Today we celebrate a very special member of our family.
A person who brings us boundless joy and happiness. A person we cherish and love, whose smile and sense of humor light our days.
A person who has steadfastly promised me for the past three years that the thumb sucking would stop today. Cold turkey. Just like that.
And last night, before going to bed, the promise was kept.
“Good night, Mommy. And Mommy, tonight, I will not even suck my thumb. Make sure there are balloons tomorrow.”
This time, you thought I was talking about my husband, didn’t you? Even when I got to the thumb-sucking part, you still weren’t sure.
No, no. Today at Casa de Halushki, Father’s Day is being eclipsed by large pink balloons, blonde hair, and dimples. Totally eclipsed.
After all, it’s not every day you turn five years old.
I can’t believe my youngest daughter is turning five. Look at her. Look at how stinking cute she was at five days old.
And now look at her.
It goes so quickly. Such a cliché, yes? And yet truer words….
I love her to pieces.
My beautiful Seconda. My beautiful, smart, funny…Isabel Josephine.
Five years ago today.
For those of you who just love a detailed birth story, here’s Isabel’s. I wrote this a few years ago, and it’s a bit clunky. (It’s also veeeerrrrrrry long, so if you’re not a hardcore junkie for birth stories, feel free to skip it and just oogle the additional photos of my gorgeous daughter.) Anway, right now it too late for edits. I have presents to wrap and pink balloons to blow up.
Isabel is going to wake up, five years old, to a room full of pink balloons.
And Father’s Day takes the back seat today.
And my wonderful husband - the bestest daddy in the world - couldn’t be happier to be eclipsed by this shining girl.
The Birth Story of Isabel Josephine: The Good, The Bad, The Wild and The Wonderful
Prologue: Can’t you pedal your menstrual cycle any faster?
Right from the start my OB insisted on using that circular spinny thing that assumes a 28 day menstrual cycle, and voila! I was given the due date of June 10. I explained how I had been charting temperatures, checking mucus (don’t ask) and that I KNEW, by lord, I knew when those swimmers had zeroed in for the attack. And I told her that my cycles were about 38 days long and that my due date would be June 18. Two ultrasounds later, they gave me the due date of June 8.
I should play the lottery more often.
The Good: Make mine a double decaf latte with a shot of hazelnut…I’m about to have a baby!
On June 18 at 5:00 AM (and after 4 weeks of contractions, some 5 minutes apart for an hour) my water breaks. I knew it would break that night because
a) it was June 18, and
b) I had just put new sheets on the bed.
At first, I think that I’ve just peed in the bed (this happens when you're pregnant), so I have to do the whole sniff test (again, don’t ask…Husband: “Why are you sniffing the sheets? Did your water break?”) Then, I run around the house with a towel between my legs while I start to make phone calls (Husband: “Do I have to get up yet? Tell me how much longer before I need to wake up.”)
I telephone the OB on call and tell him that I am pretty darn sure that my water just broke, but that I’m not having any contractions –at least none to write home about. They are maybe 10 minutes apart and weak. He says to come on in and be prepared to stay. Okee-doke!
Then I call my doula. I tell her that I am going to the hospital, but that I will call her from there and let her know what’s going on…no rush, plenty of time. Finally, I call my mom and tell her to come on down to Philadelphia to watch my other daughter. All my ducks in a row, I go into the bedroom, poke DH in the ribs and tell him that I am going to take a shower, shave my legs, and then drive to the hospital. He mumbles “Break a leg. I’ll be there soon” and falls back asleep, the drool string still connected from his mouth to the pillow.
I like driving to the hospital myself. I like the feeling of being the one in the driver’s seat, both literally and figuratively. I roll down the windows, turn on the radio, sing along to a few bouncy top-40 songs…a cool, dewy morning, no traffic in downtown Philadelphia. I even smile and wave when a delivery truck cuts me off at Walnut Street. Should I stop at Starbucks for decaf latte and a croissant? Nah, better not…just in case I have a gush of water and someone slips on it and sues me. I pull into the hospital parking lot, but don’t feel like going in yet, so I clean some of the McDonald’s wrappers and banana peels (I have a 2 year old) from the backseat of the car.
I get to Labor and Delivery and let them know that I’m here to have a baby. There is a change in shifts going on, so I hang out and read some trashy magazines (so IS Tom Cruise gay?) until I’m given the go ahead to come on back and get hooked-up to the monitors. Actually, I pretty much hook-up myself because one nurse guides me to the room and then disappears; I think she’s left for the day, and I don’t want to wait around for the next nurse. Then a resident comes in and asks a bunch of questions: due date, how long has water been broken, name, rank, serial number. She seems a bit overwhelmed (I found out later that the new residents have just checked in that day) so I help her out a bit. Previously, I had negative feelings about being seen by residents, but hey, they have to learn somewhere, right? And since I still had my sense of humor at this point, I’m willing to play along. Then I wait for an hour or so and watch some trashy television (“Help! My teenage daughter hates the way I dress!”) and watch my non-contractions on the monitor. I know what will be coming with the next resident who walks through the door:
“Well, Mrs. Halushki, I’ve just taken a look-see and you’re only 1 cm dilated, no effacement and it looks like your contractions aren’t picking up, so we have to talk about…”
The Bad: It’s Deja-vu all over again
Sigh. Now I begin to run the gauntlet. But, this time, I feel prepared. I tell the resident that I want to wait a bit longer on the Pit and that I need to talk to the OB on call. Also, I tell her that I tested negative for Group B Strep, a common-for-mommy but really-bad-for-baby bacteria, but because I positive for the germy-germ with a pervious pregnancy, I wanted to discuss getting hooked up to the IV antibiotics anyway. Just to ease my anxious mind and all. Just for kicks.
“Oh, Mrs. Halushki, according to the ACOG and CDC if you test negative even though you were positive with a previous pregnancy…”
I finish her sentence and tell her that my OB and I had begun a very specific conversation about whether or not to fill my bloated body with antibiotics, and I that I needed to continue that conversation with her right now. I mean, what if I had become positive since the test? What if the test were not done properly? What if, what if, WHAT IF! Antibiotics are the only thing standing between my baby and the bad bug! WHY ARE YOU ARGUING WITH ME!!!!!
Is it time to start my breathing exercises yet?
9:30 AM: I move to another holding area until a Labor and Delivery room opens up (full house at the hospital this morning.) My assigned nurse, Peg, comes in to introduce herself – a round, red-haired, and humorless 50-something woman who I can tell is strictly by the book. She hooks me up to the monitors, tells me not to move around too much so I don’t shake loose her monitors, and then tells me that she has to ask me more questions. Fine, fine, height, weight, I don’t do drugs, my husband doesn’t beat me. She asks whether I have someone coming to stay with me. I tell her that my husband and doula are on the way. She seems satisfied and moves on to her other laboring mom.
After about 15 minutes, a tall, tan, blond woman comes in. I think that I vaguely remember her from the Miss Universe Pageant. Hello, I’m the anesthesiologist, she purrs. Just here to ask some questions and talk to you about pain relief. I tell her that want to go natural with no makey-pain-go-away meds, but that I may want an epidural on call because the Pitocin word is being tossed around. And Pitocin is notorious for bringing on the big-gun cramps. She smiles, “No problem. There is an around the clock anesthesiologist available. But tell me, why do you not want an epidural…did you have problems last time?”
No, no, worked like a charm. I did come away with a fever which I wondered about, and I might have this weird bad bacteria that might cause in infection …
Oh no, Dahling, fever is not a side-effect of the epidural. (Big white smile, perfect teeth,…)
Oh really? Hmmmm….
So, you just want to experience natural childbirth? (Beguiling tilt of the head, hair toss….)
Yup. I just want to experience it. Cramps, pain, bring it on. (I could tell that any other direction to this conversation would really start to tick me off, and I didn’t have my epidural side-effect Internet links on hand. Also, I was feeling fatter and less perky by the moment just watching her.)
I sign the consent forms, and wave good-bye to the beautiful, blond woman.
Next up, another OB on-call – Mr. Tall-Blond-Blue-Eyed-Perfect-Teeth. I begin to wonder if I‘ve wandered on to a soap opera set by mistake.
Well, Mrs. Halushki, we need to talk about Pitocin. Also, I see a note here about antibiotics. You tested negative and according to the ACOG and CDC…
So I give him what-for and let him know that I have my own opinion on all this and my opinion would be JUST HOOK ME UP TO THE IV AND PUMP ME FULL OF ANTIBIOTICS BEFORE I HAVE A PANIC ATTACK AND THEN YOU’LL NEED A TRANQUILIZER GUN TO KNOCK ME ON MY ASS AS I RUN THROUGH THE HALLS GNAWING OFF THE LEGS OF RESIDENTS! The blue-eyed M.D. smiles warmly and tells me to breath and that he agrees (!) and we could consider the bug killing drugs. But, he says he’s also concerned that unnecessary antibiotics could cause a problem with other penicillin resistant bacteria. I tell him that from what I understand, that problem was primarily with preemies, and the doctor looks a bit shocked that I had that piece of info, and I can see him glance down on my chart again to see whether there is any note indicating that I was a med student or just a real pain in the butt. He tells me that if I were his patient (my REAL OB was delivering a baby just then) he would advise me to not go with the antibiotics and instead just get the baby out ASAP. I tell him that I will seriously consider this, but now I feel my teeth grinding together and why is everyone suddenly standing in my WAY!
Oh good lord, just get me my OB.
I get up and begin to walk around to get the contractions going. Peg, the nurse, comes in and asks me what I’m doing. I tell her I’m walking around trying to get contractions going. Well, she says, you shouldn’t get up because it shakes the monitors loose and also because my water has broken. I tell her that when I stand, the water stops leaking so that I’m pretty sure the baby’s head is pressed down and the cord won’t flow through. I give her my own toothy grin. She gives me a long hard look and tells me that my OB will be in to see me in a moment.
10:00 AM My OB and I talk. She says that if I start the Pit right now, even though she knows how much I want to avoid it, there should be no problem getting the baby out within the next few hours. She is also confident about not needing the IV antibiotics. I am beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed. Where is my husband? Where is the doula? Why is everyone not on my side? Okay, okay, fine, I can do this…damn the torpedoes and start the Pit. Let’s have a baby.
10:30 AM Pit begins. A very, very slow drip. Just to jump-start and regulate my contractions.
11:00 AM Contractions are coming every 5 minutes. I laugh through the first few. Watch the Three Stooges on TV. Practice breathing. Focus on a bad pastel painting of the seashore on the wall until it begins to annoy me. Finally, my husband arrives…with my mom! I love my mother, but I wasn’t sure about her being there…I was didn‘t want to look as if I were in pain and have her worry about me looking as if I were in pain. And great, now I have a few contractions that I have to begin concentrating on. My mother is telling me about the traffic on the drive to Philadelphia and then she opens a bag to show me two flowered nightgowns that she bought for me…Mom, I say, be quiet for a second. Okay, this contraction I REALLY have to concentrate on…it starts in my left hip and then the pain radiates around and I feel a huge upward pulling sensation. Whew! Now it’s gone.
Peg walks in.
Oh, you’re standing again, she says.
I tell her that my OB says it’s okay to stand. Peg looks skeptical. Then she looks at my mom and asks if this is my doula, because if not, I am only allowed two support people in Labor and Delivery with me. Everyone! Out of the pool!
I tell my husband to go get some lunch with my mom, and my mom says Good-luck and I’ll pray for you (hopefully to some pagan goddess of childbirth, but I’m guessing not) and then they leave. And I’m relieved. Now I can concentrate on what’s going on. I like being alone again.
12:00 Noon – The contractions are coming every 2 minutes and lasting at least a minute or longer. These are tough. Not at all in my back like last time…all in my abdomen. I try some affirmations: Open, open, baby come on out. This is pressure, not pain. My body is doing what it is supposed to. One contraction at a time…I shut the door and begin to moan through the contractions and this too helps. I can hear, through the radiator, a woman in the next room moaning. It surprises me, but doesn’t bother me…it’s actually kind of comforting to be laboring with another unknown woman nearby. Then I have a really big contraction which I begin to moan through, but which quickly turns into a yell…this one HURTS. This feels like pure, internal, muscular pain…I can’t focus on anything but the pain. My mind can’t grab onto any thought, I forget to breathe, I can’t relax through it…and then it’s over. Wow! WOW! I try to regroup. I tell myself not to let fear take over, I’ll get through the next one…and it starts…this goes on for a long time. I am losing track of time. How long have I been here? How and when did I get into bed? This is pure animal sensation and my thinking mind is shutting down. I hear myself yelling, but it sound like it’s coming from some distant room. The contractions start piling up on one another and I can’t tell where one is ending and the next one starts.
12:30 PM – Dr. Soap Opera and Peg come in and ask if I want an epidural. Check me, I say. Then I have a whopper contraction that lasts a good long time. I am 5cm. Ugh! I was convinced I’d be more. I need a break. Another contraction begins. I wonder what my doula could possibly say or do to get me through this. I’m am losing it. Sure, get the anesthesiologist.
I’m wheeled into a Labor and Delivery room. Two more biggies, and Peg is suddenly an angel. She rubs me in just the right spots and talks me through. Okay, my husband is in the room…when did he get here? He looks shocked. Another contraction and he gives me his hand to squeeze. Somewhere in the depths of my conscious brain, I think, “He’s given me four fingers, not three. In the childbirth book I gave him to read it says specifically to only give three fingers, because I’m less likely to break them. I guess he never read that book.” Peg tells him to give me only three fingers so I don’t crush them.
1:00 PM – The anesthesiologist is here. I have two more big contractions and begin to feel more pressure. Then I feel the strangest feeling of something opening really wide inside me and the baby really dropping down. I think for a moment…if I just get through one more, it will be time to push…but, I’m exhausted, my doula still isn’t there and my husband looks like he’s going to sob. I get the epidural.
And it doesn’t completely work.
One leg is numb, but I can feel the contractions across my back and in my hip...and they are still enough to make me scream the litany of saints with each one. The anesthesiologist gives it one more go, and a bit more relief, but I can at least handle this amount of pain. It’s all in my left hip, and I wonder if it’s because the baby has been laying to the left the entire pregnancy and is now trying to turn a bit more. I can still feel her butt to he left and to the side of my abdomen
1:30 – My doula arrives. There have been horrendous rainstorms the past few days, and a few of the roads were washed out. She feels so bad that she hasn’t been there for me. I tell her to forget about it…there may have been nothing more she could have done. We chat for a while, and then I tell her to go get the OB to check me…I could probably start pushing, I just needed a break. Dr. Gorgeous arrives about a half-hour later and says that I’m probably not 10cm yet. Yeah, yeah, just put your glove in there and tell me that the baby isn’t right there. And of course he does…and of course, she is.
Okay baby, time to come meet mommy!
So now the show begins. My OB is now off-call and the other OB from the practice (and, of course, the only one that I don’t see eye-to-eye with) comes in, takes a look and says, “Try a practice push.” I push and she says, Okay STOP! I guess you can push effectively. No kidding…I can still feel my legs, the contractions, the baby’s head right there.
They fold down the foot of the bed, turn on the lights, put on their masks and doctor gear. This is a teaching hospital, so there are two residents in the room, but I don’t really care (although, I swear, one looks like a 15 year old Peter Brady from the Brady Bunch). I am feeling nervous, excited, happy…even though things didn’t go the way I had planned (hah!) and I had lost a bit of my control over this “birth experience“, I am basically feeling good about how I’ve handled everything so far. And, I am going to be holding my baby soon. I look over to my husband. He gives me a weak smile. He still looks shocked. And a bit grayer around the temples.
Now we begin to push. The contraction comes and I begin to push…three good pushes with the first contraction. Her head is right there, but not out yet. The OB asks my hubby if he wants to cut the cord. He just makes a quiet gulping noise and takes a step backward. Everyone waits, looking at the monitor for the next contraction. It takes a while. There is an uncomfortable silence in the room and for one moment, I think that we all realized how absurd it is to be standing around a woman with her privates flapping in the breeze. I try to make things a little less awkward for everyone, a little levity to ease the tension: “Just, you know, don’t watch the monitor or it will never happen. Talk amongst yourselves…hey, how about those Sixers!” Everyone laughs and I have another contraction. My OB is showing one of the residents how to stretch things around over the baby’s head so that I won’t tear or need stitches. Good going! Take your time…I can withstand a bit of a teaching moment.
Then all of a sudden, one of the blip, blips from the monitor stops. And everyone in the room stops what they are doing and looks at the monitor at the same time. Peg hurries over to adjust some knobs. Then she tries to adjust the lead on my belly. A very, very slow blip comes back. I look at the OB. She looks me dead in the eye and says very calmly and evenly, “Okay. This baby needs to come out. Right now. Push.”
Now the room is frantic…PUSH, PUSH, PUSH! I’m not waiting for contractions. I’m up on the table, grabbing the rails and pushing with all my might. The baby isn’t moving fast enough and the blips are getting even farther apart. I hear the OB call for a vacuum. Then there is a quiet call for the neonatologist to come up NOW. For some reason, the word “vacuum” makes me nuts. I am thinking, I am SO SO glad that this epidural didn’t take all the way. Thank you thank you!
The OB says, I am going to have to give you an episiotomy to help get the baby out. Good lord, so cut me already! I give another mighty push and the head is out. The cord is wrapped tight around her neck and I can see that her head is dark purple. The OB clamps and cuts the cord and says to push again to get her shoulders out…I’m a mad woman, using every muscle and ounce of energy in my body to get this baby out with the next push. I grab the rails, get up on my feet and PUSH and I feel a huge rush as her entire body slides out from within mine. I will never in my life forget that feeling. 2:56 PM
She is on the table next to me. And she is dark purple from head to toe. And very still.
There are four or five people around her…giving her oxygen, rubbing her little body.
It feel like I am watching this scene for days. I keep looking at the faces of the people around me. I watch their lips moving, saying, she’s okay, she’ll be okay…but, they don’t yet believe what they’re saying. And I don’t believe them. Everyone has the same pained expression his face. My husband looks scared. She’s okay, she’s okay, he keeps saying…
I look over at her again…come on baby, come on…
come on, Isabel…
And then, finally, she lets out a huge WWWWHHHAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!
And I take a deep breath. And, time kicks in again…they give her a bit more oxygen, give her a shot of fluids…someone says, Her toes are curling…I wonder if that’s good or bad. I wish that someone would talk to me through all of this, but I know that I’m no longer the center of attention. I look down and notice that Peter Brady had his hands in my crotch. Did I deliver the placenta yet? Who cares. The OB tells me that she’s going to stitch me up, and to let her know if I feel anything. What? Oh, whatever, just stitch me…I swear, she could have said, “We’ll be amputating your foot now, let me know if you feel a pinch” and I wouldn’t have noticed. I was just beginning to get really aggravated that I wasn’t holding Isabel yet. REALLY aggravated.
The neonatologist finally comes over to talk to me. She’s doing fine, rough start, but she’s okay now. Her blood sugar is very low…could be the traumatic birth, could be cause she’s a big baby (she was 8lb 8oz; personally don’t think this is big, but what do I know) or could be because of infection. WHAT! INFECTION! Now I start asking questions, demanding answers…how will you know, when will you know, what will be done…I want to know everything! And, good God, HOW was I talked out of the antibiotics! Now they are telling me that Isabel may need them. ARGH! I am angry. How did I let this all get so out of my control! I am really ticked-off. Royally. And I keep my dander up for the next two days in the hospital. But, what happens next, after all that I will later critique and analyze, after all that I will anger over, after all that I will regret was still…
The Wonderful: My beautiful Isabel Josephine
I am finally holding her in my arms, and she is perfect.
I am in love.
Oh, little girl, I am so sorry that you had a rough start, but I am going to love you up from head to toe. And see your Daddy over there, that big guy who is white as a sheet and has tears in his eyes…when I have to put you down for one second, he’s going to be there to pick you up and put more kisses on your tiny face. You are all the sweetness in the world.
Her tiny fingers are still deep purple, and I rub them for her until they turn pink. Then I search out her little toes and rub them until they glow. She sticks out her tongue and nibbles her hand. I look into her deep blue eyes, fresh from outer space, reflecting all the wisdom of the universe, and I know in my heart exactly what she is thinking…
“Give me the booby.”
Isabel stayed in the transitional nursery for a day and a half until her blood sugar normalized. She also had blood drawn to check for infection, and thankfully, was given an all-clear. I was a big pain-in-the-butt and basically spent a day and a half in the nursery holding her and jiggling all the monitors loose, causing the machines to beep and ding every 5 seconds. I breastfed her on the second day, she latched on and ate like a woman possessed. On the second night, she slept in my room with me in my bed, and we all went home together as planned.
Okay, so that’s it. Isabel has her hands in her mouth again, and that means it’s time to whip out the booby…before I explode.
Congratulations for reading this far! You really are a hardcore birth story junkie.
In appreciation for your time and effort, here's a few more photos of Isabel, my lovely Seconda.