How Hattie Happened

The night Hattie came to us it rained.

I had been tying quilts with my mom and sisters two hours earlier. As Jamie and I finished the basting stitch along the final side of the second quilt, Jamie leaned over and shouted at my very pregnant belly, "Hey, you! You should come out, now! We're all excited to meet you, so come out!"

An hour later, the contractions started. "Ha ha!" Jamie shouted triumphantly. "You can name her Jamie, you know."

"I'll keep that in mind!" I laughed. Maybe it was Jamie's invitation. Maybe it was Megan letting me bounce on her exercise ball. Maybe it was Dr. Bean stripping my membranes that morning. Or, my favorite, maybe it was my little girl deciding that she was finally, at last ready. She wanted to be born in the storm.

Giant desert rainstorm drops hammered the windshield as Bill drove us to the hospital, a blessed seven minutes away. I clung to his hand, and with the white-hot washing pain of each contraction, my other hand instinctively raised above me to grip the back of the headrest, as if my body could make sense of the pain ripping through me if I could rip apart the seat. That's new, I thought during the brief respites where my thoughts were my own.

The contractions were coming fast and hard. Surely it wouldn't be long. Surely this would be fast like it was with Henry. Surely I wouldn't be forced to sit in the dreaded triage room, tied down by straps and monitors while the too slow, too careful and too patient nurses decided whether or not I was truly in labor. This was my fourth time around the block, ladies! Can't you take my word for it?

I imagined wonderful numbers—six? maybe seven!—and the nurse's expression of surprise and the new quickness to her step as she admitted me to the room where my baby and I would meet. I would NOT be in triage long. I willed it to be so.

Besides. It was raining. I could not imagine a more perfect welcoming. It was as though the heavens themselves were tied to my soul, weeping together for the overwhelming glory of it all.

My little miracle would be born into this.

"Do you want me to drop you off at the front and then go park?" Bill offered.

"No," I said. "I want to stay with you. And walking can only help, right?" My voice growled the last as another contraction stole me away.

"Right!" Bill said, swerving into the nearest parking spot and throwing the van into park. He knew how I felt about the triage room.

The contraction ebbed and Bill helped me out of the car. I clung to his arm and threw my eyes skyward, reveling in the movement and soft blues and greys of the roiling clouds. I cast a silent prayer of thanks upward. This rain felt like a gift. This was for me.

Rain has always made me feel calmer. Stronger. More at center with myself. Also - excited. Filled to brimming with happy energy. Honestly, I don't understand how rain can make a person feel sad. I mean, I understand the principle, I just don't relate. Rain makes me feel...connected.

Nearly to the sidewalk, another contraction ripped through me. "Incoming," I whispered. Then, "go, go go!" through gritted teeth. We tried to make a break for the sidewalk, but I should have known better; my body was not my own. "NOPE!" I managed before doubling over, clinging to Bill to steady me as I tried to remember how to breathe. Why is it so hard to remember such a basic instinct while in Labor? We stood there—Well, Bill stood there. I hunched and moan-growled like an Igor—until it passed, and then walked gingerly to the sidewalk.

When I looked up to the hospital's front doors, a nurse with striking long dark hair was standing there with a sympathetic smile...and a wheelchair. I barked a laugh, "You must have seen us just now," I said. "Thank you."

"Yes," she said, "I like to keep an eye out."

I decided I liked this girl. She wheeled me past registration (thank you!) and straight to the elevators. "I am pretty sure I can guess where you're headed!" she laughed, pressing the button for the Labor and Delivery floor. Bill answered her amiable questions on the ride up while I was preoccupied with my contractions. Once we were past the locked double doors that divide L&D from the rest of the hospital, she bid us farewell and wished me luck.

Which is when I realized I had completely forgotten to even ask her name.

Labor and Delivery was less willing to get straight to business. I sat at the nurse's station desk while paperwork happened. I decided I really hate paperwork. Then the reception nurse told Bill that they wouldn't admit me without being properly registered (apparently whatever I did online wasn't legit). I decided I really, really hated registration. The bored nurse told us they'd take me back to triage—no, you can just leave your bag. We'll bring it in to you—while Bill ran back downstairs to legitimize us.

I have pretty strong feelings about parting from my husband WHILE IN LABOR. The contractions are much worse without his voice to help me through them and no Bill hand to crush. Not to mention the fact that I can't concentrate on anything else while my body is so intent on doing its own thing, so Bill is like my eyes and ears at the Hospital. I always prep him with an ominous, "don't let anyone do anything stupid to me or the baby." (In possibly nicer terms.)

So there I was. In the dreaded Triage room. ALONE. I just knew this labor was going fast, and had horrible visions of the nurse checking me in triage only to find that it was already time to push, too late to admit me, we'd have to do it here, and Bill would be downstairs spelling our name letter by letter while the registration lady clacked away on her keyboard, and he would MISS IT.

I glowered at the too-familiar triage bed as the nurse handed me a hospital gown. I'm not going to be here long, I mentally hissed at that bed. So don't expect me to get comfortable.

And, for some reason, my body decided THIS was the time during my whole pregnancy to be accosted with the undeniable urge to urinate every 15 minutes.

Have you ever tried to use the bathroom while contracting?

It's comical.

I finally managed to get into my hospital gown and plopped down onto the Triage bed when the nurse came in and started hooking me up to various monitors. My ears tuned in to the baby's heartbeat, and some of the tension left me. I maintain that this is one of the best, most heavenly sounds a person can hear on this earth. My little girl was there, her little heart happily thump-umping away. Here we go, I thought to her. This part is a little bit tricky, but you'll do great. And I'll be right here the whole time. And afterward, when the big scary world seems to rush at you, I'll be right here then, too. We got this.

Bill returned just before the nurse checked me.

I locked eyes with him, and challenged the universe to defy me with my under-the-breath utterance, "I'd better be at at least a six."

"You're at about a three and a half." said the nurse.

I looked at her in disbelief. "Are you serious?" I said. I flumped back onto the pillow. I was in labor. I knew it. I know what labor feels like, and this most DEFINITELY was it! But they don't even admit you until you're at a 4.

"I can see that your contractions are intense," she said. That made me feel a bit validated. "And they seem to be fairly close. We'll keep you here to monitor you to see if they get closer. I'll be back in twenty minutes to check on you to see if you've progressed at all."

"Okay," I said, because really, what else was there to say? The contractions were intense enough I fully expected to be at a six or a seven. They were close enough together that I thought I'd be meeting my daughter within the next two hours. But I couldn't demand that things move along the way I thought they should be. Once again, I was reminded that when it comes to labor, my body—not me—was in control.

The nurse left and I admitted to Bill, "I don't know if I can do this."

"Of course you can!" he said, grabbing my hand with his and my heart with the intensity and tenderness behind his eyes. "You absolutely can do this, Stepper. You *are* doing it."

I shook my head as another contraction took me. This pain was more intense than any of the other times I'd done this. I was so sure I was at a seven because I remembered what a three felt like, and it wasn't like this. Yet here I was, stuck in Triage for who knows how long—and if I didn't show signs of progressing, then what? Would they send me home?! The thought terrified me—and I was only at a three and a half. Things would be getting a lot worse before they'd get better.

Bill and I worked together to get into the groove. He reminded me how to breathe through the pain. I clutched at his shirt, twisting it in my angry fingers and pushing or pulling at him as he braced me against the onslaught. My other arm pulled at the top of the mattress behind my head as it did with the car seat. Apparently this was the token move for this labor! I'm surprised I didn't rip Bill's shirt or at least pop the buttons, but it—and he—survived.

The nurse came back in to check me—come on, six!—but I was only at a 4.

"Well," she said. "You are progressing. So we'll keep you here. Your contractions are about 2 minutes apart, which is good, but we want to see if they'll get stronger. I'll monitor you from the nurse's station, and I'll check back on you in an hour."

I really, really hate triage.

The contractions did get stronger, and the weird part was that as each one grew stronger and stronger, I became less and less able to stave off the panic. It was like my brain was shoving me out of the way to yell down to all of the systems of my body, "THIS IS NOT NORMAL! WE ARE GOING TO DIE!" I knew it wasn't true, but it didn't stop the overall feeling that things weren't right and I was in trouble and powerless to stop it because I had been abandoned in FREAKING TRIAGE.

I tried to explain the weird yet very real irrational panic to Bill in between contractions, and he said the thing that finally broke through to my brain and saved the day.

"I know it's terrible, but it's just pain, Stepper. Let it wash over you and then let it go."

I remembered reading Princess Bride many years ago. When Wesley is being tortured, he handles his excruciating pain by mentally leaving his body behind to deal with it and traveling in his mind to somewhere pleasant where he can be with Buttercup. Basically, finding his 'happy place'.

I tried to hurry and remember what Janey had told me about meditation before the next contraction hit. Something about being able to teach your mind to be calm even when your body feels stressed...envisioning a place for your mind to go.

My mind raced as another contraction began it's wave.

And then it stopped.

I was standing on a mountainside. The light around me was cool and blue...a soft morning light. It was brisk - enough for a jacket. I was looking out between two hills at a valley far below me. This was my happy place. I'd found it!

I forced myself to stay there, mentally, as the pain pulled at my calm. Forced myself to really look at the valley below me. To feel how high I was. To smell the trees around me. To notice the clouds.

And then, as the contraction peaked and began to ease off, I breathed it away from me.

It was so. cool.

I mentally high-fived Wesley from his place down in the Pits of Despair. Bill looked relieved. We had this.

Before I knew it, it was 9:00pm. My hour in triage was up. The nurse came back in, checked me—finally at a six!—and deemed me worthy of admittance to a delivery room.

Things happened fast after the excruciating 2 hours in Triage. I labored, snapping to and from my newfound happy place. Bill talked me through it. I oscillated between locking my eyes with his and letting his encouraging voice bring me home, and basically telling him to shut up. It is a wonderful thing, friends, that that husband of mine has a sense of humor. When I shushed him rudely, he'd just grin and wait for me to come down from the pain and apologize in horror.

"Stepper!" He'd say. "It's okay! You do what you gotta do!"

I remember being embarrassed by how loud I was being. I was worried I was disturbing the other laboring mothers because the nurses left my door open so they could come in and out, and my contractions were so intense that I had to be vocal about it just to cope. That was new, too. I was having what Hollywood mimicked as labor - screaming, red-faced, sweat dampened hair tossed over my forehead. Occasionally snapping at my husband to shut up, YOU DID THIS TO ME!

It was really, really funny.

And mortifying.

But I remembered and was therefor mentally prepared, at least, for how there could be no shame in the Labor and Delivery room, because all modesty, propriety, and every last ounce of dignity is left at home, thank you very much, we all had a job to do.

Enter Rick, the Anesthesiologist.

My two nurses kept rushing in to give me updates on how close he was to finishing with his patient who was going in to surgery, how he was just getting on the elevator, how he was on his way to my room, did I hear that? That was the sound of Rick's cart coming down the hall!

They could tell I was in a lot of pain, and I really appreciated their sympathy, even as I made a mental note through gritted teeth to laugh later about their play-by-play.

Rick was a show off, but in that delightful way where you know he's not serious, but is kinda serious, but not serious about how awesome he is. He and the nurses bantered about his best time for getting an epidural placed. He worked swiftly and deftly as his disarming manner calmed me. I stuck it hard to my happy place as he worked the needle into my spine, and held absolutely and perfectly still during two contractions while he did his thing. THAT IS HARD TO DO, PEOPLE! Afterward, he told me he wished everyone could hold as still as I did.

I kind of wonder if it was because i was his star pupil, or if the nurses prepped him, or if he heard me as he came down the hall - but Rick gave me the "good stuff."

Apparently, there are two epidural medicines. The most commonly used is good. But then the "Big Daddy" as Rick called it, is a lot stronger dosage. It's meant to work hard and fast, and I began to feel it right away. The only trouble with Big Daddy is that it tends to calm the body so effectively that it can lower your heart rate too much.

He and the nurses told me to tell them if I started to feel light headed or nauseated. But all I felt was happily sleepy. Drugs, you know? Big Daddy was, in fact, the good stuff. I watched as my heart rate dropped further and further until my nurse gave me a dose of something or other to try to pick it back up. It steadied a bit, but it made me nervous for the baby. Bill reassured me every time her heart rate dropped that it was normal, that it would come back up. It was just a contraction. He was right, but I still watched like a hawk.

The clock ticked on toward midnight. Dr. Lamoreaux (who would perform the delivery) and my nurses placed non-bets on whether this would be a 7/10 or a 7/11 baby. My body did it's thing while my brain remained blissfully ignorant of the pain. Modern medicine is so freaking cool.

Then, a little past midnight, I felt something I had not felt before with any of my previous deliveries.

A very new kind of pressure.

And...and this intense desire to push!

"I think it's time," I whispered to Bill. "I think I need to push!"

"Do you want me to go get your nurse?"

"No," I said like an idiot. "She said she's be back in a few minutes. Let's just wait for her."

So I tried to ignore the sensation and the very basal instinct to push, and it was very weird and bizarre and exciting! Why hadn't I felt this, before?

Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I honestly can't remember if I asked Bill to go get the nurse or if she happened to come back right then, but when I saw her, I very pleased with myself announced, 'I feel like I need to push!"

"Okay!" she said, "I'll go get the doctor."

Dr. Lamoreaux came in and situated himself at the base of the bed. My 2 nurses came in and two neonatal nurses for the baby. "We like to have them here when we've seen some heart rate fluctuations on the baby, just in case," Dr. Lamoreaux said. I nodded.

And just like that, with no fanfare, it was time to push. Which, if I must be honest (and really, isn't sharing a birth story all about being overly honest?) is my very favorite part. Actually doing something to help my baby come into the world. The satisfaction of giving it my all.

At some point, the nurses noticed the baby's heart rate dropping a little too low for their liking. They snapped an oxygen mask on me, and Dr. Lamoreaux said, "Okay, it's time to get this baby here."

I redoubled my efforts, Bill excitedly announced that he could see her head. Someone said something about her not being a redhead. Her head, a shoulder, and then that amazing feeling of release as her little perfectly human self gave up the warmth and safety of everything she knew to give this big, scary and overwhelming world a go.

Babies are so brave.

And suddenly, she was on my chest. The familiar weight of her against my heart. That was new, too - I'd never been allowed to hold my baby *right* after birth, before. It was amazing. I held her to me with my hands and my eyes devoured every inch of her, reveling in her tiny perfectness as the nurses toweled her off, suctioned out her mouth, talked to her, to me, to each other.

And then she cried.

Oh, glory, the sound of a newborn's first cry!

And, I have to say. I know every mother probably thinks this, and maybe all the doctors and nurses are trained to agree. But everyone in that room was adamant that mine was a very, very beautiful baby.

7 pounds 10 ounces, 18 and three quarters inches, and finally, finally ours.

Doc. Lamoreaux stitched me up, gave me an ultrasound to check my uterus after a suspiciously torn placenta, basically made sure everything was right as rain with the three of us before wishing us his best and humbly ducking out into the night, the way all superheroes do.

(Actually, he was off to deliver another baby a few doors down. No rest for the weary!)

"So." Bill and I looked at each other after things had calmed down and we had a moment to ourselves. "Which name should we give her?"

But that, friends, is another story.


Emily said...

This made me teary eyed. I love birth stories like this. Almost makes me want to birth another baby. Almost...

P.S. I adore her name.

Kristen said...

Augh, I love reading birth stories!! My sister waited in triage (in Virgina, so maybe they aren't as used to babies??) until she was literally ready to push and they had to hurry her to a room. No time for an epidural. Can't even imagine.

I felt the "urge to push" only on my last baby as well... kind of a cool feeling!

So glad that sweet Hattie is here with us. Still can't wait to meet her!

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