On a chilly Friday night in February, Rami and I sat in our living room with a few friends, laughing and sharing stories. All the men in the room sipped whiskey while my sister-in-law and I drank water and cradled our round bellies.
I was 38 weeks and 4 days pregnant. The tiny human life inside me had grown to a size within my body that at this point seemed almost freakish to me- maximizing every last inch of elasticity of my skin, challenging the load-bearing vertebrae of my lower back. For the past several nights, I had begun waking around 3 am, restless and hungry, and could only be calmed back to sleep with a bowl of Peanut Butter Crunch cereal. During the day I could be found lying on the couch binging on natural birth videos and asking someone if it would be weird if I ate cheese pizza for dinner for the third night in a row. If you were lucky enough to have encountered me on one of these days, there’s a good chance I was reminding you of what womankind has done for the world and to thank your mother for her sacrifice and also “for the love of God could someone get this baby out of me.” Clearly I was a beaming ray of sunshine, and a delight to my husband.
On this night, I tried my best to enjoy what would surely be one of my last nights unaccompanied by our baby girl, but still she was front and center in my mind. And for good reason actually. Throughout the last trimester of my pregnancy, Ellarie had been kicking mostly the right side of my ribs, earnestly and often. She kicked like it was her job, or like she may be trying to break free. I have learned now what was only a hunch then which is that this baby girl can’t be tamed. She is a feisty, spunky, giggly ball of fire and she could not wait to get out here into this world.
And so it seemed very strange to me to realize whilst sitting among friends that my baby was very.. still. I pondered silently to myself. Had I remembered her moving since everyone had arrived? Perhaps not. Strange. But surely this afternoon.. this morning? I couldn’t say with certainty when it had been and I started to become alarmed. Eye-rolling self-doubt immediately coincided though. “Katie,” I said to myself, “You always think the worst. I’m sure everything is fine.” But I remembered what my doctor had told me. “If the baby ever stops moving for more than two hours, lie on your side and count kicks. If you can’t get to 10 kicks in 2 hours, go to the hospital.” I told myself that I would head to bed as it was already very late and count kicks before I went to sleep just to reassure myself. I excused myself and Rami stayed up talking with our friends.
Once in our room, I lay on my side and waited. I only felt one slight movement in 40 minutes. Rami soon came to bed and I explained what was happening. We read online that I should eat sugar and so he went and collected cake and juices for me in hopes that something would do the trick. Nothing worked. Rami and I both knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable going to sleep until we knew she was okay. So we packed the last few items in our hospital bag and headed out to the car. I said to Rami, “Best case scenario we’ll be back home in 2 hours, worst case I’m about to have a c-section and we won’t be home for days.” We both laughed and Rami (still tipsy from the whiskey) got in the passenger’s seat and I drove myself to the hospital, as it turns out, to give birth.
When I told the nurse at intake that the baby hadn’t moved in a while, her eyes instantly widened and she started speaking hurriedly to the nurses around her. She quickly escorted Rami and I to a bed where I was hooked to monitors; and she and the doctor both breathed a sigh of relief when they found the heartbeat. This was the first time I realized how very serious the situation was. The doctor asked me to drink a bottle of grape juice despite the fact that my stomach was already full of sugar. She used a device on my stomach that would make a noise in utero that should cause Elle to have a startle response. But she didn’t respond. Her heartbeat was steady but she remained still and a sonogram yielded no explanations. The doctor told me I would be admitted and to start preparing myself for the idea of having a c-section.
As is routine, they wanted to place an IV before I was transferred to my room. My body reacts badly to needles and I usually throw up or pass out when stuck. Very special, I know. I warned the doctor of this possibility but she still placed all kinds of papers and vials in front of me. When she inserted the needle, I vomited copious amount of the sugary substances I’d been consuming- on myself and all surrounding areas. They changed my gown but (luckily) the stench stayed with me.
We arrived in our room and would spent the next 8 hours hearing differing opinions from doctors, some even arguing with each other in front of us. Some were sure that everything would proceed as normal and that I may be able to have a natural delivery. Other doctors were very concerned that she wasn’t moving yet and didn’t think she would make it safely through hours of contractions. After a mostly sleepless night, a doctor came in around 10 am to say he was going to try to break my water and see how things progressed. This sounded great as it seemed that it would be my first step on a road to natural delivery. Little did I know that it would not be a routine water break and that it would require forceful intervention from the doctor. I screamed wildly as Rami clutched my hand, tears welling in his eyes. I collapsed when the procedure was finished, looked up at the doctor and without even thinking gave a small smile said, “thank you.” Because apparently you can take everything from a Texas girl, but you can rip politeness from our cold, dead hands.
I was now officially in labor and thrilled beyond words. I had been rehearsing this moment in my mind for months. I had been drinking red raspberry leaf tea and bouncing on my yoga ball and doing all the mental prep I could for a natural birth. Our labor room was equipped with a bathtub to labor in as I had hoped; and for a moment it looked as though everything was going to go to plan. Until the first contraction.
Only minutes after the broke my water, the first contraction came. Elle’s heartrate plummeted, monitors started beeping, Rami swallowed back tears. It’s hard to explain but I was so calm throughout all these things. Even now when I ask Rami what he remembers from that night he says stress (and if you know Rami, you know this is not a usual state for him at all.) But I felt very secure. It’s a strange and mysterious communication that mother and baby experience during pregnancy, as though messages could be sent through our connected tissues from one heart to another.
Doctors and nurses rushed in. One guy took pictures of the monitor feed and sent them to someone who was apparently qualified to make decisions. He hurried out of the room and returned saying “It has become apparent that your baby cannot withstand labor and a c-section is necessary.” I could see both fear and strength in Rami’s face as the moment washed over him. He knew he had to be my advocate for the natural birth we had planned, and yet surrender to the inevitable if either of us was to be in danger.
“Is this the only way?” he asked. “I want to hear you say it.”
“Yes, we believe this is the only way,” the doctor answered.
Everything happened quickly from there. Nurses were in and out. I had forms to sign. And all at once the gravity of the moment hit me. I looked up at the man holding the papers I was signing and said, “When will I see her?”
“In about 30 minutes,” he replied.
I was ecstatic. Nothing mattered in that moment. I could see that the staff seemed a little worried and Rami was racked with fear for the safety of our little girl. But I was on a cloud for that moment. “Finally.” I thought. “I will get to see her face.”
As per hospital policy, Rami wouldn’t be allowed in the room since the cesarian was unplanned. We said goodbye at the door of the operating room and then the reality that I would now be having my entire abdomen cut open set in. My body began to shake as I seemed to be in a state of shock. But then the spinal block was placed and after that, my memory is quite blurry.
I remember thinking that the angle of the light that was shining down on my open abdomen was quite unfortunate because the reflection in it’s glass allowed me to see blood and other difficult-to-make-out bits of myself. This whole experience is quite an out of body one. Though it seems commonplace because many women undergo this, there is nothing natural about being conscious while someone opens your body and removes your organs.
“You will probably feel some pressure,” the anesthesiologist said to me, reorienting me to the moment. “Why?” I asked. “The baby is coming out,” he said excitedly.
I began to cry. She and I were about to be breathing the same air. I would get to see her, to touch her. Then I heard a few gasps, someone say, “woah!” and the doctor counting in Hebrew.
“What’s happening!?” I snapped at the anesthesiologist. “Why can’t I hear her!?”
“The cord was wrapped around her neck 4 times,” he said. “She is okay.”
I waited for cries but she really made more of a cooing sound. Tears ran down the sides of my face.
Moments later they brought her to me. They lay her warm cheek against my chest and we both blinked, noses nearly touching, trying to make one another out in the harsh florescent light. Her face was so pink and perfect. Her little dark blue eyes somehow wide open while she squinted. “Hi baby,” I whispered to her. We spoke to one another with our eyes, saying in unison, “It’s you.”
All else disappeared as I breathed her in for that moment. We would only have a couple minutes together before they needed to take her to the neonatal unit.
When our time was up she was wheeled through the operating room doors straight into Rami’s arms. He accompanied her to the nursery where she was on oxygen for 45 minutes and all routine checks were done. He sat by her side, texting me pictures.
Meanwhile I was in a recovery room and was required to spend about 4 hours there as we were told I would have to be released from post op before we could all be reunited. I was so thankful to have my sisters-in-law by my side as I waited there longing for my baby in what would have otherwise been an empty room. They went back and forth to Rami, keeping everyone updated and keeping my spirits up.
Finally after too many hours separated from my baby who I hadn’t spent one second apart from in the last 9 months, it was time for our reunion. They took me to my recovery room, situated me into a new bed, and only seconds later I heard the door open.
I could feel her before I could see her. The burn of the stitches in my abdomen, the dull ache of my head, the drowsy confusion of a sleepless night, all melted away when she came in. Deep swells of peace poured over me as they wheeled her bassinet toward me. And as they put her in my arms all finally felt right in the world- for the first time all day, for the first time in years.
My fingers traced the curve of her cheeks. I studied her long fingers. We had skin to skin contact for the first time and Rami and I relayed every bit of information from our time apart. Though nothing went as we had ever expected it would, we were just overcome with bliss. Between the years of hoping, her precious, squishy face and all the oxytocin, all we could feel was this euphoric sense of gratitude that she was ours and we were hers. Finally.