It’s hard to believe that your entire life and your perspective on the world can change in just one moment. I had heard others say that about becoming a mother, but until it actually happens, it’s nearly impossible to imagine. Even in that moment when my child entered the world, the adrenaline and emotion that I felt gave me the sensation of floating outside my body; the feeling that what I was experiencing was so much greater than a physical moment in time. It was as if my heart left my body at that very moment, grew legs of it’s own and began living on the outside. My mind couldn’t even keep up with or comprehend the depth of what my soul was experiencing… it wasn’t until just now, looking at the photos in my last post, that I realized: pregnant Saralyn feels like a lifetime ago. Already I feel – and even just one week after I felt the same – like a different person… maybe not different, per se, but enhanced. Expanded. Changed in a way I could never have ever anticipated or prepared myself for.
…And boy did I try to prepare. There is something very legitimate about the nesting instinct. Around my 36 week appointment, when my doc told me I was already 1.0 cm dilated and 70% effaced, it hit me: if this baby came today, I would be bringing him or her home to a messy house. Tom and I had been preparing on a much larger scale, getting our finances in order, checking off home improvement projects, washing little baby clothing and decorating a nursery. But to-do list aside, I hadn’t done OUR laundry, hadn’t cleaned our floors, hadn’t cleared the dust bunnies from the closets. Realizing this sent me into a nesting frenzy like no other. I found myself on my hands and knees, scrubbing corners that had never seen the light of day. I knew I was overboard when Tom offered to help, and I had a near break-down, saying “You just won’t do it the way I want it done”… and then proceeded to take the shower curtain liner down to the laundry room, sprayed Shout on the soap scum, and wash it in the washing machine.
By week 38, I had cleaned every last inch of our house, but still no baby. I was 2.0 cm at that point, and still felt pretty good. I was lucky I didn’t feel the aches and pains or swelling a lot of women feel by this time (I swear exercise does the body good! Even if it’s just a few side leg lifts!), and I wasn’t miserable. At work, I still had plenty to do to prepare for maternity leave and that kept me focused. Meanwhile at home I was so prepared that I began looking for new projects to occupy myself, looking for any distraction to take my mind away from analyzing every minor cramp I felt. We knew we were ready, and the waiting game was just beginning.
On the last day of my 38th week, a Wednesday, I woke up with a terrible sore throat. It was Murphy’s Law – I knew it: I would go into labor sick as a dog. Fantastic. Everyone wants to bring home a newborn while they are sick, right!? I worked from home, trying to focus on getting as much done as possible, hoping to beat the clock. I felt like there was a ticking time bomb inside of me, waiting to go off, and I was trying to get healthy and wrap up my last work tasks as fast as possible. Meanwhile, some friends and family attributed my head-cold symptoms to a sign of imminent labor – saying my body was trying to prepare by cleaning out all systems. It seemed plausible, and a few hopeful Google searches later, I decided to buy into that theory to keep myself from feeling more sick.
Going back to work on Thursday, day one of week 39, my co-workers started treating me a little differently, saying I “seemed off”. Everytime I got up to go to the bathroom, I came back to 5 pairs of inquisitive eyes, wondering if everything was ok. Even if I wasn’t near labor, it sure felt like everyone else thought I was.
Friday I worked from home again, with a head that felt like a mucous-filled balloon, and a body that felt 39 weeks pregnant. Never have I been so happy to stay in my sweats all day. I put on real clothes only to head to the doctor, finding out that I was 2.5 cm dilated, and ready to go any day, whenever the baby decided to make his or her grand entrance. Despite feeling under the weather, that ticking time bomb feeling remained, and Tom and I decided we would go out for dinner, for what might be our last date night without hiring a babysitter. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of that meal, cleaned my plate and then some, and enjoyed a perfect night with my husband and best friend. We talked about the baby, wondered if it was a boy or girl, and finally agreed on a girl name. After 39 weeks of not knowing girl or boy, and after deciding on a boy name in the first trimester, we finally found a girl name that felt right to both of us. The last item was checked off the list.
Saturday was a gorgeous spring day, and rather than waiting around inside, hoping for my water to break, Tom and I decided to work on the lawn. We went to the garden center and bought a trumpet vine to plant in front of our porch. Hoping that the quick-growing vine would take off this year, climbing the slats that surround our front porch, we dedicated it to our new baby. We ran errands, played in the dirt and spent the day together, and although I needed to take little breaks here and there, and asked Tom to walk a little slower, overall I felt relaxed and happy. At one point, out of the blue, Tom turned to me and said he was proud of me. I will never forget that moment: walking through the Home Depot, feeling slow and big, and hearing my husband say that he was more impressed with me than he’s ever been. My heart swelled.
And then Sunday arrived, and I felt awful. Not awful like sick, or even tired. I felt awful like I was grumpy, crabby and emotional. The sun was shining, it was 70 degrees, and as we sat on the back porch that morning I started crying. It was the first time that I was DONE. I was over it. For the last few weeks, I accepted the inconveniences of the last few weeks of pregnancy and took them in stride (it wasn’t as bad as the first trimester, after all). Most people assumed that by now I was fed up with pregnancy and ready to be back to my normal self. Sure I had moments, but never before had I experienced an overwhelming feeling of frustration. But Sunday, April 7, I did. My mom asked me to take a 39 week pregnancy photo, but I just couldn’t do it. I wanted nothing to do with cameras, pregnancy or phone calls. I didn’t want to talk to family, I didn’t want to talk about the waiting game, I just wanted it to be done. I started feeling nauseous and crampy, all at once. That night, we sat on the couch and watched Lincoln. By the end of the movie I had torn my cuticles to shreds – a bad, anxious habit I had broken since getting pregnant. But there I was with at least 5 bleeding fingers. Not sure what was going on, I just didn’t feel like myself. I was just off.
And then…. it all made sense.
Sometime around 3:00 am on Monday I woke up with what felt like Braxton Hicks combined with menstrual cramping. The first time I felt it, I awoke halfway, but only enough to dismiss it as just another random 3rd trimester pain. Dozing back off, I woke up again shortly after, with another contraction that felt the same, but a little stronger. This time I woke fully, but confused. I slid back into sleep, and then woke with a start when I felt a third contraction, this time strong enough that I couldn’t possibly sleep through it. I got up to go to the bathroom, making sure I wasn’t dreaming, and checked the clock. 3:23 am. Hesitant to get overly excited before I knew if this was the real deal, I went to get my phone off the charger to start timing the contractions. I crawled back into bed and waited. Sure enough 9 minutes later, another contraction. Another 10 minutes, another contraction. I woke up Tom, who at that point was starting to stir, sensing my movement. I said “Tom I think this might be it, I think I’m in labor.” Drowsy but excited, he asked for details. But, I said, the contractions were still roughly ten minutes apart, so we had time. I told him to get some more sleep, and I would keep him posted. By this point the contractions were strong enough that lying down was not comfortable, so I got up, went into the nursery and sat in the glider in the dimly lit room, staring at the stars on the ceiling, getting excited. I had downloaded a Hypnobirthing podcast a couple weeks back to help calm my mind in preparation for the big day; for an hour in the early morning twilight I rocked in the nursery glider, listened to the relaxing podcast and breathed purposefully through each contraction.
After the end of the podcast, the contractions started getting more intense – to the point where I was uncomfortable sitting still. The ticking time bomb feeling was starting to become more visceral. I went back into the bedroom to wake Tom again, and told him I thought it was about time that we start showering, eating breakfast and getting ready. He agreed and got up to shower. I headed to the kitchen to make breakfast, but on the way, stopped to lay down with our 12 year old dog, Kaiser. I wanted to tell him what was happening, prepare him for our new arrival, and for spending a couple days with our friends. I stretched out across his bed, wrapped my arms around his big great dane neck, and he started licking my arm. And then, immediately, I felt a POP! from deep within my abdomen… and then a guuuuuusssssh. My water broke! I yelled, “Tom? TOM! TOOOMMM!!!!” and ran to the toilet. Checked the clock – 5:56 am. The water came out quickly, and without pause – not at all like I had pictured from watching TV! I kept thinking, when is this going to run out?! But it didn’t. Tom brought me my phone, and I called my OBGYN’s office. They told me to go to the hospital immediately, which heightened my anxiety – you mean no breakfast?? No shower? They appeased me with the shower, and told me to get there within the hour.
As I dried off, my contractions were coming more and more quickly, at about 7 minutes apart now. Tom was frantically rushing around the house to shower, get the dog ready for pick-up, and call family (he also tried to fry me an egg… I knew I wasn’t supposed to eat in case of puking it back up, but I also know how HANGRY I can get and it is not pretty). I called out to him again as I was leaving the shower, saying, “I think we need to get to the hospital SOON!!”
Tom was mid-shave. ” Ok, give me 5 minutes!”
“I CAN’T GIVE YOU FIVE MINUTES!!!!!!!!!”…… yep, that was my freak-out moment. The only time the whole labor where I screamed at my husband. But I couldn’t help it. I felt like the baby could drop any minute and I just wanted to be safely at the hospital, with the nurses and my carefully thought-out birth plan. I just wanted a *safe zone*.
My freak-out lit a fire under both of us and we hightailed it to the car by 7:07 am… and wouldn’t you know it, rush hour traffic started early that day. It was worse than I had ever seen – bumper to bumper, stopped entirely on the highway. Meanwhile I timed my contractions and started writing them down. 6 minutes apart, give or take. I started breathing through each one, focusing on the INNNN and the OOOOUT. Tom eyed the shoulder, and almost made a break for it, but then we started moving. Slowly. A trip that normally takes 25 minutes took us over an hour!
Finally we pulled into the hospital and checked in at the desk. We, being rookies, looked as if we were going to move in. In general I am a planner, a think-out-all-possible-scenarios-and-be-prepared-for-all-of-them kind of girl. I overpack every time I go on a trip, and this was no different. But, as we waited for our hospital room, I started to wonder why we brought all that stuff. Apparently the previous night had been one of the busiest the labor and delivery unit had seen in a long time, and not a single room was available. Whether they were occupied or being cleaned, it meant we had to wait. Again. In the hospital hallway. For 45 minutes. I reached down deep into my yogi mindset and tried to focus through the ever-increasing pain, now accompanied by rising anxiety of still not being in the safe zone. And then finally, they called us in.
I felt such a relief as we got settled, met our nurse Kelly and her student nurse Marta. It was around 9am by that point, and I remember wondering how far along I was. As a first timer, it’s a strange feeling: not knowing what to expect, and having nothing to gauge your pain level against. My contractions were about 5-6 minutes apart, and quite painful to where I needed to stop and breathe through them, so I thought I must be getting close. But just like when I run on the treadmill and cover the console with a towel so I can’t see the time, I was afraid to find out. It’s like pulling the towel off and realizing you’ve only gone a mile when you plan to go five. Checking too early can make you lose stamina for the long-haul. So I waited… Tom set up the iPod with Pandora, and the first song wafted through the speakers: I Shall Be Released, sung by Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan. Shortly after, as I continued wondering how far I was, and how much further I had to go, Let It Be came on. I teared up, realizing that all the anxiety and emotion I had felt in the last weeks were leading up to this. This profound, divine and challenging experience. We were doing it. I knew then that the iPod was going to be my friend through this journey.
During the first hours in the hospital, I managed my pain with movement. Prior to labor, I had a feeling this was going to be the case – I’m not one to sit still. I’d rather be an active participant than sitting back and letting it happen. For this reason, when I wrote my birth plan, I was very clear that I wanted as few interventions as possible, and no oral or IV pain meds. I wanted to let my body progress on its own as much as possible; I wanted to participate and be present in what I was experiencing. I knew I couldn’t possibly predict what would happen, so I didn’t disregard an epidural altogether, but I thought of it as a last resort. I had a mental plan of the order of operations – I would start with movement, walking, leaning, and the birthing ball. Then I’d move onto squatting, kneeling, massage, hot or warm packs, deeper breathing. Finally I’d move on to the bathtub and my hypnosis podcast as it got more intense. So, the nurses got me set up with waterproof, mobile monitors, allowing me to leave the room if I wanted.
At 11:50am, the doctor came in to check me, and I was. Though I was dismayed I wasn’t further along, I tried to focus on the positive. I had it under control. We were in good shape.
As morning turned into afternoon and the contractions increased in pain, they were still only 5 minutes apart. The ball was a savior at times, taking pressure off my pelvis. Kneeling was also a savior, as was applied pressure on my back. Tom successfully lightened the mood, and tried to keep me smiling, “Well, if this teaching gig doesn’t work out, I could always become a doula.”
By 2:15 the nurses checked me again, and I was 6 cm, even though the contractions held steady at 4-5 minutes apart. I was thrilled with the progress, but the pain of each contraction was now surpassing what I had ever imagined it would be. I continued to breathe through them, tried to remember to relax, and ride the wave. And waves they were. As the end of the 4-5 minutes neared, the pain level gradually increased, like a siren starting to sound across an open field. I tried to avoid the instinct to brace myself, and instead tried to dive below the wave, like in the ocean, letting it pass over me. In order to dive below, I had to close my eyes, quiet my mind, and surrender to my body’s natural process, trying to observe the sensations from outside my body rather than from within. It was the most difficult meditation I have ever experienced. Meanwhile I started getting the shakes after each contraction waned. I had never heard about this phenomenon: apparently as the hormones course through your body you can begin to shake, uncontrollably. and shake I did. Simultaneously the iPod turned into a distraction, with Jimi Hendrix’s frantic guitar jam wailing over the speakers, after Johnny Cash had just rattled through I’ve Been Everywhere Man. “Enough music,” I said, and headed to the bathtub.
For the next two hours Tom held my hand as I sat in the warm tub, meeting my body’s challenge as best as I could. We listened to the Hypnobirthing podcast twice over, and her voice helped me dig deep. The lighthearted excitement that we felt between contractions during the day was now tempered by the severity of each contraction. I couldn’t help but moan during some of them, and the four minutes between started to follow the pattern of catching my breath, dozing off in relief and pure exhaustion, then trying to stay calm as I felt another contraction begin. I was starting to lose the mental battle, realizing I still had a ways to go, and feeling so tired that I wasn’t sure how I could manage any more. I was 12 hours in, each contraction was about a minute long, and I was losing composure.
“I want the epidural,” I said.
“Are you sure? I think you can make it through another one. Just get through ten more minutes then re-evaulate.” Damn it, he was doing exactly what I told him to do last week. If I say I want the epidural, tell me to keep going, I told him, then.
“No, I really want it. I mean it.”
“Ok. But you can do this, you can get through four more cycles.”
So I did it. The only way I could make it through was to literally leave my body. I had to mentally escape, go deep within myself, turning off all thoughts, all feelings, all observations. Everything. It may have been the only time in my life where I have ever successfully done that…
And, as if on cue, at the end of the 4 cycles, my doctor arrived. I was so happy to see her. I wanted her to tell me that it was time to push, but instead she said, “So how are you doing?”
“I think I want the epidural. I wanted to go without it but I think I have to. I’m too tired, I won’t be able to push, but I don’t want to have a C section and I don’t want to prolong labor…..” I rambled.
Sensing that I was feeling defeated, she suggested that we check my progress first before making a decision. It was just after 4pm, and I was still just 6 cm. Discouragement set in. I felt like I was quitting, but I also was at the depths of exhaustion. I knew I wasn’t even in transition yet. It was going to get much worse before it got better and I had already been going 12 hours.
“Is it going to make labor longer and more difficult??” I asked, almost begging for assurance of the opposite.
“Well,” she said, “In your case, you do so much exercise, I think your pelvic muscles might be very tight. They aren’t letting you progress at this point. The epidural might help you to relax.”
So, banking on her advice, I ordered the epidural at 4:00, and waited….and waited…
I had forgotten that it would take 45 minutes to see the anesthesiologist. And in my case, the nurses insisted on giving me two bags of IV fluids before the shot was administered. In a nurse consultation, over the phone a week earlier, I explained my health history, including several heart and cardiovascular tests that I’ve undergone. While I’ve never been diagnosed with anything conclusive, I have dealt with exertion migraines since I was about 12. They are brought on by strenuous cardio and characterized by a spike in my heartbeat, sometimes as high as 170-180 bpm after only 20 minutes of running. When I trained for my last half marathon in 2010, it was at its worst, with symptoms like nausea, tunnel vision, blood pressure irregularity and arrhythmia. Considering all of this, I wasn’t sure how the epidural would affect me during an already strenuous endeavor (an epidural can cause all if those same symptoms). Obviously the nurses wanted to be uber-cautious, which I appreciated, but it made the wait that much longer….
It’s crazy how we are programmed to forget the most intense pain we’ve ever experienced. Within a week of delivery, the memory of that hour spent waiting for the epidural was already a blur. It’s so foggy now; I remember retreating into silence, my eyes closed, people talking around me, leaving the room in all but physical presence. I remember the shakes becoming convulsions, and thinking that relief was coming. After 13 hours of using movement to blunt the pain, now I was hooked up to IV, chained to the bed. I was entering transition, and when it was finally time to receive the epidural, sitting still was near impossible.
And then, slowly, the medicine washed over my lower body, and each contraction became progressively less intense. It was like waking up to the present moment again. I looked at the clock- almost 5pm. Slowly the smile returned to my face as I realized- we are really having a baby. Thankfully, I had received a low dose epidural, and they gave me a button to up the dosage if needed. I felt the hospital staff truly respected my wishes to stay active in the birth process- I could still move my legs and could still feel every contraction come and go, but the feeling was pressure not pain. With each coming wave I concentrated on opening, opening, opening…
And my body cooperated. Just as the Dr had proposed, the epidural did in fact help relax my pelvic floor, and I dilated three more centimeters in one hour! By 5:45 I was at 9 cm, and as if on cue, my mom arrived. The travel gods had blessed her with an easy cross country flight, even though it was booked last minute. Even more impressive, the weather report was calling for a spring snowstorm, and my mom made it to Denver before the snow did, just in time for the last phase of labor.
But we weren’t there yet. The nurses’ were changing shifts, and we met Amanda, our new go-to. At first Tom and I were skeptical- our previous nurse, Kelly, was so calm, friendly, and laid-back. Amanda had a different vibe entirely; though she was friendly and informative, she was more intense- all about business. We decided to make the most of it though, because really, what choice did we have? Amanda quickly took charge, urged me to get some rest, and ushered my mom to the waiting room while Tom went to find his first meal of the day.
I had just closed my eyes when Amanda came in again, and went directly to the monitors.
“I don’t want you to be concerned, but…” Great. Just what every laboring momma wants to hear.
“The baby’s heartrate is dropping pretty low with each contraction. This could be a sign that either the cord is wrapped around baby’s neck or baby is gripping it.” She went on to explain that since my water had broken so early in the morning, there was no fluid left to create buoyancy in the womb, and the cord was getting pinched as a result, stressing the baby. They quickly set me up with an intrauterine catheter, to pump saline solution back into the womb hoping the cord would loosen. While no one said it at the time, I now assume this was a last ditch effort before a C section. I quietly prayed, and tuned into the baby’s heartbeat monitor. I listened so intensely that I could still hear the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh pattern for days afterward. Amanda sat with me for a few minutes to see what would happen, changing my position to ease the pressure on the baby, and thankfully, it worked.
No sooner did we recover from that little glitch than did the doctor come in to check my progress. At 6:30pm I was closer to 10 cm, but baby was sunny side up- facing the wrong way. This can make pushing longer and more difficult, stress the baby and worst case, result in C section. The nurses told me they would come in and roll me from side to side, every 20 minutes, until it was time to push, in the hopes that baby would decide to turn over. Again I said some prayers and talked to my little one, “Please turn for mama, one more time.”
When I felt the baby roll over, I smiled ear to ear. It was like the baby and I really were working together. We were doing it.
By 7:30 pm, the rain had started, and my contractions were still 4 minutes apart. Amanda wanted to give me pitocin, saying that she wanted my contractions a little closer together just to make the pushing easier. She worried that with 4 minutes between each push I would fatigue and lose steam. But I was not convinced. I knew I wanted to avoid pitocin at all costs- I had done my research and knew that I could impede bonding, up my chances of postpartum depression, and make breastfeeding difficult. Plus, it didn’t seem necessary. Pushing was what I had looked forward to all day. It was going to be a relief- a chance to actively engage and Get. This. Baby. Out. I was not planning to “lose steam.” I was so close!
But Amanda was a little stubborn. She wasn’t sure if my body would dilate the last centimeter, either. We negotiated, and I convinced her to let me have until 8pm – half an hour – to let my body do its work.
When 8pm came and Amanda checked me, I was fully dilated, the baby had flipped, and we were ready to try the first pushes. Nevertheless Amanda persisted with the pitocin- she said she would give me the lowest dose possible, and hopefully it would be enough to bring the contractions closer together and make pushing easier. I gave in, trusting her experience, and agreed to .5 ml.
As the pitocin took effect my contractions started coming about 3 minutes apart- not quite the result that Amanda was hoping for. She upped the does to 1 ml and prepped me for delivery. The doc had gone home after she last checked my progress, but assured us she lived just around the block and would be back as soon as we called. Amanda wheeled in the delilvery cart and explained how to push; who knew there was an actual technique? But the more she explained the optimal body position (posterior pelvic tilt, rounded back, knees into chest, upper spine curling up) the more it started sounding like a Pilates exercise. It was like every Rolling Like a Ball exercise I had ever done was going to lead up to this! I was stoked. Finally something familiar, where I could actively participate and affect the outcome. Amanda coached me through two “practice pushes,” as she held my left leg and Tom held my right. It turns out it’s hard to figure out how to get things going down there when you have been nearly numb for the last few hours. So Amanda’s advice was to push like I was pooping… and, well, let me just say that I did it right. I was embarassed for a split second, and apologized profusely. When my husband looked me in the eye and said, ” Don’t worry about it, we have more important things to think about,” I took a deep breath, and let it go. Funny – one of the things I worried about most before going into labor was the embarassment of pooping during a push, and once it actually happened, it wasn’t that big a deal. He was right: there were way more important things going on.
Like, for instance, the fact that after the third practice push, Amanda started to lose her composure ever so slightly. “I think it’s time to call the doctor. Ok, DON’T PUSH on this next contraction and just sit tight while I get her here.” She hustled out of the room, and I asked Tom excitedly, “Does that mean that the baby’s coming?!” Amanda had seen the head, and it was time. Game on.
As we waited for the doc to arrive, the contractions continued to come, and I could feel the pressure descend upon my pelvis as the wave washed over me. My heart rate was beginning to spike with each one, as expected, to where the nurses couldn’t tell whose heart rate was getting picked up by the monitor, mine or the baby’s. Amanda sat with me, distracting me from the natural urge to push. Her anxiety was palpable as she went to check to make sure the doc had been called. When she opened the door, as if on cue, Dr. Johnson glided into the room, slapped on a pair of gloves and took a front row seat between my legs.
At 8:45 I began pushing “for real.” A small audience of nurses descended into the room – two more to watch the monitors and one from the pediatric ward. Amanda was still holding my left leg, and Tom my right. I was dying of thirst at this point, and the ice chips Tom gave me between each push were heavenly. Dr. Johnson took charge, coaching me to push three times with each contraction, with quick inhales in between each push. They suggested I hold my breath to bear down, but it felt so counterintuitive to me… so I exhaled. Hard. To where eventually those exhales turned into grunts and wheezes. But I had to do what my body had to do, even if I was going to be hoarse the next day (and I sure was!). After a few contractions, Dr. Johnson gave me the MVP advice of the night. And for all you pregnant mamas out there, listen up: with each push the baby moves forward ever so slightly. But after the third push in a round of three, when it’s time to rest, those tight pelvic floor muscles suck the baby up again. It’s like two steps forward and one step back. So Dr. Johnson advised me to push 75% with the first push to get baby back to where we left off, then focus the majority of my energy on making progress during the second and third pushes. This was exactly what I needed to hear – it helped me focus. The nurses continually asked me if I wanted a mirror to see the progress…. uh, no. I didn’t. I didn’t need that image etched in my mind forever. But it did feel a little bit like I was shooting in the dark without knowing how close I was to getting that head out. Focusing on the strength of each push helped.
And yet my contractions remained 3 minutes apart. Apparently this is super unusual, because it’s all they talked about. I was happy about it though, and I believe it was my body’s wisdom kicking in to self-regulate the spikes in my heartrate. With each contraction my bpms would skyrocket, and the three minutes in between was enough to let me catch my breath, rest for a second, and take the oxygen mask that Tom handed me in between ice chips. The oxygen helped to bring me back to baseline before the next contraction, and then we did it all again. While this prolonged the pushing stage of the delivery, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Eventually the baby was crowning, and although Dr. Johnson had been stretching my perineum with each contraction, there was no room left for it to stretch.
“You can feel the contractions when they come on, right?” she asked me.
“Yes, I think so, I can feel the pressure.”
“Ok then we are going to remove these monitors to make room, and rely on you to tell us when it’s time to push.”
They removed the baby’s heartrate monitor and the intrauterine catheter, and even still I started to tear. I knew we were getting close. I kept asking Tom how much longer?! The energy in the room was elevating as each push brought us closer and closer. Amanda remained vigilant and down to business, every moment the level-headed, non-emotional coach. One of the other nurses who had come in for the delivery was her perfect counterpart, all red hair and feathers and tattoos, and the voice next to me cheering me on, saying, “You got this mama! You are doing such a great job! You are so close!” I had never seen this woman before in my life yet she and Tom were vying for the role of biggest cheerleader. “You would think you had done this before!” she said. It was just what I needed to hear to feel like I was really doing this. I was pushing this bowling ball out of me. I was really having a baby!!
As the baby crowned, Tom described to me a head of dark hair, and it started to become real. The nurses asked again if I wanted a mirror, and I still declined. Though when they asked if I wanted to reach down and feel the head I obliged, even though I wasn’t so sure. I just wanted to hold my baby, not feel its head between my legs!
The next couple of moments went by in a blur. Suddenly Dr. Johnson was saying, “Ok Saralyn just one more big push.” And I said something to the effect of, ” Wait is the baby here?!” But I pushed, and pushed hard. I pushed longer and harder than I thought I could, pushing after I thought I needed to stop, and then suddenly, Dr. Johnson slid a cold and jittery, slimy and beautiful little baby out from under the sheet over my knees. Tom announced that it was a girl, and as Dr. Johnson held the cord up for Tom to cut, I frantically ripped my birthing gown off, ready to hold my baby in my arms, skin to skin, and soak in every second of this amazingly perfect moment.
Our baby girl cried, and stuck out her pouty bottom lip – a demonstration of a personality already established, a soul already written in the stars. She was absolutely perfect. As they laid her on my chest, I couldn’t decide between laughter or tears. In the background, Bob Marley floated from the iPod: ” Thank you Lord for what you’ve done for meeeee….” The pure elation, a heart open and bursting, that I felt was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. And even still, I’ll never forget the shared emotion Tom and I felt at that moment. He was in love with his daughter, yet over and over he showered me with love, telling me how proud he was of me, how great I did, how I made it. He thanked me for giving birth to our baby girl, and my heart swelled even more.
Finally I agreed to the mirror, so I could watch the baby’s face as I felt her breath. Dr. Johnson stitched me up as we enjoyed our first few moments as a family, before they even took the baby away to clean her up. That time is absolutely the best prize I could have ever hoped for after 19 hours of labor and it will be a moment I cherish until my dying day.
Ivy Jayne Ciolek was born on April 8, 2013 at 10:05 pm, in Denver, CO as the first flakes of an April snow storm began to fall. She was 20 inches long, 5 pounds and 14 oz. Our lives were forever changed by her arrival, taking on a new, more profound meaning. My dad used to sing me Edelweiss before bed when I was a wee one, and the lyrics have now taken on an entirely new meaning for me:
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow,
Bloom and grow forever
Ivy Jayne, Ivy Jayne,
Bless this baby forever