~ This is a continuation of Part 2 ~
I didn’t look at the needle. I knew what it looked like. Instead, I buried my head in my husband’s shirt, bent forward, and gripped his biceps with my cold, fragile hands, desperately trying to stop my body’s convulsions–convulsions from being famished, from running on 42 hours without sleep, from complete physical weakness–all while the anesthesiologist kept repeating:
Try and sit still.
I closed my eyes, calming the tremors just barely, just long enough. And like that, there was a pinch, and a wince, and I could feel the numbness travel…
from my belly…
to my pelvis…
to my thighs…
to my kneecaps…
to my toes.
I was 8 centimeters when the needle went in. I was 8 centimeters when all of a sudden, I felt nothing. For a moment, I felt like I had failed. For a moment, I felt like I had cheated…because of how painless I felt. But I let it go. The choice had been made. I knew I needed it to help me go on; I knew that. I knew I had to move on. There was no time for regret, no time to look back. It was done.
The best was yet to come.
It smelled like french fries and fast food grease. I typically don’t eat fast food, but at that moment, that thick aroma in the air was divine.
And it was torture.
Stuart and my mom were on the couch, indulging in Five Guys, discussing how good those fries were. My mom checked her phone: dad was just a few hours out–he was driving from Wisconsin, 17 hours straight–and at the rate things were moving, he’d likely arrive at the hospital well before the birth of his grandson. I shot a devilish glare at their satisfied faces, as my mom surrendered her extra fries to Stuart, as I lied there and watched, salivating, confined to my bed, no longer able to move freely about the room, but miraculously comfortable, minus the lack of food in my system. Hunger was killing me on the inside. I was famished. I had never gone so long without nourishment, without food, and then, more than ever, I was desperate for it.
It was 8 pm. Amy had gone; her double-shift had ended. I think she would have let me eat, had she seen me like this, fighting violent shakes and a chattering jaw, dying for a bite of anything. Instead, Maria was there; she was my new nurse, and she seemed old fashioned. She was timid, reserved, nothing like Amy. But I was too tired to dwell on it.
When she hooked me up to the IV, I wanted to hate her. It was hard not to; the way the antibiotics burned going in was unbearable. I was GBS positive, so I “needed” as many rounds of antibiotics as they could fit in before delivery. They knew how I felt about antibiotics; it was obvious, and when the burn grew more intense by the hour, it was hard for me not to sit and dwell on the drug, imagining it as poison leaching and surging through my veins.
“It’s burning really bad,” I finally told her, as she started fiddling with the machine.
“Oh I have it on the fastest flow; I can turn it down,” she said, making the adjustment. I tried not to hate her, but my patience was running thin. Friday was almost over. I had 1 or 2 centimeters to go, but I could not feel a thing.
How would I know when it was time? How would I feel I was ready, he was ready, when I couldn’t even feel my toes?
When would I meet our son?
I woke up in a panic. Three faces were standing over me: Stuart was holding one leg; my mother was holding the other; and Maria was looking right at me.
“What just happened?!” I yelled. “I passed out!”
They all looked at each other, baffled, and then looked down at me.
“Alyssa, you’re pushing,” someone said, while I looked around, shaken and confused.
“I just passed out! I don’t remember anything that just happened!” I said, panicking and reaching for Stuart’s arm.
“Did you fall asleep?” my mom asked.
“You were feeling a little bit of pressure, so we decided to give pushing a try while your epidural is still effective,” Maria explained. “Do you want to try again?”
I had blacked out. I had literally fallen asleep in the middle of trying to push. They didn’t notice; they probably thought I was putting my head back, closing my eyes while I was giving it my all, to start delivering this baby. But I hadn’t. I had passed out. I didn’t remember where I was or what I was doing. How could I pass out while pushing?
But really, the answer to that question was clear: I was too tired, and I was too hungry. The combination was paralyzing. I had been awake since 6 am on Thursday, and it was 10 pm on Friday. I hadn’t eaten since early morning. I had nothing to give. At that moment, reality set in that pushing was impossible. I literally could not do it. Knowing this, wholeheartedly believing this, sent my mind into a downward spiral.
“I literally can’t,” I said, starting to become consumed by nausea. “I need to eat. I seriously need to eat something or else I seriously won’t be able to do this.”
I begged. For the first time in my life, I was begging for food. I thought it was the only way I could make it. My body was cold. I could not stop shaking. I felt malnourished and breakable. I was the weakest I’d ever been at the moment I needed to be the strongest. And then it came: the thought…
They’re gonna have to cut me open. To get this baby out, they’ll have to cut me open.
My vision started to flicker…it began to trickle into static like an old black and white television. I could feel the color slowly drain from my face…
“I feel sick…I think I’m gonna pass out,” I said, reaching for Stuart with my trembling hand. He started fanning me. The air felt cool against my skin, damp from a cold sweat. My body was shutting down, and Maria could see it. She kept calm, but she was concerned; we all were.
“I’ll hook you up to some fluids, and I’ll get you some crackers or something to eat,” she said, covering my legs back up and rearranging my IV.
So there it was: the big show wasn’t happening yet. The first round of pushing–if you could even call it that–was meant to be a “trial run,” Maria had said, but even so, I had totally failed. I couldn’t even make it through one push. My eyes were too heavy, my muscles too weak. But when Maria returned with a bunch of graham crackers and a couple choices of juice, I took them all. I think she wanted me to choose, but when she left the room to update my doctor, I devoured them all. I ate every crumb of every cracker and I sucked every drop of juice dry. I didn’t give a rip as to all the junk I’d just consumed in those tiny snacks, and normally, I would. But that junk saved me. Those crackers gave me new life. The fluids helped immensely. Though I was still fighting to keep my eyes open, I felt rejuvenated, and I was able to resurrect some confidence I’d since lost.
When I looked at the clock, I knew our son wouldn’t come before midnight. I knew our baby would be born on Saturday, at exactly 42 weeks gestation, and that was OK. I set my own goal then, one that I knew I would reach, considering the circumstances. We would meet our baby soon. When Maria would come back, I would be ready, for real this time. We would meet our baby in a couple hours.
And in a couple hours, I felt right again. The room’s aura was soft, the light dim, the way we’d soon dim the lights in the nursery, with baby sleeping at my breast. There was music. Stuart put on the playlist I’d created for that moment, for delivery, the final journey, the first meeting. He was ready too. It had been a long, grueling couple days in that hospital for all of us. Bon Iver “Re: Stacks” came on, and it awakened the butterflies in my stomach. For the first time in a long time, I felt excitement, exhilaration, jitters of joy. I knew it was almost time, and I think our son finally knew too; he was ready to come out.
At that moment, I started to feel again. I could feel him. All of a sudden, I could feel what they always say you’ll feel when you know that it’s time.
I could feel the pressure.
I wiggled my toes.
I started flexing my feet as I got ready to push. Maria was facing me; Stuart was holding one leg; my mom was holding the other; my dad was resting in the waiting room down the hall. It was 11:30 pm. The stage was set.
It was time.
“OK Alyssa, when you feel your next contraction coming on, you’re going to push,” Maria advised, looking at the monitor, waiting for the upward climb. “I want you to push like you’re…having a bowel movement, OK?”
I was nervous, and anxious, and scared. Could I do this? It was coming…ready or not. My stomach grew hard…
“Alright, Alyssa, here it comes,” Maria said. “Push!”
I could not hear the music. I felt like the veins near my temples would burst. After just a few pushes, I couldn’t feel much of anything, except my feet. It felt like I’d done nothing. It felt like I was getting nowhere. I couldn’t feel progress. Was I just wasting energy?
“You’re doing great! Good job!” they kept saying, but it meant nothing because I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t feel it.
“I don’t feel like anything is happening,” I admitted, as I rested between contractions.
“Oh ya, no, you’re doing great,” they said. But the way they said it made it feel like a lie.
So then I burst.
“OK! You’re holding my leg different than he’s holding my leg, and you’re saying to push one way and I feel like I’m doing another!” I blurt out, finally, and everyone was quiet. I was looking for consistency. I was focusing on the technicalities too much, the inconsistencies too much. I felt like I needed to say that, to speak up, so I could regroup and focus on bringing my baby into the world. I needed to get my mind in check so that I could also be physically in the zone. I thought: I need to do something different. Maria sensed it too.
“Let’s try a towel,” she said.
I didn’t know what the heck that meant, but I was up for anything. Dr. M wasn’t there yet. Dr. M wouldn’t show up until it was time for the real thing, when it was the real deal, when it was show time.
So I knew, I still had a long way to go.
For the next couple pushes, Maria held onto one end of a towel while I gripped the other and pulled while pushing, kind of like an intense form of tug-of-war. It was helping, and it was a solid change of pace.
“Awesome, Alyssa!” said Maria.
And for the next hour or two–the time, I did not know–we alternated between the towel and regular pushing. My upper body, being weak on a good day, was feeling the burn, the pull, the stretch. I couldn’t even fathom how sore my muscles would be the next day. And that’s when it hit me…
The next day, I’ll have a baby. Tonight I could have our baby.
That centered me.
“Are you ready?” Maria asked. I nodded, as Stuart and my mother assumed their positions. This push was solid, and I saw Stuart’s eyes grow wide.
“What?” I asked, slamming my head back into the pillow behind me.
“We can see the head,” he said.
To my surprise, my squeamish husband was excited. This got me excited. All of a sudden, it was a whole new ballgame. All of a sudden, I could feel things again. And honestly, it didn’t hurt, not like the contractions I’d battled earlier. I could handle this pain. It had been hours since I’d gotten my epidural, and now it was evident: it was wearing off, just in time for the big moment. But for that, I was glad. It gave me control. It helped me feel progress.
And before I could blink, time slowed as he walked into the room. I watched Dr. M stand in front of me, draping himself in the good scrubs, the let’s deliver this baby scrubs. When he sat himself in front of my vulnerable, open legs, he looked me in the eyes and tuned in to the acoustic song.
“‘Here Comes the Sun,’ how appropriate,” he said with a smile. “…get it?”
I thought for a moment.
“Here comes the son…you’re going to have a son.“
I cracked a smile.
We’re going to have a son. Our son is coming.
As I watched him then slip on his gloves and assume his position, I felt my motivation spike and my blood turn warm. I was ready for this. It was time for the big show.
“Let’s have this baby,” he said.
My womb collapsed.
At 3:53 am, I heard his cry. A sea of faces were surrounding me, congratulating me, as I thrust my head back and sobbed.
I did it.
My baby was earthside.
The moment he took his first breath, he was taken out of my sight. I did not see him, but hearing his cry was breathtaking, and I had no breath. I wanted to see him, hold him in my arms. I wanted to smell his sweetness against my chest, graze my lips against his forehead. Instead, I could not move. Instead, I watched Stuart watch our son in the hands of the nurse. I watched him fall in love again, but from afar.
And when my husband, now a father, turned to look at me, I saw his delight shatter. I saw fear. When I looked down at the doctor, I saw his fears were much the same, and his hands were moving fast.
“I know it’s uncomfortable, but I need you to push while I press on your belly so we can get out the placenta,” he said, squishing and pressing on my belly with his frantic hands.
I knew I had torn.
I could feel it.
There had been a lot of stretching.
There was a lot of blood.
I worried it was too much, and though the doctor tried to mask it, he was worried too. But he had prepared for this; he knew us redheads tend to be heavy bleeders, so he had extra hands ready on deck, but it seemed it wasn’t enough; it seemed this was more than even he had anticipated.
When he finally pulled out the placenta, it hurt; I felt the weight of life release from my womb, and I felt a different kind of relief–relief that was laced in fear. I watched Dr. M move faster; he was stitching me and stuffing me simultaneously, as if I was bleeding out right then and there. I tried not to panic. I tried not to focus on his nervous, bouncing knee. I tried not to notice how many times he asked for another towel, more gauze, tossing towels sopping with my blood in the trash. Though my mind was fixated on myself, my heart was somewhere else. I looked away.
“Is he OK?” I asked, tears still streaming down my swollen face, as I turned to Stuart, watching over the nurse’s shoulder.
“He’s beautiful,” he said, emitting a smile.
His smile was everything in that moment. I yearned to see him, our son, Bennett. They told me he was 8 pounds, 11 ounces, and 21 inches long, such a big healthy boy, but I wasn’t surprised. My heart was aching for our eyes to meet. I had longingly waited for that moment, but the moment I got wasn’t what I’d envisioned for us. It wasn’t what I wanted, what I’d hoped for, what every mother dreams of, but I didn’t have to see him to feel fulfilled. When I heard his voice, the moment he left my body, my heart was no longer my own.
My heart was his.
It wasn’t until an hour after his birth that the room was calm again, the lights still dim, the aura soft. The stitches were done, the bleeding controlled, the nurses dispersed, and normal breathing ensued.
Finally, an hour later, they lowered him into my arms, and instantly, my soul was reborn: the soul of a mother.
*** * ***
I tucked you into my gown,
your skin warm against my chest,
my heartbeat pitter-pattering against your cheek.
Your eyes were open.
You looked like us.
You were beautiful.
At that moment, the rest of the world had dissipated. The darkness that had preceded us already seemed like a distant memory. There I was, meeting you for the first time, sharing your air, grazing your perfect skin, gazing in your eyes, discovering a whole new shade of blue. I was falling in love all over again…just differently. I looked up at my first true love, your daddy, and he was in awe of you–your tiny hands curled around my finger, your little toes, your long auburn lashes. But in looking at you, in your first hours of life, we couldn’t help but admire that your eyes remained wide open, the entire time. The nurses had been saying how alert you were, and how babies usually were so tired, so drowsy from their journeys. But not you. I knew then, that you too had been waiting to meet me, and to meet your dad, your family. Your eyes, big and blue like mine, did not close for quite awhile, and I did not mind. I just held you close, watched you watch me, as if there wasn’t a whole new, big wide world surrounding us. Just holding you was healing for me. It made the world make sense and all the pieces finally fit. All my life, I searched for my purpose; I’d searched for that plan God had for me.
It was you.