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Friday, March 24, 2017

Leaving Mitzrayim: A Pre-Pesach Birth Story

This time of year, the social media world is full of posts about planning and preparing for Pesach. In light of that, I would like to introduce you to the only thing in my house that has yet to come into any contact with chametz and is, therefore, kosher l'pesach: with gratitude to Hashem, we were blessed with the birth of beautiful baby boy! He made a punctual arrival into the world on his due date this past Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at 12:19AM weighing in at 8lbs and 2oz!

Planning for Pesach and planning for parenthood actually have a lot of unique parallels if you think about it. You make lists and excel documents and type out intricate plans; then it's time to implement them. One way or the other, the result is eminent: Pesach will come (or birth)! But along the way, we like to organize and nest, purchase and purge, scour, clean, burn and search--all to give ourselves the illusion that any of this is the means to an end, rather than the beginning of a journey that, G-d willing, repeats itself infinitely for generations to come. Pesach commemorates our people leaving as slaves from Mitzrayim [Egypt] and entering the freedom of the Holy Land. Birth commemorates leaving the womb and entering the physical world. But at the end of slavery lies the responsibility of freedom. At the end of labor and delivery lies the responsibility of parenthood. It is a journey that cycles again and again from moment to moment, from generation to generation.

At the very beginning of my pregnancy, I came across this photo gone viral of a mother in labor holding her older daughter and saying goodbye before her next child is born. Articles written about it indicate that this captures the "moment" mothers realize they will cease to be "just the two (or three, or four...) of them." And yet, this photo made that moment recur for me through the duration of my pregnancy. I waxed and waned with excitement, fear, grief and hope. I analyzed and agonized over a sense of desperately wanting to be the mother of this new baby that was growing within while simultaneously feeling a sense of loss to the son who had made me a mother in the first place. I talked about it and thought about it and grappled with it. Just as nesting instincts kicked in and I washed, cleaned and organized, fear of "that moment" held me back from packing that hospital bag. I wondered and wondered, even ruminated over "that moment." What would it be like to say goodbye to my only son?

And so I did what I always do when I cannot control something. I planned, plotted and I organized. I came up with all of the logical and reasonable reasons I could not give birth on a certain day and why I had to wait. I could have the baby after I finished teaching my pre-k reading class; I'd made a commitment and I needed to fulfill it. I could have the baby after Purim; I didn't want to ruin Purim for my family. I could have the baby after my son and husband returned from their day trip to Baltimore to get food for Pesach because we NEEDED to have food for Pesach so I could have the baby before it got too close to Pesach. I was fairly certain we would be having another boy, so I needed to make sure a bris would not fall at a time too close to Pesach, making it impossible to get a mohel. And I did not want to be in the hospital over Shabbos, so I needed to go into labor on a Sunday or a Monday, maybe a Tuesday the latest. And while I planned, plotted, and organized, I did some cognitive re-framing to get me through. I trusted that the hormones that were inducing this paralyzing fear of leaving the house for the hospital would kick over to the hormones that would make my heart somehow stretch twice as wide to accommodate a love big and complete enough for both of my children. I remembered, after all, feeling similarly fearful of "the moment" I would say goodbye to my husband in the delivery room during my older son's birth. I had that same feeling of eminent doom that I was about to lose my relationship as wife to my husband in becoming a mother. What really happened (after a period of sleepless adjustment) was that I fell deeply in love with the man who was once only my husband and now also a Tatty. The expansion of my heart to accommodate love for my son also made room to love my husband as a father. Perhaps my heart would grow again to include a love for both of my children and both of their roles as siblings.

Nonetheless, Sunday, March 19th, my son and husband made their trip to Baltimore. While they were away, I decided I should probably pack my hospital bag. I knew this time what to bring and what to leave home. I washed the last of the newborn hats and swaddle blankets. I drove to Walmart for a few essentials and got home a little before my husband and son returned from their trip. We enjoyed a dinner and made our way to bed. Before I went to bed, I texted my sister: "I finally packed my hospital bag. Now I can have a baby."

I couldn't fall asleep for some reason. I have horrible pregnancy insomnia that wakes me multiple times in the middle of the night, but never trouble falling asleep. I needed to buy a screw driver to open the battery case on my toddler's new Batman toothbrush. I needed to wrap a present for an upshernish the following Wednesday. I needed to renew four library books about becoming a big brother. I drifted off at around midnight. At 2:30AM, my water broke. This never happened with my first (who we joke would still be in there if it were not for medical intervention), but everything looked OK and contractions were very mild and sporadic. I went back to bed and opted to let my husband sleep; he would need it! A few hours later, I woke him to tell him we would need to call the OB shortly and that today would be the day we go; he should take off work and go back to sleep. I lay in bed drifting between sleep and wakefulness, waiting, and wondering.
In the morning, we called the OB and made plans for a babysitter to come. When my son woke up, I got my dream come true of "that moment." Contractions were still mild and sporadic. I invited him into my bed and to bring his favorite book, ironically titled Shimmy the Youngest (Shimmy is my toddler's name). We read and we snuggled and I explained to him that today was the day Mommy was going to go to the hospital so the doctors could help our new baby to be born. We tried to give the illusion of calm when we were probably a bit frantic. We made breakfasts and arrangements. We packed a few last items. I renewed those library books and tried to wrap the present but delegated that task to one amazing multi-tasking babysitter! We packed up a present for soon-to-be-Big-brother. And we left. Goodbye to my son was not so different than when I left for work (only I cried in the car a lot more!) and he would be OK. We all would.

We arrived at the hospital and settled briefly. I sent my husband home to tend to a few other tasks and help a bit with our toddler. I was not yet dilated at all so I decided to try walking. Walking and waiting; waiting and walking. As I got on the elevator back up to labor and delivery, a friendly older woman boarded and said knowingly "my, you must be bored!" I thought for a moment and smiled: "I'm not bored, I'm embracing the moment. My older one is at home and my younger one is still in here for now...the waiting will end and the chaos will begin and I will likely miss being bored for quite a while!" She gave me her blessing and I returned to my room for a small dose of Pitocin and continued walking (more locally now with the company of an IV cart) just as my husband got back. Contractions began to pick up; labor was beginning.

The labor and delivery room was a beautiful scene of delicately orchestrated nurses all trained as doulas supporting me through comfort measures and the most supportive doula of all: my husband. After my first labor, I knew a lot of what I like and a lot of what I don't. Many aspects of this labor were the same. I loved laboring on the ball and when I was done with that, I loved laboring in the tub. And this time I knew to ask for Zofran as soon as the queasiness started. And I knew when I hit the wall that it was OK to go for that epidural. I talked with the nurses about my birth plan, about the parts of the process I love and how important it is to me to feel good about having a plan and empowered in it but that I also feel a huge part of "the plan" is the willingness to adjust and adapt if things change; the most important part is healthy baby and healthy mommy.

My body kicked in on its own, eliminating the need for Pitocin and a further check revealed that I was fully dilated. It was time to push. My older son was born within 22 minutes of pushing and after being so impressed that this time my body was doing all of the work on its own, I had no reason to assume this part would be any different. I pushed and pushed and watched the clock. When things did not progress within an hour, we added a bit of Pitocin again and took a break. My husband came back to the room, we labored and kept at it until we were ready to try again. What took place over the next two hours I can only say must make up for the lack of taking prenatal yoga classes with this pregnancy. I tried a variety of amazing postures and positions to try and lower the baby in preparation for birth, all while pushing, waiting, breathing and having a hand inside of me like a puppet for more of that time than I care to admit. The nurses and doctor worked amazingly together, bouncing ideas off of each other and supporting me through trying all of them. In between pushing, we talked about pets and kids, books and school...and we also talked about the situation. We talked about the options and the potential outcomes. I felt informed and supported and at a certain point, I felt OK to admit that in spite of my "very open feelings" about adapting and adjusting during the labor process, I felt "stuck" in this one. And I cried. I named the feeling of potential loss that if this one last position did not succeed in helping baby to move down, that a c-section was the next step. I released that, we tried one more time and when it was time to move to that next step, I felt at peace. I knew both baby and I had done everything and anything possible to move forward and he was probably just too big to fit through my pelvic area.

We found out there was an hour wait for the OR, which was a little frustrating but it was a chance to spend with my husband. I asked him to come with me for the parts that he could and he was invited to scrub up in another room. One nurse I had grown particularly fond of had her shift ending at midnight and at 5 to the hour, they were finally ready for me. I thanked her profusely for her help and apologized for not being "done" before she had to leave. She met me in the hallway as I was being rolled to the OR to tell me she was joining us to meet the baby! I felt so grateful and humbled and I was ready as well.

By "ready," it may be I thought about things the wrong way. I rolled into that room thinking "I worked really hard, now I get to have surgery." I cannot even recall all of what happened next, so much of it is what was relayed to me by my husband and the doctor. I remember talking to the anesthesiologist about how I binge watched Grey's Anatomy and House, so if he needed help I could probably still not help him! I asked him to keep an eye on my husband and that if he looked like he needed to leave to tell him it's OK. And then my husband came in and sat behind me. They administered the epidural and asked if my legs were numb. I said I wasn't sure, tapped my thighs and confirmed that they were. And then I felt them begin to cut. Wait, I felt it? I shouldn't be feeling it, I thought, and I really really felt it. And it stung and burned and the pain was unbearable and then there was some burning smell and a mask and then I was in a different room. A room that was so long and there was a baby crying who was so far away. And voices. One of them was mine. "I think I fell asleep." One was my husband's. "You were in a lot of pain, they gave you some medicine." And the baby crying who was so far away but I think it was my baby and I think it is a boy. And the voices and the blurry people and then I was out. And back. And more voices. And here's the baby. He is a boy. He is mine! And my husband. And I'm so thirsty. When can I have water? Did I faint? Was I asleep? Are you OK? We had a baby. We had a baby boy!

Our son was born at a whopping 8lbs and 2oz, very healthy, thank G-d. He was, in fact, too big to fit the original way! I had a hard time with the pain during the surgery and required additional medication during and right afterward to help. Baby and I were taken to the maternal ward to recover and rest. Several hours later I began remembering bits and pieces of the surgery and over the next couple of days did a lot of asking questions about it and talking about it to reconcile some of the fear of not really understanding what had happened.

When it was time for Big Brother to come meet his new baby, he picked out his own outfit, complete with a button down shirt and mismatched tie! He brought his Batman toothbrush (that still had no batteries because I never made it to get that screw driver) to show "new booba." My toddler is nervous about babies crying and as soon as he heard the sound for the first time, both he and his younger brother simultaneously made identical gestures of shoving their fingers nervously in their mouths! And now we are home. A family of four, taking it minute by minute, laugh by laugh, tear by tear. And this is what I have learned:

  • I still love and am fascinated by the process of labor and delivery: the planned, the unplanned, the moments of empowerment and the moments of helplessness.
  • Your heart does stretch to accommodate the love for a new baby even when other parts of you do not.

  • The woman who in labor can move mountains comes home to feel as though she can barely move a muscle; this is frustrating
  • There are beautiful moments of brotherhood developing. There are sad moments of brotherhood developing. A heart that opens twice as wide now breaks twice as hard. On the day after his baby brother was born, my older son cried in his Tatty's lap for half an hour saying "booba scary" and "Shimmy sorry" and "Tatty still love Shimmy." We read books, we watched videos, we played about it and I know this is all his way of healthfully processing everything. I am so proud of him and so humbled by him and so sad and sorry for his enormous feelings that I feel so responsible for. He is happy I am home; he is angry and scared that I left. He loves his brother so much; he also does not love his brother so much--that is OK. 
  • My husband supported a very cranky and nitpicky version of me through pregnancy. He supported a very needy and dependent version of me through labor. He is supporting a very sore and tired and emotional version of me now that we are home. He is an amazing husband, an amazing father and a great doula to boot. I love him so much, and I hope he hears that in between all of the requests and the occasional snapping.
  • Labor contractions are pains that allow for growth and birth. During labor, you reach a point at which you feel they will never end and fear the next one. After the baby arrives, they cease to exist and you forget they were there at all. Now that I am home, they have been replaced by postpartum heart contractions. My heart expands with love and hope and contracts with fear and sadness as I watch my older son struggle to grapple with his new role as one of two. Each contraction grows stronger and lasts longer, but the release is twice as sweet. We will reach a new normal and all of our hearts will continue to expand. The pains of this labor and delivery will soon be a story of the past that we will relay at the table as we remember this family's entrance into our own promised land.

Mitzrayim is not a place; it is a state of mind. Mitzrayim is needing to have control over everything and anything around you. Mitzrayim is believing that you can. Freedom is letting go of that and being open to the result: the love, the fear, the pain and the victory. Our children are our tickets out of Mitzrayim. May they know only freedom and next year may we all be in Yerushalayim!