It was 6:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, after over 28 hours of labor, when my “birth plan” went flying out the window.
Even though the notion of essentially pushing a bowling ball out of my vagina terrified me, it was what I had been planning to do for the past nine months. I like to be prepared (thank nine years of Girl Scouting for that!) and I’m a really good student, so I did everything I could to ready myself. J and I took childbirth classes at the hospital and I — a person who had never practiced yoga before — took a weekly prenatal yoga class starting at seven weeks pregnant, all the way through to 36 weeks.
I was looking forward to experiencing what my best childhood friend once described to me as “the most pain you’ll ever feel followed by the biggest wave of euphoria you’ll ever know.” Instead, my son’s birth wound up being fraught with confusion, anxiety, and a little bit of nausea. While the end result was still a win — me holding my newborn son in my arms for the first time, this was not the story I intended to write.
That morning, at 6 a.m., my OB came into my room to examine me. My water had broken sometime the night before (probably between midnight and 1 a.m.) and I was only five centimeters dilated when the nurse examined me at 1:30. Now, four and a half hours later, my doctor informed me that I was still only at five centimeters. At this point, after such a long labor, they were getting concerned about the baby’s heart rate. I would later find out that he had flipped his body so that he was not in the prime birthing position and the umbilical cord had loosely wrapped itself around his neck in the process.
Everything happened so quickly after that. The doctor explained that we were going to have to do a c-section, and we were going to have to do it NOW. Within seconds of him saying those words, and without a moment to digest any of it, the room became a frenzied blur of nurses directing J to put all of our belongings into plastic bags, an oxygen mask being put over my mouth and nose, and a nurse standing over me with a razor. J found a quick moment to call our parents and had to abrubtly get off the phone to support me as I started to panic and dry heave into hosptial barf bags. I would have thrown up if I hadn’t been starved for the past 24+ hours.
In what seemed like five seconds, I was being wheeled into the operating room to be prepped to have my first born child surgically removed from my body. I was shivering cold and terrified, as they wouldn’t allow J into the room until I was fully prepped. This involved the doctors strapping my arms down, outstretched at my sides in a T shape and a room full of strangers asking me questions and mispronouncing my name (Alicia – I pronounce it Ah-lee-see-ah, not Ah-lee-shuh).
It wasn’t a completely sterile and lifeless room — there was music playing from a speaker off to the side. While I was being strapped down like a death row inmate, Morrissey was the soundtrack. This was not the vibe I was going for, and while I had very little control of what was happening to my body, I sure as hell could control this part of my experience. I asked for the Beatles — several times as my speech had started to slur a bit at this point — and as soon as the familiar sounds of the Fab Four filled the room and J was finally by my side, holding my hand and breathing with me, I knew it was all going to be ok.
At 6:40 a.m. my beautiful, perfect baby boy was born to the sound of “Dear Prudence.”
While it was not the magical, intimate experience I had dreamed of, my baby was here and he was healthy. Because I was numb and because he didn’t cry immediately, I didn’t even know it had happened until the doctor stood up and said “he’s here, and he’s perfect!”
They held his pink, naked body up for me to see and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was this tiny human being that just moments ago was inside my body. It still blows my mind. J left my side for the first time to go cut the cord, and then I waited for what seemed like an eternity until they finally brought him closer for me to see him.
The breathtaking, overwhelmingly emotional moment didn’t last too long. Soon, J and the baby were whisked out of the room to begin their skin-to-skin bonding time while the doctor stitched me back up. Eventually, I made it to the recovery room and held my son for the first time.
At around 11 a.m., J’s dad and my parents were finally allowed to come see us and meet their grandson. Seeing my parents hold my baby for the first time is an image that will bring me comfort for the rest of my life.
While things were finally starting to feel real, and normal, and good, my suffering was not over. It had now been over 30 hours since I had eaten any real food and I was STARVING. I was informed that I wasn’t allowed to eat anything until 3:30 p.m., which was still HOURS away. Shortly after 2:00, J went out into the world to get me some non-hospital food, so that I would have my long-awaited turkey sandwich (oh, how I missed you, deli meat!) at exactly 3:30. We ate our first meal as parents together while our son slept beside us. And to mark the occasion, we shared a piece of birthday cake.
I’ll be honest, I struggled a bit writing this post. I have no trouble being honest about all of the details of my own experience, but this was also my son’s experience. Someday he will read this, and I don’t ever want him to associate his birth with any stress or trauma of mine. So what I want him (and you, dear reader) to take away is that childbirth is a mysterious, painful, and devastatingly beautiful experience. Whether a child is born at home or in a hospital, vaginally or surgically, via a surrogate or a birth mother who chose to give another family the most selfless gift, it’s all miraculous. My birth experience may not have been what I planned for or expected, but it was what was right for my family. And while I didn’t “do the work” of pushing my baby out, my body still performed an astonishing feat, and I have the battle scar to prove it. Together with my favorite person in the world, we MADE A HUMAN LIFE, which we were told would be nearly impossible for us. I carried that life inside of me for 41 weeks. Four days later, I brought my son home to a place with joy and gratitude in abundance. He will always know that he was so wanted, and is loved unconditionally by the two people who got lucky enough to be his parents.
And that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?