This photo was taken just a few hours after Miles was born. We had just learned that he had a serious heart defect; we knew he would be having heart surgery in just a few hours. We didn't know we would lose him. We didn't know that we'd be celebrating all his birthdays without him.
He should be here turning two with us today. It will never be right that he's not here for his birthdays. So that sorrow is there, and I won't pretend that it's not. But remembering the day he was born, that's a good thing. His birthday is a good day. The joy of welcoming him to the world and spending four and a half months with him and the joy of having him in our hearts always are all good things to celebrate today.
So today we'll eat angel food cake, read his birth story*, and lovingly admire all of his beautiful photos in his baby book. Happy birthday, Miles.
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*Miles' Birth Story
My bag was packed with Gatorade, a camera, tennis balls, and Norah Jones—the things that were supposed to be the essentials. I had narrowed down our 9-month-awaited-baby’s coming home outfit to three options so those were all in; the teddy bear outfit was my number one, but I worried that it wouldn’t be manly enough for Mitch’s taste. So the giraffe outfit and birdie outfit with matching cap were the macho backups. Everything was in—even the worst-underwear-from-my-drawer that I’d been advised I’d never want to wear again; I had cross-referenced all the things-to-be-sure-to-pack-for-the-hospital lists because that’s what I do.
When my contractions started at 2:30 AM on January 28, 2010, I pulled out my childbirth class notebook. The chart clearly outlined how long each stage of labor and delivery would take, and this was exactly what I wanted—a clear-cut and simple chart for giving birth. Mitch and I had agreed during childbirth class that staying at home as long as possible was the way to go. Mitch had scared me enough with the stories of the patients who come to the hospital way too early and get sent home or just clog-up-the-medical-works.
During class, we had to prioritize which things were most important—I had insisted that being able to walk and being able to get an epidural were my two non-negotiables. Mitch told me that those things didn’t really go together. Sometimes it’s not helpful to be married to a doctor. No matter, I was the one having the baby so I would walk and walk at home and then walk and walk at the hospital until the second I got the epidural. Lovely.
According to my calculations, our baby would be arriving late that night. We had a long road ahead of us that day, and it was best not to think things would move along too quickly. Dr. P agreed when I called her that morning to let her know that this was the day. She was my dream doctor; I fell in love at our first appointment. I knew I was pregnant because I had missed periods and the drug store pregnancy test had confirmed it. Those tests were cheap, though, and could we get some real medical proof please? One nurse had already turned down my request for a real-doctor-supervised pregnancy test. When I asked Dr. P though, she agreed to do it. Unless of course I just wanted to hear the baby’s heart beat for the first time. Yes, please, that would do it. And with that, I had the confirmation that I needed and finally believed that this baby was the real deal holyfield. And icing on the cake: she called Mitch’s phone and left a message with the new little heart beat.
Now, on the day my labor started, my non-stress test was already scheduled for 10:40 that morning at the hospital, and, now that I was in labor that might last a long time, it would be good to know that the baby was doing ok. Lots of women get these NSTs, the doctors told me, way back when I started the weekly routine, as a way to keep an eye on any babies the docs might be worried about. It involved me lifting up my shirt to reveal my ever-growing belly so that sensors could be attached with big-mama seatbelts. I would wear glitter lotion on my belly—to dress the baby up. And the technicians would tell me, well, I’ve never seen that before. Then we listened to the baby’s heartbeat, and I rooted for him to move around, put on a show, and do whatever it was that would keep the docs from worrying. To me, the NSTs were, well, silly. Still, I couldn’t bring myself not to do them, just in case. After weeks of NSTs, this would be my moment of glory. Finally, in addition to checking the baby’s heart rate, my contractions would show up on the monitor as huge mountains. Huge contraction mountains.
Just like for every other appointment during my pregnancy, I walked there; we had to take advantage of the fact that from our living room window all we could see was the space-ship-shaped Dean Dome and, off in the distance, the hospital. So I walked. It took twenty minutes to walk and then twenty minutes to believe I wasn’t even in labor. Oh, yes, I felt those contractions, but somehow they didn’t even show up on the monitor. The technicians were nice about it. They said I could be having contractions even though they didn’t show up. Well, that was good. But then they asked me to go ahead and make an appointment for the next week. So of course I was confused. They thought I would have an appointment in a week, so clearly this wasn’t even labor. I walked home and tried not to dwell on the fact that these contractions—or “pains” as I started to call them since they weren’t classifiable on the stupid machine—were coming faster. It was a bit hard to walk through them now; I was such a weenie, I thought. By then it was noon and Mitch was at home waiting for me. I called to tell him I didn’t want to be alone—in fake labor—and walking around by myself any more. He was there in a flash, and I told him the whole sob story leaning on his shoulder. Once at the apartment, I rested on all fours over a bowl of yogurt and cut up apples. Between pains, I ate bites and explained the pains to Mitch. That sounds like contractions, he insisted. He had the same look on his face as when he woke up in the middle of the night to find me webmd-ing salmonella to make sure I didn’t have it. Not good.
With our kitchen timer, he started timing them. Three minutes apart. One minute long. He called Dr. P to leave a message that it was probably about time for us to come in to get checked.
And then he simultaneously ate his own lunch, timed my contractions, answered my cell phone, and bragged to my brother.
“Yeah, your sister is punching out contractions here…”
Mom arrived with a bag full of goodies—playing cards so we could play spades or war to pass the time. She was prepared for a different version of childbirth, but she changed gears quickly.
“Do you think this is real labor?” I asked from all fours on the floor.
“Yes, and I think you’re further along than you think.”
With that, we all believed it was time to go to the clinic to get checked.
In all fairness, it’s not a long walk, and I had made it clear to everyone that walking was my main game plan. I had even written it on my birth plan: walking. Right next to: no mirrors. Plus it was only around 1 pm. We still had hours and hours to go. After all, I was just at the hospital not having contractions.
We made our way to the clinic in two-minute chunks. During contractions, we would stop so I could breathe-it-out.
“We think I’m in labor,” I said to the curious and slightly-concerned moms on the playground as we slowly passed by.
“What if this isn’t it?” I asked mom, nervous that I was being a drama queen in front of too many people now.
“This is it,” mom said.
At the clinic: 7 cm. Well, la-di-da.
Mom ran-walked back to get the car. She drove us back to the apartment to get my bag because, in the frenzy, we didn’t have that stupid bag that had been packed for weeks.
She floored it in her little convertible. I’m pretty sure I even said, “You don’t have to drive that fast.”
And I’m pretty sure she said, “I always drive like this.”
With bag in hand, we were off.
When the next contraction started, I yelled for mom to pull over. She did and I rolled out of the car to huff out a contraction on the sidewalk.
“You have to stay in the car!” Mitch yelled from where he was trapped in the tiny backseat of the convertible. I laugh now when I think of him trying to deal with me at that moment. They don’t teach you how to handle this one in med school or childbirth class.
Still, I refused to sit down.
We negotiated that I could be in the front seat on my knees facing backwards hugging the seat. With such clarity, I could immediately see that this was without-a-doubt the only comfortable position for a laboring woman, so I briefly wondered why I’d never seen another woman going to the hospital like this. Maybe one of those it’s-better-if-they-don’t-know things?
It got us there. With about an hour to spare.
I could only handle the contractions if I was standing and leaning forward with my arms on Mitch’s shoulders. I was loud. I remember that. But I don’t remember the sound exactly. It wasn’t yelling. It wasn’t grunting. I can’t put my finger on it, but the only thing that comes even close is lowing. Painful lowing.
There were lots of directions from Mitch: “You have to sit down.” “You have to breathe.” “You have to put on the hospital gown.” “You have to let them put an IV in.”
My favorite was: “Remember the breathing techniques you learned in class.”
That meant, of course, “I don’t remember the breathing techniques they taught you in class, but let’s hope that you do.”
By the time I followed his advice to put on the hospital gown and sit down:
9 cm. No time for drugs. Later this would make me a superwoman of sorts and a major-hypocrite as well. How could I be joining the group of psycho women I had always either made fun of or severely insulted?
It was so hot in the room that I was sure I would pass out. That had been one of my fears when I thought about childbirth. Stressful times weren’t always my shining moments. I had proven that a good old vasovagal response was in my repertoire twice in the past few years. The more memorable one was when we first moved to Brooklyn for Mitch’s medical rotations. That was the night Mitch woke up yelling every cuss word I know. Charlie horse! I jumped up and ran through our very-tiny-so-how-can-it-possibly-be-this-long apartment to get water. The yelling doubled because so had the pain; Mitch had a Charlie horse in each leg, a physical feat that I didn’t know even existed until that moment. I started running back with the water, and that’s the last thing I remember. Mitch heard the thump of my body hitting the floor. He called my name, and I didn’t respond. So with his double-Charlie-horse-legs, he had to Lieutenant-Dan-style drag himself through the apartment to save me. When I came to, I was sweating and could think of nothing but vomiting and going to the bathroom at the same time. Mitch put me in the bathtub and turned the shower on. Though I can and do laugh now about it, passing out was not a joking matter on this day and was certainly not part of the birth plan.
So I was hot and stressed, opposed to the calm, hydrated, and conscious birthing woman I wanted to be. Mom was wetting paper towels with cool water to put on my forehead. After only a matter of seconds, the water was no longer cool, and I was just lying there with wet-hospital-brand paper towels plastered on my head. I was still hot and now pissed.
“Gatorade,” I said.
Mitch and Dr. P glanced at each other. Later Mitch told me it wasn’t good to drink too much because you could throw it up. But mom was already proving reason number one to have your mom on the birth team by marching right to my bag to bring me the Gatorade. I guzzled most of it before Mitch took it away. And I didn’t pass out.
The contractions and pushing were intense. The time in between critical for recovery and gearing back up. It was physical—like an athletic event, but of a sort without my sneakers and pants—with the breathing, bearing down. And it was emotional—they could see his head. He was coming! And, no, I didn’t want to touch his head with my hands; I could feel it just fine already, thank you very much.
Push through the ring of fire, Dr. P instructed. At the time, it was such good advice. Now, I can’t make sense of it and wonder if that’s actually what she even said.
Such intense pain and then, in a heartbeat, the pain was gone.
Miles Jonathan Mitchell was here. Our sweet Miles. He was perfect. He was ours. We were in love.
Dr. P handed him to me. We held him and took a video that includes me saying something entirely lame that I wish I could blame on drugs and then mostly features the floor and ceiling of the hospital room. We were new parents and it was one of the happiest moments of our lives.
And that was it—childbirth—four and a half months later I would realize, the easiest, least painful part of motherhood for me.
That’s how we remember the day. It was perfect. Yet, when I retell bits of it now, I cause an uncomfortable squirm in others or at least a heavy sigh. That’s because they know the rest of the story. Perhaps they believe that the rest of the story changes this day. But, for us, it doesn’t.