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Hospital, Here We Come
Perpetuating my nerves, Steve was going to drop me off at the entrance with my stuff and run to park the car. Although I wasn’t in labor yet, I didn’t want to be alone for even a few minutes. Strange, because I’m normally an introvert who loves solitude. In the first of many demonstrations of how perfectly orchestrated Evan’s birth would be, my fears were relieved when I spotted our birth doula, Dawn, walking toward the car as we began to unload. Over two months (okay, now TEN as I edit this) later, all the emotions are getting more difficult to recall, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t decide whether to shed tears of joy and relief or jump up and down in excitement. My giant belly made jumping nearly impossible, so we settled for a hug and I think I tried to articulate just how happy I was to see her.
If I can pause for a moment and make one recommendation to pregnant women, it’s that your support team is everything. The plans you make for the birth of your child are 99.9% likely to be different from what you envision, but there can be a constant. A supportive partner, your Mom, your sister, your best friend, excellent midwives, a practice whose doctors you’re ALL totally comfortable with, and, my personal must-have, a (well-trained, experienced and/or familiar) doula: THESE are the people who will get you through the most intense, life changing experience you’ve ever been through, no matter what happens. Stay tuned throughout the rest of the story to find out why Steve, Dawn, and so many others were critical to a positive, if unimaginably challenging, birth experience for me.
I can’t remember the exact details or chain of events; whether I carried a bag or if others insisted on doing it for me, or who did the talking at hospital check in. I do remember that it was about dusk on that Monday night (March 27) when we made our way in to Danbury hospital, past the security desk, and up to the “family birth center”—one last reminder that I was not to give birth in an actual birth center (apparently hospitals are allowed to slap whatever label they choose on their maternity ward). We had to get past a few reception areas once in maternity, and I was thankful that we took that hospital tour months ago, the one I was sure would be irrelevant, but that I admitted at the time eased my nerves surrounding a hospital birth significantly. The hospital tour convinced me that it wouldn’t be SO bad, and I was about to find out that was precisely the case.
My nerves were uncontrollable as we made our way to our delivery room, but I felt protected with Steve and Dawn at either side of me. We made nervous, almost nonsensical small talk about hospital footwear and World Doula Week, and I disregarded the hospital gown I was instructed to change into, getting comfortable in a cute sleep nursing bra, a black maternity nightgown I had been waiting to wear, my favorite gray sweatpants, and cozy slippers. Amidst getting poked and prodded for some routine labs and what would be my IV of fluids and Pitocin, and answering an endless slew of questions (What’s my plan for pain management? A little cursing and my natural ability as a woman to go through childbirth), our midwife Lindsey and student midwife Arielle came in to oversee things getting started. Their familiar presence calmed me even more: these competent, level-headed midwives who had overseen my entire pregnancy, the ones who, above all, trusted in the process of childbirth, would be here to make sure this baby was delivered as naturally as possible.
Finally, the moment arrived for my very first internal check of my entire pregnancy. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything miraculous, and, indeed, nothing was. I was dilated to one centimeter. However, I WAS 75% effaced and the baby was at zero station. In simple terms, the station of the baby indicates how high or low they are sitting. Negative number stations mean the baby is still pretty high up, probably not ready for pushing. Pushing ideally begins when the baby is at a positive number station (or maybe they have to be there—I’m not an expert!). Dawn encouraged me that many women work and labor for hours on end JUST to get to zero station, and that that was something to celebrate. It sounded great to me, but later on I would basically be cursing Evan’s low position (keep reading). Anyway, I agreed to have Lindsey strip my membranes, which was no more uncomfortable than an annual gynecological exam (although my doula applauded my calm, explaining that it makes some women extremely squirmy). We hoped that would encourage contractions and dilation with, from my understanding, the minimal dosage of Pitocin.
At some magical moment, the IV was turned on and I started to receive a small dosage of Pitocin, along with fluids. Two monitors, one for Evan’s heart rate and one for uterine activity (i.e., contractions) were strapped around my belly. Although these were the interventions I was dreading most (and the only part I really disliked about birthing in the hospital), once they began, a huge burden was lifted. So many of the nerves vanished: it was happening. This is how our baby was coming into the world, it was the best possible scenario given everything that had happened thus far, and it was underway. We WERE going to meet our baby in the foreseeable future. I can look back on the birth fairly level-headed at this point, but typing that brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.
Everyone around me urged me to rest. To take a Benadryll and get some shut eye as the Pitocin began to do its work. Were THEY on drugs??? I’m being pumped full of a labor inducing drug, my baby would likely be born within 24 hours, and I was supposed to get some sleep? Ha. I refused any sleep aids, but I did try to lay back and rest for the next few hours, with only a little success. The nurses came to check my blood pressure and temperature every couple hours, but I was only sleeping 15 minutes at a time anyway, so I didn’t feel like it was disruptive. Steve was resting, Dawn was in the family lounge resting, the midwives were in their call room resting, and the nurses were busy with other things, or at least as much as they could be on what seemed to be a relatively quiet Monday overnight shift. In summary, everyone was resting but me. Even Evan was getting some rest, I think.
I wasn’t scared. Maybe it was all the classes and reading I had done, but I knew that even with a “whiff” of Pitocin, as the midwives later called it, my body was capable of—made for, in fact—labor and birth. I was just restless, curious, waiting to find out what in the WORLD a real contraction feels like. The thing, the big mystery of pregnancy, that no labor class or book can accurately explain until you feel it for yourself.
But boy, was I about to find out! Around 2 AM, I was feeling contractions enough to know that rest was no longer an option. I don’t think it was pain, yet, exactly. Despite how intense labor became for me, I remember the start as rather gentle. First, it roused me from the bed. Then, as I stood at the foot of the bed, it required me to breathe deeply and circle my hips as I really felt something. Steve was awake, reassuring me, although I didn’t need much support at this point. He did what was probably best—timed contractions and observed the outward expression I was giving to them. I don’t know for sure, but I think Dawn came in to see how things were progressing, because I remember her encouraging me that I was handling the contractions gracefully, which brought a smile to my face. Again, not sure, but I think she went back to get a little more rest.
The blood pressure and temperature checks continued, along with visits from the midwives which I don’t really remember. Steve said they were the ones who determined that I had leveled off at a given dosage, and instructed the nurse to increase it slightly. After one such increase (the last? To 6 something, I’m not even going to guess at the unit), I suddenly dropped to the cold hospital room floor on hands and knees to manage through these newly intense contractions without losing it. And with that, it was more than clear that we needed Dawn to come and stay. I remember her walking in and exclaiming, “Well this is a change…” Indeed!
There are some random details that could easily get lost, but I have to note them so as not to forget. Somewhere along the line, I knew I needed to get my contacts out. I remember there being not too long between contractions at that point, so we kind of made a run for it in between contractions, maybe even needing a couple to get the case ready, find my glasses, and get my lenses out. Moving around was possible but not unrestricted. It was a delicate process of properly unplugging the monitors and not letting the IV pole lag too far behind me, one of which I usually forgot. Steve was the mobility chief, making sure to get things untangled and plugged back in to avoid an onslaught of nurses rushing into the room when my monitors went offline for too long. Lord knows that my CTO husband cannot handle tangled cords.
As planned, I “snuck” food during labor. When it was just Steve and I, early in labor, I ate an entire banana, along with a good handful of saltine crackers. I also had to have one of my homemade chocolate chip cookies, but it was poorly timed. One bite into that cookie and I was dry heaving into a paper bag during the aforementioned kneeling on the floor. I guess we were past the point of snacking. Throughout labor, though, Recharge, a natural alternative to Gatorade, kept me fueled. I wasn’t sure if it fell under the hospital’s list of approved liquids, so I sipped it from an opaque Starbucks cold cup. Steve and Dawn were constantly refilling me, and I made it through most of the four quarts I packed. As things intensified and thirst became a secondary concern, Steve would routinely present the straw inches from my lips and instruct me to drink. Aside from the cookie episode, I thankfully never threw up (or even got close), during labor. I feel like the Recharge and IV fluids were enough to keep my energy up, although if labor had continued much longer I’m not sure how I would have fared in that respect.
Early in pregnancy, I had grand visions of preparing various labor aids. All the birth stories I listened to, I felt like the woman had a whole elaborate visualization for her husband to use during contractions, or the perfect music, or lots of practice with hypnobirthing methods, or cute little signs and lights to hang all over her birth environment to remind her of her coping strategy. However, the further into pregnancy I got, the more I felt like all that was probably a waste of time, especially on my first child, when I really couldn’t predict what I would need. My doula WAS my plan for coping. Aside from Dawn, I prepared a playlist of low key music (country, worship, light rock), I knew I might want to see some pictures of the pugs, and I had my blanket that I’ve been toting around since childhood, the smell of which was sure to be comforting.
Here’s how it actually went down with pain management. Dawn was indispensable. Throughout everything I’m describing in this story, she knew exactly what to say and do at every moment. I’ll never forget the language she used when contractions really kicked into high gear: “Stay with us Tessa; don’t get lost in the contraction.” It was the perfect instruction, reminding me not to zone out and succumb to the pain, but to find that focal point (usually the generic abstract “art” on the hospital room walls) and breathe as best as I could. She held my hand, held my gaze when I needed it, offered instruction on positioning, ran with the things I was saying (usually not too eloquent), helped me in and out of the tub, led Steve by example, and was selflessly there for me every moment. I don’t think she even went to the bathroom, and if so I didn’t notice.
I did want to see pictures of the pugs at one point, but I couldn’t focus long enough for them to do much good. Steve turned on my playlist at some point and I shut him down instantly—silence was golden for me. I did request my gross blanket, and I breathed it in as I knelt by the end of the bed through contractions. I had no cute twinkly lights (and if I had there would have been zero time to hang them), but we kept the lights dim except for the bathroom, which was on.
Eventually things got to the point where I started expressing disbelief in my ability to get Evan out. My language had started with “I can do this.” It wasn’t something I planned in advance, but I had to reassure myself out loud, over and over, that this is what I wanted and was capable of. I think it was around the time I started doubting and shedding some tears between contractions, that we collectively decided to run a bath in the tub in my labor room (one great aspect of our hospital).
I was helped in (I can’t remember by whom) around 5:30 AM, and I struggled to specify a comfortable temperature. It was always either too hot or too cold. We had loosely decided that we would try to “save” the tub for when things got really intense and nothing else was helping, and that’s how it happened. Even in the tub, though, I could not get comfortable. At this point we had strapped up my belly with the wireless monitors, but they still felt just as intrusive to me as the ones anchored to a machine. As I tried to find a bearable position, I somewhat rudely requested that the nurse holding the monitors in place, Megan, just wait a second. As politely as possible, she apologized that she could not, in fact, wait. Under the circumstances (induction), the hospital required constant monitoring. Megan was actually quite heroic throughout my couple hours in the tub—she was basically half submerged herself, leaning over the edge attempting to follow my floundering self with the monitors.
Contractions continued to escalate, and I think I was around 5 or 6 centimeters when I got into the tub. It was there that I first understood what all those birth stories meant by “pushing sounds”. Mr. (well, now we know it was “Mr.”) Evan was sitting so dang low that the extreme pressure caused me to start “bearing down” (i.e., pushing) in the tub. THAT is a pretty major problem, because trying to push before being 10 centimeters dilated can lead to, as I found out, internal tearing of the cervix. When Lindsey explained that, it thoroughly scared me, and from that point on I did all that I could, which sometimes wasn’t much, to breathe through the contraction, letting it do its work, without any effort to push. There were a million thoughts running through my head, but because of the pain I was in and the hard work I was doing, I don’t think I verbalized any of them: If I kept trying to push, would I have to have a C-section? How can I not push? Maybe I want a C-section. Is it too late for an epidural? Somehow I reminded myself (with lots of external help) that my goal was a vaginal birth without pain medication, and I just kept at it.
Back on Land
At some point, my positioning or temperature or general inability to cope indicated that it was time to try something new. So out of the tub I came! Contractions continued to get more intense, and in hindsight, I think about our birth education and wonder, “What is this rest between contractions that everyone talks about?!” They were coming long and hard with no clearly defined breaks in between. I was approaching my breaking point. Confident exclamations of “I can do this” gave way to whimpers of “I don’t know if I can do this.” I didn’t have the words to ask if I was in transition, but I now know that’s exactly what was happening. I was colder than getting out of the tub should have made me, and I spent some time wrapped in a blanket and leaning on Steve. He was still rocking his role as supporter, as was Dawn, even though we had been up all night and were approaching the early morning hours. My time after getting out of the tub and before pushing began is a huge blur. I’m pretty sure we were trying everything to keep me comfortable, to not much avail. Neither the toilet nor shower, normally sure fire options for laboring women, worked for long. I was so exhausted that I was practically delirious, and any movement or holding a position supporting my own weight took everything in me.
The midwives checked my dilation periodically. I remember it becoming an increasingly annoying sensation the further dilated I became, but, like many things, I didn’t have the words to voice that thought (not that it would have changed anything). I held out hope that I would dilate quickly. Looking back, my labor was fairly quick, especially for a first time Mom, but it felt long at the time. In a way, I was able to stay in the moment: I didn’t fear the next contraction, as some birth books explained can be problematic, because I was so consumed with the sensations happening in the moment. There wasn’t even room in my thoughts to remind myself that there was a baby at the end of all this. It was simply all I could do to hold tight to my goal of a vaginal birth free of pain medication. However, I DID feel like I had been at it for absolutely ever. So, when Lindsey FINALLY exclaimed, rather nonchalantly, around 7 AM, that I could start pushing, I was almost in disbelief. This is no time for joking! When I found out she was serious, I felt elated. Although I had never pushed a baby out before, I began enthusiastically just in case I dreamt my progress and it would slip away.
Perhaps because of the Pitocin and the speed with which things were moving, I didn’t find pushing to be as instinctual as all the natural birth stories made it out to be. Contractions are instinctual: you’re faced with them head on and have no choice but to deal with them in some way. Prior to Evan’s birth, I had always envisioned myself delivering on all fours, but the truth was, I had no idea which position sounded appealing or natural. NOTHING sounded right—I was in extreme pain, baby was on the cusp of being born, and I just wanted someone to tell me what to do. Luckily, my aforementioned stellar team was there to all work together and help me try things until we figured out what would work.
Like I said, we found out early that the toilet and shower were out. Aside from the positions not feeling right, it was too bright in the bathroom, and perhaps too close to the hallway. I guess it’s somewhat common, but Evan was getting hung up (i.e., stuck) behind my pubic bone. That made standing and all fours not the best options for pushing, for reasons I can’t remember. It was kind of funny, because I think when Lindsey asked me what I wanted to try and I suggested standing she was basically like, “well, how about ANY other position”. As surprising as it is to me now, we made our way back to the bed. I remember working on all fours on the bed for a while. It was okay—Dawn was really helpful during that time. I was locked on her, and she helped to get me through pushes with instruction and encouragement. After a while, though, I remember being so exhausted that it just became too much weight on my joints to sustain. I needed a more physically supportive position.
The overhead bar was attached to the bed, and I worked in a squat for a while, but it quickly became uncomfortable, too. Then someone had the genius idea to try tug-of-war. Oh yeah, let’s break out the picnic games during delivery! For those unfamiliar, I moved (or was moved) to my back. During contractions, I pulled on a sheet tied off to the labor bar, which helped to get me using the right muscles and to get into the right position. I pulled with everything I had (not much, at this point, but I found reserves I didn’t know I had), and it’s a miracle that bar didn’t pop right off the bed. As we got closer to crowning and delivery, the bar was removed and a rotation of ultra-strong individuals had the job of holding the end of the sheet.
Finally, it seemed like Evan and I were making progress, and crowning was near. Pushing is pretty crazy. Steve said I was so exhausted that I was basically passing out for the minute or so between pushes. I had nothing left, and yet we were so close to meeting our baby. My emotions began to shift as I finally did envision the baby I was about to meet. The only thing that enabled me to press forward was by telling myself with every push that this was it; he would crown on this push, even though I had to tell myself this many times before it came true.
The Dream Team
During every push, I would pick out different things I was hearing around me and grab hold of that instruction or encouragement. It wasn’t one specific person or thing that got me through. By now, I was surrounded by Steve, Dawn (doula), Nancy (nurse), Lindsey (midwife, who went off shift 30 minutes before Evan was born), Kiersten (midwife, who came on 30 minutes before Evan was born), and Arielle (student midwife, an absolute angel who stayed on past the end of her shift to catch my baby!).
Dawn was key in giving me specific adjustments to make during every push so I was more efficient and effective, but she knew to only offer a little bit of instruction during a single contraction. When she noticed I was pushing hard with my legs against her, she reminded me to push with my body instead. She helped me, amidst all the chaos, to quickly grasp the shape of curling my body around my tailbone while grabbing my own legs. And when Evan got close, she slipped into the background, grabbed the camera, and made sure we had the important moments on film, for which I’ll be forever grateful (I loved the pictures so much that I may hire an actual birth photographer on baby number two).
Nancy is a more experienced nurse (i.e., not fresh out of school) and I’m guessing she’s been through childbirth once or twice. During pushes, she would say assertively but calmly “harder…” over and over. This is something I thought I would DESPISE during pushing, but the way she did it wasn’t rushing me to push when the urge wasn’t there, it was to keep me pushing through a contraction as my energy began to fade, reminding and helping me to find strength and breath I didn’t know I had. She was crucial to reducing the time I spent pushing, I’m certain, and when she stopped in to say bye to us before discharge I nearly shed tears as we hugged goodbye. She played the role I think my mom would have if she was there (she might be next time).
The lead midwife didn’t say as much, but they (Lindsey and Kiersten) were there to oversee everything and carefully monitor my progress. Lindsey got us through my entire labor and helped save me from an internal tear when things got intense, if nothing else, by scaring me with the facts when I began pushing way too early. She was also the deliverer of the wonderful news that it was time to push. Kiersten acclimated in record time after being thrown into pushing that was well underway. Without her encouragement, I might not have gotten to touch my baby’s head as he was crowning (cue the tears). She kept asking if I wanted to touch or see the head, and for some reason I can’t fathom (perhaps I just didn’t have energy to spare to reach my arm down) I resisted both. However, once I finally agreed, Evan’s soft, warm baby head beneath my fingertips kept me going until he was delivered. She made sure to give me that first skin-to-skin moment with Evan, even as she had to make the decision to summon the NICU team when she observed the coloring of Evan’s head was a little too blue.
Although I was skeptical about a student midwife attending my birth, I’m eternally grateful to Arielle for so many things. She was there from that first NST after my water broke, didn’t leave until she had stitched up my tear herself, and, most importantly, she caught my firstborn (we had considered Steve catching, but given the circumstances, that’s not how it played out). She was rooting and hoping for me to go into labor after my water broke and help to keep our spirits up that it could still happen, even as the hours passed. Replaying the events in my mind, I actually don’t remember that many specific things she said or did, but she truly possesses that special angelic presence. Her demeanor gave me absolute confidence that things were always going according to plan and that I was doing amazing. We found out that she stayed on past her shift for the birth of the twins down the hall, that continued well after my delivery—another example of her loyalty to the birthing mama. I was so grateful for her constant presence and that she stayed for Evan’s birth when she could have called it a day. It’s clear she’s one strong mama herself and that she’s going to make an amazing midwife, wherever she went after finishing her time at the birth center.
Which brings me to Steve. What do I say about the man who I love and who got me into this adventure? He was strong in so many ways through my whole pregnancy and the birth of our son. I’ll never forget the look on his face, the excitement in his eyes, when, after a night of watching and serving me during the most intense experience of my life (not to mention not sleeping a wink), Evan approached crowning and began to show his tiny (um, or not so tiny) head. The anticipation radiated from Steve. A sleepless night completely washed away as he anxiously awaited the birth of his first child. If it wasn’t for that energy, I’m certain that pushing would have continued for hours longer, and that I might not have had the energy for a vaginal delivery. There was a sense that I was doing this not just for me, not just for the baby, but for the whole family. We started this together and, although he didn’t physically feel my pain, we finished it as one. Our wedding was lovely and beautiful, but THIS was the essence of marriage to me. And in a true miracle, I made it through writing that paragraph without crying.
It’s A Boy!
With everyone’s help, we made it to crowning. Evan was finally showing his head. The pain didn’t matter anymore. Pushing wasn’t quick, but luckily my boy’s large noggin slowed me down enough that I didn’t tear as badly as I could have (it was a second degree tear), and finally, after about an hour and forty minutes of pushing, his head was out! I couldn’t believe it. Birthing a baby is basically just a matter of birthing a head, because after that the adrenaline takes over, and if their presentation is normal, as Evan’s was, it’s quick from there. His shoulders did not rival his head size, so the worst of the pain was behind me as his body seemed to slide out. Can I say that again? His body slid out!? I just birthed a baby human!!! What a miracle.
The stats: Baby Evan made his appearance on March 28, 2017, a few minutes after 9 AM, weighing 7 pounds 14 ounces, about 21 inches long, with a big ol’ 14 ¼ inch head circumference.
And then came the moment I’d been dreaming about nonstop for the past 39 or so weeks: the gender announcement! I had felt for a while like it simply had to be a girl. Girls were all I knew. Aside from a babysitting gig here and there, I knew NOTHING about baby boys. Not their clothes, their toys, their temperaments; basically only that you have to be more careful when changing their diapers. The moments after Evan’s arrival were a little chaotic as the NICU team descended, but Steve finally got that look after a nurse had cleared out of the way and proudly announced that we had a son. Now THAT brings tears to my eyes as I write it. I know my own father wouldn’t trade in his girls (especially me, his firstborn, hehe) for a boy in a million years, and I don’t know how to say this without it sounding wrong or sexist, but I was and am so proud to give Steve a boy. It’s like my selfish desires for bows and fluffy tutus and slumber parties all faded in an instant as I pictured Steve and Evan out in the yard playing catch, doing yard work together, or hey, probably peeing on the nearest discrete tree. Almost a year down the road, I must admit I’d be perfectly content to have a house full of boys with not a fluffy tutu in sight.
After some further reflection, I also know that God planned a boy for me for a reason. My mom and I would agree that we had our rough moments throughout adolescence and even into my college years. Now I so clearly see that if I had a firstborn girl, I would have carried that history with me into our relationship. True, I probably would have used lessons from my past to try to avoid repeating history, but a fresh start with a boy was definitely the best thing for my first child.
See You Soon
Having a NICU team on hand when your baby is born can be a frightening experience, but I had an unlikely sense of peace in the minutes and hours following Evan’s birth. Our midwives used all their sway to get us those precious first moments of skin-to-skin with this baby. A minute or so (if that) wasn’t nearly enough time, but it was better than nothing and Steve leaned in close as we soaked up every minute, every touch, every smell of this first moment as a family.
Despite my stand against hospitals throughout pregnancy, they exist for such times as this. I knew Evan’s life was never at stake, but he wasn’t exactly vibrant, so he was moved to the warmer in the room while the NICU team helped him get a little more excited about being out of the womb. I don’t blame myself for waiting 48 hours after my water broke to induce—the thought barely crossed my mind, but it occurred to me just now that some might wonder that. I would actually repeat every detail of the birth just as it was, because I have a profound sense that that was the plan all along.
Although I knew Evan was getting necessary care, I did feel the unnatural separation already. Either Dawn or the midwives told us, in all our joy and uncertainty, that we could talk to the baby from where we were: me getting stitched up in bed, Steve standing anxiously just outside the circle of NICU staff. I grabbed ahold of that suggestion, and we greeted our baby and assured him over and over that we were still right there and that we would get to hold him soon.
Sooner than we thought, it turns out, because Daddy pushed for just a little more skin-to-skin for Mama and baby before Evan went on his journey to the NICU. I had no idea at the time that I almost didn’t get that additional time and am so thankful for a few extra moments to study and hold our baby. I know that I still hadn’t made a full connection with him, but it really did not get to me like it could have, given that I wanted a birth center birth without medical interventions. Part of it was my sheer exhaustion, but I know that all the prayers led to this, and it was unfolding just as it should. I had everything I needed in my birth experience—details that got me through when it would otherwise have been tough, and that I couldn’t have scripted better myself. So, as I watched my boys leave together for the NICU, my world could not have been more perfect or complete.
The End of The Beginning
Most birth stories end with the birth of the baby, but Evan’s start to life was slightly more…exciting…than expected, so I have to note a few more details. Despite my less than glamorous circumstances, I was on cloud nine, basking in the glory of what I had just achieved: birthing my firstborn without any interventions for pain, and on Pitocin, no less. It’s funny, though, that after all I endured physically, I was wincing as the midwives stitched me up down there. Dawn pointed out that most women still have a little numbness leftover from the epidural to make this part bearable, and I more than welcomed my first pain medication of the event: a few shots to numb things so I wouldn’t have to deal with the weird and awful sensation of stitches in the worst possible place.
I was famished and willing to inhale any food in sight, meat or otherwise. Dawn magically produced a packet of trail mix, and I was so warm I remember the chocolate melting all over my hands as I tried to eat it—weird details. I think it was super annoying, though, since I was already about as grimy and covered in body fluids as it gets. She grabbed me a turkey sandwich from the hallway, and I discovered the bane of hospital food: any seasoning or sauce must be specially requested. But, that bone dry turkey sandwich was the equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner to me at that point. Before the food I did order arrived, we were “encouraged” to make the move to my post-partum room, as L and D was getting busy! Just standing up and waltzing down the hall was out, though, as I hadn’t even tried to stand up yet. Dawn to the rescue…again. She somehow managed to help me to the bathroom (for the first time since labor and birth—something not to be attempted alone unless you are well experienced), gather our belongings and bags which were strewn about in an explosion, and wheel me down to our post-partum room, where I’m pretty sure I promptly crashed into unconsciousness as she got organized.
My heroic efforts were over, but Steve’s were just ramping up. He and Evan, along with the full NICU team that had been at Evan’s birth, quickly made their way down one floor to the NICU. I’d like Steve to write something about his memory of how it went (and will add it to the story when he does), because I know I can’t do justice to the emotions he experienced as he watched a team descend on our fragile, newly born baby boy. The health of the most precious thing in the world to him was, literally, out of his hands, and it was no easy thing for him to stand by and watch. It’s a sight I know he’ll never forget, and not necessarily in the best way, as I can only imagine the scenarios running through his head of how this could go. We didn’t have each other to physically lean on during the most trying moment of our life together thus far, but he was a rock for both me and Evan despite feeling helpless at that moment in time. It was a theme he carried through into the chaotic newborn household, and no matter what went on, he didn’t waver. Dogs pooping and puking in the house on our first day home, baby crying inconsolably, wife crying at 3 AM, baby poop explosions, no dinner in sight, endless doctors’ appointments in the early days—he had it all covered, even when I’m sure he’s the one who wanted to just lie down and even have a little cry.
As far as NICU babies go, we were very lucky. Evan’s stay totaled a mere 32 hours, and he never required antibiotics or a feeding tube. At about 3 PM on March 28, six hours after Evan made his arrival, I was reunited with my baby boy. Seeing him in that plexiglass case, covered in monitors (almost exactly as I had been as a baby in very similar circumstances), with barely any of his beautiful face exposed was not ideal. I cried tears of happiness and…something else. Sadness isn’t the right word. Not even fear, really. Separation, longing, maybe. To hold my little baby again and give him his first feeding, as was only natural. And those first tears of helplessness and mom-guilt, that I couldn’t free him from these wires, from the fact that he was spending his first hours of life in a case attached to probes and tubes, instead of on my chest, skin-to-skin with his mama.
But again, we were lucky. I began manually expressing colostrum, and Steve offered Evan his first taste of the good stuff via finger and syringe. Some might say that Mom should have been the one to feed him first, to set us up for breastfeeding success (which I’d say we’ve achieved with flying colors), but I know we made the right decision. For as little as I got to bond with Evan at his birth, his Daddy didn’t even get to hold him, and I wanted to give them this special moment together. I knew, deep down, that we would be fine breastfeeding, so it was really moving for Steve to give him his first food, knowing I would more than take over very soon.
As the hours passed, attachments and monitors came off a little at a time. We changed our first meconium diaper together. We finally, after what seemed like an eternity, held his warm little body in our arms. I could barely contain myself when one of the nurses told us it was a good time to try offering him food from the breast. He was definitely hungry, and it went neither terribly nor amazing. In hindsight, I’m sure the latch was awful, but the lactation consultants helped set us off on the right foot over the next couple days (and feeding couldn’t be going better now).
Grandpa and Grandma Schatteman came to visit while Evan was still in the NICU, then got back to their puppy duties. We were caught off guard when a nurse told us that we might be able to bring baby Evan up to our room later that night (it was the day after his birth). It seemed unreal, although it had only been about 24 hours.
So now I think I can safely close the story of Evan’s birth, because from that point on, it got real. And fast. We started setting alarms for feeding that last night in the hospital. We took turns eating dinner, once we finally got around to ordering at 10 PM. We counted wet diapers and analyzed poop like professionals. We said goodbye to the nurses and midwives who cared for us so well. We dressed Evan in his first clothes—that white quilted footie that I had had picked out for months, and we were surprised when his eight pound self was too tiny for the zero to three month size (good thing I bought the newborn one, just in case!). We fumbled through strapping him into the car seat for the first time. We took pictures as we left the hospital, and they just LET US LEAVE! With a brand new baby! I know that’s how it’s meant to be, that’s how we had wanted it all along, but it did feel almost like we had been abandoned after four days of very attentive care.
We went into Evan’s birth thinking and hoping it would look a certain way, even if we were open to slight variations. But here we were emerging, embarking on this journey as a totally new family, after an adventure that rivaled our best expectations. We talked endlessly about Evan’s birth for weeks to come, and even now we revisit it on occasion. When others ask how it went and I don’t have long, I tell them I would give anything to go back and do it again–the exact same way. Our lives these days are filled with joy, but also routine, and birth is a wilder ride than I’ll probably experience for years to come. So until next time, I’ll return to Evan’s birth story often with much thanks for the family it made us!
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