By Gabrielle. Owen’s sweet letter board series via Emily’s Instagram.
Infertility, an early delivery, and a husband more than 24-hours away is just the beginning of Emily’s story. Oh! And there’s also a second delivery much different than the first. Come see. It’s a really good one.
Starting my family was easy. My husband Nick and I met in high school and became a pair in college. Inseparable almost immediately, we had an effortless romance from the get-go and were married in 2009 on the shores of Lake Tahoe close to our hometown. Like I said, it was easy; we were a family just like that.
Baby-making on the other hand, did not come easily.
We decided to start trying for a baby about a year after we were married. I remember the feeling of hope I had in that first month of trying, and I remember the feeling of disappointment that followed. The hope would return each month, but its intensity tapered until nothing remained but desperation. The disappointment climbed, peaked and eventually turned to numbness.
After one year of ovulation tracking and timed intercourse, my gynecologist ordered lots of tests and referred us to a reproductive endocrinologist. We both started weekly acupuncture and an herbal regimen while we prepped for fertility treatments. Four rounds of Intrauterine Insemination ended in heartache and exhaustion and left us with a feeling of defeat. I felt like my young and supposedly healthy body was betraying me. We questioned whether more intervention was the right choice. Were we messing with nature? What if we weren’t meant to be parents?
Talking about pregnancy was hard for me. Seeing pregnant women was harder. But the hardest part was feeling like my situation was changing me in a negative way. Friends and colleagues who seemed to be reproducing at an alarming rate surrounded me and I literally couldn’t stand to be around them. I could not be happy for them, and I hated that. I have since come to terms with that time and those feelings and know that it is only a small piece of my story, but I have not forgotten how that intense feeling of both jealousy and sadness at feeling so jealous felt. In a nutshell: “Yuck.”
We decided to pursue In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and had a relatively easy course (if you consider 133 injections easy, that is). Or perhaps I’m in denial at how crappy it actually was because…it worked! Pregnancy was everything I had hoped it would be and more and literally left me in state of bliss. It was amazing how suddenly all of those years of sadness vanished with one positive pee stick. Okay, if I’m being honest there were about 400 positive pee sticks! Seeing two lines never gets old, friends. The nightly progesterone in oil injections in the butt were nothing compared to the wonder of feeling a little one poking and kicking me from the inside and watching my belly grow. Looking back now, I am able to see the positives that came out of all of that waiting and wanting. Nick and I grew together and formed strong bonds of trust that were tested many times. If you ever want to know if you really trust your partner, try handling him a giant needle filled with viscous oil and ask him to stab you in the butt. This was not easy for me, a maybe-a-little control freak nurse who is used to being on the other side of the needle!
At 35 weeks pregnant, I woke up feeling exhausted and could hardly schlep my body to work that day. After a night of tossing and turning and a very sore back, I had hardly gotten any sleep and was pooped. I was determined to make it to work for the baby shower my co-workers were throwing that day, so there I was. The first thing my friend at work said when she saw me that morning was, “You look different. Are you okay?” Then another later in the day, “You are walking different today!” I suppose I should have taken that as a hint of what was to come, but I think I was too exhausted.
Mid-baby shower I got up to use the restroom and suddenly felt like I had to go REALLY badly, so I started running to the nearest toilet. That’s when it started gushing. At that point I was still oblivious to the fact that my water was breaking and thought that I was living the pregnant lady peeing her pants scenario. My first thought was how thankful I was that I was wearing black pants and could potentially hide the fact that I had just emptied my bladder for long enough to grab a pair of scrubs (a perk of working in a hospital!) When the fluid didn’t stop, I knew. And then time started moving very slowly (but quickly at the same time) as I worked through the numerous possibilities of how this would go down in my scattered head.
Thirty-five weeks was an extremely inconvenient time for the wee one to arrive for many reasons, but the most important and obvious was that my husband was more than a hop, skip, and a jump away in Brazil. Also on that list was: my Mom was also across the country, the nursery was a just-painted heap of boxes and unwashed baby clothes, and I had a hair appointment and pedicure scheduled for the next week! And we had definitely not had enough date nights! And I hadn’t gotten to enjoy any pre-baby maternity leave! I was clearly NOT ready.
When I called Nick to tell him my water broke, he laughed and said, “Not funny, Em.” I think my silence cued him and he then started panicking that he was more than 24 hours away and needed to get on a plane NOW.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, my friends came to the rescue. I had two of my friends by my side within the hour, one a labor and delivery nurse ready to act as my doula, the other my best friend since second grade armed with washed baby clothes and blankets and an iPhone ready to document everything.
My mind was both chaotic and blank, but the one point of clarity was that I was going to keep my baby in until Nick arrived from Brazil. I had twenty-four hours to hang upside down and cross my legs and that was just fine with me.
Quite quickly I went from feeling nothing to feeling very regular contractions that I tried my best to ignore. My friend finally tenderly but firmly told me, “Emily, you are going to meet your baby today no matter what you do. Nick is not going to be here. Your mom is not going to be here.” There were tears, but it was what I needed to hear so that I could throw my sense of control out the fifteenth floor window and get excited about meeting our baby. At that point things started moving very quickly and the contractions became much more intense. My friend was wonderful at moving me from position to position just as I felt like it was too much. I remember thinking how I just couldn’t get into a comfortable position, so I just kept moving and bouncing and twisting and turning in an effort to find comfort. It’s funny to think of that now…did I really think I was going to find comfort with a watermelon-sized human trying to exit my body? Ha!
My birth plan was: do what feels right. Deliver a healthy baby.
I had never been in a lot of pain before, so I really didn’t know how I would react to it and I wanted to leave my options open. I knew that I at least wanted to give natural labor a try, so having a trained labor nurse with a passion for natural birth as my support person was such a wonderful gift. She knew all of the tricks and trickled them out one by one. Birth ball, position changes to ease the back labor, massage, some perfect music playlist that I’m still not sure how she whipped out, lavender oil, and then the big one…the bathtub. Game. Changer. I got in and immediately melted into a much happier Mama. I later found out that the tub stopper was not working, so my friend plugged the drain with a MacGyver-like mix of washcloths and saran wrap!
I think the bathtub was just what I needed to relax enough to let my body open up because shortly after, I started pushing uncontrollably. It was the strangest feeling to suddenly feel like I could not control my actions. It took all of my strength to NOT push as the doctor came to check my progress. I had gone from 1cm at last checking to 9 cm, which explained the sudden urge to push that baby out! I moved to the bed between contractions and was deemed complete and ready to start pushing. My dad had arrived and with my two friends was at my side, something I had never envisioned being comfortable with, but at that point most inhibition was gone and I felt like I wanted someone in my family to be present at this epic moment!
Pushing was a surreal experience for me because all pain was gone. The contractions were no longer uncomfortable, but more just signals that it was time for me to push. Between contractions I was able to rest totally, which I had not expected. And before I knew it, six hours after my water broke, I was holding my baby on my chest, surrounded by two of my best friends, my dad, some of my co-workers (ready to monitor the baby since she was a preemie), and my mom and husband via video. Not how I envisioned meeting her, but beyond amazing despite that. I felt relieved and shocked and empowered all at once. Her birth was such an experience of redemption for me, one that more than made up for the infertility-related feeling that my body was broken. My body had done this; I had done this.
I remember thinking that she looked familiar. I didn’t necessarily think she looked like anyone, but she looked like ours and like her. (Even as I write this, I know I am not explaining it well!) I also remember feeling like I had not truly met her until Nick arrived a little over 24 hours later. When he stormed in the door at 2 in the morning and wrapped her in his arms for the first time, I finally took it all in and saw my family for the first time, and it was magical.
It has been almost two and a half years since that day, yet I can feel it like it was yesterday. Since then: an embryo transfer that resulted in my second pregnancy. At exactly 35 weeks (just like my daughter!) our son Owen was welcomed into our family. The pregnancy was 100% as magical despite it being peppered with preterm contractions, four (!!!) stomach bugs, and pure exhaustion as I chased our two-year-old Piper around. He was delivered by Cesarean Section due to a transverse lie, which was not how I would have preferred him to arrive, but it was filled with so much greatness of its own.
As my husband entered the operating room his voice boomed, “Hey, hey, party people, it’s baby time!” and all was right in my world. He was there. And, yes, it was baby time. And Just like that, we were a family of four.
Our story is not how I would have written it. I wish that my husband could have been by my side through the birthing of our first baby. (Although, the text messages and videos that were exchanged were priceless to review later, let me tell you! “I made THAT sound?! What was I doing with my legs?!”) I wish that I could have experienced a natural labor with our second.
Similarly, I would never have chosen infertility for myself, but my babies make the entire journey, good and trying, worthwhile. I would not have wanted baby making to be so high tech and such a lengthy process, but I wouldn’t change it. Because they are perfection. These babes were meant to be ours.
So wonderful, Emily! Thank you for sharing. And it’s interesting to hear your recounting of your daughter’s delivery sans husband, and your son’s birth with your partner right there with you. Has anyone else found themselves in a situation where they had to give birth without a partner? Tell us about it. Who stepped in to be your teammate?