It took me four months to share Essley’s birth story, and I remember thinking that was way too long to wait, and that I’d never wait that long if we had another babe. Well here we are, nearly seven months past Emmett’s birth, and I’m just getting around to sharing it. Sitting down and writing out the details of a baby being born is a mental and emotional commitment, and I think you really have to be in the right mind set (and have a few hours to set aside) – and that’s the simple reason for why, in my case, it’s taken a while. I should also inform you, before you even start reading it, that my labor and birth with Emmett was much less intense than with Essley (and I’d also given birth before), so the story will probably be less exciting (and certainly less dramatic). But it is, of course, just as significant to me. As with Essley’s birth story, I want to again state that hundreds of thousands of women give birth everyday, and no matter how emotional I may be in talking about my experience, the reality is that the reason my story is so special to me is that it’s mine. Each one of these women has their own story too – and each one is equally important. Thank you for choosing to take the time to read ours.
My pregnancy with Emmett, like my pregnancy with Essley, was fairly uneventful until the third trimester (unless you count the first trimester’s crippling fatigue and frequent barfing episodes, of course). With Essley I began having serious issues with high blood pressure in the final weeks that ultimately led to me having to be induced a week before my due date. I religiously took my blood pressure when I hit my third trimester with Emmett because I was so worried about repeating that scenario (which quite honestly, thanks to a 30 hour labor, was pretty awful). Fortunately it never rose above normal levels. I did, however, experience another complication, this time with my heart. I noticed a couple of months before my due date that I was having trouble catching my breath even walking up short flights of stairs. Sometimes I would just be leisurely grocery shopping and my heart would start pounding out of nowhere and I’d begin to feel dizzy. Every now and then, I’d even start to faint. I spoke to my OB, and after subsequent visits to both the hospital and a cardiologist, along with multiple series of tests that included EKGs, an echocardiogram, and a 24 hour Holter monitor, I was diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia and PVC and PAC heart arrhythmias. Basically, my heart was both “skipping beats” and speeding up to dangerously high levels. The “best” case scenario was that it was being caused by the pregnancy and would resolve after birth (just like with my blood pressure issues in the previous pregnancy), and the worst was that the pregnancy was just opening the door to an underlying issue I already had. Either way, it could not be ignored. I was prescribed beta blockers by the cardiologist, but after talking about them with my OB (who is an incredible person; I feel ridiculously lucky to have been able to have such a compassionate, knowledgable, pro-mother doctor by my side on both of my pregnancy journeys) and learning more about how they could potentially affect the baby, I declined. Instead I was ordered to walking bedrest, which meant I could still do most daily activities on a small scale, but I couldn’t exert myself – at all. Since by the last few weeks of pregnancy I could barely make it up a few stairs without having to instantly sit (or lie) down, I was okay with taking it easy. I just didn’t want to have to be induced again.
About a week before my due date (January 9th), things started worsening with my heart. I was being woken up multiple times a night by what felt like it beating out of my chest. Even getting up to go to the bathroom would cause me to lose my breath. I’d already been experiencing contractions for a couple of weeks at this point, and I was already dilated. But after a long, emotional discussion with my OB, a decision was made to induce once again. This time the induction would not be early but on my actual due date (if, of course, I didn’t have the baby on my own before then). In truth, this was a bummer, as my induction experience with Essley was difficult, and I was really hoping to avoid it this time. Now let me digress for a minute and state that for the record, I am a firm believer that no one way of giving birth is the right way. Whether a woman has an unassisted home birth that consists of aromatherapy and floral baths and Tibetan singing bowls playing the background or a hospital birth that consists of all the pain killers and intervention one can get, that is her decision and anyone who judges anyone else for how she chooses to birth her baby (as long as it’s safe, obviously) is a jerk. Let’s also not forget that many times (probably most times) no birth plan goes exactly as one hopes (neither of mine have), and a lot of times how a baby makes its way into the world doesn’t even end up being a matter of choice. So while I had hoped for a “natural” birth with Essley, I had to be induced for both her safety and mine, and I was completely at peace with that. The reason I did not like being induced was simply that Pitocin-induced contractions are incredibly intense, and while, again, I needed to birth her immediately because of my blood pressure, my body was not ready to give birth that early – so my labor ended up being excruciatingly long. I didn’t want to repeat that scenario, so the decision to induce again was not made lightly, and I was a little sad about it. I tried to focus on the positive though – I was already in early labor, so even if Emmett didn’t come on his own before then, my body was clearly ready to give birth, even if I ended up needing a “boost” to get it going for the sake of my health.
As the days progressed, my contractions intensified and became more frequent. By the day before my due date, I was almost certain I’d have the baby that night and not need to be induced. I set my alarm for 5 AM (our appointment at the hospital was 6 AM) and crossed my fingers, but when I woke up (or more accurately, got up, since I couldn’t sleep all night) I was not in active labor. I was disappointed and incredibly nervous, but I was also overwhelmed with excitement. Robbie’s parents were in town, and plans had been made for them and my parents to take turns caring for Essley (we were in the hospital for 5 days when I had her, and we had no idea how long this stay would be), so we made our calls, ate a light breakfast, grabbed our hospital bags, and headed out to have our baby. My little sister, who was my unofficial doula during my first birth, also hit the road from Indianapolis to drive up to assist me again.
When we got to the hospital, my heart arrhythmias were out of control. I’m sure a huge part of this was due to my nerves, but it was scary nonetheless. My contractions were consistent but not close enough together to consider it active labor. I was dilated, but not much. So we got settled in and waited to see if things progressed on their own. After a couple of hours, they hadn’t, so we agreed to start on a small dose of Pitocin. Thankfully, because I was already in early labor, we didn’t need to use Cervadil or start with a high dosage of Pitocin this time. On top of that, I’d already gotten used to contractions since I’d been having them for weeks, so when they started to intensify, it didn’t feel like a shock. I walked the halls and bounced on a birthing ball incessantly, which brought some comfort from the pain and also helped speed things along. Unlike my labor with Essley, where I initially did not want an epidural (but did eventually get one), this time I planned to get one once my contractions got to be 2 minutes apart. (Because this time I knew what kind of contractions accompany Pitocin and there was no way in hell I was going through 30 hours of that kind of pain again, thank you very much.)
The day actually went along without much action (I mean, aside from the fact that I was, you know, in labor and stuff). I was feeling okay, so Robbie’s parents brought Essley by in the afternoon, which was so great. I loved getting to see her for a while and get some snuggles in. She thought the hospital bed was the coolest thing ever, and she was thrilled that her baby brother was going to be coming very soon. It was a wonderful distraction for me, and also a nice break to have right before I became completely consumed by labor. My sister and Robbie were life savers again, constantly refilling my water, stealing me broth packets and jello (both of which only taste good when you’re in labor) from the nurses station, massaging me, and being my cheerleaders.
After my water broke (which once again had to be helped along by my OB but, THANK THE UNIVERSE, didn’t explode and hit him in the face like it did last time – true story), things started to progress rapidly. I continued to walk the halls (where the remainder of my water broke all over the hallway right in front of the nurse’s station – good times!) until the pain became so unbearable I could no longer stand. My sister and Robbie took turns rubbing my lower back (we once again used the three-tennis-balls-in-a-sock apparatus and it basically saved my life, man) as I moaned and rocked on the birthing ball. I laughed a lot too (which hurt, but I couldn’t help it), mainly because they kept making fun of me for saying,”when the contractions get to 2 minutes apart, I’ll get the epidural,” over and over again, for hours. (FYI – the contractions never got to 2 minutes apart. And to this day, I get random texts from both of them saying, “Hey, when the contractions get to 2 minutes apart, you should get the epidural.”) The hours passed and eventually the shaking and involuntary crying took over, so I finally requested the anesthesiologist.
It was evening by the time I finally got the epidural. I was exhausted, hungry, and starting to fear I was in for a repeat of the 30 hour labor I had with Essley. We’d expected this to be a much shorter labor with baby being born in the afternoon. I was, after all, already in early labor when I’d gotten to the hospital that morning. It was also my due date so it wasn’t early like last time, and it was my second baby. So I was feeling a little defeated. And while the epidural helped with the pain to a degree, I’d asked for the lowest dosage and could still feel the contractions pretty intensely. I considered asking for a slightly higher dose when I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to poop. Now, my epidural with Essley must have been an incredibly well placed epidural, because I had no idea she was about to come when she did. I felt nothing (which after 30 hours is admittedly the best thing that could happen). But those of you who have given vaginal birth know what it means when you suddenly feel like you have to take a massive poop during active labor. It means you’re about to have a baby.
And just like that, here we were again. Robbie held up one leg and my sister the other. In rushed the team of nurses and my OB, and as I watched them prep the baby area of the room for Emmett’s arrival, my eyes swelled with tears (similar to the one I’m getting as I type this out). Unlike last time, where I was so delirious and physically sick from such a lengthy, strenuous labor that I was terrified to push out my baby, I was absolutely thrilled. Emmett was coming! This time I made sure to focus on every detail. I closely watched in the mirror as the top of his sweet little head, full of thick black hair, became visible. I also paid attention to all of the sensations. While I only pushed for 12 minutes (!), I felt everything. I mean everything. Holy shit does pushing a baby through your vagina hurt when the epidural isn’t effective. (According to Robbie and my sister I vocalized this pain through plenty of profanity.) And then, suddenly, there it was – that beautifully familiar high pitched cry. Our little boy was here.
Emmett Hunter Williams was born at 9:22 PM on January 9th, 2016. He was 8 pounds 10 ounces and 21.5 inches long. Just like his sister, he was swollen and purple and wet and covered in vernix. And just like his sister, he was beautiful and perfect and my dream come true in ways I could never attempt to put into words. Here he was, this tiny human who had lived inside of me for close to 10 months. It was him all along. I didn’t think I could ever possibly love anyone the way I loved Essley, but at this moment, my heart grew. I mean really guys, it did. What a wonderful, cosmic, surreal feeling it was – one that continues to this day. Emmett (which we found out after choosing the name means “complete”) was finally here, and our family was, indeed, complete.
After Emmett and I had a chance to nurse and snuggle and kiss and bond, I devoured two sandwiches, a bag of chips, two cookies, and a candy bar. Then I took a few minutes, before we were moved out of the labor/delivery room into our recovery room, to reflect on what had just happened. While the pain had been even more brutal than with Essley thanks to what was admittedly a pretty crappy epidural, both the labor and delivery were so much shorter that it felt like nothing in comparison. I also, unlike with my first birth, did not vomit or poop on the delivery table (bonus!). But more than anything, I felt very grateful to have been able to feel coherent and alert enough to watch myself giving birth – something I didn’t get to experience the first time around, and something that was intensely powerful.
I could sit here and spend even more hours writing about the days that followed. I could compose an entire post about the moment when Essley got to meet her baby brother for the first time. I could probably write a full novel about when we first brought Emmett home (after only two short nights in the hospital this time) and spent the next week completely blissed out as a family of four. I could also devote several posts to the hard stuff, like how Essley decided that throwing books at her new brother’s head was the best way to react to this transition, or how Robbie had to go back on the road for work when Emmett was two weeks old and I was suddenly taking care of a newborn and toddler on my own, day and night. But instead I’ll end things here and just say that I am grateful, and I am happy. The love I feel for my babes is beyond comprehension. It’s a love that is so far beyond worth the horror of pregnancy complications and the excruciating pain of labor and birth and the hard days/nights when we all end up in tears that it’s almost not even worth mentioning any “bad” parts.
Essley and Emmett, thank you for making me a mother, and for making me your mother. It is the greatest thing I have ever done, and everyday with you is the best day of my life. I love you with all my heart.
Oh, and speaking of hearts, my heartbeat almost immediately went back to normal, my heart issues disappeared, and I haven’t had any problems since. I went back to my cardiologist for a six month postpartum follow-up a couple of weeks ago and my heart, for now, appears to be perfectly fine. Pregnancy is strange.
Wow. That was long. Thank you for reading, friends, and letting me share the story of one of the two best days of my life. If you’ve shared a birthing story, please leave a link in the comments. I’d love to read yours too!