I say to my child, I will explain as much of life as I can, but you must remember that there is a part of life for which you are the explanation.
To commemorate successfully surviving the first month of motherhood, I’d like to tell you my birth story. I don’t want to write it down for the purpose of preserving details, because right now, I feel as if every moment of Everett’s delivery has been invisibly inked to my skin. Rather, I need to write to help me heal…to ensure that I don’t take that day and bury its scary memory, never allowing a necessary chance for release.
I was asleep until around eleven o’clock in the evening, when I felt my very first contraction. Still thinking the sensation could be the regular cramps I’d been getting, I tried to resume sleep, but less than eight minutes later, another contraction came. And then another. I woke Chris and told him I was pretty sure labor had started.
Since I was eleven days past my due date, all I’d been wanting were contractions. But when I realized they were real and there to stay, I couldn’t believe it was the actual start of meeting our baby. So to relax, I took a bath and shortly after, lost my mucus plug, feeling giddy to see a foreign glob in the toilet when I flushed. This is actually happening!
Before the sun rose and the next morning officially began, we started to make our drive to The Midwife Center. My contractions were being timed roughly five minutes apart.
We arrived, only to have the staff say we were early. I was still able to hold a conversation, a sign that told them I wasn’t into active labor yet. But we decided to stay anyways. Chris and I settled into our room (it was only one of three–The Midwife Center is comprised of a very small row house in the heart of Pittsburgh) and tried to take a short nap together on the full-sized bed I’d later deliver on.
During each contraction, without intentionally trying, I began to visualize you and I together, standing towards one another. You’d gently blow what looked like glitter from the palm of your hand, and I’d breathe in the scattering golden specks. And then when I exhaled, green ivy-like leaves brushed down the sides of my stomach, taking the pain away. It seems so strange to picture, but somehow I felt like you were guiding my mind onto a straight plane of concentration.
Twelve hours had now passed since labor initially started, but when my cervix was checked, I was still under 4 cm. I was encouraged over and over to take a long walk outside, so finally I obeyed, and once that was completed, I got into the big jacuzzi tub, where my contractions really started to intensify.
The hot water felt incredible. When I’d get really sweaty after a contraction, Chris would pour cool water over my shoulders, and the simple act allowed us to feel like somewhat of a team. For all the hours before, I knew he was there, but part of a constant background I couldn’t plant my attention to. He felt helpless, stuck between wanting to give me space, wanting to help, and having no idea what to do.
My doula told me she really thought I was close to 8 cm and I remember thinking, I can absolutely do this. Hours had passed, I had walked, I had relaxed in the tub; I was hopeful my next cervix check would reveal significant progress, but I’d only made it 2 cm further.
I circled around that little confined room, cursing and in complete denial of my slow progress. I said I was done, that this was all so stupid and I could not make it to the end. If drugs were available, this is the point where I would have gladly taken them, despite how much I wanted a “natural” birth.
My body felt comprised of jelly, and I knew the hardest part was yet to come–I still had to get this baby out. Active labor had really only just started and already, I was exhausted. By this point, it was probably around dinnertime.
Wanting to rest and float without effort, I returned to the jacuzzi, beginning to become loud and audible. Noise seemed to be the only thing that helped.
Chris was sitting on the side of the tub and I told him, “If I could survive losing my mom, I can do this.” I was staring straight ahead at the shower wall tile, with salty water swelling in my eyes.
Your death and Everett’s birth, were the two hardest moments in my life thus far.
After yet another chunk of amounted time (at this point I had been in labor for twenty-four hours), I stood up out of the jacuzzi, letting out the loudest scream yet. I could hear the nurses and midwife come rushing down the narrow hall towards my room.
I felt so much pressure inside my groin, like a watermelon wanted through my body. And it didn’t just feel like a wide watermelon, but a very heavy one, too. For the first time I actually felt scared because I had absolutely no idea how this melon was going to safely escape my body.
Within seconds of crawling onto the bed, I felt the urge to push. The sensation completely took over me. For months I wondered, How will I know when to push? And you just do. Your body knows.
I’d crouch back into a child’s pose with each contraction when I pushed; this is what gave me the most strength. And I would cry out, literally sounding like a wounded lion. My doula softly tried telling me to save that vocal energy for the physical, and I ignored her comment completely, furiously shaking my head at her. Thankfully it was midnight and there weren’t women having their prenatal check-up appointments on the floor above. My noises alone would’ve scared them all away from having a drug-free birth.
And then only a few moments later, the baby’s heartbeat slowed down. That’s when I heard the nurse tell me to slow my breath and, “Okay, Hayley. We need to get this baby out.” I had only been pushing for two minutes, and apparently, I only had minutes more.
I was told to switch positions from my back, to my side, to all fours with pillows propped for support. I was flipping around like a pancake. To encourage me, the midwife had me reach down and feel my baby’s head when crowning–it felt like a soft, crinkled walnut.
His head was now out, but the cord was tightly wrapped around his neck twice and he wasn’t breathing. I had no idea my baby was in danger, but Chris did.
I ended up on my back and was told to push towards the ceiling which helped immensely. The midwife was also holding a twisted sheet and I pulled on it like I was climbing a ladder, as she tugged back. I truly felt like I was fighting for my life and the life still inside me, and not a fragment of that statement is exaggerated.
I was pushing with the power of my every cell, yet could not get the rest of his body out. To my later knowledge, he had shoulder dystocia, a positioning that caused him to be stuck behind my pelvic bone. That is why later, my eyes and face and chest would be dotted red from popped blood vessels.
Panic started to fill the room, and for a moment, I honestly questioned if I was capable enough. And you know I’m tough. Everything was just so incredibly intense and nothing like I’d ever experienced before. But as soon as I had a fearful thought, it would immediately dissipate because I was as present and “in the moment” as a person could be. It was like my thoughts were on such fast-forward, the words in my mind blurred into a white noise of condensed static.
They had to break his shoulder to get him through me, causing a small hairline fracture in his newly formed bones.
I don’t remember feeling the baby slide out like I imagined I would’ve. But I could see my stomach flatten as his body came out of mine. The space he safely inhabited for nine months, seemed to immediately deflate. An entire day after I had started steady contractions in the comforts of my home bed, Everett came into this world.
His cord was ripped in half and he lost all of his meconium from the stress of delivery. He was blue and still wasn’t properly breathing, if at all.
I was still on my back, excessively bleeding and empty. They had him on the bed next to me, with oxygen up to his face. There were two nurses, my doula, and midwife around him, so I couldn’t see much.
Chris was telling me, “It’s a boy, it’s a boy” and I just cried, “My baby, my baby.” It was equally terrifying and traumatic. I had no idea what was happening. Did I do something wrong? Was I not strong enough?
I had oxygen up to my face, too. It was so hard to breathe and I had no idea why a mask was over my mouth as I was leaning across the bed, trying to get to my baby. It felt like a cumbersome disruption.
My hands and legs were shaking like I had uncontrollable shivers. I was pricked with Pitocin in order to stop hemorrhaging, while they were still trying to get my baby to breathe. I was so scared and spent and felt lifeless: I honestly thought if I closed my eyes, I’d go to wherever it is you are.
They took Everett to a table and were rubbing him for stimulation. His color was still very pale, but he was now breathing. I could see, even from feet away, that his eyes were wide open and he looked so curious. My doula was talking to him, greeting him into life, and I said aloud, “His name is Everett,” so everyone could hear.
The women were all talking with each other about transferring him to the hospital, telling different people to call different places, but they all stayed calm and collected.
For a brief moment, Everett was laid on my chest. I couldn’t really see his face from how he was positioned, but held his little bum and caught glimpses of his eyes. He was still looking all around, trying to hold his head up. Chris was leaning right over us, and he and I were crying with joy and relief and some magic wondered emotion that I have no word or name for.
Our son was stable, but my midwife wanted to transfer him to the hospital because of his coloring. It was simply a precaution. So Chris rode in the ambulance with Everett, and I tried not to feel powerless when the two paramedic men held my baby and took him away from me. The need to protect my child surged through my body, and it took my entire reasoning mind to keep me still and steady on the bed, even though by then I was naked and bleeding and crying, only covered with a white bed sheet.
After a surprisingly few amount stitches and delivering the placenta, I was able to be somewhat cleaned up and clothed and refuel with some food. One of the nurses made me an English muffin with egg and cheese and coffee, and it felt like a victory meal, even though my hard-earned prize was nowhere in sight.
I had to stay for at least four hours before leaving to be with Chris and Everett, so I had Allison come to The Midwife Center; it was a relief to see my sister walk through the door and straight onto my bed. And Chris was continually keeping me posted with updates and pictures from the hospital–Everett was thriving.
When I was able to be discharged, Chris came back to help with the process. And ever so slowly, like a deteriorating old woman, I got in and out of our SUV for the hospital drive, feeling blood rush out with every small exertion, like standing. But it didn’t matter. I just wanted Everett.
We entered the NICU and I cried seeing him hooked up to cords and monitors. I held his little hand and everything I had just been through disappeared. I got to breastfeed him right away.
His nurse had good news each time she talked with us. Every test they did on Everett, he passed with flying colors, so we knew early on that indeed our baby was fine. He just had a really scary start.
We stayed overnight in what felt like the hospital’s version of a motel. Up on the top floor, there were a few rooms dedicated to outpatients, decorated with two twin beds, a basic television, and a small adjoined bathroom. Every hour I’d wake up soaked in sweat that smelled like celery, with water in my eyes, remembering the birth and wanting Everett. I felt detached, unable to properly adjust to no longer being pregnant without the evidence of my child.
Chris would guide me into a wheelchair and take us both down the elevator to Everett’s floor. I’d nurse him and feel a little better, and we’d go back up to our room, only for the whole process to happen again and again.
Thankfully, Everett was discharged the next morning, on Chris’ birthday. When we got home, I went upstairs, got undressed, and snuggled in bed with my baby boy. It felt so good to have him home. All finally felt right in the world.
I feel like I can do absolutely anything after Everett’s birth, and I’d say that kind of confidence gives me a wonderful boosting start into motherhood.
I’m learning that nothing is how I expected it to be, but must trust that everything is how it’s supposed to be.