I remember texting Cory that Friday afternoon in late September: I just want to curl up in bed and shut out everything for the rest of the day (scowling emoji). I felt exhausted beyond normal and normal was pretty exhausted: raising a barely three-year-old and not yet one-year-old while working a full-time job on a part-time schedule.
He noticed it before I did: Babe, that doesn’t sound like you. You sure you’re OK? I credited the nausea to stress: my baby sister was in the bowels of cancer treatment, my mom had just found out her heart was failing and she would need a sixth open heart surgery and we were in the process of selling our home and moving across town (again! the third time in five years!).
Turns out there was something else entirely causing the nausea and exhaustion: the best possible thing.
(written shortly after finding out, two months along)
Sweet baby, you certainly surprised and thrilled us with your arrival into our lives. A bold positive line paired with roaring affection and roaring fear. This was all too unexpected, too wonderful and lucky to be true. Oh babe, I tried to hold back the immediate flood of admiration that belonged to you–afraid it would be stolen from me. There’s no use. I have loved you so totally from the second God breathed your tiny and perfect life into being, into my belly.
So happily yours, Momma
It was Tuesday and I was two days overdue. I like being on time for, well, everything. Even better: I like being early. I like to meet people’s expectations. I like to exceed them. I did this with my first two babes, both arriving exactly one day early.
I had been having consistent contractions for several days. I knew they weren’t exactly labor but they were painful enough that every night tears would drop onto my swollen belly, my mind and body spent.
I half believed the words I was saying:
I don’t mind more time being pregnant.
I am waiting for my body to be ready.
I am just cherishing these moments with my two littles.
But there was a part of me that truly felt like I was failing, that I was late, that I had missed showing up to one of the most important events in my life and, in the dramatic moments, I believed that this baby was just not going to show up.
I was going to be pregnant forever.
7:30 PM: After a long day spent NOT giving birth, we dropped our big littles at Grandma & Grandpa’s for an hour. We were anxious to take our minds off all of this baby waiting business with some spicy pad thai.
Before we made it to the restaurant, I felt a strange and sudden urgency to have our hospital bags, with us, right now. And as we drove back to our house and my husband tried his darn-dest to act like I wasn’t being crazy, but I knew.
We weren’t going to dinner.
We were going to the birth center.
7:45 PM: Once the tugging in my back started, there was no doubt. This was IT, this was the pain I had been waiting for and the exact moment I felt it was the exact moment I wanted to put it back from wherever it came from. Being pregnant forever wouldn’t be that bad! Yes, let’s do that instead! Pregnant forever!
The midwife team had told me at every prenatal appointment: come in as soon as you think you are in labor. (Based on Henry’s birth ). So we went, the pinching and stretching blazing through my back as we drove downtown.
“I can’t do this, Cor, I’m not ready.” My shaky hands grabbing for something solid and my shaky mind grabbing for the same. Please be gentle, I prayed again and again, please be okay, I begged of my baby. The pain wasn’t that bad, but the anticipation was. I was suddenly and totally terrified. This wasn’t the calm I usually felt in early labor.
It’s a funny thing walking into a birth center when you are not yet in full on labor — no screaming, swearing, gasping. No dropping on all fours in the lobby threatening to push (not that I know anything about that). This time: just me, my hard belly, my calm husband and a baby boy about to completely change our lives.
8:45 PM: the midwife visited our cozy holding room and explained that because my labor had only just started and I wasn’t quite at a four, they wanted to hold off on admitting me. She wasn’t a midwife that I knew and she was very matter-of-fact and hesitant to believe that this baby was on its way. If I didn’t know better, I would have felt stupid. But I knew that I knew that this was it, and I was content with her conclusion to come back to check on me in two hours to see how I was progressing.
I requested to take my monitors off, to turn the air up and the lights down. Calm, finally. I rocked on an exercise ball as worship music poured from my earbuds to my veins, instantly infusing peace into my anxious mind. The bones in my back throbbed and the muscles in front rippled and my son continued to work his way steadily into our lives.
9:15 PM: “Cory, I think that things are happening quicker than anyone believes.” It had only been thirty minutes, but I knew baby was coming. We called for the midwife and she declared me a “good four” and said we could be admitted if we wanted, hesitant and unconvinced.
Now I did feel stupid: Wow, I’m totally off on understanding my body and I am going to be in labor for at least another six hours or more! This already more intense that it should at this point.
10:00 PM: The whirlpool tub was my home upon arrival to the birthing room. Cory applied very (VERY) strong counter pressure to my back during contractions–thank goodness for man muscle! I felt at ease between contractions and absolutely twisted into pain and anxiety during them. After an hour in the tub, I was at a loss and exhausted, obsessing over the fact that I had a whole night and morning of laboring ahead. The contractions were coming quicker and longer and harder that I ever imagined they could this early in labor….
I don’t know what to do. (contraction)
I thought I would know what to do by now. (contraction)
Please be gentle. (contraction)
I felt more anxious than calm, more uncertain than present. I kept repeating, “I want to be present. I don’t feel present.”
And, finally, with the contractions rumbling through my body at a pace that seemed beyond unkind for the beginning stages of labor, I admitted it, it was so hard to say, “I think I need some help. I think I want an epidural.” (contraction)
“Are you sure?” (contraction)
“Yes, please. I can’t do this anymore. PLEASE.”
(This would be a first in all there labors)
The anesthesiologist was too tall, too happy and too chatty: about things like risks, permissions, the procedure itself. “Please.” I said, teeth grinding.
(This was now the only word I had left, on repeat: please, please, please).
They made me sit (I don’t sit during labor), turned on the bright fluorescents (I don’t do fluorescents, ever) and donned masks and medical caps (I’m now officially unnerved). Suddenly uncertain that I liked this or wanted this, I was also uncertain I had it in me to keep going either.
As they began preparing my back for the epidural, I knew this baby was coming faster than anyone else thought. And by faster I mean: he wanted out RIGHT NOW. But, I was so close to relief! So close to a break so I could just refocus, recenter. My fuzzy and stubborn mind determined that I would just wait to tell the midwife. Yes! I would wait until the epidural was in and have a glorious, pain-free delivery! Yes, that’s a good plan!
I sat there, hunched in a C-shape, summoning every cell of my body to not bear down, silently pleading with the baby to stop, just for a moment.
Cory said you could actually see my belly drop suddenly. I gasped. I gritted. The nurse demanded, “Hilary. Hilary! Look at me. Do you have to push?” (OH MY GOSH DID I EVER!)
I slammed my eyes against the florescencts and flat out lied: “NO.”
And in that exact moment, my water burst underneath me totally calling my bluff.
11:30 PM: Everything started moving very fast: the midwife suddenly back in the room, calling for the pediatric team due to meconium, the gentle coaching to “breathe!”, “push!”, “stop!”, and me looking at Cory through the blur of it all, eyes full with wonder (“we are going to meet our son!”) and amusement (you should have seen too-tall, too-happy hightail it out of there when CRAP got real.)
Finally I felt totally present, knowing I had no other option but to obey my body. Four minutes and five pushes later, our Oliver Jack became a part of this wonderful world.
He was ruddy, messy and more gorgeous than I could have imagined him. He felt so familiar yet so wonderfully new.
My heart as messy as his skin, covered in warm surrender, as I once again allowed myself to belong totally to another. Relenting all of me to 8 lb and 13 ounces of purity and perfection.
Knowing this was the only beginning of a lifelong of unraveling and weaving our hearts and lives together as a family of five.
It was 2 AM by the time we made our way to our postpartum room. I did not sleep a moment that night — it was too holy. All I could do was try and memorize his fresh face and repeat over and over: “you are absolute magic, my boy.”
Magic, magic, magic. And he is.