August 22, 2013

Livvy's Birth Story

Livvy turns nine months old in just a few days. She was nine months in my tummy; she's been nine months out. This felt like a good time to finish writing the story of her birth. 

Dearest Livvy,

The night before you were born, we got a flat tire. It was inky black outside and very cold, and we’d just dropped Tessa off at your Yaya’s house. That's where she'd stay for a few days while we were getting acquainted with you in the hospital. On our way home we got off the interstate suddenly to avoid a traffic jam we spied ahead. That spit us out onto McCrory Lane, which we weren't on long before we nearly jumped out of our skin at the sound of our tire getting chewed up and spit out over and over again by the wheel of our Nissan Cube. We pulled off on a side street that seemed somehow even darker and colder. We didn’t have a flashlight so your dad changed the tire in the dark with the light of my cell phone as our fingers grew numb. After we finally got our janky spare tire fastened on and were back on our way, we talked about how we knew this would be part of the story we’d tell you one day about the day you were born. And so it is.

Before we went home we stopped to eat at P.F. Chang’s. I don’t know why we chose that particular place because we never usually go there. But I was craving Chinese, and it was my last chance to heed a pregnancy craving. As we walked up to the restaurant, I saw my belly reflected in the darkened windows and grinned at how it literally looked like I’d stuffed a watermelon down my shirt. I’d gained a little over 30 lbs., and I felt huge. But beautiful, too. Ripe. And also nervous.

Your dad and I really couldn’t fathom what it would be like to have two children or to love another child as much as we loved Tessa. We also couldn’t believe that we’d knowingly signed up to do everything all over again; we’d just potty-trained Tessa, but now we’d be doing diapers for at least another two years, thanks to you. Ahead of us we had all of your snotty colds and doctor’s appointments and terrible bedtimes and criminally early mornings. We also thought perhaps that life as we knew it was about to end, after having developed a rhythm and a routine with Tessa and feeling relief that we’d retained our social life, our personal hobbies, and our relationship. So, okay, we were scared.

We had to be up at 4:30 a.m. so we went to bed early that night after packing our bags for the hospital. I slept decently and woke up excited. It was November 26, 2012, and it felt like Christmas morning plus all the birthdays I'd ever had all rolled into one. I took a hot bath and blow-dried my hair. I put on eyeliner and mascara, some powder and blush. As it would turn out, that level of preparation was extremely optimistic and extremely unnecessary.

I took one last picture of my belly in the mirror. It was about to be empty of you, and I wanted to remember exactly how I looked the very last time that you and I shared the same space.

Dad and I ate bagels and cream cheese and drank coffee in our dark kitchen. We didn’t have much to say to one another. So we just grinned. We arrived at Baptist Hospital at 5:30 a.m., checked in with the front desk, signed a whole ream of paperwork, and were put into a waiting room with some other mamas who were also to be induced.

We had to wait there an hour. An hour!!!! (This felt vastly unfair since we had already waited nine months for you and since we’d had to get there so early.) Your dad made fun of me for being so impatient and grouchy about having to wait. I flipped listlessly through a magazine and paced the halls while he caught up on the news on his iPad. Finally my name was called, and we were taken to a birthing room, where I was given a hospital gown to put on. This all felt almost unbearably exciting.

The next step was to get an IV put in my hand. Sounds simple enough, right? Nope. Nopers. Big time nope. Baby, I’m terrible about blood, so I warned our nurse that I might get faint. A few minutes after we got the IV into place, I didn't just get faint, I passed out. Straight-up lost consciousness. While lying flat in the hospital bed. As I came to, I puked pretty generously into my hair. The hair that I had washed and blow-dried so hopefully just two hours earlier. At first the nurse thought I was having a seizure. Your dad was really worried, and there was a flurry of activity as the nurse tried to figure out why I’d passed out. The determination: I’d stopped breathing because of nerves.

I passed out because I was scared. Giving birth is major. Meeting my new baby is major. I wonder now if I had some sort of performance anxiety, too. Speaking in public is my very worst fear; job interviews fall into that category. I have to be well-dosed with anti-anxiety meds to survive any of that. Perhaps showing my stuff to a whole room of people--and pushing a baby out of my stuff--struck me as a little intimidating.

This wasn't my first rodeo, though, so you'd think I would have had my shit together. But I didn't. I so didn't. I had given birth to your sister two years and eight months earlier and had gotten off to a rocky start with her. The main problem was that I stopped sleeping as soon as she was born. That probably sounds pretty normal to you since newborns are notorious for being crap sleepers, but this went way beyond that, and it was terrifying. Even when baby Tessa was sound asleep for long stretches of time, I couldn't fall asleep, not even for a few minutes. This went on for nearly a week, and it all started in the hospital, and it ended up leading to postpartum depression. So I was nervous that would happen with you, too. But I was also prepared. I'd read several books about postpartum depression, I'd gone to some talk therapy while I was pregnant with you, and I'd found a sleep aid that my doctor agreed was safe to take while breastfeeding.

Anyhow, back to your story: After the pass-out-and-puke-in-the-hair incident, I moved to the rocking chair by the hospital bed, so your dad could wash and comb my hair as best he could using a little bucket and some shampoo and a few washcloths. Then I got back into bed, feeling freaked out by what had happened and already defeated. Let me reiterate here that I was not even yet in labor with you. I hadn't had an epidural put in. The Pitocin drip had not been started. Basically nothing had happened at all other than me getting my IV.

Within a few minutes I passed out again. And puked in my hair ... again. At this point I started to get annoyed with myself and embarrassed. The nurse, who was monitoring your heart rate through a strap across my belly, said that you were unaffected by my fainting, but she seemed kind of annoyed with me, too.

Not long afterwards the nurse got my Pitocin drip going to get labor started; then my doctor came in to break my water and check to see how dilated I was. (About 2 centimeters.) Over the next two hours, contractions began and progressed quickly. Your dad played the “birth mix” music he’d put together on the iPod dock we’d brought; I read a little bit of an Anna Quindlen book and tried to stay calm. This time I succeeded pretty well. Eventually though it came time to ask for my epidural.

I wasn't nervous about this part at all because it had gone really smoothly before Tessa's birth. But this time was different. This time it literally felt like the nurse was jabbing a needle over and over again directly into my back bone. The pain was so intense that it almost felt audible--it felt like squealing tires sound. It felt like crunching metal sounds. The lady who was giving me the epidural got annoyed with me, too, because I kept screaming out in pain and--finally when I couldn't take the pain anymore--lurching away from her long needle. She acted like I was making the whole thing up. Finally, finally, she found the sweet spot--wherever that is--and sank her needle into it, and then it didn't hurt anymore.

I continued to dilate really quickly, and my nurse told me she was going to dial down my epidural so I would "feel the urge to push" when it came time. This seemed kind of strange to me, because I had felt the need to push with Tessa just fine--even with my fabulous, cushy epidural in place. After all, it's not like you can ignore that uncontrollable urge to push your baby out--even if your lower half is half-dead to the world. By 1:30, my contractions totally sucked: I was feeling them way more than any woman who has an epidural should and I felt the urge to push--a very urgent urge to push. The nurse checked me one more time, found me fully dilated, and told me not to push even if I felt like it because the doctor needed to be here and she didn't want to deliver you on her own. Come again, lady?

The doctor showed up after a while of me trying not to push, which is basically the definition of hell in case you were wondering. And then all of a sudden about six nurses were there--all staring at my stuff, which I'm sure was a terrifying sight, but at that point I didn't care, not even a little. Because that evil nurse had dialed back my epidural, I felt every push and contraction just exactly the way she wanted me to. It basically felt like someone was burning me over and over again with a branding iron, while simultaneously hacking me in half with a machete.

All that--every bit of it and then some--was worth it the second you slipped out of me, and I heard you cry out. That was at 2:25 p.m. You weighed 7 lbs, 11 oz., and you were placed immediately into my arms, and I started to cry. Your dad cut your cord and then came to stand over us, beaming. You were beautiful and perfect and very startled. I pressed your naked body against my naked chest and held you there for a long time.

After that lots of exciting things happened. You met your Yaya and your big sister, who was completely bewildered by you, as you were not at all what she had expected. You had a sponge bath, and you nursed for the first time.

We did a whole lot of staring at you, especially after everyone had left and we had you to ourselves in our hospital room, which grew dark and quiet as night set in. I was beyond exhausted and so was your dad. I took my sleeping pill and put you in your bassinet beside my hospital bed. You were swaddled tight and too perfect and tiny for comprehension. Blessedly, I fell asleep quickly and woke in the middle of the night to your mewling. Your dad was snoring softly on the couch beside us, and I gathered you up out of your bassinet and brought you to me. After you nursed, we lay there together--with the moonlight splashed across the white sheets we shared and the hospital beeps so unfamiliar and this new chapter of my life still feeling so very new--and I loved you.

And that is what I remember most about the day you were born: That moment in the dark when I first had you to myself, and I loved you. I didn't put you back in your bassinet.

Together we slept.