There is no rational reason for me to be writing this story today, two years and two and a half months after Ellerie was born. But irrationally? Oh, I've got a few reasons: the birth of our second kiddo is quickly approaching, I'm gearing up for an extended maternity leave from the blog and I want to get a few more stories told before that. And also? I just love birth stories.
The shortest ones, the longest ones ... they are always excellent. Birth is such a normal and yet extraordinary event and hearing it from so many perspectives is my favorite.
So today, 802 days later, I'm throwing mine into the ring. Spoiler alert: no gory details, the plus side of waiting two years is you forget a lot of those.
I have to provide a bit of background to give this story some context...
Paul deployed for Spain in early February 2013. I was about 22 weeks pregnant. Because he was in Spain and not an active war zone, we knew that he would have some flexibility and there was a chance he'd be able to take leave and come home around the time the baby was born. We were super excited about this option, but it was a bit difficult to "prepare" for it.
Around early May, he officially got the okay that he could take some time off and we had the tough decision of when to book (incredibly expensive) flights.
My greatest concern wasn't that the baby would come early and Paul would miss the birth. Instead it was that Paul would come home before my due date, nothing would happen for his ten days of leave and he'd fly back to Spain without ever meeting our daughter. That seemed like the lamest scenario and since there was of course a chance I'd deliver late, it was very likely we could bring him home too early.
So, to alleviate that issue, I asked my midwife (at our hospital you see a team of midwives for your pre-natal appointments and then whoever is on duty delivers your baby, usually a midwife, but occasionally an OB) to give me an "expiration date." I had gestational diabetes (controlled with diet) so I was technically considered high risk. In that situation, they tend to start talking induction at about 41 weeks. 41 weeks, June 19, became my "end date" and so we booked flights and leave for Paul based on that.
Wednesday, June 12, my EDD, came and went without any fanfare. I was probably the first mama who was excited to go past her due date. On Friday night, June 14, I picked Paul up from the San Diego airport. I was still nowhere near labor. We had moved since Paul deployed so he came home to the first time to our new house. It was awesome to have a weekend to show him around and spend some time together.
But by Monday I was ready to get the show on the road. I felt completely normal, no labor signs, no changes, no contractions. NOTHING. We called my midwife and they felt good about going for the planned induction at 41 weeks. We scheduled that for 11am on Wednesday.
note about induction : hindsight is of course 20/20 and I if I did this all over again I would have probably waited it out a bit longer to see if natural labor began on it's own regardless of what that meant for Paul's schedule. This post is not about the pros and cons of induction.
Wednesday morning I woke up, showered, straightened my hair for what would be the last time in like 18 months and we headed to the hospital. It was so stupidly normal and the exact opposite of how I imagine driving to the hospital while in labor is like. We got set up in a room and Paul got a call (from Spain) about something work related and so I twiddled my thumbs for 20 minutes alone thinking "seriously? This is my birth story?"
Induction is an interesting process. The goal is to artificially "get the ball rolling" until your body takes over and goes into labor on it's own (at least that's the ideal). There are all sorts of tricks and techniques used to do this, each with pros and cons and websites devoted to why they are evil. I highly recommend avoiding the websites and instead talking to your doctors in advance to learn about induction procedures if you should find yourself in that spot. Ideally though, you won't and you'll get to just spontaneously go into labor like women have done for millions of years.
For the early afternoon, we attempted a few of these tricks and techniques. None of them were hugely successful, but all made slight progress. I continued to feel very normal, sending out texts, talking to Paul, playing Candy Crush, eating dinner. It felt like a joke that this was actually going to result in a baby.
Later in the evening they started Pitocin and I gripped the bed, ready for the onslaught of horrific contractions I had been told Pitocin would bring. NOTHING HAPPENED. I remember sitting on the bed (reading birth stories on my iPad while Paul dozed beside me) and thinking, "I guess that sort of felt uncomfortable? Hmm, maybe I have a really high pain tolerance?"
Around 2am, I had been on Pitocin for a few hours and while I was dilated (to like a five maybe?) nothing had changed and I was NOT in anything resembling active labor. The midwife on duty suggested breaking my water. I remember saying, "or maybe we should sleep a bit?" And she was like, "are you here to sleep or are you here to have a baby?" And I remember seriously debating that question because what I was doing currently felt more like sleep than childbirth.
But we decided to have the baby.
The water breaking process was quick and painless.
And then, only then, did this show finally take itself on the road.
I learned quickly that my pain tolerance was somewhere near rock bottom level. My contractions felt relentless. Rationally, I understood that they were temporary. Rationally, I knew that this was all temporary. But also, it felt like my stomach was in a girdle and that girdle was on fire. I remember laying on the bed, sort of on my side trying to figure out how this would possibly end with not only a human child but also me still alive to enjoy said child.
Around five in the morning, after three hours of back to back contractions, I told Paul there was no way I could do this. He was encouraging (though thankfully didn't bring up how I'd spent the last nine months telling him I was going to do this naturally) but I was so tired and so scared. We "agreed" if you can call anything I was doing at that point something as civilized as "agreeing" that if I was still dilated to a seven (what I'd been at last check) I'd get an epidural. But if I was a nine, I'd push through. We didn't talk about what would happen if I was at an eight. Eight, as far as I was concerned was a no-man's land and we'd have to ro-sham-bo for it.
We asked for a check and seven it was.
"Epidural, please and thank you."
The epidural guy came in and I remember sitting on that bed trying my best to be still through the contractions. This is the moment you read about in other people's birth stories and suddenly it was my moment. To celebrate, I threw up.
But after that, I quickly felt better.
And then I remember coming alive a bit more. I was less concerned with things like staying conscious and more concerned with things like "Do you think they will give me a bite of sandwich?" For the first time in hours, I took notice of the nurses and midwives coming in and out of the room. I remember one of them asked what the baby's name was and wrote "Happy Brithday, Ellerie!" on the whiteboard. I remember thinking that felt a little pre-mature. We had a very long way to go.
By this time, I was connected to about seven monitors and totally stuck in the bed. If I had drafted an "opposite day" birth plan, I was looking at it. They kept coming in and worrying about the baby's heartbeat and somehow we realized that if I laid on my side with one knee bent up, Ellerie's heartbeat was the most stable. So I did that for about an hour. I could hear babies being born in the rooms on either side of me. One room in particular had a really loud cheering section. I wanted to switch places with these random faceless woman and skip to the part where my baby was already out.
Around noon the midwife came in, checked me and announced I was at a ten. It was pushing time. I couldn't believe it. "You're going to let me push?! Like really do something?" I asked in disbelief. The staff in the room looked at each other like "great, we've got a really smart one." but I had known my odds going into this. First births with induction and no signs of impending labor don't often result in vaginal deliveries. I was well aware that a c-section was an option and due to the fact that everything had moved so slowly, it had pretty much felt impossible that I'd make this work.
But they did! They let me push.
For two hours, I pushed. And nothing really happened. For awhile at the beginning it was exciting and Ellerie seemed to be descending but then she got stuck and I simply burned energy and nothing changed. The top of her head, which ideally would be coming straight down the birth canal was angled and so she was coming ear first. This positioning was too awkward and nothing I did was making progress.
The midwife tried to adjust her head. An OB resident tried to adjust her head. A staff OB came in and tried to adjust her head. She wasn't budging.
At this point, I remember there being seven or eight hundred people in the room. That's how it felt at least. I was laying on the bed, going on hour 30 without sleep, exhausted and frustrated and tired of being stared at by 800 people. The room was sort of quiet. One of the crowd said something about forceps. There were murmurs. Someone mentioned a vaccum. More murmurs. And finally, I said,
The room collectively sighed in relief. "I think that's our safest bet" said someone.
Quickly, the room sprang into action. There was a guy at my head, increasing the amount of pain medicine running into my back. I'm pretty sure I was signing consent forms. I remember asking the doctor if this was an emergency. "No," he assured me, "but it is urgent."
I had Paul send a text to our families that we were going into surgery. I talked to the anesthesiologist and told him I could definitely feel all my extremities and whatever he was doing wasn't working. I remember my favorite nurse squeezing my hand. I remember desperately wishing this was not my story.
I cried the whole ride to the OR. I was laying on the bed (now on wheels) and looking up at the ceiling tiles with tears running down my face into my ears. I was trying to figure out how to stay calm and knew that if I unleashed the full flood of panic I was feeling they would have no choice but to knock me out completely and then I'd miss Ellerie's first cry. I remember vividly thinking:
"Elise, you thought you'd get to be brave and deliver your girl. Now you have to be brave and let them do it for you."
I remember thinking, I would rather be anywhere, doing anything, but this. But THAT is bravery. Bravery is not wanting to do something or not being able to do something, and doing it anyway. Bravery is the absolute worst.
They got me into the OR and transferred me to another table. It took a long time for Paul to get in the room and during that time they were connecting me to even more wires. I had an oxygen mask on and the blue draped sheet was super high over my face and my claustrophobia kicked in. I could feel them pushing Ellerie back up the birth canal a bit (sad trombone music for my minor progress) and then I don't remember too much. I don't remember hearing her cry. I don't remember feeling them tugging or anything. I am very sure I was crying.
Paul went over to see her as they cleaned her up a bit and wrapped her in a blanket. I could hear her crying then. They brought her over to my head and I remember feeling such joy and relief. She looked like a newborn. She was one in million, she was mine, but she looked just like a baby.
The next hour or so was really the worst part of the whole deal. It seemed to take ages to get stitched up. Paul was gone with Ellerie and I laid on that table shaking viciously from the pain medicine and probably also the adrenaline and the shock. There were like four anesthesiologists at my head and one of them held my hand while I shook, the doctors sewed and I wondered what was happening with the baby.
Eventually, they rolled me out of that room and into another recovery room. Paul was standing there with Ellerie wrapped up like a burrito and he told me she was 21 inches long. "WHAT?" I said. "But we are so short!"
They handed her to me and Paul took this photo:
I remember looking at it and saying, "Send it out." We'd agreed ahead of time that he'd text our family and close friends a photo when the baby was born but inexplicably, I thought I would care what that photo looked like. In this photo I looked exactly how I felt - shattered. But I done it. We'd done it. She was here, and that's what mattered.
We were in that room for about an hour and I got Ellerie to do skin to skin. She "nursed" which at the time was more about connecting breast to mouth than anything else and I remember the nurse being happy that I appeared to have some milk ready to roll. I was relived that I was finally doing something right. I was completely in awe that this tiny baby was the baby I had loved for the past nine months.
27 hours. That's how long it took from hospital check in until they air-lifted Ellerie out. 27 hours that at the time felt endless and that now, with so much life and perspective, feel like a moment.
As I prepare to do it again (in whatever form that might take) I, oddly, feel more relaxed. There will be less surprises this time around. There will be different expectations this time around. More than anything else though, I get that this is a moment. A monumental, amazing, challenging, life-shattering moment, but a moment, none the less.
And in this moment, I have only one job; all I have to do is simply face it.