Wade and I met in middle school, became friends our sophomore year of high school, and started dating January 2nd, 2006 after attending our junior year homecoming dance together earlier that fall. Before Wade and I got married in 2011 we discussed having children, and we felt pretty comfortable with the thought: “if it happens, it happens,” but we planned to be more intentional about pursuing adoption. That’s why, in 2012, when I went off of birth control pills and was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, we weren’t too disappointed. While there are treatments for PCOS and medical intervention to help women get pregnant, I was sure I didn’t want to go down that road, though I did want to get healthier for myself. I treated my PCOS naturally, but Wade and I still used ovulation tracking along with birth contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, as about a third of women with PCOS do still get pregnant without intervention.
Fast forward about seven and a half years to January 2019, and Wade and I had just returned from an amazing trip to Thailand, where we spent a week (including my 30th birthday!) at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary in Sukhothai, Thailand. The trip was literally a dream for me, but we returned home to snow storms and canceled classes at the university where I am an English professor south of Chicago. I was glad to have that week pretty much off, as I could not seem to get over jet lag or slight nausea I was assuming was brought on by a bacterial infection contracted on our travels. I taught one day of classes, but I spent the first week at home pretty much asleep.
One week after we returned from Thailand, I was beginning my weekly commute from Madison to the Chicago suburb for work, and I had to pull my car over on the side of the interstate to vomit. This felt strange, so I contacted my doctor’s office to schedule a test for a bacterial infection when I returned to Madison that Friday. On the nurse’s suggestion, I took a pregnancy test after teaching that evening just to be sure I wasn’t pregnant. When that test came back positive, I figured it was a fluke, and waited to take another until after teaching the next day. When the second test came back negative, I went out to sushi to celebrate my and my friend's thirtieth birthdays and cooed over another friend’s little baby, thinking: “phew, that was close!” I took the third test when I got home from dinner that night. I realized then I’d read the second test wrong, and I had three positive pregnancy tests sitting in front of me. I called Wade on FaceTime within a minute and gave him the news.
It was quite a shock for us both.
That Friday, once I returned back to Madison, we went to an ultrasound appointment instead of the bacterial test I had been planning. On the screen, we saw our eight-week old little nugget and found out he’d been hanging out there since before Christmas! We got back in the car, a little stunned, but Wade told me he’d bought me and the baby a present. He’d gone to the fair trade store, Serrv, on State Street and purchased a stuffed, multicolored cloth elephant, made in India. For the first time, I started to cry, realizing how much our lives were about to change.
The sight of the elephant also brought me back to the sanctuary in Thailand and specifically back to the daily interactions that we had with the beautiful elephant Pang Fai , which means “aunty of light,” while were there. Pang Fai was one of the newest rescues at the sanctuary, though she had been in the logging industry for over 30 years before her rescue. At the sanctuary, there is no contact with the elephants unless they initiate it and the mahout (their keeper/companion) says it’s OK. Every morning we’d watch Pang Fai eat vitamin balls that we prepared for her, and then after she ate, she’d reach her trunk out slowly towards my stomach. I was thrilled because it meant I got to gently touch her trunk and look closely into her eyes, but I didn’t know why she was doing that. After Wade pulled out the cloth elephant that day of the ultrasound, it clicked in my mind. This aunty elephant was telling me that there was a little life inside of me. She was the first to know! It's such a sweet memory to have now.
I was glad we had the next seven months to process and prepare for this life change. My pregnancy was relatively easy and very normal. The worst of it was some intense sciatic nerve pain during my third trimester due to the baby’s position. My job shifted so I wouldn’t have to commute to school but could instead teach remotely, we bought a brand new, lovely home in a quiet community, and we felt pretty settled back in the Madison area after being back here for about three years. If there was a right time for a baby, this seemed to be it, so we got ready to meet our son who was due on September 18th.
Though I am chronically late for things, I was a bit surprised that our baby took his sweet time to make his debut. He seemed quite content to just stay inside! Soon after his due date passed we set an induction date for Wednesday, September 25th, 2019. That week consisted of some minor cramping and other labor signs but mostly we just waited. We took it easy the morning of the 25th, brought our dogs over to my parent’s, and then we headed to the hospital for our induction appointment.
We checked into our room at Meriter Hospital at 3:00 PM on September 25th, and that’s when all the fun began. We worked with the team of nine UnityPoint Health midwives throughout the pregnancy, and we knew we would probably be seeing a few of them during our stay in the hospital. Our first midwife was Carol, and then we also worked with Anastasia throughout the stay, and Denise delivered the baby. We started the induction process with Misoprostol to thin my cervix, and we settled in and watched Property Brothers and ate Noodles that my parents brought us. We set the mood in the room with an essential oil diffuser, lamp, and fan from home. The nurses and midwives monitored my contractions until they checked my cervix at about 1:30 AM on the morning of the 26th. I was only dilated about one centimeter, but I was having regular contractions. After Benadryl did nothing to take the edge off, we decided to do a dose of the narcotic. Almost immediately I dropped off to sleep for about two and a half hours. It was a welcome relief. I had a bloody show at about 7:00 AM, but the 7:30 AM cervix check showed I wasn’t dilated anymore than a centimeter, though my cervix was ripening. I ordered some breakfast from room service, talked to Carol, and we started the Pitocin IV at 11:00 AM. By 3:00 PM on the 26th we’d been in the hospital a full day, and the contractions were averaging about four minutes apart.
By 5:15 PM I was up to 14 units of Pitocin, and the pain was starting to get intense. At the suggestion of the nurses, I got in the bath at about 6:00 PM. I was starting to feel pretty intense waves of pain in my back as I labored through each contraction. My midwife Anastasia told me later she was really hoping it was just muscular pain, but I think we all had a sense that back labor was starting. I labored in the bath for a little over an hour, and though the setting was peaceful with Christmas lights on the sink and a supportive team of Wade, the midwife, nurse, and our photographer, Nicole Streeter, things were taking a turn.
We had taken a five-week birth class with Jodi Bubenzer called Embracing Birth during the second and third trimester. Through that class we learned about labor positions, medication options, and how to best work with our birth partner and care teams. It was a really informative course, but the one message that Jodi focused on the most was this mantra: “pain not suffering.” She told us that, of course, labor and childbirth is going to be painful, but she repeatedly emphasized that that did not mean that we had to suffer. We talked about how suffering is a mental state, and we wrote down practical, tangible ways to combat suffering. My list included items like, essential oils, pictures of my dogs, and practicing yoga breathing. I had or did all those things in the labor room, but on the night of the 26th, none of that was enough.
Soon after getting in the tub I had cried to Wade that I didn’t know how long I could do this. After laboring there for almost an hour, one contraction seemed to just rip through me. The pain in my back stayed tight and high far longer than the contraction, and as soon as the wave broke, so did I. I sobbed that it was just too much. I knew I was suffering, and Wade asked to see the midwife. Carol came in, and I told her I needed an epidural. She gave the order as the midwife Denise and the nurse Ashley stepped in to oversee my care. Jodi’s mantra rang clearly through my head, and in that moment, it made the decision very easy. I hadn’t planned on getting an epidural, but I knew I would just continue to suffer without it, and I knew I physically, emotionally, and mentally I just could not do that. It took a little time, then, for me to get out of the tub, get blood drawn, have the anesthesiologist team come in, but I got the epidural soon after 8:00 PM. As the medication started to work through my body, I needed to return to my previously identified labor techniques. We started the oil diffuser, I looked at the photo of my pups, and I practiced my yoga breathing-- this time not so much to combat the pain but to combat the panic of being incapacitated in bed.
I was glad to have those techniques especially once the nurse came in and told me they were having trouble reading the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor. The nurse gave me some oxygen, I tried laying in a few different positions, but by 10:00 PM they had to turn the Pitocin drip down to give the baby some time to rest, and by midnight, they turned it off. My anxiety was high, as I was worried not only for my baby, but for how long I would be stuck in the bed with the epidural. I had already had a second boost of the medication, as I continued to feel strong pressure in my pelvis after the epidural. The pressure and anxiety kept me up throughout the night. Ashley was very reassuring, attentive, and helpful, doing everything she could to make me comfortable. Wade and Nicole were also helpful by offering quiet support as we waited.
As our stay in the hospital creeped into the third day of Friday, September 27th, I basically waited in bed. Around 1:00 AM Ashley said that the baby’s heartbeat seemed to be doing well, and they turned the Pitocin back up. Though the contractions were nothing compared to the pain prior to the epidural, I was definitely feeling the pressure of them as they came and went. Ashley gave me the peanut ball to help open things up around 3:00 AM and soon after I felt a small gush of water, as if a balloon had popped. I asked to have Denise check my cervix again, and she did so at about 3:15 AM. She said I was dilated to 10 centimeters, and then she asked me one of the simplest yet most profound questions I’ve ever been asked: would you like to have your baby? The pressure in my pelvis was building with every contraction, but I also knew I was very ready, so I said yes.
Wade, Denise, Ashley, and Nicole started to prepare around me. I felt both very much in this moment and yet somehow removed, as if I was watching it from afar. At 3:47 AM Denise said to push when I was ready, so I did. Wade held my left leg, and Ashley held my right. I pushed through several contractions, picturing myself doing yoga squats and trying to activate those muscles and breathing patterns. At 4:17 AM on Friday, September 27th, 2019, a crying, floppy, warm baby boy was placed on my chest. Cohen Matthew Bruce was here!
The relief and joy of having delivered the baby was palpable. I felt very little pain as the placenta was delivered and Denise stitched my second degree tear. I knew I had pushed him out, but it didn’t seem real that he was actually here and that he was actually mine. Though we had been in the hospital about 37 hours by that point, the end came so quickly, and I was very thankful for that.
Cohen weighed in at nine pounds, eight ounces, and he was 22 inches long-- a much bigger baby than anyone expected! He seemed absolutely perfect to me. Throughout his delivery I felt so surrounded by strong, calm, centered, encouraging energy as Wade and Ashley held my legs, Nicole stood by my head, and Denise helped coax the baby out. I honestly can’t imagine having a better team of people surrounding me in that moment. I might have felt some pain, but Cohen was delivered into this world, and into my arms, without any suffering, which is exactly what I wanted.