Your name is Emmylou. We also call you Lulu, and Emmy, and so many other names. I call you Little Miss. Your Papa sometimes calls you a pest.
You are now over one month old. What a month it has been...but that’s for another letter. I’d like to begin with your birth. That seems a fitting first post-birth letter, right?
I actually started a letter to you during labor, which I’ve included below. I decided not to edit it – to keep it as it was written, in the moments.
The italic portions are excerpts from a journal entry I wrote for myself. It was originally meant to be for me alone, to process the birthing experience, but I cannot imagine not sharing it with you. Both pieces are windows into your birth adventure. In short, your birth story is the epitome of you – full of strength, beauty, and wonder. And, as always, progressing in its own time.
I hope you enjoy reading it someday.
All last night, I felt like something had shifted. I had some cramps, some very low pelvic pain...things just felt a bit off. My intuition tuned in as I tossed and turned in my sleep-fuzzed state.
Then, I got up to pee for the fifth time at 6:30am and, when I climbed back into bed, I felt some leakage. (!!!!) A few small “twinges” of fluid before I headed back to the bathroom and saw that my pad was, well, soggy. My brain tried to process, my heart stopped, and I felt a wave of anticipatory nausea. I was not expecting this. In fact, I was convinced that you were going to take your sweet time, maybe arrive about a week after your due date. In typical me fashion, I had a few “to-dos” (all fun, minus vacuuming and picking up curbside groceries) for the next few days: make carrot cake, get new library books at the library, check out the Cornell Arboretum during the near-peak of autumn – something I’ve been wanting to do for months.
But, as usual, you have your own timeline! So, here we are.
I called the midwife first. She said, “Now is the time when we come up with a plan. Make sure baby is still moving, rest, eat breakfast, make sure the color of the discharge doesn’t change. And plan to check-in at noon.”
“Okay, so call at noon?”
“No, plan to be at the hospital at noon.”
Okay, wow! Here we go...Again, still in shock that you arrived early. Murphy’s Law – if you had waited two more days, I could have had another paid week off of work, ha! I mean, pea-sized potatoes, but still pretty funny. I guess you’re telling me right from the beginning to go with the flow, so that’s what I’ll do. Such a wise teacher you are.
I called our doula, Natalie, and she said to call when I get to the hospital, that I’m welcome to share some visualizations with her in the meantime. I thanked her and told her I would keep me posted. She sent a text at 7:45 am that ended with “Rest. Eat. Go for a little walk or do a few figure 8’s on the birth ball if you are feeling restless. Today is a wonderful day to birth. Let me know if you need anything :)”
It’s now 8:30 am. Your Papa installed the car seat and brought our hospital bags to the car. I put all of the delicious food we had in the fridge in the freezer, had a big glass of lemon water, and am now sipping a cup of my decaf espresso shot – both partly, in truth, to get you moving and hopefully help me empty my bowels. Of course, you’re moving like normal.
Last night, your Mema and Zia Leah gave me a book called Letters to Emmylou filled with words written by the incredible community of women who came to our baby showers. I guess it was the Universe, yet again, with perfect timing. I read it to you and your Papa this morning. You are so loved, beyond imagination, little one.
We were all marveling at my belly last night at the Wolff house. Your Pops said, “Just when we get used to seeing you like that, it’s going to change!”
Several times, I’ve felt my belly grow a little warm as I misjudge the distance between my belly and the stovetop. Ha! Sorry about that. And, just yesterday, as we lay in bed before sleep, your Papa said, “I bet you’ll miss having her inside you.” It is incredible. It’s funny – I’ve read women share that, but I always thought, “Nah...I’ll just be ready to meet her and not be pregnant anymore.” But it can always be both, and it will be both.
I feel you move right now. What a magical feeling. I still can’t believe that you’re inside my belly, a real live human, and that I’m going to birth you, a real live baby – maybe today! Writing that, my insides, my brain, my heart, aren’t sure what to do with that information. Still in shock. And right now I feel a contraction. I have my contraction timer to keep track. So far, about 22-34 seconds each, “slight” on an intensity scale, about 10-20 minutes apart. They feel like menstrual cramps. Also some back pain, and this heating pad is magical, I have to say.
Everything will be wonderful, I trust it fully. Intuition. Just like I felt “off” all through the night. I’m calm and at ease...That’s actually one of my affirmations. And what a beautiful autumn day it is! Mostly sunny, a high of 63. Your Papa and I went on our “short-long” walk yesterday afternoon, 1.7 miles. I continually thought about how long I’ve waited to do that walk on beautiful autumn days. And it was a perfect afternoon, a perfect walk. The leaves colorful, the sky cloudless and blue – as if opening up for your arrival.
We just had breakfast. Two scrambled eggs with some roasted Brussels and onions, fresh tomahts, and a thin everything bagel with pecan butter and cinnamon. So much for not eating gaseous foods, but, you know, Mama was hungry! And she’ll need her energy. Also watching Baby Mama, because I couldn’t think of a better movie to watch, amiright?
Okay, time to pause and take a shower. Make sure I get that in!
Had my first “moderate” (?) contractions? No reference points, so...who knows how intense they actually are. But they are getting a little longer overall – at least the last few. Again, who knows? I don’t.
Trying to rest, drinking some raspberry leaf tea, trying some HypnoBirthing visualizations and breathing...doing what feels good. Some nausea...So curious to see how this progresses! So much a mystery, but I fully trust the process, my body, and you, my little love. We’re in this together.
We went in at 12:00pm. They asked me if my contractions were slight, moderate, or severe. I said I wasn’t sure, but I had one at the desk, and they said, “If you can talk through it, it’s probably slight.”
I had no idea what was coming. Thought myself strong, capable, armed with techniques like breathwork. And then I was fully effaced about four hours later! I thought, “Wow...maybe this won’t be so bad. Maybe I’ll be one of those stories that’s ‘surprisingly easy.’”
Hello, little one! Guess where we are...Cayuga Medical! You surprised us – me for sure. But you were ready to join us. I still can’t believe it.
Fun fact: I just had a tuna sandwich. Never thought I’d do that during labor, but it sounded delicious. And it was. Hopefully, it doesn’t come back up later.
The midwife said, about 90 minutes ago, that I was 1 ½ centimeters dilated but 90% effaced – and you’re already at “0.” All that to say that you’re on your way!
I just had the COVID test, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Plus, I had just had my strongest wave yet, which put it in perspective. I wonder how bad these contractions will get. So far, they’re very manageable, and I’ve already been in labor for seven hours…
We’re going to go home with a baby: YOU. I still can’t believe it. This labor has been so calm so far, and I know that it will continue to be so, no matter what happens. Our huge birthing room has a beautiful view of the sunny, perfect autumn day. The paint colors are soothing – muted creams and greens – and I barely register the medical equipment. Your Papa has a foldout couch for when he needs it, and the bathroom has a deep jacuzzi tub. I can’t wait to use it later. We put some affirmations and visuals on the walls. A rose opening. You in the ideal birth position. The affirmations are written in teal, our birth color, by your Zia Leah. She’s with us. Everyone is. There is so much love in this room, and now our doula is here. We’re laughing right now.
Hours went by, and the contractions gradually got worse. I thought, “Okay...wow. This is happening. But I got this. Breathe through them…” In the tub, on a ball, on all fours, Natalie and Dennis offering counterpressure.
Contractions started getting closer together, but not close enough.
“Come on, baby,” I whispered. “I’m ready to meet you.”
We’ve been here for four hours already, but time has flown! Everyone told me that you enter a time warp, and it’s true. I told everyone that we should have a tally on the wall for each wave that we move through, like days in prison. The contractions really do feel like waves, the first sign of each wave subsiding a blessing. We’re listening to James Taylor as I kneel on the floor, my arms and head on a birthing ball. My heart is full.
I was one of the not-so-lucky women who had back labor. Each contraction hit me from all sides, all around my pelvis. In the evening, around dinner, I rounded a corner into a new pain level. The breathing shifted to moaning, low moaning to relax my jaw, focus my attention elsewhere, and visualize. Dennis and Natalie took turns reading affirmations out loud as I started on nitrous oxide, moaning into the mask. Wasn’t sure if it was really helping, or just taking a very slight edge off, some placebo effect. But it was something I could grasp in my tight fist. (Turns out, I might have been using it upside down.)
Still, I thought, “I can do this...But please progress quickly.”
Time warped around us, flying by.
Dilated nine centimeters, and we all cheered!
Then the contractions started drifting further apart, irregular. The midwife suggested I push – a hope and a prayer that it would help things along. It was the first time I felt incapable of doing what I needed to do. Push into the pain, bear down, but relax my legs...everything felt counterintuitive, nothing made sense with how I imagined it would go. But I did it. I did my best to coordinate my exhausted body and brain to end the pain and meet my baby.
It didn’t work.
The contractions got worse, each rocking me to the core. I lay on the bed on my side, my entire body seizing into rigidity and legs kicking slightly as a distraction. I started whimpering through them – moan to whimper – one hand reaching blindly for the bed rails, the other reaching blindly behind me for anyone. Dennis was taking a much-needed nap at this point! Natalie always came as soon as she heard me start to move. I gripped her hand or her arm, whichever I found first, and she stood with me, putting pressure on my low back until I nodded that the worst was over.
We talked options, and the midwife included an epidural. I could keep going on as I was, but it was too late for morphine, so epidural was the only other option. It sounded like relief. I was too exhausted on all accounts to keep going like this, needed the pain – especially the back pain, searing and aching through each contraction – to end. Each contraction was a wave that I prayed would subside before it reached the nearly unbearable point, my limbs becoming rigid, my hands grasping for anything to wrap around to create a feeling of strength, fierceness, and also support and relief in the sensation of cold metal or a loving hand or arm to squeeze the life out of as the wave rose and washed over me, blinding me, tumbling through its relentlessness.
And then it would pass. The first sign of subsiding the greatest gift on earth. Up until an hour or so before the epidural conversation, I thought, “I can do this.” Each wave that passed, I thought, “I can do this again.” Until I reached a point where I didn’t think I could. Yet I didn’t feel defeated. I never felt defeated. It wasn’t how I imagined, but I went in prepared for the unexpected. Still, a tiny part of me had hoped it would all go smoothly.
But here we are, here I was, and I was ready for the next step. I was ready for whatever would help me progress and meet my baby sooner. I asked Dennis if that was okay with him, and I could sense a bit of fear and knew he just wanted to support me. We had declined the epidural earlier, both adamantly, as it wasn’t part of our birth preferences, but things had shifted, and I think we both knew that. Not dangerous, just time for the next step.
We did the epidural. A tiny bit of fear that it would go awry – I had heard horror stories – and, as Dennis held my hands, I could see the fear in his face. I wanted to tell him it would all be okay, so I willed my trust to seep through my eyes and breath and calm demeanor as the anesthesiologist performed the very delicate procedure. I knew I would be fine. I was hearty, a fast healer, I did all the right things and had the right mindset – and I could handle whatever came my way.
It was all fine. I didn’t like the odd numbness in my lower half, but I rested the morning away – too excited to really sleep much – and celebrated the passing of contractions without any sensation. It was complete and utter bliss after working so hard for over 24 hours. I deserved this reprieve, and my baby would enter this world just fine, no worse because I made this decision. In fact, it felt like my first true Mama-heart decision: doing what I had to do to get her out safely.
Hi Baby...We had a very long day and night: 24 hours of labor. You seemed happy as a clam, moving downward, dilated 9 centimeters. But then the waves refused to inch closer together, and your Mama reached her limit. The decision to do an epidural was a gift like no other. I felt empowered, and that was the most I could have possibly hoped for. My body is taking its sweet time, but I feel you moving, and your heart rate has stayed 125-135 this entire time.
Now we just rest and hope that the more regular contractions move the cervix. Meanwhile, I’m also hungry. Yesterday I was all about chicken nuggets for dinner, but it arrived a little late – after the waves grew too intense to eat through. Still, I tried. I managed to get one down...nothing like a huge wave with chicken tender in your mouth. Not quite the same pleasurable experience. I also managed to scarf down some “fruit of the forest” pie, which, in the moment, tasted like the best pie I’ve ever had. The only food I’m allowed now is Jello and chicken broth. I’m on my second round of both. At least I got different flavors of Jello. Every little thing!
Praying this process goes smoothly and quickly. We have had quite the journey. No meds to...six? Epidural, Pitocin, IV fluids, Tylenol, anti-nausea meds...Okay, five. And I have absolutely no problem with it whatsoever. I’m just ready to meet you, my sweet love.
I started pushing around 2:00 pm, 3-4 pushes with each contraction. I didn’t feel any less connected to the experience, as I’d read and heard about with epidurals. Fully awake, engaged, and I’d felt enough for this birth. I focused on my breath, my J-breath, which prevented me from feeling frustrated that I was pushing versus doing “instinctive pushing.” It was what I had to do. The room remained calm, even with eight or nine people in it – me, Dennis, Natalie, the midwife Anne Lise, four nurses, and a student observing this, her first birth. I felt supported, held, empowered, calm, determined. Only positive emotions. Each push bringing me closer to my undoubtedly beautiful baby. We even laughed a bit in between, took guesses at her birth weight.
I looked in the mirror at first, saw the very top of her head. Incredible...the opening.
I got tired. Didn’t realize it had been over two hours. They gave me more Pitocin to speed up the lulling contractions again. I was fine with that, didn’t even begin to question it. Just get her out.
I didn’t see her heart rate drop, didn’t sense the shift in tone, as Dennis did. Suddenly the midwife said, “Okay, Jamie, this is it. We have to get her out.”
I made my second Mama-heart decision then, barely afraid. It was simply time. Time to get her out. I knew it would all be okay. The midwife told me she was performing a small episiotomy, and I was grateful for her openness. She did a bit more, and, again, I was grateful for her care and consideration as the tone continued to rise in stress I barely sensed. Everyone put on a calm face for me and Dennis. We were all simply all doing what had to be done to get her out, and my role was to push. So I did. I pushed and pushed until I was out of breath and didn’t think I could push anymore. I curved my neck inward and lifted my pelvis as the midwife instructed me to do throughout the past 2.5 hours. My baby needed me to give it my all, so I did.
I felt her slither out. (Apparently the midwife basically yanked her out by her head/neck after her head emerged, much to the shock and deep concern of Dennis. To me, it all felt very natural.) There was a brief pause. (Apparently it was about 30 seconds of six nurses in a flurry of activity – clearing her nose and mouth, wiping off fluids, checking heart rate, etc. I was oblivious to all of this.)
And then, I heard her cry. Her cry sounded like the most joyful of bells, a cry I had waited not 2.5 hours, but about three years to hear.
I collapsed, Dennis wept, and we met our baby.
I can honestly say that it was a beautiful, most perfect birth experience.
Welcome to the world, sweet Lulu. I can't wait to share it with you.