I’m sitting here breastfeeding my newly born, 10-days-old Poppy, watching Daniel.Tiger with my girls. Skittle, who celebrated her second birthday on Saturday, is recovering from twelve hours of almost constant vomiting (the flu? food poisoning? not really sure but it’s been awful watching her like this), as is my mom. Not exactly how I imagined spending my postpartum period. And yet somehow, despite having to meet the needs of three children and my mother (Honey is back at work now), I am finding time to sit down and type out the story of Poppy’s birth.
It was beautiful, you guys. Magical. I almost feel like I have nothing more to say than that because it was really such a “textbook” labor and delivery. So “normal.” And yet, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. So happy. Profound. Transformative. It demands to be recorded, if for no one else other than myself and Poppy. And so I will, I will record every bit of it, every ordinary detail (please forgive how long this post is!), because I want to remember this forever…
My mom arrived on September 30th, just as planned. I had been praying that she would arrive before Poppy did and it was a relief to see her at the airport, to know she was here and Poppy was safely still inside of me and my girls would have someone I trust implicitly to watch them while I was in the hospital. Though there were some things I wanted to accomplish over the coming weekend (pedicures with my mom, one last date night with Honey, a trip to the pumpkin patch with the girls), I finally felt like, “Okay, precious boy, you can come now…”
The next day (Oct 1) was my mom’s birthday, but we went about the day pretty normally…taking Cupcake to and from preschool, house-cleaning, naptimes, and then cake in the evening to celebrate. The only things that were note-worthy were 1) I strangely, and suddenly, started doubting our decision to have a third child. I felt really afraid, my faith in my ability to handle the chaos gone. I wanted to cry at times because I was just so unexpectedly scared that I couldn’t do it, that I would fail as soon as I tried. That I would fail not one, but all three of my children. And 2) I was having a crazy amount of Braxton Hicks on that day. They were constant….a painless tightening of my belly over and over and over again, almost without any breaks in between. I mentioned it to my mom, my doula-friend Leigh, and Honey and they all said a variation of “Maybe this is it!” But my only response was no, no, no — partly because I really did have a few more insignificant things I wanted to accomplish, partly because I had my heart weirdly set on a 10/5/15 birthday for Poppy, but mostly because I think I had come to believe that my body was incapable of going into labor on its own. That I was forever doomed to induction after induction in order to bring my babies forth into this world. I just couldn’t even allow myself to hope for anything different, to think that maybe things could go another way for me. That would be dangerous because I knew there was just too great of a chance for disappointment.
It was around 10 p.m. that night, though, that I started to wonder… Over the previous hour or two, my painless “Braxton Hicks” had begun to sting, like an achy, crampy, pinchy sort of pain that came and went every few minutes. I could feel it strongest in my back, which seemed significant since I had suffered excruciating back labor with both of my girls. As I was preparing to hit the hay, I decided to text my doula (dear friend Leigh) and our birth photographer. I assured them that I didn’t really think it was the real thing, but wanted them to be prepared “just in case.” As I crawled into bed that night, I was not in any notable pain, but I was uncomfortable. The contractions (I finally allowed myself to think of them in that way) were coming every 5-7 minutes. It was 11:30 p.m.
I slept restlessly, awaking every now and then to see if the contractions continued. They did, about every five minutes. They didn’t feel good, but the discomfort wasn’t enough that I couldn’t sleep. And so I dozed until 1 a.m., when I realized the contractions were getting stronger. I got up to pee and went back to bed, hoping to get a little more sleep. But I couldn’t rest. I was still in denial, still unwilling to admit that I was in labor and this baby was coming, but I felt a strong need to get prepared in the very unlikely chance that I was and he was. So I had a shower, I shaved my legs, and I woke my mom to ask if she could paint my toenails blue. Throughout these things, the contractions progressed until the point where my mom had to stop painting my nails with each one because I felt I really needed to focus in order to manage the pain. It was after this that she convinced me it was probably time to wake up Honey and contact Leigh and our birth photographer (Kay). It was 3:00 a.m.
Through texting, Leigh and I decided that she would come to our house until it was time to go to the hospital and Kay would meet us at the hospital when it was time. When I woke Honey, he got out of bed slowly, and I directed him to have a shower and a bite to eat and we’d leave when contractions were a bit closer together than five minutes. At which point, my mom said to me, “Sweetie, I think they’re coming a lot closer than five minutes apart.” That gave me pause, because they did seem to be coming fast. I hadn’t timed them in a while, but saying they were five minutes apart seemed safe. It allowed me to still live somewhat in denial…to qualify every statement I made with, “if I’m really in labor.” Anything less would mean this was real. This was happening. But despite my insisting that they weren’t that close together, Honey grabbed his smartphone and started timing. The contractions were two minutes apart.
From this point on, things happened fast. I texted Leigh to tell her to meet us at the hospital rather than our house. I texted Kay to say we would be leaving soon. I finished packing my hospital bag in a frantic rush (“I need my journal! Where’s my concealer? Can someone grab the laptop for me?!?! And my yoga pants!”). My mom made me a slice of buttered toast and fed it to me while I worked. Honey skipped his shower and just changed his clothes instead, then loaded the car. And I insisted on putting on some earrings and my makeup in between each contraction before I would walk out the door. And all the while, my contractions got stronger and Honey and my mom rubbed my lower back through each one.
As I put on my sandals and Honey and I prepared to leave, I said to him, “I’m scared.”
“What are you scared of?” he asked.
“I’m scared the baby won’t be okay. And that I can’t do this.” This would become a regular refrain for me throughout the rest of my labor.
“The baby’s fine,” he said. “And you can do this. You’ve done it before. You can do this.” His confidence in me was palpable. And then away we went into the night, leaving behind my sleeping daughters and wonderful mother. It was around 4 a.m.
The drive to the hospital was unpleasant. Sitting down was awful, the contractions didn’t lighten up at all, and Honey took a wrong turn on the way. Every bump in the road hurt. My friend Leigh told me that during her own labor, she made her husband stop the car for each contraction so that she could get through it. I was the exact opposite. I white-knuckled it and just wanted my husband to step on the gas and get there as f—ing fast as possible. I kept asking, “Are we there yet?”
When we arrived at the hospital, Leigh met us in the parking garage and helped me inside. We checked in at the ER and they called the Birth Center for us. My nurse came down to greet us and walked us up to the third floor. I contracted several times along the way, leaning against the wall or whoever was nearby and groaning my way through it. We trapped one nurse in the elevator because I was having a contraction when the doors opened and blocking her way to get out. There was no moving me and she didn’t even try. At the birth center, I was taken to triage, hooked up to the fetal monitor, and checked for dilation. I was 5cm and immediately whisked off to my labor and delivery room, which was coincidentally and beautifully the same room I delivered Skittle in just two years before.
Inside my room, I was again hooked up to the fetal monitor and asked too many admittance questions about vaccines I’ve had recently and cord blood banking and a million other things I felt incapable of fully answering. Honey, who had decided it was his duty to ensure that my birth plan was followed as closely as possible, gave a copy to the nurse. She was completely receptive to and supportive of it, which was a relief to us all. For each contraction, I stood by my bed and leaned on the bedside table, groaning in low tones and squeezing Honey’s hand. Leigh rubbed my lower back (sometimes with her hands and at other times with a wooden massage tool or a tennis ball) and squeezed my hips (which felt sooooo good) and told me how well I was doing. Sometimes, I would again say how scared I was and sometimes I would repeat over and over “I can do this.” At one point, I had Dan text Kay to see if she would be arriving soon and, moments later, she was in our room, snapping away with her Canon.
It was maybe 5 a.m. or so when I started asking to get into the bathtub. The relief of sitting in warm water called to me. But Poppy’s heartbeat was not responding to the contractions in the way they wanted, so I wasn’t allowed off of the fetal monitor yet. They suspected Poppy was being a little “quiet” because it was the middle of the night and, with the exception of the half a piece of toast my mom had fed me, I hadn’t eaten anything since dinner. Even though I was not at all hungry, they encouraged me to have some apple juice in an effort to raise my blood sugar and wake the baby up. I did and, soon, baby’s heartbeat began to rise with each contraction.
Finally, I was allowed to get in the tub, at first with the portable, waterproof fetal monitor and then eventually without it, and I felt better instantly. The contractions, especially in my back, became more manageable. I could breathe again. I could relax again. It was such a sigh of relief. At least for a while. And then…it wasn’t. The strength of the contractions returned. The water felt too hot and I started sweating. For each contraction, Leigh poured cold water over my belly, Honey rubbed my back, and I kept my eyes closed and moaned and groaned my way through. There were times when I felt myself losing control and my moans would turn to squeals, but Leigh’s calm voice always brought me back and grounded me. She reminded me to relax, to keep my voice low, to let the tension out of my facial muscles. She encouraged me when I was “in the zone” to stay there as much as possible. She reminded me that I could do this. I could do it again.
It felt like I spent a long time in the tub, but in reality, it couldn’t have been more than thirty minutes. Eventually, the nurse gave me the option of using the doppler to listen to Poppy’s heartbeat or getting out of the water to be hooked up to the monitor. I was fearful of leaving the comfort of the water, but I was feeling overheated and needed a break, so I chose to get out. As soon as I did, another contraction hit and I leaned against the wall and grunted and squealed and said, “I feel a lot of pressure.”
I crawled into bed after that, half-naked (with only my bikini top on), and let the nurse connect the fetal monitor and then check me for dilation. I was 9cm. Time and the activity in the room sped up then. They started setting up the tools for delivery. Baby nurses came into the room, ready to greet and check my baby boy. The doctor arrived and, with my permission, I let him break my bulging bags of water. “There’s meconium,” I heard him say and my heart dropped. I’d never heard a single good thing about there being meconium in the amniotic fluid and I felt scared. Panicky. “Is he okay?” I asked and everyone assured me he was and no one seemed overly concerned. It calmed me and, as the doctor stood up, he said, “You’re basically 10cm. If you feel the urge to push, do it.”
And with the next contraction, I did. They let me choose what position to push in and I chose to lay on my side as I had done with Skittle. I started screaming with the new kind of pain and pressure I was feeling as I pushed; I couldn’t help myself. I was embarrassed to scream, but it also felt good. Strangely, the doctor had left the room, so the nurse called for emergency back-up and then there was a flood of people who swarmed in, the doctor included. It’s surreal to me, because I had my eyes closed for the whole thing and I really had no concept of where anyone was, who was touching me, who was talking to me, if Leigh and Honey were nearby or far away. I just gave one hard, loooooong push and, as I felt the baby crowning, I took some deep breaths and naturally slowed the pushing. “Good, controlled pushes,” a nurse (I think?) said. And then someone told me to me to push harder.
“I am!” I screamed.
“You can do it harder!” someone said.
And I did and, suddenly, several hands flipped me to my back, told me to give a cough and another push, and then Poppy was here. He was here. And he was warm and soft and gooey and crying. An “I’m here and I’m okay” kind of crying. And I touched his cheek and said, “My sweet boy. My sweet, sweet boy.” And then I was crying too. Sobbing really.
And here is the most wonderful thing: I loved him instantly. There was no doubt that he was mine, and meant to be mine, and this was the beginning of our love story. Because I loved him instantly, and deeply, and fiercely. And I don’t know what will become of our bond in the months and years ahead, but right then and right now it seemed and seems laughable that I ever questioned my ability to love him enough. Because it’s obvious to me now that my husband was right all along: I give my love away in so many forms to so many people every day. How could I not love this little human that I created and carried? My love for him is big. Bigger than my heart can contain, which is probably why tears burst from my eyes multiple times a day when I look at him. He is perfection and the perfect addition to our expanding family.
And one more thing… It may be too early to know all the ways in which this birth experience has altered my perceptions of this world and myself, all the ways it has changed me and the life ahead of me, but what I do know is this: My body is not broken. I am still in awe of the fact that I went into labor on my own. That, with the exception of the meconium incident, this birth went exactly according to plan. That I did not scream for an epidural as I went through transition. I am strong. I am capable. And though I am as infertile as I was three, or six, or ten years ago, my body did not let me down this time. It knows how to birth, and feed, a baby. It is — I am — not a complete failure. And neither is my heart. I am capable of loving the most unexpected, foreign, strange little creature. And I am capable of being loved by him too. I see it in his eyes.
This birth…it transformed me into the mother of a boy. Which is exactly the same and completely different than being the mother of a girl, I’m finding. And while it did not push me to my physical limits quite like Skittle’s birth did, it did push my heart to its love limits. It showed me what love really is. What being a mother really is. It’s not based on gender, or on years of trying to conceive, or any of that stuff that has been all I’ve known up until this point. It is based on a connection that is created at birth (or for those adoptive parents out there, some other pivotal moment in a child’s life), something primal that can’t be explained, or qualified, or quantified. I don’t have to go looking for it. I don’t have to force it to happen. It’s just there. Period.
I love him. And he loves me in the only way that his little newborn heart can. And now…I get to spend the rest of my life hoping that I am worthy of that love, and proving it to myself and, best of all, to him.