I’ll preface this with a little background: I had always envisioned myself as having a drug-free delivery. I read countless blogs and articles about it and started to think long and hard about my “plan.” As soon as I got pregnant, however, I was devastatingly sick. My intentions for a healthy, organic, “natural” pregnancy were shot to hell when I learned that the only things that kept me from throwing up were movie theater popcorn, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and Snickers ice cream bars from the gas station. This was all I ate for 12 weeks. I was already exhausted by the time my second trimester rolled around, so the idea of NOT having a magic Happy Injection was laughable. I was sick of being in pain and attempting to be “natural” when my body begged for spray butter and Zofran.
I did not work out during my pregnancy, aside from the daily 30 minute dog walk. I had run a marathon six months before getting pregnant and have always been a regular at the gym. For some reason (sickness, joint pain, lethargy, the way the gym smelled, the way everything smelled), I opted out of exercising completely and decided to save what little energy I had for daily tasks, work, and the move from Nashville to DC. Nate and I did not take a labor class. The thought of it made me feel stressed out, so we put that time and money towards an infant CPR class and reading everything we could about labor. Not sure how/if these factors contributed to my overall labor experience, but thought it might be worth noting. Anyway, here we go:
Wednesday, September 24 (39 weeks, 6 days)
I woke up feeling generally uncomfortable, with a suspicion that my water had broken. Contrary to the sitcom school of thought, water breakage can happen as a slow trickle, not just a gush. I called the doctor-on-call, Dr. Green, and described the situation. She recommend coming into the office and seeing the nurse practitioner ASAP. Nate and I packed up our hospital bags – just in case – and headed to the doctor’s office, which is located at the hospital. It must be noted here that it was nearly impossible for me to pack my hospital bag in advance. I was so huge that I only had three acceptable maternity outfits, and I wasn’t going to stash one away in a suitcase. I needed all three in my closet.
The prognosis from the NP was frustratingly vague: The fluid test concluded that my water had not broken and an exam determined that I was not dilated at all. Dr. Lightfoote came in at the end and assessed the situation. She confirmed that there was not anything going on. I had a pre-scheduled appointment with her the next day, so the conclusion was that we’d all rest on it for 24 hours. Nate and I stopped for a rainy day breakfast at Open City, jittery but relieved, and then headed home for yet another third trimester nap.
Earlier that week I had officially ceased all physical activities such as dog walking, errand running, and – most heartbreaking – Chipotle fetching. The continuous movement put a crushing amount of weight on my pelvis, and even sitting in my car with the seatbelt on rendered me a wheezy mess. By the afternoon, I was experiencing very mild contractions every 20 minutes or so, nothing that warranted another call to the doctor (my OB’s advice, according to the sheet of paper on our fridge: Call us when contractions are 5 minutes apart and/or they’re so painful that you can’t talk through them). Wednesday evening, Nate and I went to dinner with my mom and dad at Macon by Chevy Chase Circle. We gladly accepted the invitation with the caveat that “Julia is exhausted and grumpy and having contractions, so let’s eat early and quickly.” Dinner was lovely, despite a handful of contractions that slowed down my voracious consumption of short ribs and biscuits. As we parted, my dad mentioned that this was probably the last time Nate and I would go out to dinner as a baby-less couple. He was right!
The contractions continued through the night. I was paranoid that I would somehow sleep through labor and wake up with a baby in the bed (note: this has never happened in the history of humanity), so I roused with every contraction and wrote down the times to make sure that they had not reached the five minute separation mark. The notes, written in the pitch black by a sleepy hand, showed that the contractions were generally 10-15 minutes apart and that I may or may not be cracking the code of a government conspiracy:
Thursday, September 25 (40 weeks. My due date.)
The contractions continued through the morning, and I decided to stick it out until our 2:00pm appointment with Dr. Lightfoote. I was frustrated and uncomfortable. We hauled our bags back to the doctor’s office for Round 2. Naturally, I was feeling and looking extremely rough, especially compared to the polished DC young professional couples who were handsomely awaiting their 20 week ultrasounds. I gave them a good scare by enduring a contraction with eyes closed, head in lap, toe popping out of my torn shoe.
When Dr. Ligthfoote met us in the examination room, I promptly burst into tears. I was a combustable combination of frustrated, excited, exhausted, and very, very nervous. I showed her my journal full of scribble scrabble from the night before to prove to her that SOMETHING was happening (“it’s the government, maaaan!!!!”). I think I was paranoid that these weren’t real contractions and I would be told that my baby wouldn’t actually come until late December. Luckily, I was not the first crying pregnant lady that Dr. Lightfoote had encountered. She examined me, and I was one centimeter dilated and my membranes were thinned. I wasn’t crazy! As for what to do, she gave us two options: 1. Go straight to the hospital, where they’ll make you walk around for an hour and, if your dilation has not progressed, get sent home. Or 2. Go home now, wait for “active” labor to start, and then go to the hospital around Midnight. Either way, she said, there was going to baby in the next 24 hours. Obviously we opted for option 2. She advised me to take some Benadryl (for sleep), have some wine, and “do something that makes you happy.” Sounded good to me.
Back at home, Nate and I enjoyed quiet time with episodes of “Parks and Recreation” and snuggles with Banjo. Around 9:00pm, the contractions intensified and I had a feeling we were getting close to the real deal stuff. Nate took Banjo to my parents’ house while I took a shower. When Nate got back, we left for the hospital, bags still in the car from the earlier appointment. I didn’t change shoes.
Since it was after hours, Nate dropped me off at the Emergency Room while he parked. I waddled and wheezed up to Labor and Delivery by myself, no purse, no ID, and checked myself in. “I’m here for baby.”
Nate arrived in our suite with the bags by the time I had wrestled on the hospital gown. I joked to myself about asking the nurse if I could keep my underwear on for the whole ordeal, but when she came in I was too contracty to deliver the line. I was still one centimeter dilated so, as we were told before, I had to walk around for one hour. I’d call this the “Grumpy+” phase. Increasing pain mixed with the uncertainty of further dilation made me an unhappy camper. Sorry, Nate. (“Sorry, Nate. ©” is the trademarked tagline of this entire story.)
The contractions started coming fast and furious. Since I was on foot, the most comfortable positions during the contractions were 1. Nose Pressed Against Wall While Crying, 2. Head on the Bed, Feet on the Floor While Crying, and 3. As Far Away From Nate as Possible, While Crying. Some women think that a coached massage from their partner is a good idea at this time. I am not one of those women. No touching, no eye contact.
Dr. Staney came in for the big test. Note: my OB practice has five rotating doctors that attend to every patient, depending on the day. They all look like some variation of Rose Byrne:
I had advanced to three centimeters, and was at the hospital to stay! Since I was getting an epidural, I was now in the bed while the nurse attempted to insert an IV in my right arm (no good), left arm (no good), and finally the top of my left hand (Bingo, and OW!). Blood got all over my wedding ring. Sorry, Nate.
I had been told by many not to delay in requesting the epidural. It can take up to an hour for the anesthesiologist to show up, and if your contractions are too extreme by that point, the process will be that much more strenuous. I followed this advice, kind of. I ended up experiencing a pummeling round of contractions that absolutely floored me. My attempts at keeping focused on breath and relaxing went out the window and I went into full Clench-Every-Muscle-in-My-Body-and-Scream mode. Nate looked at the monitor, shook his head, and quietly said: “That last one just wasn’t fair.” It was the most perfect thing he could have said in that horrible moment. Thank you, Nate. He also took this photo of me:
I begged my new nurse, Sabrina, to get the anesthesiologist (or, as I called him, “the epidural person,” because I cannot pronounce that profession). Nate helped pry me from the rails of my hospital bed, and unfurl my body from the shrimp-like position it had assumed during the previous contraction. I felt much better sitting straight up and actually taking a second to breathe. At this moment, Sabrina came rushing in with the anethsisstasolahoogis and the epidural was underway. Later, Sabrina told me that she wished I had looked more pained when he came in because she made an urgent call saying that I was “a 10!!!” (on the pain scale, not the hotness scale. I was probably a 12 on the hotness scale).
We all had to wear hairnet scrubs for some reason, and mine just barely balanced on top of my head like a small piece of blue cotton candy. I sat on the bed with legs draped over the side, facing Nate, while the Epidural Guy prepped my back. First, sign the waiver that said something that I don’t remember (probably – “Don’t sue if you become paralyzed”), then the numbing cream. The latter burned to the touch, like a 5 second splash of acid. The insertion of the needle was intense, but not nearly as bad as what was happening in my uterus. Nate rubbed my feet during the whole thing, which was nice. He remarked that we should save the bright yellow hospital socks I was wearing as a keepsake. I said that was a terrible idea because we already had too many socks at home and why did he want to fill our lives with clutter??! Sorry, Nate.
The relief was instant. I settled back into bed and watched the contractions pop up on the monitor while my entire lower half hummed happily with numbness. The doctor put a catheter in my urethra, which was wildly uncomfortable, even with the drugs. It was about 1:00am, and Nate and I were both advised to SLEEP. Sabrina tucked me in with warm blankets from the little blanket oven and Nate settled on the couch. We slept for about four hours while the contractions raged on. We were very thankful for this rest, as we still had about 12 hours to go.
Friday, September 26
Dr. Staney came in the next morning and checked my dilation: Still only three centimeters. They got me started on Pitocin to kick the party into high gear. They also inserted a tube into my vagina to measure the strength of the contractions. I was just thankful that they had found yet another orifice to stick something into.
The following hours are kind of a haze. I imagine I slept some more, had some Jello, and messed around on my phone while the Petocin did its thing. The next time the doctor came in, I was fully dilated (10cm)! This news was exciting, but also nerve-wracking. I had grown accustomed to sleeping, eating Jello, and messing around on my phone and wasn’t ready for the real work just yet.
Next up: pushing. My big romantic comedy moment where I sweat and yell the F-word at my husband, everyone laughs, and then we have a baby. Except this time it took three hours. The first round of pushing was not too bad. Getting to push through contractions was a welcome distraction, and helped ease the pain a little (my epidural had worn off a bit at this point so I could feel through the pushing). Nate held one leg against my ears, a nursing student held the other, and our new nurse, Victoria, counted to ten for me and watched the progress. Victoria, along with every nurse I had, looked about 10 years old, FYI.
Pushing was very exhausting. I felt great during the first few, and then fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks. After 45 minutes, I was spent and the baby wasn’t making much HEADway. The doctor declared that it was best for me to re-up my epidural and let the contractions do the work while I rested. Enter a new anesthesiologist who Nate and I would later refer to as “Doctor Dopey.” She had a new dose with her, and shot it directly into my arm, on top of whatever was coming through the drip. I was feeling TERRIFIC while not feeling ANYTHING below my belly button nor above my neck. I fell asleep for an hour when the pushing crew: Dr. Sarafian (Rose Byrne), Victoria, and that poor nursing student (Christiane) came back. I told them I was feeling too groovy to be pushing again. So they said they’d be back in 30 minutes. By then my legs were less tree trunky and the next round of pushing began.
The drugs wore off almost completely and I was hesitant to get any more since I wanted to feel my legs. I was pushing hard every 30 seconds, which was absolutely exhausting. It doesn’t feel that bad while it’s happening, but I nearly fell completely asleep for the 20 second rest periods. Everyone was very encouraging and cheering me on, which I naively misinterpreted as “good work! Just one push to go and then it’s over!” and “This is it! This is it!” Every push sent the baby’s head one step forward, and every rest sucked it two steps back. Why aren’t we doing this standing up, ladies??
The pushing became unbearable. Word from Dr. Sarafian and Nate was that the baby had red hair, which they could see from a mile inside the canal. The “missionary position” for pushing wasn’t cutting it, so we moved onto “THE CORKSCREW,” a sideways, contorted position that was created by the Devil himself because he hates women and babies. No dice, back to missionary. I was screaming horror movie screams with every push, begging the doctor to end it all (the contractions or my life, whichever was easier and/or covered by insurance). She suggested an episiotomy or a vacuum to help expedite the process. I declined both and just kept pushing. I had an unbearable thirst at this time despite receiving lots of IV fluids. I demanded a massive cup of ice water, which sweet Christiane fetched from the kitchen. I was advised not to drink the water otherwise I would vomit during pushing. I consider this the very first “F YOU” moment of early parenthood. Later, the list would grow to include: “You’re gonna be torn up down there, but please spend 10+ hours a day at a 45 degree angle in a rocking chair,” and “we’ll give you Percocet for pain, but it will definitely make you constipated on top of your already crippling constipation.” Thirst went unsatisfied.
The last round of pushing was brutal, and I screamed noises that I had never heard come out of my mouth before. The baby came out and then I don’t remember very much. Nate says that she came out like Sonic the Hedgehog (tumbling in a circle) and that she pooped immediately.
Nate cut the cord, which he says, in retrospect, was a boring formality compared to watching the entire pushing/delivery process. My placenta came out at a whopping 12 pounds. Dr. Sarafian asked if I wanted to see it, and I said “No. Well, maybe, is it interesting?” It was interesting, and disgusting.
Holding Valerie for the first time was pretty cool yet also confusing. I cannot begin to describe how tired I was, so this is not a story about how she and I instantly bonded and fell deeply in love at first sight. Before that could happen, I need a goddamned sip of water. We laid together skin-to-skin and she started to nurse for a little. Nate, on the other hand, was overcome with joy. Through the haze, I remember him sitting on the couch, holding her, just saying “wow.” It was amazing.
We were undecided on a name when she was born. A close tie between Valerie and Virginia, though I figured that a “Ginger” with ginger hair might be just a little too much. Our delay in naming made Valerie known as “Baby Girl Luce” or “BG Luce” on all her official paperwork.
All the grandparents came in about 15 minutes after the birth. Everyone was happy, tearful, and very excited. At this point, I was being examined every ten minutes to make sure my uterus was readjusting. This cleared the room of grandparents pretty quickly. But that’s ok, we’d see them a few days later.
An hour after birth, a stern nurse came in and told me that I had to get up and pee. (I didn’t know this at the time, but apparently all urine must be excreted from the bladder so that it doesn’t interfere with whatever witchcraft the uterus is undergoing. A failure to do so can be very dangerous.) She and Nate supported me as I hobbled to the bathroom. A gallon of blood poured out as I walked, ruining my yellow hospital socks. Sorry, Nate.
I’ll spare the details here, but I managed to pee, despite the physical trauma I had endured, a hovering nurse staring at me, and Nate FaceTiming with his sister about five feet away from me. As someone who can barely pee with someone in the next stall, I’m proud of this accomplishment.
We moved to our postpartum room, me in a wheelchair with Valerie, who was freshly bathed and sound asleep in my arms. We ordered pizza immediately as neither of us had eaten for 24 hours. A new nurse, Julie, walked us through a mountain of paperwork, helped me breastfeed, and explained the grim details of how to handle my recovery (pads, diapers, ice packs, and lots of Percocet. Repeat.) Valerie hung out in her little plastic box while we devoured pizza, garlic bread, and mozzarella sticks. We sent her off to the nursery for the night while Nate and I went to sleep. She would get wheeled in every three hours to feed, which is very adorable to think about.
At this moment, I distinctly remember feeling very out of sorts. All I wanted to do was go back home and watch TV and feel normal again. I didn’t like this strange dark room and my weary, ravaged body. Of course, it was pure exhaustion talking and luckily the feeling didn’t last very long. I’m so grateful for Nate, who remained upbeat and beaming during this highly emotional time.
The hospital stay was jam packed with feedings, vitals checks for mommy and baby, and an endless stream of important information from nurses and lactation consultants. It was a surprisingly relaxing time as we were able to admire our new baby with a safety net made up of hundreds of trained medical professionals. Through the window we watched a spectacular early fall weekend unfold. Nate read through all the congratulatory emails he had received, which was a lovely thing to do. We did not have any visitors at this time, which helped me relax and focus entirely on my messy recovery and this brand new baby girl.
Despite my fear of the hospital that first night, I was so sad to leave two days later. Our nurses were amazing and I had grown attached to their reassuring smiles and endless answers to all our questions. Nate went to get the car while nurse Suman wheeled me and Valerie to the main entrance. In the elevator down, I met a very friendly Canadian couple who had just seen their brand new grandson for the first time and were heading back to the airport. They told me my baby was beautiful and asked her name. “Valerie,” I said. They replied “Zalerie? That’s pretty!” I politely corrected them. Later, Nate and I would joke that our baby would be named Zalerie… in the year 2100. In fact, the only difference in the distant future would be that every word begins with “Z.” Literally, the only change to our society.
In conclusion, this: We are so grateful for Valerie’s safe entry into this beautiful world. V, if you’re reading this in the future, know that Zom and Zad Zove Zou Zery Zuch.