I wanted to feel nothing.
As I plunged my hands into a bowl full of ice water, I remembered in high school when I electively took ice baths after track practice and how the shocking, debilitating cold almost urged me to vomit.
This was different. This was worse.
I needed my hands numb. I needed to feel nothing.
It was July 11. It was my due date. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with elation, relishing in the glory and excitement that awaits at the end of a 9-month-long journey, I was watching ice cubes melt, tears rolling down my cheeks, dripping into the bowl, as I tried to make fists with my frozen hands, swollen with hundreds of raised, hard bumps that itched like poison ivy times 10.
I had PUPPP rash. It started in my stretch marks in June and soon spread to my arms, legs, buttocks, hands, and feet. It was the hottest summer on record in North Carolina, and I had the “plague of pregnancy.” To itch felt like a drug, and I was addicted.
Sometimes I would itch so furiously I would bleed.
Sometimes Stuart had to restrain me.
Sometimes he had to bathe me, sometimes up to three times a day, lathering my welts with pine tar soap that made our bathroom reek like smoldering wood and dying ashes, just so I could have a half hour of relief and just to assure I wouldn’t scratch myself to death.
Some days, I would barely speak to him or my mother, who flew in a week prior just in case baby came early. A week prior, we thought he seemed ready. But deep down, I had this feeling: he was comfortable, though I was not.
I had a feeling, he was going to continue to make us wait.
From 40 weeks on, life was vivid and life was a blur. I’m sure most women in my condition would have given up, and oh Lord did I want to. But I wanted a natural birth more.
Despite the excruciating itch, despite carrying around 60 extra pounds of weight, despite the suffocating summer heat, despite the frustrating texts and calls asking if baby was here yet, I held on for dear life in order to avoid hearing the words I feared most:
You’re going to be induced.
I did everything possible to try to encourage labor to start.
I went to the chiropractor.
I drank red raspberry leaf tea.
I ate spicy food.
I bounced and I bounced and I bounced on a medicine ball.
I received acupuncture.
I walked around my house and up and down the stairs.
The days were long. I itched; I cried; and I prayed. At the end of each day, I wasn’t tired: I was spent, strung out emotionally and physically. At the end of each day, my husband would lie his head down on the pillow next to me and say…
“This could be our last night together.”
For several weeks, he said those words, and sometimes, after so many times, we couldn’t help but laugh about it. It almost became silly to say, but he still did, every night. By 41 weeks, he followed those words by grazing his lips against my belly laced in red scratches and stretch marks…
“Come out buddy; we can’t wait to meet you.”
“Baby is measuring large, so we’d like to schedule induction for you this week.”
To me, a possible large baby was not an urgent, medical reason to induce. I made the induction appointment, but I later canceled it. They insisted I do a non-stress test (NST); I agreed, and as I’d suspected, baby was doing just fine in there. Though they were not thrilled, they let me wait, but just a couple more days. Thursday, July 23 was the last day. If baby didn’t come before then, they would have a room ready for me at 5 pm.
I thought maybe, just maybe, knowing that day was scheduled, something inside me would change. I thought something inside me would trigger because of how desperately I wanted to go into labor on my own. My birth plan was written, and it didn’t include drugs (though I was open to it). I told myself that if I could make it past 6-7 cm, without drugs, I was going all the way. I had plans, even though I knew that my baby would have his own.
I spent the next couple days walking around my house because being outside in the paralyzing heat aggravated my rash. My feet, slightly swollen, were smashed in my tennis shoes, but I couldn’t see them over my hanging, heavy belly. We all spent every day inside, and I only left the house for the chiropractor, the doctor, or acupuncture. But between the itching, the exhaustion, and the constant wonder, it didn’t take long for cabin fever to set in for all of us. We were suffocating, so I said screw it, and we ventured out to walk around the mall.
I could feel people staring at me, my outfit nearly busting at the seams. A stewardess at Nordstrom’s asked how many babies were in me and when I was due.
“Oh just one,” I said with a fake grin. “And I’m overdue.” I didn’t wait to listen to her response, and I walked away, shoving a granola bar in my mouth.
I had been a sweet, lovely, approachable pregnant woman my entire pregnancy, but that was it: that was my breaking point. I no longer wanted to make small talk with strangers about the child I was growing and carrying around with me. I no longer wanted to hear from family or friends, wondering if I had my little one in my arms yet. I no longer had hope that the furious itching would subside. I no longer was the happy, glowing mother-to-be. And I let myself be that way. When you’re pregnant, huge, itchy or not itchy, and overdue: I believe you have that right. No questions asked.
But there was something else that weighed on my mind. There was something else that no one else could see…
This was my rainbow baby.
I hadn’t been waiting just 9 months to meet this baby. I had been waiting a year and a half to meet him. That is how I felt in my heart. Though strangers, family, and friends didn’t see it on the outside, I was a mother looking for redemption. I was a mother with a baby already in heaven.
I was a mother, ready and waiting to have a child that the world could see.
I waddled around the mall for about an hour until my feet got tired; then, we made our way back home and stopped to pick up a pizza for dinner. We went inside to order, and on our way out, my mom held the door for me and my big belly. As I stepped out of the doorway and into the outside dining area, a group of people GASPED.
They gasped at the sight of me.
A group of men and women in their mid-late 20s obnoxiously scoffed at my obvious largeness, loud enough that I could hear them, and my mom could hear them. I was hurt, in a way, because for a fleeting moment, they made the beauty of creation, the blessing of pregnancy, feel cheap…and disgusting. My mom instantly reacted, turning in their direction.
“Alyssa, you just took all these peoples’ breath away; wow!” she said to them, and they were clearly embarrassed.
As I maneuvered myself into the car, I tried to forget about them and the stares. I tried to feel beautiful. But I was tired. I was huge. I stared down at my belly as our son kicked and jabbed. Stuart grabbed my hand, swollen, bumpy, and raw, and I felt better. He held my hand the entire way home, and it was the reminder I needed. My hand in his hand reminded me: we were going to have a baby. We were going to have a son.
We were so ready, whether he came on his own or not.
My “last meal” was a chicken sandwich.
It was the day.
At the dinner table, my mom sat to my left, my husband to my right, and I just stared down at my plate.
“What’s wrong?” my mom asked.
I didn’t look up as the tears instantly released from my eyes. I couldn’t eat.
“This just isn’t what I wanted,” I said between sobs.
It was Thursday. My room was waiting at the hospital. My bags were packed, as they had been for 3 months. I wanted to meet my son, but not like this. I wanted to wake up in the night in a gush of water. I wanted to be surprised. I wanted the excitement and the exhilaration. I wanted my body to do what it was supposed to. But it just did not happen, and I had to accept that.
It was “induction day.” It was time to move on.
“I know sweetie; it’s OK,” Stuart said as he rubbed my back. “Just remember, we’re going to meet our baby soon.”
And he was right. At the end of the day–or likely several days–we were going to meet our baby. It was happening. Induction or not, I felt I had to throw my hands up; I felt I had to surrender. I swallowed my pride, and I accepted that…
I’m going to be induced tonight.
And even though it wasn’t at all part of my plan, I told myself that it was his and it was God’s. Even though it wasn’t a surprise, it was the day: the day we’d meet our miracle, our rainbow. I was excited and terrified, all at once, but as I sat at the dinner table, I continued to repeat Stuart’s words in my head:
We were going to meet our baby. We were going to meet our son.
And so, I took a bite of my sandwich.
~ continued in Part 2 ~