On February 14th I finally had a reason to get a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I bookmarked the nutrition chapter so I could find the recipes for virgin sangria and cookies made of figs and ground flaxseed in case I got hungry. I meant to finish the book (and read all other baby books that tell you how to be a parent) before the baby was born, buy clothes and nursery furniture and make customized baby art to decorate said nursery, and sew blankets, and learn how to crochet hats and booties. But then I realized, amidst distractions of prepping for RISD graduation, the Philippines, and moving to New Haven, that ain’t nobody got time for that! During this time of not preparing for baby’s birth, I remembered that my parents didn’t read a single book, my mom didn’t have maternity clothes, and I slept in my parents’ bed until I was three. So what was I worrying about?
After moving to Connecticut, I thought I might spend every waking moment creating a nursery, but then realized that I was too tired to paint the walls and that anything I hung on the walls would probably fall off and break because the walls are plastery, and anyway the baby could care less if her crib sheets and burp cloths were color coordinated.
But also, I just found other things to do. I entered two local art shows and researched how not to fail at Etsy. Preparing work to display in an art show is incredibly time consuming, I discovered. I had to paint a new piece, then find a printer who could make reproductions of my paintings, pay someone to frame the prints, and then deliver them to the exhibits. Doesn’t sound time intensive, but it’s hard work when you’re new in town and have no connections and when every local printer you try messes up your prints…But anyway, I figured it out and it all turned out ok. The other project I started was an “audition” piece for a publisher who contacted me to see if I might be interested in illustrating a picture book manuscript but they’d need to see a full color sample spread to determine if I was the chosen one. Of course, all these projects were due around the same time. The spread was due to the publisher on Oct 10th and the art shows were scheduled for the 11th and 18th. On October 6th, 7th, and 8th, I was hurrying to finish the spread so I could make the deadline and telling myself, “If baby comes before this is due, I’ll know it wasn’t meant to be and that’s that.” I managed to finish and sent the file to the publisher on the 9th.
This is a good time to mention that I was hoping for as natural a delivery as possible, mainly because I was curious as to whether or not I could tolerate the pain. Actually giving it serious consideration happened because of five lovely ladies. Julie is my super awesome Rhode Island friend who learned the Bradley method and was determined from the start to have a natural delivery. Jessica lives down the street in our East Rock neighborhood and delivered in a birthing center in Geneva. After we met at an orientation event for spouses of Yale students, she taught me about prenatal yoga and how to sing the Guyatri Mantra (in case I needed to calm myself during contractions) and gave me a copy of her birth plan in French (with the English translation). Rachel is in our ward and invited us over for crepes on our first Sunday at church. Her baby, Cora, was born at home. Rachel introduced me to Ina May Gaskin. Then Barbara, Jesse’s mom, had six natural deliveries. And my mom. So I thought I might as well try too. I bought the birthing ball, a heating pad, popsicles, lavender massage oil—all to get me through the long hours of labor at home and the hospital. I did the Kegels and the squats and got to the point where I could hold a wall sit for 5 minutes. But even as my due date approached, I wasn’t sure if I could do it, especially since I had to quit watching Call the Midwife after only one episode because it made me queasy.
On the 11th, I went to the art show, sold some prints, and then went to IKEA to do some last minute shopping for storage containers so that baby’s stuff could be placed somewhere other than in random piles on the floor.
I spent the rest of the 11th organizing those piles and clearing space in her room so you could see the floor. Late that night, I told Jesse that maybe it would be a good idea if, on Sunday after church, we reviewed our birth plan and the list of things he was supposed to know how to do to help me through each stage of the natural delivery I was hoping to have. Since he missed a lot of the childbirth class I attended, I typed a summary of all his responsibilities and said, “Here, just memorize this and we’ll be in good shape!” It was 6 pages long. I finished typing around midnight on the 12th and was ready for bed around 1:00. About this time, I felt crampy and thought it was Braxton Hicks so I ignored it. Shortly afterward, I started shaking with chills. The uncontrollable shaking didn’t stop half an hour later and I thought, “This is weird. Is this labor? If it is, then we’ll be here for hours.” Because early labor takes forever (so they say in childbirth class), Jesse distracted himself by starting a load of laundry and packing his hospital bag. Apparently my water broke right before the chills, but I didn’t realize that’s what was happening because water usually breaks late in labor and I had only started a half hour earlier. By the time he came back upstairs, the contractions were forceful enough to make be throw up. And then I needed a bath.
We decided to start timing contractions—there’s an app for that. While Jesse was downloading it, the contractions grew in intensity. They were maybe 30 seconds long only a few minutes apart. The hot water cooled off in about half an hour, and it was hard to sit still in the tub anyway, so I decided to get out and rock on the exercise ball. The ball helped for about two minutes and then I spent the rest of the home labor on my hands and knees while Jesse applied pressure to my back during each contraction. The pain came in short bursts intense enough to make me forget about visual imagery. I couldn’t imagine my happy place. The only thing that helped was moaning and heavy breathing like Ina May said, which I thought I would never do. Moan and grunt like a cow? Right. But that’s all I could manage to do, wondering the whole time how long this would last and if this was only early labor, how much more intense could the pain get, and how horrible would it be to get to the hospital and only be dilated a few centimeters?
I didn’t call the hospital right away because: a) the average birth for a first baby is 12-17 hours and I’d only been at home about two hours; b) doctors recommended we stay at home as long as possible to avoid getting to the hospital only to be told to go home and come back later; c) I bought 128 oz of watermelon Gatorade specifically for this purpose and hadn’t even opened one of the bottles (I left them in the car so I wouldn’t have to carry them down again on the way to the hospital). I finally called the hospital at 3:11 because minutes before I felt a strong urge to push and that’s when I got worried. The nurse casually mentioned in childbirth class that pushing before full dilation can cause serious problems. The doctor called 20 minutes later. I remember how hard it was to get dressed. I grabbed the one article of clothing that seemed most fitting to wear and which didn’t have buttons or leg holes or zippers—it was one of the few dresses my mom wore when she was pregnant, which she had sent to my sister during her pregnancy, and which Merella had passed on to me in a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants kind of way.
We live on a second floor apartment and getting down the stairs took minutes instead of seconds. I had to stop a few times and resist the urge to push. I was bearing down all the way to the hospital, consoling myself with thoughts of how fortunate I was to be in New Haven instead of Alaska, laboring while strapped in the seat of a Cessna airplane with turbulence in a windstorm, or riding to the hospital on the back seat of a clunky ATV over a bumpy snow covered gravel road in sub zero temperatures.
Jesse texted his mom at 4:09 and told her were in the hospital. We waited, with me being monitored for maybe fifteen minutes before the doctor arrived and said, “You’re 10 centimeters, let’s get you a room!”
The bao bao (Chinese for precious) was born at 4:43. Fifteen minutes and three pushes later, we held our baby. Jesse says that at first, she was vernixy and purple with a weird shaped head. I didn’t really see her because I still wasn’t wearing my glasses, which I had put away once contractions started, but it was such a relief to hold her and hear her cry.
After the nurses cleaned her up and put on her birthday hat, she looked like a tiny person:
|6 lbs, 13 oz, 20 1/8 in long|
I was born on the day the first snow of the year fell in Kotzebue, AK, and so was she, 30 years later.
We'll see how long we can keep the tradition going.
We named her Stella. Not after the beer, or the cookie, or the flower, or the love interest of Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, or the song “Stella by Starlight,” or the star in Philip Sidney’s English sonnet sequence, or the children’s book Stellas (Stella Star of the Sea and On Linden Square and Bella and Stella Come Home). She just felt like a Stella.
Once we got home from the hospital, I thought, “Now what?” I decided to eat a popsicle and then figure out the rest one hour at a time.
|Week 2 glamour shots|