After three and a half long, stressful weeks of waiting, doing everything to stay pregnant, our third baby’s birthday had finally arrived. We had said goodbye to Delaney and Owen the night before, leaving them to sleep at my mom’s. We had to be at the hospital at 5 a.m., so no way were we dragging them out of bed for an early morning drop off.
I tried to pay special attention to every detail of those hours leading to her birth. I had so much anxiety brewing after Owen’s birth – we were truly traumatized by that experience and desperately needed a happier ending this time. I hoped this baby’s birth story would be both joyful and healing.
My last meal was red velvet cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. It was divine. I couldn’t finish it all because there was a person squashing my stomach, but the bit I could get down was smooth and yummy. Ryan watched Monday Night RAW (sorry to out you, Tack) as I passed the remaining stack of sweetness his way to finish off. I sat there overwhelmed with all I still needed to do. I still hadn’t even packed my hospital bag. Still riddled with anxiety about going back into the operating room, I just procrastinated like I’d never done before. For weeks, friends and family had been on me about that. Pack your bag for God’s sake. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t bring myself to actually do it. Even knowing that we would be leaving for the hospital in the next six hours wasn’t enough to push me. I took a shower instead.
With scheduled cesareans, you have to wash your whole body twice with this special surgical soap leading up to your admission. There were specific instructions about how much and how long you had to wash your skin, head-to-toe, with the chemically smelling suds. I paid special attention to to my pregnant body, feeling my swollen belly and the sweet life kicking me from the inside. In a few hours, this sweet baby would be earthside and I would never feel this feeling again for the rest of my life. Such a bittersweet moment – so ready to meet this little person and so relieved to be at the finish line, but still mourning the feeling of never experiencing pregnancy and birth again. I’m a firm believer in never say never, but let me assure you, in this case, we can only say never 😉
By the time I went to bed, bag still not packed, it was just after midnight. I set my alarm for 4 a.m., but knew I wouldn’t make it there. Up and down all night, half the time because I couldn’t hold my bladder, the other half, waking to horrific flashbacks of our last time in the OR. Anxiety filled my chest – so panicked that something would go wrong again. That even if everything went well, the trauma from Owen’s birth would cloud this experience and cast a shadow over this baby’s birth too. I finally got up around 3:30 a.m. when I couldn’t take it anymore. I went through the stack of clothes I could still fit into and started tossing them in an overnight bag. I showered again with more of the surgical soap, put on some makeup and started loading the car. Ryan was on a smoothie kick, and still half asleep, was taking his sweet time making his breakfast concoction. Annoyed that he was making us late – and grumpy that I couldn’t eat or drink, we bickered a bit as we got into the car and started our drive to the medical center. Thankfully, there aren’t many people on the road at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday.
We made it there in about twenty minutes. He dropped me at the door and I went up to check in while he parked the car. The hospital was eerily quiet – I don’t often spend time there at that time of day, so the silence and empty halls seemed out of place. Or rather, I seemed out of place. I took the elevator to the sixth floor, approached the waiting room and signed in. My name was called before I could sit down (good thing – it took a bit of effort to get back up at that point in my pregnancy) and I made my way to the desk.
“Busy night at the inn?” I asked. The unit clerk shot me a grin and said, “Actually, no. Knock on wood. You won’t even have to wait on a room.” Most people would have been thrilled. I was devastated. I thought I’d have more time to sit in the waiting room with my husband to collect my thoughts. Muster up the strength to walk through those sliding glass doors and not well up. Calm myself enough to relish in the happiness that awaited us. For whatever reason, fate had different plans for that morning. Sometimes you just have to rip it off like a bandaid.
All checked in, the clerk led me back into the Labor and Delivery unit to the pre-op area where we would spend the next few hours. She asked me to change into a gown and wait for my nurse to arrive. Once she closed the curtain, I sat on the bed and could feel my chest stiffen. This was the same bay I was in for Owen’s birth. This is the very spot I laid for hours, weak from blood loss, shaking from the anesthesia, not knowing how Owen was, listening to those in adjacent bays experience their first moments of motherhood. I thought to myself, I should just ask to be moved. They absolutely could and would have moved me.
Then I thought, no, I can do this. I am strong enough. For the first time since seeing those two pink lines pop up on that pregnancy test, I felt like everything was going to be okay.
Ryan popped his head through the curtain and sat down while we waited for our nurse and doula to arrive. The nurse got there first, greeting us with a warm smile and a Happy Birthday wish for the baby in my belly. She breezed through the pre-op blood work and paperwork – our doula arrived during the intake questions. We were hopeful she would be allowed to join us in the OR, but knew it wasn’t likely, as it was against hospital policy. She brought copies of our birth preferences and made sure to get a copy to our nurse. I had a knot in the pit of my stomach as she handed her the white piece of paper, expecting her eyebrows to ruffle and her face to sneer at our list of hopes for our birth. Quite the opposite happened, in fact. She nodded her head as she scanned the list of requests, placed her hand on top of mine and said, “I’m very sorry to see you’ve had a recent traumatic birth. I’m going to do everything I can to help make this a healing experience for you. The things you’ve requested seem more than reasonable and we can absolutely accommodate most of them. Now, there are some that we’ll need special permission for, but I’m happy to share your wishes with those who will be making those decisions.” My eyes welled up because I honestly wasn’t expecting this kind of response. I thought to myself, Oh hey, Fate. Thanks for hooking us up this time.
My doctor arrived a couple of hours later as we were wrapping up the pre-op process. We talked a bit about how anxious I was about the OR, that I felt like I might start falling apart at that point. She assured me that I’d do great – and just in case, she’d put in an order for IV anxiety medication to help keep me calm through the surgery. Oh, thank you, Jesus.
My OB and I had previously discussed how some of our requests would require special permission from the anesthesiologist – specifically my request to not be restrained during the surgery and for our doula to be present in the room. The anesthesia resident came in shortly after to go through the consent process. She agreed to pass my request onto the powers that be and that she would be back with some answers for us shortly. In the meantime, it was time for Ryan to get suited up. Poor guy was so nervous he put his OR boots on backwards. How is that even possible?
About thirty minutes later, they came in with a second suit. I couldn’t believe it. And then, they said the head of anesthesia gave them permission to not restrain my arms. I was going to be able to hold my baby in the OR! I never in a million years thought they would accommodate ALL of our requests! The adrenaline kicked in at that point and it really clicked that this time was going to be different – it was going to be fantastic. Beam me up, Scottie – it’s time to have a baby.
They wheeled me down the windy hallways to the operating room for my spinal. My doctor was already in there waiting with a smile. “You heard the good news?” she asked. I teared up and nodded. I mouthed thank you to her. She came around the table and held my hands while they began to numb my back. We made small talk about Delaney and Owen’s first day of school and the weather. With a tear in her eye, she told me she’d sent her youngest off to college that morning. I squeezed her hands and took a deep breath as the pressure of the needle pressed into my back. “Thank you. For everything,” I said. “And I think it’s no coincidence that on the day you said goodbye to your youngest, you’re helping me say hello to mine.” She smiled and bowed her head, then looked up and said, “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything. Today is a very special day for the both of us.” It was going to be the happy ending we both needed.
This time was going to be different.
Laid out on the table, the blue curtain rose up across my chest. Ryan and our doula, Elaine, walked into the room and joined me on the left. Elaine had our camera and began taking pictures. Ryan grabbed my hand and we both held on for dear life. It was like being strapped in on the climb of a roller coaster, anticipating that terrifying drop. Fear. Adrenaline. Excitement. But we never dropped. It just kept building.
Those words had haunted me for the last two years. Those words paired with silence. This time, they were followed with a healthy, newborn cry.
“10:20 a.m.,” someone shouted. Happy tears.
“Ryan, do you want to come back here and see?” my doctor asked. “Would you like to tell Kim if you two have a new son or daughter?”
“Oh. No. No, I’m good. I don’t think I can – you can just tell us,” he stammered.
“Your baby looks perfect. Just cutting the cord now…alright guys, it’s a girl!”
In unison we both shouted, “NO WAY!!!”
I can’t explain the shock and overwhelming joy that shot through my body at that moment. Only those who have waited to find out the gender of their baby can understand the level of surprise it brings – and the excitement, oh the excitement! Such. A. Rush. It’s silly because it’s not like they’re going to shout, “It’s a baby goat,” – either boy or girl – 50/50 shot. But it still surprised the hell out of us in the best way possible.
They lowered the curtain enough to hold her up for us to see. With giant smiles and happy tears, we laid eyes on our youngest daughter for the first time.
I reached up and touched her with my right hand. She was absolutely perfect. Healthy and perfect. And big! Much bigger than we expected – about double the size we expected actually! They took her back behind the curtain while the pediatricians did their assessments.
“Does this little lady have a name?” the pediatrician asked.
“Cora,” I said. “Cora Elizabeth.”
“Oh, it’s beautiful. She’s beautiful.”
They unwrapped her and unsnapped my hospital gown – placed her on my chest and draped blankets over the two of us. I laid my hands across her back and closed my eyes. I breathed in her new baby smell and kissed the top of her head. Tears slipped out of my closed eyelids. My doula later said that she usually has one specific moment that sticks out to her from each birth – a moment she’ll never forget.
She said, “I’ll never forget the feeling of watching you get to hold your daughter for the first time. After having two episodes where your baby was rushed away, there was so much healing in you just holding her, breathing her in. There was so much pain in your heart, but in that moment, it was all gone. There was only joy. It was like she healed you right before my eyes.”
She really did, guys. Cora is the happy ending we needed.
They wheeled us out of the OR and back into the same bay we’d just left. The same recovery bay from Owen’s birth. Alright, Fate. You got this right. Everything came full circle. So much healing. So much joy.