It would be safe to say that Emma’s birth story started on April 14th, 2 days after her due date of Saturday, April 12th:
On the Monday after what should have been Miss Emma’s birthday, Freddy and I went in for our post-due-date checkup. We were in the middle of the non-stress test for baby Emma when our doctor walked in to let us know that he had scheduled us for an induction the next morning.
Hold the phone…what did he just say?
I realized that after Emma’s due date passed we would be talking about induction but I thought I had a little more time to gather my thoughts. Mere seconds ago I was reclining peacefully in a seemingly out-of-place La-Z-Boy, watching monitors track contractions and heartbeats and listening to Fred as he sharpened his Dr. Seuss cadence for our fashionably late baby girl. Suddenly, I had a concrete date for induction.
How did we get here so quickly?
The Birth Plan
Fred and I had our birth plan laid out well before it made its way to paper. We wanted a natural birth or as close to it as we could muster. When we mentioned that fact in our marathon-of-a-weekend birth class, we found ourselves alone in the “open to going it without an epidural” category. It surprised us. When I started asking around about natural births, I received story after story of why people didn’t have natural deliveries and why I shouldn’t expect one either. It angered me. I felt reasonably fluid about my birth plan. I was willing to compromise in case anything came up and needed to be modified in the trenches but I also felt that I had a right to have a birth plan – one that didn’t fit into other people’s stories.
I got the impression that people generally feel 3 ways about natural birth plans:
1. Natural is the only way. You won’t get a medal from me for giving into pain meds.
2. Archaic and stupid. Why experience pain when you don’t need to? Are you trying to win a medal or something?
3. Cute…*sarcasm* followed by “I thought that route would work for me too but you’ll see like I did that not everything goes as planned. (Also, I secretly hope you can’t pull it off).”
I did not feel a lot of love regarding our birth plan so you can imagine my frustration when before we even got started with labor, I learned that I’d be tied to an IV of Pitocin. Great.
Strike 1 against the plan.
After a serious discussion with our doctor about the benefits of waiting for Little Miss to come naturally vs. inducing (and a lot of panicking about God’s plan and, let’s be honest, my plan), we agreed to the 5:00am appointment he had scheduled for us the next morning.
Freddy and I arrived at the hospital on Tuesday right around 5:00am after an oddly icy and snowy morning commute. I walked in all smiles as the security guard ushered me to the proper floor, our rolling suitcase following behind. Freddy followed with the exercise ball and the other bag after parking the Jeep and we were both brought into a large birthing room fitted with cable television, La-Z-Boy, jet tub, and couch. It seemed peaceful. And in spite of the IV line started in my arm, I thought “I can still salvage most of my birth plan.”
The Pitocin started contractions a little more frequently but they weren’t painful. My doctor came by and told us that we would wait as long as we could to have the waters break naturally and I felt glad that he was our doctor. My parents arrived and sat in the room with us while we chatted about this, that, and the other. I was 3cm dilated when I arrived so I figured we would get the ball rolling and deliver a baby in the next few hours. As my mom reminded me through all of my pregnancy, her labors lasted 4 and 6 hours. I figured I would cap at a cool 8 with an induction.
Around 1:00pm, things hadn’t progressed quite as we had hoped and doc broke the bag of waters.
Strike 2 against the plan.
My parents had stepped out for the procedure and the discomfort started immediately. I asked Fred to tell my parents they should wait outside for the good news because I didn’t want them to see me in pain. We all figured we would welcome our baby girl in before our doctor’s shift change at 5pm. We had classic rock blaring and I attempted getting into different positions but the exercise ball was useless. I started off sitting up but as the pain increased, I eventually found myself laying back in bed.
The clock kept ticking and with my doctor’s shift nearing it’s 5:00pm end, I figured I had to be closing in on that 8-10cm range. I asked the nurse to check but I told her only to tell me how much I was dilated if I was at a 7 or higher.
Clearly the pain was affecting my thinking because when she kept tight-lipped , I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be. Discouraged, I asked her to tell me how far I need to go. She didn’t want to tell me, having promised she wouldn’t, but after some coaxing she admitted that I was only at 5cm.
My mind immediately started to run in circles of failure, repeating over and over that I couldn’t make it to 10cm. During this time, the shift changed and my doctor left for the night. A new nurse came in, one that our previous nurse had hand-picked for us. Even in the midst of pain, I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t properly introduce myself to her. I couldn’t focus. The contractions hurt too much and my brain was starting to replace intention with panic. I told Fred that I needed to forget my plan for a natural birth. He tried, as we had agreed upon prior to our arrival at the hospital, to talk me out of it. He was an amazing encouragement and source of peace but at 5:30pm, I started to receive pain meds through the IV.
Strike 3 against the plan.
I justified my decision because I was exhausted and in pain and – most importantly to me – I still wasn’t getting a dreaded epidural! The meds were awful but they did allow me to rest in between contractions (assuming that rest means being so completely drugged out of your mind that you have no concept of time or space). Fred will tell you that I went hours without speaking to him. I was lost in my own experience until he tried to leave my bedside or make a call or update my parents and then I would become suddenly aware that I needed him right next to me, eyes on me, his words of encouragement surrounding me. I will tell you that I was simply in that much pain. It doesn’t matter who is right…in hindsight, I hated the IV medication and will not elect to receive it ever again.
Despite my state of mind, I still felt the contractions. The extremes sent me into a kaleidoscope of feeling: high then pain, one sensation bleeding into the next, over and over again. I could only manage to breathe during the contractions. My whole body and breath braced for each wave of pain despite my mind being numbed by the punishing rhythm. Our nurse, Laura, kept us distracted as best she could with small talk and words of comfort, fight, and reason. I can’t explain it now but she was such an encouraging presence during labor. We were so incredibly glad to have Nurse Laura with us and can’t imagine this birth story without her, except to say that it would have been much harder for both of us.
Just before 9:30pm, a doctor I had never met before (I’m sure he introduced himself at shift change but like I said, I was out of it) told Fred and I that we needed to consider an epidural to get me from 8cm to the 10cm mark. He explained that the epidural could help labor progress if my body was starting to fight the contractions due to pain. At 8cm, blind from pain and exhausted from trying to get through contraction after contraction, I agreed to the epidural.
Strike 4 against the plan.
Note to pregnant women: Getting an epidural while having contractions is terrifying. Every fiber of your being has been focused on getting you through each contraction and suddenly you become aware that you need to get through the contraction but now do so without moving so as not to be paralyzed.
Needle by your spine. Don’t move. Breathe. Don’t move. Don’t shake. Don’t pass out. Don’t move. Needle by your spine.
Freddy had walked out after the epidural was in place to tell my parents. When he returned with them, I had gone from moaning-but-otherwise-mute back to his wife, all smiles and chatting away with Nurse Laura. My parents said he came in and was so relieved to find me out of pain, that he came to the side of my bed, grabbed my hand, sat down on the stool next to the bed and collapsed his head.
Even with the epidural, however, it was 2:30am before I was ready to push. I couldn’t feel my contractions, so I watched the monitor for cues. With the encouragement of Freddy, Nurse Laura, and a friendly med student (Why was I in such a good mood when he came to ask if he could observe?), I pushed. I pushed like I was making up time. I pushed like it was going out of style. Like my life depended on it. Like my daughter’s life depended on it.
Fortunately, Emma’s life did not depend on it. Her heart rate stayed steady during the whole labor process. She didn’t become distressed at any point. Not even after 3 hours of pushing her skull against my pubic bone again and again as if our lives did depend on it.
Freddy will tell you that I underwent some sort of divine transformation while pushing. I ceased to be to Megan and was instead transformed into a mother. He says I didn’t look like me, unrecognizable with my intense focus on this one goal ahead of me. He will tell you that he has never seen a person work for one singular goal like that in his entire life – filled with one purpose and one purpose only.
I will tell you that I pushed as hard as I could and tried not to focus on that embarrassing thing that you never want to do in public after you graduate from diapers happened. I pushed and fought back rising heartburn until I pushed so hard that I threw up repeatedly in a bucket placed on my chest. I pushed until I saw spots. Until I had to hold my rib as I pushed because it started to hurt so badly that I struggled to catch my breath. I pushed through nausea caused by the feeling of pins and needles in my legs – which was exacerbated by my husband’s loving hand rubbing my knee repeatedly. That touch was so intensely maddening yet comforting that I didn’t say a word about it and just kept pushing. I pushed with increased determination when I was told my baby girl was in sight. And at 5:30am, I was told to stop pushing.
Strike 5 against the plan.
After 3 hours, Emma had not descended and the very last strike against my natural birth plan was made: The recommendation for a cesarean. This was the one detour from my plan that I never once considered; I was open to anything but this. This one detour would not happen to me. My mom’s 5’3″ frame birthed two 8.5-9lb babies naturally and I was sure my 5’7″ frame could handle the same. Sure, I had to be induced. Sure I ended up receiving every pain medication offered in the hospital. But at least at the end of the day, I would not find myself with arms spread in a cold operating room unable to hold my child immediately, having been gutted like a fish.
I was going to have this baby as naturally as my body could handle!
Until I wasn’t…
Terrified but left without reserves, unfamiliar with the doctor in front of us, Fred and I asked for some time to consider. We knew that Emma wasn’t in danger but didn’t want to continue pushing and potentially risk putting her in danger if it was unlikely that she was going to make her way down. We wanted to will her into being born without a Cesarean but understood that the doctor had more experience to make the call. We wanted to talk to our doctor about the decision and get a sense of comfort and confidence from him before we agreed to anything. But in the end, we wanted to meet our baby girl.
We consented to the c-section and learned that another woman had been ushered into the operating room for an emergency c-section. With Emma in good health, we would have to wait our turn. You might think this was Strike 6 but it was the best news we had received in what felt like an eternity. The delay meant that our doctor would be starting his shift around the same time that we would be going in for the operation. It meant that he would be able to give his opinion and assist in bringing our baby girl to the world.
We received the pre-surgery pep talks and operating explanations. Freddy put on the blue gown, prepared to take over the initial skin-to-skin contact with our daughter for me. My parents came in to wish me luck and I was wheeled to the operating room. Fred said afterwards that the room was bright white but all I noticed about it was that it had ceiling tiles that could have used a dusting or perhaps replacement. It’s all about perspective, I suppose.
The anesthesiologist added to my epidural until I was deemed ready for the surgery and a short description of who I was and why we were in the operating room was recited. I started feeling pressure and that’s when the anesthesiologist told me they had started the surgery. I laughed him off but he insisted. I started getting angry. Freddy still wasn’t in the room with me! They said they would get him after they had me prepped but they hadn’t! Indignant, I cried, “Then where is my husband?!”
My doctor (what a relief to have him in the operating room!) told me that Freddy was on his way and sure enough, in walked my beautiful blue-scrub clad husband. He took his place on my side of the curtain and the c-section continued.
Note to pregnant women: When people describe this procedure to you, they tell you that if you stay awake, you will feel pressure but no pain. I thought this would be much like the initial labor process following an epidural: I felt some things but labor essentially became a walk in the park following the epidural. Oh no, my friend. In this procedure, you feel very localized pressure. Pressure on each side of your pubic line, pulling you wider. Pressure above, pushing down your baby girl until you hear her first cries. You feel it all.
I spent the whole time mumbling, “Gross. This is disgusting,” much to the anesthesiologist’s delight. He thought it was hilarious that I was so grossed out bringing my child to light. I didn’t think it was very hilarious. I thought it was gross. And not at all the way I had pictured things going in my mind.
Then we heard her little cry. And our doctor told Freddy to stand up and take a picture.
Above is my daughter’s very first picture ever, taken on a cell phone by her proud daddy.
The doctors and nurses started chuckling and exclaiming that she was a big, healthy girl but it wasn’t until they got her on the scale that we realized how big she was. 10 lbs 1 oz. 22 inches long. Our Emma Josephine.
Her footprints were recorded and a nurse ripped Freddy’s scrubs and placed her on his chest. I was able to hold her as we left the room. Unfortunately, I was so exhausted that I didn’t remember that part until Freddy reminded me. He has had to piece together a lot of Emma’s birth story for me, to be honest. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is.
Emma Josephine: 4/16/14. 7:30am. 10 lbs 1 oz. 22 inches. 21 hours of labor. C-section.
Those are the birth stats that everyone wants to know. The ones that we list off like memorized baseball cards to measure each other up. The ones we use to deem whether or not a woman was lucky or worthy.
I don’t think they do any story justice.
The beginning of our lives together as parent and child, mother and father, is so much more than facts and numbers. It is emotion. New and exciting and terrifying and heart-wrenching and beautiful. It is expectation ruined but hope grown. It is joyful hearts and chubby cheeks and tears that run the gamut. It is fear and awe and love and blessing.
It is the story of Emma Josephine: 10 lbs, 22 inches of God-grown wonder.