When a friend told me about this blog for birth stories it seemed like a calling. Of course I have birth stories, I’ve had two children. It is more than that though. The request comes at a time when I am particularly reflective.
My husband of 20 years has passed away from cancer and I am acutely aware that I am now the only one who holds the memories of our children’s birth stories. My son likes to hear his story over and over so it stays fresh in my mind. Our daughter, our first born, is already aware that her memories of her father are fading. I’m the only one who can tell her about her birth story now. I must get it down before I lose the details.
Eilis (eye-lish), the name is Gaelic for Elizabeth. Ken and I heard that name a couple of times before we were even pregnant. Sometimes you take note for a reason. Elizabeth is a family name but this unique take on it stuck with us and neither of us could explain why. It suits our daughter, now seventeen, in a way that I suspect no other name could have.
Growing up, my husband had not been around children much; babysitting was not his forte. When we were dating I watched him interact with his nieces and knew he would make a great father one day. He naturally struck the right balance of playful teasing and authority. He knew nothing about babies though. He was about to learn the hard way.
Eilis was due just before Christmas. My Obstetrician who is Jewish reassured me that he would be on duty throughout the Christmas holiday so that his partner could enjoy time with his family. He wouldn’t be taking his vacation until New Year’s Eve. “This baby will be born long before then,” he reassured.
I was sure he was right since I had been having “practice” contractions since early November. Eilis had other ideas.
Christmas came and went. The week leading up to the New Year seemed like a century. During one appointment I practically begged my doctor to induce labor. He checked me over and other than my supreme discomfort found that there was nothing wrong with me. I protested that the baby was, in fact, late but he said we could not be sure when the child was conceived. He may not have been sure but I knew the exact date that she was conceived. He said we should let nature take its course and I went home feeling very much like I was going to pop. In fact, that didn’t seem like a totally unappealing possibility.
As each day passed Ken helped me go through every purported labor-inducing old wives tale ever known. I was having particularly bad indigestion after stuffing my already-bloated belly with Kung Pao chicken. I sat cross-legged on the couch thoroughly uncomfortable and on the verge of tears, again. Ken came into the room and stood before me with his arm in the air like a mime hanging onto the strap of a subway car.
“What?” I snapped.
“The baby is holding onto your rib,” he replied.
I laughed and cried all at the same time. My water broke.
I am not one of those women who can relax into the pain. Despite the classes I had taken I was more likely to be found holding my breath through a contraction. Ken stood on my left side reminding me to breathe and rubbing my back with a massage tool that had comforted me greatly throughout pregnancy but at that moment felt more like an instrument of torture. Hours went by. A nurse who was determined to match my level of crankiness checked my dilation periodically. There was no progress. Another nurse attempted to put an intravenous line in the back of my hand. After two failed attempts she was sweating as much as I was and my hand was turning a fun new shade of purple. She called in someone who she said used to work in Oncology. She was sure this other nurse would be able to get the line into my tiny veins.
“Yes, it is clearly the fault of my veins,” I thought cantankerously. For once, I didn’t feel the needle as it was slipped it easily into place.
The midnight shift turned over and a new nurse took over my care. We were a lot more relaxed with her but that particular turning of the clock meant that my regular doctor would not be in charge of my care. He was officially off duty. Enter a doctor I had never met. How’s that for a “nice to meet you?”
I’m not a screamer so to those in charge of my care I did not appear distressed. Ken, of course, could look at me and know that I was in agony. “She really needs something for the pain.” Given my lack of progress the nurse agreed that I was fighting. She returned to the room moments later with a vial.
“Do you like margaritas?” the nurse teased as she pressed the needle into my IV. I felt warmth spread up my arm. When it reached my head I had an instant buzz that took the edge off the pain. It felt exactly like the effect of a margarita. Ken and the nurse coached me through the contractions encouraging me to allow each one to do its job. Another hour of labor went by before the nurse checked me.
“Your cervix is not your friend,” she said through the frown on her lips. Neither the Pitocin nor the painkillers were helping my body move along sufficiently. My case was discussed with the unseen person who was not my doctor and the decision was made to give me an epidural. Maybe then my body could make the progress that was needed.
Once I was numb Ken and I watched the monitor for the contractions that I could no longer feel. He retired to the ‘pleather’ reclining chair to attempt sleep. I remember how uncomfortable it looked. Years later when I had taken up residence in my own similar chair beside his hospital bed I realized that no matter how uncomfortable it was it didn’t matter, there was no other place in the world either of us would have wanted to be in those moments.
“It’s time to push,” the nurse said when she woke me a few hours later. People were buzzing around the room moving equipment into position. A mirror was put into place so I could watch the birth.
The new doctor introduced himself. He explained to us that meconium had been detected in my amniotic fluid and that meant our child was going to have to be given extra care. A neonatal intensive care team entered the room. I was suddenly very alert and concerned.
Meconium is a baby’s first feces. It is usually expelled a few days after birth but it can happen in utero when a woman is past her due date. “See!!!!” I wanted to say to anyone who would listen. Ken was listening. He carefully asked the questions that I would have if I had been thinking straight. We learned there could be lung complications if the child aspirated the meconium.
My husband, a photographer by trade, supported me through the pushing before taking up his camera to capture the moment Eilis entered the world. With only her head outside of my body she took a deep breath and screamed. I was washed with relief. Once delivered, they held her up for me to see but she was immediately whisked to the other side of the room by the NICU team. Her Apgar scores were called out, they were strong. With my reassurance, Ken followed the team down the hall.
I’m not sure how long Eilis was in the NICU, all I know is that it took far too long to get my daughter in my arms. She was born at 10 a.m. and by 2 p.m. I still had not seen her. Ken went to check and found that she had been moved to the regular nursery. He let the staff know that I was looking for her and went to see her from the other side of the observation window. “She was the only baby alert and looking around,” he told me.
Not long after Eilis was at last in my arms, it became clear she needed a diaper change. It was not going to be the easy kind. There was no way I could do it so I passed her off to Ken. He literally used half of the baby wipes in the box on what remained of the meconium. “Hey, it’s my first diaper change!” he defended as I sat in my bed tickled beyond control.
I miss laughing like that. And I miss the wonderful father he turned out to be.