Staring at the plus sign on the home pregnancy test, I was in shock. My husband and I knew we wanted kids and planned to have a big family, though I hadn’t expected to get pregnant so easily. Our “plan” had been to wait a few years after getting married to start a family, and enjoy the time of “just us.”
Apparently I was one of those women who just gets “the feeling” when they are pregnant, because on a hunch I had decided to take a pregnancy test. Immediately aware of the new life I was carrying, I suddenly became concerned about every possible threat to the baby. Were there chemicals in my hand soap? Lead in the paint on the wall? Radiation from my laptop? I figured surely Dr. Pepper was off limits and poured the rest of the one I was drinking down the drain, realizing that I was nauseous, though probably only psychosomatically.
How will I tell my husband? I was out of town for the day and was driving back that evening. I packed my bag as my mind raced with thoughts. I pulled on my jeans and North Face jacket and got into the car. I had a four-hour drive ahead, plenty of time, I figured, to decide how to tell my husband and plan the next nine months.
Boy was I wrong! Those four hours were the fastest of my life. I was so excited to tell him, yet nervous at the same time. How would he react? Would he be excited too? As I drove the small state highway to my destination, I worried that the buckle of my belt was squeezing my stomach and somehow hurting the baby. I wondered if it was even safe for me to drive anymore, I was pregnant after all! I drove those four hours following every speed limit and driving law to the letter. Still trying to figure out how to tell him, I arrived at our apartment. That evening, we were planning to go out to a local bar that was famous for the aspiring songwriters who had played there. Rumor had it that anyone who wanted to make it big in the music business had to play at this bar, and tonight, one of our friends was playing there.
All through dinner I waited for the perfect opportunity to tell my husband, but somehow between the smoky atmosphere (should I even be around smoke?) and the drinking songs, the moment never felt quite right. I barely picked at the horrible bar food, slightly nauseous and wondering when the hunger part of the pregnancy would kick in. As we arrived back at our apartment, I got ready for bed. He noticed that I seemed rather reserved, and knowing that I had mentioned in passing the day before that I wondered if I was pregnant, he asked “are you still thinking you might be pregnant?”
Time’s up! I had to tell him now! “No,” I responded, “I am pregnant!.” He immediately got the look that I imagine most men get (or at least feel like getting) upon hearing the news that they are now a father: a look of fear, excitement and the realization that they now have another person to be responsible for. “Really?” He asked, “Are you sure?” I got the pregnancy test out of my bag to show him. As the realization sunk in that we were going to be parents, we sat on the bed, held hands and talked about the coming months. Where would we put a baby? What would we name it? What doctor would we use? I had just moved to the city where he worked after we got married, and hadn’t even thought of finding a dentist, much less a gynecologist yet.
We fell asleep that night with his hand on my 3-week pregnant (though five week pregnant by doctors calculation) tummy.
The next day, we told our families, and received a mixture of surprise and excitement. My husband has four brothers, who for a while had hinted about when they were going to be uncles, so after the surprise, they were excited too. When my 20-week ultrasound revealed that we were having a boy, that excitement grew for my hubby and his brothers. “More testosterone…” I thought to myself.
I was so busy with finishing up the last semester of my journalism program that I hardly had time to think about the impending birth until about seven months into the pregnancy. At that point, I figured it would be a good idea to Google “birth” and figure out what I wanted for this life changing experience. Bad idea. Bad idea to ever google anything! Immediately hundreds of results came up, including results for “birth videos” and “birth pictures.” Now for a young, seven month pregnant woman, close up pictures of vaginal birth are not exactly comforting. I squirmed in my seat as I accepted the realization that a seven or eight pound baby would eventually be exiting my body. I squirmed even more as I read of the record sizes of babies that had been born recently-14 pounds, 17 pounds… ouch!
I clicked on a link for birth plans. That sounded safe enough, it’s always good to have a plan, right? At this point I entered a whole new world I never realized existed. Did I want a PKU screening? What the heck is a PKU screening anyway? Did I want a vitamin K shot or Hep B shot for the baby? Why give babies shots, I wondered? Did I want any kind of pain medication? Now that was a good question!
My mom and my mother-in-law had both birthed their children naturally (a total of eight between them). I felt like this was something I should do, to prove my womanhood, of course, for I could not allow myself to be less of a woman that my MIL! That was setting the course for marital disaster. I checked “no medication” as my preference on the birth plan. After doing some additional reading on the possible dangers of epidurals, narcotics, and analgesics to mom and baby, I felt relieved by this decision. Then I got to the section on relaxation techniques. “Another good idea,” I thought.
The birth plan mentioned breathing, meditation, focal points, massage (everyone likes massage, right?), movement and other ideas for pain relief during natural labor. Then it hit me: I didn’t know how to breathe! Obviously if “breathing” was mentioned as a coping technique, there had to be more to it than just inhaling and exhaling. Google Ads mentioned Lamaze on the side bar. I had heard of Lamaze before, and figured this must be what breathing was all about. I searched for Lamaze classes in our area and called and reserved our place in the next class, which would finish right before we were due.
That night when my husband got home, I casually informed him that we were signed up for a Lamaze class, starting the next week. He groaned. His mom had taught Lamaze and he was less than excited about a six week commitment to learn how to breathe in a room full of other pregnant couples….
The next week he dutifully carried my two pillows, notebook, focal point and backpack of various Lamaze type items into the waiting room of the doctors office for the class. The class started with everyone introducing themselves by name and due date. We were one of the first couples due.
The instructor began with a basic (I mean VERY basic) introduction to the birthing process. After a good thirty minutes, it was safe to say that we all had a pretty solid grasp of where the baby was going to come out, how many centimeters it would take to get there, and that pushing was involved. We learned how to rate our pain on a smiley face scale (I would soon realize that there should have been no smiling faces on that scale!) and how to breathe in the various stages of labor. We practiced our “ha, ha, hoos” and our “puh, puh puhs” until we were blue in the face.
The next five classes consisted of more basic instruction on birth, practicing various positions to try during labor, and a video of a c-section. Why it ever seemed like a good idea to show a room full of pregnant women a graphic video of a c-section, I will never know! At least we got to see which husbands would be needing a hospital bed of their own during their wives’ deliveries!
Leaving the last night with our two pillows, bag of random items and notebook of positions and breathing, I didn’t feel any more prepared for our impending birth than when we began the classes. I dutifully practiced the breathing every day while my husband was at work, and was finally feeling pretty confident a few weeks later.
I was excited to tell everyone I met about my upcoming “natural” birth. I liked the looks of admiration (and sometimes horror) that I got from people with comments like “better you than me.” Apparently, being pregnant also makes you a prime candidate for hearing everyone else’s birth story, because by time my due date rolled around in September, I had heard about episiotomies, c-sections, epidurals gone wrong, tearing, vomiting and every other birth complication from family, friends, and random women in the grocery store and library. I had heard about 2-hour labors and 48-hour labors and everything in between. I had heard about three pound babies and 10-pound babies.
I had this vision in my head that I would go into labor on the morning of my due date, labor for a few hours, calmly travel to the hospital, and give birth in a joyful state a few hours later. What actually happened was much different!
For the four doctors appointments before my due date, my doctor told me that I was “two centimeters dilated” and at the last appointment, “four centimeters dilated, I will probably see you this weekend!” As a precautionary measure, he decided to schedule me for an induction two days after my due date. Well, true to what would be his personality, our little bambino did not make his debut on his due date as I had planned. The whole day I walked around, tensing at each movement little bambino made, wondering if it was a contraction. By about eight o’clock that evening, I had resigned myself that bambino was probably not arriving that day, though I still held out hopes for a two-hour labor!
All the suspense of waiting for the labor that I was sure would start that day did not make me the happiest nine-month pregnant woman with swollen fingers and fat feet, and needless to say, I was probably not the easiest cocktail of pregnancy hormones to be around either. This led to my husband and I having our first real fight that night, despite his best attempts to put up with my absolutely absurd hormonal fluctuations. At one point, I decided that I needed to go for a drive, and sat in the car sulking until I saw the lights go out and knew he was in bed.
I went back inside and he peeked his head out of the bedroom to make sure I was in safely and went back to bed. I glared at his back. How could he sleep at a time like this? I was still mad! Didn’t he want to try again to console me? Didn’t it bother him that we hadn’t spoken in a whole thirty minutes?
This thinking brought on a whole new wave of tears, and feeling sorry for myself; so I decided to sit down on the kitchen floor and wallow in my self-pity. I was, after all, entitled to act like this… I was pregnant. While sitting on the kitchen floor, feeling sure I was the only woman alive whose husband did not want to talk to her at eleven o’clock at night after arguing for a couple hours in a deeply hormonal state, I realized that there were spots on the cabinets. Food spots! How could we possibly bring a baby home to a place where there were food spots on the cabinets? The health department would investigate us for sure!
I pulled out a bowl filled it with water, added some vinegar (because I read that cleaning supplies are dangerous during pregnancy) and started scrubbing all the cabinets with a sponge. (Vinegar and water really works great for getting stains of cabinets, by the way). An hour later, I had scrubbed the cabinets, the inside of the cabinets, the stove, refrigerator, inside the refrigerator, the floor, the sink and every other open surface in the kitchen. I had rearranged the cabinets, re-folded the dishtowels and put new place mats on the table. Despite several calls from my hubby to “come to bed, labor could start anytime and you will need your sleep!” I continued cleaning my pickle smelling kitchen.
I wasn’t nesting. Nesting was only for people who were going to go into labor. I had resigned myself during my hours of cleaning that my body was indeed somehow broken, that I would not go into labor myself, and that I would have to be induced on Monday. After another two hours of dusting, vacuuming, scrubbing, organizing and re-hanging pictures, I decided to go to sleep.
As is usually the case, as soon as a pregnant woman stops stressing out about labor starting, it starts, and so it was with me. I put on my pajamas, brushed my teeth, and got into bed just as the clock changed from 2:02 am to 2:03 am. I will never forget those times, because just as the clock turned to 2:03, and just as I put my head on the pillow, I simultaneously felt and heard a pop, followed by the sensation of having sat on a water balloon of lukewarm tea….
I bolted up, sprinted to the bathroom at speeds that no pregnant woman should reach, fluid dripping down my leg. “My water broke,” I screamed as I ran. I sat on the toilet and for another few seconds as fluid gushed out. By this time, my husband made it to the bathroom, and after only a couple hours of sleep himself, groggily asked if I was sure. I pointed to the trail of water that marked my sprint to the bathroom. I was sure.
Our apartment became a frenzy of activity. “Call the doctor when contractions are five minutes apart or if your water breaks,” we had been told. We called the doctor, and got the answering service, which paged the on call doctor and had her call us. The on-call doctor, who I had never met, called and told us to come to the hospital immediately. Apparently, water breaking was a condition that needed to be monitored medically, and I was excited that something was finally happening.
My husband put the bags in the car, I rushed around aimlessly. We collided in the middle of the living room in one of the most emotional hugs of my life, saying nothing, but yet overwhelmed with both love and the reality of the situation. In that silent hug, we made up from our fight, we let go of our life as just the two of us, and we garnered strength for the task ahead. We took a picture by the front door, a family tradition we had been told to keep, and headed to the car. My hubby drove and videoed as I called our parents and told them the exciting news. They were less than excited about being called at 2:30 am, but told us to keep them posted.
When we arrived at the hospital, we entered through the emergency entrance because the labor entrance was closed for the night. We were sent to triage where they asked about one hundred unnecessary questions that should have been on my pre-registered, hand delivered a month ahead of time chart. After rattling off my birth date, marital status, blood type, and every other question imaginable (do you want my shoe size, favorite food, list of hobbies and all books read in the last 12 months while you are at it?), we finally got into what I thought was our room.
Wrong again! In this room (triage #2?) I had to change into a buttless hospital gown (miserable), and sit still for 20 minutes to be monitored. My contractions had started by this point, and as any mother knows, it is not easy to sit still in labor, much less for 20 minutes during contractions. A nurse came in and pulled out a huge q-tip. I asked what it was for, and she said “oh, just to check to make sure your water is really broken.”
By this point I was getting annoyed. Make sure my water was broken? Are you kidding me? Either that or my bladder just exploded. There was a puddle of amniotic fluid big enough to swim in at my house, and they weren’t sure my water had broken? Didn’t they go to nursing school?
“Yep, your water has broken,” the nurse confirmed. “Oh really? I am so glad that medical science has the technology to confirm that, because obviously me wetting myself all the way down the hall was not enough,” I thought sarcastically. Apparently, labor doesn’t help those hormones much!
Then we got moved to yet another room, where I was given an IV. I didn’t want an IV. This was not in by birth plan. Didn’t they read my birth plan? I panicked and began trying to remember all the things I needed to make sure happened. No epidural, no episiotomy, no enema, no shaving, no internal monitor, no being confined to bed. I wanted to be able to eat and drink, to move around, to take a shower.
We finally talked the nurse into a hep lock instead of a full IV and started pacing the halls to bring on active labor. We tried to do the Lamaze breathing, but, I had been the one who practiced it, not my husband, and by about 6 centimeters, I couldn’t spell my name, much less remember complex breathing patterns, so that was worthless. Instead, we paced the halls, logging hundreds of laps of the seventh floor of the hospital. I paced like I could run away from the contractions. I would speed walk between contractions, and stop and lean on the wall during contractions.
At some point I realized I was extremely thirsty (probably from all the exercise). I tried to get a nurse to bring me water, but was informed that water was not allowed during labor, and given ice chips instead. At 6 a.m., after not sleeping at all, and being incredibly thirsty, ice chips were not cutting it. I let them melt and then drank the water.
At this point, I decided to get in the shower. My nice nurse who had been there since we checked in and who was supportive of natural birth was off duty now, and the new nurse was less than supportive. She informed me that the on call doctor had a 12-hour time limit after ROM (rupture of membranes) and wanted patients to be in second stage by then or would discuss a c-section. It is difficult to relax in labor to begin with, but being told you are on the clock for a possible c-section does not help matters much.
By this point, I was about eight centimeters and beginning transition. I couldn’t remember my breathing, the shower wasn’t helping, I was vomiting and I was in the most pain I had ever felt. On top of that, I was a ticking time bomb for a c-section, just because my water had broken. (I found out later that the general rule is 24 hours minimum after water has broken before c-section is considered).
It was early-afternoon by this point, though I was losing track of time. The nurse was talking about pitocin, which, according to what I had read, made contractions ten times worse. I hadn’t slept in 24 hours and did not have the strength to keep fighting the contractions. At the continued urging of the nurse, I opted for the epidural, and after the teeth-grinding experience of having a long needle stuck in my spine, felt much better. My poor hubby didn’t watch this part; he doesn’t do needles.
At this point also, we called his mom, who is a nurse practitioner, and asked her to come to the hospital to be our advocate against any other interventions we didn’t want, as we were both too tired to fight anything else. Though his family lived over an hour away, they were there within 45 minutes. To our surprise, not only his mom, but his dad and five siblings arrived as well, and filled up the waiting room.
My MIL massaged my feet for about an hour (found out later that this also speeds up labor), while my husband got some much needed rest and checked the score of his football team, the Bengals, who were playing their arch rivals, the Steelers, that day. By 3 p.m. I had gotten the go ahead to start pushing, though at this point, I couldn’t feel my lower body and was stuck on my back. So much for the plan of pushing in whatever position I felt comfortable in!
I pushed for an hour or so with the help of the nurse, not really able to feel much. I had the vague sense that laying flat on my back with my knees tucked into my chin was not the most effective pushing position, but then again, what else could I do when I couldn’t move my legs?
Suddenly, I knew something must be happening, because the nurse pushed a button on the bed and about 15 people I didn’t know rushed into the room. Part of the ceiling pulled down, revealing two huge spot lights, a mirror and a tray full of surgical instruments. I had deja vu of being back in the high school musical, feeling the heat of the spot light blinding me, though I wasn’t half naked with a team of nurses and residents staring at my most intimate parts during that musical!
At that moment, the doctor walked in. Behind the glare of the lights, I saw what I can only describe as an evil version of Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus show. She was wearing tie-dyed scrubs with curly bright orange hair flying everywhere. This was the woman who threatened a c-section. This was the woman who wouldn’t let me have water. I glared at her between pushes.
At some point, evil Miss Frizzle decided I needed an episiotomy (ironic how that happens at 4:30 in the afternoon when she might want to go eat dinner soon), and Bambino slipped into the world from my numb, lacerated, body.
Evil Miss Frizzle held Bambino upside down for a few seconds, tapped him on the back and elicited a shrill scream of disapproval. While the Evil Miss Frizzle was stitching me up, the uncooperative nurse cleaned, weighed and measured Bambino and put eye drops in his eyes.
I finally got to hold Bambino about ten minutes after he was born. What a feeling! The most intense wave of emotions washed over me as I simultaneously felt the most incredible love I had ever felt, and the strongest protective urge I had ever experienced. I can only compare my feeling at this time to that of a mother lion in her protectiveness of her cubs. I refused to let anyone else hold Bambino, until finally, his Dad had to hold him while I attempted to urinate for the first time (another uncomfortable experience after birth).
The emotion I felt seeing my husband hold his son for the first time is second only to the emotion I felt the first time I held Bambino myself. The rough, strong, exterior my hubby usually had melted away and I witnessed the gentleness of his love for his son. “Hi Bambino,” he said, “welcome to the world.” I melted. There is something indescribable about seeing the man I loved more than life itself talk to our newborn son with the strength of emotion in his voice that I remembered from our wedding day.
I gazed into Bambino’s blue eyes, held his little hand, and nursed him. I had a strange stirring sensation in the pit of my stomach that quickly turned into a knowing pain. Hunger! I realized I had not eaten in almost 24 hours and was absolutely famished! Luckily, my four always-hungry brothers-in-law had the same idea, and had already ordered pizza. I don’t even like pizza, but those two slices of disgustingly greasy pizza they smuggled into my hospital room rank on the list of top ten meals of my life.
With the pizza as their excuse, my in-laws flooded into the room to meet the new addition, the first grandchild on both sides. Bambino got passed around to all seven family members in the room as I sat on the edge of the bed, sure someone would drop him. As his family passed our newborn around, my hubby turned on the TV to check the scores for the football games. The Bengals had won!
We finally moved to our sleeping room at around ten o’clock that night, and I still had not been given any actual food by the hospital. I had clearly marked “no separation” on our birth plan, but that night, nurses continuously tried to take Bambino to the nursery for tests, monitoring, etc. I didn’t sleep that night much either, or the night after, since I was afraid that as soon as I slept, they would come take Bambino away. The one time I finally was able to doze off, I awoke to a stick in my arm. “Just taking some blood for tests,” the nurse said. “Think you could have woken me up first?” I thought to myself?
After 48 hours of sleep deprivation and revolting hospital food, we were finally released from our cold prison of buttless gowns, evil doctors and unnecessary testing.
I mourned the loss of my perfect birth experience, and felt that I had been cheated of a special rite of passage. I couldn’t put it into words, but something had been taken from me with those unnecessary interventions. I was unhappy with how the birth had occurred, but I focused on the positive. I had a healthy, happy, baby. I knew I wanted something different with our next baby, but for now, I engrossed myself in motherhood. I savored every giggle, every bath and every time Bambino nursed. If I started to focus on the sadness over the birth experience, I would kiss Bambino’s forehead and smell all those delicious baby pheromones. The “fountain of youth,” my hubby called it.
The next few months passed uneventfully, with us documenting every smile, burp, and sound Bambino made. I had it in the back of my mind to research more on natural birth, but never got around to it in the day-to-day business of raising a newborn and learning how to cook Italian food. I married an Italian, but having never really cooked before, I realized I had a gigantic learning curve, seeing as there is actually more to Italian food than just pizza. Soon, dishes like manicotti, homemade ravioli, and lasagna became part of my cooking regimen, eventually even gluten free varieties, but that is a different story!
When Bambino was 11 months old, I had that strange feeling again that maybe I should take a pregnancy test, though as far as I knew, my fertility had not even returned yet. Sure enough, we were expecting our second child!