Sweet Story Brynne, you arrived so easily into this world. This is mostly due to Mommy ignoring Daddy’s pleas for a natural childbirth.
“I don’t want to see all those monitors hooked up to you,” he told mommy. “I think you should bring our baby into the world naturally.”
I stared at Daddy for a very long time, my facial expressions ranging between confusion - ‘who are you?’, anger - ‘who said you got a vote?’, amusement - ‘that’s so funny!’, and bewilderment - ‘did we not just both watch the same video of that woman having natural childbirth for 44 hours?’ I thought carefully about how I would word my response.
“Well okay,” I began. “Since we are already in the eighth month, we should double up on those birthing classes on your nights off. There are a few 7 AM to 5 PM classes being offered on Sundays.”
“Oh,” he said. And it was then that we decided that mommy would have an epidural.
Contractions began at 5AM on a Thursday, the day after me and Daddy went through a slew of experiments trying to get you out into the world. Outside, the Philly air was frozen and several feet of snow had accumulated on the ground over the previous five days. God covered the city with a fresh dusting of untouched snow, as if he was tidying up Philly for your new eyes. Your father slept peacefully beside me and your Mimi slept in the living room. We were all ready and waiting for you to arrive.
I shot up in bed, the room illuminated by the red glow of the digital clock reading 5:07AM. Oh God, I can’t believe I was just awakened by the overwhelming urge to take a poop. That’s right, my first indication that you were about to enter the world was marked by an intense feeling of constipation. There is really no polite way to explain it.
Great. Just great. Constipation to add to the heartburn. I should not have eaten pineapple with sriracha sauce. See here.
Since I was two days passed my due date and the discomfort seemed to be lingering, I decided to time each short wave. Not labor. Definitely not labor. I feel nothing in my belly, no cramping, no aching, no pinching. According to the literature, labor is consistent. And this is hardly consistent. I am not going to be the idiot that shows up at the hospital thinking she is in labor and being sent home with a stiff laxative.
The numbers read 6:03 when I woke your father.
“I didn’t want to wake you unless I was sure. But I think I’m sure now. I thought I just had to take a really big poop, but I think, I’m not sure, but I might, though it could just be constipation, but perhaps I’m having a labor.”
He didn’t open his eyes or roll over. “Okay,” he said.
“Can you time them? I’ll be so embarrassed if it’s just a hemorrhoid flare up from eating all that spicy food last night.”
He was quiet for a long minute.
“Are you there?” I asked.
“Sure.” I heard him digging in his bedside stand for his watch.
“Tell me when one starts,” he said.
I had already been up pacing around the room for the last hour and had located a contraction timer on the computer.
“They last about a minute to a minute and a half and they happen every 6-10 minutes. I could be like this all morning,” I told him.
He yawned and looked over at the computer on my bedside stand, “Why don’t you just use the computer to count and wake me when they start getting closer together. No use in both of us being tired.”
Your father rolled over and went back to sleep. Natural childbirth, huh?
Alone in the dark of the room, still in the silence of the morning, it was just you and me. There was nothing else to do but feel the discomfort growing. It would be our final moments alone together, and I felt a sudden reluctance to share you with the world.
I got up and took a shower. Everything felt better in the heat and steam, and I leaned against the tile and prayed.
Please Lord, help me get through this. Help me to let go and remember that I am not the first person to do this. I am not special or different and many women have gracefully passed before me. Help me be strong and do what I need to do. Help me remain calm and focused and be present for this moment. And please help it go fast. Amen.
I got dressed and double checked my bags to make sure everything was packed. When the waves came, I bent over a chair or the bed and raised one leg in the air until it passed. Sometimes they were three minutes apart and sometimes they were four minutes apart. I went back and forth doubting if this was really labor. But by 8:00 AM, I was convinced.
I woke Mimi,“You ready to be a Grandmother?”
By 9:30 AM, your father and Mimi were dressed and showered, and we decided to wait as long as we could before we went to the hospital. I called your Papa and talked between contractions. We joked and laughed, and when a wave would come, I stood like a flamingo in the middle of the room until it passed.
Your father was unimpressed. He sat at the computer and seemed really annoyed whenever I said, “Here comes another one.”
He would push the timer on the contraction counter and go back to reading his blog roll.
“Hey, I could use some help here,” I said.
He turned from his seat in front of the computer, one hand still on the mousse. “What do you want me to do?” he said.
“Um, count. Help me breathe. Something. We went to that class together, can’t you do some of those things.”
“Like what things.”
“Oh God, here comes one.” I leaned over the bed and placed my head in my hands counting aloud. Your father stood over me staring, a blank expression on his face, your Mimi joining him in the doorway to watch the scene unfold.
“Stop staring at me!” They both looked away.
When the contractions were a minute long and 3 minutes apart, I told your father to call our friend Kevin and ask him to give us a ride to the hospital. Kevin is Aunt Elizabeth’s husband, lives down the street from us and was the only person we knew that could get his car out in the middle of a blizzard. Your Dad made the call and by 11:30, we were loading Kevin’s four wheel drive pick-up truck with a car seat, my overnight bag, My Breast Friend, Mimi, her overnight bag, your Dad, his overnight bag, and one very pregnant contracting Mama. It was a tight fit, and there were lots of bumps along the route.
Mommy tried to make conversation, “So Kevin, how are things? How was your morning?”
“Um, good. Are you going to break your water?”
“I don’t think I’m quite there yet, so how is the fam- uh, pardon me for a moment,” And I leaned over the dash and tried to lift my butt off the seat. “Uhhhh, ahhhhh, ooooh, -okay. Sorry about that, so the family?”
Kevin looked very nervous over the thirty minutes it took us to drive ten blocks in the snow.
We arrived at the hospital around noon, and they sent us to be processed. By now, your father had determined that there not an app available to download to the iTouch that would count my contractions. So he pulled out the pen and paper and used his calculator watch to help me gracefully wait out the 90 minutes before they came in to check my cervix. When Daddy learned that I was already at 7 centimeters he transformed, helped me count, reminding me to breathe, and fought with the nurse to get me checked in to one of the new birthing suites.
“The new ones aren’t set up.”
“Well, can you set it up?”
“You want it set up, or you want me to be in a good mood.”
“Um, I’d like you to set it up, and I’d like you to be in a good mood.”
“Humph. Good luck with that.”
And the nurse reluctantly moved us into a pristine new birthing suit with maple wood paneling, fresh white linens and a mood light dimmer. What she failed to mention is that she would also be our nurse for the day. She took every available opportunity to point out the deficiencies of the room and remind us we had chosen it.
Thanks to the birthing plan we had prepared in advance, we had minimal intrusions in our birthing oasis. Our doctor wasn’t available, so we asked for a midwife. The contractions were not as painful as they were exhausting, and the excitement about what was happening made it hard not to spontaneously smile. Your father held my hand, stroked my back and whispered in my ear, as per my instructions.
Around 2:30 pm, when the doctor arrived to administer the epidural, I longed for a little sleep. I had to sit still on the hospital bed as he pricked my back with a long needle. Staying still as the contractions rolled through me was more of a distraction than the needle. I asked for a low dose epidural, causing our nurse to roll her eyes and call us “earthy-birthy.”
“Let’s see how that goes,” she said, thus challenging me to resist asking for a heavier dose as the day wore on.
After the epidural, I lay back in the bed and the pain reduced to a small rumble. We lowered the lights, Mimi sat in a rocking chair reading, your father looked through the latest issue of Wired and I tried to type up a feeding schedule template as I faded in and out of sweet sleep. About 5:00 pm, I woke with a rush of pain.
“I feel something.”
“Hmph. Probably that low dose epidural kicking in,” said the nurse. “Just push that little button over there and wait about fifteen minutes.”
I pushed. I breathed. I waited. I pushed again. Nothing.
“Well, it’s probably just hurting because you did that low-dose thing.”
Gabe investigated. I winced. Gabe held up the end of a cord attached to the drip at the side of my bed.
“Should this be plugged in?” he asked the nurse.
I looked at Gabe with panic, trying to breathe as the contractions came and went through me with vicious force.
“It’s this new room. It’s just not set up right. I told you that you were going to have trouble with this room. Looks like it was kicked out of the wall. This room just ain’t the right set up.”
Mimi asked, “Should we call someone down to re-administer the epidural?” You see Story, the way the epidural works is that they give you an initial dose and then they hook you up to a drip meant to administer the remaining dosage. But I had never received the drip, only the initial dose, and a doctor had to come down to set it all back up again. The other thing Story, is that an epidural numbs you from the waist down and fools you into thinking you have no pain, so when you suddenly do feel the pain – it hurts!
“I’ll check on it,” said Nurse Ratched.
Relegated to a lying down position in the bed for the longest 35 minutes of my life, Mimi got the doctor back down to hook up the epidural again.
“You want it strong this time I bet,” assumed the nurse.
“I think I’m getting close, I’ll keep it low.”
Eye rolls ensued. But then the midwife came in and she checked my cervix and she said, “I believe we are ready to push.”
I looked at the clock, and it said 6:15pm. My head began to swirl as I realized you were about to be born.
“Oh my God, this is really happening.” I said. The midwife flipped on the light and your daddy and Mimi positioned themselves on either side of the bed. The nurse stood at the head of the bed. Oh my God. This is it. This is really happening. Oh no. I’m not ready. I don’t want this. Can I change my mind?
Your daddy squeezed my hand and fixed me in a stare that let me know we were a team, doing this together.
“When you feel the next contraction, I want you to push,” said the midwife.
I remembered this part from the birthing class. I was supposed to push like I was moving out a big poo. I squeezed my eyes shut, took a deep breath and pushed with all my strength. I gritted my teeth, touched my chin to my chest, and pushed until the veins at the side of my head began to pulse. My eye sockets blackened from the blood rush.
“And stop,” she said. I had done it. I was so proud. This is when the nurse leaned over and said, “This could take anywhere from two to four hours, at least.”
“What? Are you kidding me? In the movies, the pushing part lasts like seven minutes tops.”
The nurse smiled, “Sorry.”
We pushed after every other contraction and then we rested. When the midwife left the room, the nurse told me to push, take a quick breath and push down again, like a double whammy push. So I did it…in every contraction for 15 minutes. And when the midwife came back into the room, she sat down and said, “Whoa, you need to relax, this baby’s coming fast and I don’t want you to tear.”
I shot a dirty look at the nurse.
The midwife had me push and then relax and push and then relax. “We are just going to gently loosen you up, okay?”
But you had other plans. And on the next push, the midwife pushed back the paper blanket and got into position.
“I can see her head,” she said. And that’s when I looked at Daddy and could see the tears rolling down his face and the lightest, sweetest smile on his lips.
“Oh my God. I can see her head, honey.” He was so excited to report the news.
Mimi squeezed my right hand and Daddy squeezed my left. Every time I pushed, they squeezed back and said, “You are doing great.”
“Here she comes.” And then I pushed for the last time.
There was movement and bustling and within a minute you were there on my chest, a wriggling soft mass of jellied flesh. You strained your neck to look up at me. You moved your head carefully around, surveying your new world. Your tiny lips. Your glassy eyes. Your delicate long fingers. You were so perfect, and I was so happy.
I cried. I couldn’t help it. I tried not to, but I was so relieved and happy and exhausted, all at the same time. Your daddy cried too and held us both so tight that I could feel him shaking through my gown. We were a family. I had been so scared of what life would be like with you and suddenly, I couldn’t imagine life without you.
You were born at 7 PM on February 11th, 2010 in the country’s first hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 7 pounds 8 ounces. Barack Obama was president. District 13 was the number one movie. There was five inches of snow melting on the ground outside.