(Be prepared folks, this is going to be a long entry — it’s not every day a woman gives birth, you know…. )
I debated whether to write a post about my birth experience and these early days with my son. Given how personal I make this blog, it seemed like a no-brainer to share this story with all of you. But now, two weeks after Dean’s arrival, I feel compelled to share it for another reason: I had a fabulous birth experience. And I want women—especially expecting moms—to know about it.
Why? Because, in those final weeks of pregnancy, I let myself get caught up in negative stories about other women’s deliveries. How they had complications. Side effects from the drugs (if they even HAD the drugs…sheesh, what a controversial topic!). Or maybe a nurse who drove them nuts. By the time Nick and I arrived at the hospital, I had NO idea what to expect but, based on what I’d heard from others, I wasn’t exactly confident about what lay ahead of me.
We checked into the hospital at 5 o’clock on Monday, Oct. 22. No sooner did we drop our bags than the nurse handed me a hospital gown, told me to strip down, and climb into bed. Now, as someone who’d NEVER been a hospital patient before, it all felt surreal to be the one IN that reclining bed. (and to be laying there in a gown without a back — man, you are SO exposed in those!)
As we settled in, I gave Nick my camera to take a few photos — and gave him the thumbs-up to let him know I was ready for what was ahead (even though, deep down inside, I was scared too, having no idea what to expect.) Crazy to think this is the last photo of me taken while pregnant (have I mentioned how much I LOVE no longer being pregnant?) The nurse came in, hooked me up to the fetal monitor and inserted my IV (and thankfully put it in my arm–NOT my hand!). Then she gave me a drug (Cervidil) to get my cervix to cooperate (believe it or not, at 10 days past due, I STILL hadn’t dilated). The drug had to work overnight, so we tried to get as comfortable as we could for our first night’s stay. I had a milkshake for dinner (no solids by this point–which I’d worried about, but I had so little appetite by then, I never really minded) and Nick and I found ourselves watching the presidential debate. (Even though I’m not sure how much we were paying attention—we were so anxious and excited for what was to come!)
At around 5 a..m Tuesday morning (Oct. 23), my water broke. Here’s where things get fuzzy for me: I remember contractions coming regularly by about 7 a.m., and when the dayshift nurse came along (a sweet woman named Bea who would end up being there coaching me as I delivered my son), she started the pitocin. Ohhhh the pitocin. Very quickly the pain got very intense. What I remember of the next few hours involves clutching the side rail of the bed, holding tight to my husband’s hand, resting my forehead on his forehead, the relief of a hot rice pack placed across my back, thinking “This pain is about to get so much worse…” (And because I kept thinking this, when Bea asked what my pain level was on a 1-10 scale, I moaned, “I think it’s about a 4….” To which Nick answered, “Oh, it is SO much more than a 4!“)
At around 10 a.m. I was asked if I wanted drugs. I’d been open to the idea of an epidural my entire pregnancy (I didn’t come to the hospital with a birth plan of any kind, wanting to keep the experience as low-key as possible), so at this point, with the pitocin working its course, I was ready for something to manage the pain. The anesthesiologist came in to administer the epidural and as I slumped over a tray table, preparing for that needle to hurt like hell, I couldn’t believe it when I felt NOTHING. Well, not nothing. I felt a slight numbing sensation, a small prick of a needle, and a bit of probing as he inserted the line, but it was such a smooth process I couldn’t help thinking, “THAT’S what I got myself so worked up over?” Within minutes, my legs were going numb and the pain of the contractions was lessening.
Now here comes the best part: After I got my epidural, there was such instant relief, a wave of exhaustion passed over me and I was out like a light. Let me reiterate that in all caps: I SLEPT THROUGH SIX HOURS OF CONTRACTIONS. It was—plain and simple—amazing. And I’m convinced it gave me the rest I sorely needed for what was to come next.
By 5 o’clock, Bea checked me once more and told me I was ready to deliver. Here’s where a bout of nausea hit me and so I ended up throwing up (but because I’d had only ice chips for the past 24 hours, it wasn’t that big of a deal). Turns out your stomach stops digesting when you go into labor, so all that water had no place to go!
After that came 55 minutes of INTENSE pushing. Like, I thought capillaries in my eyeballs might explode kind of pushing. Looking back on that hour of hard work, I can’t imagine being in excruciating pain on top of pushing as if my life depended on it. (Hats off to those women who do all this natural!)
With my Type A personality, I remember the doctor and nurse and Nick (the latter two holding my legs for support at this point) coaching me, telling me, “You’re so close, Gail — you could get him on this push!” So I’d hold my breath and push. And push. And PUSSHHHHHHH. And then, when I knew he wasn’t coming that round, I’d think, “OK Gail, don’t disappoint them again — get him out on the next go-round!” (Isn’t that so ridiculous of me?!)
I don’t actually remember the moment Dean was born at 5:56 p.m. (it all feels like such a dream at this point), but I do remember seeing the nurse take him and begin drying him off, then carrying him over for the Apgar test and to be weighed and measured with Nick right there by his side. Minutes later, he was in my arms and all I could think was I was staring at the face of someone I’d just met and yet felt as if I’d known my entire life.
Over the next two hours, we stayed in the labor and delivery room while the doctor stitched me up and took care of me (here’s where I have to give a shout-out to my amazing ob-gyn, Dan Lopiccolo, who stayed past his 5 o’clock shift just to help me deliver Dean. I love him!). Because I had my heart set on breastfeeding and had been praying things would go well with it, I was thrilled that Dean took to my breast pretty quickly (though, in the 30 minutes it took for us to get that bond going, I remember being hot and sweaty, trying to stay calm, feeling so unsure of myself, thinking, “Please, please, PLEASE let this work!” And here we are, two weeks later, and he’s still breastfeeding like a champ, thank goodness!)
My parents were waiting for us as they wheeled me down to our recovery room (all while playing this plinky little lullaby over the PA system…which, being a bit emotional by this point, made me tear up. Hearing it at least 15 more times over the next 48 hours made me realize how many other women were welcoming babies into the world!)
We were fortunate to get our own private room which was BLISS. I will always remember that first night in the room with Dean (our hospital is a “baby friendly” hospital, where your infant stays in the room with you around the clock). Nick and I jumped at every little sound he made. I think I slept an hour total that night because I was still high on adrenaline and also, I kept leaning out of the bed to make sure he was still breathing in that little plastic bed of his!
I also want to give a shout-out to all the nurses we had during our two-day stay in our room. They were all so AWESOME, answering our questions, tending to my needs, soothing all my first-time parental concerns. One nurse sweetly shared with us how happy it made her to see two people so ready to have a baby.
I got a little misty-eyed when I had to cut off my ID tags after we got home from the hospital. Also, when I saw his little footprint on this paperwork? I died.
It was bittersweet to leave the hospital (once again, I teared up when I took him out of his little bed for the last time—it just felt so surreal to think, “You’re coming home with us now!”). But at the same time, Nick and I were so ready to sleep in our own beds. It’s true what other parents told us, there are SO many people in and out of your room 24/7 in the hospital, that you never really get a moment’s rest.
We live a mile from the hospital, so it was a short, sweet ride home on Thursday night (Oct. 25). We’d had that fluke, 80 degree weather that week, so we put the windows down to get some fresh air and I could smell leaves burning in our neighborhood and it felt like we’d been greeted by the last beautiful evening of fall. In that moment, I felt crazy happy to be starting a family with my husband and sweet new son.
The first book Nick read to Dean…we’d been home from the hospital no more than two hours. Seeing this picture again makes my heart swell to twice its size.
These first two weeks at home with Dean have been super sweet but, at times too (as all new parents can attest) a bit frustrating. Life with a newborn means you’re living in 3-hour shifts of feeding, time awake for snuggles, and then getting a baby down to nap. Which, as we’re discovering, can sometimes be a flow that works like magic. And other times—like last night—means you’re caught in a five-hour game of crying (his wails…not mine, yet anyway!) and trying everything in the book to calm him down (bouncy ball, white noise, swaddling, crib time, chest time). Yes, it can be exhausting, but one sweet look from him and you know that this stage, too, shall pass. But at the same time, you want to savor the memory of it—even with its lumps—for that very same reason.Finding time for myself is, of course, no longer a top priority—taking care of this little guy is. But I’ve been surprised (and a bit relieved) to discover that navigating this new landscape of parenthood still affords me some time each day to do things I had told myself (based on a few other moms’ newborn tales) I’d never be able to do—like shower and put make-up on or take a walk and do a load of laundry. (Of course, it’s taken me a full week to put this blog post together, but that’s OK!)
Dean’s first bath…it’s so nerve-wrecking to give a person so tiny a bath but so sweet too. So far, he seems to like them!
Overall, I just wanted to share this post both to better remember these fleeting days of my son’s infancy (every day I swear he looks different…bigger and older already!) but also to let other women know that I was a woman with so many reservations about motherhood. I worried about bonding with my child, about what actually HAVING him would be like, about post-partum depression and breastfeeding issues and just….well, pretty much everything I could worry about.
But now I’m even more convinced that my husband’s advice to me in those final weeks of pregnancy—not to worry about issues that aren’t issues until they’re ACTUAL issues—is the best approach to motherhood. So far, I can tell all of you it’s been a wonderful ride and I know it’s just started. Among its biggest surprises? How instinctual being a mom all feels (it’s pretty amazing how women’s bodies and minds are just biologically wired to do this) but also (and I know this isn’t true for every woman so I’m incredibly grateful it applies to me), how much I still feel like myself.
Only now, I just have this beautiful little soul to take care of. And what a gift that is …..
(Also, if you made it this far, thanks for reading! And if you’re a woman thinking about pregnancy or already pregnant, feel free to email me any questions you might have! I know all too well now how much I could have benefited from more positive pregnancy stories before experiencing my own, so I’d love to help allay the fears of other soon-to-be moms!)