There are always two versions to every story, right?
For my more succinct friends & readers here is the short version:
It hurt. A lot. I am convinced that the oxytocin makes women everywhere forget certain details about birth in order to keep repopulating the earth. After 17 hours of labor, our baby was born in a tub of warm water. All 19 ½ in and 7 lbs. 4 oz. of her. She is healthy and strong and beautiful. And I would do it all over again. (See, that’s the oxytocin talking right there. Crazy stuff.)
Now, here is the long version. The version I want to remember. The full story with the little details, the funny things that were said and the memories that will fade as the years go by. This is the story I want to one day tell our daughter.
• • •
Let me start with Thursday, June 20th. We had an appointment with Hannah, our midwife, in the afternoon. At 39 weeks my belly was round, your heartbeat strong, and your head already dropped. But Hannah said I wasn’t dilated at all. So we drove home. And I gave in to the fact that it could be days or weeks before we meet you.
Your daddy heated up leftovers for dinner and we sat on the couch, my legs resting on his lap, his hand on the remote. The NBA finals were on so we watched Lebron James and the Miami Heat win, even though neither one of us really follow basketball. I wrote this blog post about waiting and your daddy put on music. Our wedding song came on, a bilingual, bachata type remix of Stand By Me. I’ll play it for you one day. He swayed back and forth in the living room, using the steps we had learned, one-two-one, tap, one-two-one, touch. I smiled. He pulled me and my big belly toward him. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was one of the last times it was just me and him. The two of us, dancing in the living room.
Around 3am I woke up with what felt like a super strong period cramps. I went to the bathroom. They went away and I figured it was just more, Braxton Hicks. And then the feeling came back. I clicked on the Contraction app on my phone. And sure enough after 10 minutes, the pain returned. And then they remained consistently 10 minutes apart. I smiled, Ahh, these must be contractions! I got a snack. I mean, I figured I would need some extra energy. Orange juice and two muffins seemed appropriate at 3am in the morning. I sat on the exercise ball for a bit, checking Facebook in between the contractions and finally decided I should try and sleep.
Sleep didn’t work very well. I think I was too excited that labor was starting and somewhat uncomfortable lying in bed. Around 5am I rolled over and gently shook your daddy’s shoulder, Mi amor, I think we’re going to meet our daughter today. I don’t know if it was the word daughter or today, but he opened his eyes and was ready to jump out of bed. Your daddy has always been a fast waker-upper. I on the other hand need at least 20 minutes before I am somewhat coherent.
However, this morning he leaned over grabbed my hands and prayed. He prayed for me and for you and that God would protect us both. As soon as he uttered the word, amen, he was out of bed, jeans on, keys in hand and off to take Pepe, our dog, to his parent’s house. He came back 30 minutes later with your abuela, who had offered to be with us while we labored at home, and a black plastic bag filled with fresh tortillas.
I waited until 6:30am to text my family, knowing they were an hour behind.
I’m in labor. Hoping we get to meet our baby girl today.
Contractions continued. And the silver exercise ball quickly became my best friend. One hand was on my iPhone, pressing start at each new contraction, and the other bracing myself against the wall. Now 8-minutes apart. I leaned forward, rocking my hips back and forth, breathing slowly… in and out… like Hannah had showed us. The pain was manageable. The breathing helped. And I was still getting an 8-minute break between contractions. Your daddy and I watched part of The Office, went for a walk around the block and then I felt the sudden urge to throw up.
Your abuela made eggs and beans for breakfast, which I kindly passed on. Your daddy went to the tienda to buy me some saltine crackers. It was the only thing that sounded remotely good. Until I threw up those crackers, too. And finally I decided eating may just not happen today.
I called Hannah sometime around 8 to give her an update.
“Congratulations, sounds like you’re in labor.”
Yep. No doubt about it. I was laboring. She was worried I wasn’t keeping anything down. And recommended Pedialyte. So your daddy went out again, this time to the local farmacia, and bought me some blue Pedialyte. And that said bottle of blue Pedialyte is what nourished me and you, Elena, for the next 12 hours.
By 11am contractions were now 7-minutes apart and getting stronger. The Office was no longer a good distraction, walking and having to stop and sit down with each contraction was drawing attention from neighbors, so back to the ball I went. And on that ball I stayed for the next few hours. Your daddy stood behind me rubbing my back and I kept checking my app. Still only 7-minutes apart.
We called Hannah again. She was already in the city for another appointment. And said we could drive in whenever we wanted. Your Daddy was super worried about the drive to the city and hitting traffic. It’s only 40km from our house, but it usually takes a good hour. And although he was eager to meet you, he was pretty adamant that he did not want to meet you in the car. I wasn’t too worried. I figured like most first time babies you would take your sweet time arriving.
By 12pm I figured I should take a shower. New moms always talk about how taking a shower is a privilege, not a given, once you have a little one screaming for your attention. So I wanted one last shower. Ha. What I didn’t realize is that taking a shower while having contractions isn’t exactly relaxing. I showered in 6.5 minutes. No time to wash my hair.
Your daddy loaded up our bags in the car. And in typical Acker fashion I probably had 3 bags too many. Usually our family rule growing up was if you bring it, YOU have to carry it. Your Daddy has adopted that rule as well. One of us tends to always over pack (yes, me). But this was a day for exceptions. He carried all 5 bags and no complaining.
By 2pm we were in the car headed into Guatemala City. You know what’s worse than having contractions for a minute every 6-minutes? Being in a car while having contractions. As we drove over the cobblestone roads and speed bumps, my contractions continued and felt stronger. I leaned as far forward as I could, while my seatbelt rubbed against my shoulder. I kept breathing. Your daddy drove with one hand on the steering wheel, and the other trying to put counter pressure on my lower back. Your daddy put on track 1 of the CD in the car stereo. I smiled. We had decided months ago that this was your song, Mija. Every time we played it we thought about you.
We were on our way. The roads were clear, skies were sunny and we were making great time…until we got to Mixco and saw red lights ahead. And then we came to a complete stop.
For about another 40 min we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic thanks to an accident that was being cleared off to one lane. My breathing turned to moaning. The contractions were more painful.
Finally, we pulled up to Hannah’s clinic and I think we both breathed a sigh of relief. Me: because I could finally get up and move around between contractions. And your daddy: because you were not born in the car. Your daddy brought in all the bags and we walked into the clinic. The clinic is really more like a house, with a small living room downstairs and three bedrooms upstairs. It’s simple, homey and relaxing. Hannah greeted us with her calm smile and warm presence.
We had no written birth plan and very few expectations. Except, ya know…GET YOU OUT. And we figured trusting Hannah and trusting my body to know what to do was the best plan we could have. We had done our birth classes with Hannah and liked the idea of a water birth. I have always liked baths and Jacuzzis so I figured why not during labor. I think you liked it, too.
I waited for another contraction to finish and then we climbed the stairs. I was gripping the handrail, your daddy gripping all of our bags. Hannah checked me. At this point I was tired and uncomfortable and just hoping that I was dilated. Sure enough, 7 cm! I was relieved and excited. We’re over half way there…just 3 more cm to go. I can do this no problem.
Elena, Mama had no idea how incredibly hard those next 3 cm were going to be.
Hannah started to fill up the tub and contractions continued. Your daddy didn’t leave my side. I don’t even think he got up to use the bathroom. At this point I had stopped timing the contractions. I just knew they were more frequent, more painful and getting harder and harder to breathe through.
At some point around 5ish I climbed into the tub. And my oh my, it was thee most relaxing, warm water bath I have ever felt. I was in my little piece of heaven…that is, until another contraction started. Your daddy kneeled next to me on the outside of the tub, pouring warm water on my back. And Hannah came over every few minutes to check your heartbeat. We wanted to make sure you were ok in there.
It became harder to distinguish when one contraction ended and another started because it just hurt. Everything hurt. My lower back, my tailbone, my lady parts. Your daddy was behind me, with his arms reaching underneath my armpits to hold me up. Hannah was in front of me helping me to focus and follow her breath. Quick, short breaths. I stayed here for a while. My breathing turned to screaming and at one point I yelled at “What is this?”
She looked at me calmly, transition…this is transition.
I don’t remember this part well, but I do remember thinking, I hate transition. The pain had taken over and all I kept thinking was I want this baby out. Get her out. I can’t do it. Why did no one tell me it was going to be this painful?
Through the big window I watched the sun dip away behind the building next door. It was getting dark. I had lost all track of time, but I knew it was getting later. It literally was the longest day of the year, maybe of my life.
Hannah asked me to try changing positions and move to a seated squat. I think I may have flat out defied her: No, I can’t. I don’t want to move.
I came to my senses, rolled over, and leaning my head on the edge of the tub, I squatted down low. She told me I could push whenever I felt ready.
I didn’t feel ready. I was tired. In pain. And losing energy.
Your daddy said I pushed for about 90 minutes, but let me tell you, it could have been 9 hours and I wouldn’t have known the difference. Each time I’d feel another contraction, I’d start to push. Eyes closed, stomach tightened. I’d let out some high-pitched grunting nose. And feel a burning down below. Hannah encouraged me to lower my voice. I think she wanted me to save my oxygen for you sweet baby, knowing that my animal grunts were not going to get you out any sooner.
She checked your heart rate after each push. You were doing just fine, Elena. But Mommy was losing stamina. I rolled back over to a seated position. My back resting against the tub, your daddy’s arms underneath mine, and my feet planted on the ground, knees turned out.
On the next push, Hannah, told me my water had just broken. Yep, right there in the tub. How convenient. I didn’t know that I could be so far into labor with the water sac still intact. But Hannah said everyone’s different, and there was no reason to break it sooner.
Every time I pleaded, I can’t. Hannah, looked at me and said, “You’re doing it. You’re already doing it.”
Hannah kept telling me to bare down, hold my breath and push. And every time I did, I felt like I made absolutely no progress. Why isn’t she coming?
Finally, Hannah announced, I can see her hair. She has hair! Your daddy got so excited. “Mi amor, I can see it. I can see her hair!”
Hannah brought a mirror over. I glanced down and to be honest, I couldn’t tell what your hair and what was mine. Through the burning, all I kept thinking was, I want her out, I want her out. I was exhausted, the burning sensation didn’t stop and I was pretty confident that my tailbone was going to explode.
I can see her head! Do you want to feel it? Hannah asked.
I reached my hand down there, and I am sorry, sweet girl, but I couldn’t tell what I was touching. I didn’t know if it was you or me or something else. It all just hurt.
Hannah checked your heart rate again. It must have been dropping, because she wheeled over some oxygen for me and asked me to breath in through my nose. Then she calmly looked at me and said ok, next push. You can do it.
And the next contraction I pushed as hard as I could. My eyes were closed, teeth clenched together, but your daddy was watching. He said in one quick moment he saw your head and your whole body pop out and float right into the water. Hannah reached down picked you up and then…I saw you. My baby. Your little arms and legs flailing about. She laid your slimy, slippery body right on my chest and you let out the most beautiful cry. Like you were saying, Mom, what took so long? I’ve been waiting.
My first thought: wow, I can’t believe she was just inside of me.
My second thought: man, it still hurts down there.
Daddy kissed the top of my head and said, thank you.
Then he looked at you. “Hola Mija. Yes, you’re our daughter.”
Your eyes were awake and alert and you kept staring up at your daddy and me. Daddy was crying. I was still in shock. You were really here!
8:35pm on June 21st. You entered the world. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to experiencing a miracle.
Your umbilical chord was still connected and Hannah left it there until it stopped pulsing. We wanted you to get as many good nutrients as possible. It was this surreal feeling to be holding you on the outside, but feel your little chord tug at me from the inside. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a belly button in the same way.
Your daddy cut your umbilical chord and then he held you while I stayed in the tub to deliver the placenta. During the next contraction and with one little push, out came the placenta. And holy geez, it’s a big thing. Hannah checked it to make sure it was all there and then helped me out of the tub. She wrapped me in a towel and put a diaper on me. Yes, apparently after birth mamas get to wear a diaper too. Who knew?
I crawled into bed and Daddy handed you to me. You were pursing your lips together making the cutest little fishy face. I think you were hungry. And sure enough you latched right on to my left breast. In fact you latched on so hard I may have yelped a little. I didn’t know a little baby like you could latch on so hard.
You nursed for a little bit and then Hannah came over to check my princess parts, as your Auntie Christine calls them. By the look of Hannah’s face I knew it must be kind of bad. Hannah gave me some topical anesthetic and stitched up ground zero. 5 stitches in 3 different places. Yes, that’s how much I love you, Mija.
Then she picked you up. She weighed you and measured you. She checked your head and your back and your long legs and little hips. She said you were so strong and alert. She poured some olive oil over your bum and covered it with a diaper. She said this would help us when we had to cleanup your first poo, the dreaded meconium. I was just so thankful that you were here, and you were healthy.
Daddy climbed in bed next to us and we just sat there looking at you, our little girl. Our Elena. You in your swaddled white blanket, me in my bathrobe and diaper and your daddy still in his jeans. A family of three.
(If just the word placenta makes you queasy then you can just skip this next paragraph)
Hannah came back in the room with a cup of tea and a placenta smoothie. I had decided ahead of time that I wanted to eat a piece of the placenta. If I had been in the US I probably would have gone for the placenta pills, but that wasn’t an option here. I’ve only read good things about all that the placenta can do. So I figured if eating a little bit could even remotely help with post-partum baby blues and bleeding, why not? And blending it up with a bunch of fruits and yogurt seemed like the best option. And no, I couldn’t taste a thing… just the mix of pineapple, blackberries and strawberries. Probably the healthiest smoothie I’ve ever eaten.
By 10pm we were all tired and hungry. Your daddy went down to the kitchen to heat up some lentil soup that your Nana had made and froze for us a month before. We did the dinner shuffle: Daddy held you while I ate and then I held you while Daddy ate. Hannah came by to check on us and said she would be next door if we needed anything during the night.
Then your daddy gave me the best gift—he offered to hold you so I could sleep. And I have never been so quick to accept. And ya know what Mija, I slept from midnight to 6am!?! Didn’t even wake-up once. I knew you were in good hands. I don’t exactly know what you and Daddy did for 6 hours, but I do know he didn’t get much sleep. God Bless him.
I took you at 6am and gave Daddy’s arms a break so he could nap for a few hours. We ate breakfast and then spent a few hours cuddled in bed, the three of us.
We watched you sleep and admired your cute little facial expressions.
We stared at your tiny nose, and soft lips and ears that seem just a tad too big for your little head
(Sorry, Love, you get those from me)
We looked at your big beautiful grey eyes and you looked right back at us. Your eyes were awake and so alert as if to say, ok, mom and dad you ready for this?
Hannah came in one last time to check on us. You were doing just fine, but she wanted to check on me and make sure my uterus was shrinking. Hannah gave me some tea and instructions to rest. I didn’t know that mommies bleed for a long time after giving birth and have a hard time going to the bathroom because it hurts down there.
She asked if we had any questions.
Your daddy and I looked at each other and shrugged. We probably had a thousand questions, but I guess this is one of those things where you have to learn as you go.
We wrapped you up and put you in the black & white sling Mama had bought for you. Daddy grabbed all 5 bags. And we slowly walked down the stairs and out into the sunlight. Hannah took a picture of us in front of the car.
Our first family picture.
I couldn’t believe that less than 24 hours ago you were inside of me, and now we were walking out of the clinic, heading home.
We were taking you home.
Happy Birth-day Mija! Can’t wait to celebrate this day with you every year to come.
With all my love,