A Birth Story, One of 107,602,707,791 (Part 1)
A couple of months before I gave birth to my daughter, I charted out a meticulous birth plan. It included things like how I wanted the lighting in the room, how I’d like to delay her first bath in order to take full advantage of “golden hour,” my wishes to avoid an episiotomy at pretty much all costs and how a c-section should only be performed if my health or the health of my daughter was in jeopardy. I laugh thinking about it now.
Here’s a tip for first-time expectant mothers: write your birth plan on toilet paper, and throw it in the commode.
I was 38 years old when I conceived, and a month shy of 39 when I gave birth. My “advanced maternal age” meant lots of extra genetic testing, tons of fetal monitoring and, toward the end of my pregnancy, weekly sonograms. One day shy of my predicted due date, I went in for the last of these weekly ultrasounds. I was nervous and excited to finally be finished with 9+ long hard months of being pregnant. At this final scan they were going to give me an estimate on how much she weighed. Although fetal weight estimates are notoriously inaccurate, this estimate would give me and my physician a ballpark figure as to how much baby I would be expected to push out of my person.
The last time they guestimated my unborn child’s weight, she was said to be 6 pounds and two ounces. That was at 38 weeks gestation. As the technician lubed up her wand, she told me we should be looking at, roughly, a seven pounder. Good and average, I thought, not too small, not too big. Just right. Like a perfect porridge.
The technician squirted warm jelly onto my belly and began running the wand along my navel, my sides, up and down and all around. Within a minute or two, the once perky tech grew very quiet. She furrowed her brow. She clicked her tongue. I searched her face for answers.
“I don’t understand this,” she said. “She’s only measuring 6 pounds. This can’t be right.”
She continued pressing the wand over my bulging stomach. Clicking here and there on her keyboard, her expression was one of pure puzzlement.
“Stay right here, I’m going to go check with the doctor. I might be mis-measuring.”
I lay still on the table, my torso covered in goo, trying hard to breathe. What seemed like a full calendar year later, a physician appeared along with the sonogram tech. Together they studied at the screen.
“No, you measured right. Six pounds,” he said as he squinted at monitor. I looked up at it too to see my daughter wriggling around my insides.
Silently they cleaned me up and asked me to sit in the waiting room. I’d need to speak to the high-risk doctor on call, they said. I tapped my foot, looked out the window at midtown Manhattan and felt six pounds of fetus fluttering beneath my flesh.
Moments later I was pulled into the hallway.
“We should think about inducing you today,” said the high-risk OB. “The baby isn’t gaining weight. In fact, she’s lost weight. We need to get her out of there.”
This news came to me the day before my due date. But because of my maternal age, an induction was already scheduled for four days later. I knew that Dr. Kanos, the OB that I absolutely adored for his calming presence and pedigree, was away that evening. I really, really, really wanted *my* OB to deliver our baby.
“Do you think I can just wait until Tuesday?,” I asked the high-risk doctor. “We have an induction scheduled four days from now anyway.”
“Let’s check with your doctor.”
I called Dr. Kanos’ office and explained the situation to Madonna, the receptionist. She said she’d call Dr. Kanos and have him call me back. I relayed this information to the high-risk doctor in the hallway.
“Here, let me call him.”
He pulled out his cell phone and made a direct call to my obstetrician’s cell phone.
Together they agreed I could wait until Tuesday. I breathed out fully for the first time since I’d laid down for the ultrasound, and hoped like hell my contractions would begin before then. I didn’t want to be induced. That wasn’t in my birth plan.
I went back to work. My baby was kicking with plenty of force, so I knew she was fine. Small, but fine. I tried not to worry. Then my phone rang.
“Brittney, it’s Dr. Kanos. Sorry, I’m at the gym. If you hear blenders in the background, that’s why. So, what’s going on?”
He knew what was going on, but he wanted to hear it from me. Then he said the unexpected.
“I think you should do it today.”
“If you are going to worry yourself sick all weekend, you should do it today. Are you going to worry yourself sick?”
“That’s what I thought.”
“But you aren’t going to be there!”
“Look, I’m good, but I’m not that good. You need to do what is best for your baby. Dr. Paka is on call. She’s very good. She will take good care of you.”
“Erggghhhhhh. Uhhhh, oh man. Let me call my husband and talk to him about it.”
“Are you going to go today or not? Because I need to call the hospital and make arrangements for you.”
“Okay. Okay! I’ll do it today. Tonight. I’ll give birth tonight.”
“Well, more likely tomorrow, but yes. They will induce you tonight. Go home, eat a big meal, get your things together and go to the hospital.”
“Oh my God.”
“Everything is going to be fine. I’m sorry I won’t be there. But everything will be fine. Go eat.”
I hung up and walked out onto 47th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, into the car honking and exhaust fumes, my heart beating like a hammer. I was going to go have a baby that night.
It’s a weird thing to know your whole life is going to change in the matter of a few hours. I mean, I knew that my whole life was going to change for 9 long months, but being induced is like walking into fire, eyes wide open. You are going to experience something scary and shattering and wildly painful and you know exactly what time the show begins.
That’s not at all how I thought things would go. In my mind’s eye, I saw contractions coming on, rousing me from sleep. I imaged pacing around my apartment as I waited for the contractions to grow close enough together to get into a cab headed for Labor and Delivery. I imagined calming breathing techniques as the taxi sped over the Queensboro Bridge, a driver desperately changing lanes in efforts to not birth a baby in his car.
None of that would happen.
I called my husband at work, all the way out in Brooklyn.
“We’re going to have a baby tonight,” I told him.
(to be continued)