Continued from part two…
It was around 1:30am when our team was finally all setup and ready to move to the final stage of the birth –- pushing. I was really nervous, so I asked Bonnie to guide me through the beginning while I got the hang of it. I’ve heard some women say they literally pushed three times before their baby arrives, while others pushed for hours and hours. Not knowing where I would fall on the spectrum, I was anxious thinking that our baby could be just minutes away.
Bonnie held my right leg, and Casey held my left, while Mia sat in front of me and talked me through the process. Because of the epidural, I couldn’t feel much pain at this point, but I would feel intense pressure as each contraction began. At the peak of each one, I would take a deep breath, and then push as hard as humanly possible for a count of ten seconds. Immediately, I’d take another breath and repeat this three times in a row. It felt awkward at first since I didn’t know what I was doing, but they assured me I was making progress with each one.
Our hospital room had an entire wall of windows that showed nothing but the darkness of the middle of the night. The lights in the room were dimmed other than a few spotlights, and there was an almost eerie quiet in between contractions as we waited for the next push. I asked Casey to put on my favorite piano music –- George Winston –- and for the next hour, I pushed in intervals while we all listened to classical piano in the dark.
After about an hour or so, I could tell the epidural was wearing off. I had much more mobility in my legs, and the pressure of each contraction was starting to be accompanied by increasing pain. Mia assured me that I was doing everything correctly, but that there was still a long way to go. It was really difficult for me psychologically to know that I had already labored for over 50 hours at this point, and despite the fact that I was pushing, until he passed a certain point there was still a chance that I would need a c-section.
Exhausted from pushing, I asked Mia for reassurance that this birth was really going to happen. That I was going to be able to push him out. That all my efforts were leading to something concrete. She continued to tell me that his heart rate was fine and he was doing well, but that we weren’t out of the woods yet until he moved farther down.
Time ticked by so slowly, and with each push I felt more and more pressure and pain. I started shaking and couldn’t get my temperature under control. I asked for blankets because my shivering was so intense, and Bonnie checked my temperature -– 102. But Cullen’s heart rate never wavered, which is the main reason my labor was allowed to go on as long as it did. If Cullen was going to stay strong, so was I.
Somewhere around the 2.5 hour mark, reaching hour 54 of labor, I started to feel like I was reaching my limit. It felt like there was no end in sight, even though they kept telling me they could see him and he was getting closer. I started to cry and doubted if I could get through much more. Mia said she knew I could do it, but also said that if I wanted she could go get an OB who would use a vacuum to assist the end of the birth. Something about that sounded so horrific to me, and I told her I would find it in me to push for 30 more minutes. For some reason it helped me to have a deadline in my mind.
Then she asked if I wanted her to bring in a mirror so that I could see that he was really there and getting closer. I said no. Casey looked at me and said, “I think you really need to see this. It’s incredible.” I shook my head in agreement –- I needed some sort of extra push.
Mia brought a big mirror in and set it up at the end of the bed. I was scared to look, but when I did I felt a final burst of energy that I had been reserving deep within. Seeing his head made me realize he was real, and it gave me the strength I needed to get through that final hour.
At this point the experience changed. My pain level was through the roof, and the only way I could deal with it was to completely remove myself from the experience and find a place that was totally introspective and peaceful. I closed my eyes for the final hour, and never opened them once.
This sounds so cheesy to write, but I truly went inside myself for that last hour. I could hear Mia, Bonnie, and Casey talking but I felt like I was ten feet away. I thought about my prenatal yoga classes, and everything I had read and learned about focusing energy and finding strength.
I thought about Cullen –- who he would be, what his life would be like, and all of the things I hoped and wished for him as his mother. I pictured him as a toddler, playing in the leaves in our yard. I pictured him holding hands with Casey walking down the sidewalk. I thought about him playing with our dogs in the backyard. And with each image, I pushed and pushed and pushed.
I could hear Mia telling me “you’re doing it, Emily, he’s almost here” but I just stayed focused and kept thinking about our life with our son. I knew if I opened my eyes I would crack, and at one point I heard myself yelling “Come ON, Cullen.”
After what felt like an eternity, suddenly the room came alive with energy. I heard people and equipment rushing into the room, and I opened my eyes to see new faces all around the bed. With one more big push, I felt intense pressure like nothing I’ve felt before. Casey looked at me and said, “Emily he’s out, you did it.” Mia told me to give it one more push –- everything I had.
And with that I felt the most incredible feeling my body has ever experienced. I felt every inch of him pass from me to the outside world, and as I looked down I saw a tiny pink body being untangled and placed on top of my stomach.
I looked at Casey who had a look in his eyes that I have never seen before. Over and over I just kept saying, “Casey oh my god, he’s here, he’s real.” The way that he was placed on my stomach, I could only really see the top of his head, and I remember saying several times, “I can’t see him! What does he look like?”
He was placed directly on my stomach out of the womb, and the nurses all gathered around and rubbed him down to get him breathing directly on my skin. After what felt like a long 20 or so seconds, he let out the most beautiful cry I’ve ever heard.
Once he was pink and crying, the nurses stepped away and let just me and Casey have our moment with our baby who was just minutes old. Through it all, I could feel the rest of my delivery coming to an end, and during the delivery of the placenta I had a minor hemorrhage that caused me to lose a significant amount of blood.
I tried to keep my focus on the beautiful baby on my belly, all the while extra shots of pitocin were being given in my thighs, and Mia was quickly trying to stop what I could tell was a large amount of bleeding. They let Cullen stay on my belly for about 30 glorious minutes before moving him to be weighed and evaluated by the nursing staff.
Part of me felt like I was in a haze through it all because the experience was so incredibly overwhelming and emotional. But I kept telling myself to remain present and not miss a single second, knowing I would never get these first moments back.
Once he was ready, he was placed back into my arms -– not even an hour old, and ready for his first feeding. Despite all the books and research, I had no idea what breastfeeding would really look or feel like, but I found that it came naturally and that he and I would work as a team to figure it out together.
With a full belly, it was time for him to be properly cleaned. I couldn’t leave my bed, but Casey joined him to capture all the moments so that I could see them afterwards. For a boy that fought 55 hours coming into the world, he was alert and peaceful once he made his grand arrival.
And while I thought that seeing my son would be the most emotional moment of my life, I was wrong. It was seeing my son with his dad. I truly felt like my heart was going to explode.
It took 40.5 weeks to grow him and nourish him into our lives, and several long days of labor to help him transition into our world. But it only took an instant for him to completely steal my heart forever.
And that is how our birth story ends…
And the rest of the journey begins.