On Friday morning, I texted my mom to get the ball rolling on changing their flights. “No signs of labor,” I said. “May be worth looking into different flight options.” They had tickets from Phoenix to DCA on Southwest, because Southwest makes it easy to change your schedule without charging you one thousand dollars. Our due date was next Tuesday, January 16th; they were set to arrive on the 17th. It was the 12th and, like I said, no signs of labor! I took Banana to the dog park that afternoon, and thought about what movie we should go see that weekend.
We went to dinner that (Friday) night, because as he said, “It may be our last date night for a while!” I smirked and tried to keep sarcasm at bay, because NO SIGNS OF LABOR. We did our usual—the wine bar we once frequented every Friday night—nachos to share (which probably feed four but we got it down to two), bubbly for me and beer for him. We sat at the bar because that hid my almost-due belly and I felt less judged when ordering the usual—happy hour special, a glass of brut. We ate our nachos, drank our wine, visited the bakery down the street for our favorite desserts, and headed home to continue binging on episodes of SUITS.
At 8:30pm I texted our Doula as I looked at something in the toilet that seemed…different. Not urine, not blood, not a substance I otherwise recognize. Real talk: labor is full of bodily excrements, starting with unidentifiable fluids and culminating with a sizable human.
We labored at home for a few hours, until I got anxious because contractions were sometimes only 2-3 minutes apart and no amount of moaning or yoga breathing or laying down or warm showering seemed to calm the storm. We headed to the hospital at 2:30am, early Saturday morning, and were admitted at “2-3cm” dilated. (I wouldn’t categorize that assessment as encouraging, but at least they didn’t send us home!) With each contraction, I could hardly breathe or think or keep my eyes open or stop my entire body from writhing in pain. They had started to settle in my back, resulting in me doubling over or barely able to move for minutes on end. I couldn’t stay seated on the birthing ball, couldn’t walk to the bathroom, couldn’t lay down on my side without feeling like it extended each contraction 2-3x longer.
After another two hours, I asked for the epidural. Going in, I wasn’t sure if I would want it or not but we kept the option open—I’ve never been in labor before, and I’m not one to make a set-in-stone plan. I knew it would be the difference between remembering this experience with at least some sense of cognition, or being blinded by pain for hours on end. (To each their own!) I knew we were in for a long one.
My parents wouldn’t need to change their flights. This is labor, ALL SIGNS on.
Long story short: We spent Saturday in the Labor and Delivery room, messing with a TV that didn’t work for a while, chatting with our lovely Doula (Mari Smith); eating jello, drinking water and ginger ale, and crunching ice; and eventually tuning into the Michigan v. Michigan State basketball game (not my first choice). I tried to sleep, but a blood pressure cuff strangling your arm every 10-20 minutes isn’t conducive to deep rest. We were 10cm dilated by 3pm, so I eagerly texted my mom, “Only a few more hours!” (I literally laughed out loud when I read that text the next day.)
We didn’t start pushing until 10pm. (Fun fact: Being 10cm dilated doesn’t mean you’re ready to push. The baby’s head position in the birth canal is more of a deciding factor.) The epidural was weaning, along with my patience. He didn’t arrive until 2:13am on Sunday, almost a full 24 hours after we were admitted to Sibley Memorial Hospital. The four hours of pushing in between were some of the most taxing of my life to date; nothing prepares you for that emotionally or physically, nothing compares, nothing will ever feel as meaningful, difficult, or rewarding. It was mile 26, amplified to the Nth degree.
We pushed in at least four different positions, trying to let gravity help us out. I was on hands and knees at one point, as the epidural wore off. (When we finally delivered, the nurse took a moment to tell me how shocked she was that my legs could do this. But he wouldn’t have progressed down the birth canal if I hadn’t.) My back spasmed, the pressure built, and at one point, two hours in, I hysterically cried to my husband that this felt impossible—that I couldn’t see the light at the end of this tunnel, that he wasn’t moving, was he? I wasn’t doing it right, was I? The doctor didn’t have faith, did he?
End tantrum. Resume LABOR MODE.
The OB checked in around 1am and said if we didn’t have much more progress in the next 20 minutes, he wanted to try the suction method. He left—we all agreed there would no fucking suctioning, not after I had already done this for three hours. I would get this little human out. We would help him through.
Around 2am, the OB came back. I had already reached down and felt the baby’s head (yep, that’s a thing!). I could now feel his entire body, ready and willing to make its final exit. The urge the push is so incredibly intense that there was no more waiting for a contraction, there was only repeated 10-second bursts of anything and everything I had left to move him through.
At 2:13am, he was on my chest. Blue skin, cone head full of dark hair, eyes opening, and blood, sweat, and some other mix of waxy body fluid all over me. All 8 pounds, 9 ounces and 21.5 inches of him were grown in me, and now outside of me. I looked at my husband and the first thing I said was, “He looks EXACTLY like you.”
(Our nurse and Doula were a little shocked by just how “sizable” he actually was. That makes three of us!)
He’s here. He’s everything. This is life, now.
— — —
My in-laws emailed us with their new travel plans, arriving Tuesday afternoon. My parents landed one day later, right on schedule! Our new home was full of our personal village, our expanded family. We would need and appreciate every one of those extra hands on deck.
A few days before all of this began, one of my many baby newsletters talked about The Village. “Don’t think you need to go at it alone for a few days,” it said. I had wanted to do that. I thought it would be overwhelming to have ALL the grandparents here immediately, but I wasn’t about to turn them away from meeting their grandson. I worried about wanting or needing more privacy, about craving time to ourselves, about wanting to feel more independent. To each their own, but as it turned out, we wanted none of those things.
Three days postpartum I took a walk by myself around the block (which could be categorized as over-eager and a little too ambitious). Two days after that my mom and I took a trip to Target and Harris Teeter, no baby in tow. I took a shower every day of our first week home. I took naps. We had a home cooked meal every night. Our sheets and towels were washed, rugs vacuumed, fridge stocked, and hands freed as needed. He was held in loving arms by people who would happily spend hours staring at that full head of hair and sweet eyes when they opened up. We had a full paparazzi situation during his first bath. We watched the first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, more SUITS, and some of the football playoffs (not my first choice).
The only time our Village wasn’t helping out was at night, when we knew it was our time to take on his care and fight fatigue. My parents said they “couldn’t hear him!”, which I still doubt but a little white lie made it much easier for us to handle the fits and starts.
Friends ask how we feel, how we’re doing, if we’ve survived the first week, and I can’t begin to do justice to how wonderful it has been. We’re not drowning. We’re high. We’ve had So Much Help from our Village. We’re doing just fine.
A friend gave us a calendar for recording daily milestones. It sits on our kitchen table so that I don’t forget a single day. I’ve hardly had the mental energy to sit and type this up, or desire to open my computer, or will to sit down with my journal to catch every memory. But that calendar is full of little moments: “First bath!” “Family walk around the neighborhood!” “Umbilical cord fell off!” And it’s full of visitors, Facetime dates, and friendly check ins. Our Village is there, too.
Yes, there have been tears in the late-night and early-morning hours when he won’t latch or doesn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes between feeds, or pees on his blanket or sleeper for the eleventh time because we can’t quite get the diaper fit right. Yes, there have been lessons in what it really means to “feel tired” and a few pointless moments wondering if we’ll ever really sleep again. But I expected all of the above. I just couldn’t have predicted how much our Village of help would HELP. I couldn’t have even wildly guessed how essential The Village is. Now I know.
Today, his eleventh day in this world, is our first full day of parenting solo. Mike took the pup out for a run and then picked up coffee and stamps. The little guy and I spent some time in his room on a quilt, admiring his fresh new belly button, feeding in his rocker, and washing a load of his tiny clothes and swaddles and burp cloths. We uploaded photos to the cloud so his Village could see how his day is going, and provide their love and support from afar.
He’s here. He’s everything. We’re figuring it all out. This is a new life.