The day I went into labor the neighborhood caught fire.
We sat on the hood of our car in the street staring up at the flames on the hill while planes flew over head dropping flame retardant and water from a nearby resevoir and I thought, selfishly, … really? Of all the days for the earth around us to go up in flames, did it really have to be today?
To tell the story right, I should back up to the night before.
It was a Monday night in late September and I stood in a puddle of amniotic fluid in the middle of our bathroom. I was 40 weeks, 5 days and planetary in size. Earlier that day I had gone swimming in attempts to move things along. An elderly woman in the pool sharing a lane with me asked when I was due. “Last Friday”, I told her, watching her eyes grow as if I had just told her there was a bomb in my swimsuit. Now the extra laps in the pool had seemingly done the trick and my water had broken.
“Uhh, babe?”. I called to Trey
“Either I just peed on the floor, or…”
Trey ran over. He had spent the past week looking for signs that it was go-time. Most of the pre-labor symptoms our doula had described I might start feeling, he had actually been experiencing instead. Cleaning. Nesting. Forgetfulness. He had been so anxious the week before that he forgot the gas pump in the car and drove off. The pump hose snapped back and shattered the back glass of our hatchback and we had to get it replaced.
I watched his brows furrow into a look of confusion.
It was tinged dark red.
I texted our doula, Heather. She texted another doula who was a nurse to get a second opinion. They told me my water had most likely broken, but that amniotic fluid was usually clear. I waited for labor to begin.
I had decided on a low-intervention birth with a midwife and doula. The plan was to labor at home and when the contractions got close together we’d drive to the hospital (5 minutes away) and I’d push her out. I didn’t want to be in the hospital for an extended amount of time. I didn’t want the interventions – the IVs, the medications, the overly sterile environment. I had been through that with IVF and wanted to avoid it. I wanted my dogs and my bath tub and the watermelon ice cubes Trey had made me in the freezer.
By evening labor hadn’t started, so I went to bed. In the morning I consulted with our Doula who agreed we should call the Labor and Delivery advice line since labor hadn’t began. The nurse on the phone told me it sounded like my water had broken and that I should come in to make sure.
We arrived at the hospital at around 9:00 am and made our way to Labor and Delivery triage where you check in. Triage. You think they’d call it something that didn’t conjure up images of a war zone. I’m having a baby, not coming in from the battlefield with my leg blown off. I imagined a nurse drawing a red X on my forehead with improvised lipstick, like, this one’s not gonna make it. They did a cervical check on me and verified my water had broken. They thought the color of the fluid was unusual, but could be old blood from the hemorrhaging I had in the 1st trimester. They checked Ever’s vitals and said she looked good. They told me they could admit me and induce, or I could go home and wait for the contractions to start on their own. I decided to go home and wait for contractions to start. The doctor told me to come back that night if contractions hadn’t started because there was a risk of infection. We left the hospital and got lunch. We forked at food on our plates pretending to be chill about the fact that a human we created that’s the size of a sea otter was about to come out of one of us. We talked about how crazy it was that this was potentially our last meal just the two of us. We were ready. As ready as you can be. Afterwards we went home to relax and wait for the contractions to start.
It was a stifling 95 degrees when we got home, the beginnings of a late San Franciscan summer when the marine layer lifts and the earth gets hot. The small portable air conditioner in the corner of our living room was puttering, rendering itself basically useless unless you were standing directly in front of it in your underwear. That’s when all the dogs in the neighborhood start barking, including Jack and Keep in the back yard. We went outside and saw the smoke in the sky. Trey got in the car and drove two streets over and saw the hills on fire. He came back and got me and we drove over so I could see. Here was the scene.
I called Heather to let her know what the doctor had said, and that there was a wildfire nearby that may or may not be heading towards our house. I hadn’t had any contractions yet, but they had to be coming soon, or so I thought. We spent the next few hours watching CAL fire work to contain the flames. They started evacuations and we waited in the street with our neighbors to see which way the fire was spreading. Looking back now, this was only a few weeks before the Sonoma wildfires happened just north of us which spread quickly, killing people and animals and devastating the region. I remember telling Trey if it came down to it we could pack up the animals and go to a hotel. I wasn’t above laboring at the La Quinta.
By 11:30pm Tuesday contractions still hadn’t started. The fire had been contained and was no longer an immediate threat to us. We could breathe a sigh of relief. I kept trying to convince myself I felt contractions but I didn’t. I decided to go to sleep and go to the hospital in the morning, hoping that labor would start over night.
The next morning (Wednesday), I still wasn’t having contractions. I called Labor and Delivery again and told them. I had tried to stay home and have labor start naturally as long as I could, but now the risk of infection was too high. They told me it was really important that I come in. I didn’t want to. I had read the books and watched Ricki Lake’s documentary The Business of Being Born and had a healthy skepticism about interventions. But now I was 41 weeks pregnant and my water had broken 2 days ago and a risk of getting an infection that could compromise the health of Ever and me was looming over my head. My vision of labor starting and me running a bath at home, lining the tub with the lavender scented candles I had bought and having Jack there, laying on floor just outside the bathroom door was now becoming a fleeting thought. I had prepared myself for lots of different scenarios for things not going to plan, but I didn’t prepare myself for things to derail this early on.
I went to the hospital and they took us to our birthing room. A midwife and nurse came in to talk to us. We went over our birth plan and they were very supportive of the low-intervention birth that I wanted. We told them our story, of going through IVF and how much it had taken to get here. I wore my own robe and socks and requested to keep the lights off. They talked to me about inducing. They wanted to start me on Misoprostol, a medication that would start labor. They were supportive when I told them I wanted to wait a little longer to see if my body would do it on its own.
By mid-day Wednesday contractions still hadn’t started. I agreed to the Misoprostol, reluctantly. Just no Pitocin, I told them. I was stubborn and no one was going to rush me into anything. They weren’t pushy at all. I think I imagined some old guy telling me what to do so he could deliver my baby before his smoke break, but it wasn’t like that at all (turns out it’s not the 1950s). Everyone was supportive and patient and female. I felt in control. They started me on the Misoprostol. Trey went to Whole Foods down the street and got some food. I ate half of a quinoa bowl with salmon. We watched funny videos of Jack and Keeper and went for a walk around the halls. An hour or so later I started having contractions. First they felt like menstrual cramps. Then they came on stronger.
I immediately threw up the quinoa bowl with salmon into a trashcan. My body felt like it was purging itself for things to come. Trey texted Heather, it was go time. She arrived a little while later and strung Christmas lights all around the room like Mary Poppins or a rad fairy godmother. I rocked on the birthing ball while she massaged lavender oil on my arms and neck. Trey sat in front of me. We made jokes. I remember laughing, even while in pain. Our nurses were great. We had been labeled “the hip kids in room 321″. Everyone was so friendly and supportive of us. This was happening. I was in labor and we were going to meet our girl soon.
I labored into the night. I waved off an epidural. I made noises I could only describe as bovine. I got into a rhythm and breathed through the surges one by one. After hours of laboring the midwife came in to check how dilated I was. I was 7 cm (I need to be 10 cm to push). I felt empowered. I was almost there.
The next few hours were a blur of intense surges and lower back pain that radiated through out my whole body. It really is an intensity that is like nothing else. I found myself closing my eyes and visualizing the contractions as these incredibly intense, involuntary waves that would move through me. The contractions got closer and closer together until they were rolling right on top of one another with only 15 seconds or so in between each one. Heather led me in a breathing rhythm and Trey cheered me on after each contraction ended. The midwife came in and checked me again.
7 cm. I hadn’t dilated any further.
That’s okay, I told myself. Just keep going. I went into the bathroom and sat on the toilet to be alone with the pain. I could hear a woman being wheeled quickly down the hall screaming in pain and felt oddly envious. She was coming in hot at the last minute to push her baby out like I had hoped to be doing.
I kept laboring into Thursday morning. The back pain was so intense and the contractions were so strong and close together that I zoned out completely. I went to another place mentally and focused on my breathing. I thought about being in the ocean, the waves I would swim in during the summers as a kid. Each contraction was a swell that would lift me from the sandy bottom of the ocean floor to the height of the swell before my feet would find the sand again as the wave passed on. Trey and Heather stood on either side of me doing the “hip squeeze” during each contraction. They were so supportive and strong. The only position that felt comfortable was sitting on the exercise ball while leaning forward onto the bed.
The doctor and midwife came in and checked me again. At this point I had been in active labor for over 12 hours.
Surely I had to be getting close to 10 cm by now.
7 cm. I hadn’t progressed any further in the last 6 hours.
They left and I kept laboring. I tried changing positions to a yoga mat on the floor. I was exhausted. I knew going in that the only reason I would want an epidural was if labor went on for an extended amount of time. Even if I did dilate more, I would need the strength to push. I had thrown up everything I had in me and hadn’t eaten much the day before. Combined with being awake for almost 24 hours at this point and going through intense labor for 12 hours – I was exhausted on a level I had never experienced before. I asked for the epidural.
They told me they would monitor my contractions (they were happening, I just would no longer feel them), while also monitoring Ever’s heart rate. My body would continue to dilate on its own and hopefully the next time they checked me I would be at 10 cm and then they would dial back the epidural so I could feel again and push.
The anthesiologist administered the epidural in my lower back in between contractions, which was an adventure all in it’s own. They had to wait for a window of time between contractions to insert the needle and the contractions were rolling right on top of one another. I fell asleep immediately after the epidural took effect. When I woke up and couldn’t feel my legs, I freaked out.
What if there’s an earth quake?!, I cried. The nurse smiled, but to me it was a very valid question at the time. It’s disorienting to go to sleep and wake up not being able to use your legs. Especially when living on a fault line! Trey and Heather assured me they would carry me out and not leave me behind should the earth decide to split open.
It was around noon on Thursday now and contractions were strong and steady on the monitor, just as they had been when I was feeling them. The doctor and midwife came in and checked me to see how far I had dilated.
7 cm. I had been at 7 cm for almost 24 hours at this point. I switched positions multiple times over the course of the next few hours in attempts to move Ever down lower in my pelvis.
The doctor recommended Pitocin, a synthetic version of oxytocin, the natural hormone that helps your uterus contract. It had been almost 4 days since my water had broken and the topic of infection kept returning. I talked to Heather and Trey and voiced how much I hated the idea of all these interventions. A lot was going through my mind.
Why didn’t my body go into labor on its own after my water broke?
Why, despite laboring for 12 hours without an epidural, did my body not dilate more than 7 cm?
Why now, after almost 24 hours in active labor, was I still not dilating more than 7cm?
The doctor told me there was another option they could do before using Pitocin. They could insert a foley balloon in between the amniotic sac and the bottom of my uterus, inflating the balloon to manually dilate more. I already had a urinary catheter in (required with epidural), so they had to go around that to put the foley balloon catheter in too. A couple hours later they checked me.
“7 cm.”, they told me. Reluctantly, I agreed to the Pitocin.
They started me on a low dose to see how I would respond, and after a few hours they came and checked me again.
They upped the dosage and came back a few hours later.
This went on for all of Thursday. At 8pm on Thursday night, after they had maxed out the dosage of Pitocin, the doctor, midwife and nurse came in and gave me what would be the final check. I had been in active labor for a day and a half at this point.
First the doctor checked me. Then the midwife.
“Oh, mama.” the midwife said, her tone noticeably quiet.
They had been so supportive and encouraging of me this whole time. My body wasn’t dilating any further than 7 cm and that wasn’t enough space for Ever to come through. My water had broken on Monday and it was late Thursday night now. I said it before they could.
“I have to have surgery, don’t I?” The doctor and midwife looked at me with empathetic faces.
“That is what we recommend”, they told me.
Everyone in the room knew how hard it had been for us to get to this point and tried everything for me to have the birth I wanted but step by step that plan had unraveled and here I was about to have to have a c-section to get her out. The doctor and midwife told us they would give us a minute and everyone left the room.
After the door closed Trey grabbed my face in his hands. I looked away from him, trying not to cry. I knew if I started crying, so would he.
“Look at me. Look at me.” he told me.
“This is everything I didn’t want to happen”, I said.
“You have been so strong and so brave and this is not your fault. There is nothing you could have done better. I am so proud of you. I am so proud to be your partner. I love you more than anything and we’re going to get through this.”
“I’m ok. We’re going to meet her soon”, I reassured him. Now wasn’t the time for me to fall apart. I was determined to focus on the positive, and that was the excitement of meeting her.
The doctor came back and we signed the waiver forms. They gave Trey a pair of scrubs and he put them on. I asked if he was going to be ok. Once he saw me get this lump surgically removed from my arm and almost hit the deck after turning a pale green color, so this was obviously a step up from that. On our last meeting with Heather our Doula, Trey told her “I’ll just puke a little and then I’ll be good”.
They came and got us and wheeled me in bed down the hall past the nurses station and through the double doors of the OR. They told Trey he would need to stay outside until I had been prepped for surgery. We didn’t want to be separated. I remember watching the doors close with him on the other side.
Inside, they transferred me onto the operating table and positioned my arms so they were stretched out onto either side of my body and strapped them down to form a giant T shape. I wasn’t in control anymore. There is a part of me that up until that point felt I had been, but that was gone now. The bright lights above me glared down while the room full of people prepped me for the surgery. I felt alone. I felt scared. I closed my eyes and went inward, imagining back to the warm night when Trey and I walked the beach back to our bungalow in the Philippines. The sound of the tide coming in and out, the faint music playing on the beach. The warm, tropical air. Just then, I felt a familiar kick in my ribs. I wasn’t alone. She was there and we were in this together. As much as this was my birth story, it was hers too. The anthesiologist administered medication to numb me while the nurses put up a sheet up that shielded me from seeing the bottom half of my body.
Before the surgery began, they brought Trey in and he sat next to me behind the curtain. The medication was strong and I remember them doing tests on my abdomen to make sure I was numb. I couldn’t feel anything except being slightly cold. The surgery started and Trey and I kept our eyes on one another. He smoothed the hair out of my face and brushed the side of my cheek. He told me I was beautiful. Behind the sheet I could see shadows from the nurses getting everything ready. The room was quiet except for the sound of the oxygen and the heart rate machines monitoring me and Ever. We heard the doctor begin instructing the nurses calmly and quietly. Trey and I held hands and waited in anticipation. It felt like an eternity laying there.
A few minutes later everyone in the room gasped. Trey and I looked at each other with excited eyes.
“BIG GIRL!”, the doctor said loudly.
Then came the most amazing sound. A loud, harrowing cry followed by everyone in the room cheering. She was here. After everything, she was here!
Trey ran over to see her in the small tub they immediately put her in. “She’s so cute! She has hair! She’s so big!” he called back to me. They asked Trey if he wanted to cut the cord and he did. I kept trying to see her but couldn’t. They called out her weight, 9 lbs 7.5 ounces. She was a giant! I couldn’t wait to see her.
On the table, I noticed my vision start to get blurry. I said “I feel woozy” and closed my eyes. I heard Trey asking the nurses “is this normal?”. My body started shaking uncontrollably, a combination I later learned was in response to the medication and from losing too much blood. They finished stitching me up and wheeled me out of the OR into another area and wrapped me in blankets. A few minutes later the blankets were removed because I was overheating. A nurse called over the doctor and other nurses. The heart monitor kept beeping indicating my heart rate was low. They stuck a needle in my arm and took some blood. They took my temperature and called it out, 104.5. The next thing I remember is having a 2nd IV put in my arm and a nurse leaning over me telling me they were starting me on triple antibiotics because I had a bad infection in my uterus. On the other side, in the other IV in my right arm, another nurse leaned over me and told me that they were starting me on a bag of iron for blood loss. In between fading in and out I looked down the end of the bed to see Trey in the hall holding a crying Ever listening to what a nurse was telling him and looking back at me like a deer in the headlights. It felt like a bad dream. All I wanted to do was be with them.
This went on for the next couple of hours while my body was fighting off the infection. I don’t remember much from this time except trying to keep my eyes open even though I was told to rest. I could hear Ever crying and couldn’t distinguish whether I was dreaming it or not. I remember the heart rate monitor constantly beeping to indicate my heart rate was low. At one point I apparently got so frustrated that I ripped off the beeping heart monitor on my hand and threw it across the room. They put it on my foot so I couldn’t reach it. I hated being so delirious in a time where I wanted so badly to be present. I was frustrated. Eventually, the exhaustion took hold and I fell asleep.
Some time early Friday morning the fever started subsiding and I woke up as they were transferring me to a post partum room. I remember finally feeling conscious and in my right mind again. They put Ever in my arms while wheeling me down the hall and I remember just holding her as tight as I could to my chest.
In the room, I held her in front of me, taking her in. Her little eyes found mine. I couldn’t believe it. She was so beautiful. Her chubby cheeks and pouty lips and swirled cowlick in her hair. Her soft skin. Her little hands that gripped my fingers with such strength. I studied her every movement. The way she tucked herself right into me like she had for the last 9 months. I introduced myself. “Hi, little human. I’m your mom. It’s so nice to meet you”. The three and a half years we tried, the multiple rounds of IVF, the hemorrhaging in the first trimester where we were almost certain we lost her, the week of labor I had just gone through, the surgery and complications to get her out. She was finally here.
That night we all slept next to one another in the room. The next few days and weeks were a blur of intense happiness, trials and errors, and appreciation and gratitude for life. It has been the best adventure having her here with us and it makes me so happy to know this is only just the beginning.
And that is the very long story of how Ever Juno came into this world, the crazy ride it was, and how we had to wait and wait and wait forever. Literally.