My Dear Manzil,
Here I am, attempting to breathe all of this in...the best way I know how.
I started writing this when you were 21 days old and I was still wrapping this up as you turned 273 days old and I finished writing this when you turned 9 months old. 9 months in and 9 months out! And here you are, a full 365 days old, today!
You are here. I wish I could slow down time and hold on to your day oneness and twoness and so on, but time, as you will learn (and you are so effectively reteaching me), only moves forward. Whether or not you're ready to move with it.
So as to not be left behind, your Mamma, is doing what she knows to do best to hold on to the ephemeral - write about it.
Before I write to you about how our lives have been magical and in the nicest way ever Upside Down (we'll watch Stranger Things together one day ; ), I want to write to you about how our world began to change exactly 12 months ago today.
On June 4th, your estimated date of arrival, I woke up with a sense of excitement. It was like any other day in the past week though. My body didn't feel that different than the day before. I woke up, got ready, and we were heading to the farmer's market because I was craving that cherry almond croissant! It was a cooler day and I wished I had had a jacket on me. The bakers were out of the croissant, but we wandered and found some yummy food nonetheless! We got home and rested, our usual afternoon routine. In the evening, I started noticing more-than-usual wetness. I waited and monitored, and then around 7:15pm decided to call the midwife line and to see what they had to say.
Throughout the day, Daddy and I were doing some big and small things we had been putting off - cleaning the patio, fixing these puppets, getting some final things ready before you arrived. Some were trivial, some significant. It should've been my signal that you were getting ready to come.
The midwives have always called back in an hour. Except that day. It was 8:30pm when I called back to reach someone again. They called back soon after and the on-call midwife said, "You sound worried, why don't you come in to triage and we'll take a look."
Nani had made cheeni-ka-paratha that night. It was what she ate the night I was born 30 years ago. We finished our dinner, put away the food in the fridge, and left home. I half-believed it was time, half-thought we would be back in our bed that night. We got to triage around 9:30pm and waited patiently for the midwife and nurses to run their tests. Turns out I was slightly more dilated, but really not much more effaced and though in pre-labor, not leaking any amniotic fluid. Cleared to go home!
Right before we were leaving, the midwife saw me scratching the soles of my feet. Dan and I looked at each other and thought to mention that though they had been monitoring my bile levels, I had definitely been more itchy in classic cholestasis fashion for the past few days. When she heard this, it became clear that she was more concerned. She explained to us the risk, though low, of still birth. We understood and waited to hear our options. I was not in active labor and didn't want to be induced. But, I was to term and keeping you in me any longer wouldn't have made a lot of difference. On the other hand, if it was cholestasis, the bile level results wouldn't come back for another few days, and the stakes were high, even if statistically the risk was low.
We were given a choice: be monitored at home or be monitored at the hospital. Either way, we were disqualified from the birthing center and we would need to be monitored. At around 11pm, we decided to stay in the hospital to have access to the best care possible. They swept my membranes and we all tried in vain to sleep. Over the next 12 hours, they continued to sweep my membranes to hasten labor. I started cramping on the night of June 4th and continued over the next 18 hours. Nani, Daddy, and I were all in the hospital room and none of us got much sleep. Mashi and Masha were on their way to the hospital too!
We were excited on the 5th! Having read many many books, watched many many videos, talked to many moms, and having taken classes on the labor process, I had a feeling your arrival was close. I was about 2 cms dilated throughout the day. But I was hopeful. Finally, after about 24 hours of close monitoring and receiving cervical ripening agents, I wasn't making that much progress, and we agreed to begin induction. They began me on a very slow drip of oxytocin. It was to mimic my own body's production. Nonetheless, it pushed my contractions, which had begun the day before, to a new level. They became more intense, but still spread apart. Daddy and Mashi took turns to walk with me on the hospital floor. By this time, we had seen a few rotations of nurses and had our favorites and ones we weren't too excited to see again! Mashi and Masha had brought doughnuts for the nurses, so as we walked around, we kept getting smiles and thanks from nurses. This was nice, but didn't ease my discomfort as I walked around with the monitor strapped on my shoulder and a pink and a blue strap around my belly. Every four minutes or so, we needed to stop and I had to hold onto Daddy/Mashi/the hand rail in the hallway of the delivery floor of the hospital. This continued for about 4 hours.
Later that night, my contractions picked up pace. Our doula told us later that when you get induced, it often feels like one long continuous contraction. Speaking of doula...
UCSD has a pretty spectacular volunteer doula program. Their rules are simple: when you get admitted, ask for a doula. Catch: they will only call in a doula when you are 5 cms dilated. It wasn't easy getting to this point, and our nurse, who had been watching me struggle through my contractions, called in a doula when I was still only about 3 cms dilated. Thank goodness she did that! At around 11:30pm, they upped my oxytocin dose and that's when my one long contraction began. I kept wondering what you must be feeling through it all. All of our childbirth classes, books, and sage advice from other moms helped me understand just why we have contractions. I have seen videos of balloons with ping-pong balls in them and watched lots of videos explaining the pain-fear-tension triangle. But none of it prepared me for the amazing and excruciating thing our bodies were going through. Mine - my muscle squeezing and releasing to evict you out of your home for nine months. Yours - moving about and getting into position to be squeezed out of a very small hole. That hole was getting bigger, and at the speed that it needed to. Our bodies were working together, but mine needed a little more help.
Sometime after midnight on the 6th, Daddy had been swaying with me, holding me, and squeezing my hips. Mashi and Masha were saying comforting things and taking turns to hold me. Nani was making sure I was staying hydrated. After trying to lie down, stand, walk (I didn't get far), squat, crouch, and sway, I asked the nurse if I could go sit in the shower. We weren't in the tub-room of the birthing center, but the labor and delivery room had an inflatable "shower chair". I sat on that and the hot water on my back helped a lot! Daddy, Mashi, Masha, and Nani took turns to sit with me. I don't know how long I was there for, but I remember Daddy telling me repeatedly that the doula was almost there.
At 1:15am, the doula walked in. Amanda! She was every bit as graceful, kind, supportive, and empowering (and then some) as I could have asked from a doula! Amanda didn't even set her bags down, she got right behind me in the shower (in that teeny-tiny space between then shower and the toilet!) and began applying pressure at all the right places. She assured me that I was doing my best and helped me breathe in all the most helpful ways. She got me moving on my feet, off my feet on the exercise ball, and held me up when I thought I was going to collapse. Most importantly, she gave Daddy and everyone else a much-needed break.
This went on for a few more hours. There was no "coming-and-going" of contractions; no spacing between them. They were an "it". One long, endless, excruciating, pelvis-killing experience. I vomited a few times, cried a lot, and tried to meditate a lot. We had my favorite candle, my favorite stuffy, my singing bowl, my meditation audio uploaded on my phone, and of course, my favorite people, all with me. Daddy tried to make me laugh and it worked sometimes! There were many moments when I didn't think I could make it. After about 5 hours of this one long continuous contraction, when I thought someone was sawing my hips off, and I couldn't feel any other part of my body, our midwife came in and essentially told us that we had the bulk of the hard work (pushing) still ahead of us. I wasn't dilated enough and my water still hadn't broken. She offered me pain medication and I took it. It gave me two hours of rest. The medicine wore off around 6 and the contraction(s) came back soon after. At around 7:15am, after much deliberation and many many tears (and feelings of immense confusion - gratitude, confusion, failure, disappointment, fear, relief) from me, I got an epidural. The midwife asked who I wanted in the room with me when I got it, and I asked for Amanda. She held and helped me through some difficult contractions through it all!
After the epidural, I was super confused about why everyone was telling me to sleep. I couldn't eat much from that point on, and I had thrown up most of what I had eaten before that. But I drank a lot of juice and water to keep my fluids up. I continued to meditate and heard many snippets of many conversations between everyone as I drifted in and out of epidural-induced sleep. The nurses kept checking your heart rate through the fetal monitor and Nani kept double-checking their work to make sure you were doing okay! You had so many of us looking out for you through every heart beat. I had to get an extra dose of oxygen occasionally to make sure we were both okay. They continued to check how dilated I was, and at around 11:15am, I was still only 6 cms dilated. A new midwife's shift began and she informed us that we may be looking at many more hours (and even into the night) before you made an appearance. At around 11:18am, our wonderful nurse, Annie, was checking our monitors when we all heard a pop on the monitor. I told her I felt something pop in me, even though I wasn't supposed to be feeling anything thanks to the epidural. Sure enough, my water had broken. Everyone's birth story is different. It struck me a few days before you were born that my water may not have a conventional story of breakage, and that was okay with me. Daddy and I only had one rule: anything to keep you and me safe.
They cleaned me up and Mashi and Masha went to get lunch. They went to Mama's Cafe and picked up some yummy sandwiches, even Daddy's favorite eggplant wrap! At around 12:30pm, I let our nurse know that I was feeling some pressure close to my vagina. If I recall correctly, my words were, "I am feeling like something's coming out, and I feel like pooping!" She said she would let the midwife know. I told her a few more times before our midwife walked in at 1:15pm (she was schedule to check on me around 2:30pm) and declared, "I hear you think you're ready to have this baby? Let's check, I doubt you're dilated more than 6 still."
I was dilated past 8 cms and almost completely effaced! Daddy had just stepped outside to eat his lunch when he was rushed back in. Our midwife made me do a few practice pushes, which helped my cervix to completely efface. Then, she stuck her hand in me and helped turn you a little to better position you (sorry, you were being turned in there!). At 1:35pm, I began pushing. She was encouraging and I had 2 medical students holding my legs up for me (thanks again, epidural) and Daddy holding my right hand, and Amanda holding my left. At one point, our midwife brought a mirror in so I could see you leaving me and entering this world. It was beautiful to watch you - YOU - coming out of me! I felt the pressure of every contraction, without any of the pain (thanks once more, epidural) and after 5 pushes, and a 2nd degree tear, you were out.
I remember our midwife handing you to my tired but enthusiastic hands. You were so small, so slippery, and she leaned in to give me a little more support. You were quiet for about 10 seconds and then yelped exactly as any baby should that's been spending 9 months brewing in a comfortable cocoon and just got evicted to this cold world. But mamma's warm happy hands had you. You smelled of all that is amazing, raw, and so pure. You looked so perfect. You were breathing and you were here. You latched on right away and I began my journey as being completely and utterly in love with you. Daddy had me in one hand and you in the other. Nani was inspecting to make sure we were fine. Mashi and Masha were trying to get pictures and videos. Everyone was crying, laughing, and just marveling at you - all of you! You had arrived.
You will hear this many many times in your life, Manzil - We come into this world alone. I have said that so many times and believed it until you came into this world. You are half me and half Daddy, and 100% you. You are 1/4 Nana, Nani, Grandma, and Grandpa. You are 100% you. You have Adam's head, and Mashi's smile. You are all you! I have thought so much about your experience of coming out of me (maybe there's an evolutionary reason we don't remember what that journey is like!). You were not alone. You didn't come out into this world alone. And you won't be alone as you go through it.
Always, with you, yours,