Margie was up in there for what seemed like forever. The baby’s head was so low and tight against the bag that it was difficult for her to tell if she had broken the membranes, and she was afraid of hurting him (when Lion was born, he did have a few small lacerations on his scalp from the amnihook, but they healed just fine). It took a few minutes, but eventually the fluid began to leak out of me. I had to announce this to the people in the room when this happened, as I was once again sitting on the bed with Mike pulling on my arms and Cathy massaging my back.
“I’m leaking!” I told them. They helped me stand up so they could replace the Chux pad. Unfortunately, Margie saw that the fluid was stained with meconium, which means that the baby had already had his first bowel movement in the womb. This isn’t great news to hear during labor, since there is a risk that the baby could aspirate the dirty fluid as he takes his first breaths. I heard Margie saying that she was going to call the neonatologist.
I’m not sure how long I continued to labor after Margie broke my bag of waters. An hour, maybe? I can’t even tell you if it made the contractions worse, because I felt like I was in another world, becoming less aware of what was happening to me and around me.
When Margie came to check me again, she said that I was eight to nine centimeters dilated.
I moaned and covered my face with my hands. I felt like I would be at eight centimeters forever! Margie spoke with the nurse, then said she wanted me to try a few pushes during the next contraction while she put pressure on my cervix, to see if we could get me to ten centimeters.
I hadn’t wanted to push until I had a natural urge, but I was so tired that I agreed. Later I found out that Margie and the nurses were seeing much thicker meconium in the fluid that was still leaking out of me- it was no longer just staining. I was vaguely aware of an increased sense of urgency in the room, but I was too out of it to understand exactly what was happening.
When I felt the next contraction coming, I told Margie and she told me to push. I pushed through the next couple of contractions while she put pressure on my cervix.
"It's working!" she told me.
Then Margie had to leave the room to catch the baby across the hall, and the nurse said they needed to hook me up to the external fetal monitor. She had me lying flat on my back while the monitor was on, which was the worst possible position for me- the pain was excruciating. Cathy and Mike helped me struggle to my feet and I told them I needed to push, but I didn’t want to be on my back.
Cathy pushed some buttons on the bed so that it was transformed into a giant chair. I kneeled on the lowest part and leaned forward on the “seat,” sort of like I’d been doing on the stairs at home.
A contraction came, and I pushed.
I’ll just put it out there, even if it’s TMI, since I know lots of women worry about pooping during birth. Yes, I did poop while I was pushing. And yes, I was aware that it was happening, and no, I didn’t care. I’d read that so many women are afraid having a bowel movement during birth that they don’t push effectively, so I made up my mind that I would push as well as I could, no matter what. And so I did.
But suddenly the nurse was grabbing my arm and telling me that I need to lie down on the bed. Later I found out that the baby’s heart rate was dipping crazily each time I pushed in that position. I begged her to let me try another position.
“It hurts too much to be on my back," I panted. "I want the bar!" We’d been told that there was a bar that can be attached to the end of the bed, so you can hang onto it and squat.
“There’s no bar,” the nurse said firmly. “It is protocol that you must lie down in the bed!”
“There is a bar that can be attached to the end of the bed!” I heard Mike arguing with her as I writhed on the bed. He knew I’d planned to use it, and he was advocating for me. “We were told that she could have it! We were told she could push in any position she wanted!”
I was furious at the nurse, because I knew what I had been told and I knew she was wrong. But again, I wasn’t aware of everything that was happening. Cathy later told me that they were clearly worried about the increased meconuim in the fluid and the baby’s decreased heart rate. My mom said that the nurse seemed scared.
“Never mind- you’ve got two strong people here who can help you squat,” Cathy told me. “You put your right arm around me and your left arm around Mike, and we’ll hold you up.”
We started to get into position, but then Margie came back from catching the baby across the hall. There was a flurry of activity and I saw supplies being brought to the foot of the bed, the neonatologist arrived, and Margie donned a pair of gloves.
“We need to check and see what’s happening,” she told me. “You’re doing great. We’re all so proud of you!”
And suddenly I was flat on my back, in exactly the position I hadn’t wanted, and Margie was encouraging me to push with the next contraction.This is not what I wanted
, I remember thinking, blinking back tears, but the reality that the baby's health was at risk was sinking in.
“Liz, listen to me. You need to push your baby out,” Margie told me, looking me in the eye. “It's time. You can do it!”
I looked over and saw my mom holding up the laminated 3D ultrasound picture of the baby that we’d brought to use as a focal point. I stared at his little face. Help him
, I told myself.
Mike held my left leg, Cathy my right. As the next contraction built, I took a deep breath and pushed.
“Curl around your baby, Liz.” Cathy told me. I tucked my chin to my chest and brought my upper body forward as I pushed again.
“Give me one more!” Margie kept saying. "You're strong, you can do it!"
Later I found out that this was the point at which Mike’s mom looked down and realized that the cup of ice chips she’d been feeding me had melted into water. Wide-eyed, she looked over at Mike, then down at me.
“I’m out of ice chips!” she whispered. Clearly she didn’t want to miss seeing the baby come out.
“Then you’d better run!” Mike told her. She flew from the room and returned quickly with two cups of ice, which I crunched during the short time between contractions. I have sensitive teeth and have never been able to stand anything cold touching them, but that night I didn’t feel a thing. I was parched and the ice tasted like the best thing ever.
“You’re bringing your baby into the world!" Margie told me. “Here's his head!”
“I can see it!” Mike said, squeezing my hand and shaking with excitement. “You’re doing it! You’re doing it!”
“I want to see!” I panted. “Can I have a mirror?”
Margie called for one of the nurses to bring a mirror, and she wheeled it in. I could see a little bit of the baby’s head. It was amazing.
“Push!” everyone urged.
It’s hard to describe what pushing felt like. It didn’t hurt, but it didn't feel great, the way I’d heard some women describe it. It was just really hard work. I would bear down as hard as I could, and then somehow find that I could push just a bit beyond that. When I did that, Margie would cheer and praise me. I was sweating like crazy and Mike’s mom was aiming our little personal electric fan at my face. The cool breeze felt great, and between contractions I heard Margie and the nurses marveling over the tiny fan.
“What a great idea!” she said. “Where did you get that?”
“Target,” Mike told her.Are we really discussing Target while I’m giving birth?
I wondered. It was surreal.
The neonatologist had been sitting on the couch, but now he quickly made his way over to the bed and started to get ready.
“Liz, listen to me,” Margie instructed. “When the baby’s head comes out, I’m going to tell you to stop pushing. The neonatologist needs to take care of the baby to make sure the meconium is cleared from his nose and throat before he breathes, okay?”
“Okay,” I panted.
With a couple more pushes, I felt a pop!
and immense relief and I heard my mom crying. “His head is out!” Mike said, squeezing my hand. “Oh my god, look at him!”
“Don’t push!” Margie called. I saw the neonatologist working quickly.
“The head is the hardest part, right?” I gasped. “The pushing will be easier now?”
“Right,” Margie and Cathy said. “You’re almost there!”
My mom told me later that she was thinking no, the shoulders are the hardest part because they’re the widest part of the baby, but she kept quiet. I disagree with her, though. It felt like it took much more work to get the head out- the rest was easy in comparison.
The neonatologist gave the all-clear and with everyone cheering me on through a few more pushes, my son slid out of me. Mike and I were crying and so were our moms. Margie called for Mike to come quickly and cut the umbilical cord, and then a nurse whisked the baby to the table so the neonatologist could tend to him. I saw him putting tubes in Lion’s nose and I kept asking, “Is he okay? Is he okay?”
“He’s okay!” the neonatologist called to me. “He came out like a lion!”
We heard the baby wail and it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. "Thank you," I breathed. I thanked everyone in the room over and over again. I was riding a wave of euphoria and couldn't stop shaking and crying and laughing.
“Oh my god!” I cried. “I did it!”
The neonatologist called over that Lion’s Apgar scores were 8 and then 10. He cried while the neonatologist was putting the tubes in his nose, but then he lay there, looking curiously around the room. We asked the nurses to delay the eye drops for as long as possible. I could see his face in the bassinet and his eyes were huge and alert.
“Is he okay? Is he okay?” I couldn’t stop asking.
“He’s perfect,” the neonatologist told me, as a nurse finally, finally placed my baby on my chest so I could hold him and nurse him.
“I know you,” I breathed. He grabbed my finger and looked up at me, a sweet, peaceful expression on his face. His eyes looked exactly like Mike's.
It was 3:30 a.m. on September 3, 2008. It was the best day of my life.