This is the first drawing I made after giving birth:
I drew it from a photo taken of my sister cuddling with Giles on the couch. It feel so good to start doing art while being a mom since for the first few weeks I just focused on mom-ing. It’s a beautiful thing to fully be a mom, at home with Giles, completely in the moment with him. But it’s also important for me to find a way to do both art and parenting. I want to find my own way of doing this, of doing both things and letting them inform each other.
Several years ago a person I worked with said to me, seeming to read my mind, “When a woman artist has a child, it deepens her art.” At the time I was 23 or 24, already knowing I wanted this life. That statement feels even more true now that I am here.
My first portrait of Giles:
Giles is right next to me as I post this, cozy in his Rock N Play, sucking on his pacifier, watching me.
I love my birthday. A lot. Usually I spend the whole week celebrating (often to the extent of annoying those around me), doing things each day that make me happy, special things, eating my favorite treats, wearing my favorite outfits.
This year, my birthday has become something else, something even bigger. It’s the day my mom pushed me out of her body with all the pain, violence, power, joy, blood, guts, and poop of my own labor just four weeks ago. My birthday marks this day that was so intense for us both, something we did together. Being born is a big deal! It’s really hard! And amazing. The world splits open. Something begins. Something ends.
This week it’s been mostly me and Giles, our (mostly) quiet cycle of feeding, changing diapers, staring into each others’ eyes. Does he know it’s my birthday tomorrow? That I made the same strange journey into the world as he did? Tomorrow also marks four weeks since his entrance: the longest, hardest, best day of my life. It’s wrong, I think, to say “hardest,” because the day my mom died was actually the hardest day. Hard in a different way. Different kinds of pain.
The last of my birthdays that I spent with my mom was when I turned 27. My parents and I went bike riding around town and got milk shakes.
I loved bike riding with my mom. She LOVED riding her bike so much and that joy was contagious. She’d be the leader, ringing her bell to signal if she was stopping or just to say hi. She had a “bike dance.” We’d fly around town, we the non-drivers, on our beautiful bikes feeling the breeze and feeling so cool and feeling so free.
Tomorrow Giles and I will not be bike riding. We’ll probably do the same things we do most days. He will look at me with those big, gorgeous eyes he has, I will coo at him, we’ll make faces at each other. I’ll nurse him a million times. Change a million diapers. As I mark 31 years I know that my life is hugely different now. But also I’m the same person.
On my third birthday I asked my mom, “Mama, when will I be three?”
“After your nap,” she said.
Mama, when will I be thirty-one?
After your nap.
What follows is my birth story. I don’t hold back, so just be warned (re: blood, guts, poop, pain). I like reading this kind of stuff, and read a lot of birth stories while pregnant, but some pregnant women find them scary, so only keep going if you are comfortable with this kind of thing. I’ll be straight with you: it was really hard and really painful and really long, but it all ends up okay with a beautiful baby and everyone healthy.
On Thursday May 5, 2016 at around 5:30pm, I started having contractions.
Only I didn’t know they were contractions. We had just left my OB’s office where she’d done a cervical exam and had said that I’d experience some cramping afterwards. So I assumed what I was feeling were just cramps from the exam. They started as we were walking through the parking lot to the car, and weren’t too bad at first, kind of like mild menstrual cramps. They happened every few minutes right from the start, which is one of the reasons I didn’t even consider them being contractions. I thought contractions started much further apart and got closer together as they progressed.
Greg dropped my sister Phoebe and I off at home while he went to a bowling event for one of his coworkers. We lay on the couch and watched Broad City, both of us so tired. The cramps kept coming, still a few minutes apart, but steadily getting more painful, I tried breathing through them. The whole night is kind of a blur to me. There was a lot of pain, crying , screaming. At some point later in the night I said to Greg, “I know I wanted to try labor without the epidural, but I want ALL THE DRUGS. Even if I tell you I don’t want it when we are at the hospital, tell them to give it to me anyway.” Greg helped me through each bout of pain, breathing with me and helping me into different positions. Neither of us slept all night.
From Greg’s POV:
“I got home a little after 8pm and started making mac and cheese. Your cramps didn’t seem as bad to me at the beginning.
I think your sister left around 9pm when your dad came to pick her up. We talked about how you weren’t having contractions and even started timing them. Even though they were coming at regular intervals they were so close together we thought strong cramps from exam. I called the doctor around 9:30 and asked if there was anything we could do. He suggested hot shower or to come in. I think we started The Daily Show at 9ish and Juno at 9:30ish, by the end of it the cramps were pretty bad and we knew you couldn’t sleep so we put on 27 Dresses. Great movie.
Cramps worse and worse. We put on Amy Schumer around 1:30am and kept pausing it because cramps so bad. [Anna here– I was crying and screaming through them at this point, saying “I can’t do this,” and “What is happening to me?”] By that time you were going to hands and knees because of pain. We talked about hospital and you agreed to try a hot shower around 2am which definitely helped. We were in the bedroom from 2am to 5am with pretty constant contractions every 5min or so.
During that time there were general discussions of going to hospital and while you were in pain you agreed but the car ride scared you after they stopped [The hospital is a 30 minute drive away, and I was scared to try riding in the car with all the pain]. At 5:30am we agreed to go. I grabbed the bags and got you dressed and we called the hosptial again. I missed the first time you said you were ready and you had to lie down on the kitchen floor again on the chair [At this point the best position was on my knees, leaning over the seat of a chair, rocking, in order to get through the pain]. Once you got enough strength you got to the top of our stairs and then the landing and then the car. The seat warmers helped a lot but you still had several contractions on the way there. We got to the hospital right around 6:30am.”
I still didn’t think I was really in labor. At some point while we were still at home I texted my friend Shana (who is a doctor) as well as my primary care doctor, Bonnie (who is also a friend), and they were the only ones who told me this could possibly be early labor. But even as we checked in at the hospital ER I thought they were going to send us home, saying these were just cramps, despite the fact that the pain was so strong and this had been going on for 13 hours. Because I didn’t know I was in labor, I wasn’t really able to use any of the techniques I’d learned to help with contractions. Also, there was no room in my brain for anything but the pain.
At the hospital they checked us in really quickly, and seemed to recognize that these were definitely contractions. A nurse pushed me in a wheel chair to the assessment room, it was a little after 6:30am (now Friday May 6), and the shifts were just about to change. We got a really nice nurse and student nurse who would be with me for the majority of the experience. They put belly bands on me to monitor the baby’s heart rate and my contractions, which were still very painful and happening every few minutes. The nurse needed to check my cervix, and I wouldn’t let her because all this pain had started with a cervical exam the previous afternoon, so the idea of anyone’s hands going between my legs at this point was terrifying. The nurse was so kind, telling me that she was very gentle when doing these exams, and that she really, really needed to see how far along I was. Finally, in a brief moment between contractions, I let her check my cervix, and it turned out I was 5cm dilated! We were staying at the hospital and I was having this baby. We told her I wanted an epidural as soon as possible.
We were then moved to a different room, the labor and delivery room. The anesthesiologist came in and administered the epidural, which took a while. There was a lot of set up, and I was still having those dang contractions every few minutes. He kept telling me to keep still, that this was a delicate procedure and if I moved I would mess it up. This made me very nervous. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, Greg on one side holding my shoulder and hand, the nurse on the other side holding that shoulder and I rested my head against hers. She whispered things to me that I don’t remember now, but they were very comforting. I was nervous that the epidural would hurt, but it didn’t. It was about 9:45am by the time the anesthesiologist finished and it started to kick in. That’s also when Phoebe and my dad arrived. Phoebe stayed in the room with us and my dad went to the waiting room, where he’d later be joined by his girlfriend Wendy as well as Greg’s parents.
Once the epidural started working I felt great. I’d been having contractions for about 15 hours at this point and felt exhausted by both the intense pain and the lack of sleep. Now I finally had a break, feeling no pain. My legs and feet weren’t numb, but felt heavy and tingly. I could relax. I felt like this whole birth thing was entirely possible now. I could do this. Phoebe read to me from a Cosmo magazine, she and Greg took turns going to get snacks and check in on the family in the waiting room, the nurse checked my blood pressure, temperature, and contractions (which I couldn’t feel at all). The baby’s heart rate was our background music to everything, and he sounded strong and good. At some point the doctor came in, one of the OBs I hadn’t met yet. He introduced himself and seemed very nice. I was happy with everything.
After a while the doctor came back to check my cervix. I was still only 5cm dilated, and he said he might have to break my water himself if I didn’t progress in the next couple hours. The nurse inserted a catheter to empty my bladder, which was very full, and after that I quickly dilated to 7cm and my water broke on its own. I didn’t feel it break– we only found out once the doctor came back to check me and under my blanket was a bunch of bloody fluid and my mucus plug. I continued progressing on my own, with the catheter in as well as IV fluids which had been started before the epidural. Phoebe and Greg took turns feeding me ice chips. By the time I was 8cm dilated I started feeling the contractions again, first just as pressure and quickly it turned to pain. It was about 3pm now, and our sweet nurse was leaving at 3:30. Somehow I thought I could be pushing this baby out by then, since I was so close to 10cm and feeling those painful transition contractions.
The contractions got stronger, and were lasting longer. The shift change came, and our new nurse came in. The student nurse who’d been with us all day was on until 7. Around 4:30pm I started feeling an urge to push along with the contractions. It felt like I had to poop really badly. The nurse told me not to push because I wasn’t 10cm yet. The contractions were really hurting and I started crying a little. Phoebe and Greg stood on either side of me, holding my hands, I squeezed theirs hard. I tried to do the breathing techniques from birth class, trying hard not to push. Finally at 5pm the nurse checked me and said I was 10cm and I could push when I felt the urge. I thought I was almost done. I figured the pushing part took around 30 to 90 minutes, according to what I’d read and learned during pregnancy. Soon I would be holding my baby. We were almost there.
As soon as I was allowed to push, it was harder to recognize the urge. The nurse said, “Push into your bottom,” which I did, and poop came out. She said this was good, that it meant I was pushing in the right place. I pooped about seven times at least, probably more. It seemed like all I did was push poop out. As more time went by the pain got worse and worse with each contraction. I couldn’t even really rest in between because my legs were shaking with the effort and the pain. The nurse kept telling me to relax my legs, to use all my effort in pushing and not in straining my legs. I knew I needed to do that, but could not relax my shaking legs even with people holding them up for me. I kept pushing every few minutes with the contractions, trying not to yell out because they told me not to, that I needed every ounce of energy for pushing. I started to hate the nurse, but every time she left the room I called out to her to come back. I knew that I needed her to get this baby out. Phoebe and Greg kept telling me that I could do this, that I was doing great. I did not believe them. I looked into their eyes, pleading for help, and each time they said, “You’re doing great” I just looked at them like, “Yeah, right.” The nurse told me to believe in myself. When I asked, “Can I do this?” she told me I had to work hard and push hard. This did not inspire confidence in me. At one point she asked, “Do you do meditation?” and I said, “No. That doesn’t work for me.” She then said, “Well, maybe try some of that.”
The doctor checked in sometimes, only for a minute. He would look at my progress, I would plead for help from him, and he would just say, “You are doing it, you need to focus, push harder.” Time felt infinite. Every second stretched on for days. At some point, everyone around me had started counting to ten with each contraction as I pushed. Phoebe and Greg were counting very loudly, and the nurse told them to be quieter and I yelled, “No, I like it!” I needed the counting. It helped me get through each push. I kept saying, “I can’t do this!” and I really believed it. It was taking too long. I didn’t understand how it could take this long to get my baby out. How long had I been pushing? I cried, “I am not this kind of woman!” I could not do this, it was too much pain. I couldn’t handle it, I wasn’t strong enough. Someone had to get this baby out, and I didn’t know how, but it had to be without me. Clearly I wasn’t doing it right. The doctor came in and I begged him to help me with tears streaming down my face. “I know what you’re asking,” he said, “but it’s too soon.” I stared into the nurse’s eyes, I was so angry with her for telling me to “push better” and at the same time I knew I needed her. My arms were being pulled forward as I pushed now, so my belly squished up to help with the pushing. For a little while I pushed on my hands and knees, which helped somewhat, the baby got down a little further, until I couldn’t hold myself up anymore, so I moved to my back again. I was sweating, sweating, sometimes someone put a cold washcloth on my forehead. Everything hurt in a way I never knew was possible. It was so intense that it’s hard for me to think about, even now. I told Greg, “You’re doing the next one!” (meaning the next baby) because I knew I could never withstand this again, if I could even do it now. I started a mantra in my head: Push. This. Fucking. Baby. Out. I wanted help, why wasn’t anyone helping me? I knew I had to push better, to let go into the pain and just push into it. But I just couldn’t do it. I wanted a break. I wanted it to be over. Around 7:00pm Bonnie came in. Her energy was just what we needed at that time. She massaged my hips and joined in on the counting. I stared at her like I stared at the others, pleading with my eyes for help. She said encouraging things just like Greg and Phoebe, and told me I was doing it, that I was really close. What did everyone know that I didn’t? The pain was too much. I was trying so hard and didn’t understand why it wasn’t over yet. The nurse yelled, “Stop fighting it, Anna! Relax your legs and push!”
At 8:00pm the doctor came in and said I had two options. Have some pain medication that would stop labor for an hour, then push for another hour after that and if the baby wasn’t born then I’d have a c-section. Or he could get the forceps and he’d pull while I pushed and we’d be done in ten minutes. “You’ll still have to push and it will be very intense,” he said. I knew I wanted to choose the forceps and I looked at Greg, Phoebe, and Bonnie, searching for a sign that this was an okay choice. They all nodded. Greg and I had some kind of quick conversation to confirm that it was okay with him, that this was the choice we both wanted. Very quickly the forceps stuff was brought in, as well as the respiratory team and everything else needed for once the baby was out. I pushed at each contraction as the doctor prepared the forceps. The contractions felt almost on top of each other. When the doctor was ready he told me not to push, and he put the forceps in which hurt like hell. From my perspective they looked like metal salad tongs. The baby’s head was really close. At each contraction I pushed and the doctor pulled and it hurt a thousand times worse than the impossible pain I’d already felt. At one point the head was halfway out, the worst pain splitting me in two, ripping my whole body apart. Phoebe and Greg saw the head and said enthusiastically, “Keep pushing! The head’s almost out!” and the doctor yelled, “No! Don’t push without a contraction!”
Somehow I pushed the head out. Somehow I pushed the slippery body out right after. Pushing that head out was unexplainably painful, and I don’t understand how it happened or how I lived through that pain.
I saw the baby, my baby, lifted out of me after three and a half hours of pushing. His arms reached up, his hands with these long, long fingers. Phoebe cut the umbilical cord and I shouted, “Take a picture!” The doctor and nurse pushed on my belly to get the placenta out and it hurt so I cried and yelled. The baby was out but there was still so much pain. The placenta slipped out like a giant jellyfish. “It looks like a brain,” Phoebe said. I shouted, “Take a picture!”
They cleaned the baby and wrapped him up and handed him to Greg. I wanted to hold him so much, and I wanted the pain to be over. The doctor was stitching me up from a second degree tear. The stitching hurt a lot and felt like it took forever. He kept telling me to relax my legs but they were shaking and I couldn’t. Bonnie held one leg and the nurse held the other. Another nurse was putting a new IV in my arm for fluids (I’d knocked the other IV out during all the pushing) and Pitocin to help my uterus contract, and she was telling me to hold still. All this poking and stitching and pain and I was doing my best to keep still but all my muscles were shaking. I gripped Phoebe’s arm, looked into her eyes and said, “I just want the pain part to be over.” “I know,” she said. Then I said, “Is Mama here?” and she said through tears, “Yes, and you remind me of her so much right now.” The nurses pushed my belly to get more gushes of blood out.
I looked at the baby in Greg’s arms, saw him looking down and the baby looking up, their eyes focused on each other. Greg was crying. It was beautiful. I said, “The name– what do you think?” He said, “The one we– yeah, that’s it.” I said to Phoebe, “This is Giles Fox Moriarty-Lev-Howard.”
Finally they were done working on me. Finally the baby was in my arms, skin to skin. “We did it,” the doctor said. “Thank you,” I said, really meaning it. Now it was just Greg, Phoebe, Bonnie and the nurses. The student nurse who’d been with us all day and whose shift ended at 7:00 had stayed and extra hour and a half to be with us until the end, to see the baby born. I thanked her. I looked at Greg. We all marveled at this perfect, beautiful baby. I asked for pain meds (I think as soon as the baby was out I started asking for some kind of pain relief) and someone brought some eventually. At some point a nurse told us that she’d gone to the waiting room and informed our family that the baby was born and everything was okay. Phoebe went out to talk to them and came back with everyone’s phones to take pictures. Then she fixed my hair a little for me, helped me look presentable. The nurse gave me a diaper full of ice to help with the swelling, and then gave me a nursing tutorial. Then my dad, Wendy, and Greg’s parents came in.
Giles Fox Moriarty-Lev-Howard (aka “Smokey”) was born on May 6, 2016 at 8:28pm, weighing 7lbs. 12oz., after 28 hours of labor, 3.5 hours of pushing, and a forceps delivery. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was also the best day of my life.
We’re getting really close. It could be any day now. My due date is May 7.
Every day I wonder, will it happen today? Is that a contraction? Do I have to poop or is it the baby? Every time I go to the bathroom I check for blood and mucus. (TMI? Sorry not sorry. Pregnancy is gross!)
In the mornings I wait patiently for Smokey’s first movements, thumps to remind me that he’s in there, he’s hungry, and he’s pressing on my very full bladder. We’re still tied together in this body, cocooned and connected, snug and warm. It’s me and Smokey, Greg and me, all three of us savoring our last bit of time in this particular way of being a family that is about to change.
On the street people say things like, “You haven’t popped yet?” and “When is the baby coming?”
I DON’T KNOW HE’LL BE BORN WHEN HE’S BORN. YES I KNOW I AM HUGE. I’d rather they said, “Can I buy you a coffee/cookie/ice cream?” Yes. Yes you can. Thank you for your support.
Mostly I don’t go out much because then I’d have to climb three flights of stairs to get back into my apartment.
My dreams get stranger. My back gets more sore. My “productive hours” each day get smaller. I stop making plans. I cross off days on the calendar.
Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Eating. Peeing. Waiting.
Talking to Smokey. Moving the furniture around in the kitchen because I’m “nesting.” Napping with my sweet sweet cats who keep their eyes on me, pat my belly, stay close at my heels. They know. They are watching out for me. I start reading a 900 page novel I have no idea if I will be able to finish because do people even have time or energy for reading when they have a newborn?
These are the days right before. The last days. The days out of time. I’ve always loved in-betweens.
My husband is a really good man. I feel so happy for our son that he gets to have such a good, loving, funny, creative, and thoughtful dad. For some years in my twenties I wasn’t sure I’d find the right partner to be a parent with. I considered mom-ing it solo.
And then I met Greg. Five months into our relationship we decided to move in together (the actual moving in together didn’t happen for a few more months, but we made the decision 5 months in). Around that same time, my mom was dying, and Greg brought up the idea of getting married before she died. I didn’t want to– I wanted my mom’s death to just be about that, and for our eventual wedding to be about us, and not about rushing it so that my mom could be there. But it was so incredibly touching and beautiful to me that he offered.
We both knew that this was it early on. Maybe my mom dying made things get serious more quickly, but really I think it was because we were both ready. We recognized our partner in each other, and we were ready for it. With open hearts. A year and a month later Greg proposed in Paris. I said yes.
Here we are at a friend’s wedding in September 2015. Little Smokey was already a tiny cluster of life in my belly, about a month and a half along (the same age as our new marriage), but we hadn’t told anyone except our parents and siblings.
I love being pregnant. I love our growing family. I love my husband.
Here’s to seven and a half months of marriage. Seven and a half months of baby in belly. Three years and four months of being together.
Here’s to this almost 30-year-old dude who makes me smile, laugh, and love better.
April 7 is his actual birthday, and by that time I’ll be even more pregnant (exactly one month from our due date), making him bring me drinks and food and rub my feet. I’m just feeling very grateful that he was born, and wanted to say so now.
One day in December my OB called me. She had looked at the scans from our 18 week ultrasound and saw a calcification in the left ventricle of our baby’s heart. When she said those words I started tearing up and my heart thumped, I thought, This is it, another thing. My baby is sick– first Lee then my mom now my baby what am I gonna do fuck fuck fuck. She said everything was probably fine, but we needed to go see a specialist in Springfield and have another ultrasound. So we went to Springfield. We sat in the ultrasound room, which wasn’t really a separate room, just three walls and then the fourth wall was a curtain drawn across to block the hallway. The room was dim, the kind of dim like when you watch a movie in school and they turn off all the lights and it makes a kind of calm. It was quiet, the sounds of people walking by and talking beyond the curtain were muffled.
The ultrasound tech came in and we got to watch our sweet baby for a while as she took some pictures. “These heart structures are perfect,” she said, “and look at that beautiful spine!” This made me feel proud. I made that heart, I grew that spine, all of it inside my own body.
The specialist doctor came in and quickly told us how common these calcifications are. “It’s ten in the morning and I’ve seen two of these already,” he said. He told us the baby is fine. Most likely, the calcification means nothing. If we showed other markers, it could be a sign of Downs Syndrome, but there weren’t other markers. He said we could have further tests if we wanted, did it matter to us if the baby had Downs? Would it change anything? No. It wouldn’t change anything. We’d still go through with the pregnancy. So, no more tests. Our baby was fine. “Nothing you did caused this, or could have prevented this,” he said before leaving.
We felt relieved afterwards, and stopped in Northampton for burgers at Local Burger, where I had Greg take a photo of me which I drew this portrait from. Our baby is okay, I thought. I was exhausted. I wanted to remember what I looked like on this day.
“I guess this is what it’s like to be parents. We’re going to be worried forever,” I said to Greg.