Writing the stories of how my babies came to be are among my favorite. I held on to this one for a while; both due to the craziness of our current circumstances but also because I needed some time to marinate it until it felt just right. I wrote the bones of it shortly after she was born, but over snippets of stolen nap times, added flesh to it, plumping it up where need be and polishing away the gristle. Once again, I felt its justice best served by breaking it up into three, sizable parts. I’ll be sharing them in succession this week until the story is complete.
So without further ado, part one:
What I knew to be true of giving birth, based upon my two-fold experience: it happens in the middle of the night when the rest of the world is sleeping. It is going to the hospital under a cover of darkness, waking up family members to keep vigil. It is pushing out four strong limbs and a set of lungs as you round the darkest corner of the night, witnessing the first bath as the sun begins to rise, trumpeting the birth announcement as the rest of the world is blinking awake.
Not this time, not this baby.
As soon as your belly begins to grow with the promise of life, a lot of people offer sweeping remarks about the third child. The third child is the hardest, it is the easiest, it is playing zone defense, it is a bit like drowning, it is nothing like having four, it is as easy as having four, it is one too many children, it is not enough children. The one I heard the most often is the third is your wildcard. There are no guarantees with the third they said, not for a faster or easier birth, nor even a shorter labor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t happen either.
I came into this pregnancy with a few pre-conceived notions: I will be sick the entire first trimester, I will have a girl (because that’s just what I do), she will come a bit early. Part of this early assumption was based on hope and part of it was based on reason. I knew the due date the doctor assigned me didn’t match my own calculated date. In fact, I thought it was almost a week off. I was sure that even if I went past my own due date, surely I wouldn’t go past the doctor’s.
Well, you win some, you lose some.
Adding to this confusion, on April 1, I started having some pre-term labor symptoms that in the end turned out to be fine, but came back with a vengeance the following week. Everything I read told me that I would give birth early because of this. My doctor even seemed confused that I would have these signs without any serious consequences. I also started having Braxton Hicks contractions regularly that month, something I did not experience in my other two pregnancies.
All of this put me on high alert and I watched my body for the slightest sign that I was on the verge of labor. Adding to this, I chose to keep the same OBGYN as the one I used for Bea’s birth, even though three years prior, we had moved north. This added an extra element of suspense because I was now an hour away from my hospital. And it made laboring at home nearly impossible, contingency plans extremely important, and false labor an extra annoying experience.
Needless to say, I packed my bags early just in case and waited, watching diligently.
One of the reasons I had previously chosen my doctor for Bea’s birth was that I had gone overdue with MG. For her birth, I was somewhat forced into an induction due to my late pregnancy (I was 12 days late with her but they wanted to induce me starting the day I was late. It was a battle to make it to twelve as I didn’t have any medical reason to be induced other than being late). I also really wanted to go natural for the birth so when I inquired about a more natural induction (breaking my water vs. pitocin), they agreed, but only if I met their benchmarks. During the entire process I felt scrutinized and under the gun. So when I became pregnant with Bea, I switched to a new doctor and a new hospital who would let me go up to two weeks late and would be more on board with a natural induction, should the situation call for it. Thankfully, Bea came on time, on her own, so I didn’t need to utilize those offerings, but little did I know and never did I expect that I would be making these decisions for my third.
As May approached, I breathed a sigh of relief that we had made it safely to full term and I just knew she would come any day. I started to retain fluid and swell, a lovely symptom I also had not experienced in my other two pregnancies. The entire last three weeks of pregnancy, the ones where you are supposed to prep everything and nesting energy kicks in, I pretty much did the bare minimum and laid around as much as possible. I wasn’t first-trimester-miserable, but I was pretty darn miserable.
Every morning, I woke up thinking today could be the day! But then as evening approached, I found myself dreading the idea of labor as I thought about what it entailed and made plans for who I would need to call to care for the girls as each day prescribed a different set of circumstances. (thank you to the friends both here and near the hospital who enthusiastically offered to help day or night until the grandparents could step in!)
Slowly, my May 18 due date crept up and that brought a new sense of anxiety as May 18 is Bea’s birthday and I desperately didn’t want the girls to share the day. I was also hopeful that their birthdays would be at least a week apart, but at the same time, when it came down to it, I was just ready to be done, so I felt both tugs at my heart and carried around this tension until the end.
On May 17, I went in to see my doctor for a routine visit (at this point I was in her office once a week). Since I was two days from being overdue, they scheduled me for a non-stress test and ultrasound to check fluid levels. (Ironically, I had also gone through the same motions with Bea exactly three years prior and my water broke that very night). Not only did the fluid levels looks good, they looked too good. They were on the highest end of average, rather than the normal decreasing as labor approached. My doctor explained that this extra fluid caused the baby to float around pretty high and not drop down to become engaged. I was 3cm dilated but barely effaced because she wasn’t putting enough pressure on my cervix to soften it. Two other discouraging things came out of the ultrasound: she was completely posterior (I delivered MG posterior and the back labor was incredibly painful) and they measured her at 6lbs 13ozs (this made me nervous because my other two girls were at least 2lbs heavier and this baby was already 5 days late, by my watch).
This news sent me reeling emotionally for a few hours. My mom had been in town already for a few days to help with the girls and was planning to stay the duration of birth and beyond. This ultrasound wasn’t a magic eight ball for labor but it did concern me that the answers all seemed to point to the negative.
My sweet, very thoughtful doctor, who knew I wanted to go naturally but also knew I had an hour drive to the hospital had offered to induce me starting at 39 weeks to relieve the anxiety of getting to the hospital. I’d turned her down, truly believing this baby would come on her own, but when she brought it up again at this appointment, I was primed and ready for some intervention.
My hackles instantly went up just talking about an induction, mostly because I was having flashbacks to MG’s birth (laboring all day in the hospital, pushing for three hours, walking away completely exhausted). But Dr. B said we would only do Pitocin if it were necessary and we could do a low dose at that. Because I was already three centimeters, I was favorable for the process and wouldn’t need to start with something like Cervadil (last time this required an overnight hospital stay which set me up with very little sleep and I started the day already overtired).
On the other hand, I was already nervous about being overdue (and especially overdue in my book), I didn’t want to keep my mom waiting around forever, I liked the idea of a non-stressful ride to the hospital, the idea of being on the monitors and carefully watched the entire labor, the fact that my doctor would be there and I would almost certainly be guaranteed the use of the tub (something I had wanted to do in the previous two births but had never worked out), and the idea that I would have an end date to focus on rather than continue on in the hopes of going into labor but never really knowing when it would happen. Plus, I had done this before. Even though Bea came on her own, her labor started with my water breaking, so this would be my third birth that began in this manner. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I felt like this baby needed the extra help to drop down and become engaged. And I was more than ready to give it to her.
So Dr. B looked at her calendar while I consulted mine and we chose Monday, May 23, as our day.
In the meantime, I still had very high hopes that this baby would start labor before then. And I did everything I could to encourage the process. I walked and walked, did stairs, ate the right foods, saw a chiropractor, went swimming (pridefully painful but was encouraged it would help turn the baby into a more favorable position) and got a pedicure (hopeful that the leg massage would hit the right pressure points). And still…nothing. While I was physically large and miserable though, I felt very peaceful about having a set end time and that like it or not, she was coming on Monday.
I remember one night in particular, my mom had sent N and me out of the house, offering to to put the girls to bed for us. We set out on a mission to “walk the baby out”. The one thing that friends and strangers alike had encouraged and seemed to be the most preached piece of advice.
As we walked up and down the stairs all I could think about were my puffy feet and lungs that could never draw a satisfactory pull of oxygen. It was a rainy, cold May evening and I wore the one fleece I had made work all winter because it was the only coat that still zipped around my belly and also pants that I didn’t have to button. Walking felt like my penance for still carrying a child beyond when science said it should be allowed. It was unenjoyable in every way but it was the only way, they said, to get the baby out. “Have you been walking?” they would ask me sternly. “Yes” I would answer obediently, though deep down I knew it was doing nothing to move me closer to meeting her.
All the while I felt partially silly that I’d let myself believe she’d come early and partially annoyed because I was overly familiar with the lack of control over anything related to pregnancy. This is a gift some women are blessed with, but not me. Not in all 5 pregnancies, not in three births.
Having my mom in town for this last week of pregnancy turned out to be a nice distraction from all the questions that were keeping me up at night. On our last few nights, she watched the girls while N and I went walking and got to spend a few minutes for just the two of us. On our last night before induction, having already walked a lot that day, we went to Starbucks and read funny articles aloud on our phones. It was nice to laugh and it momentarily edged away the anxiety I was feeling over what was to come in the morning.
On our way home from Starbucks, I called the hospital to see if they had enough room for me (it had been a full moon weekend, and I had heard the maternity wings can get crazy around those. Plus we had to get up at 5:00am to make our 7am induction and I didn’t want to go through the motions only to be sent back home).
I felt an overwhelming sense of relief when they told me not only did they have plenty of room but the specific room I wanted (the ones that would accommodate the tub) were available and I was the only person who had requested the (only) tub.
All along, I had been holding onto a small seed of doubt that this might not happen on Monday, May 23, but this was the last confirmation I needed. We got home, I repacked my hospital bag, set my alarm, and went to bed, desperately praying for a good night’s sleep.
To be continued…