So. Where do I begin? At the beginning: I got pregnant, and then I went into labor and had a baby. And he was sick for a while, but then he got better and grew and now it’s 12 months later and we’re here, with toddlerhood imminent. So now I reminisce, because I don’t think I’ve ever written anything like this before. Tomorrow it’s about Ambrose, but today it’s about me, and how I became a mom.
Warning: this post is very long and slightly TMI, but it’s labor, after all. So, here goes.
Pregnancy was great to me, until my due date hit. Then I turned into a weepy mess because WHY WAS I STILL PREGNANT? Every day was a struggle. I knew I was supposed to be cherishing my final days of sleeping in and having nary a care in the world, but I really just wanted to meet Ambrose and also be able to move without everything hurting.
I had a few false starts, but finally things began grinding into motion exactly one year ago today. That morning I went to church, and during the service started experiencing…contractions? Fairly regular Braxton Hicks? I wasn’t entirely sure, but I did know it was going to be my last Sunday for a while, because there was no way the baby was still going to be in there a week later. I was already scheduled for a non-stress test the next day to make sure everything was okay with Ambrose. 10 days overdue is pushing it, after all.
In any case, the contractions weren’t enough to bug me, so I went about my day, even managing to get a good nap in that afternoon. That night I ate a bowl of my mother-in-law’s delicious beef stew, watched Sherlock, and went to bed. A few hours later I woke up from bad dreams re: Sherlock (dude, that last season was scary right?) and in so much pain. I was having real, actual contractions. There was no way I was going back to sleep.
But I wanted to see how long I could deal on my own, so I let Jarrod sleep and made a groaning cake at 2 a.m. A small tip: when experiencing frequent, irregular contractions (labor didn’t start “normally” for me) it is not a wonderful idea to bake a cake that requires three bowls and the grating of multiple fruits and vegetables. I kept having to take breaks to pace around the table with my eyes closed. Eventually it got to be too much, and I woke up Jarrod and retrieved my mom from my in-laws’ upstairs apartment. It was game on. One of the last things I remember before time starts to blur together is getting a text from trackyourhappiness.org kicking off my bi-yearly happiness survey. Yes, I was happy…but I was also in a whole bunch of pain.
Now what’s left in my memory is snapshots. We turned around the couch and Jarrod threw blankets on it, but I wasn’t comfortable staying still during contractions. I hated the birth ball. I really, really wanted to get in the birth tub, but deferred to my mom on the decision. Finally she let me in and the warm water was the best feeling ever. I was in the tub and felt a strange sensation of fluid rushing between my legs and asked how I’d know if my water had broken. It had — and there was meconium. But meconium was okay. It was going to be fine.
Then things kicked up a notch. We made my midwife Marvelys come because my contractions were so irregular we weren’t sure how long it was going to be, and we didn’t want her to have to deal with morning traffic. At some point I moved to the toilet, and she and her birth assistant Danielle massaged me with oils and used cups on my back. Later on she massaged my scalp and braided my hair while I was in the tub.
They thought I was ready to push, but I wasn’t feeling it, so Marvelys did a check and I still had a bit to go. A little later, I guess, they realized that Ambrose had to turn, so they made a pillow nest on the guest bed and made me lay on it for several contractions. Between contractions Jarrod fed me bites of bagel, and I chewed and chewed knowing I had to keep my energy up but hating every bite. Later, everyone ordered smoothies from the shop on the ground floor and I stole most of my mom’s because it was the only one I would tolerate. Another time attempt at getting Ambrose into position had me with my leg on the couch and holding onto Judith, the nurse who taught our birthing class. Eventually I had to lay on the floor and something in that position did it: Ambrose turned and at the top of the contraction was the incredible urge to push.
Pushing was the worst. I want to say I pushed for three hours, but of course my perception of time isn’t the most accurate. I just know that it was hard not to scream at the top of my lungs during each contraction. I screamed so much that I was hoarse for a few days afterward. I felt bad for my neighbors, but then we cleared out of there for three weeks so that surely makes up for it.
In any case, there was meconium, and Ambrose was also sort of stuck. His heart rate started decelerating, so they put me on oxygen to help out. My pushes weren’t super effective, but gradually he made his way down. (Oh, now another memory is bubbling up: that surreal moment when they told me to reach in and feel Ambrose’s head. And it was softer than I expected, just like everyone says.) They were holding my legs on each push to help out. I remember wishing they could just go in and dig him out, since he was so close. I also remember not loving pushing in the water, because it was slippery and difficult.
Finally, on the penultimate push I knew things were getting bad because Jarrod told me I really needed to give one last push. I didn’t have the urge, but I guess somehow I managed it because then Ambrose was out.
For half a second it was a joyous moment. I thought he’d pooped on me, but really my hand was between his legs and feeling his scrotum, ha. His umbilical cord was short, so I had to do a bridge to keep him above the water. He wasn’t crying and I guess wasn’t breathing, so they told me to rub his feet and sing a familiar song him. Or maybe that was after they took him away from me and started attempting to resuscitate him, I’m not sure. I sang the first thing that popped into my head, which was Lord, I Call, a song we sing at every vespers service and during evening prayers every night. I sang as many of the tonal variations I could remember, and Jarrod sung along until he broke down and couldn’t sing anymore.
I don’t remember feeling very panicked, in spite of everything going on. We’d been coached on meconium. It was okay. They had everything to resuscitate Ambrose. Even if they had to call the paramedics, he’d be in the hospital for maybe a day or two, and then come home like normal. He sounded like he was so close to crying anyway, if only he could just cough up whatever was stuck, he’d be fine.
Of course, he wasn’t. My mom, I think, was the one who called 911. What felt like two minutes to me felt like an eternity to Jarrod, as he told me recently. Before I knew it the paramedics had arrived and Ambrose was cut away from me. Then he was gone.
But I was still there. I’d just given birth. I had to birth the placenta, which happened in the transition to the bed and was no big deal in my memory. Then Marvelys had to stitch me up because there was a bit of a tear, again, no big deal, other than the fact that I had to pee but couldn’t. Marvelys did have to give me a shot of pitocin because I was bleeding more than she wanted to see. While she stitched me I massaged my uterus and did some nipple stimulation to get things back to normal, since Ambrose wasn’t there to help out. Someone texted me a picture of Ambrose and I pored over it to see if anything was abnormal. He was big, pink, and beautiful. I was sure he was fine. Danielle tried to make me a bagel but burnt it because she didn’t understand our toaster, so Judith made a strange microwaved sandwich with cheese that I forced down. It was not the greatest post-birth meal. I also sipped at a glass of Emergen-C. I was very, very weak. It’s incredible just how much labor takes out of a person.
I’m not sure if I slept before or after I took a shower, but I do remember stumbling to the shower and sitting on the floor because I had no energy to stand. I really wanted to go to see Ambrose, but Marvelys wouldn’t let me because my blood pressure was too low. I wouldn’t have even been able to walk down the hall to the car. So I slept as best I could. Eventually Jarrod came back.
Then, in the middle of the night I got the call from Dr. Reyes at the NICU. I don’t know why she called me and not Jarrod, but she explained to me that Ambrose needed to be put on something called ECMO, and that the only facilities nearby were in California and Utah. I chose Utah because it seemed like the better option, but I still really had no idea what was going on.
And I guess that’s where I end things, because from there begin my NICU diaries, which start with this post. I wish I’d managed to write down Ambrose’s birth story earlier, but it’s been hard facing it. Sometimes I’ll be lying in bed and my mind will wander back to that night. And I’ll remember just how awful it was to have to lie in one position to turn Ambrose, and the pushing that felt like it wasn’t doing any good. It sort of makes me panic. What will the next birth be like? Will I be able to handle labor again? Will I have a redemptive experience and get that first beautiful golden hour of skin to skin and oxytocin that I see in Instagram birth photos? What can I do to make sure things don’t turn on me again? (Answer: nothing really, except maybe go to the hospital the instant I see meconium.)
Anyway. It’s a bit of a Debbie Downer post, but all of life isn’t filtered bliss, after all. And in the end, I became a mother that day, and Ambrose was okay, by the grace of God. I’m guessing that every December/January the memories of Ambrose’s birth will come creeping back. And that’s fine. I will look at my son then, and marvel at just how far he’s come.