Cheers! I made it to my due date! Huzzah. Blue and pink banners fall. There should be a damn parade in honor of every single woman who waddles her way to 40 weeks where people plop her on a throne that foot-massages like a Brookstone chair and hand out chocolate every time they pass, like $200 a pop in Monopoly.
Too bad, Bundle of Joy over here came a full month early.
Listen, I had plans. I am the plan master. I was going to exit work on 12 April. All lectures for my survey classes were going to be done. I was going to send two more dissertation chapters to the advisor. Cute wooden jungle animals on the nursery walls. Receiving blankets washed in Dreft I would have already bought. The works. I had PLANS.
Rin’s plan was better.
Baby, at every single point in his chaos, has known exactly what needs to be done, like some eerie clue-in to the divine/cosmos.
And since so many people have wished us congrats, given their thoughts and prayers, and asked for her story, as crazy/unexpected as it was, here it is.
Tuesday, 22 March
We knew she was still breech. The stubborn (genetic disposition), still mystery-gendered (my choice, not the husband’s) cantaloupe inside the ol’ uterus had stopped moving as much as it used to–hardly any kicks, no jabs, just shifting weight and this kid’s head constantly poking my rib cage. Two weeks before, we’d done a bio-physical test just to make sure the baby was, you know, still a resident in there. Baby was moving fine–hands, fingers, toes, even practicing breathing like a champ–but breech. I hadn’t felt any of the earth-shattering movement Google said meant Baby had flip-flopped, so we knew.
That didn’t make getting confirmation at my pre-natal checkup any easier.
“Baby is breech and already engaged in the pelvis. We need to discuss a C-section.”
I was devastated. I had wanted a natural labor. No drugs, no epidural. Just me, the ice chips, and J yelling at me every contraction that there’s no crying in baseball. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not into the New Agey water-birth, doula, and placenta-smoothie-recipe package. I study history; all the women I’ve ever studied have done it this way. And I’m a writer. I wanted to feel this experience, to learn the words that describe it. It was a point of pride for me. Of the Seven Deadly, that’s me. I wanted to know I could do it.
A smart, healthy baby was always the only goal, but I didn’t realize how much I wanted this experience until it was no longer an option. I thought, if we had to have a C-section, it’d be because something was immediately wrong, an emergency in the middle of labor. Not scheduled, not like this–so clinical. Not, “Okay, this baby is scheduled for 9:45 AM, so we need to leave for our appointment in 10 minutes.”
We scheduled a version (ECV) where they try to manually turn the baby. Success rate was bleak. Seriously, Doc stat-dropped that around 5% of babies are breech this way by this point in pregnancy. I mean, really, wow, that’s our luck? Of course it is… With everything that’s gone wrong with the house, with jobs, with cars, everything the last nine months, J and I have turned into the friggin real-life versions of Eeyore.
I was trying not to lose it in front of the doctor–absolutely teared up in front of him and the stupid med student–but as soon as they left the room, J stood up and told me to let it out. I sobbed into his shirt.
Smart, healthy baby–that was all that mattered. But it was such a disappointment that I’d never get to feel what it’s like when Baby is ready, to tell J “it’s time,” when your water breaks naturally, when you have contractions. I’d never get to push. We only want this one baby. This was our one chance.
I cried the entire drive to work. Got to campus right before my 11:00 class, so I sniffed and dabbed and walked straight from my car to the classroom. Cried in my office. My contacts were blurred by the end of the day.
So what do we do? I’m not a fan of the passenger seat, so I spent the entire evening trying techniques to disengage and evict Baby from the pelvis and flip, like lying on a propped-up ironing board and hanging off the sofa. (Don’t worry, guys. The Lamaze nurse said it was safe.) No luck–the extent of my ability coaxing baby to turn was the equivalent of “here, kitty, kitty.” It wasn’t looking good.
Most use my ironing board has ever gotten.
Wednesday, 23 March
We weren’t even going to go to the last Lamaze class. What was the point after the imminent C-section? J had hated the whole thing, ever since the guided meditation session on the first night, because it was a little too out-there for our tastes. Back in the 80s, Mom had a retired drill instructor for her Lamaze classes. I was expecting something like that: “Breathe, you dogs! Breathe–hee, hee, hee–and PUSH.” Something hardcore, which I would have enjoyed more than the soft-spoken, ultra-hippie nurse we had.
But J said we should go, probably just to make me feel better because I was still a hormonal wreck weeping over Pampers commercials, so he packed the pillows in the car, dragged me off the ironing board, and we went.
Funny enough, the last Lamaze class was all about surgical births. She showed videos of sections, talked about what happens during a section, the right questions to ask. All of it.
Sure, I felt a little queasy that night when we left. Just nerves over coming to terms with reality. And hunger. So we grabbed some McDonalds, and the super-mild, barely-there cramps went away.
Thursday, 24 March. D-Day.
I was in my office when IT happened. 5:45 am, I was up and at the computer. My Reformation Europe had an exam I needed to finish. Then I needed to prep for my Industrial Revolution lecture in my HIST 102. Three students to email, advising at 8:00, quizzes to grade. The best-laid plans.
A couple minutes after 6:00 am, my water broke.
It took three full seconds of trying to clench muscles down there before I realized, this is my water. My water just broke.
I just sat there for a minute, thinking, oh wow, this is happening. Huh. And then, I stood up, Atlas shrugging off the world, water ALL over my office chair, great, then waddled into the hall.
“J, I really need you to get up.”
He grumbled. Told me later that he thought I was asking him to come kill a bug or something.
“My water just broke.”
That got him moving. No contractions. In our defense, we handled that morning like parenting pros maxed out to Duggar-proportions. I made the bed, cleared the kitchen table, cleaned out the car. Called/texted the first string of family and friends. Thank God my Boy Scout of a husband wanted the hospital bags packed FOREVER in advance. I’d only just stuffed the vitals in my airport carry-on a week, two weeks before to get him to stop nagging.
We took our sweet time leaving the house, probably around 6:45-6:50. I didn’t feel a single contraction until we were en route to the hospital. Mild contractions. Completely manageable. Got this. I even finished the Reformation Europe exam in the car.
Full-force maternal anxiety didn’t hit until we reached Labor & Delivery. This baby was coming a month early. This was bad. And why hadn’t Baby turned head-down? What was wrong? Something had to be wrong. I was tearing up by the time we reached the front desk.
Me: “My water just broke.”
Front desk attendant: “Congratulations!”
J: “She’s 35 weeks pregnant.”
Front desk attendant: “Oh.”
Me: “And the baby is breech.”
Front desk attendant: “…oh.”
She said she’d have someone come see us in a second. I didn’t think she meant literally, but I had JUST plugged in my laptop to email work when a nurse came to get us. This was clearly urgent now.
The next two hours flew. The doctor on call examined me. I was already 4 cm dilated. This baby was trucking. (I’d had fingers crossed for that. Mom only had a four-hour labor with me. We waste 0 time in my family, just to compensate for running habitually late the rest of our lives.) Contractions started coming more frequently. Still manageable but definitely feeling them now. Got to employ some basic Lamaze breathing, just to get my money’s worth from those classes. J was fantastic, never left my side. He was strong when we were both terrified for this baby.
It was all a blur. The phone calls, the bustle of nurses. Mom and Dad calling in, flying home from vacation. Us, obsessively checking Baby’s heartrate on the print-out. We asked for my regular OBGYN, who normally worked T/Th, but he was away on vacation. Of course he was. I submitted the Reformation exam to the printer, all strapped with monitors.
This is not the best photo of me, but hey–applaud my superior work ethic.
It was divine providence: thanks to the last Lamaze session the night before, I knew exactly what questions to ask about the C-section when the doctor came in. I should have known then that Baby had a plan.
I told the doctor on call that the gender was still a surprise. Truths fell out–that I had wanted a natural labor, that J had wanted to announce the gender, cut the cord. That this was not how we had expected this day to go. Bless, Doc kept the ultrasound from Baby’s nether-region to keep the surprise. Then the nurses wheeled me away without J to administer an epidural. It was time.
Things started moving even FASTER after that. I’d already bumped 2 or 3 other women down the C-section list because of my emergency. But it had been evenly paced. The next thing I know, everyone starts hustling. Apparently, I found out later, my contractions were even stronger. I was in active labor, this baby was COMING. And Baby’s heart rate started to drop.
J wasn’t even in the room when I felt them cutting into me. Tugging. I was in Hulk-rage-panic mode. “Where is my husband??” I thought he was going to miss the birth of his child. Meanwhile, he was literally running down the hall to make it.
Three minutes was all it took, from first incision to offspring. J was there for most of it, maybe two minutes of the three. He rubbed my hair, told me it was okay.
And then they lifted her out. I couldn’t see anything past the partition, but even in the chaos, the good doctor remembered about the surprise, what we wanted. And he asked for “dad” to come and look.
J: “It’s a girl!”
They whisked her away immediately for the NICU nurses to inspect her. I remember J’s first words. He told me that she looked the size of a normal, full-term baby. J reminded me later, I was scared because she wasn’t crying. Then, all of a sudden, we heard a scream from the adjacent room. Atta girl. She had trouble breathing at first, but they gave her 5 minutes and her APGAR shot up to an 8. A full month early, and she scored an 8. She’s a fast learner, our kid. World, watch out.
They called J into the NICU room a few minutes later. He got to cut the cord, and then he carried her back to me on the table, all wrapped up, and held her against my chest and cheek. I kept cry-asking, “It’s a girl? It’s a girl?” I couldn’t get over her chubby cheeks. “Meet Catherine Grace,” he said.
We stayed in the hospital until Easter Sunday. I won’t bore you with a recap of all those days, but it was great. Everyone–all the nurses, doctors, everyone–was so impressed with how well she was doing for being only 35 weeks. No trouble breathing, no trouble latching/eating, no jaundice. I didn’t think we’d get to take her home–not a month early. I told J before we left the house, just to leave the car seat because there was no way she wouldn’t end up in NICU. How wrong I was–just a little hip dysplasia, something so fixable. I told J that she’s the reason we’ve had such terrible luck–she’s been siphoning it all for herself because she knew that she’d need it. When they wheeled me into the recovery room, she was sucking hard at J’s thumb. “She’s hungry,” he said. She was fine.
I remembered the bio-physical test weeks ago… They counted different types of movement for Baby: opening/closing hands, moving feet, and breathing. And the doctor doing the ultrasound said that practicing breathing was one of the most difficult ones to measure because babies weren’t always doing it. But the first time she moved to that area to see, Baby was practicing. And when she went back to that same view later in the test, Baby was practicing breathing again.
So yeah. Baby has known exactly what needed to happen, and she took care of business.
It gets even more “meant to be” than that. Twenty minutes after my water broke, I would have been on the road to campus for advising, an hour’s drive. A month later, with my regular due date, who knows how much worse her hip dysplasia would be. The girl with the plan.
It gets more surreal. That afternoon, there was a shooting at another local hospital. A doctor and a few others were killed. J’s dad was supposed to have an appointment with that doctor at that time of the shooting. He rescheduled for a couple hours later when J told him we were having the baby. This baby probably saved J’s dad’s life.
And think about it. Rin gave us the best of both worlds–I was never going to have the natural labor I wanted because she was breech, but I got the spontaneous, amazing start I wanted–to feel labor, to be able to tell J “it’s time”–and J to announce her gender and cut her cord. The best of all possible worlds. It’s almost foolishly creepy how much immediate faith I have in what this child can do.
This baby was just meant to be. From the first “sign from the universe” when my plotted due date on the ovulation calendar was Wednesday, 20 April (my birthday and weekday) to the day she was born, this is how it was supposed to be.
She was meant to be here, just like this.