Pregnancy with Alejandro:
Pregnancy is nothing like the romanticized versions portrayed in movies and stories. It is real suffering offset with the most gripping joy, with so many other diverse emotions in between!
Taking our first pregnancy test and seeing the two lines that meant “positive” after 2 months of marriage was so exciting, Matt and I were almost afraid to believe it! I insisted to Matt (who was the most joyfully excited father-to-be I have ever seen) that we buy several more tests just to be sure, as I didn’t want to get up my hopes completely until there was no doubt. After we were sure, we invited ourselves over to my parents’ house to cook breakfast and surprise them with the news. Tears and hugs and congratulations ensued. :)
The first few months of pregnancy can be pretty scary. What with constantly worrying if my body could handle the job of caring for this precious new life inside of me, the all-day nausea, and – of course – the emotional ups and downs. I felt very sick and alone when Matt went off to work each day. I was too weak to do much more than stay in bed and marathon-watch Murder She Wrote. I don’t know what it was about that show…I think it was because it wasn’t too intense for my [very] frail emotions at the time, plus the fact that Angela Lansbury reminded me of a comforting grandmother, but I just let it play each day as I lay in bed, too sick to crawl out.
After at least 4 months of so-called “morning” sickness, I started to show and began to feel my baby kick! It went from light tapping, to heavy kicking as he grew. Sometimes I would squint in pain and worry his foot would get stuck in my ribs! But it was also so beautiful and cute to know he was making his presence known to me, so I offered up the unexpected pains (Goodbye pictures of sweet and gentle “belly bumps” – no one told me baby kicks would hurt so much!). It was also a confusing time for me as my body went through so many unknown changes, and I truly don’t know how I would’ve made it without Matt’s loving support and reassurance every step of the way.
We really had no idea what we were in for as parents, but we did know each passing day was special, and we tried to celebrate each moment of my pregnancy. At the end of my second trimester and moving into the third, we attempted to keep our evenings as restful and peaceful as possible while my belly grew and grew and I was stuck with increasing Braxton Hicks contractions. We discovered Downton Abbey and Once Upon a Time – which I made Matt watch with me. :) We were also busy with my work at Church, as I played and sang, directed, and planned at least 5 Masses every weekend. I remember throwing up on the way to the church, as well as making Matt drive to buy me whatever I was craving in between Masses, and not being able to lug my heavy books around (Matt again!).
Alejandro’s due date was June 19. I thought for sure he would be out sooner since all my siblings and I were early for my mom, and because I just felt so huge! Those heavy Braxton Hicks had also fooled me into thinking my pregnant days were going to be over sooner. I went on maternity leave 1 1/2 weeks before my due date – I barely made it singing my last Mass! I started to get very anxious and antsy as each day came and went, and my mom took me out for some walks at the mall when I could no longer trust myself to drive. In spite of all my anxiety and fear regarding giving birth, I was ready.
On June 18 (a Tuesday) just before 6 am, I woke up with cramps. They were different, and I began timing them, but didn’t want to wake Matt up right away. We had stayed up watching a show and had disregarded the advice to go to sleep early during those last days, so I thought maybe we could fit in a little extra rest since I knew labor could take a while! Matt woke up at 6:30 am to find me jotting down my list of contractions. I told him to try and get some more rest, but he refused, asking my why I hadn’t woken him up sooner! He was ready to be right there with me every step of the way. Matt called his boss with the update and she told him to stay home just in case this was it. We got ready and went to labor at my parents’ home for a while, and walked around the neighborhood. When we came back, my mom (who had gone to the store with my sisters and graciously asked what I had a taste for) had made me an awesome veggie sandwich with soft French bread, and my sister Karina, took me up on my brownie craving and made me awesome gluten free brownies. With FROSTING.
Now up until then my contractions had been gentle, but once we came back from our walk (a 20 minute walk that took us an hour because of my constant stopping between contractions!), it got REAL! At around 1 pm I started feeling irritable and my contractions weren’t fun anymore. Laying on my side made them more intense and I couldn’t get comfortable. However, I did manage to work up an appetite and ate some of my sandwich! In between bites I would suddenly go on all fours as Matt massaged my back through the pain.
With my parents there, Matt and I decided on the best course of action since my contractions were 6 and 7 minutes apart, and our drive to the hospital was over an hour long. I decided I was ready to get a hotel room and wait it out there if the hospital didn’t take me, rather than be too far if things kept progressing fast. I then broke down crying in Matt’s arms after a particularly bad contraction. My dad said “Oh-oh, it’s time.” He recognized game time after having witnessed it 4 times with my mom!
3 pm: Our car ride somehow only took 45 minutes thanks to first-time-father syndrome, and I got through a series of contractions throughout our car ride, in the parking lot, and in the waiting room as we waited 2 hours for Triage to open a place for us. That was both agonizing and exciting at the same time! We were so excited to meet Alejandro, but the pain was so intense! Not only that, but I was getting some strange stares from other people in the waiting room as I worked through contractions. You’d think we weren’t in the birthing unit! I thought they’d never let us in! I thanked God once we were admitted to Triage right as I began transitioning into active labor – complete with shakes – and the nurse told me I was at 4 centimeters. Unfortunately, the gluten-free brownies I wolfed down in the car between contractions were NOT a good idea, and at this point I regretted that splurge. Ladies who have not yet gone through childbirth: it is a good idea to keep it light right before one of the biggest marathons of your life!
Matt got scared because he did not expect to see me shaking, and asked out of desperation if I wanted the epidural – which we had really wanted to go without originally – but the nurse and I assured him the shaking was normal and he calmed down. I also became emotional and panicked when I realized this was really happening and Matt continued to physically and emotionally support me through each contraction. My parents arrived at the hospital around this time, and we asked my mom to stay with us during the rest of my labor. This was a great help and I so appreciated her calm, loving presence as I worked through the pain, while she helped bring me cold packs for my forehead and prayed silently.
One of my concerns during labor was that I treat Matt with love and respect; especially since he was so great and literally supported me through each contraction as my body tensed and I could barely stand. He had no idea my labor was going to be such a sweat-inducing workout for him! I did not want to give in to my more primitive womanly instincts of screaming, cursing, or threatening my better half while I was birthing his first child. This was a special time for him as a father, and I didn’t want him to have a negative experience associated with it. At least that was the plan. As transition came closer, I became agitated and asked God to help me, saying “Pray!” to Matt. Poor guy, just as he started praying out loud, I shook my head and said “no, no, no. Pray in your head,” because I had to concentrate and couldn’t stand any distractions while I was in such crazy pain. Exhausted, I finally kept to the bed – which in retrospect, probably did not help me progress faster. The extreme cramps kept radiating from my pelvis into my thighs and back, and seemed to get worse and longer. As Matt was trying to reassure me, I became quiet as my pain intensified, and started whispering “Please….” Matt, frantically wanting to do whatever I needed asked “Please? Please what Sweetheart? What?” ME: “Please…don’t talk.” ;)
I couldn’t stop shaking even after asking my mom and Matt to hold my legs down and it was wearing me out! Since this was such unknown territory to me, I began giving in to the thought that had stayed in the back of my mind – you can always get an epidural. I was at 7.5 cm and had stayed that way for an hour and a half [because I was laying down!], yet the pain was intensifying. I started asking about it, and even asked my mom if she thought God would forgive me if I got one! In my state, I felt guilty for not being able to offer it up for my unborn child, but I couldn’t feel connected with Christ at the moment, not even being able to look at my crucifix because gazing upon Jesus in pain seemed to make mine worse somehow. My mom went through all 4 labors without an epidural but I felt so weak and unable to go further. She was so sweet and said that she wouldn’t judge me for getting one, and of course God would not hold that against me! She held my hand and let me squeeze as hard as I needed on one side, with Matt on the other. I felt like I was losing so much control and my irritability was only getting worse.
Matt and my nurse assured me I could make it without the epidural, but I decided to go for it after having been against it all my life. My contractions were stacking up without much break, and the anesthesiologist came in to administer the drug. Staying still was so hard! I didn’t care how big the needle was, just wanted no more pain. After that, I had a few more big contractions, during which the nurses changed shifts. My new nurse needed to check my progress while I was panicked and tensed with pain, and she locked eyes with me while she explained what needed to be done. For some reason, this gave me courage.
As the epidural took effect, my contractions dissipated, until I only felt the sensation I was so familiar with – Braxton Hicks. Except they weren’t Braxton Hicks. They were real contractions, muted by the epidural. What a relief! My mom and Matt said they were happy I went for the epidural after all because it was so hard seeing me in that much pain. I was then able to hold on to my crucifix and rest with a smile and finally feel joy at soon being able to meet my little son. My OB also checked in at this time. I told Matt to go downstairs and get some coffee and food with the rest of my family and take a small break. He reluctantly left my side, but I was glad he could take a breather. My mom stayed with me ready to hold my hand if I needed her.
Suddenly, there was a new cause for worry. My baby’s heartbeat started to drop. I was told this was a direct side-effect of the epidural, but I became very alarmed as my nurse began shaking my belly saying “come on baby!” and moving the catheter to try to get his heartbeat to speed up. I felt horrible – I couldn’t change my mind about getting the epidural, but I felt like it was my fault! I just wanted my baby to be safe. My mom mentioned calling Matt, but the nurse told her not to worry him. In my state I didn’t know what to do, but I was so glad when my mom quietly left the room and dialed him against the nurses directions anyway. My OB, who was monitoring from outside, came in just as the heartbeat was coming back up. Whew! Matt got there just as things were stable again, scared and concerned. He had barely had a chance to sit down before coming right back!
Thankfully, the scare was over and I was encouraged to rest, and Matt and my mom went to sit down and share some snacks that Matt and I had carefully selected from Trader Joe’s just a few weeks before. During all this time, the rest of my family were downstairs in the waiting room, trying to sleep since it was now 12:30 in the morning.
I watched Matt and my mom try doze a little, but I couldn’t sleep! Plus I wasn’t comfortable enough (hello, huge pregnant belly and constant contractions!), so I just waited patiently for the pushing sensation I had been told I would feel. Unfortunately, this sensation never came, and my water hadn’t even broken. I started to feel like he was coming down whether I was ready or not, but I still didn’t feel like pushing and I was scared to push too early. The nurse couldn’t tell whether it was time or not, and my OB, who had stayed in my room since the heartbeat scare, had left for some coffee. After two and a half hours of fake resting, Matt told me that I should decide if I’m ready to push or not, since he was sure I was probably ready. In fact, we almost argued about it! Finally I told the nurse I felt like the baby was starting to descend, so I was ready to try. It turned out I was involuntarily holding him in and he already had a few tiny cuts on his head because of it.
Birth and beyond:
3 AM: I never realized that pushing was such a momentous and difficult part of labor. My OB had put me on Pitocin to get things going faster, and so I had two drugs working against each other – the epidural and the Pitocin. When I was ready to push, I couldn’t feel the sensation because of the numbing effects of the epidural, but I began feeling the pain of contractions due to the Pitocin. 2 ½ hours of pushing! I was yelling “It hurts!” thinking something was wrong – I wasn’t supposed to be feeling any pain since I had decided to go with the epidural! At least that’s what I understood… but I was wrong. My OB, tough lady that she is, kept telling me not to make any noise, but to save it for pushing. She even mentioned using the vacuum, which got me to try much harder! I did not want my baby’s head vacuumed out of me. Matt later said she mentioned a cesarean at the beginning but he was glad I didn’t hear – pushing was enough stress already!
Finally at 5:28am, almost 24 hours after labor first started, Alejandro was born (on his due date!), weighing 6 lbs. and 7 oz. It was such a relief to feel him come out! Matt and I were so awed by our tiny son, and the love we had as parents of our little child was more intense than either of us could have ever imagined!
Not even a rough hospital stay with me being told (incorrectly) that I didn’t have enough milk supply, to forcing us to consent to Alejandro being given a formula bottle twice during supposed desperate circumstances, to constant worry and crying could take it away. I had a long and painful battle with breastfeeding that lasted 4 months, but I was stubborn and refused to let Alejandro have a bottle. I must say at this point that motherhood is truly humbling, and I do not judge any mother who struggles with nursing her baby. The struggle can be intense and crazy, and I didn’t even think I’d make it. Even my stubbornness wouldn’t have been enough, but God miraculously heard my prayer and I am beyond proud to say I was able to nurse him all through my next pregnancy and am still nursing him now – at almost 2 years old!
Such was my story of my first pregnancy and birth. Every story is so unique, and I am blessed to be able to share mine with you. Being a mother is truly the most important work I have done in my life, and the hardest! I love it so much, and hope God will continue to bless us again and again. :)