I don’t know if I have it written down anywhere, so I thought it better late than never to document your birth story. It would be cool to have your dad’s recollection of events on record as well, but he’s not the blogging type.
I usually tell people that we had the most natural birth that’s possible to have in a hospital. Later I found out that some hospitals in our area are even more supportive of natural childbirth than ours was, so I sometimes modify it to say that we had the most natural childbirth it’s possible to have at a Kaiser hospital.
I knew I wanted a natural birth. As with everything about anything in your mother’s life, I researched, watched documentaries, read books, and gathered all sorts of birth stories from good to bad to in between. One thing I was worried about was having an advocate. About two weeks before your due date, I started freaking out that we needed a doula or that I should have picked up the Bradley method book someone had offered to us, but I had never gotten around to it. We only took the free classes, and one paid course, at Kaiser. Daddy was of course against a doula, and we couldn’t afford it anyway. I wished I had done more research about the local birth center and our health insurance options.
I edited my birth plan a bazillion times. I made several copies because you never know where you’ll be when you go into labor: one for my wallet, one for daddy’s wallet, one for Uncle Chris (who you later named Papa), one for the suitcase, one on file at Kaiser (our doctor was not at all supportive when I handed it to him at one of our check-ups, so I knew we shouldn’t rely on them to check our file when we arrived in labor). I had also read that you should attach a copy to a box of chocolates so that the nurses will pay more attention to it, so we did that too.
I even drafted a power of attorney in case something happened to me, and I couldn’t make my own medical decisions. I was worried daddy would be too emotional, so I asked grandpa to do it. I also had a chat with him about helping advocate for me if I started getting pressured into a c-section. I was worried because daddy was not against a natural labor but was more hesitant when it came to doctors and authority.
In the end, I struck a deal with you. For two weeks leading up to your due date, I kept reminding you that in the end, “it’s just me and you. Nobody else.” I hoped you would help me through any pain and any complications, and that we could do it together no matter who else was there, even daddy.
Our labor bag had a lot of stuff. We had a birthing/yoga ball. We had fake tea light candles. I put a playlist on my ipod and packed mini speakers. Daddy went with me to the classes, and we practiced different laboring positions and ways to massage mommy. We packed a DVD player, a sock filled with rice and lavendar oil, granola bars, jolly ranchers to suck on, and a whole bunch of other stuff. In the end, we didn’t use ANY of it. I didn’t want daddy to touch me. I completely forgot to try the shower or the tub. We had music on during the car ride to the hospital, and I hated it. I never used the ball. We tried watching a DVD when I first went into labor, but I couldn’t concentrate so we turned it off. We forgot to take — nor would have had any time for — pictures and videos. I think we have a short video when we were still at home.
At our due date appointment, I was 1 cm dilated, your head was engaged (you never really “dropped”), and I was 50% effaced. That was good news! The doctor was already pressuring us on interventions. We both said, uhm, aren’t like only 3% of babies born on their actual due dates? Don’t we have at least another week or two to see how things go? And he just kept saying, well the baby’s due, today’s his due date, what more is there to say? The longer he’s in there, the bigger he’ll get.
It was the weirdest thing and even though we were at a hospital and not at a birth center, I still couldn’t get over how odd it seemed. I guess I should have expected it. He also wanted us to schedule the induction appointment. I said, well I’d really rather wait until next week and schedule it for the following week. I might not even be here next week. And he just kept saying how it’s better to get it on the books.
Then he pressured me into stripping the membranes. He had done his medical research work on stripping the membranes and said that it would either work within 48 hours or it wouldn’t, but what’s the harm in trying? I was mad at myself for not knowing more about what that meant, but in the end I let him do it. Actually, I kinda said okay but was then worried about it hurting. He checked to see where your head was and said that he already did it. It took two seconds and was part of the routine check, so I didn’t even realize that he was going to do it. So I wasn’t very upset about having that type of intervention. Midwives can perform them as well, and I guess I only would have waited longer before trying it. But 48 hours passed, and you hadn’t come yet. So there you go.
He also said that spicy foods doesn’t work and to try FRESH garlic with FRESH tomatoes. So we kept that in mind. Your due date was a Wednesday, and I worked all the way up to Friday. I had been expecting that I could go into labor at work and that it would be several hours. I had told daddy I would call if he was at work but would let him know whether he needed to leave or not. I asked around about whether you need to have someone drive you home or whether you had time in between contractions. I had expected to be at home for as long as possible before going to the hospital. I had read about people folding laundry, cooking, even trying to sleep through the night just to kill time.
This is how it ended up going:
Your due date was Wednesday, the 20th of January, 2010. We took walks around the mall (it was January and rainy, and the mall was the only place to go for a walk). I ate Mexican food. I think Daddy and I had sex almost every day. On Friday the 22nd, we used guest passes to go to the gym, and I walked on the treadmill for 45 minutes.
On Saturday the 23rd, Mimi and I were at Whole Foods and I decided to have them add fresh garlic to a caprese pizza for me. Since they can’t sautee the garlic first, all they did was throw it on right before putting the pizza into the wood-burning oven. It was not cooked at all. It was so strong I could barely eat my slice of pizza. Yilch! After dinner, my belly was itchy. I had red marks all over from the scratching. In hindsight, I wonder if you were trying to let me know you wanted OUT. But at the time I didn’t know what was about to happen.
Well, it seems not only did you wait for the weekend so I wouldn’t go into labor at work (I worked through Friday and everyone including me wondered if I’d be back at work on Monday), but you also waited for daddy to get home. I went to bed that night by myself. Daddy got home around 2:00 am. He brushed his teeth and got ready for bed, and I’m not joking you - I had my first contraction within five minutes of him laying his head down (2:30ish am). I said, “oh I think I might be having a contraction. It’s weird, I’m not really sure. Well wait, there it is again. That’s weird, that’s too soon to have another one.” Then after that I kept having to go to the bathroom to pee. I wondered if my water was breaking, but I had read that water breaking is you thinking you peed your pants but never feeling any urge to pee. I could feel the urge to pee and could make it to the toilet with no accidents.
It took us about an hour (3:30 am) to decide that yes, this was labor. It was so confusing because my contractions started two minutes apart and lasting about 45 seconds. And they stayed that way. We had been told to head to the hospital when your contractions are five minutes apart, but surely we shouldn’t go to the hospital after only one contraction. Plus, I wasn’t really able to communicate to daddy when they started and stopped. I had read that the pain is like a wave that slowly comes on, gets stronger, and fades again. So it was hard to pinpoint when he should start and stop the stopwatch. And it was hard to keep track of how long the spaces in between contractions was since they were so close together. I eventually told daddy not to wait for me to tell him but just to go based on my moaning. Whenever a contraction started, I would kind of start going “ah ah ah” and then let out a big sigh when it was over. But I wasn’t getting a whole lot of resting in between.
In the midst of all this, I was pooping a ton. I had read that sometimes - in preparation for labor - the body will rid itself of all fluids so that it will be ready to push the baby out. So that was another thing confusing me about whether this was real labor or not. Why was I pooping during labor? I kept changing my mind about whether I needed daddy or not. On the one hand, I kept telling him to just stand outside the bathroom door because it was gross. On the other hand, I would yell at him that I didn’t care and he should just come in and help me. But then I would freak out again and tell him to leave.
We called the L&D hotline a few times because I couldn’t tell if my water had broken and when should we go to the hospital. I kept seeing white stuff in my pee. They said they couldn’t really tell me whether to come in or not, only I could decide. I was so worried about getting there and them telling us I wasn’t dilated enough yet and to go take a walk around the block. It was about 4:30 am by this point, and the hospital was not in a neighborhood or near a shopping center or anything.
After that, I threw up twice. I had been trying to drink lots of water because I didn’t want to have an IV at the hospital, not even for fluids. We had been told that a Hep-lock was mandatory (that actually ended up being one of the most painful parts of the entire thing, and they never even had to use it, and it left a bruise on my hand) but that fluids/IV could be avoided as long as the mother stayed hydrated. So I kept drinking water even though I didn’t want any. And well, I threw it up all over the living room floor. I yelled at daddy to get a bucket, and he was arguing with me that we didn’t need a bucket we needed a towel. And in the middle of a contraction I was trying to argue back that I needed a bucket in case it happened again and, sure enough, I threw up again while he was busy getting paper towels. (We ended up not having time or focus to clean it up properly, but Mimi and your uncles did when they stopped by the house the next day to pick up your nail clippers - since the hospital wasn’t allowed to give us any - they also made the bed for us.)
We finally decided to go to the hospital around 5 am. The contractions were still two minutes apart, but they were lasting 60 seconds or more by this point. We called my parents and daddy’s parents and let them know that we were leaving the house. We said they could call everyone else for us but that we wouldn’t know if we’d be admitted or not and that they didn’t need to jump in their cars just yet. We had planned to call them again once we knew if we would be admitted, but we ended up never having time for - or never remembering to do - that. I think they ended up leaving for the hospital around 6:30 am. My brother and daddy’s brother, and their girlfriends, came too. But that’s later in the story.
The car ride was the worst part because I had to sit upright with a seatbelt on. The entire labor at home and at the hospital, I preferred to stay in the all-fours position. I never really changed positions or wanted to use a birthing ball or have daddy massage me. I just stayed on all fours. Lucky for us, it was 5:15 on a Sunday morning and no traffic (the route to the hospital gets really crazy during rush hour).
We had forgotten that the L&D unit was on the same side of the building as the ER and that we were supposed to park in the ER parking lot. Daddy dropped me off where our classes and tour had been, and he went to park the car in the garage. I got inside and discovered I was on the completely opposite side of the building. We had the birthing ball, a pillow, and a big duffle bag. So I got a wheelchair and pushed all my stuff in it while I walked. I bet the walking probably actually helped. We think my water broke during that time because when I finally made it to the nurse’s station in L&D, they asked me if my water had broken yet. I said I didn’t know, but my pants were all wet. The car hadn’t been wet when I got out, so we just assumed that was what happened. It wasn’t really an issue.
I was having pretty intense contractions the whole walk to L&D. We had picked that Kaiser because it had the lowest c-section rate in northern California, 18%. The new, fancier, hi-tech Kaiser was equi-distant, but that’s where they send high-risk pregnancies so their c-section rate is about 30%. We also knew that this Kaiser had a pilot program with ONE laboring tub. We knew it was on a first come, first served basis and that we’d only get to use it if it happened to be free when we showed up. So when I got to the nurse’s station, I was huffing and puffing and asking if that room was available or not. We never even made it to triage because they could see that this was the real deal. I didn’t even have time to fill out paperwork. They assigned us a room, and I signed papers with no glasses on while taking off my clothes and hunching over the hospital bed.
I just wanted to get back on all fours, but they had to get the monitor going. I had in the birth plan not to have continuous fetal monitoring, so they just needed to get a couple good contractions with heartbeat and check how far I was dilated. I think I was 3-4 cm, so that was pretty good. I thought I would be more like 5-6 cm, but as long as we didn’t get sent home I was glad. They kept trying to get me to lie on the hospital bed because they couldn’t get the monitor in place, but I just couldn’t do it. I told them standing up was the best I could offer other than being on all fours on the floor. It took several contractions before they could find the heartbeat, so it was probably my fault that it took so long. At some point, I looked over and saw them filling up the tub and I nearly started crying with excitement.
That tub was amazing. The water wasn’t very warm, and it was super annoying to have to stand up whenever they wanted to check me. But daddy can vouch for me that I was practically asleep in between contractions. I hung over the side with my head in his lap. They were getting annoyed with me because I was supposed to keep my hand with the Hep-lock out of the water. Daddy kept telling me to take deep breaths (“one for me, one for the baby”), but I ignored him. I could still feel the contractions for sure, but I was able to totally rest and relax and enjoy the dreamy state of consciousness in between (we had been up all night after all).
Your daddy did his best to be a good coach. As I said, I didn’t want him to touch me or massage me. But the whole time at home and at the hospital, I did keep telling him to just talk to me. And not to stop! He kinda ran out of things to say and kept repeating himself. Being a man, he had sort of a flat tone of voice, too. At home, I kept asking him to help me visualize what would come next after all the pain. To help me think about once you were here, bringing you home in the carseat, and things like that. He sure did try, but you have to remember he had been up all day, worked all evening, and been up all night. He was probably super pooped sitting on that chair while I was in a comfy tub.
I remember a very brief period where I told your dad he needed to step it up because the pain was just starting to put me into panic mode and that I would need him to talk me out of drugs. I knew I wanted a natural birth, and I knew that if I asked for drugs I would want someone to talk me out of it. And that was the part I had had reservations about - that daddy wouldn’t talk me out of it. We had discussed it, and he had said pretty plainly, “well if you’re in pain and you ask for drugs, I’m going to give them to you.” And I said, “noooo, I want you to talk me out of it and remind me of all the millions of women over thousands of years who have birthed babies as evolution and Nature designed us to do.” And he just wasn’t buying it. That was why I had to rely on the deal I struck you with, Max. Just you and me.
There was one nurse who was much more like what I had envisioned for coaching. She had a soft soothing voice and drew out her words like a hypnotist. I loved her. She eventually changed shifts, as did many of the nurses. In fact, since I had taken out my contacts the night before and not wanted to wear my glasses for most of the time, I never really saw what any of the nurses, or the midwife, looked like. On top of that, I was on all fours hanging over the top of the hospital bed during delivery, so I never really saw anyone’s face. That’s the part we’re getting to now.
They made clear to us on the tour that this was a laboring tub, not a birthing tub. There are two hospitals in the area, both in Davis and not covered by the insurance we had at the time, and one birth center in Sacramento with birthing tubs. We found out from the nurses later that they were secretly hoping that someone would eventually deliver in the tub just to prove to the Kaiser peeps that it really is safe, gentle, and effective. But I didn’t know that at the time. I just did what I was told.
Eventually, I kept getting the urge to push. On the one hand, I wanted to follow my body’s instructions. On the other hand, the nurse checked me and said I was only 7-8 cm and to resist the urge to push. She said if you push too soon, you could risk tearing and pushing your parts out (which I had read about). So I waited as long as I could. Finally, I told her I couldn’t hold it in any longer. She checked me and said I was fine to get out of the tub.
I told them I wanted to stay on all fours for pushing, and they said they could contort that hospital bed every which way until I was comfortable. All they really had to do was raise the head part up as high as it would go, and I hung over the top of it just like when I was in the tub. And that was great for me.
I had requested in my birth plan to have the midwife, “if she was willing - or if she was willing to instruct Nate,” to perform perineal massage, which I had read helps prevent tearing and ease the pain during crowning. But I had completely forgotten about that part until I felt someone touching me! It felt weird and a little distracting, but when she reminded me that it was in my birth plan (nice! they had actually read it!) I relaxed and just ignored it. I didn’t have to have stitches after the birth. Technically, I didn’t tear at all and only had what are called “skid marks.” So maybe it did help?!
The pushing phase is the exact opposite of the earlier stages of labor. Instead of wishing for the contractions to be over so you can rest, you freak out that the urge to push has passed and just pray for another one to come as soon as possible. The urge to push feels great and every time it fades you know the baby still isn’t here yet. Again, because I wasn’t wearing my glasses and was facing backwards, I have no idea what the midwife even looked like. But I was grateful that the hospital we chose encouraged the use of midwives to deliver babies and only relies on doctors in the event of complications. At some point I freaked out that I was pooping, but everyone was really nice and assured me I was doing great.
I don’t know if your dad ever really looked down there, especially since I was facing backwards. He was by my head - maybe holding my hand?? - and I think I asked him for water a few times and to stop breathing in my face or else to go brush his teeth. I don’t think I ever yelled anything meaner than that. I know I was grunting a lot. Throughout the labor and in the tub, I think my moaning was mostly “ahhhh ahhh.” During pushing, I think it was more “grrr grrr whooaaa.”
I had filled out my HIPPA forms not to allow any information other than my name and the fact that I was indeed present at the hospital to be given to outside parties. So when the family all showed up at the hospital, they had no idea what stage of labor we were in.
Funnily enough, they never tried to come in while I was in the tub. I probably would have been nicer about it during that time. Instead, they “kept” opening the door (well, only twice really - my mom once and daddy’s mom once) to shout something into the room. I kept freaking out like, “why are they letting them in here? I said they can’t come in! Why do they keep doing that?” I was already pushing at that point, but I guess they didn’t realize it. In fact, they had all been getting ready to go to breakfast - assuming it would be hours and hours - when daddy made his first appearance in the waiting room and simply said, “he’s here.” But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Near the end of pushing, I started to weep just a little. I knew that a burning sensation meant you would be crowning, and I wanted so badly to reach that point, to know that I was in the end zone. In all, I think pushing lasted about 40 minutes. I knew that 20 minutes was amazingly short and two hours was about average, so 40 minutes was pretty lucky. I only vaguely remember the burning sensation because here’s where we come to the very blurry memory part of the story.
Man, I gotta give credit to those nurses for making my birth plan a reality. They even reminded me that I had requested to touch the baby’s head when it was time. I was kind of startled when they told me I could reach down if I wanted to. I think I was scared about poking or pushing, and I didn’t really know what I was feeling. It was gooey, and I didn’t really have time for that anyway. So I only touched your head for a nanosecond before gripping the top of the bed again. Someone probably said something about here’s the head or almost there or something, I have no idea. I remember the feeling of you sliding out, and us all scrambling to turn me around on my back and put you on my chest. I was vaguely aware of an umbilical cord between my legs.
And there you were! You had arrived! I’m tearing up writing this as I recall “the first time I saw a wunkie.” (This is a phrase your daddy came up with after I went back to work and he started making the “daddy diaries” videos.) I can’t remember if you cried in that first moment, but I know you didn’t cry after that. I held you on my chest, and I remember hands around and in between us to clean you up somewhat until it was time for a proper bath. And there was a blanket at some point.
You were born around 8:30 am on Sunday the 24th of January 2010, four days past your due date and exactly one year after daddy’s and my first date. (Yes, I know one day you’ll be old enough to do the math - there’s no point in trying to hide it from you. My aunt would call you our “God’s plan” baby, which I quite like.)
Those first moments were peaceful. I finally remembered to look at your dad, and he had just a hint of tears in his eyes. I had only seen your dad cry one other time before that, and probably only one other time since. I remember looking at him again a few minutes later, and the tears had already passed. I remember wanting to cherish the memory of his face in that moment.
While it is standard Kaiser practice to allow at least a full hour of skin-to-skin bonding before proceeding with the baby care stuff (save for cutting the cord, which, despite having planned to “leave to the professionals,” your dad eventually decided to go ahead and do himself - “why not? once in a lifetime opportunity”), it was not that long before we had to get to all the placenta business.
I want to say they let 20 minutes pass, but it could have been less time than that before they started “guiding” (they said it wasn’t tugging, which I had specified in the birth plan as well) the placenta out. They showed it to us, it was in tact. We had been told at the classes that you couldn’t take it home, and I hadn’t been that interested in doing the research to find out California law regarding the matter. (Maybe on my next birth I will, but I still wasn’t that “crunchy” yet.)
Maybe here’s where 20 minutes had passed, maybe the placenta was sooner, until they started pressuring me to get pitocin. They acted like it was routine, but I tried to remind them I didn’t want any pitocin. They acted like, well the baby’s out now so what does it matter? I said I thought breastfeeding would be enough to help stop the bleeding, but she just kept showing me the bloody hospital pads and telling me I would hemorrhage. I knew that didn’t sound right, but I was tired and preoccupied with this amazing little creature in my arms. So I said okay.
After a while, she said I needed a second dose or I would have to have a blood transfusion. Again, I didn’t think that sounded right, and I hadn’t been thinking about the passage of the pitocin into the breastmilk. The fear of more needles convinced me to comply with a second dose.
I’m not sure when your dad left to go tell the others you had arrived, but he came back shortly after. We were lucky that your Uncle Levi had brought his video camera to the hospital, or we wouldn’t have had any photos or videos of this momentous occasion. We are forever grateful for the footage he edited together to create your (post-)birth video.
I think the family all trailed in while the nurse was giving me instructions on breastfeeding. I didn’t know it at the time, but you/we weren’t latching properly for the first two days. But anyway, I nursed you. Everyone saw me half naked with my glasses on, it’s in the birth video.
Actually, they saw me half naked for about the first two months of your life. I think I was too exhausted to care, and I’m not a very modest person in the first place. On one occasion about a week or two after you were born, I was so stressed out about trying to learn how to use my breast pump - and had been freaked out about being engorged because I have had a really healthy milk supply the entire duration of our “breastfeeding relationship” (as they call it at LLL) and had finally gotten everything all situated at the kitchen table that I didn’t want to move when your Memere and Pepere came over later that night. So I just pumped right there and told them to look the other way. That must have been pretty awkward for your Pepere, but they never once made me feel bad about it.
While they were there, the doctor came in to inspect you. You had been assigned a 9 on the Apgar score. They told us that above an 8 was rare and that it was your color that got you a 9. Not that Apgar scores are really very telling. After your first feeding, you weighed 7 lbs. 5 oz. You were 19 inches long. Your head didn’t get too smooshed coming out. Your hands looked huge. Your fingernails were really long (hence, Mimi and your uncles stopping by our house the next day to get clippers), which Mimi says is a sign of babies past their due date. But I’m talking really long. Later I realized newborn nails are too flimsy for an emory board or clipper anyway, and the nurses told me to sue my teeth. Made sense. Took me about a week to finally get all ten of them.
My arms felt empty while we all stood there watching the doctor man-handle you under the heat lamp. But you never really made a peep. They put the stuff in your eyes per California law (which I later found out is only law to “offer” not to perform). I kinda felt like asking for you back instead of leaving you under the heat lamp all alone, but you were sleeping and didn’t seem to notice. Later I found out how the gang felt like they had a chance to bond with you in those moments because they gathered around your little plastic box and held your hand and touched you for the first time.
The gang all went to get breakfast so that we could carry on with procedure. The nurse had daddy help her give you your first bath while I took my first trip to the bathroom. They give you a “peri-bottle” (basically, a sports water bottle) so that you can spray water as you’re peeing to help ease the burning. I had read that it would burn the first time you pee after delivering a baby, but I burned for several days. They say to keep drinking fluids and emptying your bladder to aid in the healing process, but I remember dreading every single trip to the bathroom. I think it’s because I hadn’t needed stitches. So although the skid marks were a lot better than tearing, they were exposed. Ouch!
Daddy and I can’t remember if you cried during that first bath or not, it’s all a bit hazy. But they bundled you up, gave you a cap, and put you back on my chest. You and I both stayed naked the whole hospital stay until it was time to take you home in the carseat. After the bath, daddy really got a chance to hold you.
We were lucky that you were born in the morning, so we only had to stay one night in the hospital. In hindsight, even that was too long. The labor room had been nice and big, with room for the tub, the bed, the baby box, and all those people in the room at once. The maternity room was cramped and awkwardly shaped. Daddy couldn’t get much sleep on those fold-out chair-beds. I can’t sleep on my back, and those hospital pillows never stay put. The food was pretty gross, but someone brought us Mimi’s Cafe (although it was cold by the time we got to it, oh well).
Mostly, I just hated how people kept coming in all the time. They wouldn’t even really talk to you, and you never saw the same person twice. They wouldn’t explain anything and didn’t really like answering questions. Hello, I just had a baby, please don’t expect me to just hand him over to you without knowing why.
We did the foot prick test. We also had to let you have a hearing test (again, I later found out can be put off and there’s no need to do it right at the hospital), for which they took you out of the room. The woman who did it apparently messed up the form and came back to take you a second time. I was totally freaked out because of how long you had been gone the first time. I realized this was crazy, how was I to know if you were crying or if it hurt or if you got switched with another baby? And now you’re asking to take him AGAIN? She said it was either that or wait until another nurse came on shift. I was exhausted, so I said yet. In hindsight, I might have insisted that I or daddy accompany you. But daddy was sleeping and wasn’t even aware of what was going on. So I let you go.
The next day we kinda just ended up waiting around for someone to tell us we could go. We finally left around noon but probably could have gone home sooner, we just couldn’t find anyone to give us the green light. It was pouring rain, and daddy drove very slowly. When we got home, we turned on the heater and sat on the couch with you just staring.