My husband and I welcomed our firstborn, a boy named Rye, on the 22nd of May and with the excitement and zeal of a new mother, I wanted to offer a glimpse of our story as something real and true. I’m 26 years old, my husband is 42. My mother always said, “Never meet a guy in a bar.” And, well, that is exactly what my 21 year old self did in that last semester of college. An easy date was set for that next night after I coolly mentioned I had never before ridden a motorcycle. Almost 5 years later, one of those married, we’ve settled down in the cozy corner of LA known as Highland Park. He’s from Montana, rides motorcycles, works in the film business as a “best boy grip” (my favorite term), fixes old trucks, and cooks a mean beer can chicken. I’m an East coast transplant, waitress come printmaker who loves Sunday mornings with the New York Times, salty sandy beach adventures, and lazy days that consist of no more than watering the house plants and cooking big dinners.
My young self had always planned to have a home birth with midwives and a pool of warm water in our living room with music playing and the lights dim. When I met my husband, I always joked that he “had me at health insurance” for because of his union job he earns pretty great coverage. I quickly learned that didn’t extend to home births, and so once our honeymoon surprise became known and much discussion had, we decided to have a hospital birth. Despite seeing ‘The Business of Being Born’ and talking with many women, both from the home birth and hospital camp who relayed a sense of wariness regarding hospitals, I decided I was strong enough to stand by my decision to want to have a natural labor in a hospital. Armed with the best doctor, a man funny and insightful with the kindest of hearts and intentions, we prepared to welcome our boy sometime in the middle of June of this year, prepared for what we expected to be a late term baby.
As my last appointments became more frequent, there was concern over the growth of our boy which seemed to have plateaued and my amniotic fluids which were decreasing with each visit. On a Tuesday, eleven days before our due date, I visited the periontologist to have a specialist view our baby by sonogram. Quite quickly, I was whisked down the hall to my regular OB’s office where he and the periontologist conferred and he informed me that “if I were his sister” he would send me upstairs to the maternity ward to be induced immediately. Our baby was fine and healthy, but because of my low fluid count, he strongly felt that my best chance of having a natural labor would be to induce before our baby boy went into distress. He checked my cervix and I was already dialated 2 centimeters so he encouraged me that induction wouldn’t be as scary and traumatic as I had long built it up to be in my head.
I asked if we could take some time to digest this news and process the idea of welcoming home a baby before the week was out. I called my husband at work and told him what the doctors were strongly recommending and we agreed, after speaking with our birthing coach, to go ahead with induction that Thursday. Everything took on new meaning on the drive home. I had what I must admit was a mini-panic attack, worried suddenly about all the tasks I still had yet to complete before the baby arrived! I had told my doctor while still in his office, that of course I knew those past nine months that we would eventually welcome a baby, but to have one that week seemed so soon and so sudden. I ran home, paid bills, cleaned, did laundry, packed a hospital bag and called my closest friends. My husband dismissed himself from a job the rest of that week and we spent that next day together, lingering at the cafe, showing our dogs some extra love and going out for a hearty dinner.
Thursday morning, at 6am, we arrived at the hospital. Not in the harried, down on all fours in the parking lot fashion that I had long imagined, but in the quiet dawn of the early LA morning. I asked for the room with the best view and that is what we got with the Hollywood sign, the Griffith ParkObservatory and the golden Buddha head of the local buddhist temple in the near distance. By 7:30am, I was hooked up to a fetal monitor and an iv drip of Pitocin. My doctor came to check me and said I was 3 centimeters dilated (one more since he had last checked two days before!). He broke my water of which there was none to show, making me feel certain that our decision to induce early was for the best. I sent my husband out to pick up magazines and the newspaper because an hour in, I wasn’t feeling much in the way of contractions and expected a long day ahead. By the time he came back, I could barely concentrate on the words of the paper he’d scrounged up. My contractions were coming every few minutes and as each one rolled through my back I could do nothing more than close my eyes and imagine my boy descending and my body opening to receive him. Near the end of my pregnancy, my mother sent me a book on meditation and visualization in birth. It said to picture your baby coming down the birth canal as though through the stem of a flower opening petal by petal, and so I did, picturing the night blooming blossoms of our towering backyard cactus that only begin to open as the sun sets, bees awaiting their sweet pollen.
A little before midday, I went into the shower to let the warm water run down my back. The nurse unhooked me from the IV and didn’t reconnect the Pitocin the rest of my labor as my own contractions had taken over. At noon, my doctor came to check me, this time telling me I was at 5 centimeters. Not knowing how much more painful this would become, I expected to be laboring through the night. The pain wasn’t unbearable, just overwhelming, like being enveloped by a crashing wave and coming to the surface once it subsides slightly out of breath and weary. A dear friend was with my husband and me, there to capture photos of the the birth, but also for moral support. We all hunkered down, me not wanting to leave the giving comfort of my birthing ball as I bounced and rocked back and forth with my arms and head resting on the edge of the bed. Through each contraction, my husband would stand behind me, pressing in against my hips and lower back. No longer able to talk, I remember moaning and humming an old school song through each contraction. By 4:30 I was pretty exhausted, falling asleep for seconds at a time. I told our friend to run home to make a late lunch as she lived only blocks away, thinking I would be laboring into the night. I told my husband that I could labor on my own for a spell as he closed his eyes in the rocking chair and I let my humming and moaning (truly so primal at this point) fill the room.
Our doctor came in at 5:30 pm and afraid he would report I hadn’t progressed, I almost asked him not to check me. I climbed up onto the bed and he smiled with the news that I had reached 10 centimeters! I had been waiting to feel that urge to push, to get down on all fours and feel immense pressure to poo. As that hadn’t overcome me, I was surprised and almost confused when he suggested I try pushing through the next contraction. He called in “the baby team,” two nurses who turned out to be the most wonderfully encouraging pair replacing my lackluster nurse who had seen me through the day. I bared down through each contraction, by far the most foreign sensation yet. A mixture of fear and pain wanting to hold me back, but with the reassurance of my doctor I pushed with all my might. I knew that if I were to deliver this baby, I would have to give each push absolutely everything I had in me. Two more pushes and the doctor exclaimed he could see the head and loads of hair. He took my hand and placed it on our boys head and told me just a couple more pushes and he would out. Our boy was born, 6lbs 5oz, 18 inches long, happy and howling with all his might.
Our hospital experience definitely wasn’t the picture of light and serenity that I envision home births to be. But it also wasn’t as scary or traumatic as I imagined it might be from stories and movies. Armed with a birth plan and months of practice and education, I felt strong and ready to welcome our boy across the threshold of this world no matter the setting. He smiled for the first time this week and now makes a habit of showering us with grins in the early hours of the morning. Having walked through the proverbial fire myself, I feel stronger, more at peace in my body and it’s abilities, my mind and it’s convictions. I look at other mothers now and am in awe of each and every one.
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