It’s 4:15 a.m. and I am wide awake with only the crackling ashes in the wood stove for company, because that is what happens when your 18-month-old conveniently forgets everything he learned about sleep-training during family Christmas vacation.
We played the yell-at-Mom-from-across-the-room game for about 30 minutes at which point Mom threw in the towel on the sleeping battle. Miles happily nestled up against me in the warm bed and fell into a deep toddler-snoring sleep within seconds, while I stared into the darkness.
And now I am up typing because this is obviously the ideal time to chronicle Miles’ birth story along with the other 19.4 million other birth stories on the Internet. I’ve tried to write this down so many times and each time, I have been paralyzed. I think this is mostly because the story of a baby, and especially a first-born, is never just a birth story. It’s a parenting story, a marriage story, a what-the-heck-happened story. It’s a story about sleeping and not sleeping and long nights and nursing and laundry and laughing uncontrollably and hysterically crying.
But now I’m 22 weeks into the story of our next baby and Miles’ story needs to be captured – less for him, probably, and more for me, because what 18-year-old boy really cares about his birth story? But stories explain how we got to where we are, and I never want to forget how this little boy utterly unmade and remade me and Mark and our world.
My pregnancy was blessedly, boring-ly normal. Nothing of any merit or interest really happened at all. Except for the first really earth-shattering preliminary appointment at 10 weeks (“You mean that’s a baby in there???” “You think it’s a boy????) the majority of my appointments were 2.3 minutes long. Whatever random fears I had concocted since the last appointment would be soothed by the gentle swish of the baby’s heartbeat and the cheery outlook of whatever nurse practitioner happened to be on the schedule at Walter Reed that day.
At 8 months pregnant, Mark officially separated from active duty and, in the blank space in our calendar between employment and business school in Texas, we moved to my parents’ vacation home in Northern Michigan to wait out Miles’ arrival.
He was due on July 11. On Thursday, July 3, after Mark played an early-morning round of golf, Mark and I went in for a second-to-last checkup. I was sent home with a warning – first babies inevitably come late, don’t stress, be patient, walk a lot. My dad’s medically informed and optimistic outlook predicted that the baby would arrive around July 20. I sighed in resignation and met my family at the beach, letting the July colors of Grand Traverse bay soothe my irritation.
One piece of advice that is generously passed around during pregnancy is this: sleep as much as you possibly can in the few weeks leading up to the baby’s birth, since you’ll be awake forever afterwards. We absorbed this advice into our normal stride, staying up until nearly midnight on July 3, soaking up every second of another one of Michigan’s gorgeous summer days.
And then, about 14 minutes after my 39-weeks pregnant self rolled wearily into bed around midnight, I became totally convinced that my water had broken. Nothing cool and dramatic happened like it does in all of the baby movies, but I was suspicious enough to call the OBGYN. She was calm and consoling and told me to wait it out for a couple of hours to be sure before making the long trek to the hospital, since we were 50 minutes away.
Mark and the rest of the house slept peacefully and I waited. The waves hitting my back quickly became painful enough to render sleep impossible, so I wander into the living room to try everything that they had taught me in the birthing class. I kneeled by the couch. I bent over. I stretched. I resented Mark’s peaceful sleep. I gritted my teeth.
I called the OBGYN back at around 2:00 a.m., still convinced that I was in labor. She told me to check myself in. I dashed into the bedroom to rouse Mark, whom I could only imagine would leap out of bed in glorious enthusiasm (like they do in the movies). He rolled over groggily with an encouraging “Are you sure? Can I sleep a few more minutes?”.
I woke up my mom and sister and ate a handful of grapes (“because the birthing instructor said they won’t let me eat when I get there!!!!”). I gritted my teeth and breathed deeply some more in between applying makeup (#priorities) and strategizing with Mark and Mom. By 3:00 a.m., four of us were driving the dark backroads to the hospital.
By the time we pulled into the L&D parking lot, the pain during each wave was lot worse. By the time the night nurses ushered me into a room to check me, I was entering panic mode. “Are you going to send me back home?” I practically cried, as a whooooosh of fluid (much more movie-like, thank you very much) suddenly made itself known. Um, no, their faces told me. Get into a wheelchair.
The next three hours were both torturously boring and blurringly dramatic. I did everything the book and class said to do. I yelled at Mark, who was diligently paging through his book on birth and fatherhood in the corner. We paced the halls. He rubbed my back. I cried. I vomited. I remembered vaguely something the birthing instructor had mentioned about back labor.
My sister, an ICU nurse, hovered over every move my nurses made. My mom sat in the corner, as straight and quietly as a steel beam, with that “I might need to fly this plane any second” expression. I curled up into a fetal position on the hospital bed and despaired of every feeling comfortable again.
And then at 7:30 a.m. the nurse warned me that if I wanted an epidural, I needed to order it an hour ahead of time. By this time, I was completely exhausted and totally convinced that I was at 8 centimeters and almost ready to push. “I want one! Find the anesthesiologist! Put me on the waiting list! I’m done with this breathing nonsense!”
The anesthesiologist showed up around 8:30 a.m.. He let Mark stay in the room and hold my hand. I felt a bee sting in my back and the next contraction that made itself known two minutes later felt immeasurably more manageable. I wanted to weep. When the nurse checked me, she reported a whopping 3 centimeters. I wanted to weep again, or swear, or both. All of that work for 3 CENTIMETERS?!
The epidural worked like a dream and my contractions became mere lights on the screen. The nurse reported 4, then 5, then 6 centimeters. I vomited some more. My sister left for her shift. Mark and I finally were both able to fall asleep. Mom texted reports to Dad and siblings and inlaws and relatives.
At lunchtime, I woke up. Mark and Mom went out in search of lunch. We played the Name Voting Game with each new nurse that appeared. My brother showed up bearing cookies made by my younger sister for the nurses. My centimeters crept along.
And suddenly, around 2:00 p.m., two things happened. Two nurses appeared and started moving rails on the bed around and starting giving me pushing instructions. And my epidural started feeling suspiciously absent. Suddenly, there was nothing between me and crashing waves of pain – not aching pain like the kind I’d felt in the darkness. OH NO.
This was sharp, awful, get-it-away-from-me-I’m-being-ripped-apart kind of pain. Mark and Mom coached and held my legs and made up soothing lies about my progress. The nurses were both comfortingly confident and annoyingly bossy.
The nurses began to play irritating games of Bad Cop, Good Cop at this point. The doctor at one point assured me that “the first one is the worst” while one of the nurses seemed almost personally offended at my refusal to “lean into” my pushing.
I pushed for two hours. It HURT. My epidural had covered my contractions up high, but once the pain moved down, it was missing the mark. Completely. Honestly, I don’t think I ever really got on top of my pain or my pushing. I felt panicky and breathless and completely out of control for the entire two hours.
But suddenly, Mark could see the baby’s hair. And the coaching of the nurses and Mom became more intense. And I STILL HURT. And then his head appeared. “Do you want to pull him the rest of the way out?” Dr. Enthusiastic brightly asked. “NO!” I
screamed responded. “GET IT OUT.”
And then a few minutes later everything was quiet and Mark was helping to cut the umbilical cord and I was staring into the calm, quiet eyes of my little boy.
Miles Freedom was born at 4:23 p.m. on July 4, 2014. He was 6 lbs., 6 oz..
I tend to be an immensely practical person. True magical Disney-and-fireworks moments in my life are rare – my admission that such moments exist rarer still. And I know that births and deliveries and post-birth bonding can vary radically. But those first few moments, while Miles stared intensely into my eyes, was some of the purest, most intense magic I’ve ever known.
And then Mark held him. My husband is a youngest and has never spent much time around small children and so I’d always wondered what kind of parent he would be at first. Would he know what to do? Would he be nervous?
All of my wondering washed away immediately as I watched Mark hold our baby for the first time. In the pictures we have from those first few moments, the tenderness and confidence with which Mark cuddled Miles in those first couple of minutes is still palpable.
Sometimes that people that work the hardest go unnoticed, but really, this story would be incomplete without a word about the amazing doctors and nurses that we had during birth. In a world where so many people lack basic access to healthcare or where a lot of suspicion and cynicism about medicine exists, it was such an amazing blessing to be able to have Miles in such a warm, caring, knowledgeable environment.
The difficult parts of birth were made easier by doctors and nurses who were genuinely concerned about Miles’ and my safety, comfort, and peace of mind and the really good things that I remember about that day are closely tied to the sweet spirits, good attitudes, and skill of the medical professionals on duty.
So that first night, we rested and stared at Miles and worked on nursing (more to come on that…). Outside our window, the Blue Angels flew by over Grand Traverse Bay. After the sun set and everyone had left Mark and Miles and me to our own quiet devices, we watched the fireworks exploding through the window off in the distance, marking Miles’ first Fourth.