“Well. I have a daughter. Ellen Elizabeth Burton was born at 8:57pm on October 11th, 2014 via C-section. She is the most perfect little creature. None of this experience was anything like how I’d imagined it. Hopefully, I’ll remember everything.”
That’s how my journal entry began. It was October 13th, 2014, and I had been a mother for only two days. It’s nearly four years later and I still can’t believe it. That perfect little creature is still perfect, though not quite so little.
The days leading up to Ella’s birth were tense and full of my usual anxiety before big events. We were several days past her due date and waiting every day for the hospital to call us and let us know it was time to come in to be induced. I willed my phone, a small black flip phone then, to light up with an unknown Georgia number. I would wake up every hour throughout the night, scared I would have a voicemail, scared that I missed my chance and would have to wait again. After several tearful phone calls with my mom, long sad walks with Matthew, and more tearful phone calls with my little sister, the hospital finally called. And all my anxiety, all my tears disappeared into the past. My journal entry from October 10th started like this:
“We’re at the hospital!!! This is so amazing and great. I just feel so at peace right now.”
Night and day difference, all caused by the increased proximity to my little girl.
There was more paperwork than I thought there would be. And the hospital gown wasn’t as revealing as I feared, so that was good. The IV hurt way more than I thought it would. And I don’t know why they call it “getting induced.” It would be a lot less mysterious if they had just said they were going to give me a pill to take. And I wasn’t expecting them to give me a sleeping pill too– I had never taken one before and all I could think about as the nurse handed it to me that Tiger Woods took Ambien. But the hospital commotion and my own excitement were sure to keep me up so I figured my dislike for medicine could take one night off. Of course, I couldn’t know just how much more medicine would be in my future.
I don’t remember a lot of the next day but you can blame that on the Ambien. Turns out I’m kind of a lightweight; I was falling asleep and waking up and falling asleep all throughout the day. I couldn’t tell you how many times the midwives checked on me or anything Matthew tried to talk to me about, if he even tried to talk to me. When the Ambien haze did finally wear off, I had a new companion: contractions.
That, like so many women, was the first time I knew I was tough. They were painful, excruciating even, but I breathed through them. Clenched my fists and teeth through them. And then, like so many women, I learned that my toughness has limits. The epidural didn’t hurt at all.
The hours that ensued were a slow, repetitive dance. The nurse would check on me, then the midwife. They would help me roll over, they’d check my cervix, look at the fetal monitor, smile at me, and then leave. Once the dance was interrupted by breaking my water. Another time by giving me pitocin and an oxygen mask. And finally, by deciding it was time for a C-section.
“The midwives came rushing in, headed straight for the fetal monitor. They told me Ella was ‘dipping.’ Her heart rate had gone low twice since they’d last checked on me. There were a couple of things they could try to avoid the C-section but everything would only work for a little bit before her heart would slow down again. Then, what felt like all of a sudden, the midwife (Kate, did I say her name was Kate?) came in and said they were scheduling the C-section for 8:45 pm. They wanted to get Ella out before there was too serious of a problem. It’s hard to describe what I felt then. I finally knew when and how Ella was going to come. I had Matthew call my mom because I knew she’d want to know and something about her knowing made me feel safer.”
It’s funny, even on the precipice of my own motherhood and hundreds of miles away from her, I still needed my mom. I couldn’t analyze that at the time but knowing what I know now, of course that’s how it was.
Things happened really quickly after the decision was made. So many people came in. They had me sign more papers, like having a baby is some sort of administrative act. Everyone was rushing, which scared me. I thought something must be really wrong for all these medical professionals to be so frantic. But the anesthesiologist, parked at my bedside, assured me that it’s just a well-oiled machine.
Being wheeled from my Labor & Delivery room to the OR was a surreal experience. I got so many knowing smiles and well wishes and curious looks from people I’d never seen before. I kept thinking these strangers were the last people to see me before my whole life would change. I wondered if they would recognize me on the other side.
The OR was so bright and big and, well, hospital-y. The one doctor I’d liked at my practice happened to be the one on call so that seemed like a good omen. A few weeks earlier, I had casually read the C-section chapter in my one pregnancy book so that was lucky, too. But I was scared and trying really hard not to show it. They upped the meds in my epidural so that I was completely numb from my stomach down. Paralyzed. Trapped. I tried to move my toes and clench my thighs and there’s no other way to say this: the fact that I couldn’t freaked me out. I had to push that out of my mind and quit doing those things. Matthew wasn’t allowed in at first and so I was alone, exposed, the bottom half of me paralyzed but my top half shaking uncontrollably. Something about low blood pressure. My teeth were chattering; I was afraid I was going to bite my tongue. The anesthesiologist, my comforter once again, told me not to fight the shaking. Don’t worry; stop fighting.
“I was trying so hard not to lose it. I wanted to be strong. I kept telling myself, ‘I’ve sacrificed a lot to have this baby.'”
I knew I was tough; it was time to find out if I was strong.
The actual procedure was so strange. You can feel them tugging and touching you but it doesn’t hurt. Finally, something didn’t hurt.
My first moment with Ella on this earth was the two of us crying together. The doctor said she was coming and Matthew peeked over the curtain, becoming a parent seconds before me. Then I heard her cry and I burst into tears, saying, “Oh my gosh,” over and over again. When they finally brought her to me, I saw my baby picture. My baby.
When the surgery was over and I was strong enough, the nurse placed Ella into my arms. She didn’t feel like she was mine; that idea seemed ridiculous and impossible. I’ve been raised to believe in miracles but this, the miracle of motherhood, was too much for my mind to conceive.
“But she’s mine. She’s here and she’s mine. I just wanted my baby girl and I finally have my baby girl.”
During the 41 week experience of bringing Ella into the world, I traveled often between weakness and strength. I was brought to my knees, whether it was in prayer or on the bathroom floor. I cried tears of pain and joy, only moments apart, mixing together. There was the trauma and the euphoria of giving birth. I had to be strong to hold something so tiny. Motherhood is the land of extreme contradictions and it’s a lesson you learn over and over again. Ella and I have grown together these past four years but I will never forget our beautiful, difficult, perfect little beginning.