That was our birth plan in all of its simplicity. Except for a small detail: I didn't want to feel the majority of it. Look, I am all about celebrating and basking in the strength of women. I hosted a vagina monologue party in my 20's and my lady friends wrote and performed pieces about their glorious vaginas. I read the book "Cunt" and embraced all things about menstruation. I have a tattoo on my lower abdomen - approximately over my uterus, I think, I'm not a doctor and find anatomy confusing - of a woman sitting cross-legged with hands raised above her head in front of a moon. And most importantly, I frequently went to prenatal yoga classes and drank so much Blooma kool-aid I almost gave myself metaphorical gestational diabetes. But for sure, 1000%, I had zero interest in having an un-medicated birth. Getting pregnant did not come easily and required a lot of testing, a laparoscopy to remove endometrial scar tissue, and a round of fertility drugs to make it happen. Modern medicine could be credited with getting pregnant. Between my gratitude to medical intervention and a much more powerful emotion, my fear of the pain, I wanted an epidural to play a prominent role in the labor and delivery of our son, Luca.
At 41 weeks and one day, I was scheduled for an induction at 5:00 pm. My husband Diogo and I were ready. Everything was meticulously ready. We are obsessively organized people and had been ready for an obsessively organized amount of time. I, as a waddling tool shed, was so ready and though he would weigh just over nine pounds when he emerged, Luca was the only person who wasn't ready. But off we went to have a baby.
After a delicious and nutritious meal at Good Earth, we arrived at the Fairview Southdale Birthing Center promptly at 5:00 pm and I announced that I was there to have a baby. We were given a room and started to settle in. After three or four failed attempts at installing an IV (that left me bruised for weeks), they were successful. This matters only because during each arm stabbing debacle, I kept thinking about how terrible it would be to try and get an IV into someone's arm and miss. I also kept thinking that I wanted to make it as easy as possible for the nurses because we were now a team. They were going to help me bring our little boy into the world and getting salty with them for making me look like a drug addict wouldn't be the most positive way to start our journey together.
At about 7:00, a cervical ripener was inserted and Diogo and I naturally turned on HGTV and also streamed a legislative hearing on my iPad. I'm a lobbyist and a bill I'd been working on was receiving a hearing. Sometimes those hearings are so painful they can make someone wish labor upon them self so it made sense to watch one while my cervix went about its business.
Round about midnight, I started to feel cramps and was very excited about this. Like every other woman in the history of humankind about to deliver her first baby, these cramps were foolishly mistaken for the beginning. And yes, they were, but COME ON. They were "the beginning" of what would end up being over 24 hours of labor just as much as a pair of too-tight pants are the beginning of a speedy and successful diet. I was starting to dilate though and quickly enough that the nurses decided that the next dose of ripener should be in a tampon-like form so that it could be easily and quickly removed. And this is when shit started to get real. My water "broke" in the most lame and anti-climatic way possible. I know it's never like the movies but a trickle of fluid onto the bed is so blah. I mean how awesome would it have been to have the "clean-up in aisle nine" sort of water breaking situation? Like some poor bastard stops into my room to check my vitals or something and happens to slip and fall in the massive pool of my amniotic fluid.
So I'd always envisioned that I would labor and move my way through contractions for awhile. At least in the very beginning until the pain was too intense. Like getting to a certain mile on a run, I'd hoped to power through contractions until I was dilated to, maybe, like a six. You know, one more past halfway. And to get there, I was going to settle so deep into goddess pose during those contractions and serenely hum or say "yes" that Blooma Founder Sarah Longacre herself would have been proud. I was going to move that baby into position and then boom, order up an epidural and push out a baby. No big whoop.
And then it happened. My first contraction. Like the first all-consuming, every fiber of my being cried out in pain explosion. And it didn't stop. I went from crampy uncomfortable to pain level seven cluster contractions. As soon as one ended, a smaller one started. So as I envisioned, I channeled all of the power of the female energy and spirit throughout the world and sunk into that goddess pose. I lifted my hands above my head and bellowed "yes" with a guttural throng the likes of which can only be uttered when all that is powerful, amazing woman bears down and brings forth life.
I did everything I shouldn't have. Birth coaches, doulas, midwives, nurses, doctors, experienced mamas the world 'round would have collectively cringed. Sitting on the edge of the bed, clenching every single muscle - muscles I didn't even know I had, I found them and squeezed them really, really tight - and simply said "no". Over and over and over again. My husband immediately realized that this approach to pain management may not be the best. He tried so calmly to get me to breathe and all I said was "no" and "epidural". I also may have uttered "hate" and "you" but the pain has blurred my memory. The nurses came in, the anesthesiologist was called and a screen showed big contraction, little contraction, big contraction, little contraction. And as I continued my "no" monologue, a seasoned nurse grabbed a chair, spun it around and up against the bed and put my feet on it. Before I had any idea of what was happening, we were face to face, her forehead pressed against mine, my hands in hers and she sternly and calmly said "breathe with me... in and out... focus on me... curl your spine... don't move... breathe". And just like that the epidural was in and the pain stopped.
What people don't often talk about is that once you get an epidural, you need to be rotated once an hour to prevent pooling of the fluid in your spine which can make the numbing uneven. So every hour, two nurses would come in and flip my huge, bloated pregnant body from one side to the other. One of these pig-on-a-spit rotations wasn't as timely as the others and the next thing I knew my whole left side was numb and my right side was alive. It's cool. It evened out eventually. Oh and another thing people don't often talk about is the puking. But more importantly than the puking itself is the flailing around in the bed like a beached whale trying to sit up but you can't because of the epidural and you just know you're going to asphyxiate on vomit so you start screaming at anyone in sight "SIT ME UP!! SIT ME UP!!". So much fun, you guys.
Let's cut to the chase. Dilated, pushing begins. Amazing doctor at the foot of the bed, amazing husband on left side, amazing nurse Hannah on the right side.
"Diogo put my hair up." Tries. Fails. "Hannah put my hair up." Hannah grabs ponytail holder and while piling all of my hair on top of my head smiles and says, "Messy buns get shit done." Four and a half hours of pushing. Each push is made possible by being heaved up by Hannah and Diogo and cheers and words of encouragement. Oh and remember that whole epidural playing a starring role in delivery? Between contractions the four of us chatted like we were at a neighborhood BBQ. "You're looking to buy in Highland Park? That's a great neighborhood." "You work at the Capitol? I have some friends in government relations; do you know so and so?" "Anyone want an Altoid?"
Baby is stuck. Doctor recommends a little suction on his head action. We weigh some pros and cons and conclude with "of course." Room fills with NICU nurses and people ready to make sure our baby makes it out safely. "Hi Ann, my name is Jenny..." That's great Jenny and I appreciate you respecting me enough to introduce yourself but let's get this kid the eff out already. Vacuum in place, I close my eyes because I know I'll cry if I see him. I push once and Diogo's voice cracks as he says his head is out. Tears stream down my cheeks and I keep my eyes closed. I push one more time and he pops out and he is on my chest for a second and is then immediately whisked away for assessment given the very long time he hung out in the birth canal. I will later learn that he was gray when he came out and Diogo was really afraid. The nurses go to work on him and we wait and watch from across the room.
He is fine. He is good. He is crying. He is peeing on the nurses. He is on my chest again and yes. It is the most amazing moment of my entire life. I look at Diogo and at the baby and say, "We did it."
There are moments in life that you wish you could return to whenever you want. Literally life-changing moments and experiences. I have a fairly short, predictable list which no, does not include that time I got my kickass lady tattoo over my liver or whatever but does include: the last conversation I had with my Dad before he passed; getting to marry Diogo and our wedding celebration; and the serenely quiet moments in the delivery room with Luca after he was born. After all of the controlled - and uncontrolled - chaos; the minutes that were literally life and death; the table of tools was gone, the NICU nurses had moved on to another birth, the monitors were wheeled away and then, there were simply, three.
Luca and I lay in the bed facing each other. He was wide awake and his eyes bright and as focused as they could be on me, his former body roommate, his mom. I stared at this tiny human being with one thought "so here you are" and as I gazed, he caught his feet on my hip and propelled himself upwards in this most eerily familiar way. He had been kicking his way around my insides for so long that if my eyes had been closed I would have sworn he was still in my womb. As we stared at each other, I could see Diogo so peacefully and soundly asleep on the couch just three feet away after being my absolute, unflappable rock for so many hours. My line of vision was Luca and his Dad just past him. And this sight, of these two, was so simple and so deeply, beautifully profound.
We were soon transferred to the recovery room where some reality kicked in including the realization of the fairly horrific damage done to my undercarriage. I mean holy shit the kid was pretty big and the process was long. I often refer to his birth as "The Great Undercarriage Destruction of 2017 otherwise known as The Birth of My Son". We should have saved ourselves some money and trips to Target by putting Epsom salts and ibuprofen on the baby registry and nothing else. But it will never cease to amaze me what the female body is capable of and how quickly it heals. But I knew that - at least in part - long before the experience of birth. This just wholly reaffirmed it. It just may be time to get that tattoo touched up.
Written by Blooma Mama Ann