My hair is unwashed and pulled back in a bun—and has been that way for the last two days.
My living room is a mess of blankets, burp rags, binkies and a boppy.
And in the middle of the living room, an electric swing with a small, padded cradle seat rocks back and forth, back and forth. Two bright blue eyes peek out at me from that seat. My little companion.
Baby J came into the world just four weeks ago. This week, I took him with me on his first official shopping trip—Momma needs some new post-partum-but-not-her-old-size clothes, after all. The clerk at the store saw him and gave me compliments on his size, his eyes, his sweet face. Then she asked how labor went. “Good,” I said. “Hard but good. I’d certainly do it all over again.”
“Really!” she said, eyebrows raised. Then she turned, effectively ending the conversation.
“Yes, really,” I thought to myself. They say the pain of labor is somewhat erased by the joy of your little bundle. I can’t compare the difficulty of my labor to anyone else’s, nor can I compare it to any other labor experience of mine, since he’s my first. But I can say this: The memory of my baby’s birth is a rich memory of vivid sensations that I recall each night as I’m falling asleep (at whatever hour that may be), and it comforts me.
We arrived at the hospital late on a Friday night, stating that my water broke at home. Dilated to only two centimeters, they admitted me nonetheless, and put me on monitors through the night. Sean and I “planned” a mostly drug-free birth—I didn’t show up and demand an epidural, but I wasn’t ruling it out either.
By 6 a.m. the following morning, my body hadn’t begun labor on its own. With the ticking clock of a broken bag of waters, the nurse reported that my OB had ordered a Pitocin drip for me. In a matter of minutes, our birth plan, so hyped by the pregnancy magazines and books, was null.
On went the blood pressure cuff. Around my waist I donned a thick elastic band to keep my contraction monitor and baby’s heartbeat monitor in place. With an IV in my arm (one of the more painful aspects of my day-long labor), my transformation was complete: I’d be more or less tied to my hospital bed for the remainder of my labor. Oh well.
The hours passed, punctuated by somewhat painful contractions and the occasional pelvic check. I ate and drank only clear fluids, for the most part—scared to death of messing up some aspect of potential surgery, I dared not eat more than a square of corn cereal every few hours. My husband and sister provided near-constant companionship throughout the long day. World Cup soccer kept us somewhat distracted. Hubby and I played a few rounds of 21 with a deck of cards.
By late afternoon, the Pitocin drip had been ramped up so much, my contractions were steady, hard and emotionally difficult. A pelvic check showed I still had a long, long road to go until I’d reach that magical 10cm. I bit the bullet and asked for the epidural. After that, I added a few more cords and monitors to my body: the epidural line in my back, and a uterine monitor to gauge the strength of my contractions.
The sun set, my husband and sister got dinner, and I continued to wait for transition: the physical transition of labor that comes after complete dilation, and the true transition of my life from a pregnant woman to a new mother. Nightfall was strangely comforting to me—I knew that delivery, either vaginally or by cesarean section, was imminent.
A new young nurse, one with the commanding spirit of a labor drill sergeant, took charge of me around 7 p.m. Her "get 'er done" attitude bolstered my spirits: The first time she came in to check me, she proclaimed, “We’re getting this baby out vaginally, and we’re doing it soon.” More hours passed in our hospital room, which luckily had a city view of downtown. In the twilight hours, the city lights seemed to twinkle and wink at me. Maybe that was just the epidural working, ha.
Still in pain, rather uncomfortable and now nauseated, I continued laboring until about 11:30 p.m. We turned on Saturday Night Live but muted it, solely to have something to distract our eyes through the waiting and my distress.
And then, voila. A pelvic check showed me dilated to 9.5cm. My cervix had all but disappeared. I heard the nurses say those words which seem like a God-send for a laboring woman: “It’s time to call the doctor.” Later, I would learn that during that exact hour, my parents were praying yet another rosary for the baby's safe delivery, and for a healthy mother and baby. They had begun praying the night before when we arrived at the hospital, but they made this final entreaty to Our Lady late Saturday night. It's no stretch for us to believe that Our Blessed Mother asked her Son to intercede on our behalf.
I began pushing a little after midnight. Oh, the pushing. For much of it, I convinced myself that I’d still have to have surgery, that the baby's head would be too big for me to push out. Be prepared for the worst and you’ll never be too disappointed, I say. Granted, the sweet and continual support from the nurses, my hubby and sister all went contrary to that mindset.
I pushed, I sweated, I got a heartburn lump in my throat that nearly made me gag. I breathed into an oxygen mask for three breaths in between the pushing, then grabbed my thighs and pushed again. I grimaced and strained. I asked over and over if I was making any progress. Some 45 minutes after this began, my OB walked in and the nurses all exclaimed, “Oh good! You can begin your real pushing now!” Real pushing? Are you kidding me?
But somehow, they were right—the doctor arriving put a new urgency in my muscles, in my clenched jaw and furrowed brow. I had complete trust in that medical team, so when two questions came up the table to me, I said yes to both: an episiotomy, and a vacuum to help get the baby’s head out. More comfortable with the first than the second, though, I began pushing harder so as to avoid the possibility of my baby’s head being brought out with a Shop Vac.
Push. Breath. Push again. Yell out. Push push push. I let out a few frustrated, grunting cries.
Then: In a darkened room highlighted by bright lights over my bed, after a 26-hour hospital stay and over an hour of pushing, after every aspect of how I planned the birth had gone out the window and I had to relent to God’s plan instead of my own, I heard an outburst of words from the nurses, my sister, my husband. The room burst into activity. Before I even saw the reason for the commotion, I heard Sean say, “It’s a…. boy!”
I exhaled. I released my aching legs, and looked down to see a wet, blue, squirming baby, still attached to me by his thick cord.
A nurse helped quickly pull down the upper portion of my gown, placed a towel over my chest, and in a moment I will never forget, placed my baby mere inches from my eyes.
I touched him.
His skin, so fresh from the womb, was buttery soft, and damp. His limbs, all too familiar to me from watching them move around my belly for the last umpteen months, rested for a moment on my bare chest. His face was the face of all newborns, and his cry was just a baby’s cry to me at that point. But his wet skin covering those small, healthy, pink little limbs, those little limbs of my very own child—those are the memories of my firstborn that will stay with me forever.
So many times in my life, my family and I have quite honestly said, "Praise God!" in response to a solution, a change, or an answered prayer. Never have I said it so heartily as I do now, looking at my baby boy. This little life, created within me and grown for nine months in the safety of my womb, has arrived. Now begins the hard work of the every-second care of a newborn and the long-term parenting of a child.
Yes, I would do it all again. Really.