Today the May issue of Kids VT
went to press. It was supposed to be my last big deadline before maternity leave. I had expected to be extremely pregnant right now, anticipating the arrival of my baby (she was due May 4) while proofing pages and making last-minute corrections.
Instead, I’m typing this blog post — occasionally with one hand — while a one-week-old snoozes on my chest.
In my last post, I wrote about the high-blood-pressure scare that had my doctors considering inducing labor. But after testing my blood and urine, they found no other signs of preeclampsia. So they sent me home.
But at a follow-up appointment a few days later, they watched my blood pressure creep higher. It would be safest both for me and baby, they said, to induce the next day.
Early Wednesday morning, my husband and I packed our bags and headed to Fletcher Allen. Daniel was so excited, he woke up before our alarm went off and immediately leapt out of bed. I was less enthusiastic. I'd been genuinely excited for labor and delivery, but only in the abstract. Now, knowing it was imminent, I was scared.
I felt exactly like I do every time I board an airplane: terrified, exhilarated, unable to stop my legs and arms from shaking. I tried to breathe deeply, reminding myself, just as I do when I'm roaring down an airport runway, that I was headed somewhere good.
Over the last few months, Daniel and I had imagined a frantic trip to the labor-and-delivery floor. Instead, we took our time, stopping at the Misery Loves Company Bakeshop for donuts. We'd also expected spring. But there was snow and ice on the ground that 25-degree morning.
Waiting for Pitocin to kick in. Doula Jenna made me the fabulous tank top, which untied at the shoulders for easy maneuvering around the IV.
We checked into room 9, which had a great northward view. From the enormous windows, we could see our Winooski neighborhood marked by the double steeples of St. Francis Xavier Church.
The first 24 hours felt more like a spa retreat than a hospital stay. They hooked me up to an IV of Pitocin, the synthetic version of oxytocin that encourages labor. My contractions were coming regularly, but they weren't strong enough for me to feel. So we passed the hours watching episodes of “Six Feet Under,” ordering room service, goofing around, catnapping and getting to know our nurse, Gwen.
Spunky and easygoing, she was the first in a string of incredible nurses who would see us through our five-day hospital stay. We hit it off immediately — and knew she was a keeper when she walked in on Daniel practicing some ridiculous dance moves to Beyoncé's "Drunk in Love." (We had a set of speakers, access to Spotify and serious hours to kill; what else were we going to do?) She teased us about it for the rest of her shift.
Gwen regaled us with stories from her other job: cooking meals on racing yachts. She sat in the labor lounge with us and talked about her family. Every time she popped into our room, I felt more at ease.
By 4 a.m. Thursday morning, I still felt nothing, so they took out the IV and let me sleep for a few hours before starting up again with a different tactic: Misoprostol, which is supposed to thin the cervix.
Still nothing. So, late that afternoon, they broke my water using a tool that looked exactly like a crochet needle. Then they plugged me back into the Pitocin.
Daniel and Joni at the hospital.
That did it. Almost immediately, I began to feel contractions. They were mild at first, so we put on Blackfish
, the documentary about SeaWorld's captive killer whales.
Not a great choice. About half an hour in, the movie turns into a highlight reel of gruesome orca-on-human attacks caught on film. We turned it off when I started to feel my insides roiling with cramps. I couldn't help imagining they were being devoured by whales.
Soon after that, my body took over the job of childbirth on its own, so they reduced the Pitocin drip.
By about 5:30 p.m., I was in “labor land,” as our doula, Jenna, later described it. And about eight hours later, Joni was born.
The hours between were a trippy haze. I had expected pain, and, yes, I felt it — excruciating waves that seemed to turn my body inside out.
But painful isn’t the first word I’d use to describe the experience. It was dreamlike, mind-altering, surreal. I didn't take any pain medication, yet the whole way through, I felt a woozy high.
Here’s what I remember:
Between each agonizing contraction, I drifted off to sleep.
Instinctively, I kept my eyes closed the entire time, cracking them open occasionally to make eye contact with Daniel or to move to another position.
I labored in the hall, on an exercise ball and leaning over the back of the bed before getting into the tub. The hot water was heavenly. And so were the amazing waterproof, floating pillows our doula slipped under my head, arm and knee.
I was about 8 cm dilated when I opened my eyes to take in the scene. The bathroom lights were off. A warm glow drifted in from the other room, illuminating several women, plus Daniel, sitting on the floor, quietly watching me labor.
Besides Daniel, everyone there — the midwife, doula, nurse, resident and med student — was a woman. The scene looked nothing like I had imagined a hospital birth to look; it looked more like the wee hours of a girls-night sleepover party.
Except that I was screaming like a wild animal. Who knew I could make such sounds? Big, growly, moans. Full-on horror-movie howls.
I started to feel the urge to push. Because of the high blood pressure, my pregnancy was now considered high risk, so I wasn't allowed to deliver in the tub. The midwife asked me to relocate to start pushing. I realized later that it was the only time anyone asked me to do anything. The rest was entirely up to me.
The pushing felt good. (And, yes, exactly like pooping.) My support team cheered me on, and about an hour and a half later, while I lay on my side, tiny Joni finally emerged, her little fists pressed against the side of her face.
The midwife brought her to my chest, and she began wailing — then aggressively sucking on my chin. With a little guidance, she found the nipple she was looking for.
It was about 1 a.m. Friday when Daniel and I realized we were parents. To celebrate, Jenna brought us omelets and home fries from the Harvest Café, and we popped open a bottle of Prosecco.
We’ve been home with Joni for five days now. I still can’t believe she’s real. Daniel and I keep asking each other, Where did she come from?
Her tiny feet. Her goofy faces. Her intoxicating smell. I can’t stop kissing her soft head.
Megan James is the managing editor of
Kids VT. This is the final installment in a blog series she wrote throughout her second and third trimester. She'll be on maternity leave until the end of July.