On Labor Day two years ago, I shared Grace’s birth story (still hate that expression, still love becoming a mother… obvi). Today marks the first Labor Day since baby Nick was born and he’s exactly 9 months old today, so this seems as good a time as ever to reflect on the day we welcomed him to the world and to our family.
Waiting until Labor Day was sort of a convenient excuse for me to take nine months to digest, reflect on and embrace those sort of bizarre, sometimes anxious, but ultimately amazing 24-ish hours of labor. And because all people and pregnancies and labors and deliveries and babies and postpartum meals (peanut M + Ms for life) are different, I’m sharing less about what actually happened and more about how I remember things.
My hair is full of mom secrets.
Because the second time around, you have an experience to compare things to. You have expectations (even if you know you shouldn’t). You sort of feel like you know what you’re doing, but you also know you’re not a medical professional (unless you’re a medical professional). You’re a little bit further removed from the childbirth classes (regardless of whether you paid attention… or if you, like me, left the room for fear of being grossed out and read pamphlets about influenza in the hallway). You know what it feels like to have that baby placed on your chest for the first time. You just can’t imagine how your heart could get any more full.
I don’t want at all to sound like, Oh… I’ve done this before. I’ve got it under control. (If anything, it’s quite the opposite.) Or that I am in any way better equipped as a parent than any one else. I also think it’s important to express that families come to be families in any number of ways. All are good. And there is no better place for a child to be than in a loving family.
So back to those influenza pamphlets. There was an aura of blissful ignorance about me as I delivered Grace. I didn’t want to know any more than I needed to know, and because I had no experience—personal or otherwise (this is very real: I fainted during sex ed in the 6th grade and again in 9th grade biology… and then skipped the video during our childbirth class mostly so I could remain conscious)—it was relatively easy to trust the process. To surrender to labor. To let my body (and Grace) do its thing.
In the days before Nick was born, I knew he was coming. He was allegedly two weeks early… but given the fact that he is nine months old and already the size of a Buick, I’d be less surprised if you told me he was two months late. Right around Thanksgiving, I woke up every day thinking, this is it. And it wasn’t. Until it was.
I had planned to take Grace to see the fox at the Trailside Museum (they have some sort of special connection) on a Friday morning, but my back felt especially achy and I remembered I needed to pick up Clark’s prescription (honestly… why are these the things I remember? Imagine what powerful thoughts my brain could harness if it forgot about ridiculous things like phone messages from the vet?), so we headed to Castle Island for a walk instead. After a loop or two, I called our midwife.
She called back just as I was getting to the vet. So I was the super normal person talking about being in labor while sitting in the waiting room next to a man cradling his sick cat (it might have been healthy, I know even less about cats than I do childbirth… so, I know literally nothing about cats). In essence, she told me to leave the vet’s office and come to, like, the human doctor’s office. I remember thinking how weird it felt to be in public, and knowing I was in labor. Should I warn people? I don’t know. (I should warn my husband, I decided. Yes. That was a good call.)
While I waited for Nick to get home and for my parents to pick up Grace, I chatted with our neighbor, who is a former cop. He told me he had delivered six (maybe it was four) babies in his squad car. All he needed was a blanket. I mostly hoped it didn’t come to that. I thought for sure I’d need more than a blanket. For starters, I wanted one of those peanut-shaped yoga balls. Also, medicine. And a sanitary environment.
This is sort of how the next 15 or so hours would unfold. I knew baby Nick was coming. I knew it would be soon, but I didn’t know how soon (more than 15 minutes, but less than a day… that was my guess). I knew I was uncomfortable, but I also knew I could manage.
Nick was born at a different hospital than Grace, and I had to consciously remind myself to trust the process despite everything feeling very unfamiliar. We stayed in triage from 10:30-ish that Friday night until finally getting a delivery room around 3 AM. During that stretch, we had to listen to all kind of things through the thin curtain dividers. And other people had to listen to me throw up and make groaning noises. For that, I am sort of sorry.
When we were finally moved to a room, I got wrapped in warm blankets and spritzed with lavender water by a particularly kind nurse. She turned on the hospital’s equivalent of the Nature Channel and encouraged me to be “soothed by Earth’s beauty.” Not normal, per se, but I kept telling myself to trust the process. To surrender.
During morning rounds, the midwife on duty said baby Nick would be born that day… which seemed like an awfully big window. She told me to relax as much as possible, and encouraged grown-up Nick to grab coffee. I worried that the baby was hearing the crashing waves, cawing seagulls and distant foghorns from the nature channel and thinking “This lady’s trying to give birth to me in the middle of the Atlantic. I should stay in until she finds dry land!” No sooner had she left the room than we were pressing the call button to have her and the labor and delivery nurse hightail it back.
Less than 30 minutes later, baby Nick’s tiny, perfect, warm body was pressed against mine. My husband was kissing my head, tears streaming down his face. And everything, everything, everything was right.
And really. That’s the only part of this story that matters. (I probably could have skipped the part about the cat at the vet, but I believe in setting the scene.)
So much of becoming a parent and becoming a family is unpredictable. It’s messy. It’s strange. It’s uncomfortable. It can get real weird, real fast. It’s anxiety producing. And once you are that parent, and you are that family, it doesn’t get any easier. Your heart lives outside your body, vulnerable and exposed. You worry. You cry. You stay awake for, like… ever. Some days you forget to put on pants because you’re too busy pureeing organic kale.
But every day, you trust the process more and more. You embrace surrendering as not only something very good, but something (to quote Salt-n-Pepa) very necessary. You remind yourself that the best possible place for child is in a loving family. And you’ve got that covered.
Whether you’re sitting on a beach soaking up the last waves of summer, or cradling a newborn in your arms (like my beautiful and amazing sister!), or somewhere in between… Happy Labor Day.
We’re heading into Labor Day Weekend, so why not talk about having a baby? (I couldn’t resist.) I know the holiday is technicallya tribute to the American workforce (and feels mostly like a symbolic end to summer), but it’s nearly impossible for me to hear Labor and not think of… labor.
It’s been nearly seven months since we welcomed Grace. I’ve come this close to sharing about her entry into the world several times now, but always stopped short of clicking publish. (Can I just say, the expression “birth story” creeps me out? It reminds me of that TLC show that one of my college roommates always watched. Terrifying.)
My labor and delivery were rather uneventful (which was sort of the goal), but ultimately, I think that’s why I want to share it with you. I can’t tell you how many horror stories I heard while pregnant. So-and-so was in labor for 89 hours.My friend’s cousin’s yoga instructor’s neighbor delivered a 16 lb. baby. That woman that I sometimes see at the dog park, her sister had a really great birth plan… and it went completely to hell. My uncle’s third cousin’s dog groomer got a flat tire on the way to the hospital and delivered her triplets in the back of a Subaru. (It’s always a Subaru.) Sound familiar?
At one of my postpartum check-ups with my midwife, I told her that I felt sort of awkward when people asked about our experience with childbirth — that I felt a bit guilty (and yes — grateful, most of all) that things went so well. She told me that people need to hear the good stories too. And I think that’s true. Remember when I talked about fear being unproductive? Those horror stories produce a lot of fear. I hopeful that hearing a good story about childbirth will have the opposite effect.
So, with that longwinded intro aside, here’s one of the good stories.
Oh, important note: I’m not going to talk about body parts, really, or like measurements or anything that might make you (or me) faint. That’s just not my style. And I’m 103% certain I’m wrong about at least a few times and timing and hours, so please don’t check my math. And I’m sure you understand my desire to maintain at least a bit of mystery privacy, especially when it comes to my family.
My first Labor Day and welcoming Grace
About two weeks before Grace was born, I was sitting in my office with our auditor (which is one of the 45,000 places I didn’t want to be when I went into labor… and yes, I had spent 9 months fine tuning that list) when I started getting sharp pains in my lower back. They were bad enough that I couldn’t stay seated, but when I stood up, they sort of got worse. It’s a life goal of mine to not to be shady (especially in the presence of an auditor), but I had to keep coming up with excuses to duck out and attempt to walk waddle it off.
Grace at 1 month
After a couple of hours of coming and going, the pain subsided. I figured I was dehydrated. Or maybe my maternity pantyhose was too tight. Grace wasn’t due for over a month, and I assumed what I was feeling was normal for late pregnancy. Truth be told (with the exception of dragon-level heartburn), I felt really good during my second and third trimesters. (The first trimester was sort of a blur of morning all-day sickness, sleeping for 20 hours at a time, subsiding on a diet of crackers and lemonade, and feeling extremely frumpy.)
The next day, though, I just felt off. The back pain had returned (it turns out these were actually contractions and not random back pain… evidence that I did not read any childbirth pamphlets), my feet were swollen, and my appetite was gone. I stupidly waited all day to call the doctor, and instead Googled things. If I can impart any wisdom to future parents (or just, people in general) it is this: When it comes to pregnancy or childbirth or labor or really anything medical or important or not related to cute dog photos, don’t Google it. Just don’t.
I spent the following day hooked up to a fetal monitor, drinking gallons and gallons of water, calmly reading US Weekly one minute and freaking out about the big work event I had coming up the next. If Grace arrived today, what would my colleagues need to know? What was left to be done? What imaginary scenarios could I cook up and then create solutions for? Again, the contractions subsided and I was sent home with strict orders to relax. (Bhahahahaaha)
The work event went off without a hitch the following Thursday. I wore sequins. I wore heels. I did not go into labor. I did eat 5 desserts. For the next few days, it was business as usual. I still had a feeling Grace might come early, though, so each night before heading home, I cleaned up my desk and laid out detailed “just in case” instructions (which I would then promptly recycle the following day, only to begin again).
On Monday night, I woke up in the middle of the night with a start, and sat bolt upright. I vividly remember this moment in particular, because for the previous month or so, sitting up was nothing short of a workout. I must have gone back to sleep, because the next time I looked at the clock it was 5 A.M… and my water had broke. (Is that grammatically correct? I have no clue. But I am sticking to my own rule of no Googling body part things.)
I have never seen Nick bound out of bed so quickly. In the span of three minutes, he was somehow dressed, his teeth were brushed and his contacts were in, and he was assembling our co-sleeper/mini crib. Meanwhile, I followed our midwife’s instructions and called the office’s after hours number. They told me to call back at eight. Um… what? Knowing me (and I do, quite well), I am still surprised at how calm I remained. I took a shower. I blew out my unruly curls. I painted my nails (yes, really). I ate a snack. I un-packed and re-packed our hospital bag (which is good, because we didn’t exactly ace it the first time around).
By 8:30, I was back on the fetal monitor at our doctor’s office, but not before riding an elevator with a bunch of gentlemen in sharp suits headed to work, while my water continued to break. There’s nothing quite like the sensation of actively peeing your pants (that’s kind of what it feels like) in public. I wasn’t sure what the protocol for being in labor in a rush hour elevator in the Financial District was. Should I press the alarm button and make an announcement? Instead I tried to be cool (wholly impossible), but continued to look at Nick like, Oh my word, I am sort of peeing. And he continued to look at me like, This is the greatest day ever. And it was.
We checked into the hospital around 10:30 and when the attending midwife asked if we had a name picked out for our daughter, I cried as Nick answered, Grace. Saying her name, one we had kept secret for so long, made her pending arrival feel more real than any contraction (or awkward elevator ride) could. Saying her name made everything feel so holy and sacred and good.
Once we knew for certain (I mean, I knew that at 5 AM, but it helps to have the hospital bracelet to prove it), we called our parents and siblings and let them know that we were at the hospital, that we were all doing well, and that Grace would likely be born today.
Our birth plan was pretty much this:
We will be open minded
We will trust our our midwife, doctor and nurses to help us make the best decisions
In other words: We didn’t really have a birth plan. I wanted to labor without medication, but um… I had never been in labor before, so I didn’t want to rule anything out. We spent the next six hours managing my painful (real talk: they were painful, but I survived… obviously) back contractions by taking short walks around the labor floor, getting checked by the midwife and nurses, and sitting and standing and leaning and bending and bouncing. We never broke out the deck of cards we packed, nor the crossword puzzle book.
At the nurses’ encouragement, I gave the shower a try. I had heard that many women find showering during labor to be really comforting. Meanwhile, I spent about three minutes in there before throwing in (and asking for) the towel. It was sort of the opposite of comforting for me.
All I could think was:
Great, now my hair is frizzy again
The shower curtain is touching me
Why is this shower so small?
And why is there so much plastic furniture in here?
Everyone can see my bum
By now, I was uncomfortable enough that I was having trouble relaxing between contractions. Our labor was progressing, but it could still be hours before Grace was born, so we talked with our midwife about options. An anesthesiologist joined us to answer any questions we might have about an epidural, which we decided was the right choice for us.
As with all things labor and delivery related, I’m not sure how accurately I can describe what getting an epidural feels like, or how it feels after. I could still feel everything (including my limbs), but the pain was much less intense and I was able to relax between contractions. I hadn’t eaten more than a few crackers (I was nauseous much of the day), so as soon as the nurses told me I couldn’t eat after getting the epidural, I basically wanted to eat everything in sight. I started getting restless, but going for a walk was no longer an option, so we watched a little TV. I could barely contain my jealousy (nor my lack of sensitivity, apparently) as a Biggest Loser contestant devoured an entire pizza in his “before” footage. TV was a bad idea.
Grace at 2 weeks
At some point (and this one is entirely on me — Nick now has a firm “no voluntary studies” policy), I agreed to participate in a study about epidurals (how they are administered, and if that affects their, well, effectiveness). At some regular interval, a doctor would come into the room and ask me about pain and nausea and then (this is the absolute truth) poke me with one of those little cocktail swords (not something that looked like a little cocktail sword, an actual little cocktail sword) to determine where I did or did not have feeling. Being in labor is surreal on its own, but this sword thing? It was really bizarre. The nurses (and my husband) kept reminding me that I could opt out of the study at any time. Meanwhile, I had developed a strong craving for maraschino cherries.
Nick went to grab some coffee and as 11 o’clock approached, I wondered if Grace would, indeed, be born today. I talked to my parents and siblings (and was denied my requests for an entire pan of baked ziti and two bags of cool ranch Doritos) and focused on the affirmation that seemed so silly a few days before, but that helped me so much during those last few hours: Grace will come at the perfect time.
I repeated this over and over in my head and soon enough, I felt like that perfect time was upon us. A new midwife had just come on shift (I feel like I could write a whole book about how wonderful these women are) and she and the nurses started preparing for Grace’s delivery. She got sort of close to my face and said, “You have carried this baby inside of you for nine months. Are you ready to bring her out? Are you ready to get started?” Part of me was like, Um… I don’t think I could stop this if I tried and the other parts was like, Yes! I want her here so badly! In my emotional memory (which is likely not fully accurate), Jock Jams started playing and Nick and the midwife high-fived.
Nick and Grace
Remember when I told you that a blizzard prevented us from completing our childbirth class? This is where that missed information would have been helpful. One nurse asked if I remembered my breathing. I had no clue what she was talking about (it turns out, you kind of just… well, breathe). We were similarly surprised to find out just how active a role Nick would be playing in Grace’s delivery. I guess we sort of imagined he’d gently stroke my perfectly coifed hair and tell me I was amazing, but instead he was holding one of my legs and coaching me through the pushing (and telling me I was amazing). Another surprise (sorry, this is kind of unpleasant, but I am feeling like it might help to know this): some people throw up, like a lot, when they’re delivering. Apparently I am one of those people. Also, I somehow managed to get a (clean and very much empty) bed pan stuck inside my hospital gown. So there’s that.
Everything felt so charged and intense during the delivery. I remember melting into the hospital bed between pushes, and asking Nick to cover my face with a cold cloth. I have never prayed like I prayed that night. I felt weak and exhausted, and at the same time, stronger and more powerful than ever. It was nothing like the movies (and I mean that in the best possible way). There was no yelling or screaming (though I did kind of involuntarily roar at one point), no real dramatics.
It was very fleeting, but I did have a quick rush of panic that I might not be able to do it. That I was too tired. Or too weak. I thought (this is so, so ridiculous… but also so, so funny to me), Maybe I can skip this next contraction and rest a little. Nick saw right through that one and encouraged me to be a normal person keep going. Our midwife calmly whispered, “Don’t be afraid.” Just then, the miniature sword wielding doctor entered the room for our next round of the study, and Nick (politely) told him to hit the road. For a million reasons, I am so grateful for my husband.
I am sure the nurses and midwife were talking to me, but at this point I kept my eyes on Nick and watched his posture change as the energy in the room intensified. I hadn’t noticed that a baby nurse had come in, and that the midwife and nurses had put on masks. “She’s coming so soon,” he said. “She’s really coming.” It was 12:16 A.M. on Wednesday.
Grace (and her adorable nose) at 6 hours, Elizabeth in need of a flat iron
I used to think that if I had a baby, I’d want him or her “cleaned off” before holding them. I thought I’d be squeamish about all the, you know, stuff. I thought I’d want everything to be neat. In reality, I couldn’t get my hands on her fast enough. I reached for her and Nick, desperate to have our little family together for the first time. I kept saying “I love her so much” over and over, and then turned to Nick with the biggest smile of my life (he just reminded me of this – I wanted him to read this whole thing before I sent it out into the Universe) and exclaimed, “I would do this a million times!” So… there’s your proof that happy, pain-killing hormones are real. Or, that I am delusional.
Once Grace was on my chest, and I could see her tiny nose and eyes and fingers and cheeks, I cried for the millionth time since first knowing I was pregnant with her. I felt like my heart was outside of my body. I couldn’t see anyone else, I couldn’t hear anyone else, I couldn’t think about anyone or anything else. I had no idea my love for her would feel like that. And still, when I think that love can’t get any bigger, it somehow grows.
Grace at 6.5 months
Just this week Grace started putting both her hands up and reaching for me. I can’t help but think, every time, about that night when I first reached for her. That night is my favorite story.
It’s the story I tell myself when I miss her during the day, or when feel discouraged about my “body after baby” (whatever that means), or when people ask if she’s sleeping through the night, or when I have to pump in an airport bathroom while traveling for work (the glamour of life abounds), or when I find spit-up on the back of my dress halfway through Mass, or when there is not enough time to do it all or be it all.
Because that story and how it ends and what it gave us, that is it all.