Years and years ago, when I was a mere teenager I told myself that one day I would have a daughter and would call her Luna. In the years that followed I did not have a daughter, but did acquire a tiny little cat that I called Luna and who stayed with me for many years until she passed away from old age. And then I got pregnant and at 21 weeks we found out I was expecting a little girl. C. must have read a blog post that I had written one day in which I mentioned the above story, and told me that we should name our daughter Luna. Marlena (pronounced Mar-lay-na), is a nod towards Marlene Dietrich, my favourite actress and an inspiration. I love names that end in “a”. And we obviously chose right because her name fits her perfectly, although she has also kept the nickname of Munchie as it has followed her out of the womb and into our arms…
Luna Marlena was born on April 9th of this year, 8 days after her due date. Even though a premature birth was always something that I had worried about in the back of my mind all throughout the pregnancy, I had a gut feeling that she would not be in a rush to get out and would probably make it right up until they scheduled to induce me. Her due date of April 1st came and went and I was scheduled to be induced on April 8th. I had mixed feelings about being induced, and really wanted her to come naturally, but it was hospital policy to not let anyone go for longer than 41 weeks. And when I got to 41 weeks I was ready to give birth! I had some false labour contractions three days before, but nothing else, and when I woke up on April 8th at 6am I knew that she would finally be born within the next 40 hours as I was going to be induced that morning. Of course it all wasn’t going to be THAT simple, as my waters broke just before I got into the shower… Hence the fact that there was no time to take a photo of me at 41 weeks as everything became a little more urgent at that point! Seeing as I had been having what I thought were Braxton Hicks contractions all weekend (based on what the doctor had said on the Friday at the hospital after my baby stress test), I had no idea if labour was going to be long or short now that my waters had broken. We got stuck in traffic and it took us 90 minutes to get from Flushing to Fort Greene. I remained somewhat calm – to be honest I was more worried about making a mess in the cab and being late for the 8am appointment than being in pain (I am British after all). Thankfully little Munchie decided she was in no real hurry to make an appearance, so I got settled in at the hospital and checked out by the doctor on duty.
The idea at that point was to wait and see if the contractions I was having were getting stronger or not before giving me any type of induction medication. I had a birth plan, but it really wasn’t set in stone – I was only intent on making sure I had the option for an epidural if I felt like it, but that I had the choice to not have any pain medication if I didn’t, that I could breastfeed exclusively without having to worry about anyone feeding my daughter formula if I had to have a c-section, and lastly, that I would only have a c-section of absolutely necessary. To be honest I had no idea what to expect so wasn’t going to put any demands on myself or on my child. Through-out my pregnancy I had always hovered between being worried about everything and just listening to my body and knowing that everything would be OK if I were healthy and happy. I was right. While pregnancy was all too real, especially when I started really showing, the actual idea of child birth was totally surreal. You mean a baby was going to come out of me? I know it’s been done a million times before, but not to me. So it was basically a “let’s see what happens when it happens” part of my life, and as soon as my waters broke I was excited, scared and actually composed. I had been waiting so long to meet my daughter and it was finally time (and the acid reflux towards the end of my pregnancy was driving me insane).
Unfortunately, even though I was having contractions they weren’t really doing anything and my cervix was literally still closed a few hours after I was admitted. Due to the fact that I had lost all of the amniotic fluid that morning I wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital bed (not even to go to the toilet which became really annoying. Why would I, extremely healthy person, need to use a bedpan?! UGH). The doctors decided to give me Pitocin to speed up the contractions and make them more affective as well as antibiotics to ensure that there was no risk of infection to the baby. Three hours later and I was only 1cm in and the contractions were getting a lot stronger. I was also exhausted and hungry (make that starving, all I had managed to eat that morning was a small bowl of cereal). They won’t let you eat or drink anything just in case you have to be rushed into surgery – even when you plead with them. I wasn’t even allowed to suck on boiled sweets. Only ice chips… By 3pm or so all I wanted to do was get some sleep and not have to use a bedpan so I decided to go for the epidural (and I am really glad I did for this birth, I think I may opt out with the next one though, more on that later). The anesthesiologist was lovely and took her time putting the epidural in to ensure that it worked, and I understood why they asked you to do it sooner rather than later – it takes about 30 minutes to do and you need to remain super still, which is quite impossible when you are having contractions every 5 minutes. By 4 pm my lower body was completely numb and although I could feel the pressure of the contractions, the pain completely disappeared. As did any ability to move my legs – I needed to ask C and my mum to help me move if I needed to change positions. It was around this point that I realised even more than I ever had before the depths of my love for both C and my mother – there was no one else that I would have been comfortable with having there all the way through, and at the same time couldn’t imagine doing it without them there. I knew at that point that this is where you realize there is no room for modesty in childbirth and that you don’t really care anyway – for someone who hates people even hearing me pee it still shocks me today how I just didn’t care what I looked like during labour – all that mattered was that I was able to give birth to a healthy and happy little girl and that my boyfriend was there to witness and live through the whole thing.
My first nurse was lovely – she came to check on us every hour on the dot, was really friendly and answered all of my questions. As the baby was still faring well and had a healthy heartbeat they just continued to give me Pitocin, antibiotics and check on progress every 4 hours. I managed to doze off a little, as did my mum and C in their uncomfortable chairs. My lovely, wonderful M. came to visit and smuggled hard candy into the room so that I could try to alleviate the heartburn I was feeling, but by this point I started to feel really woozy and completely out of it. My day time nurse was replaced by the evening nurse, who wasn’t as kind or friendly, and didn’t come in nearly as much. I knew that they had monitors at the nurses’ station anyway, so I wasn’t too worried about anything bad happening… But it would still have been nice to have someone who appeared to actually give a damn! By 7pm I still wasn’t even at 2cm and I started to worry that I was never going to be able to give birth naturally. The doctors reassured me that I still had a lot of time, that everything was going OK and that I should relax, so I tried to do just that. Not easy when you have a bunch of wires coming out of your arm and back, no feeling in your lower body and are then told to wear the oxygen mask, even though your acid reflux was so bad you wanted to vomit. The nurse also started to worry me because she said the oxygen was for the baby – making me immediately think that the baby didn’t have enough oxygen! All this sounds just delightful, I know… It wasn’t that bad, just very strange for me, seeing as the last time I had been in hospital was for my own birth. I was just very happy that I was in the best hands if anything happened to go wrong, and was honestly not expecting to feel comfortable at all… It all still felt very surreal. Kind of like an out of body experience to be honest!
By 11pm when the doctor came back I was worried that there wouldn’t be a change yet again, but I had jumped to 8cm! The doctor seemed pleased, but said he would come back to check up on me around 2am, and told me to sleep. I tried, but I couldn’t sleep – not with knowing that my little one would be born at some point that night! The doctor also told me that severe acid reflux is a sign of imminent labour, therefore a good sign, and to not worry about it. I’m sure that if they had let me eat it would have been better though!!! Argh! More dozing… More watching the movies that were playing on the TV (I honestly can’t really remember what the movies were, and I couldn’t really focus on anything at this point, not on the TV, not on the magazines or the books I had, and definitely not on any type of meaningful conversation!). I’m so glad that C and my mum were there, even though they were probably exhausted and bored. It was reassuring that they could be my voice if for any reason I couldn’t use mine anymore, and that they were there to hold me when I felt awful and in pain.
Just after 2pm another doctor came in to check me, said that I was ready and told me how to push and then disappeared. At this point I was wide awake and ready – but had no idea if I was supposed to start pushing immediately, or wait for someone to come and assist me… I asked the nurse that question when she came in to change the heartbeat monitor paper and she mumbled that I should be pushing and walked out again. At this point I started getting a little distressed and teary – what, was I supposed to push my baby out by myself?? What was the point of being in hospital?? My mum called the nurse back and she finally transformed herself from zombie into a wonderful human being and stayed with me, helping me to practice my pushing technique. The problem with the epidural is that it’s sometimes hard to determine when the contraction starts so you don’t always know when to push. You have to really focus, and if this is your first child you have nothing to compare it to. The woman in the room in front of me was obviously having a difficult labour as I could hear people going in and out for ages, and the woman in the room behind me had been howling in pain for hours, so I guessed that the night doctors weren’t ready for me to give birth right at that moment as they were busy, hence the fact that nobody actually told me that it was really time (even though I was ready?!).
And then, around 3:15am, doctors and nurses poured into my room and started setting everything up. My bed suddenly became a labour chair, a huge light beamed down on me and three doctors crowded around, getting ready to deliver my daughter. The head doctor gave me a lovely speech on how having an epidural is a great way to control the pushing and therefore helps them to preserve to perineal area, which is always their aim (yeah… well that backfired completely, but no one needs to read about those kind of details) – and then handed the reigns over to the student and the intern. I started to push, and felt so strange doing it, C and my mum holding my arms on each side. I had a feeling I was never going to be able to do it, that the baby would get stuck – even though they kept telling me that the head was right there… Then all of a sudden I heard a short baby cry, and realised that my daughter was already crying while she was still mostly inside me, and in shock pushed her out in one go, head, shoulders and the rest of her body… She was already howling while C cut the umbilical cord and was whisked over to be measured and weighed and tested and cleaned and wrapped up. I was in shock – crying and laughing and not really believing that I had just delivered a baby, my own baby. My eyes still tear up when I think about how amazing that moment was, there is nothing in the world to compare it to. All I wanted was to cuddle my baby for the rest of time, but the doctors spent about 45 minutes fixing what they had to fix (and this is why I am glad I had the epidural), so C got to cuddle her, until one of the nurses said that they needed to take her to the nursery for more tests and to be cleaned properly. Thankfully I got to cuddle her for a few minutes before she was taken away. I was still pretty much in shock at that point – while the whole experience, from losing my waters less than 24 hours before to seeing her little body be pulled from me, still seemed surreal, all of a sudden everything was very, very real. The past 10 months had all culminated into this very moment: the birth of my daughter.
Luna Marlena was born at 4:13am on April 9th, 2014 at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, weighing 7lbs 13oz, and measuring 18 inches, perfectly healthy and with a good strong pair of lungs and a full head of hair – looking like the spitting image of her dad (with my hair, hands and feet). A pure beauty. I was already in love with her from the moment I found out I was pregnant, so there was no exact moment that I felt like I fell in love, it was more like a feeling of not knowing how to express or communicate all the love that I felt once I had given birth to her. I felt completely gobsmacked and overwhelmed, and a little confused too – I didn’t know why they were taking so long to fix me and why I couldn’t go and join my baby immediately. We were reunited again an hour later in a room in the post partum ward, Luna fast asleep, and me unable to sleep because all I could do was stare at her beautiful little face and hold her tight in my arms. Even today, a little over a month later I still hold her tight and stare at her for hours, still amazed at how C and I created this perfect little human being who already has a strong character and who rules this house like no other.
It’s as if all I have done in my life was preparation for the next stage: life with the loves of my life, my daughter and my boyfriend, and maybe one day with another little blessing…