the birth of zoran

OK so on one hand I really want to tell the story of the birth.

On the other hand... UUUUUGGGGGHHHH BIRTH STORIES...

I'm going to compromise and tell the story of the birth... but hopefully pretty quickly, without too many horrifying bloody nobody-tells-you-that-about-birth details, and without making any reference at any time to anything sacred feminine.

OK, here we go.

OK, before we go, I'm just going to abandon all hope that this will be short. It's still fresh, and I don't yet know which details will resonate with me for the rest of my life. For example. I still remember the meal we ate the night before we went into labor with Chicken. I also remember exactly what the OB said when he was finally born - "Oh, he's going to cry." But there are a shit load of other details that are gone to me now. I kind of wish I'd taken the time to write out the whole 9 yards. This post is likely going to be super long and pretty boring. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Sunday

We had an 8 am appointment at the hospital for an elective induction. At 6 we called the hospital to confirm that they had space for us, and they did not, in fact, have space for us. It sounded like they were popping babies out by the dozen like batches of peanut butter cookies at Mrs. Fields. They told us to call back in a couple of hours.

Labor Day Pancakes. X-Men First Class. A trip to the park.

We called back in a couple of hours. I'm not sure what they said exactly, but the pitch of the charge nurse's screams told me they were probably still pretty busy. Okay, we'll try again tomorrow.

We ate amazing Mexican food, followed by an early-birthday carrot cake. Ryan and I took a walk and I said, "you know, I wish we'd done this today, but I'm also totally cool waiting one more day to have my hoo-ha to' up. It's nice to take a walk." We watched some Curb your Enthusiasm. The one where Larry kills the swan on the golf course.

Monday

We called at 8. Nope.

Apparently everybody gets busy in September. We're slutty for school supplies in Seattle. They told us to call back at 6 pm, but you could tell the way they said it that they were just trying to give us something to do. You'll never have this baby, they seemed to say. Not until your husband is getting on an airport shuttle in Newark.

So my mom, who flew out to Seattle on the first day of her family vacation, joined Chicken and me at the park. I called my midwives to see if they could strip my membranes. They said yes, in 10 minutes. So we hopped in the car and I waddled with some urgency to the midwives' office. Where I sat for 45 minutes waiting for the midwife on call to strip my membranes. I guess she (quotation fingers) HAD TO HELP WITH A CESAREAN SECTION or whatever, so I got bumped to 3 pm.

Oh, also, it was my birthday. Don't talk to me about a Dirty Thirty.

So Ryan and I got a burger and took a short walk. We watched an Orange is the New Black. The one with Taystee's backstory. I like her.

I took a shower and we went to the hospital for a good old fashioned Birthday Membrane Strip.

It actually wasn't that bad. I was at 3 cm already, and the midwife said she could feel the baby's head through the opening.

After, Ryan and I went to Target. We ran into some friends we haven't seen since they had their baby 3 months ago. We looked into their eyes and saw both our past and future selves. Then we bought a small flashlight for my mom, and a DVD of Catch Me if You Can. Good movie.

Oh my God I'm sorry this is the most boring blog post ever.

We got home, where Ryan and my mom made sausage, green beans, and salad for dinner. Chicken helped us snap the beans and tear the lettuce. I love cooking with that kid. He gets so Iron Chef. He snaps green beans like visigoths snapped the collarbones of disobedient children.

At 6 I called the hospital, fully prepared to hear, "Again? Seriously? Um, it's not you it's us?"

But lo! They said they could have us in at 7:30 that night! Fuckin a! We are doing this!

So we ate dinner, talked about what needed doing before Ryan and I left for the hospital. Ryan did the dishes. I packed my glasses and cell charger in the hospital bag. My mom gave Chicken a bath. We went into his room to say good-night. He was fresh out of the bath, sweet, clean, pink-cheeked, and refusing to both give and receive hugs and/or kisses.

We went to the hospital. We could not believe how much more pleasant this trip was, compared to our arrival when I was 8 cm dilated with Chicken. Quick side-by-side comparison:

2012: 8 cm dilated
2014: 3 cm dilated

2012: vomiting on the ground
2014: taking a selfie in the parking garage

2012: 25 minutes and 7 contractions between the car and the childbirth center
2014: 3 minutes. Because there was a guy on crutches getting on the elevator

We walked into the childbirth center, rolling a little red suitcase, laughing, me walking upright, and one of the nurses said, "You must be Katie." I said "Sure am! How could you tell that we're here to be induced?" They all clapped and cheered and said "finally! We got you in!" I could hear the theme song from Cheers in my head... Where everybody knows your naaaame... and the status of your cervical softeniiiiiing...

They checked us into our room, started fetal monitoring, did my admit paperwork, and the midwife came in to break my water.

A word about my midwife: She's the kind of person who saunters everywhere she goes. She takes her time. She's the definition of steady. She's also no bullshit. I love her. Side story: When we were interviewing midwives, we heard a lot of moose caca about our midwives wanting us to know that "we're all sisters in this process," and "birth is a divine right bestowed upon all women, an opportunity to become the inner warrior that all woman can be." (eye roll) (buzzer sound) (bitch please)

Our midwife would never say shit like that to us. So she broke my water using what Ryan described as a "plastic Harry Potter wand."

OK, now a word about breaking water: all pregnant women want labor to start with water breaking. No guesswork, no ambiguity, no timing of contractions, no waiting until your contractions are extraordinarily uncomfortable AND frequent before getting in the car to go to the hospital. Boom. You're in labor. No doubt, those are all legit pluses.

But here's the thing about an involuntary gush or trickle of fluid down your legs. It really feels like you're peeing your pants. And as a potty-trained adult, you have a natural shame reaction to peeing your pants. Even though you know you're not peeing, and even though it's completely out of your control, you have this socially ingrained impulse to not make a piddle on the floor.

First-world problem, I know.

But at 9:11 pm they broke my water, and it was a gusher, and then she handed me some stretchy drawers and a pad, but every time I tried to sit up to put the drawers on, I gushed more, and I kept looking down at the hardwood floor thinking about the massive puddle of fluid I was going to drop there, and whether or not they were going to have to call housekeeping to mop that shit up and put a CUIDADO PISO MOJADO tent sign up next to my hospital bed.

OK, so, a blue waterproof pad on the floor solved that problem. I was able to stand up, gush a little more, and get my drawers on.

My contractions started in earnest almost immediately. What do labor contractions feel like, you ask? They feel like everything. Early contractions, for me, were a one-two punch: a tightening of the abdominal muscles, like I've just been tazed in the gut, plus the wave of hot, crampy cramps low in my belly and lower back that make me feel like it's the first day of summer camp the summer I was 14 and, well, let's just say those khakis only got one wear.

I didn't want to sit in the bed, not least because sitting down and standing up both sent little trickles and gushes of amniotic fluid down my legs. So I stood up and walked around the room. I turned on my Mellow Labor Mix, a mix of singer-wongwriter, bluesy modern folk music, and Simon & Garfunkel.

At about 10:00 we texted our birth photographer to let her know that we'd been having contractions every 5 minutes for an hour, and that she should come to the hospital.

I stood at the foot of the bed and draped my body over pillows, until my lower back started to seize.

I stood and leaned back against Ryan, and swayed against him while he squeezed my shoulders. There's something about someone squeezing you really tight that makes you want to just melt into a puddle on the floor, which, as it turns out, is exactly what you need to do to get through contractions. He also breathed next to my ears to remind me to take long breaths. He also moaned with me, low keening sounds, because someone once told me that high-pitched screaming makes you panic but low moans are soothing.

And then I sat in the glider. Mercy me, the glory of the glider. Something about the repetitive rocking motion, the pillow supporting my back, and Ryan sitting next to me in another chair, ready to lean in and squeeze my shoulders and breathe next to my ears with every contraction. Also, "Wagon Wheel" came on, and there was something so beautiful about rocking in labor while listening to someone croon "hey mama rock me." Maybe a little Grey's Anatomy, but still. Beautiful.

The birth photographer arrived and I realized I'd been in the chair for 45 minutes.

There is no such thing as time in labor, except the time you're contracting, and the time you're not contracting.

I said, "I should probably get out of this chair. I read a book that said you should get up and move around, try something new every 30 minutes, even if what you're doing is working." The birth photographer agreed. I stood up.

Remember how I said that early labor contractions were like a one-two punch? OK, so really intense active labor contractions are like a one-two-nut-punch-with-barbed-wire-on-your-knuckles. I imagine. I don't have nuts.

You still start with the tightening and the hot cramping. And then UNDER that cramping, in a deeper, downer, more inside place, there is a pinch. Not like a flu shot pinch. Like a spinal tap pinch. It's like half a dozen of the needles you have nightmares about, the cartoonish gallon syringes with the foot-long needles, are all being slowly inserted, and then twisted, inside your low belly.

That's the really sinister part, that last bit. Your body has you all distracted by these building-up discomforts, pressure and waves of pain that you can feel building, and you can prepare for, and wait to recede. And then your body drops the hammer, with this sharp, eye-popping, strikes-like-a-cobra pain. And you've got nothing left but your panic to feed it.

At least that was how I felt with Chicken's labor. This time around, I knew that the one-two punch wasn't the end of the story. I kept thinking, "Okay, that was a strong one, but until I cannot stay on my feet, I'm throwing up in a Target bag, and shaking uncontrollably, I haven't really hit my stride."

I didn't panic, but I did say "I think now is a good time to think about getting that epidural started."

Or something to that effect.

Likely more along the lines of, "call... nurse... drugs... now..."

The midwife came in, saw me on the ground spitting in a trash can, and said, "oh hey. Look at you."

Told you. Love her.

She got down on my level and rubbed my shoulder. She told me that the anesthesiologist would be in shortly. And I returned to my safe haven: the glider. The glider of peace. The glider that heals all wounds.

The anesthesiologist came in and moved me to the bed. She praised me on my vertebral spacing. That minx.

Once the epidural went in (which, I have to tell you, is NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING compared to the pain of a true labor contraction, so you can just skip the chapter in the book about being afraid of how much putting in your epidural is going to hurt. Seriously. That's like having the choice between eating a raw almond or a pile of shattered Polish pottery shards) the contractions started to ease in intensity. I was still nauseated and shaking, and I could still feel the tightening of the contractions and some rolling cramps, as well as mounting pressure down south, but man oh man. That's the best birthday present I ever got.

Tuesday

They told us I was at 7 cm and I should go to sleep.

I would have. Except I was in labor and I had a bad case of the shivers. Uncontrollable shaking is pretty common once you get close to transition (8 cm). I'd start to nod off and realize that my shoulders were up by my ears because I was trying so hard to NOT SHAKE. So I'd try to relax my shoulders and then I'd shake even harder.

It wasn't awesome. But again, raw almond. Not shattered glass.

At this point it felt like someone was trying to blow up a balloon in my butt. Sorry to be blunt, but that's the sensation of the pressure. During a contraction there's like a dude blowing as hard as he can to inflate a balloon inside your butt. And then when the contraction eases, he takes a break.

At about 5 the midwife came in and checked me. Usually they have to get all up in your business with a gloved hand to "check you." She kind of took a peek and said, "oh. Hello baby." Then she told the nurse to go ahead and gear up.

Love her.

She asked me to give a little push. I tried a little push.

She said, "Okay, any time you're ready to give me a little push." I said, "I'm pushing now."

She said, "So we're going to need to teach you how to push then." I laughed for a really long time on that one. It was just so perfect. "You're really not, but hey, we'll work on it."

Love her.

She helped me roll onto my back and told me that with the next contraction, I should grab the backs of my knees and pull them toward my armpits. I should curl my body up around the baby, take a deep breath, and hold it while I pushed. Then I should take a quick breath when I needed one, and keep pushing through the whole contraction.

I tried it like that. I felt the pressure change.

She said, "There's a baby head."

I pushed a little more, and she stood up to get her gloves and gown on, and lay out the garbage bag or whatever to catch all the baby juices.

At the next contraction, she told me to push again, and I felt stretching. I asked, "Is this what people call the ring of fire?" The nurse said "yes," and I said, "I can feel that. Not in a bad way. But I can feel it." My epidural was truly perfect. I could feel the baby moving through my body in the way you can feel a manicurist working on your fingernails. There's the sensation of touch without the agony of nerves.

Ryan said, "I can see his head." I said, "hair?" He said, "yes there's hair." Why this was my first question I don't know. I guess that's just the only thing you can really talk about when you're meeting someone dome-first. At least for most people. But this is why I love my husband.

Ryan said, "his head is wrinkly like a puppy face."

Swoon.

One more push, and he was out. Ryan said he started crying before his body was even fully delivered, a watery wail, the best sound ever because it chases away all kinds of nightmarish midnight fears. He landed on my body, someone put him there, and he was this big, healthy, rosy baby. Chicken, when he was born, was purple. Like true Willy Wonka purple. But this guy was already human colored. He had a sprinkling of short, slightly curly, downy brown hair on his head. He would cry, and then stop to wait, as if taking things in, taking a breather. Then cry. Then wait.

Ryan cut the cord.

The midwife said, "I feel like I just pulled a toddler out of you. He's a big baby."

An hour later, after a great first latch and a nice 45 minute feed, the scale confirmed it:

9 pounds. 9 ounces. 21 3/4" long. My baby's a bruiser.

The sun rose at 5:11 that day, and he was born at 5:22. I briefly considered completely changing our baby name list to include only names that mean "dawn," but a slap in the face and a shot of bourbon set me right. The only cultures that have names for boys that mean "dawn" are cultures that neither Ryan nor I would never be mistaken for belonging to, and I'm just a little too square to be like, "this is my son Ra." Or Phoebus. Or Aroon. Or my personal fave, Zoran.

I sent Ryan out to go get himself a coffee and some breakfast. I ordered some room service for myself. I held onto Zoran until breakfast arrived, at which point I reevaluated my priorities and the sleeping baby, bearer of my heritage and tiny creature for which I would unhesitatingly give my life, got demoted to the valley on the hospital bed between my knees.

At 7 I got a tray bearing 2 buttermilk pancakes, scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, applesauce, a fruit cup, and orange juice.

At 7:02 the tray was clean.

At some point I tried to sleep a little. Zoran was conked out, and I was running on 24 hours of awake, but I felt like the nurses would yell at me if they came in and saw him sleeping between my legs, not really swaddled, on his side... I don't know. I worry about weird shit sometimes.

But my new awesome nurse came in, saw my empty tray and the kid asleep, and said, "that's an experienced parent right there." I guess because I was gazing lovingly at my iPhone, reading well-wishes and blissfully unaware of some scrambled eggs in my hair, rather than caressing the velvety cheek of my precious, newly-pooped-out miracle baby, I am an experienced parent. I'm not gonna lie, I'm cool with that.

We moved to a postpartum room 2 floors below L&D. It was hot, stuffy, and the bed was fucking possessed. Any time it was plugged in, something was moving on it. I am not at all exaggerating. As soon as you plugged it in, there was this mechanical whirring whining sound, and the back would start to lift, just a little, just slowly enough that you think you might be losing your mind, just fast enough that you want to scream I'M NOT CRAZY THIS BED IS FUCKING ALIVE. And then your seat starts to sink and all of a sudden you're sitting in a hole, but then the knees start to life, just a little... dude. It was whack. So we had to crawl around to plug and unplug the bed anytime we wanted to adjust it a little.

We decorated the hospital room for Chicken's first meeting with Zoran. We put up balloons, streamers, and a Sesame Street Happy Birthday banner. Chicken arrived, wearing a "big bro" shirt. He could not have given less of a shit about the baby sleeping in the bassinet in the corner, which is just how I wanted it. The longer he can ignore this kid, the better, as far as I'm concerned. After about 20 minutes he noticed that there was a baby in the room and wanted to see him. That's what we thought he was saying. Actually, he wanted someone to take the baby out of the awesome wheeling bassinet so he could sit in it. My kid is the bomb.

He ate a chocolate doughnut. Ryan's mom arrived to meet the baby and play with Chicken. My friend came and took pictures. Ryan, his mom, and Chicken left. My mom and I stayed with Zoran. I took a shower. I took a short nap. Ryan came back. (Sorry, this is boring again.)

Ryan had the idea that since the baby's doing great, I was up and about, the L&D ward was slammed with women in labor again, and our room was the kind of place where people go to be broken, we might ask if we could go home that night instead of the next morning. We had to jump through a few hoops, get lucky with being able to rush some necessary tests, but we did it.

We walked, or I should say, waddled, into the hospital wheeling a red suitcase at 7:30 pm on Monday.

We walked, or I should say, smuggled (I asked Ryan how he would describe the walk of a woman who had just delivered a baby, and he said, "It's the same walk as someone who is trying to smuggle drugs in their butthole. So "smuggle" is now a verb describing that very specific gait, FYI.) out of the hospital carrying a 9.5-pound baby at 6:45 pm on Tuesday, a little less than 24 hours after checking in, a little more than 12 hours after the birth.

We went home and got takeout for dinner. Ryan and I read Chicken his bedtime stories and put him to bed.

I'm not bragging. I'm grateful.

I'm grateful for the anesthesiologist for reading my chart carefully and caring about my wishes to have a lower dose of meds this time.

I'm grateful for the midwife for being calm and compassionate, for her sly humor, for walking out with us.

I'm grateful for the nurse who cracked jokes and rushed us through the necessary evaluations to get out of the hospital so we didn't have to spend a hellish night in that institutional sweatbox of misery.

I'm incredibly grateful for my birth photographer, Jessica, an absolutely warm and unwavering presence of support, with the uncanny ability to vanish into the background and be a silent witness to a life-changing event. I will always remember the first push, when I heard her murmur "there you go!" With Chicken we pushed for three hours and they ended up pulling him out with the vacuum because the epidural was so heavy. Jessica's three little words did so much to make me feel like a rock star.

I'm so grateful for my husband, who was by turns a silent rock for me to lean on, and an unapologetic advocate for our family. I'm grateful for the incredible memory of him and me, working together nearly silently, to bring baby Zoran closer, inch by inch, to life. I'm grateful for the feeling that we can do anything together, Ryan and I.

I'm grateful for a labor experience free from fear and panic, to know what a birth really feels like, but from a safe enough distance not to be scarred by it.

I'm grateful for a healthy baby.

I'm grateful for the family who has held us up and told us we could go take a nap or write a really long birth story blog post.

I'm grateful for buttermilk pancakes.

I'm going to drink a chocolate banana milkshake now.

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