Friday, November 21, 2014

Eliza's Birth Story

I am not sure how this happened, but my baby is a month old today. It's been a blurry whirlwind. I know all parents say that, but given the events of the last month, mixed with having a newborn, truer words have never been spoken. I thought, since I didn't get to it sooner, that today would be an apropos day to finish her birth story.

Eliza's due date is still a mystery to me, though I am sticking with my guns that her actual due date was October 18. Her chart at my OB still says October 15. So depending on who you believe she was either 3 or 5 days late. Friends couldn't believe that with all of the stress in my life, I didn't deliver preterm, but I kept saying that she was waiting for it to be safe to come out, waiting for me to secure us a house, waiting for it to be calmer.

In the weeks leading up to her birth my OB's talked frequently about induction. The first time was because her fluid was looking low, but they waited and checked her again a few days later and my fluid was better. The second time was because I was already 4 cm dilated and full-term, with a history of laboring fast. They warned me there was a good chance I wouldn't make it to the hospital. But I really wanted to have a gradual labor, with time spent at home, I wanted her to come on her terms. I wanted it to be just like the movies, where a woman's water breaks and she smiles and says, "it's time!" and gets driven to the hospital by the frenetic, but lovingly concerned husband.

The week of her due date I had an appointment to see my therapist and I talked to her about the lady at the pizza place and the night in the bathtub. We had already talked about my reiki sessions and the idea of spirit guides. Sidenote, what I love about my therapist is that she believes in spirituality and the law of attraction, but is also a real LMHC. In a conversation that I believe was no accident, she told me that all of the things I have been practicing and reading about were all based on a book called A Course in Miracles (which I have since downloaded but, sadly, have yet to read). She told me about Gabby Bernstein, who wrote a book called Spirit Junkie, and said that Gabby was fun to follow on Instagram.

The night I went into labor with Eliza, I climbed into the tub at the end of another long day, and began scrolling through my phone to entertain myself, as I often do in the bath. After surfing Facebook and clearing out emails, I hopped on Instagram. I remember feeling overwhelmed with life and wondering if this baby was ever going to come out. And I thought about my conversation with my therapist and remembered the suggestion about Gabby Bernstein and searched her profile. Her post that day was this:

I started thinking more about why Eliza had yet to come. As of my 40 week appointment I was 5 cm dilated and 70% effaced. I had been progressing steadily from week 37 on, and each week my OB's scratched their heads at how she was still hanging tough with my body so far along. I thought about this mantra, and wondered if my own fears were holding me back from delivering her. Fears of how I would survive as a single mom of four under four; fears about whether I am enough for these babies; fears about how raw it would feel to labor with her dad, who was no longer my husband, by my side; fears about being wide open and vulnerable and alone; fears about being homeless. So many fears.

I decided to give it a try. I sat back in the tub, closed my eyes and began to breathe. About a half hour later my phone buzzed with a text message from my brother asking if I was still awake and if I wanted to talk. It was 9:42 p.m. I jokingly told him that I'd call him when I got out of the tub so that it wouldn't be awkward, and we had a bit of stupid sibling banter (that I'm including, because the whole convo cracks me up).

By 9:50 p.m. I was on my fourth heavy contraction and calling Joe to get him to help me out of the tub. These weren't the little Braxton-Hicks contractions I had been having for months. I knew this was the real deal. I called Joe and he was walking the dog, I calmly said, "I need you to come home, I need help." And then I hung up and called our nanny. 

She was roughly 30 minutes away, and again I calmly said, "okay". But in my head I was thinking I didn't even have 30 minutes. I wondered if she would still want to work for our family if she watched me deliver a baby in my living room. I wondered if I would want to employ someone who saw that much of me. And then I had another contraction and my crazy thoughts disappeared. My contractions were strong and coming fast. I called my OB and left a message that I was in labor with the answering service.

Joe got home and we finished throwing stuff in my hospital bag, I paced my bedroom, bending over the bed or the dresser with each contraction. At that point they were under 5 minutes apart. Joe called our nanny for a sit rep two or three more times. She got to our house at 10:15 p.m. and I was already walking to the car. The contractions were coming faster and getting stronger. 

We flew down the driveway and got stuck behind the most conservative driver that ever lived. It was around that time that the on-call OB called me back. She asked all the normal questions (how far along I am, how dilated I was at the last appointment, how fast my contractions were coming, what kid was this for me, how far we were from the hospital) I squeaked out my responses in between contractions...over 40 weeks...5-6 cm...1-2 minutes...number four...35 minutes away. She later admitted she didn't think we'd make it to the hospital after speaking to me on the phone. 

We got on the highway and it was raining. I could see the speedometer reading 90-95 mph and I kept telling Joe to slow down, that I was afraid of his speed. He works at the hospital in which I delivered all four kids and he kept telling me to calm down, focus on keeping her in, and let him drive, that he knew the road, and he would get us there safely. We made it almost two exits before we got pulled over. Joe kept trying to get out of the car to tell the officer that I was in labor and I was screaming at him to stay inside so that the cop didn't draw a weapon or something. And then I was screaming in pain. Joe started shouting out the window, "My wife is in labor! My wife is in labor!" The cop took his sweet ass time getting out of his car and then meandered over to our car even more slowly. When he got close enough to be in earshot, he looked at Joe confused and then shone his light in on me. I was mid-contraction and moaning wildly. The officer, who was all of 22, looked panicked and started waving us forward, shouting, "You're all set! Just go! Just go!"

We passed four more cop cars on the way to the hospital, and didn't get pulled over again. So while this guy didn't give us a police escort (probably didn't want to deliver my baby on the highway), it seems like he did, at least, radio ahead. 

My contractions were 1-2 minutes long coming every 1-2 minutes. They were painful and I was literally holding her in with all of my might. Joe kept telling me, "Just keep her in, Nik, just keep her in." I was breathing and moaning and holding myself up with the oh shit handle, the whole time thinking I was going to deliver her in my husband's car. 

We got to the hospital and the valet was already gone. Joe threw the car in park and left it running. I was freaking out because it's not the best city and I was afraid someone would steal our car. In hindsight, it was a funny thing to be worried about given the fact that I was literally giving birth in the entrance of the hospital. There were no wheelchairs and the elevator was farther away from us than the stairs, so we took the stairs. I walked up two flights of stairs, stopping to breathe through each contraction, to get to the next bank of elevators that would take us to labor and delivery. A hospital employee who was on break or starting their shift or something, held the elevator door for us and when he realized that I was literally having my baby right there, he ran ahead of us off the elevator and alerted the nursing staff. 

Several nurses came running around a corner, one had a wheelchair, but I couldn't sit. I just did not want to sit. They got me into a room and I stood next to my hospital bed, leaning forward on it to work through a few more contractions. Joe went to go move the car. I remember thinking he wouldn't make it back in time. I took my clothes off and got into my gown. I was checked into the hospital system at 10:57 p.m. 

A young nurse came in to start my IV, I was having back to back contractions. I told her I didn't want an IV and she grabbed my arm to start the line, and that's when I verbally assaulted her telling her to stop touching me with her pointy stick. I didn't see that nurse again. 

They asked me if I wanted an epidural and I said yes and then no again immediately. I remember thinking there wouldn't be time, there wasn't enough time. I knew if it hurt that much that I was close and it would be over soon. A nurse checked me and I was 7 cm, when my OB came in a few minutes later she checked me and I was fully dilated and ready to push.

The first few contractions felt wild and out of control. My OB gowned up and sat down as I started to push, and my water exploded with a force that surprised everyone in the room. The pain got even more intense and I became even more frightened. I thought about the pain and the fears and all of the things keeping me wild and scared, and then something shifted with my next breath. I exhaled and let it all go, giving into the process, giving into the fear, surrendering. 

As I focused on my breathing, I got very quiet. And then I pushed and pushed and pushed. In between contractions I actually had (short) breaks to regroup a bit. I stayed quiet, except to say a few times that I was tired, or that I didn't want to ever do this again. And then on one contraction Joe, my OB and the nurse that was helping to hold my leg started encouraging me to push a little longer and a little harder. My OB told me to stop pushing, she adjusted Eliza and then she told me to push again and a few seconds later I felt her pass through my body and my perfect baby was on my chest. 

I looked at her and I cried, "We did it baby girl. We did it. It's just you and me. It was always you and me. We did it." And I wept and kissed her sweet face. I got to hold her for over an hour and nurse her. Her grip and her latch were strong, and we sat together. Nursing and clutching each other.

Eliza James was born on October 21 at 11:27 p.m. weighing 7 pounds, 13 ounces and was 20" long.

My perfect, spiky-haired, gorgeous baby girl came into the world 1 hour and 45 minutes after I opened my eyes in that bathtub.

Because I had no IV, they couldn't push pitocin to deliver my placenta and that took almost a half hour. I actually felt guilty for holding up my OB, but when my body was ready I could feel the contractions start again, and I pushed through one contraction and the placenta passed me, the room cleared out, and I was alone with my baby girl. Joe came back from calling his parents and our nanny and said goodnight and we were alone together again. My miracle baby and I, holding onto each other.

I now understand why people preach about natural births. I'm so glad I held out and let her come on her own terms. From beginning to end, her birth was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Once I let go of my fears, it was so peaceful and so natural. I understand now why I was given the gift of this child, this little healer, this tiny warrior. I am thankful each and every day.

{ 1 week old }

{ 2 weeks old }

{ 3 weeks old }

{ 4 weeks old }

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Collapse. Midnight. Then Peace.

I have been meaning to capture Eliza's birth story before the tiny details escape me, but there is a slightly larger story to tell and one that I have been both afraid to share and covetous of sharing. It has been such a deeply personal series of moments that have brought me great pain and greater comfort and I hesitate to be that exposed. But if I am to tell the story of how she came to be born, then I feel I must tell it from the beginning.

It is not easy to go through a pregnancy and terminate a marriage simultaneously. In fact, at times it feels emotionally impossible. The night Eliza was born, I sat in my hospital bed holding her, nursing her, while editing the Memorandum of Understanding which executes my separation and precedes my divorce. The dichotomy of being filled with so much love and so much anguish concurrently is a space I hope to never feel again.


The Spirit Guide

About halfway through my pregnancy I felt heavy. My soul felt heavy. I worried about what this energy would do to the baby, how it was affecting her. So I began seeing a woman for Reiki with the goal of clearing out some of the darkness. I only managed to go twice in nine months. Taking care of myself isn't something I have a lot of time for, but the sessions were powerful.

During the first session, Eliza didn't stop moving, wriggling, writhing. It was like the movement of the energy was giving her new life. I woke up from the session with an unstoppable force of tears rolling down my face. If you know me, you know that I don't cry. I just don't cry. This release was so necessary and so important. The healer who performed the session hugged me hard when it was over. I joke now, that I paid $80 for a hug. Ill-timed jokes are my thing when I am maxed out or vulnerable. In truth, it was the best $80 I had spent all year. It was also the first hug I'd had all year.

I walked away feeling lighter, but not clearer.

Session two came nearly a month later, I drifted into that space between awake and asleep and felt the baby move and felt my fears rise and felt my breathing slow down, almost stop. I was literally drowning in the fear, I could feel myself holding onto it, worrying how I was going to do this all and do this all on my own. And that's when I felt something or someone hold my hand. It was warm and it squeezed my hand and I knew that I would find the strength to make it through, I knew that I would be okay.


The Dark Night of the Soul

On September 24, we received the first offer on our house. It was $70,000 below asking price. It was an offer we could never take, as doing so would mean I didn't even have enough money to start over again, to put a roof over my babies' heads. We were deep in the thick of our separation and feelings were everywhere. The offer ignited fear in both Joe and I, and manifested into how we each process that feeling of being afraid. It was a new low. I felt like this would never be over, we would never come out of it, I would never survive. And what came after between us took me to a place where I lost all hope.

After putting my babies down for bed, choking back tears, I slid into the bathtub where I cried. I cried so hard I vomited all over myself several times. I cried until the water went cold and then I cried long after it had gotten cold. And I prayed for death. I acknowledged that I didn't have the strength to survive, and I had lost the will. I acknowledged that the fear and sadness had consumed me. And I prayed for the end of it all. I prayed that god would just take me and let me leave the pain of this world and this body, but that someone would find me in time to save the baby. I asked god to send me a sign that everything would be okay or to just take my life, let me go, just save her.

That's when I felt something reach through me and embrace me. I felt something holding me up. I felt something comforting me. This force held me until I caught my breath. And, again, I knew that I would find the strength to make it through.


September 25, 2014

At nearly 37 weeks pregnant everything felt like effort. That Thursday was no different. All three kids had school, I had deadlines to meet for work, life wasn't stopping or even pretending to slow down.

The kids were zoo-y and Ryan's bus was late, making the girls late for school and me late for a conference call. I fought with Reese. I felt numb. After making it through what felt like the longest morning and afternoon in history, I got to 4 p.m. only to find out that Joe was stuck at work and, of course, I hadn't gone to the grocery store. There was nothing in the house to make for dinner and I was feeling too spent to attempt shopping with all three in tow.

Joe got home at 6:30 which is when we normally have dinner on the table, and we left to go to a restaurant nearby. One that we had never been to. The kids were still sideways and shouting and fighting and vying for attention. The adults were exhausted and trying to discuss the offer on the house, the day before, trying to pick up pieces and make them fit. We walked into the restaurant around 7:15 and were seated and then promptly ignored. And when the third drink got knocked over, after the fifth tantrum had started and the fourth toy was thrown in anger, we got up and left. And now it was 7:45 -- just fifteen minutes before bedtime -- and our kids still weren't fed, or bathed, or even home.

I called a local pizza place that has a sit down restaurant and placed a dine-in order over the phone. I explained that we had three overtired kids and we would drive around for 15 minutes before coming inside, to avoid pre-meal meltdowns. While trying to place the order my phone dropped the call four times. It seemed as though every part of life was trying to test me. When it rains it pours.

We sat down at the booth and the food came out shortly after sitting. Perhaps the only good thing about feeding our brood two hours later than normal was that they were hungry and it was finally quiet. There was so much to talk about in the quiet space, but all we could do was sit expressionless and be thankful that we were almost at the end of another day. We likely looked as hollow as we felt.

The waitress came to our table and asked us if we needed anything else, and I told her, "just the check."

To which she replied, "it's taken care of."


"That lady sitting over there bought you all dinner, she's almost done with her meal. I thought you'd want to know before she left."

I walked over to her table, exhausted, leading with a 9 month belly that surely had tomato sauce underneath in the places you stop being able to see after a while. She was sitting with a near-empty pint of beer, middle-aged, unassuming, married (wearing a ring), but eating alone. I warned her that I was a hugger and that the pregnancy was making me emotional. She said to me, "then let me stand so I can be hugged."

She hugged me tightly.

I said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you. This has been a hard day, a hard few days, and it's not about money, but thank you."

She said, "I know. I love you." I pulled back slightly off-guard. "I love you," she said again. She pulled me back in, tighter this time, and said, "It's okay. I love you."

We hugged in the middle of the restaurant for minutes, me crying and her whispering, putting me back together. Then she walked over to the table and said hello to my children who were happily and quietly eating the meal she had just provided us. They chatted with her for a few minutes, she learned all of their names and they told her the random stories that toddlers tell. Then she reached down and squeezed my hand before leaving.

After she walked out Reese looked at me and said, "Mommy that lady was really cool."

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