on all fours at the foot of the bed. The contractions steadily increased, and I focused my breath with each one. At the doula’s urging, I got into the shower and allowed the hot water to run on my lower back while I sat in a chair facing the shower wall. I breathed and moaned and used every tool I’d learned in prenatal yoga. I was in pain, for sure, but was coping well. I visualized my muscles relaxing to allow the baby to descend while I vocalized the sensations I was feeling. “This,” I thought, “is what I prepared for.”
Unfortunately, the pain relief from the warm water came to an abrupt halt when I exited the shower. I stood at the foot of the bed with my left leg up on a chair, Captain Morgan-style. The contractions were increasingly more painful, and I had the recollection from our birth class that this stance likely signaled that the baby was now ‘sunny-side up.’ My lower back felt as if it were on fire, and each contraction brought me onto my tip-toes as I gripped the end of the bed, clenched every muscle and my legs shook under my weight. I felt as if I were losing my grip on reality; I imagined I looked like a woman possessed, writhing in agony, her face contorted with pain. In that moment, I realized that the pain I was feeling was beyond my ability to cope. This was not what I’d prepared for, and I was no longer able to be present in the moment. A small part of me was afraid my support team would try to stall or talk me out of the epidural, as this is what we’d discussed prior to labor. I announced, in no uncertain terms, that I needed an epidural.
It simply really does take awhile to get an epidural, and I suffered through the contractions for at least another hour. Finally, at 6:45 pm, I signed my epidural paperwork. I’d never written anything so fast in my life. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared about a needle going into my spine, and while I knew I needed the pain relief, I wasn’t thrilled about all the other ‘interventions’ that go along with the epidural. After what seemed like an eternity, the anesthesiologist came into the room and began setting up. He placed the needle deftly while I remained as still as possible during a contraction.
I was placed on my side and covered with blankets as I shook uncontrollably. Thankfully, I’d been warned about that strange and unnerving side effect. Andrew, the doula and Stacy were allowed to return, and in time, the intensity of my contractions lessened. I was finally able to catch my breath–I felt like I’d returned to my own body after a brief absence.
The resident from that morning checked me again, and this time I was 8 or 9 cm dilated–so close! Within an hour, I was ready to push. Looking back, I think waiting so long to get the epidural allowed it to speed up my dilation by letting me relax. I also still had a lot of strength and control in my legs, which I appreciated. I was able to do a bridge on the bed to allow the nurse to change the pads on the table while I was pushing.
If I’d felt prepared to handle the contractions, it quickly became apparent that I was not prepared for pushing. While I knew about the general concept of pushing, I was not familiar with the particular method of directed pushing my nurse would want me to do. I was to do three 10-second pushes, each while holding my breath. With each one, I felt as if I’d burst all the blood vessels in my head! I had no idea how long it would take, and I’d pushed for 30 minutes without feeling like I’d made much progress. My doctor visited once to check on me, and seeing that the baby wasn’t imminent, left. I was disheartened, but my support team continued to cheer me on. An hour passed, I continued to push, and the baby continued to move down the birth canal. At this point, despite knowing I was *so close* to delivery, pushing was so difficult and exhausting that at one point I wondered if I could still get a c-section… I was trying SO HARD to push correctly, but progress was so slow.
Soon, I was hearing exclamations from Andrew that he could see her head crowning. She was indeed sunny-side up, and her forehead was rocking back and forth under my pubic bone. There would still be more pushing, but my spirits lifted. If her head was visible, the end was near! My doctor arrived, and this time began making preparations for her birth: requesting the NICU to be paged (there was evidence of meconium in the amniotic fluid) and prepping Andrew to cut the cord. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much relief as I did upon hearing that the pushing would soon be over.
With just a couple more pushes, at 10:41 pm, our baby girl was out and lying on my chest, facing away from me so Andrew could cut the cord. I was deliriously happy that it was over, and didn’t mind a bit when the nurses took her before getting our skin-to-skin time. I was a hot, sweaty mess, and was happy to watch the nurses take care of our baby girl across the room.
While my doctor performed the necessary post-birth tasks (removing the placenta, stitching me up, etc), Andrew was with our little girl. She measured 22.5 inches long (!!!) and 7 pounds, 2 ounces. She had long, skinny legs that I could see sticking up from across the room. The doula and Stacy stayed with me, getting me water and brushing the hair out of my face. My vision was hazy from the pushing, and I was both euphoric and exhausted.
Baby Maelle was a little wheezy from the meconium suctioning, so the nurses placed her on my chest in the hopes that some skin-to-skin contact would regulate her breathing. The hospital staff left us alone, for the most part, and we were able to enjoy our time together after such a long day. Stacy and the doula stayed with us, and we all took turns holding the baby. Her breathing improved almost immediately, and we were able to take her with us to our new room for the rest of our stay in the hospital.
Around 1 am, the three of us were taken to our new room where we would spend the rest of the hospital stay. I was so tired, yet too keyed up to sleep. My surroundings were unfamiliar, and now I had a tiny person I was supposed to care for, yet had no idea what exactly I needed to do and when. I was thankful when the nurse took her for some routine tests, but wasn’t able to get the sleep I desperately wanted. Before long it was morning and our room was a revolving door for hospital staff and visitors.
I’d always anticipated that I’d feel scared and unprepared leaving the hospital with a newborn. On the contrary! I was ready to get away from the constant interruptions and start our new life at home as a family of three. After passing all of our routine checks and learning to nurse, Maelle and I were discharged two days later.
Andrew swears he’s never driven so slowly or more carefully in his life as he did on our way home from the hospital. I rode in the back, gazing at my baby and still reeling from the events of the previous few days.
Maelle Rose, the baby girl who started as a daydream one day in France when we fell in love with her name four years ago, was finally real and on her way home with us.