2w4d - I am covered in my son. I don't mean just breastmilk-caked hair and clothes splattered in bum-ish fluids, although there is plenty of that, for sure. But as he hung out an extra nine days in my uber-comfy womb, Arlo George was born with an incredible excess of skin on all 22 inches of his 7lb, 8oz body that is slowly but steadfastly sloughing off with cuddle, each feeding, every time we swap him into another sleeping gown.
(Aside: Why is there anything BUT sleeping gowns for newborns? Did I miss some memo about how to wrestle an infant who hates to be naked into snap-close onesies or finicky zippered PJs?)
So the Mister and I at all times are covered in a thin layer of what looks like pieces of onion skin, papery wisps that flutter from our hair and clothes each time we stand. In 18 days, so much skin has already flaked off that the Arlo we met initially seems somewhat amphibious compared to the actual baby we spend our nights now, singing the entire track listing of The White Album to and for whom we detail all the things he'll see at our CSA farm this summer, all the names of all the people he'll make the acquaintance of in the coming weeks, all of the exquisitely bland and sour foods he ingested secondhand during my pregnancy.
Talking with Arlo, especially in the thick of night, feels like an excuse to ramble and opine, as if we were on a recurring nervous date. But someday I'll add his 20+ hour birth story to our roster.
Monday, May 9 (41w1d): I'm feeling dizzy with anticipation and impatience. I have scrubbed the inside and out of every window on the house, planted pansies to gaze at from each nursing perch, met more than once for "final" solo coffee dates with friends. I scowl when all of my pregnancy iPhone apps preemptively congratulate me on my new bundle. Midwife strips my membranes again and starts talking about scheduling an induction for the following Monday. I leave the office crabby and crampy and evermore anxious for these nearly two weeks of prodromal labor to turn active.
Tuesday, May 10 (41w2d): Sleep late. Long shower. Lumber to shave legs again, just in case. Decide that I will make sister-in-law a giant Mexican fiesta dinner for her birthday to take my mind off the impending potential induction and keep from scolding this baby. Halfway through making a list of guac ingredients, my cramps start feeling … bolder. Deeper, perhaps. Interesting.
3:00 pm: Grocery shopping means walking, right? I plod through the aisles and note stares from people watching me as I sway rhythmically from the taco shell shelves to the cilantro bins. I grab an extra carton of coconut water: TAKE THAT, FATE!
5:00pm: As I unpack salsas and quesos in my kitchen, it's getting a little tougher to talk through what seem more clearly to be becoming contractions. The Mister asks if it's really a good idea to start preparing such an intense meal; I wave him off, determined to not spend another evening pining for this baby to kickstart his or her arrival. I tell him I'll take a catnap before beginning to start on the quesadilla filling, and head to the couch.
Ten minutes later, a contraction sears through my belly strongly enough to send me rolling from the couch to the carpet. The Mister eyes me swaying my hips on all fours and calls his sister: The fiesta must be postponed. Stuff's happening.
6:00pm: Something about keeping close proximity to the floor is strangely soothing as my contractions pour through me. I feel grounded doing cat-cow stretches for 20, 30, 45 minutes straight. I drink as much coconut water as my bladder will allow.
7:45pm: The Mister and I decide that if tonight is the night, it's time to fuel up and hunker down: We change into jammies, devour a bag of rice cakes with peanut butter—the only food I can stomach right now—and I call Doula Extraordinaire to give her the heads-up that my contractions are a good 10ish minutes apart but only a hearty 10 seconds a piece. She tells us to call when we need her anytime throughout the night, and we head to bed.
Sleeping: Ha-ha-ha! The Mister falls out fast, and I begin to flit around all the horizontal surfaces throughout the house, trying to lay still and rest in one spot for a half hour or so as contractions wash over me. I realize I have begun to moan—moo, really—a deep, guttural growl that feels as expansive as my rushes feel constricting. I feel dizzy with excitement and nervousness: What the hell comes next?
Tuesday, May 11 (41w3d): 12:00am: Pain. Dull-then-sharp jolts of ouch sear down through my abdomen, my hips. I can feel the baby continue to wiggle regularly, and each time I do I whisper a little thank you. I heave myself into the bedroom and wake up the Mister: "We need to change things up. This is getting very, very hard."
He wakes instantly and we brush our teeth, put on fresh clothes, and pretend to start a new day, regardless that it's midnight. Maybe we get to meet our baby today! we taunt each other, now both giddy. We turn on favorite tunes, then funny tunes. We bop around the living room to They Might Be Giants. I eat some dry Oaty-O's and a banana. My contractions are 9ish minutes apart and now last a solid minute each. But no, it's not time to go in yet, reveals a call to the midwives: We should head in when they're more like 4 minutes apart.
But I have been working so hard.
1:00am My bubble popped, waters intact, and spirit lagging, the pain begins to seem insurmountable. The Mister calls Doula. She arrives seemingly in seconds just as I've found the comfiest frog-like position: Knees spread on the carpet in front of the couch, leaning over the cushions with my head and arms resting on a stack of pillows laid there. I am a mooing frog, but I am a peaceful mooing frog, sending each contraction down through the floorboards with each noisy breath. Doula enters the room, and wordlessly begins to massage my lower back with lavender oil, compressing my hips as each wave rises. She says kind, encouraging things to me (though specifically what, I now have no idea. Could've been You have nice pajamas. Your windows are so clean for all I can recall now) and we continue like that, her taking my lead as I change positions around the room, then following with a supportive kneading and affirmation.
The Mister sleeps in preparation for our Next Move, and Doula and I continue like this … for four hours. Finally, she says softly that my contractions are four minutes apart and are lasting a full minute each. They've been that way for an hour—what would I like to do?
I would like to go meet this baby, please.
5:30am: I wake the Mister. Our bags have been packed and in the car for weeks, so we speedily caravan to the hospital—me in a similar leaning-froggy posture on the front seat, facing backwards. The pain feels acute again: I may need to stop! I yell, semi-conscious of the double entendre, at my husband. He watches with wide eyes as a particularly profound contraction rattles through me and I chuck the headrest from its place on my seat into the hatchback. We make it to the hospital moments later.
6:00am: I enter the Birthing Center through a side door that I think (oh, do I hope for the sake of labor irony) was marked Deliveries, and things move quickly. We're brought to a private room and I change into my Birth Skirt, so named because I thought I might wear it for modesty under a hospital johnny. This is laughable in retrospect, as within moments I was nude-er than I'd ever been in a room of five strangers. (Undergrad included.)
A nurse—a sweet, soft soul who would be my guardian for the next two days—starts my IV of antibiotics, as weeks prior I tested positive for Group B Strep (I would ultimately have three doses by the end of the day), and the midwife checks my cervix: 8cm, 60% effaced. Hallelujah. Later, Doula tells me the Mister asked her if that was far enough that we would be able to stay at the hospital, him knowing my fear of being sent home in too-early labor. "Nono," she reassured him. "There's no going home now."
The nurse asks if there is a birth plan, and the Mister hands out copies to everyone in the room. My contractions are strong enough that I'm having trouble focusing on who's doing what in this quiet but bustling room, but seeing that green sheet of printer paper in everyone's hands gives me momentary relief. I had struggled for days with the wording at the top of the plan that hinted at our history, and am so glad to have ultimately kept it in:
Our family experienced several miscarriages preceding this birth and may feel overly anxious or concerned about the health of our baby throughout labor and delivery. We thank you in advance for being compassionate, encouraging, and warm with us and indulging any requests we may have for reassurance of the wellbeing of our baby throughout this birth.
The midwife on duty scans our bulleted wishes for the labor, delivery, and post-birth periods and glances up at me. "So," she says casually, "shall we fill the tub?"
7:30am: Thus commences a full five-plus hours of me swimming, floating, melting, escaping in the enormous birthing tub. My contractions are wicked now, but the water seems to dull the edges significantly. When I sink beneath the surface, all is quiet and private in my head: My low moans resound in my ears and I feel the baby sink lower and lower into my pelvis. Knowing how anxious we are about the baby's health, our kind nurse dopplers my belly about every 20 minutes. That thunderous tick-tock is both wholly reassuring and, at some base level, terrifying. What comes next again?, I let myself muse before sinking back into the 90-degree pool.
Memory: Nurse procures a tiny green aquarium net to fish out, um, biological material that has floated to the surface of the tub. This includes several of my painted toenails, which apparently are not constructed to withstand a full day of soaking.
Memory: A slew of especially strong contractions make me clutch at Doula as I bob to the surface of the water. Smelling of lavender, she massages my brow with cold hands, feeds me an ice chip, and murmurs something reassuring. ("Dive deep"? "Please unfurl your death grip"? I can't recall.) I smile at her, make I-would-only-do-this-with-you eyes at the Mister, and sink under again.
2:00pm: Wearing a plastic glove up to her shoulder, Midwife checks my cervix and announces I am at 10cm (with just a small cervical lip that needs to melt) and that she believes my membranes have broken. There is talk amongst my team—the Mister, Midwife, Doula, and Nurse—that perhaps I have drifted a bit deeply into Labor Land to stay in the tub as we approach the next leg of this trip: Pushing.
They implore me to begin trying to push in the water, but I have somehow lost my center during these hours of relaxing and coping. I am a jellyfish, all fluidity and no bones, and they're asking me to be a wildebeest. Ain't happening. I have no urge to push: I want only to re-submerge beneath the skuzzy water and have them continue to pile warm blankets on me.
My team coaxes me out of the tub with the promise of meeting this baby shortly, but I'm still flummoxed by this pushing idea. Push … where? How? I am sure we went over this in birth class and know that I've edited articles about the do's of pushing before, but I am coming up blank. I can feel the mood in the room shift. "I don’t think I can do this!" I announce, panicked, to my entourage, who is watching as I circle the room. I lean on various surfaces to squat in half-hearted attempts at understanding where to bear down. The Mister hugs me tightly from behind as Doula puts her face close to mine and says, lovingly and unwaveringly, "Not only can you do this, but you're the only one who can."
I am unconvinced. But to demonstrate my effort, I bear down hard from my current perch on all fours on the bed … and feel a slight pop and gush of warm water. All eyes are on the spreading puddle below me—it is grey-green, and no one speaks because no one needs to: the meconium is obvious. (Apparently, I had two bags of waters, lucky me: This aft one stayed intact after the fore bag broke in the tub.) Midwife announces there's to be a slight change of birth plan; when Tersh is born, a pediatrician will be in the room to quickly step in if he or she doesn't immediately cry. However, a couple good wails will render the baby fit to be plopped on my chest, slimy and new, as we'd requested.
I look at the Mister, who looks as momentarily terrified as I feel. Up until now, my fears about this baby's safety had become waterlogged, heavy but distant. Now fully lucid as I hear the tub draining, I shriek "I'm scared!" over and over, a chorus I'm embarrassed to be singing. "I'm so sorry," I tell my team, already poised to encourage me even harder. "I'm so, so sorry. I just don't know that I can do this." I instantly recall the operating suite from our initial hospital tour: It looms just across the hall…
The door to my room opens. A small woman enters, introduces herself as my new nurse, and announces her intention: "It's just about shift change. I'm going to help you push out this baby."
3:15pm: New Nurse has a plan for me. I am too fritzed to offer any opinions but grateful for her take-charge-ness. Within moments, she has attached a bar that looks like a track hurdle to my bed, fashioned (no joke) a rope from a bed sheet, and slung it over the bar. Petrified but exhausted and willing, I'm positioned with my feet up on the bar and shown how pulling down on the sheet-rope gives me a centralized place to push … hard. (So THAT is where one bears down to birth. Huh.)
And so I do. And I do. And I do. I holler from somewhere above my brain, high-pitched and squeal-y for the first time all day as I pull down, lift up, push out, and repeat. Down, up, out … down, up, out … and soon there is commotion at the foot of my bed. Midwife and nurse are smiling in front of me. I hear someone mutter "crowning." I see the Mister's mouth plummet with every third push, and I am distracted by that face I love staring at my raw, painful nethers with such disbelief and abandon. "I can't have you standing there!" I bark at him. (It is now one of my sole birth regrets.) He moves to the side closer to my foot, and I refocus. I am in pain, of course, but I oddly need to keep crawling toward that sensation.
Down, up, out. Down. Up. Out.
And suddenly, I cannot stop pushing, and the pushing changes. I am moving something, someone—and someone is sliding so clearly from within me. The feeling of shoulders slipping through is unmistakable, and the mass emerging from me just seems to keep emerging—and is screaming as it comes. I see a small team of people who I'd not noticed earlier slip out the door: No need for the pediatrician's crew, as this thing has lungs that sound clearly unobstructed.
4:01pm: Oh, it is a baby! In keeping with our intention, the Mister is the first to survey the baby's sex. "It's Arlo," he leans in to tell me, as the nurse quickly suctions his nose and mouth and lifts him to my belly, all wet and funky and sweet and swollen. He rests on my bare chest for a moment, his deep periwinkle eyes open and searching … for what? For me?
I cry. Arlo cries. The Mister leans his face down to us. We are kissing. Arlo whimpers, arches his strong back and begins to root. Midwife gives me four quick stitches and begins to deliver my placenta, which we're all enthralled by. "I grew that organ," I keep saying. "You grew that baby," someone says. Momentarily, I can't comprehend that.
Arlo latches to my breast on his own and (in triumph?) deposits some significant meconium on my chest. We are giddy, my team and I. It poops! He is here! He poops!
No one asks to weigh him or take his APGAR scores: No one dares separate us. We are … us. We are together. We are a we. "I cannot believe it," I keep repeating. "I just cannot believe it."
Nearly three weeks later, I still cannot believe Arlo—our baby—is finally, actually here. And I don't know that that awe will ever wear off.
I hope not.