If my first four decades on this spinning rock have taught me anything, it is that my life rarely goes according to plan. From calamitous road trips to disastrous air travel fiascoes, we’ve long since established that the hard-earned lessons learned on life’s detours are just as important as our intended destinations. After all, that’s what Doing Life is about.
What I find equally fascinating is how quickly our brains can retain the lessons while diminishing the memory of the growing pains that came with them. So on the heels of a nearly two-year master class in expectation management that was the in vitro process to conceive, transfer and successfully implant a viable embryo, Claire and I did our best to recognize that the double pink lines on the home-pregnancy test (and the positive blood test a day later) didn’t mean we were home free. We knew our journey was just beginning.
In the weeks and months between the January 13 implantation of our little baby-sickle and her September 30 due date, we did just about everything one can imagine to prepare ourselves mentally, emotionally, and (Claire) physically for a smooth and natural childbirth. We read books on fetal development, took virtual and in person prenatal classes, and downloaded countless apps to track growth, contractions, barometric pressure, astral projections, you name it.
But no amount of preparation could keep our anxiety levels from spiking every time we rolled into the Women’s Health Associates clinic at St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma for our regular checkups. With every ultrasound, my heart hung in the balance as my eyes frantically scanned the oddly shaped figure on the screen – my mind triggering flashbacks from almost 20-year-old trauma like it was the day before. The seconds felt like hours until the rhythmic drone of a tiny heartbeat came crackling through the speakers and I was finally able to exhale.
And that was pretty much what life looked like throughout the first and second trimester as we tracked our baby’s growth between appointments. Do our homework. Maintain cautious optimism. Avoid panic attacks. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. In the beginning, it felt like we were witnessing a microcosm of evolution as we watched our little amoeba transform to a tadpole, to some hammer headed seahorse-ish thing. At some point she started to look vaguely humanoid, and seeing her development and gradually exaggerating movements track with a healthy pregnancy managed to calm us down considerably.
When the 34 week ultrasound estimated her weight at 7 lbs. 9 oz. – putting her on pace to weigh close to 11 pounds at full term – the medical professionals shrugged it off as the wild inconsistencies of late-term imaging, assuring us she would clock in between 9-10 pounds. It didn’t seem to jive with everything I was reading, but that’s why they get paid the big bucks, right? We were in the home stretch now, and our excitement began to build.
As the summer rapidly came to a close, Claire was doing just about everything she could to jumpstart our little one’s arrival. From prenatal yoga and walking at least a mile every day to encourage the baby to engage the pelvis, to ingesting copious amounts of pineapple, dates, and raspberry leaf tea to aid the dilation and effacing of her cervix. By 38 weeks, we were 3 cm dilated and 80% effaced – yeah, “we,” like I had anything to do with it – and the consensus between our midwife, doula, neighbor, mailman and veterinarian (not kidding) was that this kiddo was going to fall out well before the end of the month. But, alas, October came, and still no baby. Perfectly normal for a first pregnancy, so the waiting game was on.
To stave off our impatience, we took to spelling out her name, Ila Marie, in 1+ mile strolls per letter each day throughout the town of Sumner. The assumption was we wouldn’t make it much past her first name, pronounced “i”-la, for our favorite nonagenarian storyteller, Betty Ila Salvini, better-known on this blog as Grandma Betty. A week later we were starting on her last name, and the anticipation (and Claire’s ankle swelling) was almost too much to bear. We banged out Salvini in two days, and Claire downed a castor oil smoothie in hopes to avoid the need for a medical induction, but no such luck.
Now, my discomfort with all things baby delivery have been well noted on this blog, and to basically anyone who would listen, but I’d made a deal with Claire about halfway through the pregnancy to stop saying that my goal was to stay conscious during the birth. In truth, all the classes, readings, videos, and googling had me a lot more confident than I ever would’ve imagined. When Claire, her mother, Diane, and I checked in to St. Joseph’s Medical Center at 11 PM on Saturday, October 10, we were all under the impression that this delivery was going to be a breeze. To quote our midwife, Claire was just going to need a “whiff of Pitocin” to jumpstart her body’s natural processes, and we would get to meet our little girl in no time. We had our birth plan all printed out and everything.
Well, as Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. ” The ensuing 36 hours were an absolute gut punch as our precious birth plan was incrementally stripped to plans B, C, Q, and Devcon 3. The “whiff” of Pitocin began at 1 AM on Sunday, and was systematically upped to the maximum allowable dose over the next twelve hours with a short intermission to break Claire’s water. Those interventions, plus thousands of steps, squats, and position changes increased the rate and intensity of her contractions dramatically but had little effect on her dilation or effacement. Claire’s uterus was responding erratically, and her pain was through the roof, and there I sat, powerless to mitigate any of it.
I had hit an emotional wall. The person I love most was about to make a leap, and I had no way of catching her. For some reason, it felt like the first of what will become a series of these situations that will echo throughout the rest of my life. The tears began to fall, and I started to hear the lyrics the Tim McGraw classic, “Don’t Take the Girl” in my head. It was in that chaotic moment that a chunk of wisdom I had read a few days before came drifting through the music like a piece of driftwood to a man drowning in the ocean… “The pain is not in the surrender and acceptance. It’s in the resistance.”
There was only one way she and I were going to get out of this mess with our little girl in tow. It was the first step in a journey quite a bit of self-discovery, but an even larger spiritual awakening to the beauty, poise, and strength of my life partner, and her willingness to go to any and all lengths to bring our baby into the world, and handle it all in a calm and composed fashion. There was no screaming, cursing or violence during contractions, just an almost Zen -like turn inward, where she would hold up one finger in the air to whatever question we were asking until the pain subsided.
Eventually, the midwife and the attending obstetrician came into make the case for a C-section, something that was always on the birth plan, but never really on our radar given how things had been shaking out. Again, Claire didn’t waiver with indecision like I know I would have. It was time to have the baby.
With that, everything changed. Claire was given an epidural and I was sent home for a brief pressure release and catnap before returning to join her and her mom in the operating room to meet my 12 lbs. 4 oz. baby girl, and suddenly everything made a lot more sense. In the video of the delivery, you can hear the OBs voice say with a chuckle, “Oh my. I think we made the right choice, people! This is a sizable baby.”
Four months later, and my memory of the experience has naturally been dulled, but the sheer awe I have for my wife and my little girl will be etched in my heart forever. It just figures that my kid would make a dramatic entrance to the world. The jokes on her, though, because she’s stuck with these two crazies for life. Buckle up, kiddo, we’re in for a wild ride.