At my most recent visit to my midwife, I asked about an epidural: “I had two unmedicated deliveries... and I don’t know if I can do it again this time.”
“That’s because you know what’s coming,” she said. “ You have PTSD.”
Judah Jonathan, my second baby boy, turns two in less than two months, and I am just now writing his birth story — in part because life is busy, partly because it mirrored Noah’s story in so many ways, and partly because it instigated fears I didn’t know that I still carried.
Both of my boys were both born at 39 weeks, and 1 day; Noah at 11:45 p.m. and Judah at 11:37 p.m. It rained on both their birth days, which any Southern California resident knows is rare. For both, my labor started early in the morning, and when we got to the hospital, it was dark.
Probably because I’m writing this almost 2 years later, I don’t remember most of the day that I was in labor with Judah. We had a toddler running around, and I know my parents were there at some point. I don’t remember what I did all day to pass the time. I think maybe I made pasta for the freezer. Or lactation cookies? My memory is murky.
It was a Friday. Toward the end of the day, my dad said something like, “Maybe this baby will come on Sunday, like Noah.” I mumbled through a contraction, “Why would you wish that on me?”
We left for the hospital shortly after.
At the labor and delivery check-in desk, I heard screams and moans coming from down the hallway. “That woman is doing an unmedicated delivery,” the nurse said. “I want to do an unmedicated delivery,” I said.
I waited in triage. Dave said I was 6 or 7 cm dilated when they checked me. I think maybe I was only 4 or 5. Again, murky. I don’t remember the shaking. I don’t remember the chills. I don’t remember walking to the birthing suite. We didn’t have my amazing doula and friend this time around. We were on our own.
There was no midwife that night, and the OB on duty wanted me continuously monitored (“the baby’s heart rate keeps dropping”), which meant that aside from the 30 seconds (it seemed) of water therapy from the shower, I was confined to the bed – on all fours because I was in back labor.
Dave must have put on some sort of hypnobirthing playlist because one of the nurses commented, “You two are the dream team. You should teach birthing classes.”
We were in the birthing suite for less than two hours when the OB said, “If we don’t get this baby out soon, we’ll have to do a C-section.”
I saw my nurse, Lori, look at her: “She’ll be ok.” Lori rubbed my arm while I was pushing, and I never felt more grateful for physical touch.
I pushed as hard as I could. “Don’t push so hard,” the OB said, “You don’t want to tear.” Then she started talking about taking her daughters shopping over the weekend.
Dave said that I only pushed for maybe 10 minutes. But this time, I really had to push. Noah had basically ejected himself — I worked for this baby. I wanted him out. I felt fear about what would happen if he didn’t come out quickly.
He was born with a literal knot in his umbilical cord.
“I’ve never seen that before,” the OB said.
Recently, a thing that I feared would happen, actually did happen, and I was – am – devastated.
So maybe fears could come true in other parts of my life as well. Maybe I’m not as immune as I thought. It turns out I have a high tolerance for physical pain and a low tolerance for the emotional sort.
I’m afraid this baby, baby #3, will come at the “wrong” time — the weekend that my husband is working, the day that we’re going to be wading through the crowds at the Great Pacific Airshow on the beach, in the middle of my hair appointment an hour away from home. I fear that my husband will fall asleep on me because he has been working so hard and is as exhausted as I am. I fear that I’ll be the woman calling 911 because she couldn’t get to the hospital in time. This happened to a friend of a friend — the baby’s head was out by the time the paramedics got to her house.
“Don’t say those things out loud,” my work friends said. “They’ll actualize.”
The hardest part about Judah’s birth was not the back labor or the pushing or the insensitive OB. The hardest part was the fear — because of his heart rate dropping, because of the knot in his umbilical cord.
Judah Jonathan came out strong at 8 lb. 6 oz. and 21. 5 inches long, bright red with baby beefcake shoulders. His birth ended in the best possible way — he was healthy. I was healthy. I felt it was no small miracle that I got him out without tearing.
The nurse who helped me in the hour after delivery and who wheeled me into the recovery room had three kids, she said. The same OB who had delivered my first baby had also delivered hers.
There was a bell I got to ring. Or maybe it was a buzzer? A sort of announcement to the hospital that another baby had been born.
Judah slept and ate like a champ. Recovery was easier. The rest of our experience was a vacation — the endless cranberry juice with extra ice, the meal deliveries, the quiet, the lack of all other responsibilities and obligations. Even the shower felt amazing. I was high on the purest kind of love.
As we checked out, my husband joked with the nurses, “When can I book our next stay?”
Today, I’m heading out of the office for yet another maternity leave, an extended one this time. The hospital bag is packed, complete with Trader Joe’s birthday popcorn and wrapped SpiderMan walkie talkies as gifts for the big brothers. The infant car seat is re-installed. The bassinet is set up next to our bed. The nursery is just about ready.
This time, we’ll bring the iPad. I’ll bring a book. We’ll make it a date.
New baby. New story. The same choice — love over fear.