I have had every intention of sharing Dessa’s birth story on the blog since the day she was born. Before that, actually. I kept notes on my phone of the events leading up to her birth because I knew that I wanted to share them here, but then our sweet girl arrived. And I went back to work. And tried to juggle everything. And fell so far behind in all of my goals for the blog, while life kept happening. And somehow my baby girl turned two years old today and is about to be a big sister. I feel like this just might be my last chance to share the story of her birth before the next child comes along and officially jumbles up all of my memories from Dessa’s arrival into the world. Dessa wasn’t in any hurry to be born, and her birth story is extra long since it spans several days, but she was absolutely worth every sweet moment of worry and anticipation.
Women talk all the time about how they quickly their minds forget some the traumas of childbirth and I have learned that their words are quite true. I can recall a few parts of the experience with incredible clarity, and other moments have been completely forgotten. I knew that I wanted to remember the details of this story for myself and I am so glad I had the forethought to keep notes on my phone during the experience. Some of what I share today are from memory; at other times I rely quite heavily on the notes I took during my time in the hospital.
Note to all the first-time mommas to be out there: childbirth does not have to be as scary as you are making it out to be. I can’t say anything about “natural” childbirth (I had an epidural and am planning to get another one for baby #2), but every step of the way through my labor and delivery, I kept waiting for things to get worse. I would never have believed this before having Dessa, but childbirth was not as horrifying and nightmarish as I feared it to be. If you are pregnant and terrified of what’s to come, let me be the first to assure you that it is ok. I went through all sorts of crazy and unpleasant things during my induction, labor and delivery and unpleasant is the best way to describe my experiences. And all of those warm, fuzzy feelings women describe as soon as they hold their baby are 100% true and completely worth looking forward to (even if you don’t understand how any woman could possibly be that happy after giving birth.)
Thursday, July 6
Dessa’s due date was July 10 and my doctor was keeping a very close watch on me in the last weeks of my pregnancy. I was a 35-year-old expectant mother with gestational diabetes, but in otherwise good health, and I think he just wanted to make sure everything went smoothly and free of complications. When I went in for my standard weekly checkup at 39 weeks, I wasn’t dilated, effaced, or experiencing any contractions. It appeared as though Dessa was snug as a bug and my body wasn’t in any hurry to push her out. None of this pleased my doctor, so he put a plan into action that would help to speed up the process a bit.
At 8 pm that evening, I followed the doctor’s instructions and checked in at the hospital’s Labor and Delivery unit for a dose of Cytotec. I didn’t really know what was in store for me and I grossly underestimated what this appointment would entail. I wasn’t really sure what Cytotec was or how it worked, but I was told that it would help to soften up my cervix and help dilation to progress. I thought it was strange that I had to go to Labor & Delivery to receive the medication and I thought it was even more strange when the nurse directed me to a delivery room and handed me a gown to wear. That’s when someone explained that they would be inserting Cytotec onto my cervix. Once I was dressed, they connected me to a monitor so they could track any contractions as well as the baby’s heartbeat. Suddenly things were starting to make a bit more sense, but I still had no idea how the rest of my evening would go. I figured I would put on the gown, settle into the stirrups, get my Cytotec, and go home. I didn’t want to mess up a perfectly good delivery room so I tried to be as neat and tidy as possible.
As it turns out, that evening was the beginning of a bustling week on the Labor & Delivery floor. There were many women in labor and I had to wait until nearly 10 pm to receive the medication. It was a pretty boring wait and we were completely unprepared. Rob and I both spent some time on our phones until the batteries started to dwindle, then we settled in and watched a TV as we waited for the medication to be administered. After waiting for over two hours, a nurse came in with the resident in charge. They explained that they would insert the Cytotec, which can cause an increase in contractions. I would need to stay at the hospital for a while so I could be monitored to make sure I wasn’t suddenly going into labor before they would release me.
As I said, Rob and I were completely unprepared. It was a long night filled with reruns of Seinfeld, Big Bang Theory, and How I Met Your Mother. We dozed a bit and sometime after midnight, Rob decided that he was going to take the morning off work since we had no idea how much longer we were going to be at the hospital. Finally, after 1 am, the resident and nurse returned. They let me know that everything was going smoothly and that I would be discharged shortly. It was nearly 2 am when we finally left the hospital and I was starving. As you might expect, there aren’t many dining options open in the middle of the night. Rob and I stopped at a 24-hour grocery store on the way home to pick up a quick snack. I decided to indulge my gestational diabetic self and picked up a bag of blueberry mini bagels and a tub of cream cheese so I could have a mini bagel as my pre-bedtime snack.
The bagel proved to be the best part of my evening because I was uncomfortable from the series of mini contractions that the Cytotec had triggered (a nurse at the hospital had warned me that it could happen). The pain wasn’t particularly sharp. It just felt like really annoying, uncomfortable menstrual cramps that lasted well through the night.
The next few days passed without incident. No more contractions or other signs that our baby was ready to make an appearance and I was curious to see what would come of my next appointment.
Monday, July 10
I had another checkup with my OB-GYN the morning of my due date and it was just about the same as every other visit that month – no news to report. No contractions. No dilation and no effacement. At this point, I wasn’t really surprised and I don’t think my doctor was either. I left his office with a check-in appointment later that evening for another dose of Cytotec – except this time I wasn’t going home until there was a baby in my arms.
Knowing that we were in for a longer stay at the hospital with plenty of downtime, Rob and I came prepared. We both brought our laptops along with my hospital bag. We arrived at 8 pm and once again followed the nurse to a delivery room. I put on my gown, was connected to a monitor and waited patiently for a few hours during another busy night at the hospital for the Cytotec to be administered. While we waited, Rob and I each did a little work on our laptops, then watched some Netflix.
Around 10:15 pm, the resident returned with another round of Cytotec. Much like the previous time, the medication caused contractions – which were steady and occurring every minute, but they were very mild. Basically, just annoying enough to make me uncomfortable so sleep was difficult. Around 1 am, one of the nurses gave me morphine, which was absolutely GLORIOUS (<— that’s the exact word that I typed into the notes on my phone.) With the medication in my system, my body felt the most comfortable that it had been in over a month. I was completely relaxed and happy and I gobbled up a whole cup of ice chips to celebrate. I may have been wide awake and deliriously happy, but by this point, Rob was getting pretty tired. We snuggled in my hospital bed for about an hour until he moved over to the pullout/sofa/cot contraption in the delivery room around 2 am.
Tuesday, July 11
It was nice to get a few hours of sleep, but I awoke at 4 am once again in discomfort from the every-minute contractions. Just like before, they were fairly mild but impossible to sleep through. I reached again for my laptop while Rob rested peacefully a few feet away.
The doctor stopped by around 6 am for a quick check to see how I was doing and if I had dilated. After two doses of Cytotec and a night of cramps, my body had finally started to dilate – to 1 cm. He explained that I wasn’t progressing as much as he had hoped and my cervix needed a little extra helping along so he was making arrangements for me to receive a balloon catheter.
I honestly do not recall the next thing that happened, but this is the part where I need to let you know that I was nervous about all of the things related to having a baby. Really nervous. You’ll hear a little more of my crazy nervousness when I tell you about the epidural, but for now, know that I was NERVOUS. And the balloon catheter sounded totally nutso and uncomfortable and so strange. So apparently the doctor left and I started shaking because I was so anxious about the idea of the balloon catheter (I may not remember this part, but that definitely sounds like me. I’ve shaken from nervousness a few times before.) Then, apparently, I threw up.
I may not recall the shaking or nausea, but I do remember laying in bed, working on my computer and having LOTS of time with nothing actually happening while we waited for the balloon catheter. So I spent the day working. I answered emails and worked on a few resources for my TpT store. Rob went home to get something to eat and take a shower and I just kept plugging away on my computer. And eating ice chips. My body may not have been ready for labor, but the nurses weren’t taking any chances and only let me eat ice chips.
After a long day of laying in bed hooked up to machines and IVs, it became apparent that our baby still wasn’t ready to come out and I was finally given permission to eat. I asked if I had to follow any guidelines or count carbs for my gestational diabetes (which had hardly been mentioned at all since I checked in to the hospital. It felt seriously strange and a little alarming that I hadn’t had to check my blood sugar at all in nearly 24 hours). The nurse told me I could eat anything I wanted and I had big plans for that meal – Burger King. Two of my best friends knew that I was bored out of my mind and were planning to stop by for a visit. They graciously offered to pick up some fast food deliciousness for Rob and me. I enjoyed a quick shower before they arrived and savored every guilt-free bite of my Whopper, fries, and Coke. It was so nice to have a break from the monotony of waiting for something to happen and catch up with my friends before things started getting interesting.
Around 8 pm, my doctor arrived to set me up with the infamous balloon catheter. If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing a balloon catheter to try and induce labor, here’s how it works:
There’s a long rubber tube with an uninflated balloon at one end of the catheter. I’m not sure if they are all exactly the same, but the other end of my catheter branched off into several smaller tubes at the other end. The doctor inserts the catheter tube so that the balloon is near the cervix, then sends saline solution into each of the smaller tube “branches” to inflate the balloon. The theory is that the pressure from the inflated balloon pressing on the cervix will thin the cervix and help to dilate it. The procedure didn’t hurt, but I was uncomfortable from all of the pressure. Once the doctor was done, all we had to do was wait in the hopes that my cervix would thin out overnight.
Once the procedure was complete, it was just me with a bunch of tubes literally dangling outside of me. The inflated balloon itself wasn’t uncomfortable, but I was keenly aware of the external tubes. Within a few hours, the thrill of a shower and dinner wore off and the cramps returned. At this point, I was frustrated, tired and at the end of my wits. The nurses gave me morphine to try and get comfortable, but the drugs didn’t seem to have any effect and I was still miserable. Some time passed and I was then given Tylenol and Benadryl, which took the edge off and helped me to finally get some rest that night.
Wednesday, July 12
I awoke on the morning of July 12 and the first order of business was checking to see if the balloon catheter had served its intended purpose. The doctor drained the balloon and removed the catheter, then performed a quick exam. I was finally 50% effaced and dilated to 3. Things were finally moving along!
Since I had been in the hospital over 36 hours and was two days past my due date, the doctor started me on Pitocin early that morning and had cranked up the dose by 10 am. I wasn’t in any significant pain during that time and was just mildly uncomfortable.
By 2:30 pm, there (still) wasn’t much to report, so the doctor broke my water and contractions slowly decided to kick in. I have always joked that my brother and I fell out of my mom because she had such quick labors with each of us and I was nervous that once labor started for me, it would happen too quickly for me to get an epidural. I was terrified of childbirth pain and wasn’t taking any chances on missing out on an epidural so I requested one as soon as the contractions started gaining strength.
Around 5:00 pm, the anesthesiologist arrived to administer my epidural and though I was happy to see him, I was once again really, really nervous. A friend thought she was being helpful when she told me that the epidural would hurt a lot, but was completely worth it and I would feel so much better afterward. I really wish she hadn’t tried to reassure me because I was terrified of the epidural pain (which is seemed like it would be horrible, since it’s a shot into your spine).
The anesthesiologist asked Rob to leave the room for the procedure and the fear set in a little deeper. I sat on the edge of the bed, holding onto the nurse so I could brace myself for the shot while the perfectly pleasant anesthesiologist started to make small talk and ask a few simple questions. All he did was begin to sterilize the site of the injection in my back and I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. Within two minutes I was bawling uncontrollably and my poor nurse and anesthesiologist had no idea what was wrong. They kindly waited to do the procedure and helped to calm me down. When I was finally ready and back in control of my emotions, they moved forward with the epidural and guess what? It barely hurt at all. In fact, it felt pretty much exactly the same as a shot in the arm – go figure!
After the epidural, things settled down significantly and got a little boring once again. I was confined to bed, but much more comfortable than I had been at other times since the process began. I wasn’t feeling anxious and we just waited for my body to do its thing. The next few hours were filled with frequent checks from the nurses, lots of TV and ice chips.
At some point, shortly after receiving the epidural my body started shaking and it was the strangest sensation. It was as though I was shivering or trembling from nervousness, but I didn’t feel cold or particularly anxious at that moment and I couldn’t control the shaking. We let the nurse know and were informed that the shaking is a somewhat common childbirth experience that’s often called “birthquakes.” Even though I wasn’t cold, she brought me a warm blanket – which finally put my nerves to rest so the birthquakes could disappear.
The next few hours were uneventful. It was boring, but I truly think I needed the boredom of a very slow pace to calm my nerves about what was to come. By Wednesday night, I had withstood a lot of uncomfortable moments and procedures and come out of them ok. There was still one big event ahead before we met our baby, but the slow moments leading up to this point were exactly what I needed to face what was still to come.
Rob’s mom, Jackie, is a night owl and was thrilled to come visit us at the hospital and await the arrival of her third grandchild. She stopped by around 9 pm and was followed shortly by two of my friends around 10 pm. The five of us chatted and made small talk while we waited for Dessa to arrive. About an hour later, it became apparent that our little one was finally getting ready to make her long-awaited appearance into this world. My girlfriends headed toward the waiting room and Rob’s mom was overjoyed when I asked if she wanted to stay during the delivery.
I know it probably sounds a little mind-blowing that I would invite my mother-in-law to be in the delivery room with Rob and me when Dessa was born, but I had given the possibility quite a bit of thought in the last few months of my pregnancy. Jackie is a nurse who has seen it all before and she’s very nurturing. She also has a heart full of love and I knew that being present for the birth would mean a lot to her. When I asked Jackie if she wanted to stay, her eyes welled up with tears and I knew I had made the right decision. Even though none of this was anything new to her, I was holding on to a few last shreds of modesty and made one simple request for her to stay up near the head of the bed. No surprise – she happily obliged.
Around 11:40 pm, things really started to rev up and next thing I knew, it was time to start pushing. Many of the details from the 48 hours leading up to Dessa’s birth are fuzzy for me and I have to rely heavily on my notes, but I vividly recall many details of her delivery. One memory that always makes me smile is thinking about Rob’s sweet mother while I was pushing. She did everything she could to remain out of our way and stayed as far away from the action as humanly possible. There were some cabinets behind where she and Rob were standing and I think that she would have found a way to squeeze herself into one of them to give me the privacy and space I requested if it was physically possible. I will always love Jackie for that moment in the delivery room.
While Jackie was trying her best to stay out of the way, Rob was by my side, offering support as I pushed. After nearly an hour of pushing, it was apparent that Dessa was not going to budge. I’m still shocked that an hour passed. There was a clock on the wall that I was watching carefully as I pushed (mostly to see if our baby was going to be born before or after midnight) and it seemed as though that time flew by. And, much like so many other events leading up to Dessa’s birth, the pushing wasn’t as scary or as intense as I feared it would be.
Thursday, July 13
Midnight came and went. By this time I had been in the hospital for 52 long hours with minimal rest and only one meal during my stay. My body was tired and I simply wasn’t strong enough to push Dessa out on my own. The doctor explained that he wanted to use forceps to help bring Dessa into the world and I immediately melted down. This time, it wasn’t because I feared the pain of forceps – it was because I was scared of the impact they would have on Dessa. The doctor listened to my concerns and assured me that it was the best way to get our baby out. A few more pushes and a little help from the forceps finally brought Dessa into the world. I’m pretty sure my eyes were closed while I pushed because I remember hearing Rob try to get my attention by saying, “Maria – look!” And just like that, we had a baby girl.
The nurse placed Dessa on my belly for a brief moment, then whisked her a few feet away for a quick checkup. Minutes ticked by and all that I wanted was to get a better look at my baby. I watched as Rob, Jackie, and the nurse each had a chance to hold Dessa and the floodgates of tears burst wide open. I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on with the lower half of my body, but I didn’t think anything of the fact that the doctor was so involved in his work at the foot of my bed. My eyes were on Dessa and it seemed so unfair to watch everyone else have a chance at holding her while I laid captive in bed, waiting for the doctor to finish up.
I was not expecting to immediately love my baby so much, so quickly after only seeing her for a few seconds, but there it was. An immediate, intense love for my child. It killed me that I had to wait to hold her and all that I could do was cry uncontrollably. After some time, it started to occur to my nurse that I wasn’t crying because of typical post-birth hormones. She asked me why I was so upset and I explained that I just wanted to hold Dessa – who had long-since been cleaned, weighed, and measured. I really had the sweetest nurse, who explained that my body had suffered a tear while I was pushing and the doctor was sewing me up. I couldn’t hold Dessa yet, but she calmed me down and someone brought Dessa over so I could finally get a better look at my sweet baby while I waited for the doctor to finish.
Once my nerves were calmed, Rob held his daughter and I waited more patiently for the doctor to finish up. I have no idea how long doctors typically spend waiting for the afterbirth and cleaning up a mom after delivery, but it took an hour for my post-delivery work to be complete. At some point, I started to get curious about my situation was and I asked my mother in law to take a look “downstairs” and tell me how bad it was. She leaned over for a peek, then told me I had two tears that the doctor was trying to find the best way to sew them back up. The irony is not lost on me that when I first invited Jackie to stay with us for the delivery, I requested that she stay up near the head of the bed; and that by the end I no longer cared about what she did or didn’t see and specifically asked her to take a good look at my lower parts and fill me in on what was going on.
Once the doctor was finished, I was overjoyed to finally sit up in bed and hold Dessa in my arms. The strange thing is, I can vividly recall all of the tears and overwhelming sadness of waiting to hold her, but I don’t remember very much of those first minutes we had a chance to snuggle. I hear so many women talk about how that first moment with your newborn is the best feeling in the world (and I have no doubt that it truly was amazing), but I honestly can’t recall them and I hope that the birth of our next child goes a bit more smoothly so I can fully remember the tender moment without having it overshadowed by so much sadness.
I do remember texting my poor friends who were still waiting to meet Dessa and telling them it would just be a little bit longer. They graciously offered to pick up some food for us while I took a shower prepared myself for visitors. By that point, it was well after midnight and fast food was the only option so we had Burger King once again and it was every bit as delicious in the early hours of Thursday morning as it had been on Tuesday evening. They came with fast food in hand to finally meet our sweet girl and to visit for a short while before heading back home for a few hours of sleep. By that point, it was after 3 am and they had been waiting at the hospital for an incredibly long 5 hours. I am still so thankful for the time they spent in love and support for our family.
Our family of three stayed at the hospital for one last night – which was quite the whirlwind and anything but boring. A few family members came to meet Dessa, a friend brought Dessa her very first birthday cake, and we Face Timed with my grandmother so we could tell her directly about her unexpected namesake. We also had a few bumps in the road that first night while the nursing staff helped us get Dessa’s blood sugar on track as a result of my gestational diabetes. Every trial and tribulation was worth it in the end and we could not imagine life without our sweet, silly girl.
Today we celebrated Dessa’s birthday in all the typical ways – with presents, fun and a sweet treat for dessert. While Dessa was sleeping, Rob and I spent time remembering the day she finally came in to our lives as we worked to complete this post. After Dessa woke up from her nap this afternoon, she knew I was looking at photos and wanted to see pictures of the baby on my computer. We snuggled up and I explained that the baby she saw in the photos with Mommy was baby Dessa. She loved hearing the story of how she joined our family and even though the moment wasn’t planned, I don’t think there was a better way to celebrate my big girl’s second birthday.