I knew that birth was going to be a profound experience. I made a point to appreciate the power that lies within birthing your baby. Prenatal yoga at Yoga Jai Ma was crucial in helping me get into this head space. People always tell you that there is no such thing as “planning a pregnancy”. You can’t plan a pregnancy, but heres all the stuff you need and events you need to plan, and oh, by the way, it really all depends on what baby wants……..so basically, you have no idea what to register for and ultimately will have to play things by ear when baby arrives.
When it came to our birth, I just knew I wanted it to be unmedicated, and I wanted to have our son vaginally. I was very open to letting the chips fall where they needed to. If something unforeseen came up, I was open to any decision that needed to be made.
Our birth story really begins in October, when we found out I was pregnant. I immediately felt how profound this baby was going to be in my life. I was simultaneously enchanted and terrified of this little force that was residing within me. Paul and I had been reading from a Buddhist handbook every morning on our work commute, and when we found out, I told him this baby was going to be our little Bodhi.
The pregnancy was pretty normal; went to the Dr’s appointments, went to prenatal yoga, and continued doing strength work at the gym. I jokingly told Paul that I wanted to maintain my fitness so that by the time labor came along, Paulica would fly right out (I would come to eat those words). The whole pregnancy, Paulica sat super low in my belly; I never experienced the rib kicks or kidney kicks that pregnant women often talk about. Generally, his movements never hurt. The ones that he got me with often were the cervix punches, which were more of an electric shock than anything. Around the 34 or 35 week appointment, we learned that I was 80% effaced, and Paulica’s head was engaged in the pelvis; no wonder I was feeling so much activity around my cervix! This got Paul and I super excited, we knew it didn’t really mean anything, but it was nice to know that my body was at least getting prepared. I told our Dr. that we were thinking of going and getting another ultra sound done, so she put the order in and off we went. We got to see his beautiful face, but we also learned that there was concern about a big baby and gestational diabetes. Paulica was already measuring over 7 pounds at the ultrasound, and with a few more weeks of gestation left, he could end up being big. We brushed it off; ultrasounds are rarely accurate predictors of birth weight. But I couldn’t bush off the gestational diabetes; I panicked, got the Dr to order some blood tests, and went from there. Thankfully, everything came back normal ,which meant there was no medical need to induce, but a large baby was still a bit concerning.
Around this time things, started to get super uncomfortable for me. My legs and hands were swollen, yoga got uncomfortable, everything just felt physically challenging. When Paul and I got off work on 5/18, I told him I was feeling stir crazy and wanted to get together with friends or go out to dinner. I wanted to see people and be social; no one was available but Paul and I went out for a nice little dinner date together. We went to “On the Border” and kept it super simple with avocado tacos, jalapeño poppers, and pork mini tacos. At dinner, I confided in Paul that I had really been enjoying pregnancy, but this week (37th week), I just felt done. I finally was feeling like I was ready for the pregnancy to be over.
Well, I got what I hoped for. Friday morning, 5/19 around 1:00AM with the local coyotes howling (Paul: like they are now as I edit this…), I rolled over and felt a small gush come out. I woke up needing to use the restroom (as most pregnant women do in the middle of the night); initially I thought I had just wet myself; but this felt different. I told Paul I was feeling pain like menstrual cramps, so he started timing them. Sure enough, they were coming about 5 minutes apart, then they spaced out a bit to 15 mins. Paul and I got up and started to get things prepared. We didn’t have the hospital bag completely ready yet; that was actually going to be our weekend project (along with the thank you cards and a few other things). I kept on telling Paul when I was feeling the pain and he stayed VERY calm and supportive. We got everything packed and got in the car. Later he would confide in me that he was a little concerned by how quickly the labor started and how quickly the contractions got regular; he did a phenomenal job keeping his cool though, because I really had no idea.
I called my OBGYN and let her know we were on our way, I called our Doula to let her know that birth had started early and that we were headed into the hospital. We got there, and by that time I was already in a bit of a fog, I was processing things, but definitely was on the threshold of “laborland”. The nurses checked us in, collected our paperwork and got me into a room for an exam. We found out I was 4cm dilated and my water had definitely broken. For me it, was not one huge gush but quite gradual. We got put into a room and from there things get really hazy. I believe the nurse got my hep lock started, she put me on fetal monitoring, and did a few other things. She showed us how to use the shower, which is where Paul and I were when our Doula arrived. I remember feeling super annoyed by the air in the room; we couldn’t get the temperature regulated and the fan constantly blew, which really annoyed me, but I was able to put it out of my mind and focus on my breath.
The best way I can describe my “laborland” is that it felt very much like a fever dream. I was in and out. I had back labor the entire time, which felt par for my body. My menstrual cramps ALWAYS manifest as lower back pain, there was some concern about Paulica being OP or “sunny side up” but any time I tried to move and change positions it was very painful. I think that his head was already so low and so engaged that getting him to flip would have been extremely difficult. The position that I found most comfortable was either standing with Paul squeezing my hips, or laying in the bed with the peanut ball.
The incredible thing about my labor was that I could feel the chemical dance happening in my body. When a woman is in labor, her body releases oxytocin to help her deal with the pain, as the pain gets worse (as she dilates more), more oxytocin gets released and so on and so on until she is fully dilated. I could feel my contractions get more intense, the pain would be hard for a few contractions, and then it would level out for a little while. Then the pain would ramp back up etc etc.
Paul and our Doula, Shelley Rahim, were absolutely incredible. Their emotional and physical support were what got me through labor. I could not have done it without them. I feel so incredibly lucky to have Paul as my husband and life partner, I truly have found my soul mate. I felt pretty nauseous the entire time but I kept drinking electrolyte water and working through the pain. At one point, Paul fell asleep and I remember hearing him sleeping while I was resting between contractions, then I would “wake up” and start my breathing and so would he; it kind of felt like we were going through it together.
I got checked again and had hit 10cm; thank god, I was nervous about my labor stalling. They told me I could start pushing if I wanted to. We waited a bit longer for the urge to bear down to really kick in. I really struggled with the pushing part, I was tensing my whole body instead of focusing on pushing down and out. I also really struggled with the timing of my pushes, which was odd considering I did not have the epidural or other pain medication. I finally found a position I could effectively push in and began the process. I pushed and pushed and pushed; finally part of his head was coming out, and it stayed there for about 3 contractions. Finally I put my hand down and felt it; at that moment, I knew that I had to get this baby out, he couldn’t stay there any more, he needed to be born; I couldn’t go back now. I remember Paul telling me to breathe in and send all my energy down to the baby; I did, and with one huge push and an “OHMYGOD”, Paulica came out, head and shoulders all at once (he literally flew out; remember what I said about eating those words earlier???).
He got put on my belly and couldn’t go any further because he had a short umbilical cord. There I was with my wailing son on my belly, my husband by my side; it was surreal. They took him off to evaluate him and the OB began assessing me. Paulica was in fact OP and was born face up, which unfortunately meant a lot of damage for me. I remember at one point looking down at the OB and saw the very bloody thread she was using to stitch and I knew something wasn’t right. (Paul: it’s NEVER comforting to see the doctor start to look seriously worried!) She thought I had a fourth degree tear and needed to take me to the OR right away to get it repaired. Paul stayed with Paulica and accompanied him to the nursery for some skin to skin, I got some fentanyl and got whisked away. I was terrified; all I kept thinking was that I didn’t want to die. As I was being wheeled down to the OR, I remember seeing my dad waiting by the elevators, I thought about calling out to him, but I didn’t want him to worry so I stayed quiet.
We got to the OR and the OB and nurse were very supportive. The OB explained what was going on and then the anesthesiologist came over. He explained to me that he would rather give me a spinal epidural as the general anesthesia required a breathing tube. I happily agreed, the epidural was a painful experience, but once it kicked in, I felt nothing (I do still have some residual back pain at the epidural site, but that’s okay). They put the oxygen mask on me and I drifted off to sleep. I did wake up towards the end of the surgery and I remember hearing The Battle of Evermore by Led Zeppelin and I started rocking out. I asked who picked the music because I was really enjoying it, I am sure the team got a kick out of that. They finished the surgery and I got taken back up to my room. Shelley told me what was going on, Paul (who STILL had no idea how his wife was doing!!) was with the baby, but Paulica needed to go to the NICU for shallow breathing and grunting. I got taken to the postpartum rooms and continued processing everything with our doula and my parents. This part is super hazy for me and I really don’t remember much. I remember Paul coming in and asking me if I wanted to go see Paulica, I did but I really couldn’t walk and I needed more time for the epidural to wear off. Eventually I got a wheel chair and Paul took me to go see our baby. I was beside myself, there he was, his tiny hand hooked up to an IV with oxygen blowing in his tiny nose and sensors all over. Paul told me Paulica kept on trying to pull everything out, especially the oxygen and I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that after everything, all the planning and careful eating, exercising, I just couldn’t believe that we were here in the NICU. I felt completely betrayed by my body. My OB had also informed me that I had developed HELLP syndrome, which is a serious pregnancy complication. This only added to the grief I was feeling about how everything went. Thank god Paulica came early and nothing more serious had time to happen, but still, it was (and still is) all very difficult for me to wrap my head around.
I spent three days healing in the hospital, I don’t remember when I got discharged but Paulica was still in the NICU, we got a courtesy room so we could stay close, I was pumping my colostrum and taking it to him so that we could get him off the IV fluids. Eventually Paulica got discharged and we got to go home as a family. Well, things did not get better from there; in fact they got worse. Paulica had a terrible night; he was super fussy and we were not having much luck feeding, so we went to see the pediatrician. When we brought him in, they took his temperature and he was running cold and had lost weight, so back to the NICU we went for another four days. Our poor baby got another IV and got put back on all the monitors. I guess he was having apnea spells and his oxygen was desatting randomly, not something a newborn should be doing. He also was having a hard time pacing his feedings, so he would hold his breath; his face would go a bit dusky (not quite purple but almost) and then he would gasp and start feeding back up. Paul and I were completely beside ourselves; I felt like I was incapable of taking care of my child. I lost all confidence in my abilities to make decisions for my new family. I lost confidence in my ability to care for my new son. This stay in the NICU was far more informative though; we had some amazing nurses that really took time to coach us. Eventually I gained my confidence back but the emotional roller coaster had really taken its toll on the both of us.
Finally, after close to two weeks we got to go home as a family. Paul and I were completely exhausted. We have settled in to a new routine and Paulica is doing really well! He is breastfeeding like a champ and becoming more and more alert each day. I will need to process this chapter of our lives for a very long time. Life lessons are challenging and I feel myself blossoming into a completely different woman. I feel myself shifting and it feels good, I am taking control of my life and of my happiness; this is what I have always wanted. I know that Paul and I are going to have the time of our lives raising this wonderful boy. Cheers to our adventure of a lifetime!