She’s finally here!
On Tuesday, August 26th, Mackenzie Hope arrived at 9:10 pm, weighing in at 7 lbs 11 ounces and measuring 20 inches long. She is beautiful, perfect and she is mine. Words cannot express how much joy is in my heart – the same heart that absolutely melts every time I look at her face.
I left my 39 week appointment, 5 days before she was born, discouraged. The doctor reported I had made no progress. My amniotic fluid was on the high side which meant her head was floating, not descending and my contractions weren’t strong enough to encourage any more dilation. I left upset, feeling the lack of progress would be a ticket straight to another c-section and if that was the case, why wait – why didn’t I just schedule it a week early and get on with it? Every day longer I had to wait for her was another day she felt further from me. I had waited so long, so very long to get to the end – now that it was just a few days away it felt further away than ever. What if something happened to her? What if I got this close and she didn’t make it here? I wanted her out – safely – and wouldn’t relax until she was in my arms.
In the days until her birth I tried everything. Bouncing on a ball, walking walking walking. The ultrasound technician suggested that since most normal women are told to walk their way into labor, someone like me should consider climbing a mountain.
Peace out, people, I’m heading to Everest.
I stayed as active as possible, did as much housework as possible and finally when my spice drawer was clean and alphabetically organized, I shouted in my head: WE ARE READY NOW, PLEASE ARRIVE!
The day before she was born, I knew something was happening. I felt off. Tired. My lower back ached. I couldn’t make it through a bike ride. I took a nap. I had no appetite. I had a few noticeable contractions in the middle of the night – the real ones that feel like a belt tightening around your back. I wondered if I was close. Three days, kid. You’ve only got three days before my scheduled c-section.
Tuesday morning, I woke up and felt normal again. False alarm. I went to masters, distance free day. All of my friends were there – Taylor, Amanda, both Bobs and Marty. They applauded me for being this far and still swimming. I put myself into a slower lane with the older Bob. We set out on a 4000 yard swim when I noticed something different – every 500 yards or so, my lower back would tighten up. I chalked it up to weight gain, front loaded belly, pulling, side effect of pregnancy. But when it continued, I stopped at the wall and said to Bob, I think I’m having contractions? Bob suggested I consider stopping. I was 1000 yards away from finishing it. I’m not stopping yet!
In the shower afterwards, I knew something was happening. Consistent pain in my back and all of a sudden I had that feeling that this was it – it was really happening. I never went into labor with Max so I relied a lot on other women’s experiences. I’ve read reports that you will “just know” when labor is happening. They’re right. This was the real thing. I announced to Taylor and Amanda that I was pretty sure I was in labor. Taylor offered to drive me somewhere. I said, I need to go home – I have a dishwasher to unload and laundry to put away. I hightailed it out of the pool, grabbed Max and headed home. A few household chores and a shower – I was not going into labor with a messy house and my hair would be done today.
(by the way, when I saw the picture of me after birth in recovery, I said to Chris: wow, my hair still looks great, he replied, it does, actually)
Meanwhile, I timed my contractions – they were getting closer; 7 minutes, 5 minutes, 3
minutes. When they went closer than 3 minutes, I called the doctor who told me to head to Labor & Delivery right away. I threw a bunch of stuff in a bag, my mom took Max, my house was clean and I was heading off to have a baby.
My contractions were not painful so much as they were just an all around tightening and some light pain at the base of my spine. My spirits were high. She was coming and I was going to get my chance at a normal delivery. A day before my due date, perfect timing. After a short stay in triage, they admitted me. It was getting very real now.
My doctor arrived a short while later and reported that I was already 5 cm dilated – half way! The best part, to me, was that I really had not felt any pain. I was hopeful that I could handle this, that if I continued this path I could tolerate whatever pain-filled craziness was ahead. Last time, in the face of labor pain, I retreated into an epidural. This time I wanted to be brave – stare the pain in the face, grit my teeth and get through it. I wanted Chris to be proud of me. I wanted to be present and feel my way through this process. The worst part, to me, about a scheduled c-section was a sense of such an anti-climatic ending. I wanted the past year to end meaningfully.
The doctor suggested she break my water because at the time the bag was bulging. She warned me that my contractions could become more painful. I was currently at a 3 out of 10 for pain so I decided to take her up on it. She broke it and immediately said oh no. Not exactly words of encouragement! There was meconium which meant at some point the baby had gotten stressed and pooped herself. She told me it was old which was reassuring. But they wanted to be mindful of it.
The next 3 to 4 hours were a blur of increasing levels of pain, moaning and rocking on a birthing ball. At first I was laboring in a hospital bed which sent the pain from the base of my spine into my pelvis and then wrapped around my stomach. NOT GOOD. I tried listening to music, “zoning out” but none of it was helping. At some point, I requested to sit on the birthing ball and just rock myself back and forth –which alleviated some of the pain. Contractions were coming every 1 to 2 minutes and as I saw them building up on the monitor, I braced myself – I let myself feel the pain. And it hurt – bad. Unlike anything I’ve ever felt. Women who simply breathe through the contractions – no idea how you do it, ladies. The only way I could relieve myself of the excruciating pain was to groan, moan and finish with OH MY GOD OH MY GOD! Repeat like that. Every 90 seconds. As it kept building and building, I heard Chris tell the nurse that he was nervous. This very well may have been the first time Chris has ever seen me express pain. I knew that pain relief was an epidural away but I wanted to go for it. So I just gave myself permission to keep expressing the pain. At the next check, I was already at 7 centimeters dilated. Only 3 to go!
Then, something strange happened. Just like with Max – I stalled. For a few hours. The contractions kept worsening but I was no longer dilating. The doctor was worried. She gave me a few options. I could continue but she didn’t want me to continue through the night laboring, it wasn’t safe. She said based on the pain I was feeling and the ultrasound, the baby was face up and not turning. Another option was to take an epidural hoping my uterus would relax and dilate. Or, I could start a pitocin drip but it would greatly increase my risk of uterine rupture.
In between groaning out another contraction, I thought about my options. I asked her to give me a few more minutes. I knew I was entering the final stages of labor and wanted to be patient. My mood was spacey. Everything Chris did bothered me. I almost threw my phone at him. I was hugging – no, literally hanging off of the nurse (the nurse?) because I was hurting so badly. The whole experience was awkward – I was there but distant. I was completely immersed in the pain yet at the same time totally transparent. It felt unleashed yet I was very self-conscious – in the room was the doctor, the nurse, an EMT who was “observing” and the anesthesiologist. For a moment I felt like for all of my groaning and moaning and OH MY GOD-ing that I was failing. As if every other woman had gotten through this quietly, painlessly and then – pop! – baby was out. I wondered – was I supposed to be hurting this badly? And why is everyone staring at me? Can they either do something else or help me?
After a bit longer like that, it made sense, then, to take the epidural. The nurse commended me for making it that far without it. And once I made the decision, it couldn’t happen fast enough. WHAT DO YOU MEAN SOMEONE ELSE NEEDS ONE BEFORE ME? It became a question of when will I feel less of this, when, NOW? Finally, pain relief came slowly – very, very slowly.
I wanted to rest but then baby stopped responding normally. Her heart rate exhibited less variability which was concerning. The doctor tracked it for 30 minutes but then was not comfortable with me continuing. She suggested a c-section. At this point, as much as I wanted to fight for my “normal” delivery, I wanted my baby. I told her a c-section was ok – I know how it goes, I know the recovery. I knew that within 30 minutes I would see my baby. They prepared me for the surgery.
In the OR, they talked me through everything. At this point I was so spaced out and because of the lower body block, my upper body was shaking. So badly, they tied my arms down right before they put up the blue sheet so I could not see the surgery. Chris was next to me but it was not at all reassuring – I was fussing, turning my head and my mouth – which had nothing, not even ice chips – for 9 hours felt like a desert. I felt like I was choking.
Meanwhile, I could feel pain and tugging as the doctor’s got to work. I could hear every word of the conservation and when I heard the doctor mutter oh my gosh, I worried. Turns out my bladder had adhered to my uterus after my last c-section. This required some careful maneuvering from my doctor as I wondered if I would ever pee normal again. A little more tugging and next thing I heard was the doctor say oh my god, Liz, SHE’S HUGE. I had visions of birthing nearly a 10 pound baby.
At that moment, Mackenzie Hope was born. The neonatologist checked her out and reported that she was perfect. They called Chris over to take her and he brought her to me. At this point I was so spent, exhausted and still shaking, I could barely look at her. I didn’t realize what I was seeing. I didn’t realize that I was looking at my daughter. I felt utterly exhausted of any emotion.
Eventually I went into recovery. I was shaking uncontrollably. Going in and out of sleep, I could hear Chris talking to the nurse. I could hear him talking about Mackenzie. It pained me that he could experience her first moments while I laid there trying to gather myself. Every minute I had to wait felt like an eternity.
Finally, after an hour, I was ready. The nurse brought her over to me and at that moment, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. This was my daughter. This was quite possibly the hardest thing I have ever worked for in my life. Not the past 12 hours – those were nothing in comparison to the years spent trying (and failing), hundreds of shots, drugs, doctor appointments, miles driven, tests, tears, ultrasounds and waiting – hoping that I would eventually get to this moment. And now that she was here, I almost couldn’t believe it.
Around midnight, they took us to Mother Baby. I would begin recovery. The worst part being the next 3 days in the hospital. Awoken every hour for vitals on myself, vitals on the baby. Laying in a bed with women doing the most basic of duties for me – like changing me or monitoring my catheter. That night as I knew I should be resting, I couldn’t help myself and held the baby. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She was simply the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and I didn’t want to let go of this moment. If it cost me one night of sleep to realize the amazing lifetime I have ahead of me – with her – it would be worth it.
The next morning, they let me sit up on the side of the bed. My first walk to the bathroom, tugging my foley and IV was humbling. I felt like I had been sliced in half and sewn together. After 24 hours, they let me take a shower and dear god do they have to have full length mirrors in the bathrooms? In front of my was a belly still 6 months swollen, staples, bruising, blisters from the adhesives and the worst cankles I’ve ever seen – full body cankles.
When I was finally released from the hospital, I went home to start recovery. The first day was rough. It wasn’t caring for Mackenzie; actually, I’ve realized how easy the newborn stage is: eat, sleep, poop, repeat, every 3 to 4 hours. The sleep deprivation – I got used to that the last time around and even in pregnancy. The hard part is being patient. Every time we went out in public someone would ask me when the baby was due. You mean the baby in my arms? Oh, sorry. The hard part then is knowing that though I look and feel like this now, it will take a few weeks or months to feel like me again. More waiting. Like a 100+ mile bike ride, I keep telling myself the time will pass, it always does. Soon enough I’ll feel like me again.
I’ve thought a lot about how I feel about having another c-section. This time around, I feel no sense of failure. I tried and for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. There’s a lot of things I’m really good at and delivering babies just isn’t one of them. The doctor suggested I was too small to deliver a nearly 8 pound baby. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my mother in law, three inches smaller, gave birth to my 10 pound husband. I’ll accept that I’ll never have an answer – but I’ll always have a daughter. To me, that’s good enough.
And here I sit a little over a week later feeling much better than a week ago. I’ve dropped 20 pounds (let’s hear it for nursing and night sweating!) I’ve lost the 6 month pregnant belly (two words: belly binder, wrapped VERY tightly). Mackenzie nurses like a champ and gives me a solid 3 to 4 hours of sleep at night at a time. I’ve been walking daily and life is falling into a manageable pattern with my responsibilities: baby, Max, house and work. With an excellent support system, life seems to be ticking forward normally.
Someone asked me how it feels the second time around. How does it feel? Like holding a dream come true in my arms. I waited so long for this. I never lost hope in myself or my body. There were so many obstacles along the way – doctors telling me to use donor eggs, telling me to just accept my bad luck, wanting to throw random drug cocktails at me. It wasn’t an easy journey to get to this point but at some point I made up my mind that I would do what it would take to get here. I took responsibility for all of the information, decisions and the process. I accepted that no one would care about the outcome as much as I did – and if I truly cared, I would put 100 percent of my heart and effort into it. Like crossing a finish line, I can truly look back and say that I have no regrets.
(Max has had a few moments of telling us it’s hard to be a big brother but otherwise seems just as smitten by his little sister as we are)