The night before Henry was born, I entertained the notion that I might just be pregnant forever—or at least another week or two. I was already four days overdue. Bets had been placed on the 15th and the 18th, but here it was, August 20th, and I was only 1 centimeter dilated.
“Maybe he’ll be born on the 22nd, Wallace’s (Rama’s grandpa’s) birthday,” said my mom, who’d arrived that night to be on Baby Watch while Rama went back to school.
“Maybe,” I said, but I really doubted it.
The next morning, I woke up around 7am with an urgent need to pee, like I’d been doing for the past month or so.
But this time, when I wiped there was something conspicuously wet on the square of toilet paper, and when I groggily looked down at the toilet, there was something else floating in the bowl. Did my water break? Is that my mucus plug? Is this really, finally happening? I stood there in shock for a good minute before flushing the toilet, then rushed out to tell Rama, who thankfully hadn’t left for work, yet.
I called Dr. Pearson and told him what had happened. “Well,” he said, “You know there’s only one answer.”
“Go to the hospital,” he said. “Don’t stop to take a shower. Don’t stop to shave your legs. Don’t stop to put on make up.”
I hung up the phone and took a deep breath. This could be it, I thought. Sure, it could be a false alarm—I’d heard so many stories of arriving to the hospital only to be told to go back home—but it could be the real thing. I could be having this baby. Today.
We woke up my mom, grabbed my bags and hopped in the car. Rama later told me that he’d mapped out alternate routes, just in case LA traffic was being especially cruel. But at 7 in the morning, the drive took less than 10 minutes and in no time we were in an elevator headed toward Labor & Delivery.
“I think my water broke,” I told the nurse and flashed my “fast pass,” proof that I’d filled out all the necessary paper work several weeks in advance.
She led us to a spacious room. Mom and Rama camped out on the sofa and I sat on the edge of bed, until our nurse, Vicky, came by to examine me.
Vicky agreed that it did seem as if my water had broken, and she confirmed that I was still 1 centimeter dilated. My blood pressure was higher than usual, but that was not uncommon, she told us.
She asked how I had envisioned my delivery. It was a question I’d been asked several times before, and I still didn’t have a clear answer. The only things I knew for sure were that I wanted skin-on-skin contact after the baby was born and Rama wanted to cut the umbilical cord. I was considering delivering naturally, but I also knew that the pain might be too much to bear, so I I figured I’d wait and see how things went. Mostly, I told Vicky, I just wanted to be open to whatever came. She assured me that I had a perfect outlook and was in wonderful hands. I liked her instantly.
Vicky gave me an IV with Pitocin, which would help get labor going. Since my water had already broken, it was important that I deliver within the next 24 hours. She also hooked an external fetal monitor to my belly and I heard the baby’s heartbeat whoosh-whoosh-whooshing away. Over the past 9 months, that had become one of my favorite sounds.
Now lying in bed, there was nothing to do but wait. Wait for contractions to begin. Wait for Dr. Pearson to show up. Wait for the baby to arrive.
We plugged in my iPod and listened to a mix I’d made just days before.
“Morning…sunrise…open my eyes…and I can tell it’s gonna be a good day…”
Soon after, Dr. Pearson arrived to examine me. He’d done exams the weeks leading up to my due date, but they weren’t as thorough as this one. Or as painful. It made me worry a little. If this part hurts, I thought, I’m in trouble.
According to Dr. Pearson, I was still just a centimenter dilated, and the baby hadn’t moved down. He replaced the external fetal monitor with an internal one, which kept closer track of the baby’s heart beat and my contractions. Then he left. And we waited some more.
Contractions began, but they were manageable, like mild cramps on the first day of my period. Mom went down to get something to eat and find my dad who had made the rush hour drive from home. Rama snacked on string cheese and cereal bars, and fed me ice chips, which was all I was allowed to eat. I was so hungry, and the ice didn’t help one bit.
Vicky checked on me about every hour. Each time, it seemed, I was dilated another centimeter, but the baby still wasn’t budging. Worse, my blood pressure was rising and it was starting to worry her.
Dr. Pearson recommended I get an epidural, not for the pain but because it would help lower my blood pressure. I didn’t object. It was actually kind of a relief to have the decision finally made for me.
I had heard that an epidural shot was no more than a prick, so when the anesthesiologist arrived I wasn’t too worried. That changed as soon as I realized my part in the procedure. I had to curl my body into the fetal position, which seemed like an impossible feat with my beach ball stomach in the way. No matter how hard I strained to find the right position, it wasn’t enough, and each attempt hurt more and more like hell.
Eventually, the anesthesiologist found the spot and sure enough the shot was a quick prick. I felt a warm rush over my body.
I didn’t think the drugs had affected me too much until my mom and Rama told me that there were contractions that I was barely feeling. “That was a big one!” they said, watching the monitor.
I’d been in labor for maybe 6 or 7 hours when Dr. Pearson came back to check on me. There had been no progress. I was only 5 centimeters dilated and the baby hadn’t moved at all. My blood pressure was still dangerously high and now I had a fever.
The fever was so high, Dr. Pearson explained, that he wanted to perform a c-section.
Rama asked if there were any alternatives. We could wait, Dr. Pearson said, but the fever now posed risk of infection for me and the baby. It was like a “knife in my back” and we had to move forward. Rama and I talked it over and gave our consent, and Dr. Pearson left to prepare for surgery.
“It’ll be okay,” my mom said, reminding me that she had survived three such operations. “He’s a very good doctor,” Rama assured me. They looked at me with sympathetic eyes, but I didn’t feel scared at all.
All I could think was that I was going to meet my baby in 15 minutes. The thought made me giddy.
I was wheeled into the cold, bright operating room. The anesthesiologist came back to give me more drugs, and I got very drowsy. I must have passed out, because the next thing I knew Rama was dressed in scrubs and sitting beside me.
I was afraid I’d be asleep when the baby was born, so I asked Rama to help me stay awake. “Will you tell me a story?”
Rama answered, “Why don’t you tell me a story?”
“I don’t know any stories,” I said.
“Tell me about our honeymoon.”
“We went to…the Mediterranean. Is that the word for that?”
“That’s right. Do you remember where we went?”
“Italy. Rome. Florence…”
“Did we go to florence?” he asked.
At this point, Rama tells me, I started to drift again, so he gave me a nudge.
“Tell me a joke.”
“I don’t know any jokes,” I sighed.
“You know a joke.”
“The pirate joke.”
“Tell me that joke.”
Now, Rama says, this is where he lost me. My eyes had rolled back into my head, and I was out like a light. He kept trying to wake me up, but no luck.
As a last ditch effort, he started to tell me another story and then my eyes opened wide and all of a sudden I was awake.
“SHHHHH!” I demanded.
And in that miraculous silence emerged a baby’s cry. Our baby. Henry.
Dr. Pearson held Henry up, and I saw him for a brief moment before they whisked him away to clean him up.
A few minutes later, a nurse carried him over so that I could get a closer look. “Hi, Henry,” I said, with tears in my eyes. “We’re so excited to meet you.”
Because Henry was in my belly without fluid for some time, there was concern that he may have caught an infection, so he was admitted into the NICU where they could do some tests. I wasn’t really aware of any of this at the time, though. I had fallen back to sleep.
I woke up in the recovery room with the worst headache I’d ever had in my life. My blood pressure had skyrocketed again. My mom stood nearby, worried. I knew it was bad because Vicky was concerned, too.
Rama came back from the NICU with stories to tell me about Henry. This was the time that I’d imagined calling everyone and telling them all about our newborn son, but I was ordered to stop talking and try to relax. The room was dark and quiet. The deep, slow breathing that I learned in prenatal yoga finally came in handy. I was able to sleep.
When I woke up again, my head was no longer throbbing and my blood pressure had dropped. My dad, who’d been in the waiting room this whole time, was in the room now, too.
“Do you want to know the baby’s name?” I asked, groggily.
“Yes,” they smiled.
“Henry. Thomas. Hughes.”
Mom and dad fell silent.
“Everyone thought we were going to name him something weird,” I said.
At around 8, I was finally ready to head to the maternity ward. A couple of the nurses moved me to a gurney and started to wheel me toward the elevator.
“When can she see the baby?” asked Rama.
“She hasn’t seen the baby?!”
We shook our heads.
She turned the gurney around and headed to the NICU.
They wheeled me next to Henry’s incubator. I couldn’t get very close, but I could see his little swaddled body and dark hair. He was asleep. I reached through a hole and touched his elbow. Rama asked if he should turn Henry around so that I could see his face, but I said no. I didn’t want to wake him.
The next day, I was able to hold Henry in my arms for the first time. I was in a wheelchair, feeling achey and tired and weak, but for the moment that I was holding him I couldn’t see, hear or feel anything else. It was just me and him, finally.
Two days later, Henry was moved to our room. It was clear that he didn’t need (or want!) to be in the NICU, so the doctor discharged him early.
After four days in the hospital, we took Henry home.
A few days later, Mom told me a story about a woman she’d met on the plane while she was pregnant with me. The woman had had an emergency c-section, too, but hers took a turn for the worse. She had a stroke. When I was in recovery with the high blood pressure and awful headache, my mom said she thought of that woman on the plane and worried for my life. It hadn’t hit me until then how much I had gone through.
I knew that recovery would be long and hard, that it would be weeks before the pain subsided and I regained my strength, that it would be months before I felt like myself again. But it wasn’t lost on me that I was already so lucky. I was lucky to be alive and to have a healthy baby boy in my arms.