She instructed me and Daniel to go the hospital immediately. To not stop at home. We were told we'd have our baby by breakfast time the next day.
At first I cried. I hadn't expected things to go this way. I wanted to go into spontaneous labor. I'd expected to wake up in the middle of the night with that first twinge of pain. I was also really looking forward to some chicken tikka masala leftovers for lunch!
I ended up convincing Daniel that we did in fact have time to go home. A Virgo by nature, I wanted to straighten up the apartment, grab our bags and go to the hospital together, not separately, as Bonnie had suggested. I also tried to convince Daniel to let me eat my chicken tikka masala, but that didn't work. He slapped together some sandwiches and then we were off.
When I first got pregnant, I couldn't read much about labor. Just thinking about it made me nauseous. It felt so far off. Especially in the beginning when I barely had a bump. I put it out of my head for the first six months and just enjoyed being pregnant.
Then as my due date drew near, I started to mentally prepare for it. I had read the Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy and although I enjoyed parts of that book, the author had a way of making everything sound so dramatic and scary.
Then I started reading Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, a book my friend Marie lent me. It was all about natural childbirth, something only my Mom encouraged me to think about. Most people told me I was crazy to even consider it.
My Mom has always made labor sound so easy. Too easy. My brother and I both popped out in under two hours and she claims she didn't feel much of a thing. In fact, she says she could have have done it all over again the next day. I thought she was crazy until I read Ina May's book.
Full of real labor stories written by women who worked with Ina May at her birthing center, it was this book that changed my outlook on childbirth. Each story was more beautiful than the next. Rather than focus on all the things that could go wrong, Ina May's book made me see that labor could be an empowering, spiritual experience. I felt inspired by all these women who had chosen to give birth naturally and peacefully. The more I read, the more I realized that labor didn't have to be as medical and fear-inducing as it's become. For the first time, labor became something to look forward to and my fear about it slipped away.
I started talking to other people I knew who had given birth naturally. One friend suggested a hypnobirthing course. I was already 36 weeks along, but Daniel and I scrambled to sign up and spent three Saturdays working with an instructor who taught us all sorts of breathing and relaxation techniques. I'll admit that some seemed a bit hokey, but there were others that we really liked. Almost every day for the next four weeks, we practiced the techniques at home before bed. I liked the birthing affirmations best. A series of encouraging sentences that I read or listened to each day, they helped me think about labor in a positive way.
This might help explain why I was so upset when Bonnie told me that I had to be induced. I wanted my body to go into labor on its own. Instead, I needed a drug to get things going. I'd heard that Pitocin, the drug normally used during inductions, was extrememly powerful and often made contractions come on a lot stronger and more quickly than they would during a non-induced labor. Luckily, Bonnie was willing to start me off on Cytotech, a drug that was a bit milder.
It took a little while for anything to happen. To pass the time, I text messaged and emailed all my friends and family to let them know what was going on. I sent Daniel out to buy some food and a few magazines, and for a little while, I just hung out with him and my Mom, waiting.
Soon I started having mild contractions. Bonnie kept coming in to check on me periodically. I was starting to dilate, but at a pretty slow pace. She made it clear that if I didn't progress quickly, they'd need to use Pitocin. We begged her to give us one a little more time. She agreed, but the nurses still hung the bag on my IV pole so it'd be all ready in case they needed to use it. Determined to avoid it, Daniel and I walked around the labor ward a few times and less than an hour later, my contractions started to get stronger. When Bonnie came in again, she was happy with my progress and let us skip the Pitocin.
In the beginning, the contractions were manageable. I was able to talk and laugh in between them. I felt in control. Daniel was on one side, coaching me through various breathing and relaxation techniques, and my Mom was on the other, my constant cheerleader. It felt wonderful to have them there.
As my contractions began to get stronger, I needed to move. I'd learned that walking or moving during contractions would help me get through them. Unfortunately, I was required to wear a blood pressure cuff on my arm and a fetal monitor around my belly, which made it hard to move around at all. I had to ask permission to get out of bed and when I did, the nurses hung the wires around my neck so they could hook everything back up easily.
Then came a point where my contractions were so painful that I couldn't pay attention to anyone and needed to fight through on my own. I remember moaning a lot, and when I was allowed out of bed, I went into the bathroom and labored in there, standing up, swaying my hips, anything to help alleviate the sharp, stabbing pains. When the contractions were really bad, I kept thinking that I would never have a child again, that I didn't even know how I'd have this child, that I wanted the experience to be over right then and there. It felt like I was in an ocean and kept getting knocked over by big, violent waves. Right when I was able to stand up and catch my breath, an even bigger one took me down with a force I could have never imagined.
When I was 4 or 5 centimeters dilated, someone told me that the worst was almost over. In my head, I remember thinking "How can that be if I still have 5 more centimeters until I'm fully dilated?" My Mom and Daniel kept telling me I could do it, but I knew I couldn't. The pain was unbearable.
When Bonnie suggested that I consider getting an epidural since my blood pressure was rising, it felt like music to my ears. I knew that if my blood pressure continued to go up, I'd be at risk for a c-section and so, I gave in. I'd given it my all but felt completely exhausted, knocked down and traumatized by the experience. It was too hard to try to have the peaceful, natural labor I had hoped for when hooked up to a bunch of machines and having internal checks every 30 minutes, often during some pretty big contractions.
The anesthesiologist couldn't have come sooner. In my labor classes, I had a hard time hearing about the epidural. The thought of a needle going into my spine freaked me out. But at this point, I felt so beaten up. A little needle in my back seemed like nothing.
It took a little while until I felt fine. I could still feel my contractions but they were much less intense than before. It was around 1am at this point, 8 hours since they'd started the induction, so Bonnie suggested that we all get some sleep before it was time to push.
Daniel got into bed with me, my Mom settled into a reclining chair, the lights were dimmed and the labor mix I'd created on my Ipod lulled us all to sleep. I thought the worst was over, but no, there was still more to come.
A little while later, an alarm on the fetal monitor went off. Eight doctors came rushing into the room. Bright, surgical lights were thrown on, I was told to turn onto all fours, an oxygen mask was thrust over my mouth, and I was given a shot in my arm. I felt like I was in a scene from either Lost or Grey's Anatomy.
The baby's heart rate had dropped significantly due to the intensity of my contractions. The shot in my arm temporarily stopped them to give the baby a break. I was shaking. It only lasted five minutes or so, but felt like an eternity. There was one nurse whose voice I remember vividly. She was stroking my arm and telling me in a calm, sweet voice that if the baby's heart rate didn't go up in five minutes, they'd need to prepare me for a c-section.
All eyes were on the fetal monitor which I couldn't see because I was still on all fours. In my head, I started talking to the baby, begging him to stay strong and to keep fighting and that I'd meet him soon. I'm not sure if that's what did it, but his heart rate eventually did go back up and things became semi peaceful once again.
It was time to push soon after. The end was near and I felt excited, not scared. I couldn't believe that I'd soon be meeting my baby. I know that Bonnie was worried about my blood pressure and his heart rate, so she coached me rather vigorously. The baby's head had been low most of my pregnancy. She said that if I pushed hard enough, we could have him out quickly.
I loved pushing. For once, I felt in control. It was up to me to push my baby into this world and in just 40 minutes, I did. That final push was incredibly painful and for a second I didn't think I could stand it. Then his whole body just slipped out and the pain melted away.
Since I was already six days overdue, the baby had passed his first stool in utero which the doctors were able to detect when my water broke. Immediately after he was born, they rushed him to a table and put a tube down his throat to suck out the tainted fluid that he had inhaled. It took a little while, but finally, after 10 very long minutes, I met my little boy. As expected, it was love at first sight.
Weighing in at 7 lbs, 2 oz, Nicolas arrived with an adorable head of dark hair, his Dad's lips and a cute button nose.
I'd been hoping for an Earth Day baby, but ended up getting something even better. Nico was born on my cousin Christopher's birthday. Christopher passed away a year and a half ago in a tragic car accident. He was only 16. When I found out I was due on April 17, just 6 days before Christopher's birthday, I couldn't help but think that he'd come on the 23rd. To be honest, I wasn't sure how it would make me feel. Now that I see how much joy it has brought to my aunt and uncle, I couldn't be happier that it worked out this way. And I can't help but think that it was meant to be.
The first few days in the hospital were tiring and we couldn't wait to bring Nico home. It's only been 15 days, but so far, we've been blessed with a calm, peaceful baby.
It probably won't come as a surprise that Nicolas has already been to a few restaurants. There was a trip last week to Thomas Beisl, an Austrian restaurant where I satisfied a very intense craving for sausage, sauerkraut, and my first beer. He slept the whole time.
And last Saturday, he also slept through his first Park Slope brunch at The Stone Park Cafe (where the eggs, biscuits and sausage gravy are unreal!).
There was also an impromptu trip to Manhattan to see our friend Josh who was in NYC on a business trip for one day. He was staying at the swanky Gramercy Park Hotel and had keys to Gramercy Park, a place I'd always wanted to visit. It took me 30 years to get there and my little guy just 6 days!
We also spent one afternoon in Prospect Park having a picnic. Once again, he slept most of the time, so we just continued staring at him and taking lots of pictures.
Our friends and family have been wonderful, coming by with adorable baby clothes, all sorts of little toys (including a guitar from his Aunt Margherita and Uncle Dante!), and tons of food to stock our fridge.
I even have more time on my hands than I was expecting since all he does is eat and sleep. Maybe I'll be writing more often than I thought. Might also explain why I finally decided to join Facebook! Our pediatrician told us that the first two weeks are a honeymoon, so things could change any minute. For now, I'm enjoying this amazing experience and the joy it's bringing me, my family and our friends. It's truly been one of the best times of my entire life.
Looking back on my labor, I feel like a warrior. In the moment, it felt traumatic, but now I just feel a million times stronger for having endured it. I understand why so many people opt for pain medication, but I'm still curious about the all natural route. But to do that, I'd need to be in a more peaceful place, such as a birthing center or at home, for it to truly work. I'm still glad I gave it a try.
What's important is that Nicolas is healthy, happy and finally here!