My Dearest Maximus,
August 3rd, 2020 was a pretty normal day. Granted I was 38 weeks pregnant, it was the dead of summer and five months into a global pandemic, I was up over 30 pounds, and you liked to kick me a lot — so take “normal” with a grain of salt here.
I should preface this story by reminding you that eight months into this pregnancy, Microsoft decided to shut down the project I worked on. Nothing like the entire world shutting down for COVID-19, let’s also throw losing Mommy’s job into the mix! Luckily I still had a little hustle left in me, and used my eighth month of pregnancy (somehow) to land myself a new job. One upside of the pandemic is that no one can tell how enormous your stomach is over a Teams call! After a fraught couple of weeks networking and doing an incredible amount of call-in interviews amidst a heat wave, I managed to find another role at Microsoft and narrowly avoided getting laid off.
My “start date” was two weeks before I was supposed to go on leave. The first week, I called in to some meetings, virtually met my new team, changed my email signature, etc. But it really didn’t make sense to start actually working on a new team when I was so close to possibly going into labor, so I took an extra week to just relax, get a few final personal projects done, and wait for your arrival.
But here’s the thing. Even before you were born, you were already a force to be reckoned with. You decided Mommy didn’t need relaxation time, or to finish her projects.
Let me back up a little bit. My birth story really begins when you wouldn’t flip over. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, kid, but eventually you were supposed to get your head pointing down. Like, in my pelvis. So I could push you out.
This is not what you did. You loved the position you were already in, and decided to stay there… indefinitely. We discovered this at my 36 week ultrasound (the same week I started my new job), which is also where we learned the term for this is called “breech”. You had your little legs up by your head, a position which was even more specifically called “frank breech”. The doctors thought you still might sort this out on your own (though you’re my child, so I had my doubts). For the next week or two, I did whatever things I could to try to help you along. I went on walks. I sat on a yoga ball during my virtual writing group and while Daddy and I played Minecraft Dungeons. We even drove up to Grandma and Grandpa Homes’ house so I could try swimming in their lake. This was awesome, by the way — I’m so glad I got a chance to try out swimming while pregnant and I think you liked it too — but no dice.
At 37 weeks and 2 days, we went to the hospital to try out a procedure called a “version” to see if the doctors could flip you around manually. This was pretty scary, I’ll be honest. I laid on the hospital bed and grit my teeth while Daddy watched, wide-eyed as two doctors manhandled you through my tummy. Daddy said my stomach looked like a “balloon animal” and had no idea it could be manipulated so much. We monitored your heart-rate to make sure you were alright, and you handled the whole thing like a champ — except for the part where you weren’t even remotely interested in moving around. We tried three solid times, and you made it very clear to us that you were content as you were. “No thanks, Mommy. I’m good here.”
So kiddo, we let you be. You wanted to be a breech baby, and we loved you anyway. This meant I had to let go of any birth plans I had for you, in favor of a scheduled c-section. You gave us no choice. I was very scared, but I knew it was what was best for you.
Plus we didn’t really have any other options.
As I mentioned, during the week of the “version” I had already gone on maternity leave. I spent a lot of time watching Jane the Virgin (if you grow to like telenovelas then we know why), making my final week of pre-baby meal plans, and trying desperately to manage my c-section anxiety. It wasn’t easy. I’d never had surgery before (aside from getting my wisdom teeth out), and I didn’t much appreciate the constant mental images I was trying to keep at bay of being cut open, and being awake/aware during the procedure.
What would it be like? How would I stay calm? Could I do it?
That week was sort of a blur. I cried a lot, in anticipation of what was to come. We got our scheduled hospital date — August 11th (39 weeks, 3 days). Later than I expected, which meant even more anticipation. But our hospital bag was packed, and all there was left to do was wait.
So back to August 3rd, 2020.
If you weren’t scheduled to be born until August 11th, why was that day so significant?
Here’s what I remember: It was extremely hot out. I had already finished Jane the Virgin and didn’t know what to watch next. Daddy was busy with a late-night game design meeting, and so I ended up finishing a very silly show I’d been watching with your Aunt Liz at the start of the pandemic called “Greenhouse Academy.” (Sidenote: This is not a good show. Don’t bother looking it up.) But when Liz said she was feeling tired and maybe we should watch the last couple of episodes later, I convinced her we needed to finish it that night.
I’m not sure why I felt so strongly about this, I just knew we needed to finish it.
After the show was over, Daddy was still on his call — so when I felt my c-section anxiety flaring up again, I decided to try a c-section focused meditation another friend had sent me. I sat quietly on the couch listening to it, and the experience was so powerful I started crying. They were happy tears though, this time. During this meditation was the first time I stopped thinking about the c-section just as something invasive and scary happening to me, but as something we were going to go through together. I started to think about it as the journey we would share in order for us to meet each other. It gave me this visual of a positive, purple light radiating through me and down to you, giving us both strength to get through it, and it was incredibly helpful. When Daddy walked out of his office and found me sobbing on the couch, he thought something was wrong.
But it wasn’t. It was me finally realizing we might actually be okay.
So here’s the weird thing. There was nothing in particular going on that Monday evening to make me think I needed to do these extra things to prepare for your arrival. We still had over a week until your scheduled birthday, over a week of final plans to accomplish, over a week of stress management on my part about what was to come.
After I finished my meditation, I sat on the couch with your Daddy and we talked a little bit about how we wanted to spend this final week as two people, before your arrival made us three.
In the middle of our conversation, I told your Daddy how over being pregnant I was feeling. “I’m so uncomfortable all the time these days. And I just want to meet him.”
I paused. “And I think I am actively peeing myself right now? Pregnancy is a gift.”
I hopped up to go to the bathroom and get ready for bed. I didn’t think much of the ‘peeing myself’ episode, since incontinence is a side-effect of pregnancy. (Sorry if this is TMI, kiddo, stick with me here).
Your Dad and I both went to bed around midnight. Then I woke up at two in the morning, for one of my many middle-of-the-night bathroom sessions. I was half-asleep, but I remember everything feeling a lot more wet than usual. This set off a minor alarm bell in my mind, but I wasn’t quite ready to accept what it might mean. It was the dead of night. We were supposed to be sleeping. You weren’t scheduled for another week.
But then I realized my underwear was soaked. And my heart started pounding.
Guess it wasn’t incontinence.
“Um, Joe?” I called out to your Daddy. “Something is happening.”
He jumped to attention, and saw my panicked face. He helped me back to my side of the bed, and we saw a massive puddle there.
My water had definitely broken, kid. You were ready.
“Oh my god,” I remember saying. “What do we do?”
We called the clinic where my OB works, and were forwarded to the night-time on-call nurse. They notified Dr. Adams, who called us back within minutes. I didn’t realize they were going to wake up our doctor. Everything was happening so quickly.
“We think her water broke,” Joe told the doctor. “There’s a lot of water everywhere.”
“Is she having contractions?”
Joe looked to me. Was I having contractions? I didn’t think so. What did contractions feel like? People told me I would know, right? So probably not?
“If she’s not having contractions, it’s not an emergency — but still go to the hospital now. Just dont… run any red lights.”
“Okay,” we said, and hung up.
Go to the hospital. Now. It was happening now. Don’t panic. Not an emergency yet.
I had been feeling very lazy and pregnant for days, and hadn’t showered very recently. Plus, pandemic. Everyone was showering less. No one was wearing makeup. No one was going anywhere. “Do you think I have time to take a shower?” The question felt crazy coming from my lips. My WATER broke! I was in labor! Who has time to take a shower? Go to the hospital now!
“I think you could,” Joe said reasonably. What?
“I’ll get everything else together, you take a shower, and then we’ll go.”
So I took the most stressful shower of my life. I washed my hair and washed off whatever amniotic fluid was all over me, feeling insanely indulgent the entire time. But who knew what substances I would get on me in the coming hours, days? Who knew when I would shower again?
This was my last shower before motherhood.
All of these thoughts were swirling through my head as the water fell over my shoulders. It was too much pressure for a single shower, but it felt amazing all the same.
I put on a dress. I slipped on some shoes. Joe had everything else. I was still in shock. It was 2:30 in the morning. We were ready to go, so we went. I sat on a towel, just in case. We felt like the only people out on the road.
Joe’s gas gauge was on empty. You don’t think about things like filling gas in a pandemic — we barely left our house, ever. To be fair, it was on our list of things to do pre-baby — but we were still supposed to have a week! “Do we have time to get gas?” one of us asked.
If I had time to shower, we probably had time to get gas. We got gas.
The hospital was at least a twenty minute drive away, so we called our parents on the way.
“Hi mom,” both nearly identical conversations began. “We’re um… on our way to the hospital. It’s happening now.”
“Good luck!” They told us. “Keep us posted!”
It was three in the morning when we arrived to the hospital.
“Hi my water broke,” I remember saying to anyone we interacted with between the parking garage and the triage center. “Let us take your temperature,” they’d say. “Make sure you have your mask on.” “Do you have any of these symptoms?”
“No, no symptoms.”
“This way,” they would point us in the right direction after the song and dance. It was all a formality of our COVID-infected world. Just like how Daddy couldn’t come to my doctor appointments anymore. Hadn’t gotten to see your ultrasounds since I was 13 weeks pregnant. How I wasn’t able to have a real baby shower, and your grandma never got to rub my tummy while you were in there. How I bought all of these cute business casual maternity clothes to wear to work then spent the bulk of my pregnancy in sweatpants working remotely while companies everywhere shut their doors to protect their employees from spread of the virus. How we spent weeks worrying Daddy might not be able to be in the delivery room, and sighed in relief when we learned he could, even though no one else would get to visit.
It was not an ideal time to be pregnant, kid. But we got through it.
And it was almost over. Because finally we made it to triage.
We were the only ones there.
They put me in the same room I had been in for my version. A lot of people came in and out of the room, and I’m fuzzy on who everyone was. They hooked me up to a fetal heart rate monitor. Luckily I had already done this during my version, so nothing too scary yet. They tested the liquid still coming from my body to make sure it was amniotic fluid. Then they tested it again, using a second method.
This baby — you — needed to come out. But no one was panicking.
“You’re having contractions,” a nurse told me. I was dumbfounded — what? I thought I just had butterflies in my stomach. But she pointed to the monitor and sure enough, bigger wavy lines.
Pre-labor had started, so they had to do a pelvic exam. I hate pelvic exams.
“Relax,” the nurses told me.
I’m having a baby today. I can’t relax. I told them this.
I got through it. But then, they had to make sure I wasn’t dilating yet. For this, they had to do a cervical check. Turns out, cervical checks are way worse than pelvic exams.
Less than an hour later I would be sliced open, and yet the worst pain I experienced throughout this entire process was that damned cervical check.
Guess what — not dilated. That was a good thing. Makes things easier in the OR.
Okay. Time to get this show on the road.
They hooked me up to an IV, which is another thing I was sort of terrified about. It hurt too. But at this point, I had so much adrenaline running through me, and was feeling so relieved that I didn’t have to spend another week feeling anxious about this that the IV was pretty low on my list of concerns.
Things get a little foggy at this point. I remember Joe suiting up in a big blue surgical outfit. My hair was put back in a hairnet with American flags on it — this I didn’t learn until I saw photos of myself later. The L&D nurse was a very nice woman named Melanie whose surgical cap had pink lollipops on it. This made me feel a lot better, and I told her so.
I had to ask Joe the series of events that happened next. Apparently I walked to the OR myself, which I have no memory of. “You were shaking like a leaf,” he told me.
“I was scared,” I said.
“No,” he corrected me. “You were brave.”
I remember the room was a lot bigger than I expected, and so bright. I sat down on the operating table, and the anesthetist introduced himself to me. I remember him being very nice and calm, and telling me he’d be right here the entire time.
While sitting up with my legs hanging over the side of the table, they gave me a spinal block. It hurt, but no worse than any other shot that stings. I didn’t think too much about the spinal block. I was so much more concerned about being cut open, I really didn’t care about whatever it took to make me numb. I was hooked up to fluids with my IV. They laid me down. I started to lose feeling in my legs.
People around me were getting set up, readying things I tried not to look too closely at, saying things I tried not to listen too much to. I think I had your Dad’s hand in a death grip. A person literally cannot mentally prepare for what was about to happen, so I just focused on breathing and keeping my shit together. I started to get more numb.
“Did you feel that?” the anesthetist asked me.
“Oh, we just pinched you really hard.”
Joe’s eyes were wide. Apparently they pinched me really hard. I felt nothing.
They hung a blue curtain over my chest, and I could no longer see what was going on. I could only see your Daddy, standing right by my side.
“Here’s a chair for you, Dad,” one of the nurses told him. He looked like he considered sitting in it for a second, but then asked, “but can I stand?”
A few of the medical staff exchanged glances.
“I want to watch,” Joe clarified.
“No one in here is going to help you if you faint,” they warned him. “We’re going to be busy.”
He nodded, steadfast, and stayed on his feet — alternating between peeking over the curtain and looking down at me. To his credit, he didn’t faint.
The strangest sensation was when they rubbed the sanitizing goo all over my stomach. “This will turn you orange,” they told me. “Like an oompa loompa.” Joe said they used something like a paint roller to do it. It felt bizarre. The only thing I can remember thinking is “water balloons”. I guess it felt like water balloons. Like I was made of water balloons?
I only have flashes of memories from the rest of it. They only used a local anesthetic, so I was definitely there, but thankfully my brain has numbed most of the specific memories. I remember an odd tugging. I remember being worried I would be able to see what was going on in the reflection of Joe’s glasses (I couldn’t). I remember thinking about that warm purple light, winding through my body and around your tiny little body and helping you out safely. I remember it felt both lot longer and a lot shorter than I expected, if that makes sense. I tried not to think about what was happening. I couldn’t believe I was about to meet you. I was probably crying. Whether it was out of fear or relief or anticipation of meeting my son, I couldn’t tell you.
Joe told me later that he had no idea what they were doing right away. Since you were “frank breech”, you came out butt first. Joe said they had to pull quite a bit to get you out, that your head was stuck. The look on Joe’s face as they tugged you out of me was priceless. It all felt the same to me. From my vantage point, I had literally no idea how far along we were at all.
And then, after what felt like an eternity and also not long at all, I heard the sound of a baby cry.
A baby. Crying.
You were here.
We walked in the room without a baby, and now suddenly one was crying. I wish I had a video of the look on my face when I heard it. The look on Joe’s face is etched in my memory, though, and that’s just as good. I’ll never forget what it felt like to hear you before I saw you. I know this wasn’t the most ideal way to give birth to a child, but that magical, surprising sound will forever be maybe the most important moment of my entire life.
There were definitely tears in my eyes. Joe gripped my hand tighter. One of the nurses took you over to the warmer — but before doing anything, held you up for me to see.
“Hi Mommy!” the nurse said, as if it was you talking. I burst into tears.
You were all the way across the room, but there you were. A whole baby. My baby.
“Hi baby!” I said back, wishing I could wave or do anything else at all.
It was 5:05am on August 4th, 2020. You weighed 7 lbs, 13 oz. You were 19.75 inches long.
Born within 3 hours of me waking up in a surprise puddle of fluid.
I honestly don’t know how much time passed after that. Joe went to be with you. I of course stayed on the table, while they continued to do whatever it was they were doing on the other side of the curtain. The post-baby part of the surgery took a lot longer than the pre-baby part. It all still felt exactly the same. Non-descript tugging. I wasn’t as focused on it anymore though, because I could see you, and I could see the way your Daddy was looking at you. Your little breech legs stuck straight up, like they warned us they would. It was adorable. Joe took photos while they weighed you, wiped you off, and put you in a blanket and cap. It was cold in the OR.
The nurse brought you over to me, and laid you right up against my face. Joe finally sat in the chair they provided him, and held you right there for the rest of the procedure.
I had both my guys now to help me through the rest of it, though I had already made it this far. I knew I — we — were going to be okay. I already had the prize. Despite my fears of surgery, despite COVID-19, despite every roadblock the world tried to throw at us, we were finally together.
“Hi Max,” I said, tears still leaking from my eyes as I stared at you and your perfect, tiny little face. “We did it.”