As this is being posted, the clock has just struck 1:52 a.m. It is June 24th, and not only is the clock signaling the near of deepest night, but it is also celebrating the memory of a birth. The birth of Olivia Anne, born one year ago today at this precise moment in a brightly lit operating theatre in the heart of an urban hospital’s maternity ward.
I remember being rolled from my wheeled hospital bed, heavy with 40 pounds of pregnancy, numb from an epidural, and groggy from sleep deprivation and exhaustion. They laid my arms out and strapped them out, forming my body into a human “T” while the doctors and nurses prepared for my child’s arrival into the world.
I remember only snapshots of my time in the spotlight. My obstetrician walking in, jovial for 2 a.m., and asking me if I was a good packer, because I sure packed this baby in there. I laughed as I told him that, yes, actually I am a good packer, remembering many a family trip when I would be called upon to engineer the trunk and the impossible amount of luggage and coolers and bedding that was expected to fit in such a tiny compartment. I always succeeded.
My obstetricians joke put me at ease.
I remember my nurse, Judy, who had been such an angel to me, staying with me and coaching me throughout her shifts, even transferring with me when I moved out of her “ward” and into another. She didn’t have to be there, in the operating room, there were other nurses to take over. But she stayed with me anyway, reassuring me and telling me what was happening next. She signed Olivia’s “hospital birth certificate” with “God bless you” and a Bible verse. I will never forget her, although I will never see her again on earth.
I remember when my obstetrician began the procedure- a standard transverse cesarean section. He made an initial poke and asked me if I could feel anything. “YES!!” I said, starting to panic just slightly because I could indeed feel it, with a hint of pain. My obstetrician conferred with the anesthetist and the next time he asked me this question, I could steel feel something, but the prickle was gone.
I was still surprised by how much I could feel, and began to worry that the horror story I had heard of my best friend’s mother-in-law who had been completely knocked out for her c-section yet retained feeling and felt the entire surgery, unable to communicate, had come true for me too. I relaxed as I realized I was just overreacting in my fragile emotional state.
I remember the tug on my abdomen as the doctor moved my organs around. I remember feeling my gut emptied as Olivia was pulled out of womb. I have no idea what anyone said or did after that moment except this:
My doctor held my squalling daughter over my face and all I could say was, “Hi Olivia! It’s O.K.! I’m your mom, Olivia. It’s going to be O.K.” before she was whisked off to be weighed and measured and checked.
I remember thinking, “She doesn’t look like Olivia.” I have no idea what I expected Olivia to look like, but I literally felt like I had just met some strange new creature, not the child I imagined I knew so well after 9 months of sharing such intimate space.
I remember dozing as the nurses sewed me together. I remember showing up in the post-op recovery room (I don’t remember how I got there). I remember Olivia being brought to me, cleaned and swaddled, still crying, and holding her for the first time. I remember shaking violently with fatigue, the dramatic change in my body, and the anesthesia. I remember the lactation consultant, at 3 a.m., helping me first feed Olivia, through the shakes and shivers. It was impossible, but I was determined. It took every ounce of strength, but Olivia latched on and got her first taste of milk, my milk. This one small success felt like a hiker who has just broken through the hazy fog at the top of Mt. Everest after a long and grueling journey in which failure seemed the only possibility, yet suddenly success has arrived.
I remember being wheeled back to my recovery room, Olivia in a tiny bassinet following along at the foot of my bed in the elevator and down the halls. I remember the orderly saying as he stopped at my door, “Well, you’ll have to get up and walk to your bed from here.” I started to try to get up, and he told me he was joking. Thank God. I actually don’t remember how they did get me from bed to bed, but the next thing I knew I was there, trying to prop my eyes open as a nurse walked me through all the television channels and how to call the nurse’s station
What the heck, lady. I just had a baby after 56 hours of labor, it’s almost 5 a.m. and I JUST WANT TO SLEEP. I smiled and tried to keep my eyes propped open and pay attention.
I drifted off to sleep, glad to know my daughter was healthy, strong, and beautiful, and finally here.
I knew if I could accomplish this, I could accomplish anything. I was in love… with my daughter. And I knew this love would forever mark and change me.
Happy Birthday, sweet girl. You are one of the most difficult challenges and greatest gifts I could ever receive!