A Letter To My Daughter On Her First Birthday
When a baby is born, people say, “Congratulations!” and “She’s precious!” Sometimes they ask how mom and baby are doing.
They rarely ask about the birth.
Childbirth is insane. It’s a torturous marathon. Of course it’s beautiful and magical to bring a child into this world, but I wish more people talked about what women go through to make it happen.
I experienced two very different births with you and your brother. With George, I was adamant about having a natural birth without medication. No epidural.
Contractions started the day after his due date and I labored at home from midnight until 8am. The first two hours weren’t bad. It felt good to stand in the shower with hot water on my back. The next six hours got progressively worse. Contractions came every 90 seconds, each one more painful than the last. When a contraction ended, I panted and cried and braced myself for the next one. At one point, I stood at the kitchen island and put my arms around Sam's neck and sobbed. I knew this was going to keep happening every 90 seconds for the foreseeable future, and I didn’t know how I was going to do it.
I thought I would be more comfortable at home than at the hospital. I was not.
There is no comfortable position when you’re in labor. The pain strikes from inside your body. All I wanted was to get away from myself. There was no escape.
I pushed through 14.5 hours of labor and when George finally came out, all I could think about was how horrible the experience was and how I was so relieved it was over. Your Papa cried tears of joy as he looked into George's eyes. I cried in disbelief about what I had just been through.
Then came you.
As we neared your due date, I learned my amniotic fluid was low. It was nothing to be alarmed by, the nurses told me, but they wanted me to drink a lot of water until my next appointment.
My next appointment came five days later. I was so hydrated my pee was clear. Unfortunately, my amniotic fluid was still low.
I made a joke as I was leaving for my appointment that I wouldn’t be coming home. I grabbed my hospital bag — just in case. I laughed as I said bye to Papa.
But then I sat in the nurse’s office and she told me I had to go to the hospital. You were coming three weeks early.
I was induced that night. With both labors, contractions slowly ramped up from shooting cramps to stabbing knives. When they start you’re like, Oh wow, this is a contraction, this isn’t too bad. Maybe I don’t need the epidural, after all.
And then it gets bad.
A man walked into the room to administer the epidural. I suppose he’s pretty busy, moving from one room to the next, sticking needles in womens’ backs. He was there to do a job. He wasn’t there to make me feel safe.
I was instructed to sit on the edge of the bed, curl my body forward, and hold onto Sam's arms, which I did, tightly. The anesthesiologist told me there was going to be a prick. What he didn’t tell me was that it wasn’t a one and done kind of thing that you would expect from a needle. It was ongoing. The first stab of pain felt exactly like when you hit your funny bone. Except instead of my elbow, the zinger was in my back and it kept happening over and over, 5-10 times. Amidst contractions.
I’m sure there are wonderful, compassionate anesthesiologist’s who talk moms through the process. This was not one of them.
Immediately when it was over, a kind nurse helped me lie on my back. The nurses are the stars of childbirth. They’re with you from beginning to end. The doctor only checks in a few times if you’re lucky, and comes in at the very end when it’s go time.
Pretty quickly I lost feeling in my legs. Even though I knew the epidural was meant to numb the pain I wasn’t prepared to feel paralyzed from the waist down. I started to panic as I squeezed Papa’s hand.
But then, the nurse informed me I was having a big contraction and it was hard to believe her. I felt nothing.
The epidural allowed my body to relax. I didn’t like feeling numb all over, but I sure as hell liked not enduring agonizing pain.
At this point my nurse encouraged me and Papa to sleep. She pulled out a peanut-shaped ball to put in between my legs and rolled me to my side. I was dead weight. It was awkward to have a stranger move my body into a side-lying position. And again, it freaked me out to not have control over my body.
But once I was finally in position and the nurse turned off the light, I realized how exhausted I was. I exhaled relief as I sank my face into the pillow. Sweet sleep was coming.
The nurse woke me up to turn me every 15 minutes. The first time she turned me, I woke up Sam with my groans. A wave of nausea hit me and I told the nurse I thought I was going to throw up. She grabbed a bag and put it next to my head. Then my teeth started chattering. I was freezing.
The nurse told me it was normal to feel nauseous and it was normal to feel cold. I had anticipated neither.
I didn’t throw up. I’ve never been able to throw up easily, even when it would probably be better if I did. I lie there thinking how everyone talks about how great the epidural is and no one ever talks about how fucking horrible it is at the same time.
The nausea passed. My nurse put a warm comforter over top of me. My body finally settled and I woke up drooling on the pillow. It was time to flip to the other side. Time for another round of nausea and shivering.
I think I slept for an hour or two, total. The doctor came in to break my water. When he did, I don’t remember feeling much of anything, but I quickly started to feel contractions again. I was back to moaning and gripping the sides of the bed every time I got hit with a wave of pain.
My understanding was that once I got the epidural, I wouldn’t feel any more contractions, but here I was, screaming in pain.
Later, after you were born, Sam informed me that my yells and groans after the epidural paled in comparison to the way I sounded with your brother. That is to say, even if the epidural was wearing off, it still helped.
The nurse told me we were getting close, and I should try a “practice push,” which turns out to be the same exact thing as a real push. When I feel a contraction coming, I push as hard as I can.
With both labors I felt the most relief while pushing. It was a brief moment where I used all my strength and barely breathed. The relief existed there for a few seconds until I had to take a breath. Then the pain rushed back in and felt like it multiplied by 10.
I did a “practice push” and my nurse had this look on her face like, Oh shoot this is happening. She tried to play it cool and quickly texted the doctor. It was time.
The doctor came into the room and ever so slowly put on his gloves and readied himself. The nurses essentially told me to wait but that’s not how it works. When you feel a contraction coming and it’s about to be at its worst pain, you push. So I did. The doctor was there, gloves on, and Layla, you came right out.
With George it seemed to last forever, but because you were my second, you slid out of there after only a few pushes.
When you came out the first thing I saw was the top of your head, covered in dark hair. Then I heard your cry and I started crying. My sweet baby girl.
I had gotten rest, I had endured less pain, and the actual labor was much shorter than it was with your brother. I was able to smile and feel overcome with love as the doctor placed you on my chest. I was able to look at Papa and cry tears of joy together this time.
Layla, today marks one year since you entered this world, since I gave birth to you. Whether you give birth to a child someday or not, I wanted you to know about my experiences. It’s impossible to describe the love I feel for you and your brother. And it’s crazy how since you were born, that love somehow continues to grow more and more each day.
Just because I would go through all of it all over again to have you both in my arms doesn’t mean I’m not also going to talk about how childbirth was the most painful experiences of my life.
Whenever someone I know has just had a baby, I say “Congratulations!” and “She’s precious!” Then I ask how the birth went. Most times I get a glossed-over response that everything went well and the parents are so in love with the baby and blah blah blah. It’s not until I ask, “Can you tell me the birth story?” that I get to hear all the thriller movie details.
Then I sit, rapt with attention, as I’m told the wildest, scariest, most beautiful story I will ever hear.
Because that’s what all birth stories are.
I love you, my sweet baby girl. Happy birthday.