26 Mar 2022

a second birth story

This birth story is approximately three years overdue. That is to say, the star of this story – the slightly mis-positioned fetal child – is now a stunning three-year-old who sleeps in her parents’ bed, laughs uncontrollably at her own jokes, and despite having watched barely a feature film in her short lifespan, loves Disney Princesses.

She’s going to be a big sister in about four months, when the baby in Mama’s belly will come out and also the baby in Daddy’s belly, and maybe the toy baby in her own belly. All of these babies will be named “girl,” but maybe one will be a bunny, too.

So much has changed for our family in the last three years, but have I become a more succinct, capable writer since I last poured thousands of words into her older brother’s multi-part birth story? Unlikely. Are you in for another long and artificially twisting ride? Perhaps.

Let’s jump nine months further back, to really get the full, novella-length effect. My husband and I decided to get pregnant when older brother was about 18 months old. It happened – for the second time – shockingly quickly. I was spared some of the anxiety I experienced with my first pregnancy, but instead was treated to more nausea (lasting into the 2nd trimester) more aches, and more tiny complications. An abnormal NT scan, followed by a delayed NIPT blood draw. My 2-year-old got Fifth’s Disease – more blood work. I failed my 1-hour glucose test – again. I barely survived my 3-hour glucose test – again.

Every test and lab came back fine. She’s fine. I’m fine. But it was a pregnancy peppered with tiny, nervous waiting games, leading up to the ultimate waiting game – when will this fine baby be born?

For those of you intelligent humans with exceptional time management skills who didn’t get around to reading my first birth story, I will spoil it for you now: after years of “first time moms go late!” conditioning, my water broke just a hair before I hit 38 weeks – 24 hours later, I delivered a decidedly fully grown 8 lb baby child. Conventional wisdom said: “second time moms go earlier!” Could I have a 37 weeker?? My no-nonsense, now-a-midwife little sister’s wisdom said: “remember how you also didn’t actually GO into labor? Your first data point is invalid.” It was true that I was an anomaly in a family of late-baby-havers – I really had no idea when the moment would arrive. It could be 37 weeks, it could be 41.

And so I entered that final month of potential delivery flying completely blind, feeling pretty physically awful, and probably going a little crazy. Thirty-seven weeks passed, then thirty-eight. I lumbered to work and back wearing a voluminous purple trench coat loaned to me by my sister. I sat in a puddle on a train seat and had a very confusing evening trying to figure out if my water had broken. I filled my freezer to capacity with meals, snacks, granola. I fell asleep reading Bad Blood in the bathtub every night after work.

And of course, I worried obsessively over who would watch my now 2.5-year-old when the awaited moment finally arrived. Gathering a list of friends felt like pulling my own vulnerability teeth, but I did have a list. And my MIL would be arriving at to celebrate Thanksgiving (38+4) and leave on Sunday (39+1); my midwife-sister had a one-way plane ticket for Tuesday night (39+3) could stay for a while. I had never been more than 38 weeks pregnant so it all seemed like a gamble, but lo and behold the days just waddled by.

38+0: Still pregnant
38+1: Still pregnant
38+2: Still pregnant
38+3: Still pregnant and had a visit with my OB. She checked my cervix – a service I’d never had the chance to be experience in-office before – and found me… 3-4 CM DILATED. “I don’t think you’ll make it to your next appointment,” she said. “DEAR GOD,” I said, remembering my functional induction from 1-2cm last time around. “I don’t know what to do with that information.”
38+4: Still pregnant, getting crazier, but now hosting my MIL
38+5: Made Thanksgiving dinner
38+6: Still pregnant, waddled to work, ate Tasty Burger for lunch with my family. After work, bought a Christmas tree.
39+0: Still pregnant, ate brunch at Zaftig’s with my family, waddled all the way up the hill from Coolidge Corner to Brookline Village to shop at Henry Bear’s and The Children’s Bookstore with Grandma.

That night, I sat on the couch with my husband and his mother as they enjoyed one last evening of family togetherness before she’d start the long drive back to Michigan in the morning.

I started working on a Spotify playlist. My previous delivery was a daylong affair, and I hadn’t given much thought to the audial experience. We ended up listening to a lot of musical soundtracks because they were long and didn’t require a lot of hands-on DJ-ing, but when contractions increased, I became increasingly disturbed by my husband’s attempts to select – the Carole King musical… instead of actual Carole King songs?? LES MISERABLES? Yes this is my favorite musical of all time but SERIOUSLY? RIGHT NOW?! So this time, I thought I’d try my hand at a few curated lists – two, I decided: Chill Labor Jams and a Pump Up the Energy Mix. I started in on the chill mix – Regina, Rufus, Joni, Simon, Garfunkel, etc. – all the while noticing that my familiar Braxton-Hicks contractions were feeling somewhat more… regular than had been typical.

Mother and son tried to say their final day goodbye, but as is their genetic predisposition, they failed and instead agreed to meet up for a quick coffee at Starbucks before the tender hour of 7am the next morning. Everyone went to sleep.

39+1: Sunday. I woke up at 5 a.m. With actual contractions.

I laid in bed for an hour or so, waiting for them to pass, probably trying to time them, but they were just… there. I woke up my husband for his coffee date – late, of course, he hurried to get out the door – and I felt compelled to tell him that I’d been having contractions for the last 90 minutes. He was shocked. “What do we do?” I don’t know! But get out of this house and talk to your mother!

Some time later, after the 2.5 year old had woken and breakfasted, a somewhat confused and road-trip-ready MIL arrived back on my couch. She had called her hotel and could stay another night, but in a different room so she couldn’t check in yet. We had no plans, so our default activity became “watch Jessica covertly but with interest to determine if she was in labor.”

I wasn’t, really. The contractions were happening and were somewhat timeable, but just not at all frequent or intense. Mostly fifteen minutes apart or more, starting and stopping. I took a long nap. I cared for my child and made dinner. I decorated half a Christmas tree before giving into exhaustion. I endured polite but unnerving scrutiny from the adults in the home.

My act wasn’t, ultimately convincing. False labor could last for days, or weeks, so MIL would leave in the morning, unless things changed over night. I went to bed, contracting away, but sleep came easily.

39+2: Monday. I woke in the dark with my alarm. I roused the troops. I packed lunches. I ate breakfast. I put on a dress and did my makeup.

Then I texted my boss and told her I was taking a sick day. My contractions were still there – no more frequent or intense, but I just couldn’t imagine sitting at my desk next to my 50-something-year-old male coworker all day feeling like I did.

My only photo evidence from the day. Those two dates must have really helped.

My family left for work and childcare and I had the always-unusual experience of spending a day alone in my own home. I put my pajama pants on and set about keeping myself as busy as a 39-week-pregnant person can muster. I cleaned up my house a little, did a load of laundry, and turned some sad looking bananas into muffins. I took yet another bath. My contractions stayed about 10 minutes apart for most of the day, although sometimes were as close as 4 minutes apart if I was up and moving around for a bit. I tried some Spinning Babies, then the Miles Circuit: on Step Two I fell asleep for an hour and a half. I don’t remember if I made it to Step Three. I Facetimed my midwife sister. My family came home in the afternoon, and we all walked down the street to the library.

At some point in the evening that I can’t remember, shit started to get real. Real-er anyway. I still am not sure. Contractions, finally, were staying in the 4-8 minute range instead of the 8-15 minute range. I had a few where I had to excuse myself from a conversation and take a break – one of my non-midwife sisters reported that she could tell I was in labor over Facetime, that I was clearly in denial.

I don’t remember what I thought, except for what I remembered from my last 24-hour labor: SLEEP IS YOUR ONE AND ONLY FRIEND AND SAVIOR. I so I put on my pajamas, brushed my teeth, and got into bed.

An hour later I got up and marched into the living room. My husband had just returned from a trip to a friend’s apartment gym (remember when we used to do such odd public activities on a whim?). “I guess we should call the hospital,” I said, “because I can’t sleep either way.”

For those of you who haven’t hung out with an extremely pregnant lady lately – specifically an extremely pregnant lady who wants to deliver in a hospital without an epidural or c-section – the question of when to go to the hospital is peak hand-wringing uncertainty. The stakes feel quite high. You could be sent home (shame). You could get admitted too soon and watch your perfect birth give way to the dreaded Cascade of Interventions (shame). You could be Sent! Home! (shame, shame, shame-shame-shame). Everyone knows someone who has experienced some of this – the Cascade, the shame. For me, I had a friend who shared her agonized weeks of false labor via live text earlier in the year. Surely this would be my fate.

So I braced myself and called the after hours nurse line. It was 10:45 pm. My contractions were still sometimes 4 minutes apart, sometimes 7 or 8 – but given my second time mom status and my wide open cervix, I’d been given clearance to call if contractions were consistently in the 7-10 minute range. I explained all of this to the nurse. She told me she’d forward my message onto the on-call midwives at L&D and they’d call me back.

We quietly hustled around the house getting dressed, gathering bags, preparing food and daycare supplies for the 2.5 year old who was sleeping snugly in his crib.

Thirty minutes later, no phone call. I called back and got the nurse line again. Contractions were back in the 7-8 minute range. “You said your contractions were… five minutes apart, right?” the nurse said, skeptically. “Yes,” I lied. “Five minutes.” We hung up, and the call back finally came. “We’ve been swamped!” the midwife said. “Tell me about your contractions!” I lied some more and threw in colorful but seemingly unmoving details about my bloody show (not a lie!). Whatever I said felt like a half-truth; whatever she said was the clearance I needed to get in the car and head to the hospital. The fact that I was clear-eyed enough to strategize, connive, and remember all of this seemed like a bad sign.

Meanwhile, my husband had been Frantically Seeking Childcare. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Mike is on the way.”


“Yeah, Mike.”

Mike – a former coworker of my husband’s, dad of two older kids, who lived nearby – was nowhere on our list of childcare options. While they used to be work besties and carpool friends, I wasn’t under the impression that they still spoke or hung out – if Mike even knew we were pregnant. He definitely hadn’t seen my 2.5 year old since his first birthday. Mike would be… staying over? Releasing my only beloved child from his crib and feeding him breakfast (watch out for those food allergies, by the way)? And driving him to daycare? Dear Lord…

About 45 seconds later, there was a knock at our apartment’s interior door. A soaking wet, out of breath Mike stood in our hallway. “Your neighbor let me up!” he said, breathless. “I’m here! You guys can go! I got this! I’m double-parked outside, but don’t worry about it! Just go!”

My husband settled down the only urgent man of the evening – convinced him to swap parking spots, installed a car seat in the downpour that had apparently begun outside, and started ferrying items down to the car. Then ferried me, and we were on our way.

It was nearly midnight and we drove in what seemed like pitch dark, with windshield wipers barely beating back the late November rainstorm. I timed contractions, excited to see a 6-minute interval, reassured to feel uncomfortable and squirmy in my car seat.

When I had my first baby, we drove straight into the heart of Boston just after nine in mild early June – I sat on a towel and ate Ben & Jerry’s from the carton to “wake up” the baby for my initial monitoring. The streetlights lit our path, and we felt jokily stymied by an overly cautious cop stopping traffic for construction. I wasn’t entirely happy to be heading to the hospital at 38 weeks without contractions, but it was the anxious, excited beginning to the hopefully unmedicated labor experience I’d been thinking about for years – the beginning of being parents.

Now, we drove down the Pike in the chilly, dark gloom and on into the suburbs. I didn’t know if I was supposed to be at the hospital. One day, weeks earlier, as I languished in late third-trimester discomfort, it struck me that I had to deliver this baby. I didn’t think I was AT ALL prepared to birth a baby, much less without an epidural.

I didn’t think I was prepared to start all over again with a helpless infant.

I didn’t know if I was at all prepared to be a mom of two.

We pulled into the hospital parking garage and rushed our slightly soggy selves some percentage of our belongings into the Emergency Room entrance, where we were to show ourselves and wait for a L&D escort. We did just that – I declined a chair while we answered paperwork questions, preferring to be standing when my still just-too-intermittent contractions struck, but beyond that I felt the same as I had all day. Fine. Ish. It was a bit of a hike over to the L&D ward, so a nurse arrived and offered me a wheelchair. It didn’t seem necessary. I lumbered into elevators and through the dim, winding hospital hallways and finally into what seemed like a completely empty Labor and Delivery unit. I was ushered immediately into a private triage room where I gowned up, was strapped to the requisite monitors, and had a chat with the preternaturally calm night nurse.

“Looks like your contractions are about 5 or 6 minutes apart,” she said politely.

Awesome. Amazing. Two days of contractions and… just so little progression. I was only 39 weeks. Here was where I received my lecture about prodromal labor and was sent along my merry way – back out into a rainstorm in the middle of the night to… try and sleep? Then what… resume my normal life for up to two more weeks?

“But here’s the midwife, so she will check your cervix and see how you are progressing.”

Midwife Naomi entered and did her thing. She smiled.

“Well, looks like we are having a baby tonight! You are 8-9cm dilated!”


“You’re shitting me.”

I would like to state, for the record, that never in my life have I uttered profanity in front of a medical professional. Not even in the midst of a very long and actually painful labor. That’s how, excuse me, fucking flabbergasted I was.

The mood in our quiet triage room turned cheery. “Usually moms who are 8cm dilated don’t come walking into triage!” the nurse said. My husband suggested he might run back out to the car to grab our giant yoga ball, and she admonished him, “You might miss delivery, Dad! Better stay close by!”

Minutes later, we were escorted through the dimly lit and silent halls to our delivery suite. This was such a departure from my previous hospital experience, where we spent midnight to nearly 7 a.m. camped out in a recovery “room” while we waited for a proper place to land. Not out here in the suburbs – or perhaps I was experiencing 8cm privilege. Either way, we settled into our delivery suite, met with our L&D nurse for the evening, and laid out a plan for what would surely be a quick and efficient stay.

So happy to be 8cm!

First, I would receive my first dose of antibiotics – who knows if I would have time for the second recommended dose, so let’s get that out of the way first! Whilst on the drip, we would attempt to Labor and Chill and catch a little sleep.

Next, would I like to try some Spinning Babies maneuvers to make sure the baby was in the ideal position for labor. Boy, yes, I would! I had not heard much about optimal baby positioning until way too late in my first pregnancy – so although my precious 8lb firstborn was neither breech nor posterior, I was, of course making up for lost anxiety by following all of the Spinning Babies exercises during my 2nd pregnancy. (Or at least until I became entirely too beaten down by mid-3rd trimester.)

Toward the very end of my pregnancy, however, I had become concerned. Despite being head down (definitely) and not posterior (as far as I could tell), my fetal child seemed wedged into a particular spot inside my torso, where she still remained that morning. My attempts at self-belly-mapping all pointed toward a baby position called ROA – right occiput anterior. ROA is a fetal position that is both head down and not posterior but is also “not clearly associated with a resulting labor pattern,” a diagnosis I took to mean… babies just aren’t supposed to come out this way. It was also predicted that ROA babies needed to first rotate to a posterior position before finally arriving at a position where labor was easiest/possible. Posterior babies, from what my research gathered, notoriously send mothers running frantically toward an epidural, tripping down the cascade of interventions and onto the operating table. Cool cool.

While none of the professionals in my life seemed concerned about my ROA baby, I had, strangely and luckily enough, walked into one of the first Spinning Babies certified hospitals in the country. My labor and delivery nurse was educated in assisting me in various strange bodily contortions, and she was happy to put her knowledge to practice. After I finished my IV drip, she flipped me upside down for an inversion or two. I hoped her ministrations (despite how… random and useless they really do seem) helped loosen my pelvic apparatus somewhat, and would eventually allow a baby to exit my vagina.

The final step of my on-the-fly birth plan was to enter a warm bathtub. After traipsing through the halls in flip-flops and swimsuits during my previous delivery, I was keen on the suburban hospital’s in-room water sources. The hospital had rooms with big bathtubs OR rooms with showers; and oh, I agonized. I’d never labored in a bathtub, experienced the “liquid epidural!” On the other hand, the semi-public shower had essentially saved my life during my last delivery.

Novelty won out in the end – I went for the bathtub, and I certainly planned on trying it out. Even if I wasn’t exactly in throes of labor. My contractions at this point were certainly still occurring, but, looking back, the only word I can use to describe them was… manageable. They hurt, but not a ton. I wasn’t interested in talking during a contraction, I might close my eyes, some took my breath away and required a little concentration to endure. But then, it would be gone and I could resume my relatively normal existence.

Yes, this is what most of my unmedicated labor looked like. It was… bizarre.

This was how I ended up spending a chunk of my labor just hanging out in a warm bathtub, listening to my Chill Labor Jams, and… waiting. The water was nice, although not as steamy hot as I’d hoped. The atmosphere was certainly Chill – the baby was doing fine, I was doing fine. Everyone loved our music – I had some deep chats with Midwife Naomi about Joni Mitchell’s career and the times she’d seen Tom Waits live. This show would be getting on the road any minute, so enjoy your bathtime, super pregnant 8cm lady!

Alas – as the water cooled off, so did the general mood. We were having too much fun; my contractions clearly weren’t progressing as they should. Unless I having some kind of mysterious pain-free labor, the mother unaware of her dilation until she accidentally sneezed her baby out? Everyone kept asking me if I was feeling pressure, feeling an urge to push. I was still 39 weeks pregnant, mind you, with most of my entire body uncomfortable. I was feeling a lot of things – mostly low, low contractions – but nothing that made me think “push.”

Back on dry land, my nurse helped me through some Spinning Babies side-lying releases. Midwife Naomi checked me for a second time and let me know as much.

“You were an 8-9, but now I think you are a 7,” she said. “You’re having too much fun and not enough pain, and your cervix is closing up,” she did not say. She looked at her watch – “It’s been awhile and we like to see more progress.”

It was now closing in on 6 a.m. – five or six hours since I arrived at the hospital, and closing in on the Awake for 24 Hours mark. My “don’t run out to the car, dad!” labor was clearly taking a different path. One lesson I’d learned from my previous, rather long labor, was the delicate cost-benefit balance between resting and activity. With my first, I chose activity – walking the halls, pacing my room, and bouncing on balls all night and all day in an effort to move labor along. When that second night arrived and I was in the thick of transition and pushing, my body and brain were totally spent.

As far as I knew, I could be in this room laboring until the sun rose and set again. So, along with Midwife Naomi, I laid out a new plan. My second dose of antibiotics was due soon. I would try to lie down and get a little sleep now, and while on the drip. Once that was done, Midwife Naomi would come back and break my water; then I would rise from my darkened labor cave and get walking those halls.

So I rested, or rested as much as a laboring woman can. I was still contracting, mind you! And contracting lying down, which always makes everything feel worse. My husband curled up in a chair next to me and actually caught some Z’s, as far as I could tell, but my L&D nurse came to check on me a few times when I seemed like I was having a hard contraction. At one point, she offered nitrous – a pain management tool not available to me at Big City hospital, and one I expressed an openness to trying. But the contraction faded, and it wasn’t too bad. “Maybe if it gets worse,” I told her.

I recall these small details here because I still remember them so clearly… because I felt so clear-headed for most of this very strange labor. Documenting my first birth was trying to dredge up of mysterious chunks of time lost to… probably nothing but dozens of contractions, maybe trying a strange new position, lumbering to the bathroom, hoisting up monitors. This day happened over three years ago and I’ve never worried about losing a moment, since I was just so lucid.

My drip finished around 7:00, and once I was released from the IV it was time to wake up and actually get this baby out of my body. My husband texted his babysitting buddy to check on our little guy at home – both boys were doing 100% fine and about to get in the car and drive over to daycare. I pulled out my laptop and fired off the official “Guess what? I’m on maternity leave,” email to my boss. Unbeknownst to me, my husband alerted the family text chain updating them upon our whereabouts (“the hospital!”) and our whatabouts (“about to break her water!”)

Midwife Naomi arrived on the scene, so I resumed my position on the bed to receive my giant crochet hook (that’s what I pictured, anyway, I didn’t actually see it). A moment later, a flood – it put my imaginary slow-leak on the Green Line to shame.

“Nothing happens when I’m in the room waiting,” Midwife Naomi said. “I’ll make a round and come back to check on you.”

It was time for Step Three – Getting Active. I laid in bed momentarily, trying to find the full-term pregnant lady momentum to get out of bed, when a contraction hit. Ow. Ouch. Okay, this was kind of painful. My labor and delivery nurse was by my side to help me sit up. Another contraction. I needed to stand up IMMEDIATELY. When I did, I felt a biiiiig baby movement, my insides being shuffled around. With the next contraction, one of those involuntary scream-moans came out of my mouth and my knees buckled.

Time finally gets fuzzy here. I was standing next to the bed with the labor and delivery nurse, unable to relocate, reposition, or do anything at all. I have no recollection of my husband being by my side, although I’m sure he wasn’t far away. All of the pain I had been waiting on for two days was suddenly upon me, and then with one contraction, my knees fell into a squat and, there it was.

“I’m pushing!” I said. “I think I’m pushing!”

At some point during the lengthy, chill, chatty portion of my labor, Midwife Naomi was casually feeling around the edges of what could be holding up my forward progress.

“Are you afraid to push?” she asked me.

I answered without deep consideration. “Yes!”

Of course I was afraid to push! Pushing was the worst. It was terrifying. I was bad at it. It hurt. I pushed for FOUR hours last time. And did I mention it was terrifying?

She insisted that I wouldn’t push for four hours. I pretended to be reassured. I’m not sure there was any amount of pushing that I would accept cheerfully.

Now, Midwife Naomi arrived fresh from her 15 minute jaunt around the ward. She came to my side and found me sobbing. She and the nurse asked me what was wrong. “I don’t want to push!” I said. “I don’t want to!

They made the appropriate cooing and calming noises while helping me back onto the bed to have my cervix checked. Once I was on the other side, it all made sense: I broke down in tears exactly once during my first labor, somewhere shortly before measuring 9cm. Transition. And now, after nearly 48 hours of laboring from 3-4cm to 8cm, my broken water had finally jostled my baby around enough to push me over the precipice. I was checked, and I was finally at a 10.

In a break between contractions, Midwife Naomi laid out my options. “You can labor in whatever position you want,” she said. “It’s really up to you.”

Still thinking about my extended pushing exertions past, I mentioned the squat bar – so many years ago, after a few hours without progress, I tried one push on the squat bar and my birth team cheered with the success! Then they let me lay back down and didn’t tell me to get up and try again, which I was cool with, because that push had been completely horrifying. This time, I shouldn’t be a wimp.

“Weeeellll,” Midwife Naomi said, “Anything other than the squat bar. I don’t like the squat bar for second time moms because things might go too fast.”

Still laying on the bed on my back, another contraction hit me hard. I didn’t care what position my body was in. My body was no longer under my command. It was pushing a baby out of me, whether I wanted it to or not.

Here is where I squeezed my eyes shut and just didn’t open them again. My husband was in the room but I remember nothing of his presence beyond asking if he needed to hold my leg (Nope, also not a second-time-mom thing). At one point I heard a familiar voice – a new midwife arrived, but it was my midwife, who I’d seen in the office for eight months. Midwife Kate offered to take over for Midwife Naomi. Midwife Naomi was like “Nope, I totally got this.”

There were a few contractions, I don’t remember how many. A few directions from the Midwife – wait, small push here – but I have no recollection of whether or not I was able to follow them.

And then there was a baby.

This is the face of someone whose body just pushed a baby out against their will. I’ve seen it since, and it’s pretty universal.

After 39 weeks and 3 days of pregnancy, weeks of fearing I wasn’t ready to deliver again, two days of contractions, and thirty minutes of actual labor, a baby. In my arms.

“You have a daughter!” They said. “A big, beautiful daughter!”

She was both big and beautiful. Nine and a half pounds big. Her head was round with a bit of tufty dark hair, her face rather bruised from her hasty exit. Beautiful.

I, on the other hand, looked like I had witnessed a murder. Looking at photos and video from this moment brings only one phrase to mind – shell shock. My stare was a little vacant. My responses delayed. What the hell had just happened to me??

Also shocking – while my eyes were closed for thirty minutes, my quietly dim birthing sanctuary had been populated by approximately one half of the hospital’s entire staff. No medical emergency had occurred – I was merely the mother of a lucky Shift Change baby. My delivery was attended by two midwives, two labor and delivery nurses, maybe a baby nurse of some kind, and at least one nursing student. My husband, again was somewhere. I lay on the table, suddenly shivering cold, surrounded by bustle.

The cord was clamped and cut and the Big Beautiful Baby was moved across the room to have her heel pricked. Her blood sugar was low, so they gave her some formula before I was allowed to offer the breast – strange, but as Midwife Naomi insisted, medically advised. Midwife Naomi also insisted that I deliver my own placenta. Like before, it proved somewhat… sticky? I was neither impressed nor motivated. I was tired. Some stern words were issued to me – “Push this placenta out RIGHT NOW Jessica or else we are going to do something even MORE painful to you,” or something like that. I guess I did what was required of me – another giant placenta emerged… this time with a true knot!

“Look at this!” everyone remarked. “That can be dangerous!”

Hope you aren’t eating!

I held my Big Beautiful Dangerous Baby while other humans still hovered between my legs, now presumably giving me a stitch or two. Again: really not into it. “Moms who have have natural births don’t usually like to be touched after they deliver,” some wise person intoned to the lurking nursing student. No shit.

I endured, while also trying to remember how to latch a newborn onto a breast. I had nearly two years of nursing experience, but most of it was spent whipping out a boob and the milk-drinker doing the rest. I’d forgotten that the fresh ones need to learn… and that they had no neck support. The first few weeks would be rocky, but on that early morning, with a little help, she latched.

The rest of my daughter’s first day of life is a soft blur in my memory. We moved to a postpartum room with windows – the storm had passed, the sun was up. Baby visited the nursery while we caught a nap. We were visited by all the medical professionals. In the evening, my husband left to pick up our two-year-old from daycare, feed him dinner, and put him to bed; I wondered if it was coincidence that my body decided it was time to deliver a baby approximately twenty minutes after he’d arrived at his trusted care provider’s home that morning. Another (male, teacher) friend arrived to stay with him until my sister’s late flight arrived – my mother, who bought a ticket that morning, would also be on the flight.

My husband caught a Lyft back to the hospital. We spent the night holed up in our room with our new baby, who was not, we were learning, the angelic newborn nighttime sleeper her older brother had been. The next day, more visiting, hanging out with my mom and sister, ordering sushi. A rough night – painful cramps, a baby who wouldn’t sleep unless she was on top of me, missing the familiarity of parenting my son, fearful of how life would go on once we were all home.

In some ways, in those early months, my fears were founded. It took my daughter a week or so to learn how to sleep independently for any stretch of time. Simultaneously, just a night or so after we arrived home with her, my son suddenly learned how to scale his crib wearing his sleep sack. It took him a week or so to learn how to stop wandering the house and waking every living being up at 2 a.m. Even after that dust settled, the days alone with my baby felt long and lonely. The nights – that started at 4pm in December – felt even longer.

But life did, in fact, go on, regardless of my coping skills or attitude. I learned how to care for both kids at the same time. We took a few weekend trips in the spring. In the summer, my husband came home from teaching and we spent three weeks in Michigan visiting family and a week in North Carolina. In the fall I went back to work. My baby turned one, and suddenly her brother acknowledged her presence. They’ve been two peas in a pod ever since.

Everything was starting to feel normal again, at the end of 2019.

But that’s a 6,000 word story for another day.

This story is about the Big Baby Girl who joined our family three and a half years ago. Who has startled us again and again with her clear comprehension of the world around her. A big hugger, a big snuggler, forever pushing her hair out of her eyes. She’s becoming a punk little sister who takes very little shit from her older brother, but will also follow him anywhere and try anything he thinks is fun. She has an enduring passion for walking around eating a snack, trailing crumbs behind her. She’s spent nearly 2/3 of life living in a global pandemic, but now she’s in full-time preschool; she comes home rattling off the names of the seven continents, a full list of every kid that was present and absent (and which kids weren’t being good listeners), and gossip about her clique of BFFs, Eva, Liana, and Sienna. She occasionally refers to herself as “Beautiful Robin.”

We go with it. Because she’s not wrong.

She’s my Big Beautiful Baby who is about to be a Beautiful Big Sister.

Oh, and here’s a link to the playlist that made it all happen.

31 Dec 2021

2021: A Year in Reading

It’s almost 2022. I’m still here – in the same job, with the same family, living in the same neighborhood, still at home most of the damn time – and I’m still trying to figure out if I’m ready to start grappling – in writing – with Life in a Never-ending Pandemic.

A sliver of contemplation, then, through a particular lens that I’m familiar with, during this End of the Year Wrap-up, Tallying, Ranking, and Celebrating season we are in.

My thesis: 2021 has been a strange reading year.

In 2021, I did not read 100 books.

I’ve been around the Internet of Book Readers for some time now, and I’ve seen many of my peers abandon the Reading Goal, the Metric, and the Arbitrary Benchmark. I understand – the reading life is an interior one, and too much interference from the exterior can quickly spoil the magic – but I never related. I’ve aimed to read 100 books a year since 2011, and most years I’ve found it effortless. Barely a goal, even, just a nice round number that shows up at the end of every year. I have built myself a life that results in having read 100 books a year.

But then, of course, at some point in the last 2 years, our lives all changed.

In 2021, I did not listen to many audiobooks.

For the first six months of 2021, I stayed home with my 2 year old and my 4.5 year old while facilitating virtual Pre-K and also trying to squeeze in 35 hrs/week of work on my laptop. Some of this situation was good. Some of it was not. But none of it was terribly conducive to wearing headphones for hours while enjoying a good story. I’ve since returned to my commuting, work-from-work in relative peace and silence lifestyle, but my listening muscles are flimsy. I’m still trying, but my results are neither consistent nor satisfying, marked by a trail of Part Ones barely begun.

In 2021, I did not always find it easy to read at all.

Was it the year social media and the never-ending cascade of captivating but terrifying journalism finally broke my brain? Was it the year that I acquired that motherly tendency to never be able to sit down for more than 2 minutes before finding something to stand up and do? Was it the year that decades of good habits of all sorts eroded, dissolving away from my daily life? Was it just a long, stressful year requiring a lot of hands-on parenting, changes in daily routines, moderate-to-severe worry, and then, for a final quarter kick in the pants, I got pregnant?

Yes, #3 is happening in May/June. And I am, historically, a lousy pregnant reader.

Yes. No. Maybe. All of the above. For many shifting, compounding reasons I did not find it easy to fall into many books this year. More often, finding myself with a few minutes to read felt strange, like sitting with a book was something I should do but not what I really wanted to do. I started many MANY books that I never finished. I picked up a habit of flat out losing a book in my own home after getting halfway through, locating it only a few weeks after its due date had passed. I’ve had to abandon Overdrive audiobooks altogether because the 14 day check out period is just laughable.

In 2021, I did not read many children’s or young adult books.

It seems like another lifetime ago, but during my last reading year I read over 150 books. 95% of those books were written for children between the age of 12 and 18.

I have spent the last year in recovery. A handful of juvie reads slipped into my reading year; a (single) chapter book read to my children here, a trio of Anastasia Krupniks (mainlined while spending weekend evenings couch-bound with “morning” sickness) there. I took about six entire months to finally read Anne of Green Gables. But that was really it. 2021 was a year for adult books.

In 2021, I did not do a lot of imposed reading.

I took a break from book reviewing in 2020, as is the custom while serving on a national book award committee. When I returned to reviewing in 2021, one of the two publications for which I review had ceased review operations. From about 2013 through 2019, I easily reviewed two-dozen young adult books a year for this publication, likely more. I did review for the remaining publication for part of the year, but the reading load is much smaller – 6 to 12 books a year. This is a major shift in the landscape of my reading – and it might mean the difference between a year reading 100+ books and a year reading 67 books.

In 2021, I read pretty much only books I wanted to read.

This year, my reading life was largely my own.

And although I didn’t achieve the output I’m accustomed to, although reading often took a backseat to parenting, schooling, and surviving, although this year wasn’t the year I though it could be – a year that I ever thought I would live –

it was often downright blissful.

In January, I set (similarly underachieved) goals for myself, selected nonfiction books to support those goals. In the proceeding months, I read them, filling in little progress bars on tracking sheets. My kind of small pleasure.

Later, I ran through a string of “2019-2020’s Greatest Adult Fiction Hits,” catching up on all the Best Of books I’d missed while reading YA. In those weeks, reading – mostly on the couch in the in between minutes between virtual school, active parenting, and work – did come easily. After feeling burnt out on “dread” reads, I deliberately sought out grown-up “fun” reads, dipping my toes into the scorching hot contemporary romance trend. I spent a day home with a sick 5-year-old going cover-to-cover through a comedic mystery. I started an elaborate morning routine that included 15 minutes of extracurricular nonfiction reading – I did finish an entire book before abandoning the 5 a.m. routine. I started an evening routine that included getting into bed before 9pm with a book; that routine lasted a little longer – for about two books! – before my kids forgot how to go to bed. When I went back to work in person, I read The Handmaid’s Tale (for the first time) on my phone, while commuting. I applied the appropriate muscle to make it through a few hot 2021 releases from my library’s Lucky Day shelf.

In 2021, I read a lot of really good books. And here are my favorites:

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood



In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel


A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet

On Immunity by Eula Biss

Writers & Lovers by Lily King



Thank you for joining me in what has become my Once Annual Blog Posting. Here’s a pretty picture of all 67 books I read in 2021. If you want to read along with me in 2022 – in what will, likely, be an even stranger reading year – I’m on Goodreads. Let’s be friends!


10 May 2020

read every word

In 2020, The Year of The Virus, it’s entirely justified to have abandoned your New Year’s Resolutions.

Luckily for me… I didn’t make any!

Just kidding. I wrote that and immediately remembered this page in my planner. Of course I turned my non-resolutions into resolutions. I wouldn’t recognize myself in the mirror if I didn’t. But it’s May and it’s The Year of the Virus so I forgot about #2 and #3 entirely.

I didn’t forget about #1, because while my personal and paid-employment life are entirely upended, 2020 has been and still remains

My Printz Year.

Yes, I have the (distinct, long-desired, overwhelmingly overwhelming) privilege of serving on the 2021 Michael L. Printz Award committee! Together with 8 other professionals from around the country, I have accepted the task of determining which young adult book published in 2020 is… the best.

Awesome responsibility, meet insane year! I was three months deep into the project of figuring out how to inject as much reading into my everyday as I could. There were schedules. Checklists. Holds lists. Spreadsheets. Publisher donations were starting to come in. Travel plans to attend ALA Annual for the first time since 2013.

So much has changed in the library world, the publishing world. There’s still a lot of uncertainty as for what means for us – me and the dozens of other award-givers in this strange year. Lots of possibilities, lots of “what if this…” and “what if that…” And, of course, the narrow purview that is my own world has changed significantly. I am working less than I was eight week ago, but I am caring for my children a lot more. I don’t have ten commutes a week and five lunch breaks. I don’t have publisher donations streaming in; I don’t go to the library to buy books and pick up holds every day.



At the end of the year, our task remains the same: to determine which YA book best meets the criteria of excellence.

And at the end of each week and month, our task remains the same: to Read All the Books.


I made a tiny, forgotten list of resolutions in January, but I also selected a theme. A mantra. It’s something I’ve told myself when I need motivation to focus on my book review reading. You don’t have to enjoy a book, you don’t have to savor it, you don’t have to understand it on a first read, you don’t have to decide what you think about it, or write the review in your head as you read.

You do have to keep the book open, and your eyes and brain on the page.

You do have to Read Every Word.


At the end of each and every day in 2020 –

days when my children wake up before six a.m.

days when the news makes me cry

days when I accidentally FaceTime my family for hours

days when there’s not enough coffee to keep me from an afternoon nap

days when I spend all day trying to sneak away from my family to squeeze in a mere hour of actual paid work

days when the dishes dirty themselves as fast as I can wash them

days when I never want this stay-at-home family lifestyle to end

days when I am longing for the humble blessing of my former life’s daily routines

days when I love books

days when I am sick of them all


my task remains the same.


16 Apr 2020


I turned 35 a month ago. I was in the midst of writing a cutesy, listy post about my life Right Now, a post with a few cutesy bullet points about my mounting COVID-19 anxiety and ha-ha the end is near!

Clearly, I cannot finish writing that post. It’s just impossible.

My only birthday wish was to go to the gym. It had been a few weeks – with various activities and sick/grumpy kids interfering – and I was worried about losing our good family habit.

Birthday activities and grumpy kids interfered; we didn’t make it. A few days later, my gym closed indefinitely. A few days after that, my husband’s school closed, my child’s preschool closed, my library closed. A few days after that, everything else closed, too.

The good news? I think I may be uniquely equipped to the isolation lifestyle. Like, maybe I’ve been preparing for this eventuality for many years of my adult life. Accidentally.

  • I am a super introvert. An introvert’s introvert, if you will. I’m sure I have actively desired social interaction at points in my adult life… but I can’t actually remember any of those points off hand. I am really quite content to interact with the humans I happen across in my daily life, follow on the Internet, or the ones that live in my house.
  • I live and die by my YNAB budget, I’m always trying to find ways to trim down my expenses, and I am overly concerned with our overall financial security. We have public sector jobs, some savings, and I like trying not buying things.
  • I recently spent a number of months “focusing on meal planning.” Thinking about it. Figuring out how I like to do it. Trying out different options. I have now been told that I should buy groceries as infrequently as possible, that when you do shop groceries may be scarce, and that I should have an extra two-weeks worth of food on hand at any given time. Oh. A new challenge! Cool. I’ll figure it out. Let me show you this shopping list I have in Excel that is laid out by aisle of my grocery store, and have you heard about this cool new cost-saving efficiency called “reducing food waste?” It’s a real thing, guys.
  • Speaking of food, my pantry is pretty well-stocked. And I can make pizza dough. And hummus. Mayo. Salad dressing. Stove-friend tortilla chips. Practically any dessert ever. (Note to future apocalypse shoppers: buy extra butter… then buy extra-extra butter). I have a three year old sourdough starter in my fridge.
  • Speaking of apocalypse shopping….we cloth diaper! One less thing to stock up on…. aaaaaand I really don’t fear a toilet paper shortage whatsoever. Gross but true.

The bad news?

It’s practically endless. It ranges from the personal to the universal; from the mundane to the profound; from annoyance to devastation. So much fear. So, so much anxiety. I run anxious. I am often worried. I have anxiety. I don’t know which of those last three sentences are most accurate, but it all means that I can now measure my formerly abstract stress in now disturbingly physical ways. Am I tingling? Shaking, maybe? Are my abdominal muscles pulling in on themselves and clenching down on some invisible point of dread? What is the distance between my shoulders and my ears?

I had a lot going on this year, I really did. A lot of normal-life stuff to worry about and manage, and other projects to really, really focus on.

Now, like nearly everyone else on the planet, I have something else entirely. A new life where, every day, I am fall down on my knees grateful for my continued income, my healthy family, my supportive, hard-working, creative husband, my extremely cute children. Where every day I try to show up and be my best for them. A new life where I live with dread that whatever daily joys I have will soon be taken from me, like they are being taken from so many others in my community and country: by unemployment, scarcity, disease, or death.

A new life where I bake a lot of bread, drink too much coffee, and can’t even tell you where my to-do list is much less what’s on it.

35, I thought you would be a big year. I didn’t know you’d be like this. But here we are, and here I am. At home, where I have to be. Where I love to be. Hello.


34 | 33 |32 | 31 |30 | 29 | 28 | 27 | 26 | 25 | 24

12 Jun 2019

Summer Reading 2019

It’s the middle of June, and my family is about to experience something that will likely never happen again: my husband, myself, and my children all have the summer off from school and work. It will be fun, but will probably not be relaxing: there will be much travel and my barely-solvent unpaid maternity leave budget doesn’t include a full-time nanny. Which means I will be responsible for minding my two small children, one of whom is a 22 pound breastfed six-month-old who is going to be crawling soon… and the other of whom just broke his toe and will be in a cast/toddler-sized walking boot until at least mid July.


Alas, there will be very little time for that summertime fantasy of sitting by various bodies of water and reading. Who can sit down by a body of water anyway? Isn’t standing on guard, waiting to grab any errant child lest they wander too far or too deep, a mandatory summer posture? Assuming you aren’t immersed in said water,  supporting the massive bodyweight of your huge children while you “swim” together?

If I do get a few minutes to rub together, here’s my summer To-Read List. I attempted to keep it slightly more trim than previous years but pretty much failed. There’s a good mix of fiction here: perennial recommendations from friends, family, and smart people, books I started but never finished, books intended to fill the Game of Thrones shaped hole in my heart, an award-winner, a graphic novel, and a new Dessen! I hope I hope I get to read at least a few before this crazy once-in-a-lifetime summer is over.

(And I hope hope hope all of my family’s collective bones remain intact. And that nobody drowns. And that there are no sharks in North Carolina this summer. And that my baby starts sleeping through the night tomorrow without any effort, assistance, or tears. And that I write more than one blog post before I go back to work!)

(Okay, I need to go so I can start reading. Just kidding, I’m going to bed because: babies.)

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

05 Apr 2019

what i read – 2019: Q1

Hello! It’s April! So far this year, I have read seventeen books.

Seventeen books is somewhat below my average; I am eight books behind pace if I want to meet my usual goal of 100 a year. I’m not concerned: it’s early in the year and I’m not up to pace with my book reviewing yet. I’m actually rather impressed with the amount of reading I am doing! Keeping my reading pace with one child wasn’t too hard; reading with two children is something else entirely. Twice as many schedules to manage, three times the mess, eight times the laundry (why is there so much laundry!?), and the same number of parents. Lounging on the couch with a good book while my husband plays with the baby? Sounds like a fun weekend! With two children, I can lounge on the couch reading while my husband plays with the baby, as long as I can do it while an almost-three-year-old pokes me in the eyeballs and tries to “flush mama’s head” with a hairbrush and sings “The Three Little Kittens” at the top of his lungs. I can’t even read ebooks while I’m nursing, since the almost-three-year-old has taken possession of my Kindle: he types words into whatever search bar he can find and only occasionally orders piano instruction books using my linked Amazon account. Thanks, progeny!

How to Read Less: Live with an Almost-Three-Year-Old

When I started 2019, I had full-time childcare for our pre-preschool tyrant and was still sitting around the house nursing or cuddling a sleeping one -month-old baby. I was feeling somewhat accomplished by grabbing some of the perpetually unread books that sit on my living room bookshelves, and also finishing a few ebooks before they were returned to the library. Now, I have less childcare, and feel somewhat accomplished when I can read 25 or so pages of a book while sitting on the floor of the living room and building towers out of blocks, or squeezing an audiobook into my cleaning/cooking/Stardew Valley time.

I’ve been trying to write these quarterly reading updates for actual years now, but – surprise surprise – I end up writing WAY too much about each book and never finishing. So allow me to take advantage of this smaller-than-usual reading quarter and tell you about what I’ve been reading!

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph M. Marshall III 

I selected this ebook off my robust Overdrive Wish List, hoping for a short middle grade read to feel good about finishing. It was a short middle grade, but a little too historical for me to read it quickly. While I can’t say I’m terribly interested in the retelling of famous battles, I will say I was startled by how little I knew about this era of history! Just nothing at all, really.

Smarter Better Faster: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Another selection from my Overdrive Wish List, to be read on my phone while nursing/hanging out with a little babe. Very fascinating stories – reminded me of Freakonomics or Malcolm Gladwell. I did wish there was more content about personal productivity as opposed to business productivity.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Ever since I read a.l.l. of Jacqueline Woodson’s books for a grad class, I have prided myself on keeping up the streak… until for some reason I didn’t read her exceedingly slim and well-reviewed adult novel for a number of year?! It’s for adults, but still feels very Woodson: adult mostly in perspective rather than content or point of view. Very satisfying to finally read a book that’s been mocking me from my bookshelf for years.

Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley

Hartley wrote that article about Emotional Labor that everyone read back in 2017. After hearing her on the podcast circuit, I decided to read her new book on the topic. On one hand, Hartley is talking about important, under-discussed manifestations of systemic sexism that affect us all in some way or another. I am on board and interested. On the other hand… this kind of book makes me want to get into a fight with my husband. Which is not something I have time/energy for right now. A Conundrum. (One that Hartley does, actually, talk about in her book, of course…)

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior

My first postpartum audiobook! A nice uplifting, postpartum read! Funny story: I listened to this whole book, put it on my Goodreads, only to discover I had already read and reviewed it. I had no recollection of this. Parenting is fun and definitely does not fry your brain at all! Thumbs up!

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling

My second postpartum audiobook, and a continuation on the Parenting Is Not For Mere Mortals theme. I heard Kiesling on the Mom Rage podcast: this her debut novel, and while the story isn’t strictly *about* parenting, the main character is actively solo-parenting a toddler throughout. This provides a sort of never-ending thrum of mundane activities always buzzing behind the narrative… which, you know, is pretty much exactly what parenting young kids is like.

Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks

Another galley I’ve had on my shelf forever. It’s part memoir, part sociological nonfiction, written by a woman who was arrested for leaving her kid in the car while she ran into a store.  behind the click-bait-y topic is a really thought-provoking look at how and why our culture has shifted so profoundly. It wasn’t that long ago, historically speaking, that parents used to send their kids off to work full time in factories! This reminded me a lot of Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, both in content and form.

To Night Owl, From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

Just picking up those galleys and knocking them back, guys. This one is realistic middle grade fiction. Stories told in email are a hard sell for me, but the two characters were voice-y enough to keep me interested. Plus, I liked the Parent Trap/summer camp vibes.

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

An audiobook choice. A little too rom-com-y for my usual tastes, but I enjoyed it

Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley

I have recently promoted Lucy Knisley to a Must Buy author. I have been looking forward to reading her graphic-memoir on pregnancy and childbirth since I learned she was pregnant… which was when I was pregnant with Baby #1! We had our babies within days of one another, this author who has no idea I exist and I. After reading the whole, traumatic story, I am 100% thankful that my labor and delivery, while a bit excessive, was otherwise drama-free.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

I aspire to be the kind of person who picks up the latest Newbery winner after the awards are announced. Instead, I am typically the kind of person who puts the latest Newbery winner on hold and never reads it. EXCEPT FOR THIS YEAR! This year’s winner was a classic-feeling realistic middle grade novel – a sixth grade novel, as so many of my favorite MG books are – with a distinct cultural and geographical setting.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Another middle school story, this time in graphic novel format. Like Merci Suarez, Jordan is a minority scholarship kid at a fancy-dancy private school; while Merci has been at her school for awhile, New Kid focuses on Jordan’s transition into this new environment dealing with feeling “othered” at every turn.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

Like Smarter Better Faster, this is another pop-social-science book with a premise that was RIGHT up my alley… but the content really couldn’t live up to my expectations. Or maybe I’ve just read all of the time management/productivity literature that exists in the world and there’s nothing left for me to learn. Nonetheless, this was a quick, interesting read – although somewhat laughable to be reading about how to perfectly time… anything while performing full-time parenting duties.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

My first five star book of the year! I listened to this collection of personal essays about Chee’s life and writing on audio and although I had no real investment in the author/subject matter, his narrative voice just h.o.o.k.e.d. me and I wanted to listen for ever. My dishes were very well washed and my kitchen counters and floors quite clean for the few days I listened.

P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy

Another audiobook. Another realistic sixth-grade-ish book. I won’t post any spoilers, but I read this weeks ago and am still occasionally reeling over the parents’ hand in the book’s Big Reveal. I don’t think the book wanted me to vilify them, but as an adult human/parent? Horror.

Juliet’s School of Possibilities by Laura Vanderkam

A business-focused “fable” isn’t exactly the kind of book I usually seek out….  but I read Vanderkam’s blog and listen to her podcast often enough that I felt like buying her book was a small way to support the creator of content I enjoy. If you’re familiar with Vanderkam’s perpetual 168 Hours “you have enough time” thesis, Riley’s life-changing transformation won’t be anything new to you, but it was a pleasant – and quick – read.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

A memoir that lays plain how nearly impossible it is to escape systemic poverty. How little support our society provides to single mothers is really sickening.

10 Mar 2019


It’s hard to believe that it’s my birthday.

It’s not hard to believe I am getting older. The amount of time I’ve spent Googling retinols and facial serums this year has been…well… steadily increasing. It’s also not hard to believe that time is passing. I happen live with two small Physical Manifestations of Passing Time. One has likely doubled her weight in less than four months. The other can spell “macaroni penguin” and has me thinking about preschools… which has me  thinking about kindergarten… which seems impossible, but is actually only two years away!

What’s hard to believe is that birthdays still exist. Or holidays in general. Any activities that occur regularly according to a date on the calendar, actually. Life with two children under 3 has me feeling significantly adrift from the scheduled world. I bought a planner for 2019 – a handsome Get to Work Book – but my days and weeks are entirely interchangeable. Take a Tuesday’s activities and move them to Thursday? Okay. Need to cancel Monday altogether? Sure.

It’s even harder to believe that a day that is special just because of… me. Me? Jessica? You mean, Mom, right? Mama? Mommy? I honestly don’t know if I exist right now. I want to. I wish I did. But I’m finding amount of physical and emotional labor required to care for two very little children (while also performing the bare minimum of household maintenance) too intense for something so frivolous as Independent Thought and A Stable Sense of Self. Sometimes this feels okay – like I’m taking a (probably much needed) break from being Jessica. Sometimes it feels obliterating. Most of the time it just feels… tiring. I feel tired. Fatigued. Sleep deprived. Sore and achy ready to sit down. Fed up and out of patience. Emotionally depleted. Groggy. Bleary-eyed. Gently exhausted. I’ve become closely acquainted with all flavors of tired.

Something magical is happening, though, right now in my house, as I turn 34. My second baby is three months old now and she is changing. She is bright-eyed and holds her head up. She smiles and laughs and can grab onto some objects. Her sleep is growing more predictable and she goes to bed at a normal baby bedtime. She has big eyes and a big bald-ish head and she just hangs out on a blanket on the floor while her big brother plays and I am repeatedly struck by something I had forgotten or maybe just couldn’t conceptualize yet – that she is part of the family now. She’s one of the pack, here for good, part of our sloppy, noisy, nonsense life.

She certainly won’t remember this dramatic, obliterating winter; her brother probably won’t either. It’s likely they will not remember anything at all but life with each other – brother and sister. And now that my hormones are stabilizing and my tired isn’t the up-all-night variety, I can occasionally look at these two little people in my house, take a few mental steps back, and see what we – my husband and I – are creating.

Today I am 34 years old. I am three months postpartum and nursing – day and night. I have two children under the age of three in my care most of the time; I am very blessed to have a supportive, involved husband who truly shares childcare responsibilities with me, and also part-time childcare for our almost-three-year-old. I am still on maternity leave at a time when many women are required to return to work or lose their jobs. I’ve read twelve books so far this year: not a ton, but not nothing! The days are getting longer, and the sun is coming out more often. This time next year there will still be a special day for me, and if I’m lucky I will spend it with a one-year-old and an almost four-year-old and my husband who I will have loved for sixteen years.

(And if I’m extra lucky, it won’t be sleeting *or* snowing and my postpartum balding will have subsided so my hair will look GREAT)


33|32| 31 |30 | 29 | 28 | 27 | 26 | 25 | 24

02 Mar 2019

a first birth story, part iv

Part IV: The Aftermath

My son was born just before midnight – two full weeks early, but tipping the scales at 8 lbs, 2 oz.

This picture is a screenshot, grabbed from a short video my husband took after my baby was born. I look pretty much how I felt: completely shell-shocked, possessing only unconscious instincts – hold baby close, rub his back, don’t drop him – and more tired than I have ever been in my entire existence.

I requested delayed cord clamping, but the little guy came out too quiet. Breathing, yes, and making a slight whimper, but they called in a NICU doctor to look him over anyway. He was fine – he started crying without much drama – and they returned him to me while we all waited for the placenta. Like its in utero companion, my placenta also took its time. Wet Noodle Jessica had agreed to more Pitocin at some point during the pushing process, so they sent even more down my IV to encourage my uterus to cooperate. It didn’t work in whatever window of time they prefer, so an OB arrived. She did something acutely uncomfortable but effective. I’d rather not know exactly what went down… down there. Then, there were stitches. Nobody offered much in the way of detail, and I didn’t ask, but the process was also… unpleasant.

Here’s something they don’t tell you about that “Golden Hour” of skin-to-skin bonding with your newest newborn: when you are in a hospital, it starts at some debatable point in time while you are still getting medically worked-up. There are bustling medical professionals cleaning up your bodily fluids and looking for lost washcloths with a metal detector. You might have been awake for over 48 hours so instead of smiling and posing for photos and bonding… you just fall asleep, or fall into a similarly catatonic state.

It felt like about 2 minutes passed between the delivery and when the L&D nurse came to my side and said “Okay, let’s try nursing!” I was hoping my baby would be one of those crazy “breast-crawling” infants who could paw his way up to his first meal, but it seemed like my child was just as out of it as I was. Wet Noodle Jessica followed the nurse’s suggestions and offered him a nipple. My little sleepy guy (A baby! A boy!) latched on like a champ.

We were eventually relocated to the postpartum floor, and as soon as it was convenient, we let our new nurse push our fresh little guy’s rolling bassinet right on over to the nursery and immediately fell into the most needed sleep that any two humans have ever received.

Don’t birth stories usually end about now? They certainly don’t usually stretch on for over 6,000 words. But I’m on a roll, and so many amusing things happened while we stayed at hospital!

We spent our first night and day in a lactation room. “You got the last room!” they told me, cheerily. “Everyone else is going to have to spend the night in the hallway!” I’m still not entirely sure what a lactation room at a hospital *is*, to be honest, but I will tell you what it is not: an actual, functioning hospital room. There was room for my bed and a cot for my husband, but not much else. There was a sink for hand-washing, but no soap. There was no private bathroom.

No. Private. Bathroom.

If you have given birth, you will understand how disconcerting this is. I was offered, instead, the use of the public bathroom down the hall. The bathroom used primarily by dads and visiting family members. My nurse, that first night, helped me hobble down the hallway in my gown. She toted a plastic bag filled with the myriad devices and supplies necessary for a newly postpartum mom to… well.. pee. I repeated the process on my own the next morning –  I tried to be tidy, out of courtesy for those dads and visiting families. And by “be tidy” I mean “avoid leaving bathroom looking like a crime scene.”

The first night, however, at 3 in the morning, I did not care much about my bathroom situation. I cared about food. Where was the food. Why was it not in my mouth? My husband had optimistically ordered a meal during the dinner hour and as far as I know, nobody had eaten it. Where was it?

“Oh. I just told the nurses to throw it away,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d be hungry.”

I might have cried. I shoved more Cheez-its in my mouth – they were pretty much the only food product I’d eaten all day, but I was desperate for calories. My husband foraged a cup of ice cream and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for me from the kitchenette – I left half the sandwich, knowing that I would wake up even hungrier than I was now.

Four hours later, I woke up in the pitch dark of our windowless lactation room. My cell phone alarm was going off. I was hot – hormones, probably, but also this room seemed to lack air conditioning?! – and still hungry and wanted my baby.

Also, the Comcast man was going to arrive at our new apartment in less than an hour to finally install our Internet.

“You need to go meet him,” I told my husband. We had been living without Internet for two weeks! Who knew how long it would take to get another appointment! “And you need to bring back bagels from the good bagel place. And bring me my baby.”

I had assumed the nurses would have woken me at some point to nurse a crying, hungry infant. However, it seemed the previous day’s events had taken just as much out of him as it had me – he hadn’t woken up once. My bleary-eyed husband wheeled the bassinet into my room and then left to get us some internet.

In between cuddling, taking exhausted-selfies, and trying futilely to order breakfast in between the seemingly endless amount of sudden visitors (Nurses! Student nurses! Breast pump guy! Photographer! More nurses!), I had to spread the good news to my family.

First I called my mother, of course.

Me: “Mom, I had a baby!”

Mom: “Congratulations! We are in upstate New York right now and we will be in Boston by noon.”

Me: Uhhhhhhhh… okay!

Mom: Your sister will probably beat us. Her plane should be landing any time now.

Me: Uhhhhhhh… okay!

I had no idea anyone was planning on visiting us so soon. I mean, 48 hours before I had no idea I was going to be having a baby! Conveniently enough, my husband was able to meet my sister and her boyfriend (now husband!) at our apartment. And the Comcast guy. Who gave us Internet, bless the Lord.

Just a few hours after I woke up, my tiny, windowless lactation room now contained me, my husband, my baby, my mother, my father, my sister, her boyfriend, and a bag of good bagels. Then: the postpartum midwife and I think some other random medical professionals.

“Hi! Everyone is talking about you! We wanted to meet you! The woman who delivered without pain medication! And look, you’re breastfeeding! This is rare. We just don’t see this. Congratulations!”

At this point I recognized the real reason to have an unmedicated delivery: if you achieve it, some people will treat you like you are a rare, exquisite creature and shower you with empowering compliments. I honestly hope this is how all newly postpartum moms are treated, no matter what happened during their birth, because heaven knows the outcomes of a birth are about 90% out of even the most determined mother’s hands. The words of those women meant so much to me; I recalled their message many times over the next weeks, when I was exhausted and emotional and unsure of everything. Bringing a child into the world was something hard but also something worthy of praise.

“And what is your baby’s name?”

Oh yeah. Speaking of rare birthing experiences rarely seen within the walls of a hospital.. we had no name for our child. During labor and delivery this was just part of the novelty of not finding out the gender. Afterwards, it was just confusing.

What I wanted to say:

“Well, I am really picky about names and all traditionally male-gender-associated names are pretty terrible, and also I had a baby 12 hours ago and my entire family and I have been in a tiny room with no air conditioning or bathroom since I woke up from 4 hours of sleep, so I haven’t really had a moment to think about what to call this child.”

What I did say:

“No name yet! We are still deciding.”

What the delightful postpartum midwife said:

“We have got to get you and your entire extended family out of this room.”

We were moved to a standard postpartum room before the day was over (“You should really call and complain about this,” the midwife said. “This is unacceptable!”) That night we roomed in together. I kept a light on – how could you possibly parent in the dark? – and set my phone alarm to go off every two hours so I could nurse. My husband stayed up finishing grad school homework – oh, did I mention my husband had started his first session of summer grad school… oh… 4 days before our child was born? My due date was his first day of on-campus orientation, but online classes started right away. Apparently part of that bagel+sister+Internet acquiring trip also involved recording himself singing? I never really caught the details, but while my mind and body were wracked with the aftermath of labor and the shocking reality of our new baby, my husband was dealing with the shocking reality of our new baby and also reading articles and commenting on Blackboard posts. How awful.

Our little guy? He slept. I woke him to eat; he ate; he slept some more. A perfect, sleepy, poorly-swaddled angel in his little rolling bassinet bed. He passed all of his newborn exams, save for a touch of jaundice. The next day, I not-so-subtly suggested my many family members treat themselves to walk into Fenway to find some lunch; with a few minutes to ourselves, finally, we gave our child a name. We had another relatively peaceful night in the hospital; the next day, we finally installed our carseat base and then carried our little boy out the door, across busy Brookline Ave, through the weird alleyway between the Winsor School and the Simmons gym where I used to run extremely tiny laps on an elevated track, and to the “secret” place where you can street park for free in Fenway.

And then, after we drove to Allston to pick up our no-longer-cracked-screen iMac (that’s another story entirely) and picked up some take out Thai,

we brought him home.


Thirty-three months after that…

  • he weighs over 30 pounds and is 36 inches tall
  • he’s sleeping well in a toddler bed
  • he’d eat three almond butter and jelly sandwiches a day if we’d let him
  • he’s mostly potty-trained
  • he sings all the time
  • he asks to go to the library every day
  • he can write all of his letters and numbers
  • he can spell… at least two dozen words
  • and read many of them when he sees them
  • the other day he told me what 1 minus 11 was
  • he has a three-month-old little sister
  • his mother finally wrote the final words of his epic(ally, unnecessarily long) and overdue birth story

The End!

11 Feb 2019

a first birth story, part iii

Part III: The Action… and the Baby

It was almost 7 p.m. I’d been at the hospital since 9 the previous night, on Pitocin since 8 in the morning. Some point during that time, I stopped fussing with the monitors and talking about musicals and started… well… laboring.

I tried some different labor positions throughout the afternoon and into the evening, but nothing beat just plain standing up. I probably spent 75% of my active labor on my feet, with my arms draped over my dear husband’s shoulders. I was so tired – I wanted so badly to sit down and rest – but I couldn’t, because I wouldn’t have enough time to heft myself back up to standing before the next contraction hit.

Aside from standing, my main method of pain management was a little psychological trick I read about on some random website: supposedly, contractions “peak” at about 30 seconds and then slowly subside. I tried counting to 30 on my own but it felt horrific – the distance between the numbers stretching further and further apart as I counted. But I asked my husband to count without telling me, and just inform me when 30 seconds had passed. It was surprisingly effective – his words were a cue that the pain would soon be over, so I could calm down.

At the evening shift change, two midwives popped in. My labor was probably still boring according to my medical professionals, but to me, it was starting to get miserable. Contractions were less than a minute apart. I was so, so tired. I was crying. Not that long ago, a tiny, slithering voice had whispered in my ear. You could always ask for an epidural, it said as I stood, swaying exhaustedly. It’s a thing you could do. Now the midwives were there, standing with me, and I asked if I could be taken off the Pitocin. It had clearly done its job. I was definitely successfully induced.

They looked at me sympathetically. “Your labor is progressing,” the daytime midwife said. “Contractions more intense and closer together. This is what is supposed to happen.”

I’m sure I responded by having a contraction, maybe moaning unintelligibly, maybe weeping. Time may have passed. I have no memory. I do, however, remember the new nighttime midwife asking me a kind, kind question: “If you could have one thing to make this easier on you, what would you want?”

The answer: “I want to be off these monitors so I can get in the motherf@#$ing shower!”

Although I was situated in one of the most hospital-dense cities in the world, it hadn’t occurred to this First Time Mom-to-be to do any  “hospital shopping.” When I got a positive test, I called my primary care physician, who transferred my call to the OB/GYN department. I asked if they had midwives. They did – most of their patients alternated seeing an OB and a midwife at appointments and could choose which group to deliver with. Their home base was Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center – a large teaching hospital in Fenway, right down the street from my alma mater – so, sure, I would deliver there. Why not. My Internet research revealed that this was definitely a hospital environment, but what seemed like a nice one. No swanky birth center vibe, but private rooms throughout. No tubs, but showers! I could handle a shower. Plus, I’d planned on doing a majority of my laboring at home and arriving 9 cm dilated, so who really cares about amenities?

The bad news: my stupid water broke and I was GBS positive and now I was on Pitocin so I had to have stupid pink and blue monitors strapped to my belly and attached to a rolling cart of electricity so no, I couldn’t get into any showers.

And by the way, your room doesn’t have a shower, it’s a shared shower that is actually down the hall.

I mean, nobody is in it because everyone is lying in bed with their epidurals except for you idiot. But you still can’t get in.

Or so daytime midwife had insisted. Nighttime midwife, it seemed, was a little more game.

“Maybe we can make that happen,” she said. “Let’s check you and see just how far along you are.”

My second cervical check. It was probably 7-8 p.m – a full 12 hours since my morning check had gotten me hooked up to Pitocin in the first place. This was it: the cervical check delivered at the peak of desperation that would be so disappointing, so demoralizing, that I’d lose what little grasp I had on my pain and succumb to that little voice. I knew the narrative. This is how birth stories went. I’d be anesthetized within the hour, a C-sectioned before midnight.

I, however, didn’t care about any last thing except a remote chance I could get into the shower. Or, really, get anywhere that wasn’t in this exact room, standing in my terrible, pain-wracked body, where I had been for 100 years and seemed doomed to remain forever.

“You’re at 8 cm!” nighttime midwife said. “That’s great news. I think we can let you off the IV and monitors for and let you in the shower for a while. We’ll monitor you intermittently and I’ll check back in an hour to see if things keep rolling. If they slow down, you’ll have to come out, but we’ll see.”

Rejoicing! Tears of relief! Excitement! Somebody unhooked me from my various medical paraphernalia. I wanted to barrel out the door immediately, in the tiny window before I had another effing contraction.

“Oh, but you need something to wear on your feet,” nighttime midwife said. “Fungus prevention, you know.”

A contraction hit. I couldn’t believe what these people were talking about. Fungus!? I don’t care about fungus! Give me a fungus, PLEASE, if that’s the price I have to pay I will gladly pay it!

“Maybe we can hunt down some paper slippers?”

Seriously. I will take a fungus over wearing PAPER SLIPPERS IN THE SHOWER that sounds DISGUSTING what is wrong with you people?

The contraction passed. “I have flip-flops?” I said.

Those were the magic words. Finally, finally, I was allowed to strip down and enter the shower, and it was as glorious as any experience I’ve had since. So hot. So wonderful. And did I mention hot? Hospital hot-water heaters are magical.

My husband joined me, wearing swim trunks and flip-flops of his own; while he was mainly on Spray-Wife-Down-With-Movable-Shower-Head duty, I also recall that he opted to hang halfway out of the shower curtain every so often to continue monitoring my contractions on the timer app… on my brand new iPhone. Questionable decision; good intentions.

I quickly realized that it wasn’t just the magic of the hot shower that brought me such relief – it was the sudden absence of Pitocin. While I hadn’t had any pre-Pitocin contractions to provide a frame of reference at that point, laboring without the drug was just so… mellow. I’d have a contraction. It would end. Then, there would be… a break? A pause? The electronic data did show that my contractions were somewhat further apart; on Pitocin, they could be as close as 30-45 seconds, off was more like a minute or a minute an and a half. Maybe that extra 30 seconds between was more valuable than it seems? Or maybe the contractions were just less intense, so I didn’t spend my between-contraction time recovering or dreading the next onslaught. Either way, I was suddenly nearly having a good time. I’d spent all day in a hospital room experiencing more and more pain. Now I was in a private, steamy room with my husband, hanging out. I distinctly remember making a joke and feeling like it was the first time I laughed all day.

My nurse came in a few times to check the baby’s heartbeat with a Doppler, and everything was fine. I must have been in there a good long time because I think I also remember the midwife arriving and doing another cervical check. (Can you even envision the contortions required to check a hugely pregnant woman’s cervix while she’s fully naked in the shower? It was weird…) I was 9 cm! Huzzah! Things were still moving forward. I could stay in the blessed shower. (TMI for seasoned birth junkies only: besides timing contractions, my grand overachieving plan for keeping my labor progressing? Nipple stimulation. This paragraph is full of appealing visuals. You are welcome.)

The magical shower of unparalleled glory featured a metal bench. At some point, I finally sat my exhausted ass right down. When a contraction hit, I slid off the bench and into a squat; when it was over, my husband – still diligently spraying me and risking the life of my beautiful new phone – hoisted me back up again. It was totally manageable. Wonderful. Great. Maybe I even started to feel like I wanted to push when I was down in that squatting position? Just maybe. I wanted to keep the urge to myself, to just push silently. Stealthily deliver my baby into the magical shower room, alone. But it got too freaky, the feeling of your body taking over without your consent, so I uttered the magic words.

“I think I’m pushing?”

The midwife was back. She checked my cervix again. I was fully dilated. Go time! And since shower deliveries are not approved hospital practice, I was headed back across the hall to my room.

“You need a hospital gown,” the midwife said.

A contraction subsided. “No, I don’t,” I said. What I needed, clearly, was to get any sort of ambulation done before I had another contraction. “It’s fine. It’s right across the hall!” And I’m wearing flip-flops, for goodness sake. Who knew medical professionals would be so concerned with my wardrobe…

I did make it, eventually. I was hooked up to the monitors, again and cleared to push during contractions, if I felt like it. I wanted to try the whole sit on the edge of the bed + slide off the bed maneuver, but after one or two contractions it was clear my belly bands just wouldn’t stay put that way, so it was vetoed.

“Maybe side-lying,” I said, hoisting myself back on to the bed.

“Yeah!” my husband said. “Just like they suggested at birth class!”

I lay on my side. I had a few contractions and “pushed.” And then I fell asleep. Life without Pitocin, man. It was wonderful.

In my mind, I was resting between contractions, just like everyone recommends! My midwife-to-be sister says I was “laboring down.” According to my husband – who was standing there with the nurse and midwife – I was just plain asleep for like, a half hour.

“Maybe we should try a more active pushing position,” the midwife said, kindly. I acquiesced, and my legs were then hoisted up to my ears and it was time to do this thing, lithotomy-style. I cared about nothing except getting this baby out of me. Actually, that’s a lie. I was so exhausted, I didn’t even care about that. I was a tired, wet noodle of a human being. Throw my legs where you want, I don’t care.

In case you have somehow made it 5,000 words deep into this adventure and not yet found it too revealing, here’s a big fat T. M. I. for you. Turn back now or be forever scarred by the horrors of vaginal childbirth!

I was also terrible at pushing, surprise, surprise. “Push like you are taking a big poop!” the midwife said. I tried, but has anyone on this planet ever taken a big poop while lying on their back in front of their husband and two medical professionals with their legs up in the air? On purpose, anyway… This seemed like a musculo-skeletally-unreasonable recommendation. But I was an impressionable noodle-human. I tried, but it didn’t work. Nothing I tried worked for an interminable amount of time.

The weirdest thing about pushing was how much pain I wasn’t in. I could barely tell when I was having a contraction, which was annoying because I was only supposed to be pushing when I had contractions. In between, there was just… silence. At first, I started drifting off again. “That’s great,” my midwife said. “Really relax between contractions. It’s fine to fall asleep.” But I totally did not want to fall asleep again – I did that for like, an hour and nothing happened! I would never wake up! This would never be over! I needed to keep my head in the motherfuc%#$ng game! So I started making awkward small talk with the nurse and the midwife in between contractions to keep myself alert, and  because yes, it was really awkward to be standing around in silence in the middle of the night while everyone was waiting for you to suddenly get good at a task you were clearly sucking at. I also solicited my husband to play DJ, but like many laboring woman, I was incredibly exacting. Carole King, but not the Carole King musical, what are you thinking?? Tom Waits, but not the creepy Tom Waits. The nice, singer-songwriter Tom Waits.

While Tom Waits hoped his pony knew the way back home, we tried the squat bar. When a contraction hit, my team of hoisters hoisted me up to grab onto the bar. I hated it. It was the scariest thing I had ever felt in my life. My midwife cheered as I was lowered back down to a supine position – “You made more progress with that one push than you’ve made in an hour!” she said. Looking back as a labor post-strategist, it seems obvious that everyone should have hoisted my ass back up to that bar despite my protestations. I didn’t like it because I was exhausted and didn’t like being hoisted, and also because it was working. I was too afraid to push for real. Nobody called me out on it… so I ended up pushing for more than three hours.

Regardless, my baby was, in fact, coming out, albeit at a snail’s pace. The head was visible. Did I want a mirror? Mirrors can be motivating. I had thought probably not – who needs to see the carnage up close? – but Wet Noodle Jessica would say yes to anything if there was the tiniest sliver of a chance it would get this baby out of her uterus so she could go to bed. There it was: the tiniest, TINIEST sliver of a head, covered in hair. I didn’t find it disturbing OR motivating. I did feel somewhat tickled to see the reason for my truly excessive amount of heartburn, though.

Speaking of heartburn, despite becoming reliant on OTC heartburn meds late in my pregnancy, I had somehow forgotten to bring with me anything stronger than a Tum. I became convinced, mid-pushing, that if only I had a Zantac, I would be a better at this. I have a bit of a vomit phobia and when you have a gross acid reflux-y feeling at the back of your throat and then you start using every muscle in your body to facilitate the ejection reflex of a foreign object? That feels kind of like throwing up. So maybe I wasn’t giving it my all, because of that. Because I was scared. Because I was scared, because I was scared, because I was scared. A Zantac seemed like a reasonable request to me, but the nurse and midwife looked at me like I’d requested a Ketamine shot. “Did you bring any with you?” they asked. I remembered the Saga of the Cough Drop from so many hours ago. I gave up hope.

Here is the point of the story where a baby’s head entered my vagina. It stayed there for what felt like an entire hour. I asked my husband later – it was actually almost an entire hour. This was incredibly unnerving, uncomfortable, unbelievable, unpleasant, uncomfortable, undesirable, uncomfortable and all sorts of other un-words. It was there when I was pushing. It was there when I wasn’t pushing. This did not feel like a ring of fire. This felt like a baby’s head inside of my vagina. I wanted it out. There were probably tears. I remember saying “ow ow ow ow ow ow ow” a lot. The sliver of hairy head in the mirror was getting larger, but not large enough. I asked if there was anything that could be done to just… you know… pull the baby out of me. No. No there was not. I thought it would never end – this day, this labor, this head in my vagina. This was my life now. I tried to push when I had a contraction. I tried to push when I didn’t have a contraction. I tried screaming, I tried being quiet, I tried tucking my chin, I tried everything.

And then, all of a sudden, what ever I tried worked, and there was a baby.

It felt like his whole head and body came out in just one push. An entire human, with arms and legs and skin. Skin! A baby that had been there all along with me, for hours and hours and hours of labor, for months and months of pregnancy. Skin inside of my skin! A real person!

Sure, I’d had a long day, but how had I forgotten that there was a person inside of me? Maybe I hadn’t ever really known. Maybe I couldn’t know, but now it was undeniable.

He was undeniable.

It was a boy!

It was Leo.


07 Feb 2019

a first birth story, part ii


Part II: The Mostly Boring Labor

In my limited, single-birth experience, I can see some benefits to labor beginning with your water breaking.

1) It makes for a good story! “And then my water broke!” Sploosh!

2) It’s a pretty hard to argue with. There’s none of that “hmmm, was that a contraction? Am I in labor? Should I call the doctor?” stuff. You are leaking mysterious fluids, therefore it’s time to have a baby

3) Supposedly your contractions are more intense once your water breaks. I wasn’t allowed that particular frame of reference, so I was spared one mental setback during what would become a long and fairly arduous process.

Regardless of all that, I – in my nightgown, leaking pink liquid at 38 weeks pregnant when e.v.e.r.y.b.o.d.y. told me I would go until 41 – was extremely pissed.

Because I wanted a low-intervention, epidural and C-section free birth… and I was GBS positive.

I had just received the test results a few days before. My OB was so chill about it. GBS is very common! So not a big deal. You’ll need a round of IV antibiotics at least four hours before you deliver. Don’t worry!

The only thing else you need to know, she said, is that if your water breaks when you are at home, you’ll have to come into the hospital right away. Since you and the baby will be at a higher risk of infection.

“But that really rarely happens.” she says.

I started stomping around the house. I also put regular clothes back on, did my best to pack a hospital bag (which, up until that point, was empty except for a box of Cheez-its and some granola bars), and considered not calling anyone at all for even just a few hours. But my Upholder nature got the best of me. I called the nurse line (“Oh, you’re GBS positive? Then yes, come in right away. Well, you don’t have to drop everything and run to the hospital, but yes, come now”) I called my annoying husband a half dozen times before he picked up. My supervisor had her first baby the year before and she was 10 days early and I was horrified. Now I was even earlier?? How was this even possible??!

My husband barged into the apartment maybe 20 minutes later, sweaty and panting.

“Did you just run all the way here?”

“Yeah!” he said.

“Please calm down and go take a shower,” I said. I very distinctly remember using my nicest, most polite tone of voice.

I gathered up more stuff – how convenient that surly Jessica brought over ALL of the baby clothes from our other apartment! – washed the dishes in the sink, and left our cat a small mountain of food. I helped my husband pack his bag. I grabbed a half-full pint of Ben & Jerry’s from the freezer and my giant, tall-person sized birth ball and we got in the car.

I sat on a bath towel and ate ice cream while we drove through completely reasonable Boston traffic. It was a Thursday night after 9 p.m. We remembered where to park our car in the garage and which elevator to take up to labor and delivery. We had a short wait in reception, where I proceeded to leak amniotic fluid under my dress and down my leg. The receptionist asked if I was wearing a pad. Yes. Yes I was. No, it clearly isn’t doing the job. She reached into her desk drawer and pulled out one of those notorious industrial strength, mini-diaper sized pads and pointed me toward the bathroom.

In triage, a midwife interrogated and swabbed me to confirm that yes, my water had indeed broken. How was I feeling? “I don’t want to be here,” I said. I wanted to be at home, laboring for hours in my own space. I wanted to be sitting in triage moaning and dilated, not kicking my heels and chatting casually about what birth classes I had taken.

At one point, the midwife asked me what my plans for pain medication were. “I was hoping not to use any,” I said. There’s really not a casual, polite way to say, “Coming through! Watch out! Crunchy, Ina-May-reading ‘natural birth’ lady here at your Large Urban House of Cascading Interventions!”

The midwife’s response? “Okay. Sure. You certainly can try laboring for a while and see how it goes.”

While I silently seethed over my medical professional’s subtle but blatant dismissal of my deeply held birthing desires (“you can tryyyy laboring,” she said, like she’d met so many women who thought they might just give it a whirl but, oh, ow, it hurts! Where’s my epidural? She’d clearly never met me!)  baby passed the mandatory intake monitoring (Thanks Ben! Thanks Jerry!), and – with some concerning delay – the “are you still head down in there?” ultrasound. At one point, the ultrasound-wand-wielder uttered the sentence “I can’t find the head;” something no mother ever wants to hear said about her child, born or unborn. They did find the head, eventually; it was much lower than was conveniently ultrasounded. I took that as a good sign.

And then there was the million dollar question: are you having any contractions? Well, maybe. One or two? I’d felt a little something as I waddled from home to hospital, leaking all the way. Maybe a little bitty baby contraction? I don’t know. I was hopeful, but nobody seemed terribly impressed.

At that point, the midwife gave me my options: start an induction or wait and see. Here it was. The Cascade of Interventions. I was supposed to sink my heels into the stand, hold firm to my priorities, and insist that we wait for as long as possible. “I want to wait at least a few hours,” I said, nervously. “See what happens.” That was totally fine, she said; she was comfortable waiting up to 12 hours as long as I got my regular antibiotic drips and sat on the monitors intermittently. “At least a few hours,” I said.

So we waited… but there wasn’t exactly a *place* for us to wait, necessarily. It was a busy evening in L&D. We hung out in triage for a while, eavesdropping on another patient who arrived in an ambulance but also without any sort of imminent labor. We were eventually relocated to a “recovery room:” one of a few curtained-off beds where, we deduced, C-section mamas could recover from surgery while bonding with their babes. We eavesdropped on a different patient who was similarly displaced – she wasn’t full term yet, and hopefully she wasn’t in labor until BAM, her water broke and then she was out of there.

We waited. And waited. And waited. It was the middle of the night and I didn’t know if I should be trying to sleep or walking like a mad person. I did some of each, but mostly walked. Dressed in two hospital gowns and a pair of socks, I lumbered up and down the extraordinarily short L&D hallway. The delivery rooms (all full, no room for me); the nurse’s station; the recovery rooms; triage. Triage; the recovery rooms; the nurses’s station; the delivery rooms. I clutched my iPhone and I listened to birth stories on my headphones – The Birth Hour podcast and Anna Solomon and Eleanor Henderson’s Labor Day on audio.

Waiting “a few hours” stretched into the entire night. I think the midwife checked in on me once, and I reported back to my bed periodically for monitoring and more antibiotics. I wanted not to be intervened with, wanted to be left alone: L&D was so busy and I was so low maintenance, that I seemed to be getting my wish. At some point, I downloaded an app and started timing my “contractions;” I had a few that stopped me in my wandering tracks, left me doing some moderate writhing while I was lying in bed on the monitor, but nothing more than 7 minutes apart.

In the meantime, my deadbeat annoying husband became my poor, dead-tired husband. He stayed in my curtained off room, curled into a ball, uncomfortably wedged in between two standard-issue, non-comfy chairs. I tried to convince him to take my unoccupied hospital bed, but he declined.

We were finally granted a delivery room in the early hours of the morning. Quiet and privacy allowed us both a short sleep before two midwives entered the room.

“It’s been 12 hours,” said the first midwife. “I get to go home, so I am handing your care off to this new midwife. Also, it’s time to talk induction. We can try Cytotec or go right to Pitocin. Your choice.”

I hemmed. I hawed. I texted my midwife-in-training sister. I knew the basic pros and cons. Cytotec: it’s a pill, so if it works to induce labor I could just… be in labor. No more interventions. There is, however, a risk of uterine hyperstimulation – mega contractions. This could be massively painful, hard on the baby, and lead to further interventions; and it’s a pill, so you can’t “dial it back.” Pitocin, on the other hand, is an IV drip that can be adjusted. But… it’s an IV drip: I’d be tethered to an IV pole for the duration… and also the fetal monitor. I wanted to avoid monitoring and I wanted to be mobile. I decided the risk of adverse Cytotec side effects would be worth avoiding further interventions.

My new midwife returned, alone. I told her I was leaning toward the Cytotec, but was a Foley Bulb an option? She said it was! (Why, then, was it not provided to me as… an option? Who the heck knows…) Let’s see how your cervix is doing, though.

From what I’d gathered in my years of anticipatory birth research/obsession, the data gathered from cervical checks were questionable at best. If you weren’t progressing, then disappointment could compound with pain and lead to the dreaded epidural. Also: ouch. Being GBS positive with ruptured membranes, my cervical checks were to be kept to a minimum, which was completely fine by me. So this was my first ever cervical check, 12+ hours into my “labor.”

“Good news!” the new midwife said after she emerged from my… vagina. “You’re two centimeters dilated.”

“Yay!” My husband and I cheered.

“That means we can’t do Cytotec OR a Foley Bulb! It’s time to move right to Pitocin!”


Thus began the second, more medicated portion of my Mostly Boring Labor. Or “labor,” as my now- midwife sister would say, because you aren’t actually in labor until you are at like 4 centimeters or something highly specific. I don’t know. I was in a delivery room wearing a hospital gown walking around attached to an IV pole, so it felt like I was in labor.

But it was boring. I asked for a “slow” induction, so it was still another 3-4 hours before I started feeling significant contractions. Highlights from this boring pre-labor labor:

  • We spent a lot of time deciding what music to listen to, since we hadn’t gotten around to making any sort of “labor playlist.” Once shit started to get less boring, we somehow opted for a lot of musicals, since they were really long and didn’t require constant DJing. We started with Hamilton (this was 2016…) and I think moved on to Jesus Christ Superstar. I vetoed Les Miserables. Just too bleak.


  • My husband was really excited to order breakfast. I told him I didn’t want anything, since I was “in labor” and therefore could throw up at any time. He ordered anyway, and I ended up eating half of his hash browns and egg sandwich.


  • Also, he fetched me a really large, fully-caffeinated iced coffee from a nearby Starbucks! I remember this feeling very exciting. Second-time-around Pregnant Jessica is wondering why this was so novel, since Starbucks makes iced coffees all year round, from first trimester to third…


  • I was getting over a minor cold and had a really annoying tickly throat/cough thing going on. Combine that with my third trimester acid reflux and dry hospital air and I was being driven entirely crazy. Sometime in the middle of the night I asked my husband to scout out a vending machine/nearby pharmacy for a cough drop, or at least a Jolly Rancher or something. No dice. As contractions ramped up, it got more and more irritating. My husband resumed his mission, and the result – hours and hours later – was a prescribed cough drop. A. Single. Cough Drop. I didn’t even take it – I figured I’d wait until it got REALLY bad – and then I lost it.


  • I spent a lot of time trying to get my fetal monitors to stay hoisted into the proper position. You really do pay a lot of attention to that little heartbeat computer if it’s right there by your side.


  • I saw a lot of nurses that day. I remember the daytime nurse who seemed a little perplexed by my birth choices. In between asking me how I would rate my pain from 1 to 10 (why is this a thing during childbirth, by the way?) she furrowed her brow at me a lot and looked concerned – when there was nothing wrong with me, as far as I could tell! I also remember the nurse who showed up when I was in real pain who seemed really excited to hang out with a medication-free laboring mom – she was offering tips and making impromptu ice packs! How fun! Alas, she was only covering a shift change. In general, though, I was left alone. Which is exactly what I wanted.


  • At some point, I unhooked myself from the monitors, wheeled my IV pole by my side and lumbered into the bathroom to pee. When I emerged from the ordeal, there was a smiling anesthesiologist standing in the room with a giant syringe (Is that true? Am I making that detail up? I really think it happened, but it seems so ridiculous…) He said something like, “I’m here with your pain medication!” and I said something like “Um, I don’t have any pain medication,” (See!? It’s awkward. Don’t you people recognize a crunchy birth lady attached to an IV pole when you see one!?) And he said, “I know, that’s why I’m here!” And then me, my husband, and happy syringe man just stood in silence, until syringe man excused himself. I’m assuming he found the right room number at some point after that.


All told, it was a pretty boring day. Midwife #2 popped in at one point to check on me – “It’s been so busy!” she said. “I wish I could just stay in here with you guys!” I wasn’t sure if I should feel proud or insulted. At some point, however, I stopped feeling like I was killing time. Instead, I felt like I was in a great deal of pain. It seemed the dreaded Pitocin was working. I’d also been at the hospital for nearly 24 hours – mostly awake for the last 36 – so I was also feeling a great deal of exhaustion.

Pain. Exhaustion. The stuff of most Birth Stories. More to come, including: a baby!