another birth story (six weeks early)

I’m not going to say it wasn’t hard. It was shorter than last time, if you just count from the induction start at 11:00pm on September 27 to the moment the baby came out of my body at 1:40pm on September 28. But let me back up.

One week and one day before the actual delivery, on a Thursday, September 20, I went into the hospital.

I went into my midwives’ office for my regular 33 week appointment. Right away, the nurse could tell something was wrong. I had swelled up with 17 lbs of fluid in the past two weeks since my last appointment. My blood pressure was high. There was a lot of protein in my urine. She sent me over to the labor and delivery floor in the hospital, where one of the midwives, Amy, was already checking on another mom. I called my husband, Greg, from the elevator, starting to cry because I knew something scary was happening even though I didn’t know what.

On the labor and delivery floor I was put in Exam Room 2, and given a gown to change into, and they started running some tests. Greg arrived and my blood pressure finally went down. Amy came in and told me I didn’t quite have preeclampsia yet, but I was “brewing.” They’d need to keep a close eye on me, and I had “risked out of” midwife care, so I had to be switched over to the OB office. They gave me steroid shots to help the baby’s lungs develop quicker. I’d heard of preeclampsia, knew it was a scary thing, had seen women die of it on Grey’s Anatomy. Midwife Amy spoke calmly, but also told me all the information. They hoped I would get to 37 weeks, because the baby would be considered “term” by that point, but it was very possible I would need to give birth sooner for my own safety. If I needed to deliver before 37 weeks I’d be sent to Albany Med, a larger hospital more equipped to handle preeclampsia and a NICU where my preemie would be taken care of.

The following week I came into the hospital almost every day to be checked: blood pressure, weight (went up at least a couple pounds every day in fluid retention), pulse ox, urine, blood work to check my liver and kidney functions, ultrasounds to see how the baby was doing. My new OB told me I officially had  preeclampsia, but she thought I could get to 37 weeks, getting checked a couple times a week. I burst into tears at this. I was feeling so horrible, so uncomfortable, and really like I could barely make it another day.

My sister arrived on Wednesday evening, September 26. I had called her on Sunday and asked her to come. I just knew I needed her, and she booked a ticket right away. I kept telling myself I just needed to wait until Phoebe arrived. Also, each day when I left the house, I looked at my little Mexican sunflower plant, with a bloom getting closer and closer to opening, and said to myself, when the sunflower bloom opens, that is the day I will have the baby. 

On Thursday September 27 around 11am, I was resting at home by myself. Our 2.5 year old, Giles, was with Greg’s parents, Greg was at work, Phoebe and my dad were at my dad’s house, about to be on their way over to hang out with me. I started seeing spots in front of my eyes. This was a symptom I’d been told to watch out for, so I called my doctor and she said to come in. Greg came home and we went to the hospital, Phoebe and my dad met us there. When we walked out our front door to get in the car I looked at the sunflower and the bloom had opened. I knew this was it. We hung out at the hospital for several hours while my blood pressure was repeatedly checked, along with all the other things they were checking. My OB called the high risk doctors at Albany Med who said I should be sent there right away.

I rode in the ambulance along with a nurse, while Greg, Phoebe, and my dad had to drive separately. It was my first ambulance ride. I felt uncomfortable and scared, but the Ambulance drivers and nurse were really nice. We arrived at 7:00pm, just as the nurses were changing shifts. The nurse who had just come on duty was Rosa, and she would be with me for the next twelve hours. She took my vitals– my blood pressure readings were all very high. Dr. Aziz, the resident on duty, came in to examine me. I was nervous about it hurting, and she said, “Don’t worry. I have small hands and a gentle touch.” She was right, and she was awesome. She told us that they were going to start the induction right away, that my BP was just too high.

The first step of induction was inserting a Foley balloon into my cervix to start contractions and the cervix opening. It was very uncomfortable and I cried a lot. Phoebe and Greg were on each side of me, holding my hands. My dad waited outside the room. Dr. Aziz had to start over three times, which she felt really badly about. My cervix was tilted away from her and she had trouble seeing, plus I was clenching, even though I tried hard not to. During the third try Greg read out loud to me from Outlander book 8 which helped settle me enough to relax a bit and finally the balloon was in. This was around 11:00pm.

They said it could take around twelve hours for the balloon to do its work, so after talking for a little while, Phoebe and Pops left to go home and would come back the next day. It was around midnight now, and Greg and I settled in for the long night, he on a couch next to my hospital bed. Rosa checked me regularly, and I was hooked up to magnesium sulfate through an IV. We watched TV, some show I don’t remember and then Maid in Manhattan starring Jennifer Lopez. I started having contractions, the early ones that feel familiar to my first birth experience. Several minutes apart, and not too terrible pain-wise. I breathed through each one and felt like I could really do this thing. I hadn’t eaten since 3pm Thursday, and was very hungry, but could only have clear liquids at this point. Luckily Rosa mentioned that Jello was considered a clear liquid and brought me some. “We only have cherry,” she said, and I devoured two cups. That Jello saved me. My weakness from not eating for several hours, and not sleeping for several weeks was adding up and my body was depleted. The calories from that Jello, and even the simple act of eating something, revived my spirit. That Jello was the best thing I had ever eaten.

During this time the anesthesia guy came in to talk to us, and I told him about my previous epidural experience– how it only lasted a few hours and then I was told I couldn’t have any more. Also a NICU pediatrician came to talk to us about what would happen with the baby, and we signed some papers. Rosa was checking me regularly, tugging on the balloon, and a resident checked my dilation. Another doctor came in to do an ultrasound to check on the baby, and she told us that I had lots of fluid in my uterus (not a big surprise considering how much fluid I had everywhere in my body). Not a dangerous amount, but the high side of normal.

Around 4:00am the balloon came out. The resident on duty checked my cervix and I was 5cm dilated. This seemed to happen more quickly than anyone expected. Greg texted Pops and Phoebe to come back, because we figured things would start to move even faster at this point. Rosa started Pitocin in my IV, just a little at first. Anesthesia guy Chris came back to administer the epidural. I was sitting on the bed, Chris behind me, Greg and Rosa in front of me. I had to hold very still in a weird crouched over position. Because of all the fluid, Chris had a hard time finding the right spot for the epidural catheter and it took a really long time, maybe 45 minutes. Greg held my hand, Rosa talked to me, trying to distract me. At one point Rosa and Greg were laughing, and looking at the TV behind me. “I think it’s an infomercial for a dildo,” Greg said. “Well, she looks happy,” Rosa said. The infomercial went on the whole time Chris was administering the epidural. I was still having contractions every few minutes, and they were still manageable, but I called out loudly each time one happened so Chris would stop sticking me with the needle while I breathed through it. Finally the epidural was in and I started to feel that blissful numbness.

Pitocin kept increasing, and I had contractions but didn’t feel them. It was great. I love pain medication. Pops and Phoebe came back. Phoebe read to me from magazines, and told stories. The three of them talked and I just closed my eyes and listened. At 7:00am Rosa’s shift ended and our new nurse, Jen, came in. I was nervous– Rosa had been with us this whole time and she was so amazing. I didn’t want her to leave. But right away I saw that Jen was also amazing. She was concerned about the fluid in my lungs which made me short of breath, so she kept checking that. When the attending OB came in to check my cervix, it was very uncomfortable. He had large hands and the exam was rough and fast. As soon as he left the room my eyes teared up and I told Jen I didn’t want him to examine me again. She looked at me and asked if I had any trauma that I wanted her to know about. “No, his hands are just too big,” I said. Jen smiled and said quietly that everyone commented about that with him. She said she’d find me a woman for the next exam.

As the Pitocin increased I began to feel my contractions again. I maxed out my epidural button and was still in pain, getting worse. Around 10:30am it was pretty bad and I started crying. Jen called in anesthesia, and it was a different guy– Phoebe called him and his team of med students the “Pain Posse.” He redid my epidural, which he said was in the wrong place. He asked me questions about the pain, actually listening to me. (This was the opposite of my experience with Giles’ birth at a different hospital). The epidural replacement worked a little bit, but only for a short time, and the contractions were coming harder and faster now, with lots of pain in my back. Jen positioned me on my side with a “peanut ball” between my legs to help the baby descend faster. They were waiting for the head to be lower so they could break my water.

The pain was getting worse and worse, with so little time between contractions. I felt so incredibly weak, like I couldn’t keep this up much longer. I started to lose it a little but, crying and begging for help. Jen was so responsive. Every time she asked, “Are you in pain, or are you scared?” And when I said both, she asked, “What are you scared of? Where is the pain?” She reassured me that everything was okay, I was safe, she was monitoring me very closely. She barely ever left the room. The Pain Posse came back, and tried different drugs to help with the pain. They took the edge off for short periods of time, but the pain would always get worse again. I kept my eyes closed, so inside myself. I felt I would die from the pain, and said so. Jen assured me that I would not. I wanted a c-section. I wanted the baby out as quickly as possible, I didn’t care how they did it. I didn’t think I could do it, I had nothing left in me. Everyone (there were more people in the room at this point) said I could do it, that I was doing it. Greg and Phoebe were right by my side, I held at least one of their hands at all times. I had banished Pops to the waiting room as soon as the contractions started getting really bad. My eyes remained closed, my face too swollen to open them, and when I did open them everything was blurry. My butt started to hurt– there was an urge to push that was so strong, something I never felt in my labor with Giles. Somehow I thought that I wasn’t allowed to push yet, that if they hadn’t broken my water yet I still had a long way to go. I was on my side, holding my butt with one hand. “I’m holding it in!” I said at one point. I felt like a wild animal, thrashing and sweating and crying loudly. I went deep inside myself, to a really dark place where I didn’t care about anything or anyone except making the pain stop. I called for help. Dr. Phillips (the OB resident who had come in to do the delivery) said, “We are all here to help you, Anna, but you are driving this car.” Finally I yelled that I needed to push. They started adjusting the table for delivery, and hands moved my legs for me, trying to get me on my back. The baby must have been low enough by now, because Dr. Phillips said, “I’m breaking your water.” I felt and heard the huge splash. Someone said, “Woah!” (I think it was Phoebe?) Then I just started pushing because I absolutely had to. No one told me not to. Phoebe counted while I pushed. I heard someone say, “You’ll be done in two minutes.” I knew this was a smaller baby, so much smaller than last time, and that thought pushed me forward. I pushed, feeling the head come out, and then another push and there was the body. It only took a few minutes.

As soon as the baby was out I relaxed back and immediately felt relief. My eyes were still closed. I heard someone in the distance say, “It’s a boy!” I was so surprised. They took him to a side room to work on him. Dr. Phillips stitched me up quickly, there was not much tearing. Then they started to work on getting my placenta out. I thought to ask, “Is he okay?” (meaning the baby). A nurse asked for me phone, Phoebe gave it to her, and she took a couple pictures of him. “His name is Felix,” I said, looking at Greg. It was a name we had decided on the day before, in case the baby was a boy (though we were convinced it was a girl). They wheeled him by my bed on their way to the NICU, pausing for a moment so I could see him. I couldn’t really see much, but I called out, “I love you!” Or at least I did in my mind.

My placenta had torn and wasn’t coming out. Jen offered me morphine and I said “Yes.” Dr. Phillips was elbow deep in my uterus, getting every last bit of placenta. It took awhile and was uncomfortable to say the least, but the morphine had me in a cloud, and I knew that my part in this was over.

Everyone was telling me how great I had done, but I felt like a weak failure, a shell of a woman, someone who could not handle giving birth in the strong way that other women could. I said I wanted a pizza. Jen said I could eat, but to take it slow. She cleaned me up. All the other people left the room. Pops came back. I ate some popcorn and drank some juice and promptly threw it all up.

Once I could be moved into a wheel chair we were transferred into a recovery room. Jen called down to the NICU to check on Felix. Greg, Phoebe, and Pops went down to see him. I wasn’t allowed to because of my blood pressure being so high. I was still hooked up to the magnesium sulfate and would be for 24 hours longer. The next morning was the first time I got to see and hold Felix. I was wheeled down by a nurse, Greg was with me too. When they finally placed him in my arms and I saw his face, eyes dark and bright, hair blonde and soft, skin a ruddy color. His mouth looked like mine. It’s you, I thought. It was you this whole time. He looked so, so tiny. 4 lbs 1 oz. My eyes filled with tears.

 

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this is me, right after giving birth, eating popcorn (right before throwing it all up)

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holding Felix for the first time

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Felix Wolf Moriarty-Lev-Howard, on his first day of life, in the NICU

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birth story comic part 2

(Read the first four pages here.)

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Something that really surprised me about labor: I had an epidural but STILL felt SO MUCH PAIN. The drugs gave me a five hour break which was totally pain free, but then all the pain came back. Once I hit 8cm dilated I felt EVERYTHING. I didn’t understand those women who say, “Oh, I don’t want the epidural because I want to really feel the experience of giving birth.” Here I was, epidural-ed up, and FEELING the experience way more than I wanted to. Turns out, epidurals are different for everyone. Some people are pain free throughout labor, others feel more pain with the epidural, and for some it doesn’t work at all.

I was also surprised at how hard it was to push correctly. I sort of felt how I needed to push, I felt like I had to poop really badly, but I didn’t seem to be pushing the baby out (although I did poop quite a lot). It took SO LONG to move him down that birth canal. I had no idea pushing could take so long. After an hour I was no closer to holding my baby.

I really thought I couldn’t do it. I wondered how I could have gotten myself into this situation– something I clearly couldn’t handle and wasn’t doing right.

Looking back almost seven months later, I can no longer feel the pain in my body when I think about giving birth. Our bodies don’t remember pain fully, as a survival instinct, but in the weeks and first months afterwards I couldn’t think about the experience without shivering. Some physical memory remained underneath my skin, in my muscles. At my six week postpartum check up I had to lay back with my feet in the stirrups so the midwife could examine me. As soon as my body assumed this position I started crying. Greg immediately came to my side, held my hand. The midwife asked if she was hurting me, and I say no, it was an emotional reaction.

To be continued.

birth story comic, part 1

I wrote out my full birth story a few days after it happened. I feel this need to tell and retell it. To work through the trauma of it. To understand it. Because it’s this big moment (a 30-hours-long moment) that changed me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Because I did this amazing, powerful, crazy, painful, rip-me-apart, blood-guts-and-poop, wrecking ball of a thing. So I talk about it to anyone who will listen. So I ask my husband to tell me over and over what it was like for him. So I look at the photos from that day, at my face before and after, at my sweaty hair, at the bed and the room and the sheets and the nurses and Greg and Phoebe and Bonnie and the IVs and tubes and at that tiny perfect human who pushed his way into this world through my body.

And I’m making some comics about it too. Here are the first four pages.

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i pushed a baby out of my body

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.

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