The birth of my first child, Noah, was unquestionably the most difficult yet most amazing experience I have ever had.
My obstetrician scheduled an ultrasound when I was nearly a week past my due date to make sure everything still looked healthy in our son’s little cocoon. The technician measured fluids and bone lengths and said everything seemed fine. She even told me I was having contractions, but they were too mild to feel at that point. And then she casually said, “This is just an estimate, but your baby will probably be about 9 pounds 2 ounces.”
I’m not a big girl. I typically weigh between 105 and 115. And you’re telling me my first baby is going to be a nine-pounder? You cannot be serious.
I was supposed to be induced on Thursday, but there was a full moon or something and every single maternity bed was filled. So the induction was put off until 7 a.m. Saturday, June 21, 2008. When we arrived in the parking lot, I told my husband Danny that I thought the little contractions I had been having the last couple of days were getting stronger. By the time we got checked into a room, I knew it.
I asked the attending doctor (my OB arrived later) if instead of a Pitocin drip, we could just try breaking my water to speed things along. He agreed. After he broke my water, he frowned and called a nurse over. That was my first tingle of fear that day. He explained that the water was greenish, which meant my baby had had a bowel movement in utero. Instantly, I recalled tales of sick babies who had breathed or ingested meconium in just this situation. “What does that mean? Will he be all right?” I fought back a wave of panic. The doctor tried to comfort me, explaining that, as precautions, there would be NICU staff members and equipment in the room at delivery. That hint of fear remained in the back of my mind for the next 13 hours, but soon I was too busy to give it much thought.
Breaking my water worked. Contractions that had been merely annoying became 90-second jolts of pain that doubled me over. I walked the halls with my husband, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, eating banana-flavored popsicles, and stopping every three minutes to breathe and grunt through a contraction.
But the medical profession loves to monitor, and soon I was stuck in bed, with monitors strapped to me and nurses discouraging me from even rolling on my side. The contractions got stronger. Now every time one hit, I felt like I was going throw up any second.
The nurse came in to check my cervix. I was at 5 cm and not progressing. My bearded brawny OB, who seemed unnecessarily happy, suggested Pitocin and hinted that I might want an epidural. I wanted to have a drug-free birth, but those iron vice-grips called contractions and the waves of nausea finally convinced me. Yes and yes. Give me the epidural. Later I would be even more thankful I had one.
Having someone stab a needle in your spine and staying motionless while gasping through seriously hard contractions is no cakewalk. But the relief came instantly and the cursed nausea stopped, at least temporarily. A few minutes later, though, I realized I was still feeling the brunt of the contractions on my right side. The epidural only took on one side. After suffering through another hour with half my body, I asked for a re-dose and it got better. Until 6 p.m. anyway.
At that point, my body was ready. But alas, my baby wasn’t. The whir of activity in the room increased as the staff prepped for Noah’s arrival. They draped sheets around me, pulled up the stirrups, wheeled in the little NICU cart, and said, “It’s time to push.”
And push I did. For two long hours. My husband fed me ice chips, bathed my forehead, braced my leg with one hand and held me with the other, and encouraged me every step of the way. Bless that man.
About halfway through, my doctor said he could see the head. Surely this meant it was almost over. But when baby stubbornly refused to come out, the doctor began investigating and discovered that Noah was facing up instead of down. He manually tried to turn him and couldn’t, so he had me get on my hands and knees for a while to see if gravity might do the trick.
I threw up twice even though I wasn’t really in pain at that point. I remember thinking while crouched on all fours in the bed, puking, that this was the most undignified I had ever been in front of my poor husband. Nothing could be uncomfortable with him now.
Then it was time to try again. No luck. My doctor said Noah had turned halfway in the birth canal, but that his heart rate was dipping with each contraction. It was decision time. Keep trying and risk totally running out of energy, use a vacuum or consider a C-section. I asked him how confident he was about the vacuum extraction and he said, “Let me put it this way. My first vacuum extraction was my own son.”
I said, “Let’s do it.”
There was another flurry of activity and then it got a little surreal. I remember pushing with all my might while a nurse shoved on my stomach. My muscular doctor stood at my feet with the vacuum tube, tugging and pulling, looking for all the world like he was wrestling a 40-pound catfish, as my husband yelled, “Push, babe, push!” And then it was over.
They held Noah up for me to see for about half a second and whisked him over to the warmer. I suddenly remembered the meconium and started crying, asking “Is he okay? Is he okay?”
He was more than okay. He was amazing and perfect and wonderful. And big. “You’ve got a bouncing boy,” they said. “Nine pounds, six ounces!”
I vaguely remember my doctor stitching me up and telling me I had a stage three tear. I have a blurry memory of being wrapped up and ice packs stuck here and there. I recall thinking it was taking them a long time to give me my baby.
But then they handed me my son and I just touched his face over and over. I couldn’t believe it. I had a baby. I was a mother. My husband leaned in to kiss us both and it struck me: We were a family.