when you were born

It started early Sunday, Aug. 24, when we’d made it to 38w5d. I was at least a week into being very tired of being pregnant.

A day earlier, when the weekend had just begun, Nonna suggested–in line with the old wives’ tale–that I attempt some heavy housework to get labor rolling. She recommended some good, old-fashioned, whole-house vacuuming. Since our furbabies produce enough tumbleweeds to fill the American southwest on a weekly basis, I thought this was a great idea. If it sent me into labor, all the better. So I vacuumed every nook and cranny, even sweeping the wand over the walls to dust cobwebs and collected fur off of them. I lifted and shifted and moved furniture. By the time I was done, I was drenched in sweat. But I was definitely not laboring.

That Saturday night, we went to a dinner party where everyone oohed and aahed over my very pregnant state. “Maybe you’ll go into labor here tonight,” the hostess said. Given the very expensive furnishings in our friends’ very nice house, I didn’t think that was such a great idea. But I wouldn’t have tried to stop it had it started. It didn’t, of course.

That night, stuffed to the gills on barbecue brisket, amazing sides and a healthy helping of lemon chess pie, I dreamed the same vivid dreams I’d had throughout my pregnancy. The one that woke me at 7ish featured me losing my mucus plug and my water breaking. I stumbled sleepily into the bathroom for my ritualistic early-morning pee, and when I turned around to flush, I noticed some bloody mucus in the toilet. My mucus plug, I thought. I also noticed that I was leaking fluid onto my panty liner; it was tinged slightly pink, and I’d nearly soaked the liner through. This was unusual, but it didn’t strike me as being the gush I anticipated from broken membranes. I went back to bed but couldn’t sleep.

At 10ish, I called the doctor on call and explained what I was experiencing. She said she couldn’t necessarily determine from what I was describing that my water had broken, but she invited us to come into the hospital for them to check. She said we didn’t have to rush in–that we should shower and get our things collected before heading over. So we took our time: We had a leisurely breakfast, changed the linens, did the laundry, showered and got our hospital bags (long packed) ready to go. As we were just leaving the house, the doctor called back. Apparently, we were taking too long getting there, and she wanted to know what had happened to us. I assured her we were on our way and would be there in precisely eight minutes (we’d timed the drive several times).

When we got to the L&D ward, they registered me and took us to an exam room, where I was asked to strip down and get into a hospital gown, and I was hooked up to a fetal monitor so they could keep an eye on you. My blood pressure and pulse were taken. They used a litmus strip to check for amniotic fluid, but it didn’t provide a readily apparent diagnosis, so they took a sample of the fluid I was leaking and checked it under a microscope. I was told that it didn’t behave the way they expected amniotic fluid to do so, and the fluid therefore was nothing more than “normal” pregnancy discharge. Odd. For me, it was in no way normal. The constant leakiness that made its way through liners and pads and undies was like nothing I’d experienced before. The hospitalist who saw me did a pelvic exam and said I was no more than a fingertip dilated. She sent us home.

We had planned to spend the afternoon at the pool, but with the ongoing leaking, that wasn’t an option. So instead we went down to Nonna’s, where we took a long walk around the neighborhood and then went out to dinner. All the while, the leaking continued and, if anything, increased in intensity. I changed my undies three times that day.

After dinner and back at Nonna’s for dessert, I started getting a bit panicky. What if my water really had broken, and they had just misdiagnosed it? If that was the case, more than 12 hours had passed, and I was cognizant of the risk of infection. If it wasn’t that my water had broken, what was it? And could I possibly live two more weeks of my life with this fluid, whatever it was, making me fairly miserable on an ongoing basis?

Daddy convinced me to call the doctor on call again, explain the situation and ask for a recommendation. The poor doctor who had dealt with me that morning was on still on duty, and she encouraged us to come back in. So we went straight to the hospital on the way back from Nonna’s house, not stopping at home to get any of our things. We went through the same routine we had that morning: hospital gown, monitoring you, blood pressure, heart rate and finally litmus strip. This time, there was no doubt: I was leaking amniotic fluid, and they admitted me immediately.

Settled into our delivery room, the nurse went through the entire admission process with us while you were constantly monitored. I’d remain that way the rest of the night, precluding me from any good sleep. Every time I shifted, I’d lose your heartbeat, and I’d worry something was wrong. Nonna drove the 35 minutes up to our place at midnight to pick up our things and drop them off with us, then spent the night at our place to take care of our furbabies and await news of my progress. Daddy settled in for a long night on an uncomfortable pull-out armchair.

The nurse said they wanted to start me on Cervidil to “ripen” my cervix immediately, in anticipation of inducing me in the morning. This, of course, was contrary to everything Daddy and I wanted; our ultimate goal was an entirely natural birth to keep you healthy and safe. We asked the nurse if we could hold off on administering the Cervidil until the morning, allowing me at least the night to see if I’d start laboring naturally. As soon as the meds started, I knew, I’d have to be constantly monitored, meaning I’d be bedridden and probably unable to labor without an epidural, which ultimately would increase our chances of C section, which we wanted to avoid if at all possible. The nurse said she’d have to clear it with the doctor. Some time later, she returned to let us know the doctor had OK’d delaying the Cervidil until morning, as long as we understood the risk of infection. Of course we did. I had had only one pelvic exam so far, and there was no sign of infection.

Somewhere around 4 a.m. (I believe, although it’s all a blur), I shot up in bed and screamed an obscenity loud enough to wake Daddy. That was a contraction, I knew. It felt like the worst menstrual cramp I’d ever had coupled with a swift, hoofed kick to the lower back. It passed immediately, I relaxed and eventually drifted back into a fitful sleep. A couple of hours later, the contractions began again, less intensively, more regularly. I knew I was in early labor.

After a shift change, our new nurse arrived and again began talking about the Cervidil. I explained to her our strong desire for a natural delivery and told her I was fairly certain I’d begun laboring on my own earlier that morning. The printed strip from the monitor backed me up, but she said the doctor would have to perform another pelvic exam to inform a recommended course of action. I asked if in the meantime, I could come off the monitor so I could walk around a bit and have breakfast. My nurse agreed to an hour off the monitor; I’d have to be back in the room at 8:30 for breakfast and additional monitoring.

So Daddy and I literally walked in (not large) circles around the L&D wing, stopping every so often to “slow dance” (one of the comfort measures we’d learned) while I got through a contraction. They were still bearable, although I could feel them start, peak and subside every 10 minutes or so. While we were walking, we ran into the husband of a couple we’d met in our childbirth education class at the hospital about a month earlier. His wife had begun laboring at home early that morning and had progressed to six or seven centimeters, but then she’d stalled, he said. She was getting an epidural, so he’d been booted from the room. We wished each other good luck and moved on.

Sometime around 9 or so, the doctor on call–the one who would ultimately deliver you–came to see me for a pelvic exam. It was extraordinarily uncomfortable, but she rattled off stats to the nurse. I was still only a centimeter dilated, unfortunately, but I was 100 percent effaced, and you had dropped to a -1 station. She said it was too late for the Cervidil (which would impact effacement only), but she recommended starting me on the lowest dose possible of Pitocin to encourage dilation. I hemmed and hawed. I really, really didn’t want to be induced; I really, really wanted to do this med free. I bargained with her for another hour and a half or so to see if I wouldn’t dilate on my own. She reluctantly agreed.

When she left, I got ready to do the same sort of haggling with the nurse to get 20 minutes of freedom from the fetal monitor every hour. Much to Daddy’s and my extreme surprise, she one-upped us. She needed 10 minutes of monitoring an hour, she said; otherwise, I was free to move around as much as I wanted. I was elated! In the meantime, Daddy had contacted Nonna and your doula. Nonna was on her way; your doula, Tekla, was celebrating her daughter’s birthday that day and said she’d join us at 11. After all, first-time moms dilate an average of a centimeter an hour. At one centimeter, I still had a good nine hours to go.

Given the strength and frequency of my contractions, though, I wasn’t sure I’d make it. They were beginning to come hard and fast. I labored on the yoga ball (bouncing seemed to help a lot), on my yoga mat, pacing the room and leaning on Daddy, who was my hero and my champion throughout the process. He never stopped encouraging me, telling me what a great job I was doing, springing into action when necessary, fielding the ridiculous number of phone calls and texts we were both receiving, advocating for what we wanted and just being there for me to lean on. There is absolutely no way I would’ve gotten through it without him.

When the doctor returned around 10:30 for another pelvic exam, I was in active labor. Just lying on the bed was agonizing. I held my breath for her assessment of my progress, and her face gave away her surprise: You had moved into 0 station, and I was–-holy moley-–five centimeters dilated. “I’m going to get out of your way and let you labor,” the doctor said. The Pitocin was off the table. Daddy and Nonna both looked like they might cry; I thought I could kiss the doctor. My morale and energy boosted by the prognosis, I set my mind to getting through the delivery on will and desire alone.

Soon thereafter, Tekla arrived. She got to work immediately, pulling all sorts of tools out of her kit, including fresh-baked brownies for the nursing staff. She was indispensable throughout the rest of our journey, coaching Daddy and Nonna–also an incredible support (I wouldn’t have wanted to go through labor without her by my side)–and suggesting techniques to relieve the excruciating contractions that wracked my body, now every few minutes, and reminding me how and when to breathe. In between contractions, I’d zone out, closing my eyes and trying to go to a safe, quiet, calm spot in my head–something I know my weeks of yoga (with you) helped me with. For a while, I labored sitting up in bed, and for that while, it helped.

At a certain point, Tekla suggested it was an appropriate time to get into the shower to relieve the pain as I worked through the transition phase. Daddy, having smartly packed his swim trunks, joined me and helped me through the peaks of the torment, now every two to three minutes. While in the shower, I felt an urge to push like I’ve never felt before. It consumed me. It was all I wanted in the entire universe. Tekla coached me to keep my breathing low and steady because I was on the verge of spinning wildly out of control. I told everyone there that I needed to push, so they rushed to get the doctor for one last pelvic exam. I have no idea how much time had passed between the exams, nor do I have any concept of how much time passed before the doctor arrived, but it felt like an eternity. At this last, most painful exam, the doctor’s face again revealed her surprise. She told me I was 10 centimeters dilated and that I was free to push, but she encouraged me to continue laboring as long as I could so as to encourage you along your journey without rushing it.

For a while, I labored on hands and knees on the hospital bed, keeping my breath in control. But then control went out the window. I needed to push, and so I was going to push. They summoned the doctor, I was turned onto my back and I had the go-ahead to push. I pushed like I’ve never pushed before, and I screamed like I’ve never screamed before. Daddy later said he was certain the entire ward could hear me; I was certain the entire world could hear me. At a certain point I screamed out that I couldn’t do it, that there was no way I was going to push you out of me without breaking myself into a million pieces. I was met with a chorus of, “Yes, you cans.” I pushed twice, through precisely two contractions, and you came sliding into the world at 2:13 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 25, after about seven hours of labor.

My first thought was “Let him cry.” And in response, you screamed air into your little lungs; before I knew it, you were on my chest, hot and slippery and crying. There was a flurry of activity–it’s all a bit of a blur–but after delaying for a minute or so (our wishes), Daddy cut the umbilical cord. You peed all over me. I cried, I think, out of sheer exhaustion and unadulterated bliss. Daddy cried too. And we gave you a name: Ethan, a wise man in the Old Testament, and the first name that Daddy and I both loved when we found it.

When they took you over to the corner to get you weighed (6 pounds, 12 ounces) and measured (19 inches) and to give you the eye drops and whatever else they do right there in the delivery room, the doctor’s hard work started. I was hemorrhaging, and she spent an hour–perhaps even longer and more painful than the previous one–removing tissue from my abdomen and getting me sewn up. They finally managed to give me some Pitocin (to help suppress the blood flow), but I was fine with it being administered once you were no longer sharing space with me. Daddy described the whole thing as a “crime scene.” I was elated when it was over; the downside to being unmedicated during labor and delivery is what happens when your second-degree tear needs to be treated afterward. A local doesn’t really cut it.

But I survived, and I finally got to hold you in my arms. Daddy and I have officially survived the first nearly five months of parenthood. Sometimes I still can’t believe that we have a son who makes my heart burst with excitement, pride and elation every time I wake up to see you. We are so incredibly blessed, so lucky and so appreciative to be sharing this wonderful, wild ride with you: the life of Guppy.