Been meaning to get around to this for a month or two, and now that we’re enjoying a nontraditional vacation at Children’s hospital NICU, I’ve found the time. (And boooooy did I find the time. If you make it to the end of this novella, good on you mate.)
The good: Benny is over the worst of his RSV-induced bronchiolitis. We brought him to the ER last Wednesday because it seemed like he was struggling to breathe. I felt kind of stupid since we’d been to the pediatrician only that morning, but she cautioned me to look for certain signs that he was working too hard to breathe, and so off we went.
A 6 hour ER stint and one ambulance transfer later, we found ourselves in a cozy private room in the NICU at our wonderful children’s hospital’s sprawling megaplex of a campus, and here we’ve remained for the past 4 days. The first night was a blur of sleeplessness. The second night was scary. His oxygen levels dropped repeatedly, usually correlating with a feeding, and so he earned himself a feeding tube and the highest level of oxygen before intubation would have been required. He pulled through magnificently and is now weaned off the NG tube and on a light flow of O2 which he’ll probably have to go home with.
RSV hospitalizations are a common Colorado thing, or at least a Denver thing, since we’re at higher altitude – I’m assuming that holds true for other high altitude climes – and our babies are already at a natural disadvantage where oxygen saturation is concerned. The air is rare up here! I have friends from all over who’ve never heard of it causing hospitalization. But in the Mile High City, winter-born babies make parents twitch with anxiety at the possibility. According to the nursing staff it has been a banner year for RSV already, with a few long months ahead of us yet.
So there’s your backstory. Now that he’s so much better and we’re waiting to hear about a discharge (fingers crossed for a Superbowl Sunday sendoff) I figured I could bang out a quick birth story for this kiddo who is already bound and determined to craft his own narrative and differentiate from the pack.
You’ll see what I mean.
Let me back up about 11 months or so. I was at a family St. Patrick party and (plug your ears) enjoying a wee nip of Jameson or some other tragically overpowering Irish spirit which I can only be coerced to drink after I’ve had a glass or two of prosecco or some such more civilized libation when my dad looks at me over the rim of his highball glass and asks, “Jenny, are you pregnant?”
My mom overheard and immediately let out a dramatic gasp, clasping her hands together in delight “Oh Jenny ARE YOU??” and as a woman who’d been on a serious eating-keto-intermittant-fasting-dabbling-back-in-eating-disorder kick for the past 6 months or so, I was much affronted.
DADDY THAT IS SO INAPPROPRIATE, ARE YOU CALLING ME FAT WHAT DO YOU MEAN.
Dad backpedaled frantically because Dad is a wise man with 5 daughters and a wife and knows way, way better than to comment on appearances. Ever. He seemed genuinely flustered, while my mom continued cackling with barely suppressed glee and saying she just knew it.
Here’s the thing about my mom though, she always does know it.
She’s more reliable than most early detection pregnancy tests, so now I was alarmed even though I had, of course, already taken one of said tests just a day before and confirmed a big fat negative.
But mom was never wrong before.
And readers? She wasn’t wrong this time, either. A week later I walked into our bedroom with a rueful smile on my face and an Amazon subscribe and save pregnancy test which I waved under Dave’s nose on my way out the door with a casual utterance of “mom was right. She’s always right.”
And that, my friends, is how you announce a 6th pregnancy.
I had a relatively uneventful run of it, despite being grandmultipara and advanced maternal age, and passed my GD screening and all the other high risk markers handily. We declined to discover the gender or any of the advanced screening just because I’m anxious enough without having something specific to worry about for weeks and months at a time.
During this pregnancy I also began working with a wonderful nutritional therapist, a registered dietician who specializes in eating disorder recovery and intuitive eating. I found her through a friend’s Instagram stories where she shared about having found incredible peace with food and with her body. Her words leapt off my phone screen and sent me scrambling to message her demanding to know what – and who – she was talking about, and was she taking on new clients?
That was almost 8 months ago now, and what I thought would be a quick fix ended up being one of the most fruitful, transformational, and important journeys of my adult life. All the shame around body image and all the dysfunction around food. The endless cycles of this diet now that cleanse maybe a detox or a reset or a wellness plan… they were all, for me, endless iterations of an eating disordered mentality I’d been battling for 20 years. 2 decades. My entire adult life. I didn’t know what “normal” was, when it came to food, to exercise, or to self talk. But I did know that the single greatest struggle for me when it came to having kids was the price it extracted from me, the toll it took on my body.
I loved my babies and I loathed my pregnant and postpartum body. It feels so crazy and sad saying it now, but it’s true. The things I said to myself in the mirror, on the scale, at the gym and in the fitting room. I was waging war against the same body that stepped up so magnificently and carried 5 – soon to be 6 – babies to term and brought them safely into this world.
I couldn’t see the forest for the stretch marks.
I had this bizarre split between “I love my babies and our beautiful family” and “I utterly despise myself”.
And gosh, it’s hard to admit it. But I feel like it’s essential in order to highlight in order to explain what came next.
What came next was healing. Release. Freedom. Reconciliation. A mental load hundreds of pounds lightened by no longer being enslaved to obsessing over food, weight, body shape, or size.
So that’s the backstory. In some ways in was wonderful to delve into IE while pregnant, since gaining weight was already a given. In other ways it challenged me as I blew through my maternity clothes at an alarming pace and entered into a world of sizes I’d only ever sported at month 9. Gulp. Was this Intuitive Eating, or was it being 36 almost 37? Or was it having 6 kids in 9 years?
It was hard to pinpoint any one thing and pin the “blame”, but boy was it refreshing not to try to actively restrict weight gain or food while baby was on board. And here’s the hilarious punchline: I gained around the same amount of weight as I have with each pregnancy. Maybe give or take 5 lbs. All that angst and self flagellation on the scale swapped for unselfconscious enjoyment of food, of movement, and of a growing body carrying another miracle inside.
I looked (and look) nothing like an Instagram influencer. My kids don’t have matching rust toned outfits or matching socks, even. I couldn’t “justify” our large family’s existence by putting on a beautiful show that proved to the world that openness to life would’t wreck your body or your sense of style.
We pile in and out of a mud-spattered decade-old Toyota Siena in hand me downs from Old Navy, and nobody wants to sponsor any of my posts.
But in stepping out of that irrational pursuit of “this is what having a big family looks like – oh haha excuse our occasional hot mess that I staged in my flawless kitchen – I found a freedom to connect with friends and strangers alike when they spoke of overwhelm and full hands and never being able to do it.
Me too, I nodded in understanding. And yes, so full. Mmm hmm, I also feel like I’m not doing it right.
Instead of being an exotic zoo creature with superpowers, I became a fellow human being to them, these strangers and neighbors whose comments became opportunities to self disclose and connect and swap stories honestly. My new favorite response to “you must be so busy, I only have 2” is “Right? No matter how many kids you have, they take up all your time!” which always, always makes people’s eyes go wide with recognition and relief.
Anyway this is getting to be quite the novella…I’m tempted to stop here and TBC, but I have good wifi and a sleeping baby in the room with me, so what the heck.
By about week 30 of this miraculously freedom-filled pregnancy I was large. I walked like a swaying donkey from about week 34 on. Forget exercise, my SPD was off the chain, my heartburn was off the charts, and I had carpal tunnel in both hands that was bad enough to sleep in a pair of wrist braces. Between that, the support belt, and a constant drip of antacids and PPIs, I was sort of a hot mess. I made multiple incredulous statements to the effect of “I can’t believe celebrities wait until their late thirties on purpose” and “holy bleep, advanced maternal age is no joke” because truly.
But other than that, things were uneventful until the final month. From Halloween on, we entered into a twilight zone of hospital visits and heart rate decelerations and irritable uteri and I am not going to lie, there were dark moments in the month of November when I’d spend upwards of an hour a day sobbing in discomfort and frustration. My uterus was doing this, prodromal labor was kicking into high gear, and I spent hours every night stress-googling “am I in labor?” signs and symptoms and reading every birth book under the sun because, you know, I’d never done this before.
Thanksgiving night after finishing dinner at my sister’s house, I lay on the couch in her front room and wept. Zelie scrambled to the summit of mount mommy and perched there like a baby sea lion, and my sister in law snapped a picture, filling me with hostility in the moment but for which I am now eternally grateful.
Because guys? I was a HOT, HOT MESS. Superheated and squalid. I’ed even gone so far as to shoot a couple tablespoons of castor oil that morning as it was my official due date, and NOTHING HAPPENED.
The next day, November 29th, I gave the castor oil another shot and noticed some mild cramping, but nothing that led me to believe the castor oil was doing anything. I cried, cleaned the house, napped, cried some more, and went to bed around 9:45 after another small dose of castor oil.
And then I woke up at midnight in active labor. Tada. We called our neighbor to come over because I wasn’t sure how fast things were going to go and my sister was 20 minutes away. I was also feeling weird and like baby wasn’t moving well. In retrospect I’m guessing my already irritable uterus became a pissed off uterus when I introduced the castor oil into the equation, so I was essentially having these super contractions that lasted for 5 or 7 minutes at time. It was wild.
At this point it should be noted that I’d been scheduled for an induction 5 days earlier that I’d cancelled due to a terrible sinus infection. they were asking me if I wanted to reschedule, and I just couldn’t find peace about it. My mommy instinct told me this baby didn’t want anything to do with Pitocin (foreshadowing) and so I deferred, and deferred again.
Back to the big night. We hustled into the chilly night air, high fiving my sweet neighbor Jess on our way out the door. My water broke in the car on the 3 minute drive to the hospital and I was like, okay, it’s go time. Also, good thing we grabbed that beach towel.
We got to L&D and I uncertainly announced “I’m in labor?” but didn’t look all that uncomfortable because I wasn’t. And that was crazy. I mean I was contracting but they were weird. Non-productive feeling. My water had broken, but other than that I felt, you know, pretty normal.
They plopped me into a delivery room anyway, because when you’re a 6th time mom with ruptured membranes, they know better than to put you in triage. And upon examination, I had already progressed to a 7. 7! I was ecstatic. I’d been at 3 cm for 3 whole weeks, membrane sweeps and stretches aside. I left each of those OB appointments in agony because my uncooperative cervix, though dilated, was still so very high and far back that it practically took an act of God for the provider to reach it. I won’t go into what that felt like, because I want the human race to continue on.
My cervix was still high as a kite, but at least I’d progressed! (Ominous foreshadowing). My favorite midwife was on call and she showed up and checked me again, about an hour after we’d arrived. She frowned as she palpated … something. “I don’t know what I’m touching here,” her forehead wrinkled in confusing as she checked, and checked, and checked…
There’s nothing quite like what followed next, a veritable parade of providers, nurses and on call doctors and another midwife, each of them taking a turn to have a go at my cervix and try to determine what was going on up there.
I can’t tell what this is.
I don’t know what I’m touching.
Is that an…ear? Is it a mouth?
At this point Dave and I are not scared but terribly, terribly confused and also, good thing I had one billion ultrasounds because at least we have visual confirmation that it’s a human baby in there.
Finally an OB from our practice showed up, put her hand into the situation and announced, yep, that’s a mouth and a chin. Baby is trying to come out mouth-first.
Reader, babies don’t come out “mouth first” for a reason. Yipes.
At that point I was exhausted and worried. The possibility of a C section had already been tossed around by various nurses and the hospitalist on call. Our good doctor looked at me and said, you can keep laboring for one hour, then let’s ask this baby to make the call. Let’s see if he or she moves into a better position.”
I was 9 cm at that point, the proud owner of a wonderful epidural, and hadn’t progressed in any measurable sense for more than 4 hours. Dave and I prayed a rosary for the next 40 minutes or so and I asked the Lord over and over again “make it clear, make it so obvious”.
Dr. B checked me again and smiled ruefully, “baby’s chin is angled even further back, it moved the opposite way of how we needed it to in order to continue vaginally. We’re going to the OR.
Things started moving quickly then. Baby’s heart rate, stable for the most part until then, starting dipping into a disturbing pattern of late decelerations. The pace quickened. I was in the OR 3 minutes later and surgery began about 12 minutes after the doctor made the call. I still hadn’t progressed in terms of station at this point, so while I was 9.5 cm dilated, baby was still so high in the birth canal that I hadn’t even pushed.
At around the 15 minute mark I started to feel intense pressure and pulling. I was terrified the anesthesia wasn’t going to work, and I was filling rapidly with anxiety as the numbness crept higher and higher up my torso, obscuring my sensation of breathing. I was still breathing, of course, but I was losing sensation in my chest and diaphragm and so I felt like I was suffocating. I am maybe a tiny bit dramatic under stress, so I interpreted this as proof that I was passing into eternal life and immediately began to cry, wishing I’d made it to confession the weekend before like I’d planned.
I told God I was sorry for my sins, and I started telling baby out loud, “You were worth it. You are worth it. I love you baby. I love you baby.” Dave was at this point becoming more than a little concerned, and began to shed a few tears himself. At the moment they pulled Benedict from my body yelling “pressure, pressure Mom!” I was pretty sure this was it (did I mention I never read the chapter in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” on c sections? I weakly whispered “this is my body, given up for you” which feels melodramatic and embarrassing to type out, but felt essential and real in the moment. And then he was here.
They lifted all 9 lbs, 14 ounces of glorious, fat baby up over the drape and showed me a lustily crying toddler freshly extracted from my abdomen and I broke into sobs. When he was wrapped they handed him over to Dave who tried to put him in my arms, but I was shaking uncontrollably and so numb I couldn’t grasp him. We ended up compromising with a sort of face to face nuzzle while I wept all over his little cheek and then he was whisked away for suctioning and I encouraged Dave to accompany him. He’d been wrapped tightly in his cord from head to torso, and it was so short and he’d been wrapped in such a way that he wasn’t going anywhere near the traditionally marked exit. The noose around his neck also explained the late decelerations we’d been seeing on the monitor.
The next 40 minutes were the scariest of my life, truly. I was having a bad reaction to the anesthesia and was panting and paranoid, convinced I was dying. I also lost a lot of blood, tiptoeing right up to the line of needing a transfusion. Panicking from the sensation of suffocation, I cried scared and pitiful tears while the no-nonsense anesthesiologist stood at my head and reassured me “you’re fine. You’re okay. this is normal. If you can speak, you can breathe.”
His no nonsense approach was exactly what I needed to get through being suctioned and sutured up. It took almost an hour to stop the bleeding and get things sealed up, and he stayed at the head of my bed reassuring me in a dry and authoritative manner I found immensely comforting.
When I was finally wheeled into recovery to rejoin Dave and baby, we confirmed that his name would be Benedict Reid. Benedict for our beloved Benedict XVI and Reid for my father, Kenneth Reid, who beat cancer last year. It’s also my brother and my late grandfather’s middle name, and means…something in Gaelic.
In recovery, I shook uncontrollably for a solid hour. I was so, so thirsty but could only have ice until I stabilized a little, so I remember just lying there shaking and feeling so out of control with my throat impossibly thick from the anesthesia, savoring each spoonful of ice like it was hundred dollar champagne. Dave tried to make conversation about our cute baby, but I mostly just moaned and mumbled incoherent sentences and felt high.
Eventually I came around, we ended up after our first overnight getting moved to what I affectionally dubbed “The Kardashian Suite” with floor to ceiling mountain views and walk in shower for two, and Benedict Reid or Benny and I settled in for 4 glorious days at hotel hospital while I winced and tiptoed my way through recovery.
C section versus vaginal birth: first off, after the initial pain from the incision subsided a bit (aided by a wise old RN convincing me to quit the hard stuff after only 24 hours, promising it would improve my abdominal pain to cycle tylenol and ibuprofen instead), I felt approximately one million times better than I typically do after delivery. My pelvic floor, still mercifully intact thanks to a non-descending baby who’d taken the emergency exit instead, gave me no troubles whatsoever and in fact felt marvelously better now that baby had been born.
It was a rough week of pain rolling over/going to the bathroom/getting out of bed, but then I woke up on like day 7 and felt almost …fine.
I decided early on not to breastfeed this time around, and that ended up being a godsend. Between the c section recovery and the blood loss, my body was already working pretty hard. I typically have to pump between feedings all day long and still end up needing to supplement, despite working with a great lactation consultant and taking all the things that promise to aid milk production.
Deciding to exclusively bottle feed using formula and some donated breastmilk from a friend was a game changer. No PPD/PPD this time, a cycle that returned bang on 30 days postpartum, and a mom who feels good – no, great – about life with a new baby. That has never, ever happened for me before. All 5 of my other sweet babies’ newborn phases were clawed through with a desperation bordering at times on insanity. I was depressed, angry, exhausted, and utterly spent. This time I’m happy, calm, joyful, and so grateful for a chance to do it differently the half-dozenth time around.
Sweet baby Ben, welcome to the jungle. We love you so.