C’s first act upon coming into the world was to poop all over me. Honestly, I didn’t notice until one of the nurses pointed it out, and, good new mom that I am, I didn’t care at all. In the moments following C’s birth, there was a lot of commotion. Between the pediatric nurses toweling him off, the midwife clamping the cord, my mom taking photos, J cutting the cord, and me staring and crying at this slippery little baby, it was truly a whirlwind. As things started to calm down, though, we were able to take in a bit more.
Shortly after the birth, I delivered the placenta, and the midwife exclaimed, “What a big placenta!” She had already remarked on the size of the cord. It too was big. As she was dealing with all of these things, she made another comment: “Look at this, ladies. A true, blue knot.”
“What does that mean?” J asked.
“It means you have a lucky baby,” was her reply. I don’t think this really registered with us, and it wasn’t until we mentioned it to a nurse later that we learned just how lucky our baby was, that such a knot in a smaller cord would likely have led to our baby’s demise. His size, the size of his cord, saved his life. Had the cord been smaller, it would have been able to tighten, and I can’t even think about what would have happened.
We continued to hold and admire C as the midwife stitched me up. I had a second-degree tear, which I’m certain would have been worse had I not had such great help from the midwife and nurse during the pushing phase. It was this point where I had been concerned that I could run into complications with my fibroids, for they can cause the uterus to have trouble clamping down, and as a result, I was at a greater risk for hemorrhaging; however, this was not a problem. In fact, the fibroids posed not a single problem during my birth at all, and for this I was so relieved.
The hour following C’s birth not only revealed what a lucky baby he was, but also some potential items for concern. His blood sugar was initially rather low, so the pediatric nurse helped me breastfeed him in hopes of raising his sugars. When they were even lower after feeding him, they had to whisk him away to the infant intensive care for a small amount of formula. J accompanied him, and I lay in bed, my mom by my side, as I tried to make sense of what had just happened. My baby was going to be okay, but he wasn’t in my arms where he should have been. I felt confused, disoriented, a bit like I was suddenly missing an appendage that I didn’t know I had.
C’s absence did allow the nurses to get me rested up a bit and ready for post-partum. I was given some pain killers and some food. Our birth instructor came in to congratulate me, and J returned because they needed to continue to monitor the baby in intensive care. Soon there was a shift change, and my new nurse came to help me clean up, help me to the bathroom, and pee for the first time (having had a catheter for the epidural, they insist that you pee within the first couple of hours or you get another catheter—no thanks!). I was a good patient and peed the first time around. And then it was time to transfer rooms. It had been nearly three hours, but I had no concept of time, and I really wanted to be with my baby.
I was wheeled down the hall in a giant wheelchair (what the nurses called, “The Hummer”). We were stopped at the nurses’ station to push the “we had a baby” button, at which time a lullaby was played over the hospital intercom. I cried. We stopped by our new room for a moment before the nurses said we could come to see our son in intensive care—and bring him back to our room. Walking into that room and seeing our son again, I was so in love. He was so beautiful. We sat with him while his sugars were tested once more, and soon we got to break him out of there and head back to our room with our son so that we could bond and feed and be together alone as a family.
Once we were in our room, it seemed that every time we were about to have some time alone, another nurse or doctor or someone would come into the room and interrupt us. J was becoming increasingly frustrated. She had hardly gotten to hold our baby, and we just needed some time together. Finally, we had it, and finally, we got to lie on the bed as a family.
She would later need to leave to go get a full night’s sleep at my mom’s hotel room, but those moments we shared that night were so precious. My mom would return around midnight to sit with me for an hour or so, and I needed that. But more than that, I needed sleep.
When the night nurse came on that night, I was in for a great surprise. She was a lesbian in her fifties with two kids. She told me almost immediately, “I’m a lesbian. I’ve worked here for over two years, and I’ve never gotten to have a lesbian patient. When I heard you were in labor and delivery with Dawn last night, I wanted to switch with her!” She was so sweet—a little gruff, very motherly. She helped me get C to latch on for a good feeding, and then she asked if I’d like her to take him for a couple of hours while I slept. I agreed, so she took him, then came back, tucked me in, turned off the lights, and told me I had to sleep, that I wasn’t allowed to get up and do things. I obeyed, and in what seemed like moments, she was back with C for another feeding.
We spent two nights in the hospital. I saw so many nurses change shift. Some of them remembered me from labor and delivery a couple of days before. What surprised me was how impressed they were with me. J had told me during labor that we were the talk of the nurses’ station, that people were inspired by me, so to have these nurses talking with me about this was lovely. I already felt really good about myself and my labor, but this was nice to be validated in this way.
Everyone working in maternity, from labor and delivery to post-partum, was amazing. They were so kind and supportive, so inclusive of J, and appropriately impressed with C’s size and cuteness. There was one exception on the last night: she was a nurse in her early sixties, and she was the night nurse. She came in after J had left for the night, and I knew immediately I didn’t like her. She hovered and watched as I cared for my son. At one point, I asked if she could help me latch him on, as we were still struggling with this. She did help, but he immediately fell asleep at the breast, so she left. Later, I had gotten him to eat, and he had eaten for over half an hour. I was so excited, and when she came back, I reported that he had been on one breast for half an hour. “Oh no!” she replied. “You mustn’t let him do that! That’s too long.” I switched sides, rolled my eyes behind her back, and continued nursing. She was to come back later to take my vitals, and when she did, my son and I were basking in a few moments of wakefulness. He was staring at me, and it was the most precious, perfect moment. I hadn’t yet seen him awake much, hadn’t had this many moments to soak him in, to stare into his eyes and see him stare back. I didn’t want it to end. The nurse had other plans. Upon entering the room, she said, “Well, I need to show you how to swaddle him.”
“That’s okay,” I replied. “I think I’d rather do more of this.”
“You’ll have plenty of time for that later,” she remarked. And she took him and proceeded to give me an unwanted swaddling lesson as tears rolled down my face. C began to cry. He began to scream. He hadn’t wanted our little love fest to end either. I took him back from the nurse, and as I started to cuddle him, she said, “Don’t feed him to calm him down. You’ll just turn into a human pacifier.” I promptly and defiantly offered him my breast. He was too upset though, so I continued trying to soothe him, and she stood over me, a mere foot from me, waiting for me to calm him. After a minute or two, she said, “Maybe I should take him and calm him down.”
“No, I would rather do that myself,” I replied tersely. Later, when she asked if she could take him so that I could get some rest, I declined. I slept with C on my chest off and on throughout the night. We nursed off and on; we stared at each other, and I promised to keep him away from the mean nurse we both disliked so much.
During this time, C also had pediatric nurses checking on him. His bilirubin levels had been a little high, and they were going up. There were threats of keeping him in the hospital another day, but instead we were released with instructions to have his pediatrician test him within a day or two. He also had an early heart murmur, which is common amonst newborns, and which resolved itself by his third day. It was hard to hear there were so many potential things wrong with our son, yet at the same time, we both knew he was strong, that he was going to be fine–and he is.
Knowing we were being released was so exciting and so terrifying. With the exception of the last night nurse, I had felt so cared for, so nurtured as a new mom, and it had been wonderful to have the support of nurses and lactation consultants and doctors. What I hadn’t had, however, was time alone with my wife and son. We needed time to be a family, a chance to connect and feel whole. J and I had been separated at night, and during the day, her presence was often accompanied by my mom. We hadn’t had a chance to be alone as a family much at all, and we were eager for this.
Our discharge wouldn’t be complete until our midwife stopped by to check me out. She popped in that last morning and instead of examining me just talked about the birth. She told me how beautiful and strong I had been, how inspiring the birth had been, how beautiful our son was. I got to thank her for helping me make a difficult decision, for being there for us. It meant so much. She held C; she hugged me and J, and finally, she signed our papers for us to go home.
Getting out of the hospital seemed to take forever. The nurses sent J to get the car and bring it to the front of the hospital as they wheeled me down to the first floor. It was so emotional passing labor and delivery, passing the patio where I had labored so much, passing the halls where I had stopped and hung on during contractions. I cried until we got to the elevator, and I soaked in all of the sweet comments people made about the new mom going home with her baby. Soon, I was settling into the backseat of our car with our baby in his car seat, and my wife and I were headed toward home. It was so nerve-wracking riding in the car with C, but we made it the half-hour home; we walked into our apartment where my mom was waiting, and we soaked it all in. We were home with our baby. He was finally here and so very real and so very ours.
Throughout my pregnancy, I had all kinds of imaginings about our birth experience. I had wanted a water birth at the birth center, and when insurance matters prevented this, I had to mourn the loss of that imagined birth experience. When my fibroids presented themselves as a potential issue, I started mourning the loss of control over the birth and started trying to accept the possibility of cesarean birth. As time progressed, I just tried to imagine the healthiest, most natural, most positive birth I could—a birth in a hospital attended by a midwife and the two women who matter most to be in the world. This is precisely the birth I had. Yes, I ended up asking for an epidural; I ended up with the dreaded Pitocin. But I’m glad I did. I’m so happy that I was able to labor naturally for as long as I did—for thirty long hours. It means the world to me that I was able to feel this process, to experience so much of it so fully. But I’m proud of myself for making a decision I wouldn’t have entertained even a month ago—proud that armed with some knowledge and the powerful desire to bring my son healthily into the world—I was able to make the difficult decisions I did and still be proud of myself. For me, this was the perfect birth experience—back labor and long hours and all—and I wouldn’t change a thing. It was, without a doubt, the single hardest and best experience of my life. How could it not be? It produced this: