I never meant for four months to pass before putting her story into words. I think I've been avoiding it, waiting to feel a sense of peace and acceptance regarding the choices I made in the hours leading up to her birth, afraid that if I wrote honestly about my feelings surrounding my labor with Berkley, that she would read this years from now and mistake any disappointment toward my decisions and the process, as disappointment in her. I was hoping I would be able to write about how my whole labor was filled with the same joy and love and beauty that were indeed so very present and overwhelming the moment I laid eyes on my sweet girl, because she is no less than perfect, she is everything I could have dreamed and more. Perhaps writing honestly about my experience is in fact the only way I will come to accept it and release any regrets.
My due date was December 20 (according to the midwife) or December 18 (according to my OBGYN). At my forty week appointment the doctor checked me. I was dilated three centimeters. I knew from experience that this meant nothing. I could have a baby the next day or two weeks down the road. My doctor offered to schedule an induction for the day after Christmas, but he knew my answer before I spoke the words, "I want to let the baby come on his/her own time. I want to go into labor naturally and let my body do what it is designed to do."
So he told me that I would have to have a non-stress test and an ultrasound at forty-one weeks, and if the baby were still doing well I would be allowed to go to forty-two weeks, no longer. So I scheduled my non-stress test and ultrasound for the day after Christmas.
On December 26, I dropped off my sweet Milani with her Grandma Andrea, knowing that there was a possibility that they could keep me at the hospital, that my girl would be a big sister before I saw her next. Somewhere deep down perhaps I knew. And it was so bittersweet to leave her, to know she might be spending her first night away from me, to know that things could be so very different when we would reunite.
I met Jon at the hospital and reported to our non-stress test. I sat in the big recliner, with the monitors on my round belly and the clicker in my hand, ready to push the button with every kick and tumble. My doctor was on call that day and stopped by to check on us. "You know, we could just take you right upstairs and start the pitocin, just give me the word."
Jon was all for it. Not only was he all for it, since we still hadn't agreed on a boy name (Jon had his favorite and I had mine) he actually told me that if I agreed to just go up get induced, he would give up all rights to any input on our boy name. THIS WAS HUGE! After forty-one weeks of debating and bickering and stressing out over boy names, all I had to do to get my boy name without any further resistance was agree to the induction. But I didn't want it to go down that way, so I waited patiently in my recliner for the babykins to move.
My little one had different plans, and she only moved once in twenty minutes. We failed our non-stress test. This was typical though, I knew that this little one usually slept hard for a while, then would wake up and beat the crap out of my uterus for two hours straight. Now any other day they would have fed me some orange juice and kept me hooked up for another twenty minutes, until the baby was out of the sleep cycle, but they were booked solid that day so I had to give up my chair and report to the ultrasound.
As I got ready for the ultrasound, the technician made small talk. "You're forty-one weeks, why is it that you're not being induced?"
I tried to explain again how I wanted to trust my body to deliver a healthy baby when the time was right. That when my cervix was ready and the baby was ready, a natural labor would be easiest on my body and the little one. As she swirled the ultrasound wand over my belly, slimy with gel, she continued "You know, your doctor is the only one in the group who will even LET women go past forty-one weeks. Every other doctor would make you induce now. A long time ago they all used to go to forty-two weeks before inducing, but they've all decided to switch to forty-one, I guess they all felt that waiting that extra week was too big a risk."
She had my attention. Even though I knew better, I asked for more details. "Well, I don't want to scare you, but things can happen past forty-one weeks, I guess most doctors aren't comfortable with the risks. I won't say any more than that."
She told us that the baby looked healthy and that my fluid levels were good, but also that the fluid looked cloudy which could be a result of either the vernix wearing off or the presence of meconium, both signaling that the baby was ready. I was sufficiently freaked out and totally on the fence about what to do. I desperately wanted to trust my body and to experience an intervention free labor, but I didn't want to but the baby in harms way. Then I made the biggest mistake. I asked her what she would do if she were in my position. Without hesitation, "I would be induced! Let me ask you this, knowing that your baby is healthy today, could you live with the decision to wait if something happened before you delivered?"
The room spun, and I lost my breath. Her words fell like sand bags on my heart. Heavy. Grim. The technician offered a suggestion, "What if I send you up to L&D for the doctor to check you. That way if you're dilated further and it would be an easy induction you would know, but if you're not dilated further, you could go home and wait it out?"
So we checked into labor and delivery, and I changed into a hospital gown, shoved all my clothes into a plastic baggie labeled "patient belongings", and slid under the crisp sheets of a hospital bed. I was again hooked up to monitors, and was kept company by the steady thumping of my little one's heartbeat. The baby was moving enough now to make the lines on the printout jump and wiggle. When the doctor came in, I told him about how the ultrasound technician had terrified me with ideas of a still-birth at forty-two weeks. He checked my cervix. Still three centimeters. And he offered me his input. "Do I think something will happen if you go home, probably not. Do I know nothing will happen if you stay and get induced, absolutely. I know you want a natural labor so let me offer you this, most women past forty weeks will start contracting and go into labor on their own once their water has broken. What if we break your water, and you can walk the halls to help along some contractions and if all goes well hopefully we can have a nice, peaceful, pitocin free birth, today."
So I weighed the scenarios in my head. 1.) I could stay and potentially have an intervention free delivery, with my doctor who I know and like, and who knows me and what I want. I could avoid the whole "could you live with yourself if you go home and your baby dies"
guilt. 2.) I could go home, and trust my initial instinct, and go into labor on my own. 3.) I could go home, and trust my initial instinct, and not go into labor naturally before forty-two weeks and wind up being induced anyway, but with whichever doctor happened to be on call, whom I might not like. Or 4.) I could go home and have that dreaded something
happen to the baby.
So I took the bait, and signed on the dotted line. I remember texting my sister, a strong mama who only five months prior delivered her healthy ten pound daughter two and a half weeks after her due date, in her home with a midwife, to let her know I was being admitted. I imagined how disappointed she would be in me, how she would think that I talk a good "natural childbirth"
game but that I had buckled under the pressure and fumbled the ball inches from the goal line. How she might even think I'm a big phony hypocrite. At least that was what I was thinking about myself.
My nurse, Debby, who was loud and bubbly and a little bit out there, reassured me repeatedly that she was the best nurse on the floor at putting in IV lines, and that my veins looked awesome. Four needle pricks later, she slunk to the nurses station to recruit help. It took two nurses, a whole lot of needle wiggling, IV line untangling and valve checking to get me hooked up.
It was around 4:30 pm when the doctor arrived and broke my water, and set me free to walk the halls, wheeling along my monitor. Jon and I did laps, literally covering miles of labor and delivery hallways. I think the nurses were amused, but we walked, and chattered and laughed while mild contractions rolled in and out. Initially the contractions came roughly ten minutes apart, but nothing too uncomfortable, and slowly they began to die down. I was panicking on the inside, keeping close watch of the clock, fearing, knowing that if my contractions didn't pick up the pace I'd be pumped full of pitocin.
We took breaks here and there, to rest my back, and so they could hook me back up to the monitors and check on the little one. We watched Friends on the TV while the nurse repositioned the heart rate monitor that kept slipping down. After fifteen minutes of monitoring the nurse came back with a glass of orange juice. "Doctor isn't seeing as many movements as he'd like so we're going to keep you on the monitor a little longer and see if the baby will start moving a little more."
The orange juice did the trick, they could hear the kicks and flips all the way at the nurse's station.
Ariana came to keep us company around 9:00 pm. She kindly reassured me that I had made the best decision I could have with the information I had. She reminded me that if I had gone home, I would have stressed and worried each and every time I couldn't feel the baby. I never would have relaxed. I knew she was right. The doctor came in to check my progress around 10:00 pm. I was only four centimeters and contractions were fizzling out. I braced myself, I knew what was coming. The doctor suggested that I seriously consider pitocin. With each hour that passed since they ruptured my membranes my risk of infection increased. I was defeated. I gave him the go ahead. I kept reminding anyone who would listen that I could have been at home, in my bed. I should
have been home in my bed.
And so began a long long sleepless night with pitocin dripping in my IV, and contractions getting stronger and more painful. Jon and I were both exhausted, trying to get rest, trying to find comfort in the dark hospital room. I kept wondering aloud how Milani was doing. Kept saying that I missed my girl. I missed her fiercely. The nurse told me that there were a series of C-sections coming up which would occupy both doctors for a while. She kept telling me that since I had delivered Milani in five hours she was worried I would go quickly once I started progressing. She told me that if I felt any pressure, even felt so much as the urge to fart (honestly her words), that I was to let her know. The doctor checked me before going into surgery. I was only five centimeters. It was maybe 2:00 am.
Around 3:30 am the trembles kicked in, followed shortly by the upset stomach. I had known it was coming. I warned the nurse at the beginning of her shift that I was a "puker". She didn't mind. Jon and I dozed between contractions. I knew I wasn't changing positions as much as I should have been. Maybe that's why when they checked me again at 5:00 am I was only six and a half centimeters, and in serious amounts of discomfort. And if that weren't enough, my contractions were weakening and slowing, but the pain was intensifying. My lower back was screaming electric with back labor. My body was resisting everything. I was losing my resolve, quickly.
I felt like I had hit a brick wall, emotionally and physically drained. Exhausted in every cell of my body. I wanted something for the pain. If it had taken me twelve hours to dilate from three to six centimeters, simple math told me I could be in labor for another twelve hours. I couldn't keep going like this for another twelve hours. I felt again like a sell-out. A weakling. How could I have delivered Milani without an epidural, and here I was begging Jon to tell me it was OK if I asked for one. Begging him to tell me I wasn't weak, and pathetic. Begging the nurse to promise me that an epidural wouldn't stop my progress and force me to have a C-section. I wanted to birth this baby the way I had Milani. I wanted him/her to come down my birth canal. I wanted to push. The nurse made no guarantees but told me that if I had only been two centimeters she might caution me about an epidural slowing my progress, but at seven centimeters she didn't think it would be a problem.
Again I chose what I swore I never wanted. I agreed to let the nurse call the anesthesiologist. She told me he was tied up and it would be a while, so she offered me something to take the edge off until he arrived. I don't even remember the name of the drug, but I figured what's one more at this point? She told me it wouldn't take the pain away, but would help me relax. She was right. It still hurt like hell, but I was too high to care. I was a zombie. But I was relaxed, and resting. Like a puddle on the bed.
At 7:00 am the nurses changed shifts, and in walked my new nurse, and even in my loopy state I knew exactly who she was. It was Dorothy, sweet Dorothy who was my L&D nurse when I had Milani, Sweet Dorothy who I had loved and had always wanted to thank, but whose name I had forgotten after Milani was born. Jon and I babbled like sleep deprived, drugged idiots telling her how much we had loved her, how we had forgotten her name, how much had we wanted to thank her for being with us through Milani's birth. She accepted our crazy talk graciously. She's good like that.
They checked me again when the anesthesiologist arrived a little after 7:30, I was eight centimeters. I hunched forward on the edge of the bed like I had seen so many do on A Baby Story
. I felt the pinch, and the weirdness as he fed the line between my vertibrae, and then as I rested, slowly, the pain began to lift. Relief. Sweet relief. I could breathe. I could relax. And I was a vision of everything I never wanted for my labor. Seventeen hours of contractions, an oxygen mask on my face, a catheter to empty my bladder, high as a kite and motionless from the waist down with a tube feeding anesthesia into my spine, and another delivering pitocin into my bloodstream.
Ariana stopped in before her first patents, she said she could only stay an hour. I could see the sympathy in her eyes, I'm sure I was a sight to behold. She offered to stay with me and give Jon a break. Dorothy told me to let her know when I felt pressure. With the next contraction or so I asked her if it was at all possible I felt pressure already. Ariana encouraged Jon to go grab a bite to eat, I hinted that I didn't think Jon would have the time. Dorothy checked me, and smiled "Yep, let's get set up, you're fully dilated"
With Ariana on one side and Jon on the other I pushed through maybe six or seven contractions. I remember feeling the baby crown. The doctor told me that the baby was right there, that if he were to cut an episiotomy the baby would slip right out, but he wanted me to push again. I pushed through one more contraction and the baby was out. "It's a girl!"
I thought I heard the doctor say. I remember turning to Ariana "Did he just say it's a girl?"
She grinned and nodded. At 8:50 am we met our little girl Berkley Reese.
Now here is where I insist that all I truly cared about was that the baby would be healthy, but that I honestly with my whole being believed it would be a boy. I truly and honestly didn't care whether it was a boy or a girl. If we had a boy we would have one of each, and Jon would have a son. If it were a girl, Milani would get a sister, and although they might fight like cats and dogs for the first two decades of their lives, hopefully they would get to experience the incredible bond and level of friendship that I am so grateful to share with my sister. When they told me it was a girl, I secretly rejoiced. I am so happy that my girls will have each other. I believe that to have a sister is one of the biggest blessings in the world. It was meant to be this way. Maybe we'll just need to try for a boy with number three, I wonder if my rights to the boy name transfer...
Jon didn't want to cut the cord so Ariana did, and the doctor handed me my sweet girl. She looked almost exactly like Milani did on her birth day. She was so perfect, so beautiful. I clutched her closely, have her kisses. I saw Jon looking over my shoulder with tears in the corners of his eyes. Ariana snapped pictures. Dorothy took her to weigh and measure her, 8lb 8oz, 20 1/2 inches long. Only one ounce and half an inch different from Milani, and the same dark hair, but her eyes were a deep, rich, navy blue. And then I nursed her, and she latched on perfectly, and nursed beautifully, and I never wanted to give her up. Dorothy waited patiently, as I took my time feeding my girl, and when Berkley finished Dorothy gave her her first bath.
After my blood pressure stabilized, and my legs regained some feeling, my girl and I were wheeled to our Mom and Baby room where my Milani girl, my beautiful big sister Milani girl, waited to meet her perfect baby sister. Mostly she just wanted me, but she would grow to love her Berkley sister. And she looked so big and grown up overnight. She played with the hospital phone, and went for walks to play with the wagons by the nursery, and I was so so happy to see my first girl again. I had missed her terribly and knew we'd have another night apart. I spent the rest of our hospital stay snuggled with my new love, nursing painlessly, counting the minutes until we were set free to go home and become a family of four.
Since that blessed day I have played the If Only
game endlessly. If only
I had been stronger, perhaps I could have delivered without
the epidural, and I wouldn't feel like such a weakling, or maybe the
epidural helped my body relax enough to allow the contractions to
make progress. Maybe, had I been stubborn, progression would have
slowed further, and I would have been forced into a C-section. If only
I hadn't let that ultrasound technician scare me out of following my instincts, perhaps I would have had a quick and easy natural birth once my cervix was ready. Or maybe God knew better than I the way that scenario would have played out. Maybe He knew that those ugly, paralyzing words were exactly what I needed to hear to get me agree to stay and be induced. I shudder to think that He knew it had to be this way or I wouldn't be holding her, sleeping, in my arms as I type.
I have wasted too much time criticizing in my choices, and the way the cards fell throughout my labor. I'm learning that in life you can't go to the DVD menu and play the alternate ending, you don't get to read the other options from the u-choose book. All I can do is thank God that I was given this healthy, beautiful, absolutely perfect daughter, and accept that the choices I made were the best I could have given the circumstances, and that it unfolded exactly the way it was meant to. Not the way I had planned, but we make plans and God laughs.
I Love You my Sweet Berkley Reese!