To My Daughter: The Story of You

Dear Eleanor,

You started as a faint pink line. Forty weeks later, you arrived into the world covered in every color goo imaginable.

Two days before you were born, I woke up in the middle of the night with cramps. The pain started in my back and radiated to my belly every twenty minutes or so. By the time morning hit, I felt the cramps every fifteen minutes. I called our doula, Michelle, who confirmed that it indeed sounded like I was in early labor. Your dad emailed work and started his leave. We spent the day watching How I Met Your Mother and resting between contractions. I called my mom and dad, who were excited and anxious. Within a few hours, your grandma booked a flight out to DC from California and was on a plane.

I thought we would be in the hospital by the time your grandma arrived, but my contractions never really sped up. By the time I went to bed, they were more intense but only ten minutes apart. Your dad and I tried to sleep through the night; I was so tired that I was able to fall asleep between contractions. For the second night in a row, I slept in 10-15 minute increments.

The next morning, the contractions grew in power and strength, but the timing was still off. They would speed up to every three minutes then slow down to every fifteen minutes. Michelle arrived and massaged oil on my belly, massaged my feet, and walked me around the block over and over again. I remember one neighbor eyeing us skeptically as I leaned into Ryan on a street corner, rocking and breathing through the contraction as Michelle pushed my hips. All the walking paid off, and in the early afternoon, we finally drove to George Washington University Hospital.

The rest of the day and the night is a blur. I declined an epidural, which was always the plan. I wanted to see what my body was capable of. Since the labor seemed to be progressing quickly, everyone agreed it was a good idea. Throughout the next twelve hours, I used a variety of pain management techniques: I breathed and swayed through contractions, rested my body in the hot shower, squatted lower than I ever squatted before, listened to music, and at one point rhythmically punched either your dad or the nurse in the arm.

The pain of labor is now wrapped in fog. I can’t really remember or describe the pain, but I know I felt it. As the night progressed, I started asking about epidurals and even a caesarean delivery. But really, in the back of my head, I knew that I didn’t need them. True, I had never experienced such pain before, but I also never experienced pain with a purpose. I was able to forge through the pain knowing that it heralded the promise of your arrival. I amused the room by announcing I would get an epidural next time; everyone was shocked that even as I was trembling and sweating through the pain, I was not afraid of going through this again.

Finally, the doctor announced I was ready to push. By then, I was exhausted. The exhaustion was harder to handle than the pain, so I was eager about reaching the final stage. The doctor saw my excitement and cautioned me that pushing can last up to two or three hours. I ended up pushing for over four.

Everyone in the room told me I was strong. Here I was going on forty-eight hours without good, solid sleep, pushing with all my might. But the reality is that you were born thanks to the strength of everyone in that room. I cannot stress this enough: your birth was a group effort. I needed every arm that was in the room. Nurses Becky and Courtney held me during my toughest contractions—even though I was completely naked. Your grandma literally held my head up when I had nothing left during pushing. Michelle always had the right thing to say or the right position to try. The doctors never rushed me, never forced any intervention upon me despite the slowness of my labor.

But really, you should know what a rock your dad was for me. From the first contraction to your birth, your father instinctively knew what to do. He was playful and teasing when I needed to laugh. He was protective when I was too tired to advocate for myself. He held my leg during pushing and witnessed you emerge covered in every bodily fluid (and he was kind enough to wait a few days before confessing that I did indeed pee on him and the doctor). I leaned on your father in every way that night, and he held me up physically and emotionally.

When you finally arrived, you were immediately placed on my chest. I wish I could say that I sobbed with joy, but I was too tired and too dehydrated to produce any tears. Instead, I felt relief and warmth from your body. When I spoke, you looked directly at me with your piercing grey eyes; you already knew me. You grabbed your dad’s finger; you already knew him. Instantly, we were a family.

The author in a hospital bed holding her baby immediately after birth.

I had to stay in the pushing position for another two hours as three doctors stitched me up. Leading up to the birth, tearing was my deepest fear. But really, the tearing and stitching weren’t all that bad; the fear was worse than the tearing itself. Sure, I was uncomfortable during those two hours, but I had you to hold. I inspected your face and your hands. I immediately noticed your long fingers and proudly declared that you have your mother’s hands. After an hour, you were weighed and then quickly latched onto my breast for your first feeding. Four hours after your birth, you, me, and your dad were wheeled into the postpartum room; all of us, so tired from the two days of labor, fell quickly to sleep.

And that’s the story of how I surrendered to the pain of childbirth; of how I opened my body and you squirmed out; of how a group of strangers, friends, and family paved a path for you to come into this world; and how I fell in love with you for the first time and your father for the millionth time.

With love,

Your mother

To My Daughter: The Story of You

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