|A little wedding-ring photo to commemorate our anniversary baby!|
|This moment - introducing Anna to her sister - is one of the most highly anticipated, exciting moments of my life.|
|Anna's face in this picture makes me laugh every time (and so does Julie's hair!)|
This scowl definitely does not accurately represent Anna's feelings about being a big sister (see below...)
|First photo as a family of four!|
Thankfully, my wonderful mom was still here and pep-talked me (as well as a "It's going to be OK" and reassurance of her prayers over the phone from my grandmother) to the point that I mostly got myself together. I managed to clean our bathroom, which I had been putting off for days (mostly because I was mad that labor had not yet started in enough time for the bathroom to get dirty again after my previous "last-before-labor" cleaning).
I had a doctor's appointment at 1:30, and my wise mama suggested that I meet Justin for Mass on campus at noon as a little anniversary thanksgiving/celebration and for the attitude adjustment that some good prayer time will always provide. I was uncomfortable and had tears slowly rolling down my cheeks for a lot of Mass, but I was thankful we had the opportunity to go together.
Since I was past my due date, I had been having ultrasounds and non-stress tests to make sure Julia was still healthy and that the placenta was still providing adequate support. The ultrasound went really well and the sweet technician got a few good 3-D shots of Julie's face, which were slight consolation for not seeing her in person. We moved down the hall for a non-stress test. If you're not familiar, it's kinda what it sounds like - the least stressful possible test. You sit in an easy chair with two monitors strapped to your belly, checking for contractions/fetal movement and for the baby's heartbeat. They want to see that the baby's heartbeat accelerates in response to their movement (just like our heart rate would go up after running up the stairs).
For two data nerds like ourselves, watching the graphical printouts was pretty fun for Justin and I. (In fact, at one of the first tests he took a cell phone picture of the graphs to use as an example in one of his Calculus lectures). We understood what we were looking at and what we were looking for, in general. I had trouble keeping the monitor in place (usually it's strapped on at the beginning of the test and I'd have to move it once or twice if she moved enough that it wasn't picking up her heart), and eventually I gave up trying to get it on correctly and paged the nurse. She took the print-outs to the doctor to read, and came back and announced promptly "You're going to labor and delivery!"
They had noticed a lot of contractions on the print-out (which I knew were happening, and wanted to think were more real than before, but didn't want to get my hopes up), and they wanted more monitoring - given that they didn't have a good read, and what they could see didn't look as great as they had hoped.
I was thankful that I had actually brought my hospital bag and things with me to the appointment - Justin had encouraged me to do so for the last few appointments since the hospital is attached to the office building, all of which is about 25 minutes from home. I obliged grudgingly the other times (it was annoying to keep getting things out of the car that I needed) but when I left that day it seemed like it was actually a good idea, and I brought everything I needed, not just the 80% I'd been half-heartedly lugging back and forth for a few weeks.
I kept having contractions as we walked through to the hospital, registered, went up to the floor, and began the monitoring. Some of the nurses who had assisted during my false alarm a few weeks prior said "are you finally having that baby!?" and I told them I wasn't holding my breath. I kept comparing things to my labor with Anna, which kicked off (and maintained) with a ton of nausea, so it didn't seem that a baby was imminent, especially since I had eaten lunch.
This was going to be my "brief" birth story, which is already much longer than I anticipated....and we're not even sure I'm in labor yet. Whoops...I'll gloss over some of the additional details (especially the actual labor details!)
We spent the next few hours being monitored, chatting (it was actually more quiet down-time than we've had in a long time, so even if it was peppered with moderate contractions, it wasn't a terrible way to spend our anniversary), praying the Rosary, watching some TV. I kept thinking this couldn't possibly be labor because I was able to do all of the above things...and I wasn't sick.
Eventually, I was checked and I was barely more progressed than I had been at my previous several weeks' appointments (but - progress! - as I had been holding steady for a looooong time). The midwife came and talked to us and said that she wanted to move things along - although Julia's heart rate was still accelerating a little bit, it wasn't reacting to her movement as strongly as they'd hoped, and they wanted to encourage her on her way before it got to the point where it was not reacting (or - worse, reacting negatively) and delivery was more urgent. We decided that I would walk the halls for a little while as one final natural effort to progress, and then we'd reevaluate in about an hour. Either way, they decided I was definitely staying, and hooked up the IV (for antibiotics and fluid) and declared me officially in labor. (I had an incredibly crazy (ironic?) amount of relief to know that I was about to start something so physically demanding!)
I was checked again after the walk - a little more progress!, but still not enough to continue without some help. We chose the breaking of water over Pitocin, and that was done at 9:15 pm. Things immediately got more intense (as I had expected, based on my experience with Anna). They wanted me in bed for more monitoring, which I did for a while until I buzzed the nurse and said I had to get up. I used the bathroom, ended up spending a significant amount of time with my head on my arms bent over the sink, unable to get back across the room because of the intensity and frequency of the contractions. Eventually they coaxed me back over so that they could monitor the baby's heart rate again. I thought I might be close to complete, the nurse checked and said I was almost there but not quite (I think I let out a pathetic yet emphatic NOOOOOOOO when she told me). I managed to make it through the next several minutes as the midwife came in and got ready.
I told them that I thought I might be ready to push - but I wasn't completely sure. They said I could bear down if it felt right. I followed instructions, and all of a sudden the midwife said "she's beautiful." I thought to myself, "what, the top of her head?" I was thinking back to the multiple hours of pushing with Anna, expecting there was no way they could see more than a few hairs at this early stage. Then Justin said, "Em, she's beautiful!" and I realized that he wouldn't/couldn't say that if he wasn't seeing a significant portion of our baby that he could recognize. I was suddenly able to put together what they were saying with what I was feeling, and realized that I had delivered her head. Another contraction came and I pushed once more and delivered her body.
She cried; they handed her to me; the euphoria of her healthy arrival and the end of the labor and the end of the pregnancy began. I asked Justin "is it today or tomorrow?" and he told me that it was "today" - meaning, still our anniversary. It was 11:18, only 2 hours and a few minutes since they had broken my water and the labor really began.
For whatever reason, I felt so much more aware and engaged during this point than I was with Anna. I remember more vivid details (in a good way) of Julia's delivery - beyond what I've shared here - and I can recall the immediate post-delivery, which I really can't with Anna. This time, I could just peacefully hold my baby (Anna had to be checked right away because of a few warning signs that ended up being nothing). The midwife quickly delivered the placenta and they covered us up with some blankets and the whole medical staff left us along for more than an hour to spend time as a family.
I am so incredibly thankful for the beautiful gift of this little girl, for what my body was designed to do, for the medical staff who assisted. I am also incredibly thankful that I was given (perhaps as consolation for a painful pregnancy) a quick and relatively easy delivery (I wouldn't have agreed with "easy" when I was standing at the bathroom sink moaning about how badly it hurt and how much I wanted it to be over...but still) and for a really easy recovery. From the minute of her birth, my pain and discomfort has been less than 5% of what I had for months prior.
Now that we're home and settling into routine, I feel fantastic. Sure, life with two littles is tiring, but it's different. I've always been really good at sleep deprivation; extreme physical exhaustion like the last few weeks before she was born, not as much. I am so thankful to be able to pick up Anna easily, to be able to roll over in bed without stabbing pain, to be able to walk up and down the stairs. I think I've realized even more how poorly I felt now that I have the comparison of feeling good. We'll see if she (like her sister) lapses into an impossible-to-put-down phase, but for now Julia has been a wonderfully easy baby.
Joy. So much joy. And fulfillment in feeling that this - this mommy thing - is what I was meant to do.
We love you, Julie Mae, and we thank God for you every day!