I’ve been trying for weeks to find the time and space to write down something, anything, about Mira’s birth, but when I’ve had the time, I haven’t had the words, and when I’ve had the words, I’ve been occupied with things like showering, or nursing, or spending a few minutes of quality time with Julian, or grabbing a bite to eat, or trying to keep the apartment from becoming a complete pigsty, or (ha ha) grabbing an hour or two of sleep.
Our transition from three to four has been challenging at best, and while I feel incredibly lucky and blessed that we had my amazing mom here for three-plus weeks to ease us through, and another dear friend here for the long Thanksgiving weekend, I still feel like there just haven’t been enough hands to juggle all the things, or enough hours in the day. I know it will all get better in time, at least that’s what I keep telling myself when it’s 3 in the afternoon and I’m still in my milk-stained pajamas, trying to figure out what on earth we’re going to eat for dinner when I haven’t even had lunch yet.
One month ago today, on marathon Sunday, I sat on our bed at 40 weeks and 2 days pregnant, timing my contractions. (I had an app, of course. We’re so modern.) This being my second pregnancy, my doctor had told me to call when the contractions were 7 minutes apart, one minute long, for one hour, since second and subsequent babies tend to come faster than firstborns. I had been so close to that 7-1-1 mark for days, but my contractions never seemed to get closer than 9 or 10 minutes apart, and at least twice in the middle of the night, when I was certain we’d be grabbing our bags and calling a car to head to the hospital soon, they would just… stop. I’d sleep fitfully for an hour or two, frustrated but exhausted, and hope that things would pick up again soon.
It was so very different than the first time around. We really had no clue how things would play out.
So I sat on the bed that cold and sunny Sunday, and my mom made bacon and eggs and potatoes and toast while Julian played in the living room, and Mike sat at his computer and wrote, and Kirby curled up at my side like a furry little doula, and Cat and PJ and Stevie and Ella sang through the speakers, and I breathed, and timed, and waited. I hadn’t had much of an appetite for most of this pregnancy, but it had finally come back in recent days, and the sizzling bacon smelled so good but I was too queasy to eat when it was offered. Mom and the boys enjoyed theirs, and I stayed in the bedroom, timing, breathing, waiting.
At some point I finally had a small plate of potatoes and toast and a couple of strips of bacon, but mostly I sipped as much water as I could hold (which came out seemingly as fast as I took it in). The contractions had been building in intensity over the course of the day, to the point where I had to stand or get on my hands and knees and brace myself to breathe through them. They were still no closer than 8 or 9 minutes apart, though, and while I was really hoping for an unmedicated birth this time, I was beginning to doubt that I could hang on much longer without some sort of pain relief. The sun dipped low in the sky, my mom pressed forward with dinner prep at my urging, and Mike and I decided that as soon as my contractions got to about 7.5 to 8 minutes apart, we’d call my doctor’s office.
We reached that point a little after 5 pm. I called my doctor’s office, and then their answering service, at 5:15. I gave my info to the nice lady on the other end of the line, was given the name of the doctor on call and told someone would call back. I relayed this info to Mike and said that if we didn’t hear back from anyone in 10 minutes, we should go ahead and call a car anyway.
We never did get a call back. Luckily, we didn’t wait for one.
I went out to the living room to tell my mom what was happening. She had a pot roast cooking and a football game on the television, and Julian was still down for his afternoon nap. I burst into tears as I was talking to her, and started shaking as she hugged me tight. It took only minutes for a car to arrive to take us to the hospital, and Mike and I loaded in and were on our way at around 5:45.
The contractions started coming harder and faster while we sped through the Hugh Carey Tunnel and up the west side of Manhattan to St. Luke’s at 58th Street. Mike fired off a couple of quick texts to family to let them know we were en route. I was sweating and shaking and struggling not to show it; every time our driver stopped at a light he’d look at me in his rearview mirror, so I was trying hard to remain calm and composed. He let us off at the curb right around 6:15, and I clutched a newspaper box while Mike paid up and gathered our things. Then we hobbled slowly up a flight of stairs from the sidewalk to the entrance, and from there to Maternity on the 12th floor.
My memory gets a little fuzzy from this point on. We arrived at triage to check in, and though I had pre-registered I wasn’t in the system. I answered questions and started filling out forms as best I could, stopping at one point to bend over and breathe before being taken back to be examined. I was given a gown to change into and a cup to fill, then was left alone while the nurses tended to a mama who had arrived just after us, and who was clearly in distress. I made my way to the bathroom and tried to pee, but it was agony, then I went back to the curtained area to change out of my clothes. I put on the gown and again doubled over, trying to breathe and stay calm.
Someone came back after a few minutes that felt like an eternity. I was finding it harder to focus on my breathing, so I started singing, then humming (“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, of all things – it’s one of Julian’s favorites, and it was the first thing that came to mind) to try to calm myself. I had to get onto my back on the bed, but I couldn’t, and to make matters worse, I was feeling the very distinct urge to push.
When I heard the resident who was examining me say that I was about 9 cm dilated, I almost lost it. That minute between the nurses getting a monitor onto me and then locating the sound of the baby’s heartbeat was probably the longest minute of my life – I can’t recall ever feeling so terrified. Mike was still in the triage waiting room, nobody could reach any of the doctors from my OB’s office, and my body was telling me that this baby was coming out NOW.
Mike was finally brought back, and at this point, things started happening fast. I was transferred to a gurney for the short trip across the hall to a Labor and Delivery room. I was summoning all my strength to NOT PUSH, while trying to answer more questions from the nurses about my Group B Strep status (negative), whether I’d like an epidural (“OH YES but I don’t think there’s time?!”), and the like. Mike’s favorite part of this story is that I apparently yelled “JESUS!” very loudly at this point, legs splayed in the hallway of a Catholic hospital, which garnered some laughter from the nurses who were with us.
Once in our L&D room, Mike tossed our bags and coats onto a chair while I was hooked up to more monitors, answered a few more questions, and was again reminded “DON’T PUSH!” My legs were propped up and a whole team of people swirled into the room for the endgame. I fixed my attention on the guy who seemed like he was in charge (Dr. Lee, and he was), standing just beyond my right foot. He told me that I could push (finally!), and that when I did, I’d feel my water breaking. I did and it did, and I don’t think anything has ever felt so weird or so good.
The real pushing (and yelling) began after that, and it felt very much NOT GOOD, and while in the moment I thought I was going to split right open and die, the actual time it all took was relatively brief. Mirabelle Marlow Dietsch came roaring into this world at 7:15 pm, not two hours after we left home for the hospital.
They handed her to me briefly, then whisked her away to be weighed and measured and examined. I held her again while they cleaned and stitched me up, this little pink-cheeked bundle, and despite the physical pain I was in, I was pretty exhilarated.
The experience was not at all as we might have planned, but in a weird way, I got the birth that I had wanted. And of course, most importantly, our little girl was healthy and perfect.
So now we are four. We are figuring it out. Every day is different, but I couldn’t ask for more.