This is Part 2 of Isla’s birth story. To read part one, click here.
It took two years before I felt ready to try one more time for the beautiful birth experience that I knew was coming, the one that I knew my body was capable of.
My deliveries with the boys set the stage for much of my fear. Jackson was born at 35 weeks, after close to a month of bed rest. I had some medical complications with him and my doctor eventually decided it was safer for him to be induced early than to continue growing inside my body. His induction was a gruesome four-day ordeal that eventually failed. I left the hospital on the fourth day without having had a baby, only to return three days later for an emergency cesarean section. With James’ pregnancy, I was determined to change my birth story. Our experience was more peaceful and I did end up with the VBAC that I envisioned, although my triumph was short-lived when I experienced a late post-partum hemorrhage.
In the summer of 2014, when I learned that I was expecting my sixth baby, I felt equal parts terrified and ecstatic. Probably because our last loss was still etched in my heart, l spent most of my pregnancy with Isla in fear. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to go terribly wrong. It was an unnamed and uncertain fear that kept me up at night. I thought about it constantly. Anxiety is no stranger to me. Over the years I have learned coping strategies to live comfortably, but for all my experience in the fear department, I was back to square one for the nine months I carried Isla. Not only did I fear losing her at every sharp twist or pull as my body adjusted to growing a baby, I was almost equally afraid of another traumatic labor.
As the months flew by, Isla’s nursery was barely touched. I couldn’t bear the thought of taking the tags off of her bedding and clothes and washing them, so convinced was I that one of us might not come home from the hospital. I spent time praying and reciting positive affirmations, and I also spent time writing letters to the boys just in case something happened to me. Tom was wonderful and supportive, always comforting me and quick to pray over us when I needed it, but even he couldn’t fully understand my irrational fears.
Nevertheless, the days passed and the Earth continued to turn whether I was ready or not. An induction date was set for April 1, 2015. We counted down the days starting at 40 with a chain for every day leading up to her birthday. Jackson and James’ excitement was palpable in their little bodies as they zoomed around looking at the new baby gear that was quickly taking over our living space. They wrestled and bargained each day to be the one to uncoil a chain link, both so ready to meet their little sister. Their excitement was contagious; how could it not be? And Tom and I dared to daydream about what our little family of five would be like.
The night before induction day, we took a long drive out to drop the boys off to stay with Tom’s parents. They were chirping and interrupting each other in their excitement over a trip to the toy store and a sleepover adventure with Grammie and Grandpa. Tom and I quietly enjoyed their chatter. We drove slowly, lost in our own thoughts about the experience that was to come and knowing that our lives were going to change indelibly in less than 24 hours.
We spent a quiet night at home with a pizza (a huge treat for me due to the gestational diabetes that I ate carefully around for the better part of the pregnancy), and went to bed early.
I’m not sure either of us slept well or were even asleep at all when the alarm buzzed at 5:30am. We got up quickly though and took a moment to pray over the day. After many, many long months and moments of doubt, it was time. I took a deep breath, blowing out an almost uncontrollable urge to run screaming into the woods and pretend that I didn’t have to give birth.
“There’s no way out but through,” I gritted out resolutely and got in the car.
The morning was still and frosty. Cars buzzed by and people came out of coffee shops with their Styrofoam cups as if it were a normal Wednesday. Didn’t they know? Couldn’t they feel that this was no ordinary day? We parked and walked into the labor and delivery ward calmly. I was still thinking about how the nurses starting their shifts were going about the business of delivering life-changing babies and then going home to their own lives that were unchanged from the morning.
The next two hours were a blur of intake information, IV lines, and medicine infusions. I sat calmly enough, but I was sure my doctor could hear me screaming inside. Finally, we were left alone to wait for a baby.
“What do you want to watch on TV?” Tom asked causally, sipping his hospital Ginger Ale.
My phone bounced lightly off his shoulder while I searched for something else to throw.
We quietly watched the musical Grease while I rested and my body unfurled to prepare for birth. Things progressed rapidly from there. The lowest dose of Pitocin was enough to signal to my third-time around body that it was time and my contractions picked up steadily. For most of the morning, I sat on the birthing ball and bounced and breathed through contractions. At some point mid-morning, my doctor broke my water, and soon after I had an epidural placed. The morning’s rapid pace was only dimly noticed and appreciated. I was deeply rooted inside my own thoughts as my body prepared itself for birth by drawing close and turning in to prepare for the onslaught of the final stages of labor.
The next two and a half hours passed, dream-like and hazy, with vague impressions of heavy breathing and blowing, sweaty hair, clenched hands, and an impossible force bulldozing through my body.
My body. My body that I thought had failed me with Jackson’s pregnancy complications, and again with James’ near disaster delivery, moved instinctively to a centuries old rhythm from within.
Finally, impossibly, I heard the doctor through the blood pounding in my ears.
“Reach down, Norah. Pull your baby out.”
My hands, trembling, found their way down to be guided by the doctor’s, and I grasped my baby under her arms. With the last bit of strength, a final contraction released my daughter into my waiting hands. I pulled her tiny, vernix-coated body onto my heaving chest and closed my eyes, triumphant.
The healing had begun.