It has taken me four years to find the words to write this story of Layla's birth. Suddenly they were just begging to be written. As I approach another birth that I hope will be so very different from this one, I think it was necessary to get this experience into words. It is kind of disjointed and written just as the words came to me...otherwise I probably would have given up again. I have tried so many times to write it beautifully, poetically, but I think the fact is that it just isn't beautiful. It still hurts...a lot. So raw words with tons of bad grammar it is... (I also just realized it has been almost exactly 4 years to the day since I started this blog. Wow.)
We are ushered into a room at the end of the hall, a healthy distance from the nearest "normal" laboring mother. A gown is neatly folded at the end of the bed and I am instructed to put it on and get into bed. I oblige, even though I really don't want to. We wait.
The nurse comes back to ask me about 100 questions, tapping away on a keyboard as I answer things I feel I have answered a million times in the last few weeks. She gives us an overview of the plan and leaves again. We wait. And wait. I flip through my own file, thick as a short novel, not sure if I'm supposed to be looking. I hope to find ultrasound pictures, but it is full of medical terminology, outlining in detail the nitty gritty details of my baby's diagnosis. There are a few things there that I hadn't been told, at least not in detail. Then there are the pages sent from my midwife, a little bit less formal than the pages from the perinatologists, reminders of the sweet natural birth I would not get to have. Not with this baby.
My mom arrives. I start to breathe a little easier. The nurse arrives again to administer the little white pills that will begin the process. There will be no fetal monitoring, for obvious reasons. I'm relieved.
My midwife arrives, bringing with her a sense of...peace? Comfort? Something. She stays with me as my husband and my mom venture off to find food. We laugh together. I notice the stark contrast of laughter against the ache in my heart. It is my first glimpse of what will become the new normal -- life, laughter...in spite of this.
I start to feel crampy. With another dose of pills administered, my toes start to curl with the pain. My midwife rubs my back and asks the nurses for a heat pack. They bring the worst excuse for a heating pad I have ever seen. It is water-heated and barely warm. We all scoff at the lack of such a simple comfort measure. At some point we all eat chinese food.
Soon after, the pain is becoming unbearable. It is constant, unrelenting, nothing like contractions were supposed to be. The nurses give me options for pain relief. I don't want an epidural for some reason. Partly because I don't want to pay for it. They give me a shot of something or other. It makes me feel dizzy for a few minutes but does nothing for the pain.
At some point, my midwife has to leave. She has another mama in labor, and I am taken care of here. Shortly after, I cannot take the horrible constant contraction anymore and I ask for the epidural.
We have to wait of course. I have to have fluids, etc. This is the first time I've ever had an IV. By the time the anesthesiologist arrives, I am nearly in tears. This is horribly, terribly unfair. My heart aches too much to bear this physical pain for another moment. I do not want to hurt anymore. The epidural insertion is miserable. I cling to my husband as the numbing shot stings through my spine and the doctor has to try more than once to get the needle in the right place. Once it is done, the nurses help me back onto the pillows, and I feel the warm, sweet relief flowing through one side of my body and then the other.
I still don't like it very much. The numbness in my legs makes me feel slightly crazy, but it is better. So much better. The details start to blur at this point.
At some point, my dad arrives. I hadn't realized how much I needed him there, but I did. This is too big, too important for him to be in another state. My mother in law is also on her way, from a snowed-in Seattle.
Somehow, we sleep. My body shakes with uncontrollable shivers all night...maybe from the epidural. Maybe the other drug. The blood pressure cuff on my leg tightens every half hour or so, and even though I don't feel it much, it seems to wake me up every time.
The next day is extremely fuzzy. I remember the sunlight in my room. J and I trying to watch shows on the laptop, but I can't stay awake. My mom sitting beside me, talking to me, but I can't keep my eyes open or follow her words. My husband, his mom and my dad leaving to walk somewhere and me worrying that they would not be back in time for the delivery.
People come and go from my room constantly. Nurses, the chaplain. The doctors seem to rotate shifts every five minutes, but of course it is just the drugs and labor clouding my perception of time. One doctor makes a point to tell me that everyone that would be in my room fully supports my decision. But that there are some nurses who choose not to participate. Fiery anger rises in my throat and I want to tell him I will gladly trade places with any of them for a moment. Let them walk in my shoes before judging my experience. I am still angry with this doctor for even mentioning it.
Suddenly, it is dark. I start to feel pressure and a bit of panic. My mom rushes into the hallway to collect the nurse who had just recently left the room. She checks me again...nothing yet. She says I can start pushing if I feel the urge.
I do. Everyone is around me except my dad, who fled as soon as I announced that something was happening. I don't hold it against him. I would run too, if I could. My body begins to bear down and the nurse coaches me as she holds up one of my legs.
But there is an internal battle raging in my body. It is suddenly inevitable that it must release this pregnancy, and yet it is not ready to let her go. My instinctual mother knows there is nothing right about this...that she will be gone once I push her out. But I push, even though I don't really want to.
Things are happening slowly, and we realize I am pushing her out in the full amniotic sac. The nurse tells me that this time I can push "for real" and "curl around my belly." And I do. Even though I don't want to.
With the final push, she is born, placenta and all.
I feel immediately...empty.
Everyone is crying. The nurse whisks her away to the sink. I want to see her then, but I am too tired, too sad, too scared...to ask. So I let her take her to the other room and prepare her. The doctor checks me, checks the placenta, and then leaves.
Everyone is still crying. I want my dad back, and my mom finds him again. He had been at the chapel and returned with a quote he had seen. "Today we weep, tomorrow we rejoice." He chokes out the last words in tears. It is the first time I've ever seen him cry.
The nurse returns with a bundle and lays my tiny baby in my lap. She is smaller than I imagined. The nurse asks if we want to see her defect. I'm sure this is an important step psychologically. I do, of course. We turn her over carefully and look at the red wound blossoming over half of her spine. The nurse confirms that it is "huge" for her gestational age. I won't look again.
We spend time with her, passing her around. Everyone cries. I am acutely aware that this is just her body...that her spirit isn't here.
At some point, I am unhooked from almost everything (except that blood pressure cuff), a mean nurse comes to "massage" my uterus. I cry from the pain. And then we are left to sleep.
Layla's body is beside me and I am terrified to move. All night I am aware of her presence. That, along with the incessant blood pressure cuff and the labor and delivery bed that was clearly not ever made for sleeping, makes for a restless night. But somehow I do sleep, because suddenly it is morning.
A small box has arrived at my bedside, full of pictures, a mold of her feet, a tiny blanket and gown. There is a set of ceramic hearts, one inside the other. I tie one around her neck and the other around mine. I wrap her in the tiny blanket.
And suddenly it is very real that she is mine. My baby. And she is gone.
I cry more, holding her close to my heart and rocking.
It is time to go home. The nurse shuffles us through paperwork, a shot, and then asks if I am ready to hand over my baby. I do, even though I don't want to. It is this moment that tortures me more than any other in the following weeks and months, but at the time, I do not cry.
I get dressed, my husband takes our bags to the car. The nurse wheels me out to the elevator. We stop to give a largely pregnant woman and her family directions and I feel so small, wondering what a mess I must look. They glance in my direction, wondering, I'm sure, what on earth had happened to me.
I climb into the car and we begin to drive. The brown brick hospital building shrinks behind us, and I let the distance stretch between Layla and me, even though I don't want to. I so don't want to.
We merge onto the 405 and start to halfheartedly sing the old death cab for cutie song from a simpler time in our lives. It is the first time I know that somehow, it will be okay.