Robert was in Detroit for work on Wednesday the 14th, and he didn’t get home until around 11:30 at night. He was nervous about the trip, so I had promised him I wouldn’t have the baby while he was gone, and I kept my promise.
Over the last few weeks I’d been having intermittent contractions, but they would typically be noticeable and even uncomfortable for half an hour or an hour at a time and then just stop suddenly—typical prodromal labor as the body starts to get ready. That night, at 9:30 I started having contractions that didn’t stop. My body had finally fought off a cold and heavy cough (which would have been a major drag in labor, to be honest) just the day before, and when Wednesday night I found out that Robert was on the second leg of his flights back to Boston, I think I finally relaxed and actually allowed myself to really go into labor.
I was definitely over 41 weeks along at that point—on Thursday the 15th I would be 41 weeks, 2 days by my “conservative” count or 41 weeks, 6 days by my more realistic one. That morning my mother had even said that her father had been born on December 15th (in 1898) and that it would be a good day to have a baby, so the seed was definitely planted in my mind.
That night, though, my parents and I were watching some of the Canadian TV show “Slings and Arrows” on DVD, and when we got to the end of a disc, around 10:15 or so, I was still having regular contractions, about every ten minutes. I didn’t say anything about them, though, and just said goodnight and got ready for bed. In bed I read some webpages on my phone and listened to a bit of a hypnobirthing track, but I was trying to stay awake until Robert got home, so I didn’t want to relax fully into the hypnobirthing state lest I fall asleep instead. The contractions were slower and less intense when I was in bed, and I started to think that maybe this wasn’t really baby-having time after all. Robert got home around 11:30 and came straight to bed and we talked for awhile. He was wide awake and very chatty about his trip and the Christian Scientist midwife woman he sat next to on one flight, randomly, and a colleague with two kids whose house he visited in Detroit, and all sorts of other things. Finally around 12:30 or 12:45 I told him I needed to go to sleep, and I rolled over and put in my headphones and went back to the hypnobirthing track. This whole time the contractions had been present, but very slow and mild, and I relaxed into the track and didn’t really notice anything else until suddenly I opened my eyes and was sure that my water had just broken in the bed.
I sat up—it was 1:00 in the morning—and took my phone with me to the bathroom and some light to assess things. Yep, water definitely broken—apparently this was labor, after all—and Robert now asleep in the bed. I put on a pad and some new underwear and went back into the bedroom to get a new pair of pajama pants. Robert woke up with a startle, saying, “What’s wrong?” (which is what he’d said every night when I’d gotten up to go to the bathroom for the last month or so, actually). I told him that nothing’s wrong, my water just broke, I was about to call Kelley, and he should just relax. As I said that there was another big gush of waters, so I scratched the idea of new pj pants and just went back to the bathroom to sit on the toilet for awhile. What was mildly disconcerting was that the baby had apparently passed meconium in the womb, because the waters were pretty dark green rather than clear. They weren’t pea-soup thick, but there was definitely a lot of fairly dark meconium present, and each new gush was similarly stained. I called Kelley, our homebirth midwife, who said I should drink a lot of water to try to replenish the fluid and then go lie down monitoring contractions and baby movements while I waited for her to get down to me. She said she’d get her kids ready and drop them at the babysitter’s and then head straight over to me, but that it wouldn’t be instantaneous. Since the baby was breech and had still been fairly high at the last check, she was a little concerned about the umbilical cord dropping between the baby and my pelvis, so she said lying down would keep excess pressure off my cervix until she was able to check out fetal heart tones and current baby position. I said it didn’t feel like the baby had dropped at all, and I couldn’t really tell how much the baby was moving because the contractions, just in between my water breaking and this phone call, were getting much more intense, so I drank a quart of water, texted our cleaning lady (who was supposed to come clean at 8:30 in the morning) that I was having a baby and was going to skip this week’s cleaning, and went back to bed.
The contractions were coming not completely regularly—Robert, having whipped out a handy iPhone timer, said they mostly seemed to be every four minutes but would occasionally space out to every ten—but I was vocalizing through them and working on dropping my jaw and my shoulders to relax into them. We kissed through some of them, too, because I’d just been rereading one of Ina May’s books and it seemed like a good idea. I was getting frustrated at having to lie down through them, though, because I really wanted to be kneeling. I did get up twice to go to the toilet—the body definitely works to empty things out when you’re in labor, so there’s more room in that general area for the baby to move down when s/he needs to.
This whole time I felt like I was going to throw up, though I never actually did, and I was shivering and shaking so badly that everyone kept asking if I needed another blanket (nope, it was just the hormones).
Back in bed, I talked to Kelley from her car and she listened to me through a contraction, and then said what she’d do is come straight to my house, leave her kids in the car while she ran up to check out me and the baby, and then go bring them to the babysitter’s and come back. That sounded like a good idea to me, and it meant a shorter time that I’d have to be lying down waiting for her, so that’s what we did—my father (whom I felt bad about waking up just a few hours after he went to bed, because he was now suffering from the heavy cold I’d had the week before) went down and sat in her double-parked car with her three boys while she came up with her bag and equipment.
Meanwhile, though, just before Kelley got here—when Robert went up front to give my parents the big “this is it” news and there was a lot of movement and activity around the house, Marcus woke up and wandered into our bedroom. We told him that the baby was coming tonight, and that Kelley would be over to help, and he just climbed into bed with me and insisted on holding my hands through a contraction. He was very placid and fine with everything, but he’d been seeing Kelley at appointments and reading homebirth books and generally waiting for this day almost as long as I had, so yes, he was ready too.
When Kelley got upstairs, she immediately got the baby on the Doppler and said the baby’s heart tones sounded great, both during and in between contractions when I was lying down, so next she monitored the baby both during and in between contractions when I was standing up and found no difference, which meant she wasn’t really worried about cord prolapse at that point. Kelley’s apprentice Jenna arrived and said that she would stay with me while Kelley ran her kids over to the sitter’s. I got into the bathtub (it’s a very oversized-one, and Kelley had said it would even work for a birth as she could get in behind me to help catch the baby if need be) and filled it up and was instantly happier—I could lie on my side, fully stretched out in the water, with my head pillowed on a folded towel on the marble surround of the tub in between contractions, and then get to my knees and rock and relax and vocalize during the contractions themselves. I liked the sound of the water coming into the tub, so when the tub filled up around me I would just let some water drain out and keep more tumbling in. Not that eco-friendly, for sure, but you don’t go around having a baby every day, after all. Marcus sat on the edge of the bathtub in his pajamas and splashed his feet in the water and talked to me, though I’m really not sure what he said or what I said back.
It was now after 3:00 in the morning, and I was dealing with the contractions very well—they were intense and it took a bit of effort to ease into them, but they weren’t painful, and I think they were really doing a fair amount of work, actually. But this entire time in the bath I had a thought—or more accurately, a feeling—in the back of my mind that had never gone away and then I couldn’t dispel, not with hypnobirthing or prayer or relaxation techniques or any kind of conscious thought, and this feeling kept building and building, and making its presence known to me, and coming closer and closer into the main part of my mind. It was a feeling of unspecified dread—without trying to sound overly dramatic about it, maybe it was closest to the effect of the Dementors (from Rowling) or the Nazgul (from Tolkien): it was a huge feeling, overwhelming, strange, foreign to me, and unstoppable. I trusted/trust Kelley completely—I trusted my body—I trusted God—but none of those things mattered at the moment, since I couldn’t shake this feeling. I felt cut off from the baby inside of me—talking to her, or trying to, wasn’t working, and I just felt that I had to do something. During contractions, I couldn’t feel this, but between them it rose up and took over everything else.
I stood up and drained the bath and toweled myself off. I told Jenna I felt strange, and that I wanted to go to the hospital. She was surprised, and I couldn’t quite go into detail about my feelings—it was nothing conscious or rational, after all, and it’s taken me these last few days even to be able to put it into the words I have here, which still don’t completely convey the powerful effects of the feeling of dread I had that night. It wasn’t pain; it wasn’t fear; but I couldn’t and still can’t really say what it was. Instinct? Maybe. Instincts can be wrong, though. I don’t know. Jenna said that Kelley was just a few blocks away on her way back, which was good to hear, but I kept getting ready. I put on a clean pad and new underwear and pj pants and socks, stuck a sling and a change of clothes into my bag, packed my phone and headphones, and suddenly Kelley was there. She monitored the baby again and said that everything looked and sounded great, that she had no reason to be concerned about the baby—the meconium had never been so thick that she had reason to think it was fresh, but rather she thought it had been passed earlier in the womb and had appeared diluted with the amniotic fluid, which wouldn’t be uncommon for a breech, post-dates baby at all—but that she absolutely respects a mother’s gut feeling, and she would support me in whatever I wanted to do. She also said that I was clearly present, talking to her in a rational, mind-made-up way that was not typical of someone in Laborland, and that she didn’t want to try to talk me out of anything, but rather to support me in whatever I wanted or needed to do. Kelley said she would stay with me no matter what, and I knew that she would.
Marcus was playing in his room with my father now, and we decided to leave Kelley and Jenna’s cars parked here near the house and go in one car to the Brigham (not the closest hospital, but the best around for labor and birth, and at this hour only a bit over a five-minute drive down Huntington Avenue). Robert pulled my father’s car over from the parking spot we’d gotten for it around the corner, Jenna and Kelley got into the middle row of seats, and I sat in the front seat next to Robert. We drove over and Robert valet-parked, and I walked into the admitting office with Robert and Jenna and Kelley.
I had a single-page sheet I’d made up a week ago and printed off in triplicate, with my information at the top (social, birthdate, insurance, address, phones, emergency contacts, baby’s pediatrician) and then a short list of bulleted birth and post-birth preferences at the bottom, signed by both Robert and me. I’d never even imagined making up one of these with Marcus, but for some reason I did, this time around. I handed one of these to Robert to hand to the woman behind the desk, but she insisted on asking me, say, whether this was still my address or not. I just turned my back on her and kneeled down on the floor in front of one of the chairs and rocked and vocalized through a contraction. Kelley and Robert answered for me, and eventually I signed something in a shaky hand and all four of us got matching bracelets. My water started gushing a bit again now, with all the movement and in and out of the car, and I leaked through onto one of this horrible woman’s chairs. Oh well. I sat in a wheelchair to go up to the labor and delivery floor, and they took me back into a room about two minutes after we arrived, now around a quarter to five in the morning.
We told everyone the truth, in abbreviated form: the baby had been breech around 33 weeks, and then had turned, we were sure of that, and then we never definitely felt her turn back—we weren’t sure of her positioning for a long time, with Kelley wondering if maybe she was head-down but with a hand or arm above her head, and then she was definitely confirmed to be breech by heart tone and palpation in labor. They monitored the baby and said what Kelley had—she sounded great, both during and between contractions—and then did a quick ultrasound to confirm positioning and a single vaginal exam to check progress. Everyone here was very accommodating, letting me move around to whatever position I wanted during a contraction, keeping the lights low in the room, apologizing when they had to ask me a question (height, weight, allergies), waiting for me to finish contractions, and being generally very supportive.
Apparently when an almost 42-weeker walks in with waters ruptured, breech presentation, moderately heavy meconium, and 8 cm dilated (that was news to me, since Kelley hadn’t done an internal, but again, it was good to know the contractions had been really doing something), people move quickly. By the pure luck of the draw, we got a female attending OB who spends part of the year in Africa practicing there and who has attended some vaginal breech births and seemed excited by me, rather than condemning or even punitive, as sometimes hospital staffs are to homebirth transfers. She said we could wait and do a trial of vaginal labor, and she would be supportive of that, or we could move ahead toward a c-section. I was pretty at peace with being here in the hospital, though, and my “feeling” had receded; I couldn’t start to sub-analyze it, though, and I didn’t want to make any more decisions at all, so I said they could just start preparing for the c-section. At every point, she and the nurses were kind and supportive of Kelley, Jenna, and Robert, and kept leaving us alone to discuss things. Whenever we were alone, Kelley urged me to drink some water, since at some point they would cut me off from fluids officially.
People kept complimenting me on my labor, which seemed unearned to me: the nurses kept saying how they wished this baby weren’t breech so they could labor with me, because I was so calm and angelic during contractions. The contractions were the same as they’d been since 1:00, though, and I wasn’t doing anything special during them, and in between I was still the Type A me, so it felt weird to be complimented, and very unjustified. This baby was coming—my body was working, the baby was moving down, my body was opening—and none of it had anything to do with me, or at least that’s how I felt. During contractions I wasn’t in control, and that was just fine, so it didn’t make sense for people to say nice things about me during them. I was just along for the ride, sort of.
Kelley asked to be in the room during the surgery, and they said yes. She handed someone another copy of my list of birth preferences, and she also asked that they place the baby skin-to-skin on me and let me try to nurse right there in the OR, and again, they said yes. I was very glad she was there, to say the least.
At some point I finally got a pair of those mesh underwear and a clean pad, and Kelley cleaned most of the meconium off my legs, and then they brought us into a pre-surgery area. Kelley and Robert got shoe covers and hats and jumpsuits to put on. Jenna was going to wait in the recovery room I’d be in, with our bags. The only time I was alone was for a few minutes while Kelley and Robert were getting ready, when someone wheeled me into the OR and prepped me for surgery. They wanted me to drink a cup of antacid solution, so that in case I vomited from the anesthesia, my stomach contents would be neutralized and wouldn’t come up very acidic. The only problem was that I’m funny about flavors, and at the first sip of this solution, I immediately threw up. I pointed out the irony of this, but the anesthesiologist seemed unconvinced. Eventually I drank it all and immediately vomited it all, and strangely this seemed to satisfy everyone.
Except for the second of the two anesthesiologists, who left after the anesthesia was administered, every member of the OR team that night was a woman, which was nice. I got an IV in my arm, expertly done, with no pain. I remember my last contraction, sitting on the edge of the table just before they asked me to curve my back for the shot, which also seemed not to hurt. They gave me a spinal block and had me lie down on the table, and then apparently I fell asleep—there was nothing to do, nothing to read or look at or focus on, so my body just went into power-saving mode.
Robert and Kelley came in, then, he said, and his first thought was that something had been miscommunicated and they’d used general anesthesia on me instead of the spinal. I think when I heard his voice I woke up, and at first I had no idea of where I was or what was going on. I heard everyone talking about me and my baby, in a good way—very warm, very welcoming, very focused—and at one point someone said, “Do we know if it’s a boy or a girl?” and I said, “It’s a girl.” I guess that was when they realized I was awake and coherent, because there was a bit of a chuckle over the information being volunteered from behind the curtain. Robert stayed with me and held my hand. Kelley stood on the other side and explained what was happening, what they were cutting or removing or doing, and she took pictures the whole time.
Samantha was born at 6:15am entirely covered in vernix, which was somewhat surprising for an almost 42-weeker, and at 7 pounds, 1 ounce, three ounces lighter than Marcus, who was born at 39 weeks and 4 days. Kelley said the cord was beautiful, very thick, with a lovely spiral in it, and the placenta looked good and healthy and a lovely color. The cord wasn’t wrapped around her neck or anything. Everyone exclaimed about how beautiful her head was, so characteristic of a breech baby, since it hadn’t molded into my pelvis during the third trimester. Robert went with her to the side table, where she had Apgars of 9 and 9, and he trimmed the cord (mostly just a ceremonial gesture, but nice just the same).
With a cap on her meconium-stained hair, and the first Apgar and her weight taken, and a tiny bit of bulb suctioning of her nose and mouth, she was immediately brought over to me and laid on my chest, and two warmed blankets draped over us both. I held her with my left hand and she just laid there so alert and awake and stared into my eyes. Her eyes were dark, but not purely brown: more of a very dark brown-grey, with slate-blue tinges around the iris. She had very long eyelashes, with vernix and/or meconium in the folds of her eyelids.
She clutched my breast and nuzzled it, but didn’t immediately latch on, which was okay—we still had the skin-to-skin contact, we still had the eye contact, and she seemed to know she was in a good place. She stayed there through the entire rest of the surgery, as Kelley kept an eye partly on the baby and partly on the stitching (she said they did it really well, perfect stitches, no staples, beautiful incision, really nicely finished). At the very end, when they needed to transport me to recovery, Robert got to hold her skin-to-skin for the couple minutes of head start I’d need, and then they swaddled her up and put her in the bassinet, and he wheeled the bassinet down the hall next to me and we all took the elevator to the recovery room together.
Jenna was waiting there, and Kelley immediately helped me get Samantha onto the breast, where she latched on this time, and nursed for about half an hour before just hanging out on me the rest of the time I was there. Jenna and Kelley went out to get sandwiches and bring one back for Robert, and I practiced “wiggling my big toe” a la Uma Thurman. Kelley and Jenna left around 9:00 and by 10:00, Robert wheeling the bassinet cart next to me again, we were in our private room on the 10th floor.
I did have a bit of a post-birth high, but it was very different than after Marcus’s birth. It was helped, this time, by my parents and Marcus meeting us in our room as soon as we arrived, and getting to see Marcus’s joy in his new baby sister. He was lovely with her, and she reminds us so much of him as a newborn—she has his same wide fat nose, which he had as an infant but somehow grew out of by eight or nine months, as it shaped itself a bit more and his face elongated.
Marcus saw the baby nursing and immediately asked to nurse too. I let him come up and try on the other breast, but he had a worse latch than she did, after about eight weeks of not getting any milk at all. Since then he’s done the same thing a dozen or so times, with about the same results.
My parents and Marcus left, then, to go home and nap, since he’d only taken about an hour nap since getting up at 2:00 in the morning with me, and we settled in for a day of vital signs and questions and procedures and all the random things they do in hospitals. We were insistent about keeping Samantha with us, and kept declining to let them take her to the nursery to bathe her, etc. I was also insistent about not being given Rhogam (since I’m O negative and Robert is A positive) without finding out the baby’s blood type, so even though several nurses kept urging me to just get the shot, I insisted on waiting to find out whether I actually needed it or not. Samantha nursed a bit more, but latching was not the easiest for her—she sometimes figured it out and sometimes just got frustrated—but we were making a go of it and I knew she was definitely getting some colostrum. By 1:00 I’d proven to the nurses that I could swallow ice chips, drink water, and drink a glass of juice with no nausea, so they “let” me order lunch, and I devoured a grilled cheese sandwich and a yogurt. Robert made me order an angel food cake for him to eat as well. Robert’s father came to visit, sending some purple roses ahead of him, and stayed for about half an hour. Then, after I’d gotten up to move around and wash up, Robert headed home to eat dinner, help put Marcus to bed, and shower and change before coming back for the night.
While he was gone, a nice nurse brought a heat lamp and some basins into the room and said I could bathe Samantha here; I basically just swabbed off her gunky head, as I didn’t think she really needed a bath and liked the little bits of vernix still left in the folds of her neck and wrists. I then popped her into a sling for a bit of walking-around time in our room (hospital rules say you can’t carry, hold, wear, or lift the baby outside of your room, crazily enough).
Robert came back, woozy and ready for sleep, and pulled out the fold-out chair and got pillows and sheets to make himself at least moderately comfortable on it for the night.
Samantha and I spent our night dozing together, interrupted by some attempts to nurse (mostly successful, though often short) and by various nurses who again took our vitals and at appointed times took off my ankle boots, unhooked my IV, gave me Motrin, took out my catheter, etc. At some point Samantha’s blood type had come back in, and since she is A negative, I didn’t need the Rhogam shot after all. She is also Coomb’s positive, though, meaning that some of my blood and hers mixed together at some point, but even though that meant she was at increased risk of jaundice, her bili numbers were fine, in the 25% for babies of her age in hours.
At 4:00 in the morning, they started making rounds for the day, with the OB on duty (not the same one who did the surgery, unfortunately, but nice enough) coming by and the pediatrician also. I had a list of things that had to be done today before we could leave, and I had made up my mind that I would be home in my own bed that night. So we made sure we had the hearing test (fine, she passed, and we insisted on being there through it, which they thought was a bit odd but humored us in), the state-mandated PKU screening (again, we insisted on being there, and we were the only family who did), my discharge discussion with the OB, her discharge discussion with the pediatrician, etc. The hospital room was very comfortable, the floor very quiet, everyone who came into our room very friendly—if sometimes pushy—and what also made us feel good was that everyone who came into contact with us acknowledged that this wasn’t where we’d planned on ending up.
I did refuse a “standard” post-partum blood test, though, figuring that basically it would just give them something more to hassle me about—all my vitals had been perfectly fine, the incision looked good, and I’d proven to the nurses that my assorted bodily functions were all back on track. Still, the OB on call made me sign out AMA, saying that in order to not be AMA I’d have to stay at least twenty-four hours, but there was no way I was staying another night there. Robert got somewhat frightened by all the scary medical CYA language on those forms that I signed, but then the OB who had done the surgery came by and said that while she couldn’t sign me out because I wasn’t officially her patient and neither was she officially on attending duty that day, she nevertheless saw no reason at all why I shouldn’t go home, and that made Robert feel better.
The pediatrician who had been worried about jaundice grudgingly said that she didn’t appear to be jaundiced, and that given she was more than 24 hours old, we would already know if she had the type of jaundice caused by the Coomb’s positive test. He was a little concerned that she hadn’t pooped at all, but I kept playing the very rational card, pointing out that she’d had very good wet diapers and had also pooped a lot at birth, so finally he agreed that that was good enough and signed Samantha out.
My parents came by with Marcus after picking him up from school, and we were all home by 4:30 in the afternoon, a little less than 36 hours after the birth. In the lobby of the hospital, as we waited for the valet to pull the car up, someone congratulated me on the baby (worn in a sling at that point) and asked how old she was. I was disoriented, and it took me more than a few minutes to answer that she was one day old. “And they’re kicking you out already?” the woman asked, shocked and indignant. I tried to explain that I wanted to go home, but I think she didn’t really believe me. I walked out to the car with Samantha in the sling and Marcus holding my hand, and that was the best feeling.
The four flights of stairs up to our apartment weren’t my favorite part, but were doable—if I was careful, I was able to walk with my center of mass directly over the incision, so it didn’t cause any strain at all. At home we ordered in Indian food for dinner, and then made an early night of it. My milk came in around 9:00 at night, so less than 40 hours after the birth, with a sudden shock, and Samantha woke up every two hours to nurse. Since she wasn’t latching on great, I started using a nipple shield with her, as I had in the beginning with Marcus, and that meant that she was really able to get some great suck-and-swallow nursing sessions in at night. Marcus saw her using the shield and asked what that was; I explained that she didn’t yet know how to nurse very well. “I’ll show her!” he said proudly, and tried to latch on to the other side, again with no great results. He ended up just licking some drops of milk off my breast and leaving it at that.
In mid-morning, when she was two days old, she had her first dirty diaper, and Robert and Marcus got to change it together. In the middle of the day, Marissa and her family came over to admire the baby, and then Kelley came over to check up on me and Samantha and to talk about the birth and transfer, to try to help me process the whole experience.
I have to say I wonder if I made the right decision. I didn’t go into this thinking that I wanted surgery, obviously. I can’t explain my feeling, but I know that it felt right at the time. No, Samantha didn’t have the fullest birth experience that Marcus did, but as c-sections go—and Kelley confirmed this—it was pretty darn close to ideal, very peaceful, with everyone focused on her and me and our comfort. Kelley reminded me that Marcus had a bit of a rocky start to life, with lower Apgars than Samantha, so while he had the benefit of the flora in the birth canal and low lights at birth, Samantha had everything else that he had, including a lack of newborn poking/prodding (we declined Vitamin K, initial shots, and eye ointment), loving hands to hold her right away, immediate skin-to-skin contact and a chance to nurse, and the chance to choose her own birthdate and experience labor. I can’t start second-guessing things—I’m not sure who that would benefit or how—but now it’s just over sixty hours since her birth, and we are a wonderful, functional, family, home and happy together. Both of us are doing really well.
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