I found out I was pregnant immediately after returning from my honeymoon. We had spent several weeks in Bali gazing at various well-endowed fertility statues, whispering wishes for my future children into the ears of the stone figures in the Sacred Monkey Forest, and we had bought a carved palm leaf etching of Dewi Sri, a Hindu goddess of fertility, with a blessing etched into the back as a good luck charm. I didn’t know it yet, but I was already pregnant before I’d even gotten on the plane to Indonesia.
It was the day before Thanksgiving, and I snuck into the bathroom away from visiting family to take an at-home pregnancy test. “Pregnant” came across the screen in tiny black letters of this urine-soaked plastic fortune telling device. I immediately took a second test. Confirmed. My mind felt like it was spinning in a million directions and simultaneously blank. As the reality began to sink in, I was flooded with a wave of emotions crossing the entire spectrum of human experience. Elation, fear, excitement, sadness, apathy, confusion, panic, happiness, joy, excitement again, the “what the hell am I going to do now?” emotion, but the overall feeling was intense love already for this tiny pea of a human being that was beginning to form.
The following weeks brought exhaustion, endless google searches, the excitement of telling friends and family, relief over making it to the second trimester, a growing belly, the shedding of my old clothes for mom jeans with stretchy waistbands, belly photos week-by-week and baby on the brain pretty much 24-7 weighing every minute detail of imagining what my future might be like.
I had wanted a home birth with a midwife, but we were just barely scraping by financially, so I had to go with the insurance that I had. I briefly looked into getting a doula for the birth at the hospital, but I let this go too as I thought it was an extravagant expense that we couldn’t afford at the time, even though I didn’t feel completely confident in the care I would receive at the hospital. I rationalized that many women before me had gone through the exact same thing: my mother, my grandmother, Jackie O, Cleopatra, Britany Spears…although in retrospect, my mother’s and grandmother’s birth stories were truly terrifying.
My whole pregnancy went better than I could have wished or hoped for. I actually felt happier and less anxious than I ever had prior to being pregnant. I ate healthy, I went for hikes and walks regularly, I wrote love letters to my baby and spent a good deal of time daydreaming.
I woke up at 7:00am six days before my due date with some small contractions. I laid in bed for a couple of hours just enjoying the experience as my husband slept. When he awoke, we went out to breakfast for blueberry pancakes and bacon. The contractions began to get stronger, but we held hands and laughed through the contractions over breakfast.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur. I tried my hardest to rest on the couch to conserve my energy, but my mind was alert and I was excited to finally meet my little girl.
Around midnight when my husband was sleeping and I was bouncing on the yoga ball, contractions all of a sudden got very strong out of nowhere. I woke up my husband and told him I thought it was go-time, and as I crawled onto the bed on all fours, my water broke, a sudden gush of fluid down my legs. It felt very much like a balloon bursting, and that’s when contractions got really strong.
I’d had my hospital bag packed and by the door for about two months. When the time came, I ran out the door and told my husband to “Just leave the bag! Forget about it! Let’s just go!” I had foolishly imagined myself reading and playing cards in the hospital between contractions. This is laughable to me now.
Our hospital was about 25 minutes away, and we raced to the freeway, me in the backseat both bracing myself and trying to breathe. When we hit the I-80, traffic was at a standstill. It took everything I had not to have a complete freak out. Over the past 40 weeks, I had read countless birth stories online, and I was determined not to be the lady that gave birth on the Bay Bridge in gridlock traffic, but at 1:00am on July 15, 2012, it looked like I may become that woman. What were all of these people doing on the bridge in the middle of the night? I cursed Dewi Sri several times, but mainly I just tried to breathe and stay quiet and as calm as possible.
My husband projected our car up and over hills, winding through the streets of San Francisco to the hospital. It had taken a little over an hour to get there. I jumped out of the car at the emergency room and danced around in the waiting room as I was taken by contraction after contraction. They seemed to come back to back.
“We’ve got a woman that’s about to pop down here in the ER. You better hurry,” the triage nurse said into the phone to Labor and Delivery.
A nurse leisurely strolled out of the elevator and escorted me up to Labor and Delivery. She typed some stuff into a keyboard. I had to fill out some paperwork. After signing on the dotted line and initialing in a million different places, the nurse showed me to a birthing room and handed me a folded hospital gown to put on. Another nurse came in to evaluate me. I was dilated to five, but she said, “You need to stop pushing, honey, or your cervix will swell and you’ll need a C-section.” I could not control any pushing that was going on. My body was just doing its own thing. She asked if I wanted an epidural so I could relax a little bit. I gave her an emphatic “Yes.” I BEGGED for it at this point. They gave me a shot of narcotics before administering the epidural, and even though I was still experiencing some pain, I no longer cared. The epidural only worked on the right side of my body, but I was thankful to be able to feel connected to the contractions as they came.
I had been told in advance that this hospital was a “teaching hospital,” but I didn’t fully grasp the impact this would have on my labor until that day. There were so many people in and out of the room that morning. There was one nurse that made me feel calm, and whenever she was present, my labor progressed. I was attended mostly by interns who would just come in and stare at the machines. And when it came time to try to push my daughter out, they just yelled “Push, push, push” at me like cheerleaders at a football game.
I pushed for four hours straight, and two militant, jaded looking doctors who were teaching the interns came in and told me that if I did not push my baby out, they were going to have to do a C-section. I burst into tears for the first time at this point. I was so exhausted having been up for over 24-hours and that blueberry pancake had long worn off. I told them if I could just have a drink of water and a granola bar, I knew that I could keep trying to push. I wanted to let the epidural wear off so I could feel to push. They told me I couldn’t have anything to eat in case they had to do surgery. At this point, they brought out the vacuum extractor, and it felt like someone inserted a plunger into my vagina. This was more painful than anything I’d experienced yet. I was able to push her out at this point with the help of this device and my sheer terror of having to undergo surgery. She was born at 11:00am exactly.
They immediately put my baby on my chest, but they cut her cord right away despite my request to have delayed cord clamping. They said they couldn’t allow this because she needed to be evaluated by the pediatrician right away due to my having to push for so long and the use of the vacuum extractor. They cut her cord and took her away to clean her. I tried to watch as they stitched me up, but there were lots of people standing around. The pediatrician arrived, and he instructed the interns that the baby needed to bond with her mother, and they brought her back to me.
I was so in love with this little human. I kept repeating to my husband, “She is so beautiful.” She was so wrinkly and new, and when I looked into her eyes, it was like I had always known her.
I spent the rest of the day staring at her and trying to get her to take some colostrum, but she would not latch on.” I requested the assistance of a lactation consultant, and they gave me a referral. No one on staff seemed to be able to offer any assistance or support. I totally felt like a number to them.
I told my husband to go home and try to sleep so at least one of us wouldn’t be deliriously tired. I tried all night to nurse my baby. I alternated between laying her in the bassinet and holding her. I paced around the room singing “Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline, and I watched as the light changed in the room from blue to golden as dawn approached. I still hadn’t slept.
After several more hours, I was released from the hospital with my brand new baby. My husband and I struggled with figuring out how to adjust all of the straps and contraptions on the car seat in the loading lane at the hospital, our blinkers flashing, as other people bustled in and out of the building. The wind gusted between the buildings, a blustery summer day in San Francisco. The drive home was surreal. We passed through town with three of us now instead of two, past the Victorian houses and parks, up and over hills, over the bridges with our new little baby sleeping soundly in her car seat.
The weeks following my daughter’s birth are a complete haze of sleeplessness, lullabies, and gazing at my newborn girl. It was beautiful, but it was really hard. I’m not going to lie about that one. We continued to struggle profoundly with breastfeeding, and there were lots of visits to the lactation consultant. The Google Gods told me that babies delivered with assistance of a vacuum extractor can have trouble with nursing, but I’ll never really know for sure if this was the reason for our struggles. But, we stuck with it, and we eventually made it work. It took us a long time to learn, but at 18 months, we’re still nursing.
My hindsight advice for pregnant mamas: do lots of prenatal yoga and stretching, do some reading up on breastfeeding and consider having a doula attend your birth.
The constantly changing staff in the room during labor was more stressful for me than I had imagined. My husband was wonderfully supportive through everything, and it was a huge help to have him there. But I would have felt far less stressed to have a professional, friendly, constant presence in the room who was there to support me and offer suggestions for ways to deal with labor – an advocate, if you will. I would also suggest considering a post-partum doula, especially if you don’t have a lot of friends and family around you. I had family there after the birth, and I still thought that a post-partum doula would have been extremely helpful in those first weeks after birth to help quell some of the inevitable worries that arise.