After Rider was born, I had every intention of writing down his birth story, but never followed through. When I was nearing the end with him, I found it intensely soothing to read other women’s stories about how they brought babies into the world. Every story was unique, but the truth about each was that the women telling them would never be the same. People say you forget a lot about pregnancy and delivery – that somehow your mind shuts out all the details and you fall into the same ignorant bliss in which you lived prior to the whole experience. To some degree, that might be true. Those feelings and emotions, however, can never be lost.
This story is mine. And, as my beautiful wife Jamie likes to remind me, I like to take my time with my stories. I wrote this from my heart and, mostly, I wrote it for me. I hope these words help me to preserve the collection of feelings, facts, emotions, details, and moments. I hope I never truly forget this day. For on this day, I became a mother again.
Sunday March 12, 2017
6:42 AM: Rider hadn’t slept past six in weeks so I was overjoyed when I woke up and saw the time. I realized, however, that what had awoken me was some cramping. I got up to use the restroom and tried to analyze a little further what I was feeling. Having already experienced labor, I knew the cramps weren’t contractions – they were more of a constant feeling than a “rolling” one. I was one day past my due date, so technically, she could come anytime. But I was convinced that this was going to go the same way as last time: induction at 41 weeks, birth at 41 weeks and 1 day. I’ll fully admit that I was in complete denial that labor was on its way.
By the time I returned to bed, I could already hear Rider stirring. Jamie was awake so I told her about the cramping. She said she’d get Rider up and dressed, and that I should stay in bed – I didn’t argue. I tried to close my eyes and go back to sleep, but the cramping continued, so I decided to shower. If this really was happening today, I wanted to be damn sure I had one last hot shower before going to the hospital.
7:09 AM: As I got out of the shower and walked around the side of our bed, I felt my first real contraction. I always describe them like little hills – I could feel the pain coming in low, slowly getting more intense; I could feel the peak, the highest point of the pain; and I could feel it slowly lessen, and fade away. This first one was mild – certainly nothing like the sharp contractions I remember from the end of my labor with Rider. At this point, I started to come to grips with the fact that Baby Girl was on her way.
I had Jamie bring me my camera so I could take final shots of my belly. I had had an idea months prior to document my labor from my perspective. I have these beautiful images in my mind of the moments after Rider was born: the look on Jamie’s face as she gazed at him for the first time; the smile on our doctor’s face as she wrapped Jamie in a giant hug; even the true knot that was in Rider’s chord, a reminder of what a miracle he truly is. All of these images are there in my mind, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to capture similar moments for real this second time around.
Jamie and I decided to text her parents at this point. Our Sunday tradition is to meet at the diner down the street for breakfast, but we obviously weren’t going to make it that day. They grabbed coffee and headed to our place. Jamie got started on making us pancakes, and I got comfortable on the recliner in the living room. The whole time I was moving around after that first contraction, I hadn’t felt much else. But as soon as I settled down, they started to come in more often, and with a little more intensity. By 8:30 AM, I had felt two or three more, only about 8 minutes apart. They were still “mild” by my standards, but I wasn’t talking through them. I would just close my eyes and breathe in and out slowly. I never took a birth class or anything, but it’s what I felt like I needed to do.
8:53 AM: Because it was Sunday, we didn’t want to bother our doctor unless this was real. Since Jamie works in medicine, she fully understands how frustrating it is to be on-call and get ridiculous phone calls about non-emergent problems. I wouldn’t be that patient. However, we were starting to think that NOT calling, was just negligent at this point, so got my phone. I reached her answering service, explained the situation, and waited for a call back.
This is where I mention how much I ABSOLUTELY ADORE our doctor. She is one tough woman and exactly the kind of doctor I need. Jamie and I lovingly refer to her as “The Trunch” after the Miss Trunchbull from the movie Matilda because she could be her sister. Despite our reference to a not-so-loving character, however, she’s wonderfully sweet and soft-spoken. She’s all business when she needs to be, and all smiles when I need her to be. I am obsessed with this woman.
When I got the call back, I explained the contractions and she suggested we head into the hospital to get checked. We finished up some final things around the house, gave the Grandparents instructions for taking care of the crazy toddler for the next day or two, and headed to the hospital, which is only a few minutes away. As we pulled out of the driveway, I started to doubt that this was real. I started to think that I had made a big stink of nothing, and that I was going to be one of those woman that’s just experiencing false labor and that they were going to send me right home. By the time we were pulling into the parking garage, however, I was having a pretty intense contraction that, for me, fully confirmed labor was underway.
10:11 AM: We were led into a small room in the triage center where they got me in a gown and hooked up to a monitor that tracked my contractions and the baby’s heart-rate. I could still feel contractions, but the timing was erratic and unpredictable. Jamie pointed out to me on the monitor which line was me and which line was Baby Girl.
A doctor came in to check me for dilation and stated that I was only about 2 or 3 cm (10 being the goal).
The monitor must have been quite convincing, though, because the next thing I knew, they were putting a hospital bracelet on me, a coaching bracelet on Jamie, and calling for a room on the labor and delivery floor. It was go time.
11:37 AM: We settled into our room just before Doc arrived with a giant smile and a plan. There was a huge storm set to cloak the entire tri-state area in [what could have been] feet of snow Monday night and all day Tuesday. She wanted us home before it hit (and we couldn’t agree more) so she would break my water to get labor moving. If all went well, we’d have this baby out soon, and be home by dinner the next day!
When Doc broke by water, however, she found that there was meconium, the dark “first poop” of an infant, meaning the baby had had a bowel movement in the womb. This can be dangerous for newborns because it could lead to meconium aspiration syndrome if the baby inhales it during or immediately after birth. She told us that she’d have to have the pediatrician close by after delivery and that they’d have to clear the baby’s airways right away to prevent aspiration.
After Doc left the room, Jamie and I started to set the stage for labor, for we had learned a few things from our first time through this rodeo. First of all, we brought a little hand-held paper fan. I was sweating out *what felt like* every drop of water when I was in labor with Rider, so we got the fan out and ready. Jamie helped herself to wash cloths and a small basin from the supply closet – I had gotten sick all over myself every other contraction last time, so we wanted to be ready. I also had Jamie add some inspiration to my labor board. A lightning bolt: to remind me of Harry Potter, a bad-ass survivor. The Origin of Love face: a reminder of the power Jamie and I hold as a couple (and how even the gods are scared of our strength and defiance). And the words “Take some sky”: a message from my father to breathe, be in this moment, you got this.
12:14 PM: Labor started progressing pretty quickly after my water was broken. I was mostly laboring on my left side at that point, gripping the side of the bed or Jamie’s hand during my contractions. As with Rider, most of my labor pain was in my back. They say it all depends on the position of the baby, but all I know is that back labor is so not fun. My contractions seemed to linger just a bit longer than the monitor would indicate. Jamie would talk me through each one: “Ok, one is coming in….great job, baby. Keep breathing. Almost at the peak. Now it’s fading…you’re doing great. Almost done…” I would listen to her words and would imagine floating on a wave. The beginning of the contraction would lead me up the wave. I could look out and see the ocean from the top and that would comfort me at the height of the contraction. Then, I could hear Jamie leading me back down. I would count on that time between waves to recover each time. But the pain in my back would stay long into that rest period, making the time between contractions feel so much smaller.
Doc walked in just as I was at the peak of a contraction. When I came back down, she commented on my breathing: “Wow, awesome job. You’re a professional!” It made me feel like a rockstar. Then, she casually asked if I had eaten breakfast. I rambled on about how Jamie had made us pancakes and how I wanted to be sure that I ate something in case it was my last meal for a while. She laughed, left the room, and I had no reason to think anything of it. But Jamie, on the other hand…Jamie knows why doctors ask these questions, because she’s the one usually asking them.
“Uh-oh,” she had said. “That’s not good.”
What? Why not?”
“She wants to know if you’ve eaten because she’s considering a c-section. I think she’s worried about the baby’s heart-rate.”
For the last two hours, I hadn’t paid much attention to the line on the monitor that tracked our little girl’s heart-rate. I was just focused on me. I glanced up and saw that her heart-rate was consistently jumping each time I had a contraction. It scared me. All at once, fear hit me that everything was wrong.
In that moment, I knew I needed to take some sky….and refocus.
One of the reasons I love my wife so much is that she always seems to know exactly what I need at very crucial times. Without any conversation about it, we breathed together. We refocused. Between each contraction, she would remind me to stay steady. During each, she would speak calmly, helping me to zero in my energy, to aim it toward those never-ending waves of pain that were coming more rapidly now. It was working. Baby Girl’s heart-rate was slowly coming back into the safe zone. That is where we stayed. Deep inhale through the nose, long exhale through the mouth. Eyes closed.
1:07 PM: One of the nurses came in and had me change positions to encourage labor further. She told me to sit on the edge of the labor and delivery bed so that my feet were planted on the part of the bed that drops down. It was certainly not a comfortable position, but it worked to move things along. In that time, Doc came to sit with us and started asking us questions about our lives. Even though I was sitting there in an awkward position, breathing through contractions every few minutes, it was wonderful to just get to chat. Jamie even shared with her some pictures of our wedding, Day of the Dead themed with a fully choreographed flash mob scene!
But before, long, I was so longer able to participate in the conversation. My contractions were speeding up, and the pain was nearing its height – the level I remember from the end of labor with Rider. I had started to moan with my exhale – a deep “oh” from way back in my throat – to help stabilize me during the pain. I used each exhale to visualize the baby making her way lower and lower. It’s an exercise I’ve used most of my life as a pitcher, and now it was going to help me give birth.
1:44 PM: Throughout my labor to this point, I had kept my camera in my hand, snapping pictures whenever something caught my eye that I wanted to document. At 1:44, I took one last picture of my view of my belly, and handed my camera to Jamie. I needed all of my strength focused on Baby Girl.
The nurse rolled me onto my right side and pulled out a giant “peanut ball”. It looked just like a therapy ball, but in the shape of a peanut! She put it between my knees and said that it would help open up my hips and pelvis to keep the baby moving to where she needed to be. Well, this thing worked like a freakin charm, because just one contraction later, I was feeling the pressure.
And I mean PRESSURE. When I was in labor with Rider, I remember getting to a point at the end where I felt like I couldn’t NOT push. Basically, my body was forcing me to “bear down”, a sensation that I couldn’t stop.
I was still on my side when it started and Doc was standing at the foot of my bed. “Are you pushing?” she asked, sounding pretty shocked. I wasn’t able to answer right away. All of my energy was focused on breathing through and trying not to push (which is a feeling unlike any other and one that I don’t think I will ever be able to properly explain). I finally choked out, “I’m trying NOT to.” It felt like only seconds later, another contraction hit, and this time, I felt that familiar burn of what they call “the ring of fire”. Baby Girl was crowning. I closed my eyes to focus – I would only open them one time, just briefly, before she arrived.
Again, I was fighting not to push. I could sense the room around me preparing for delivery, but I don’t recall anyone giving me any actual instructions yet. So I stayed on my side, eyes closed, straddling a giant peanut, stutter-breathing through pain and pressure. I tried to say, “crowing!” to Jamie, but the word came out all garbled.
“What did she say?” I heard Doc ask Jamie.
“I have no idea,” Jamie responded. “Babe, what was that?”
“Pain….” I finally got out. More stutters to fight pushing. “Pain-like-crowning!” Now they got it. Baby Girl was coming.
I was flipped onto my back. Eyes still closed. They checked that my cervix was fully dilated and I was given permission to push with the contractions. They pulled out handle bars on the sides of the bed and leg-holders where I could rest my legs between pushes.
Eyes still closed.
My first push was a complete waste. I thought my body would remember how to properly push from last time, but I could feel that I wasn’t doing it right. Jamie was at my right side, reminding me that I could do this. The nurses were there instructing me to focus my energy toward the baby.
Eyes still closed.
I took some little breaths, raised my hands to my armpits, and pushed them back down past my hips and toward my knees, repeating this another couple of times. I felt like Mr. Miyagi and I might have looked really silly, but I could feel the energy in my body change. I was ready to push again.
Eyes still closed.
The second push was money. That “ring of fire” pain grew more intense, and I knew I was doing it right. It was at this point last time that I felt fear. I remember pulling back on the push, suddenly afraid of what pushing a baby out would feel like. Not this time. I was ready for that fear this time, and instead of pulling back, I pushed straight through it. Baby Girl would be here in just minutes.
This is Jamie’s favorite part of the story (up to the point that she got to see our little girl, that is), and one of the reasons why we adore our OB so much. I heard Doc speaking to me about the next push. I still had my eyes closed, breathing slowly, and was concentrating on what she was saying. But she needed more.
“Cali. CALI. Look at me,” she said sternly, but calmly. I opened my eyes for the first time since that first tinge of crowning. It took my eyes a moment to adjust, but then I locked my stare with Doc’s. She was completely calm, but I could tell that she really needed me to HEAR what she was about to say.
“After you push her head out, you are going to hear me say ‘STOP.’ I need you to stop pushing at that point so I can clear her airways. Do you hear me?” I gave her a firm nod, still looking her right in the eyes so she knew I understood. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this moment was proof that our OB is, flat-out, our hero. Because of the meconium, our little girl’s airways needed to be cleared immediately to avoid aspiration; it was crucial for her safety. Doc conveyed this with just a look and a few strong words. Again I say it – HERO.
I closed my eyes and found my focus once more. It took two more pushes before I heard Doc tell me to stop. Baby Girl’s head was out. It was almost over.
3:08 PM: Just before the next contraction came, I heard Doc tell me to give one more strong push. When I could sense the wave coming in, I gave it my all and felt, in a giant rush, our little girl come out.
My eyes SHOT open immediately to find Jamie to my right. “CAMERA!” I shouted. She snapped out of her adorable gaze at our daughter, grabbed my camera off the table, and handed it to me. I started snapping frantically, afraid I would miss something.
I didn’t worry about framing the pictures perfectly, or getting the lighting right. I just point-and-clicked my way through the next several minutes. Doc walked our little girl to the warmer and returned to the foot of my bed to continue to tend to me. That is when she looked up at us with a giant grin and asked, “So? What’s her name?”
Jamie and I had decided to keep Baby Girl’s name a secret (even from our families) until she was born. This was the first time we were going to say it. We both looked at each other with huge smiles, and then back at Doc. “Birdie,” we said in unison. Doc’s grin got even bigger. “My nickname was Bird as a kid,” she said with a beautiful air of nostalgia. The moment was perfect.
Jamie made her way over to the warmer once the pediatrician had checked on Birdie’s breathing, and I’m sure dozens of over things.
As the nurses and hospital staff bustled around, all at once cleaning up the room, assisting Doc, recording information, and tending to Birdie, Jamie stood beside the warmer and bonded with our daughter for the first time.
I tried to capture the magic of those moments with pictures, but the feeling in my heart will always just be mine to cherish. She is one incredible Mother, and my perfect partner, and watching her gaze into the eyes of our daughter in that delivery room, I could feel that our family was complete.
Looking at these photographs now gives me such joy. That sense of accomplishment that flooded me just after the birth of both of our children comes rushing back. I hope on the days that I am doubting myself, or my body, I can pull myself back to the strength of those days, and remember what a powerful being I really am.