After a long hiatus from blogging due to unforeseen delays in the renovation of our house (which many of you know about and which I will elaborate on much more later) we had another life changing event that we thought was worth sharing - possibly the biggest accomplishment of our lives: on December 31st of 2013, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Benoît. It was simultaneously the most difficult and amazing day of my life. For those who are interested, I have included a blow-by-blow of the experience. Before I start though, I want to say that I chose to have a natural birth. It was a very personal decision, one that I am happy that I made, but by no means would ever want to push on anyone else. My delivery was not easy. I knew my contractions would be difficult, but assumed that I would have some time between them to recuperate. As you will see, my vision of myself relaxing in my candlelit bathtub listening to Air between contractions did not exactly pan out. I now totally understand and respect the reasons why a woman would chose to or not to have a natural birth.
At 12:30 am on Tuesday the 31st of December (five days before my due date), Dave and I were watching Riki Lake deliver her second baby in the movie The Business of Being Born (seriously - this is not a joke). Something about her birth must have triggered some hormones of my own, because as I stood up to go to the bathroom, my water broke. Super excited, we called our doula, Sarah Kaylor, who told me to drink some wine and go to bed and told Dave that because I am strep B positive, Dave should call our OB and ask for his advice on what to do next.
Dr. Mussali, our amazing OB, congratulated Dave and I on the broken bag of waters and suggested that we call him when contractions start (even if it was in the middle of the night), otherwise to come into his office the next morning.
Off to bed I went.
In the morning, I still had not had any regular contractions, so Dave and I took our time getting ready to go to the clinic: we showered, packed our bags, and ate a nice breakfast. While not happy about it, we assumed that because of my strep B, we would have to be admitted and induced so that I would deliver in the Mt. Sinai required 24 hours.
My contractions started in earnest when I arrived at the clinic at around 10:30. I lay on my side in the doctor’s office with a super-tight fetal heart rate monitor on, having a contraction as Dr. Mussali told me that I was 2cm dilated, and that I should go for a walk in central park to get my labor moving, and come back to his office to get checked out again later at around 1pm.
I remember distinctly thinking these three things:
1. 2cm?!!! WTF. I am never going to make it.
2. Walk in Central Park? Is he crazy? I can barely move right now.
3. If I have to put this fetal heart rate band on one more time, I am not going to make it.
On the way to the car, Dave and I decided that we would head to his parents place in the Upper West Side. Sometime earlier in my pregnancy, we had agreed with his parents that we would do this and that they would head over to our place in Brooklyn and essentially get the house ready for us. Unfortunately, we made this agreement under the assumption that I was going to deliver on or after my due date and the holidays, and not on his mother’s birthday / New Year’s Eve / while Dave’s brother and his fiancé were visiting from out of town.
So, while my in-laws sat biting their fingernails on the other side of the wall, Dave and I set up shop in is parents’ not-as-big-as-I-remember-it bathroom, and waited for our doula, Sarah, to arrive. Note: I do not recommend this! Knowing that other people are listening to you making animal sounds on their bathroom floor is never fun. Though I do think they may have learned a thing or two about childbirth...
Very quickly my contractions went from being 10 minutes apart to being 2 minutes apart, and Dave had created a little circuit for me: I would spend the first 20 seconds of each contraction sitting on the toilet, then dive on to all fours with my head resting on the garbage can (in case I barfed, which luckily I did not), and then he placed a pillow on the floor at behind the garbage can where I would lie in the fetal position and wait for my next contraction.
This part was really, really hard. Every contraction I was questioning whether or not I could make it. Breathing really did get me through it, as did Dave. When Sarah arrived at about 12:45, she listened to exactly one contraction and was like, “Have you been doing that, you know that thing where half way through the contraction you start pushing, for long? If so, it’s not really cool that we stay here.” So Dave called Dr. Mussali and asked him to meet us at the hospital.
At around 1:30pm I arrived at the hospital on all fours. Sarah led me in to the hospital while Dave parked the car. As we walked through the front door, the security guy at the front rushed over with a wheelchair to help me. Sarah told him that I would not need the chair, I was fine on all fours, but if I could please get the emergency elevator that would be very much appreciated. Clearly, she had done this before. In the labor and delivery ward I was rushed into the closest room available and strapped to the fetal monitor. After a whirlwind of fears that there was meconium in my fluid and some hospital staff being nonplussed that I was strep B positive and arriving so late, the nurse asked me if I wanted an epidural. The room fell silent. I was supposed to answer that question?! For myself?! Clearly every fiber of my being wanted that epidural! Somehow, I managed to squeak out a very doubtful, “No thank you” before my next contraction came on.
Next the nurse measured my cervix, after the 2cm incident, I did not want to know how dilated I actually was, but asked that she tell Dave instead. I lasted about 10 seconds before I begged Dave to tell me how dilated I was. Luckily, I was 8cm and very soon after that I was pushing. Before I started though, Dr. Mussali asked me again if I would like an epidural, as it would be my last opportunity to request one. Perhaps sensing my hesitation, he told me that if I wanted a natural birth, I could have one – I was close and he knew that I could do it. It was just the vote of confidence that I needed to keep going.
I was surprised by just how hard pushing was. I certainly did not feel that “close”. In my mind pushing was going to be this fast process where someone tells me how close I am to meeting my baby and within three pushes he would be out. In reality I was exhausted and the baby’s head, though visible, was not moving down very quickly. Nevertheless, with a lot of guidance and instruction from Sarah, Dr. Mussali and Dave, I delivered at 4:08 pm in, ironically, a modified happy-baby yoga pose. Sitting on that bed looking down at this tiny, cone-headed, blue, mucus-covered baby that has just come out of me was surreal. He was perfect.
More on our experience as parents later, but one person who needs to be thanked in this story is Ben's uncle Steve, who actually sat in our car for two whole hours on the Upper West Side while I labored because we couldn't find parking at Dave's parents place... He even ran out to buy me gatorade! Thanks Steve!
The top four photos are by Lev Kuperman Photography.