It has taken me nearly three weeks to write this post. Most of that time has been spent cuddling and smelling and kissing and learning all about this new little Bug that watches me with her dark blue eyes and looks exactly like her Dad when she sleeps, makes high pitched squeaks like a guinea pig and was born with the trademark Krysl eyebrows and the biggest feet I’ve ever seen on a newborn. Also she poops. A lot.
But part of the time has also been spent with my eyes closed, thinking back on the afternoon we had Maren, and how many emotions were crammed into a five hour period. And how happy I am, how blessed I feel, that I have a husband who understands me so much better than I ever gave him credit for, and families on both sides that wanted to be a part of this moment, and so…. so lucky to have a daughter who, so far, has defied every challenge that my broken body threw at her. There is nothing that I’ve experienced in my lifetime that is quite as cosmic as having a baby. Nothing has ever made me feel more connected to the universe; more like there is a God who loves us, more like my ancestors were crowded around a window in Heaven, jostling around each other to peer down on my hospital bed, holding their breath and wringing their hands with each push. At the same time, I have never felt as RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW as I did when Mitch and I were delivering Maren.
Around noon on Friday, the 12th, my nurse told me that we were ready to push. My doctor made her appearance on the scene shortly thereafter, and all the men (except my husband) evacuated the room, running for the quiet sanctity of the waiting room. Which is good, because by that time, I was so ready to get this baby out that I was visualizing pushing so hard that the placenta was going to splatter all over the opposite wall. Our moms stayed, sitting on a couch in the back of the room, and I considered warning them that they were right in the line of fire and would probably need some protective eye gear, but I decided that they probably knew more about this business than I did.
I was in a pretty good amount of pain at this point. Not nearly as bad as that morning, but it wasn’t the calm, serene, no-muss-no-fuss birth that I had been expecting after the epidural. I’d been having back labor for at least the last month, but I had expected the epidural to take care of this (it didn’t even touch it), and was also feeling contractions in my uterus, which is good, because that’s where they were supposed to be, and it’s easier to push if you can feel where to push, but it certainly doesn’t make for a very comfortable hour or so while you wait for this show to get on the road.
And in the meantime… I really like my doctor. I think she’s a nice lady. But I also think that doctors sometimes listen to their patients requests and then say, “Okay.” And then forget everything we told them. Very clearly, I had told my doctor on numerous occasions that the thing I hate the most in my entire life is being left in the dark, feeling outnumbered, or feeling like there is something going on that I don’t know about. Ask Mitch. He will nod his head so emphatically that it might detach. I hate secrets.
“Even if you think it’s going to scare me,” I said, “You have to tell me what’s going on. I will be so much more calm if I know what’s going on.”
“Sure.” She said, and yet, when it came to the actual delivery of our daughter, I think I said the words, “What’s going on?” More than anything, while the gazillion doctors in the room had little conferences in the corner and totally ignored us. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
My doctor confirmed that we were ready to push– that Skirty was in position, her head was engaged, and it was go time.
“We’re going to do a few practice pushes.” She said. “So just bear down like you have to take a really large bowel movement– push to ten, rest for a second, and come back for another ten. We’re going to do three sets of ten, and the third one needs to be the hardest you’ve ever pushed.”
This was all music to my ears. Because, I don’t want to really gross you out, especially before all the good gorey birth details, but if anyone on this earth knows how to really bear down and push out a hellacious bowel movement, it’s me. Who has two thumbs and poops the size of Texas? This gal.
Because of the epidural, I couldn’t actually feel where I was pushing, not at first. So after my first set of practice pushes, while I rested I sputtered, “Am I doing it right?”
“Yup.” Mitch replied, keeping his eyes very carefully on my face and not looking anywhere else. For those of you who have been in the delivery room, you probably realize what had just happened. I had been terrified for nine months that I was going to poop in front of Mitch. And there it was. And he didn’t run from the room demanding divorce. So I guess…. we must be in love.
At no point in the ‘practice pushes’ did they finally say, “Okay, now lets have some FOR REAL pushes.” But I think that they were trying not to make me nervous. They did have me sit up into the ‘birthing position,’ which made me feel very fancy, and I suppose that was when ‘real’ pushes started. They pulled the bed apart and made it like a throne, and Mitch and a nurse each held one leg, and Mitch counted for me while I pushed.
And let me tell you this. I fell in love with my husband a long, long time ago. Basically as soon as I met him. And our relationship works because he lets me FEEL like I am the boss. I have spent the last five years feeling very smug about how well I know him, how much I understand him, and how he can be so vulnerable with me and I am just so strong. And really, that may be true in our ordinary every day lives, when the most stressful part of both our days is that Mitch forgot to iron his shirt and I forgot to pack my lunch. But in this moment? During all of this?
Mitch was more than a lifeline for me. Labor and delivery was like being locked in a very dark, very hot room, and Mitch’s hand, Mitch’s voice, were the one instance of something clean, cool, and beautiful that I could remember in my entire life. I grasped for him like my life depended on it, and his voice was the only thing I could hear. Anytime that the thought even crossed my mind that I couldn’t do this, Mitch’s voice would come out of nowhere telling me that I could. And I would lie back, exhausted, waiting for the next contraction, and he didn’t baby me, or let me feel sorry for myself, or anything mushy at all. He told me that he loved me, and he never let go of my hand.
Everything was going well– as these things go– the doctors could see my daughter’s head descending. Three more pushes. I kept telling myself. Three more good, strong pushes– and she’ll be here.
And then…. something happened. We don’t know what it was; but we have a theory.
It started with a very scary moment when all the monitors in the room suddenly went crazy. Instead of Skirty’s clear, constant heartbeat, the monitor sounded like a wind storm. They couldn’t find a heartbeat at all. The contraction monitor flatlined.
I continued to push– but even I knew something was wrong. Even with the epidural, I could tell that something in my body wasn’t right. “Am I doing it right?” I asked, exhausted, and my doctor seemed to hesitate, and then said quietly,
“Yup, keep it up.”
When I opened my eyes, I could see the room suddenly filling up with doctors. Everyone wanted to look at my cervix. Everyone wanted to check the monitor. They kept looking at their watches, so I looked at the clock. It had been over an hour.
“Okay, here comes a contraction.” I said, and my husband picked up my leg and waited for me to tell him when to count. But the contraction just fizzled out. “Oh…” I said. “I must have missed that one.”
“It’s okay.” He said. “Just wait for the next one.” But he was watching the doctors, who had their backs to us, speaking in whispers.
Finally, a nurse suggested that they try putting in a catheter and emptying my bladder, the theory being that Skirty couldn’t put her head around my bladder, which was probably very full. The next half an hour of my life was the most ridiculous display of crazy. At one point I yelled at my doctors, “What is this, the Keystone Cops?” I think they pulled out every catheter in the hospital and tried to thread it through. No one seemed to know what they were doing. It’s like they’d never seen a catheter before. By the time they finally got one in, I was pretty sure I could have done it myself.
And, by the way. If there are any med students out there reading this. If the time it takes you to get a catheter in is any longer than, oh, say, five seconds, please put the bag somewhere that the patient can’t see it. Because while I waited for my next contraction, all I had to do was sit and watch. So I sat and watched that bag fill up with blood.
And then we pushed some more. The pain in my back was increasing, so much that I thought that Skirty was going to make her appearance Sigourney Weaver style, pushing her way out between my vertebrae and proceeding to melt our faces. They pushed my legs up higher, so my knees were touching my ears. Mitch kept counting. I was pushing so hard that I could feel the skin over my face tightening over my skull, could feel my knuckles whitening, could feel my toes gripping at air.
And it occurred to me, in a sudden burst of clarity, that this couldn’t be right. It shouldn’t be taking this long. I shouldn’t be pushing this hard– otherwise, how would other women, who weren’t as strong, who didn’t have an epidural, who didn’t have their husband supporting them, how could they possibly pull this off?
My doctor patted me on the leg and told me to rest. “Go ahead and roll onto your side and doze off for a bit.” She said. “We’re going to go take a little break, and talk for a minute.”
At this point, there were so many doctors in the room that I figured that no other room in the hospital must have a patient. There were ominous looking green packages on the table next to me that had appeared as if out of nowhere. I found out later that the attending doctor had brought in forceps and a vacuum, and that had been one of the little mystery conferences. But by the time I noticed them, we were all ready beyond that point.
My first indication that things were about to take a trip to the wild side was when they turned off the monitor for Skirty’s heart beat and put an internal monitor on the top of her head. Her heart rate had been riding too high for some time now, and they wanted to get a more accurate read (They kept saying the word ‘tachycardia,’ which of course, means nothing to me. I practically had to strangle a nurse before she told us what it meant.)
My next indication that something was up was when a nurse came back into the room and asked if she could just ‘take a listen’ to my lungs. When she left the room I looked up at Mitch and whispered,
“No.” He replied immediately.
Here is the thing.
I only have a few things that I’m afraid of, and most of those things are pretty irrational. Winged animals, for example.
But I have a major fear of surgery. Full blown, terrified, nightmares, run in the other direction, scream and scratch my eyeballs out phobia.
The idea of someone cutting into me; the idea of entrusting another human being, who is just as entitled to make mistakes in their everyday life as I am in mine, with something as scary as a scalpel being next to my guts, terrifies me to the point of almost total incapacity. When I had my gallbladder removed last year, I had a crazy moment of panic where I tried to escape the hospital, and my first memory of waking up from surgery is a nurse yelling at me to let go of her. A C-Section was pretty much my worst case scenario, and so of course, it was Mitch’s double-plus-ungood-worst case scenario.
My doctor came back in alone and stood at the foot of my bed. “You’ve been pushing for 2 1/2 hours.” She said. “We think that the baby may have turned and is in a posterior position– sunny side up, we call it– and if she is, then no amount of pushing is going to get her out. In any case, we don’t like to let moms push past 3 hours, because you’re just too worn out.”
“So what do we do, then?” Mitch asked, quite upset, if I do say so myself.
“We need to go to a C-section.” She said, which of course, we knew she was going to. Why wouldn’t she? Why did I think that just because I made so many careful plans about my perfect labor and delivery, it would just happen so neatly and nicely and OH HERE, LET ME PLEASE PUT A MINT ON YOUR PILLOW. I was all ready beginning to panic.
“No.” Mitch said. “She can do this, lets just push for another half hour. She can do this.”
“The baby isn’t crowning.” My doctor said gently. “Another half hour isn’t enough time to get the whole baby out.”
“I just– I don’t want to go to surgery unless we absolutely have to. Until we are at the absolute limit.”
“Mitch,” I whispered, tears and snot running all over my face, my hands violently shaking from the fear of THE KNIFE, “We’re there.”
What happened next is the most tender moment in our entire relationship, and one that I will never forget. Even though we’d been together for five years…. Even though we’d been married and pregnant for 10 months… even though we didn’t technically have a daughter for another hour or so, this is the moment I will always remember that we became a family.
Mitch, in general, seems to give me everything I want. But a major part of his job, as my husband, that is a little different from other people’s husbands, is making sure that what I want really is what I want. And I had said, long before we had even gone into labor, that a C-section was my biggest fear. I would have rather had this baby in the bathtub. So when they presented me with a C-Section, to Mitch, all that he could see was the worst possible thing his wife could think of. And in general, his job is to make sure that those things don’t happen to me. And he takes his job very seriously.
But when I said that– when I admitted that it would be better to have the worst thing I could think of happen to me, because even I could tell that something was wrong with this delivery– Everything about Mitch’s demeanor changed. Every bone in his body, the way he was holding his face, the look in his eyes. He took a deep breath and instantly shifted gears, just like that.
“Okay.” He said. “What do we do?”
I tried to close my eyes and ignore the next part of this experience, and I knew then why they’d only let me eat water for the last three days. If I had had absolutely anything in my stomach at that point, my doctor would have been wearing it.
The nice young man from anesthesia came back and bumped my epidural up to ALL TIME HIGH SCORE mode, and everyone started poking me with toothpicks to make sure I couldn’t feel anything. And probably a little bit for their own amusement. Honestly, how often do you get to strap someone down and poke them?
Mitch changed into scrubs and got a little pep talk from his mom– and then had to change into other scrubs because they were too small, because someone had looked at my husband and thought, “Oh, I’ll bet he could squeeze into a medium….” Hopefully not the person who was about to put a six inch incision into my belly. I mean, my belly is not exactly my favorite part of my body, but it is a little necessary.
I had somehow escaped the itchiness that comes with an epidural, but couldn’t escape the Shakies. And by the Shakies, I mean it could have registered on the Richter scale. Nothing I did could get my arms and face to stop shaking. I couldn’t relax. No amount of deep breathing or visualizing or stretching could stop the Shakies. So when they wheeled me into surgery, they took Scotch tape and taped my arms down to keep me from shaking the table apart.
I’ve addressed this before. But I’d like to say it again. There has probably never been as low a moment in my life as when they were wheeling me in for a C-Section. Looking back, I suppose I should have felt elated, like the end was near, like in the next hour I was going to be holding my daughter and all of this would just be a distant memory. But after 34 hours of labor, 3 hours of pushing, no food, no sleep…. major surgery was about as much of a back stab as I could think of. I told Mitch that I couldn’t do it. And, somehow, instead of rolling his eyes at me and saying I was being dramatic, all I had to do was lie back and they would deliver the baby for me, he pushed the hair out of my face and said, “Yes you can. We’ll do it together.”
Just before we got to the OR, they asked Mitch to wait while they finished preparing me. Neither of us know why. I am assuming that they wanted to get me all sterile and put the screen up and have a place all set up for Mitch before they brought him in, but it turned out to be a moot point.
While they wheeled me and a nurse stopped Mitch and told him to stay, my wonderful husband popped one of his veins out of his forehead and demanded to speak to the surgeon.
“Can you tell me why I’m being separated from my wife?” He asked. If I’d been standing there when this happened, I would have laughed uncomfortably and told Mitch to settle down. But alas, Mitch and the poor surgeon were alone. I’m sure the surgeon was wishing she’d taken the back way into the OR that day.
She explained that it was just how things were done.
“Okay.” Mitch said, and he says he was being very agreeable at this point, but I doubt it. “Isn’t it your call? I mean, aren’t you in charge? Isn’t that how things are done?”
When the surgeon made it into the room, she looked like a whipped puppy. “Are we ready for Dad to come in?” She asked. “He would really like to come in.” I instantly knew what had happened and wished that I had the wherewithal to apologize to this poor woman and tell her that he didn’t mean anything personal. I do that a lot for Mitch.
Operating room’s are really loud. I couldn’t hear much of anything, which is probably good, because I was doing my best to pretend that I wasn’t even there. Mitch sat down next to me, put his hand on my forehead, and didn’t say a word.
There are scarier moments in life. And I’ve heard lots of stories– tons of stories– about scarier births. Much scarier. But there is nothing that compares to that moment– when you are right there. No matter how your birth actually happens, even if it is totally normal, no hitches– there is still nothing like that moment when you are teetering on the threshold between couple and family. Between woman and mother.
My eyes were closed, and inexplicably, an image from our wedding came to mind. Mitch and I saying our vows– holding hands and looking at each other– and Mitch’s eyes filled with tears when he said these words, “I take you to be the wife of my days, the companion of my house, the friend of my life, and the mother of our children.”
“Dad,” The surgeon said, and my eyes slammed open. “Would you like to peek?”
I watched my beautiful husband stand up and look over the curtain– and that look came over his face. The same look he had when I told him I would marry him, when I told him I was pregnant. The soft, awed glaze around his eyes, when we saw her heartbeat the first time. The dumbstruck, goofy, silly, crazy-happy way he held his mouth when they first told us we were having a daughter.
I closed my eyes again and waited for the longest moment in my entire life, straining past the crazy loud of the OR to hear the one sound– the ONE SOUND– in the entire history of the universe that, even though I’d never heard it before, my entire body was aching for.
And then… there it was. I don’t know what else to say about it. Two tears ran out of the corners of my eyes and for the first time all day I wasn’t in any pain, wasn’t shaking, and wasn’t scared. After all that. There it was.
I don’t know what to say about it– after all these months of thinking about what it would be like when I finally saw her, when I finally met her. But what is there that you can say about it? When a piece of you grows and lives and is now walking around, moving, breathing, and becoming? When a part of you detaches from your body and becomes someone else’s?
I love my husband so much. He has made me more happy than I have any right to be. The first time he told me he loved me, I knew that I would be happy forever, no matter what else came.
But that first moment, when I knew my daughter was finally here… I don’t know what I can say about that. I guess that the best way that I can put it is to say that I didn’t know there was that much sublime beauty in the entire world. I didn’t know that my body could contain so much gratitude to the universe for allowing me to have this. I exhaled for what seemed like the first time in my whole life, and when I took my next breath, I knew that my daughter was taking her’s, too.
The doctor brought her around the screen to show me– very briefly, all I could see was the bottom half of her body. So my first thought when I saw my daughter was, “Holy crap– those are some big freaking feet.”
After she was warm and cleaned up, measured, weighed, poked, and all that, they wrapped her in a blanket and handed her to Mitch. And he came around the screen right away, crying, and put her down next to me. And he said, “Hi, mommy.”
Maren’s eyes were open. She wasn’t crying anymore, but every so often, a little burst of sound would come out of her little mouth. She had all kinds of dark hair on her head, and struggled a little bit against the blanket. She cooed, and Mitch pulled her back so that I could see her.
And I thought: It’s you. I’ve known you….. all along.