March 17, 2012

Emilu's Birth Story

I’d like to tell you about the time I got it in my head I wanted a natural childbirth. That’s right.  I wanted to experience the raw pain, the ring of fire and the love hormones flooding my body.  You say crazy right?  I say, delusional. But before I begin to recount my experience, I ask you: Why are we in America so obsessed with childbirth?  I get it, it’s special, a memory that lives in us for the rest of our lives.  But aren’t we missing something? It’s not the defining moment people romanticize about.  When everything is said and done, you file it in the back of your mind and then the real work begins. What I took from my birth story is this: Labor is unpredictable and strenuous and childbirth is a jubilant but tiny event in the life of you and your baby. What’s really transformative is the aftermath. It’s both, Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Aphrodite’s craft. And despite recent literature of the New Age kind, it doesn’t matter much how, when and where your baby is born.  Childbirth doesn’t change you. Child bonding does. A bond you will weave from the love, patience, tolerance and compassion you are suddenly endowed with.

Laboring at home

Like so many inquisitive young couples nowadays [reclaiming their bohemian sensitivities] we eagerly hopped on the natural childbirth wagon slightly dumbfounded by its contrived existence. We read plenty, became familiar with the ins and outs of this practice and of course, hired a Doula. We did our Ps. Practicing, preparing and praying for natural childbirth and felt confident that it was going to happen this way.

I was so focused on our birth plan; I delegated a task to each one. My Doula would be the powerhouse, my husband the logistical and emotional backup, and my mother would step in, as her help was needed. In retrospect, I oversimplified and underestimated everything. Let me just pause here and say that when they tell you labor is different with each mother and child, the bastards are not lying.

For first time mothers, this information is powerful. Since you don’t know what to expect you may be tempted to rely on family history. I was too easily convinced mine would be a textbook labor. I even made casual comments to my OBGYN about my awesome short menstrual cycles, my mother and grandmother’s histories (10- hour labors/deliveries), and my accurate ovulation calendar. So it was natural for me to assume that I was in the same company. Leave out the humble pie for later! So mama bear cautiously arrived 10 days before my due date in case labor came sooner. But of course, it didn’t! Week 39 came and went.

Labor/Childbirth Timeline

  • Tuesday May 3rd – around 9 p.m. Loss of mucous plug and some show. State of mind: Let the games begin! 
  • Thursday May 5th – around 10 p.m. Feeling crampy and tired, like the onset of my menses. State of mind: Crikey! 
  • Friday May 6th – around 2 a.m. First contraction. Voila! 
  • Friday May 6th – early morning – having powerful contractions. State of mind: Bring it on! 
  • Same day - around 3 p.m. OBGYN’s last appointment, 70% effaced, 1 cm dilated. 
  • Saturday 7th – between 1 – 5 a.m. Exhaustion is starting to creep in. State of mind: What did I get myself into! 
  • Same day – around midnight – Water breaks at the hospital. State of mind: Thank you, God, now get me the epidural! 
  • Sunday May 8th – 1:58 p.m. – Emma Lucia is born. State of mind: Hello baby, what took you so long!
From Friday afternoon, after my OBGYN appointment, where I was told I was officially in early labor, things start getting fuzzy. I left the appointment in high hopes of having a baby that night. It had been 12 hours since my first contraction and I was already 70% effaced and 1 centimeter dilated.

The sensations: My contractions were very far apart. About 11 minutes the furthest and 5 minutes the closest. And they felt erratically different every time. I could feel it in my thighs and down my legs, my belly, and my lower back and sometimes in my buttocks. Once in a while I’d also feel a sharp pressure in the rectum. All these sensations threw me off guard. At this point, I had loose bowels, and this made me a bit nauseous, which made me lose my appetite. I don’t remember much from the moment I left the OBGYN practice to the moment I arrived at the hospital, except what it felt like. My husband tells me I didn’t eat, I drank very little and I took turns between seating on the birthing ball and resting on the sofa. I was exhausted from the lack of rest. The waves would come and go and it was simply impossible to relax. My dad and brother would periodically phone to check in on us. I’d hear my mom tell my dad -she doesn’t want to go to the hospital yet- and this would be accompanied by a frustrated look. I get it mom, you want me to be in the hospital around people who can make me feel better literally and yet here I’m trying to be brave and doing what was best for my child. My husband and Doula did everything possible to make me feel comfortable. But here’s the thing: Whenever I felt doubt about sustaining this longer, my contractions would miraculously subside. And when I was done feeling doubtful and scared, the contractions would return with an increased fury difficult to endure. This is how I spent the last hours at home.

In the meanwhile something started building inside me. I desperately wanted an examination, to know how far along since Friday I was. And not to mention my whole family back in the island on standby, listening in on our progress. Their concern became a ticking time bomb. Between the uncertainty and inability to relax and allow my body's contractions to take effectiveness, and the silent conflict of my birth plan with my parents’ hovering concerns, my labor kept dragging and making me less confident by the hour. Until I finally couldn't take it. I needed to know where I was! I needed to sleep a few hours! So we got in the car with all our bags and drove to the hospital.

After the epidural.  All smiles, ready for sleep!

The hospital: So it’s no surprise my water broke at the exact moment I walked into our hospital room.  Isn’t that convenient, I thought!  For the first time, I felt I could do this. However I couldn't fathom not sleeping for the 3rd straight night, I desperately needed some hours of sleep if I was going to push this baby out.  After a vaginal examination revealed I was only 3 and half cm, I was ready to jump off the natural birth wagon for some hours of downtime. In fact, I’d rather be run over by the wagon, than be in the wagon. I spoke to my husband and he listened to my new wishes and together around 3 a.m .we called on the anesthesiologist to administer the epidural.  My God, why do people resist this? High five to whoever invented this, honestly.  I want to take this person out to dinner. When the procedure was over, I closed my eyes for about an hour and felt reborn. Seriously, I felt I could run a marathon. But before they gave me the epidural, they needed to give me some fluids, and since I was so dehydrated from not eating and not drinking enough the last 24 hours, I got poked a total of six times until they found a working vein. This was the most uncomfortable I was at the hospital.  Getting poked while having contractions was hellish. That’s why sleeping felt heavenly. I was also running a low fever due to the dehydration. Now, my husband and mother were finally settled with me in the room.  We could make silly remarks together.  And it was a relief to have the monitors on.  With all that wiring, enough to plug an entire McMansion, I could listen on my baby.   A couple of hours after the epidural, the nurse came in to perform an exam and discovered I had only dilated half a centimeter, and so it was decided that they would administer Pitocin to help things shuffle along.  As I was listening to this, memories of the wagon trailing behind, I was reminded of all those tapes and books I had read about the dangers of medical interventions, and I couldn't help being scared that this could turn into my worst nightmare:  a Cesarean. 

At this point my new goal became to give birth vaginally with an epidural and still get all those other things in my birth plan right, like my husband cutting the umbilical cord and my baby being placed on my tummy after birth so that I could nurse.  So, with Pitocin and a dose of faith, I prayed for everything to go smooth.  Even with all the monitoring and the wires wrapped around me, I still felt in control and with that feeling I closed my eyes and went into a deep sleep, the last one for a long time, anyway. My nurses were so wonderful, one of them sat with me in the room with the rest of my family.  When I woke up around 8 a.m. for another examination. I held my breath out and almost screamed when she said I was almost 7cm.  Yes! We had come a long way since Thursday night. I was so close to meeting my daughter.  Up until that moment I hadn't even allowed myself to feel any connection, as I was in survival mode, but now I started visualizing my child in the birth canal and rooting for her safe delivery.  Then my doctor came in and had a chat with us, she encouraged me to start drinking fluids now. I said I wanted cranberry juice and she said fine, drink lots of it. I was never more excited about cranberry juice in my life.  My room felt cozy, if you can call a hospital room that. 

Being surrounded by my husband and mother, and in-laws from Miami, who had arrived for the birth, was priceless. I even had time to post in Facebook about my status.  Who knew technology could be so reassuring! When my doctor returned and checked me, around Noon, she announced I was 10cm.  We all cheered in delight and I gave thanks to God because after leaving the wagon, I’d found me a Cadillac. My daughter was going to enter the world while I drank juice, how easy was that! But at that moment, I told my awesome nurse I wanted to feel enough of the contractions to push. And moments after, I started feeling a bit of pressure around my bottom, and sure enough the tip of the contraction with it. Seriously, I was happy to feel something at that moment. Soon I was going to hold my baby. When the doctor returned she said,
“She's right there. You can start pushing, baby!” My in-laws stepped outside.  My mother took a seat nearby but with full view.  My husband stood on one side of me, and my nurse, on the other, each tasked with a leg to hold back during each vital push.  At the start of each contraction I pushed for 20 seconds straight, until its peak, and then I would breathe out and wait for the next contraction while taking in oxygen from a breathing mask.  It was like being in the Olympics.   

Pushing was hard but immensely gratifying. Each push was met with cheerful support from Team Patricia. At one point, my mom had my dad and brother on the phone so that they could hear the celebratory mood.  Finally my daughter’s head became visible and my husband was the first to see our baby’s now distinct dark hair, a moment he vividly recalls to this day.  In between pushes my nurse would stretch my perineum and apply oil with efficiency and care. Fueled by such progress and energy, before I knew it, the pushing was over. With only 20 minutes of active pushing, my Herculaneum efforts had paid off! And I wonder today, if I had been on the wagon, would I have pushed this baby out so fast? There she was! In Spanish we call this moment, alumbramiento, coming into the light. My daughter was in the world!  But not everything was as illuminated.  In the midst of all the excitement, my husband, who was ready to cut the umbilical cord, did not realize that Emma had already been whisked away to a corner.  It turns out little Emilu had to be cleansed of some inhaled meconium.  Apparently, she too, had been sprinting in Olympian fashion. But after being checked by the Neanatologist, and what seemed like the longest 15 minutes of my life, she was swaddled and ready to be held and loved by all.  When they placed her in my arms, her intense gaze completely disarmed me. I said to her, it was you all along! And she, who had me questioned my strength and love, had responded with her burly eyes. I was the happiest woman alive.  
Meeting my daughter
Isn't she a cutie?
The grannies meeting their grandchild, Emma Lucia
After the first nursing session, too content to complain

Blissful sleep, one of the rare moments she was in her hospital crib, because I would sneak her in bed with me
Meeting daddy (the one with the husky voice)
Nothing more blissful than holding your daughter the next day
Grandpa (Papa) holding Emma Lucia

At home, with my brother and sister-in-law, who came to meet Emma Lucia

Other frivolous facts:  Emma Lucia’s Agpar: 6 and 9. Weight: 7.12, Length: 21.6, and somewhere, a sign of a voracious appetite and a built in resistance to sleep.

More embarrassing and superfluous facts: 60 hours of labor, 2nd degree tear (4 stitches), two painful hemorrhoids, and as punishment for leaving the wagon:  Two more months of uncomfortable postpartum contractions. Also, my doctor said that right after giving birth, I said, “This was awesome, let’s do it again”, to what she said, “Baby, that’s your hormones talking.”

So there you have it folks.  Labor is fleeting.  Mothering is eternal.


  1. That was a long tough fight to meet little Emilu! I was in labour quite long, but not like this.

    That moment when we get to hold our child in our arms for the first time is so precious, and so powerful. It helps us to forget the horrible pains during labour. I was saying "I will never, never have another baby" when I went through the worst contractions, that felt like my body was going to break up in pieces. I didn't get any epidural, it's not recommended here in Sweden, not 15 years ago anyway. Started off with a acupuncuture needle in my head, then laughing gas, which made me nauseous after a while, and finally petidin.

    Well, I didn't get any more children, but it was not because I was scared to give birth.

    A lote of mums praise their nurses and doctors, but I was hardly aware of who went and came. I went through three shifts of nurses, so I don't remember their names.

    I especially like the photo when you look down on Emilu in your arms, the close up. So beautiful. And that's how I remember the first night with my Axel. Staring at him all night trough :-)

    By the way, the sheep doll is really inexpensive to be handmade. I'm not sure how much it would cost to ship to the US, but mine was only 42 US dollars including shipping (35 for the doll and 7 for the shipping).

    I hope you had a good weekend Patricia, and that you got a little rest. Take care!

    Love Maria

  2. I'm with you -- a little medical intervention and painkiller never hurts! I had pitocin with my second child and demanded drugs. My husband and the nurse were saying, "you're doing fine." I made it pretty clear that I was NOT doing fine and wanted painkillers! Which they gave me. I had fallen for that whole no painkiller line from other mothers with child one. I didn't take painkillers after a C-section if you can believe it. Stupid.

  3. Oh wow I believe it lynette, my sister was the same and she didn't get help from anyone, she wanted to do everything, nowadys women are more babies than their babies, they have nannies, have no idea what it is to wake up several times during the night and be sleep deprived. Thanks for stopping by.