Birth is only the beginning

I remember crying the whole way home from the doctor's office. Despite all my efforts, we had been sent home with an induction date. I remember sobbing to my OB telling her I felt like the only woman on the planet begging to *stay pregnant*! But as a Type 1 diabetic, I was considered "high risk" and the staff at the hospital were already concerned about letting me go past 40 weeks. I texted my doula from the car as my husband drove us home, letting her know we had a deadline coming up. Amara was kind and supportive as always, even in 140 character increments. By the time we pulled in the driveway I was feeling better. We would get through this. I felt fine, my baby was healthy in my belly and we still had two days.

On Tuesday morning at 5am, just 12 short hours after that tearful drive home, I felt my first contraction. It was just like they said it would feel, like a squeeze coming around me from the back. It was pleasant. Comforting. It meant we were getting somewhere and we were doing it on our own! All my little guy needed was a deadline and he would get his act together!

I continued to text Amara throughout the day, occasionally timing my contractions but mostly running errands. I got my nails done. I went to the grocery store. My husband Rich and I went for many many walks. I updated Facebook. I tweeted. And I didn't call the hospital.

As the evening wore on, the contractions continued but we were doing okay. Rich played video games while I paced the room, happy to have him near me and chatting while not hovering (I highly recommend an Xbox being an integral part of early labor for dads). Rich is a worrier and in particular when it came to his wife and his unborn child, there was plenty to worry about. He just wanted everyone to be safe, and a hospital seemed like a safe place to him. I, on the other hand, wanted to find a cardboard box like a house cat and have nothing to do with the medical profession. Having a doula was our compromise.

By 3am on Wednesday, Amara had come to our house and we'd decided to head to the hospital. My water had broken a few hours before and while I wasn't in pain, the worry was starting to creep in for Rich. I remember lying in the back of the car on my knees with a pillow, calling my mother and telling her we were headed to the hospital. She told me that she had classes that day and joked I shouldn't have the baby until he was done with work. Little did we know.

We arrived at the hospital three hours before my scheduled induction check-in and confused everyone there by already being in labor. But it was their turn to confound us as my arrival at the hospital brought my contractions to a screeching halt. Where was my cardboard box?! Why do I have to have all these monitors? When I was admitted I was only 1cm dilated.

I had worried that my not going to the midwifery center or staying home I would be coerced into a situation I didn't want. But the nurses were very supportive and the doctors were patient. We didn't necessarily agree on what to do next, but I always felt like I was being heard. Amara and Rich were there the entire time, offering support and helping me make good decisions. Despite the annoyances of fetal monitors and IVs, I still felt mostly in control.

But the day wore on and on. We arrived at the hospital 23 hours after that first contraction and didn't realize we had a long way yet to go. I continued to update on Facebook and Twitter. It was like all my friends were cheering me on from the Internet. My brother-in-law was re-posting updates like he was a one-man news room. Everyone was ready for this baby to make an appearance but it just wasn't happening.

The interventions trickled in. First we started on Pitocin. I labored with that for about five hours to see if things could move along. All it did was exhaust me. I remember sitting in the hospital bed with Amara's birth ball behind me swaying back and forth and moaning like that house cat just without the cardboard box. The contractions were coming one right after the other but I had only dilated to 4cm. I still had that ridiculous external monitor strapped to me. And I still had my old nemesis the blood pressure cuff. It would only go off it seemed in the middle of a contraction. So around 11pm that night, after having been in the hospital 19 hours (Amara by my side always except for when she had to pump milk for her own baby back home), I uttered the only curse word of my labor. I was mid-moan, that damn cuff started to squeeze my arm and I blurted out "AND F#$! YOU, blood pressure cuff, seriously?!"

Right at that moment I opened my eyes and there was this tiny little doctor smiling at me with an equally friendly nurse at her side. She said she wanted to talk to me about some options for our next steps. I was certainly receptive to some plan of action that would divorce me from this dreaded blood pressure cuff, if nothing else. So in 30 second bursts we discussed a plan of actions. We would talk for a half minute and I would moan for a minute and then we'd talk for a half minute and I'd moan again. The plan was to see if my contractions were strong enough via an internal monitor (another invasion I hadn't planned on). If the contractions had enough power then it could be the baby's position.

After some time we agreed to try an epidural (again with the interventions I didn't want!). But the doctor said that my body was tensing up. She said the same thing happened in her labor and an epidural helped her deliver. We were getting close to the 24 hour mark since my water had broken and I knew that was going to be an issue. We agreed.

And just before midnight I went from 4cm to 9.5cm in 20 minutes after my epidural. My nurse came in to check me and I remember her face right next to my knee breaking out in this huge grin. It's like she was proud of me. Go me! Then she got this sly look and said, "You're doing great, but we're gonna keep this on the down low for a bit because if I go out there and tell those doctors that you're dilated they're gonna come crashin' in here and make you start pushing and I think you could use some rest. So let's let the baby do his thing a little longer and then we'll get this show started."

I could have kissed her. We all took a much needed nap. Around 2:30am (having been in the hospital about 22 hours), my mother wandered in to check on me. She wasn't going to miss this birth after all. Right as she arrived, all these other medical folks came in and said it was time to start pushing. Mom asked what was going on and I told her, "we're gonna have a baby!" And just like that, my mother was part of the birthing team.

I hadn't planned on my mom being there, as awesome as she is. I figured it would be crowded. But in retrospect it was the most amazing thing to have her there. Despite being fully dilated and ready to go, I still pushed for over three hours. I remember thinking after hour two "this is gonna take longer than Lord of the Rings!" My delivering doctor and nurse were nothing short of amazing. The hospital beds didn't have a bar to hold onto so my nurse tied a bed sheet and acted as my belay during each contraction for over two hours. I remember the doctor offering me $20 to let go so she'd go ass over tea kettle into the cabinets.

But that doctor was also busy pushing around my perineum. She was determined I wasn't going to need a cut. My mother said her arms were shaking from pushing for so long. They had turned off the epidural once we started pushing so that I could feel to know how to push. It worked out surprisingly well in that as the epidural wore off, my endorphins ramped up.

I was so thirsty! I just remember thinking "these ice chips are bull$#!+" and wondering if I would choke on my own dry tongue. I wheezed, "I'm running out of steam." And Amara earned everything about her job in the next two minutes. She was holding my left leg and she calmly but firmly told me that I was going to do this, that it was what my body was supposed to do and that I was a strong woman. My mother, who had taken up a place next to my head to wipe the sweat off me, added, "she's the strongest person I know."

And at that moment I could have lifted a car! The doctor told me I needed to give her one more good push if I wanted to avoid an episiotomy and just like my son I just needed a deadline. I pushed him out and I remember my mother elatedly saying "oh here he comes here he comes!" At 6:14am, 49 hours after that first contraction, at 41 weeks and two days, our son was born.

He was perfect - 8lb 12oz, 22 inches long and *all head*. I've never been so elated in my life. The next hour or so was a blur. I remember making someone take a picture of the placenta because I couldn't see it from where I was while they stitched me up (I tore a little but nothing like if I'd been cut first). I remember asking the doctor what was taking so long with the stitches and she said she could quit now and it would look like crap or I could wait and it would look nice (I waited. She was right; it looks nice.) I remember getting a tray of breakfast that materialized what seemed like moments after the birth.

And I remember all this hubbub sort of dying down and it just being me. With my consent, they had taken my son to the nursery for observation because of his long labor. We had made our way back to our postpartum room and my poor husband promptly unfolded the recliner and passed out for several hours. And I was still full of this high of having beaten the odds and slogged my way through the absolute opposite of what I had hoped for in my birth story to get my boy. No surgery, no decisions being made without me. Just a lot of "complications".

And it struck me that all of these courses we'd taken and books we'd read had worked hard to prepare us for all that we'd just gone through. But nothing really prepared us for the moments after birth. From that moment on, we were parents and things were going to remain "complicated" for a long time.

The lactation consultant was overbooked that day and my son was in the "special needs nursery" on oxygen for the first two days. I learned to breastfeed in a rolling office chair, surrounded by supportive NICU nurses who happened to be moms as well. I was discharged from the hospital but my son was still being kept one more day for observation so we booked a "guest room" in the hospital for $35 that looked like something out of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. I had my first postpartum bowel movement in the Panera Bread downtown as we squeezed in a quick lunch between feedings. I set my iPhone alarm in three hour increments to get up, change my gigantic maxi pad and waddle down to the nursery to eek out a few ounces of colostrum.

When we were finally approved to take our son home (Ian Jacob - we took two days to name him!), we were just so happy to get out of there, we packed him up in the NICU onesie and took off. No "going home" outfit for any of us.

I didn't get the mystical, perfect four hour labor that one might hope for. But my husband was there the whole time, I felt validated and listened to despite any stupid hospital annoyances, I had a doula there to guide me and give me a kick in the pants when I needed it most, I got this magical moment with my own mother who had never managed to witness her own births due to the practices back then and I got a beautiful, healthy, happy baby boy. I got my non-surgical birth. I got to feel like I did this versus it was done to me.

Just last week that beautiful happy boy ran face-first into our door frame and busted his forehead wide open. No one has an "ER visit plan" that they write up and bring to the hospital. We ended up at two different ERs that night and it was a very long ordeal, but everyone listened to our concerns, Rich and I made the best decisions we could, Ian was an absolute trooper and we all made it home with some stitches and Lightning McQueen stickers. In parenthood, I think that's the best you can hope for.

This was written for my wonderful doula Amara as a birth story to share with her potential clients and others in the community.