If you were to ask my husband to recount Elliott's birth story, you'd surely get a slightly different recount of the play-by-play I wrote last summer, tossed with a heavy side of humor. Never mind that I was beside myself in pain and exhaustion; apparently I was cussing up a storm and begging for drugs (I don't really remember this) and for some reason Taylor found that to be hilarious. Penelope's story is not much different in that sense, the full moment of truth led me to reach a whole new level of animalistic rawness. Childbirth is funny that way. You're filled to the brim with anxiousness and excitement, worry and awe, all while being subjected to the most pain you've ever felt in your life. It's no wonder you wear your true emotions on your sleeve and let everything that comes to your mind rip out of your mouth like a brutal tornado.
Two days before, on Wednesday 10/2, I went to my weekly doctor's appointment and had my blood pressure taken. It was a little high, but they made me lay on my left side for a little while and after retaking it, it was normal. Somewhere during the duration of my pregnancy my OB had moved my due date from 10/5 to 10/1 due to fetal development found in ultrasounds throughout my pregnancy, so on this particular day I was technically overdue. My doctor had to run to a delivery, so he popped his head into the exam room and said his nurse would finish the appointment. We went through the standard drill, measurements, listened to the heartbeat, checked for dilation, and then she asked me about my interest in induction. "I am not at all interested in induction... unless you guys feel it's absolutely necessary for the health of my baby."
"Well," the nurse said, "when you go over your due date sometimes the doctor likes to run a few extra tests and ultrasounds, just to keep an eye on fetal condition. Go ahead and schedule your next appointment for Monday, but don't be surprised if you get a phone call from us before the week is over."
Sure enough, at 8 am the next morning I woke to the phone ringing. It was the nurse, asking for me to come into their office in a few hours so that they could recheck my blood pressure. I had an odd feeling. I called my husband in tears, feeling that they were going to press for induction as soon as my blood pressure was retaken. I mean, I'm nervous and bloated for goodness sakes, why wouldn't my blood pressure be a bit high? Taylor came home in response to my tears, but he expressed a point of view I wasn't expecting. "You know, it's up to you, but if they want to induce, why not? You've said a thousand times you're tired of being pregnant, why not end it, here and now? I am ready! I am excited to have this baby! Why wait another minute?"
That truly got me thinking... my head was churning. Induction was not what I wanted, but then again, if they felt it was necessary, why not? It was one step closer to meeting our little girl, and one step closer to feeling comfortable in my own skin again.
The odds were in favor for that line of thinking once I arrived to my OB's office, because my blood pressure, while not too high, was still a bit elevated. The doctor felt it was safer to induce that day, since I was overdue after all, rather than waiting to see what happened over the weekend. After an afternoon of prepping myself emotionally and packing bags for Taylor, Elliott, and myself, I checked into the hospital that evening. I changed into my hospital gown and got comfortable; the night nurse called my doctor and got the ball rolling with medication. I asked a lot of questions beforehand. Apparently 60% of inductions end in a C-section, and that got me really nervous. It got me tearful, in fact. That was the last thing I wanted... I started to re-think this whole induction thing. The nurse assured me that she didn't think I'd end in a C-section. I was already contracting on my own, starting to dilate, and had already had a natural delivery, so the nurse felt pretty strongly I'd deliver naturally again. After that reassurance Taylor and I got comfortable, turned on the TV, and waited. Before long Taylor fell asleep, but I tossed and turned all night. It was not due to pain. If you're anything like me, it's impossible to sleep somewhere other than your own bed. I was anxious for the day ahead. About meeting my daughter. About pushing, the pain, the recovery. The sleepless nights feeding a newborn. All of it. I was having this baby, and oh my, was I nervous!
Hours and hours went by, but my pain never increased. I could feel contractions, but the pain was slight, like bad menstrual cramps. Not at all what I remembered before. I wasn't really dilating much either... I sat at about 3 and a half for the whole of the night. The nurse seemed surprised, which made me nervous again. How long was it going to be like this? Would I be waiting the entire day tomorrow? The nurse and I talked about pain management, and ultimately, I decided on getting an epidural right before my OB was due to come in at 7 am to break my water. I remember having pain prior to my water breaking last time and pain near the end even with the epidural, so seemed logical for me to get it at that point. I might progress quicker once my water was broken and at that time the pain would surely increase. Imagine my surprise, though, when my doctor came in at 6 am to break my water.
My thoughts were, "wait, I haven't had my epidural yet!" So I asked, and the nurse assured me she'd get the anesthesiologist in there right away afterward. Taylor woke up right about then, and thus, my water was broken.
There was a shift change for the nurses right then, so I don't know if it was because of the shift change that the anesthesiologist was called later, or because there was a shift change with anesthesiologists, or what, but the epidural did not come right away. The contractions, the pain, did. Immediately. A gush of water, followed by an instant gush of the most intense pain I've ever felt. I can't even describe it. I felt my hands and fingers go numb, I couldn't breathe through it even though my husband and the nurse were yelling at me to. These contractions were strong. Strong. (I am sure the Pitocin was to blame for that.) And that's when I started to lose it.
Why, why, why had I not gotten the epidural sooner?! I asked to stand up, but the OB had left some kind of monitoring cord inside me to measure the contractions and standing up would cause complications. So I was stuck laying down, defenseless, in incredible pain, and crying like biggest baby on the planet. Why, why, WHY did I wait on the epidural? After the longest hour of I my life the anesthesiologist arrived, and slapped the tape on my back, injected the needle into my spine, all in a matter of moments. I felt relieved in a way, knowing the pain would be gone in another 30 minutes or so. I waited it out, thanking him and sobbing that I had never been so happy to see anyone in my whole life, but the moment he rolled his cart out of the room I felt baby girl's head descending down.
"Oooooohhhh my God. OH MY GOD! I feel it!" I was crying like a bigger baby at that point, I knew it was time. Pushing before my pain medication had even begun to kick in. The nurse didn't hestitate for a nanosecond when checking me. "Yep, you're ready," and ran out of the room to get my doctor, who was at the nurses station right outside my room.
I pushed, feeling everything. I sobbed like an idiot, "why, why, why?" and pushed all the while. I was pulling my elbows up beneath me, I heard a nurse or whoeverthefuck telling me not to, but I completely disregarded everyone's instructions about breathing or pulling my knees up or putting my chin to my chest or anything. I was pissed. I was breathing through my teeth. Why had that damn drug doctor taken so damn long to get there? I pushed with a determination I'd never felt before, stronger than I had even when giving birth to Elliott. If I was going to feel every aspect of this pain, I wasn't going to wait it out or hope my epidural kicked in (it turned out they shut it off immediately anyway). I was getting this baby out of me!
It must have been about 10 or 15 minutes, two or three sets of pushes, the most excruciating moments in my life, when I saw her head. With Elliott, I never even knew he'd come out of me, but holy hell, there was her head, her head! OMG! Her head! A few more pushes, I saw her body slip right out, and instant relief oozed all over my body. I stopped sobbing at that point. No emotional moment of tears or oh my goodness that's my daughter! Just relief and a sense of pride knowing that even though I was hooked up to an epidural drip, I had done it completely pain medication free. And in only 17 minutes of pushing, I felt coherent and alive and blessed to hear her cry, with loud clear lungs. Louder than my heart baby had. Elliott whimpered, but Penelope's cry was a beautiful racket. I knew in that instant: my daughter was healthy.
The rest was a bit of a blur. I held her, I delivered the placenta and was stitched up, was astounded to hear she was nearly the same size as her brother. The thing that really hit me though, wow! I had just given birth to this little thing, in spite of the pain, it was fast, and I was feeling good! It was over, and I didn't at all feel like the wreck I did a year ago. I was stunned at how much easier it had all really seemed.
And oh, you know what? She had my nose.