Penelope’s Birth Story


Trigger Warning: my birth was hard


Penelope was born at 7:33am on Wednesday, February 21. She weighed six pounds and four ounces and was 19 3/4 inches long.

The number one goal for Penny’s birth was a healthy baby. We achieved this goal. The second goal was a healthy me. We’re still working on this one. The third goal was as natural a birth possible under the induction circumstances. That, well…

We checked into the hospital at 6:30pm on the 19th. When we got there, I was about 1.5cm dilated and 60-70% effaced depending on the doctor, so the first course of action was Cytotec. The hope, of course, was that a round or two of that would get things going. Of course, the first thing that needed to happen was getting my IV line going, a process which took three nurses and an entire arm’s worth of blown veins to figure out. There was a moment during the first attempt, which I wasn’t watching, where I was so distracted that I thought they must have been done already, only to look over and learn that the poor nurse was blowing the shit out of my arm. Finally, they brought in the resident expert nurse on IV lines, this delightful, Dolly Parton-esque woman who squeezed my arm into the tourniquet, exclaimed, “Well there’s a juicy one!” and had the line and three tubes of blood drawn in under a minute.

The rounds of Cytotec, of which there were four, went like this: cervix checked. Progress not made. Cytotec inserted. Don’t move for an hour. Pee. Bounce on ball. Pace three foot circle because the monitors weren’t wireless. Get readjusted on monitors that kept falling off. Get checked. Progress not made. Cry. No sleep. Repeat x4.

After the fourth Cytotec and a membrane strip, I finally made it to about 3, which allowed us to move from our Special Care OB room to an actual labor and delivery room to start Pitocin. This happened at about 5pm on the 20th, so almost a full 24 hours after admission. They let me labor for a little while before starting that, so we paced the halls a bit and bounced on my ball, did some squatting and kneeling. Contractions were easily managed. After about an hour of this, the nurse wanted to get me going on the pit. She started me at 1, and I didn’t feel much for the first half an hour or so.

Before I launch into this part, I will say: I heard horror stories about Pitocin that I tried very hard to ignore because I also found good stories, but mine is not a good story.

When the Pit kicked it, it kicked in hard and fast. Extremely painful contractions came on about 30-60 seconds long, 30 seconds apart—one right on top of another. And they were not in the front hardly at all. I’ve met the dreaded Back Labor. I’ve tried very hard to come up with adequate metaphors for this pain:

Someone taking a sledgehammer to the small of my back. Having a hot fist in my spine twisting my vertebrae. Giles Corey being stoned at the gallows. White hot cattle prods from the inside out. 30. Seconds. Apart. To pee I’d have to make it through three or four contractions before even getting to the bathroom.

Counterpressure from my doula was the only thing that would even remotely help. And my god, is she tremendous. Such a steady, calming force who left my side for all of an hour during this entire ordeal. But they kept coming. Stronger, harder, and my animal brain completely overruled any sense of resilience I had in me at this point. By about 11pm, I was writhing in agony, sweating, shaking, screaming—I was someone and somewhere else. And the thought running through my head was purely, “I cannot do this. I am going to die.”

Which could only mean one thing: transition. Right?

Wrong. I’d made it to 5cm.

I wept. I wept and wailed. I told my OB, “What if I die?” I looked at my husband and my doula, trying to communicate without saying anything the abject terror running through me. And I said, “I can’t. I can’t.”

I’ll never forget looking up from the bed, feeling like a scared animal looking into the eyes of a predator, and seeing this halo of faces: my husband, all soft eyes and concern, the doula and her resolute strength, two nurses  trying to tell me about productive pain, the resident standing back a little like he didn’t want to invade this horror space, and my OB, with almost a little resigned smile. Someone said, “Honey, get the epidural,” and we called the anesthesiologist.

That was one of the most dreaded options to me previously, but I think it ended up saving me from what does happen to a lot of women that we don’t talk about: PTSD related to their birth experiences. Getting it was easy enough—very little discomfort. Relief at all took a good 20 minutes with full relief maybe 45 minutes in. I was a new person. I could talk. I could rest.  I wanted to eat (wasn’t allowed to, but this felt like a good sign to me).

The rest of the night mostly drifted by. The OB came in and broke my water, which was extremely cool—it felt like a little water balloon pop. The baby had some decelerations That were being monitored closely, but changes to my position seemed to help.

At one point, the back pain started to break back through the epidural and we had to call the anesthesiologist back in for a top off, which never actually worked. But, in a way, this was helpful. We did some practice pushing at 4am and I could tell when to push and what to do. We rested for a while and started legit pushing at about 6:45am or so. By then, the pain did really suck, but I was rested and determined enough to do it.

Muscling through unimaginable Pitocin contractions was not what ended up making this birth feel empowering. In fact, that made me feel completely ineffectual. What made my birth empowering was making the decision to get the epidural and being present for pushing.

Apparently, there was a point during the next 45 minutes where they were looking at a c section for me, but the OB said that the tenor of the room changed when we started talking about my athleticism, that a new determination took over. And it took over fast—she wasn’t even dressed yet when I heard  a chorus of “Oooooh!!!!!” during a four-push stretch—the head was out. I wept between every push with the pure relief and joy of it. The doctor rushed back over and finished delivering her shoulders and body, which I felt every inch of, a sensation that can only be described as a warm slither. They put her on my chest, rubbed her down, the cord was cut, and she was adorably pissed. APGARs were good, 8 and 9, and we. Were. Done.

And she’s perfect. I say that totally objectively.



The last weeks

Late stage pregnancy has been a study in patience and perseverance. As I write this, I’m about 7 hours away from the start of my labor induction at 37 weeks and 6 days. I’ve had it in my head for weeks that her birthday would probably be 2/20, and I will probably end up right.

Last Tuesday, we took a trial run to labor and delivery for a blood pressure spike. While we were there, the doctor gave us the choice—induce then or probably come back Thursday. After equivocating for half an hour, we decided to go home.

So, we went home. We spent Wednesday half thinking the next day was it. We took it easy, went out for breakfast then kept feet up all day. Blood pressure stabilized. Went to Thursday’s appointment and then…

another crossroads conversation. “I could send you today, but it would probably suck, or we could give you the weekend for your body to get ready.”

So, again, nesting, taking it easy, waiting today’s appointment and thinking that today they would say we’re going tomorrow. And then the OB, in her soft and calm voice, sees my record of readings and says, “Amy, you need to just have a baby.”

And, so, well, we hurry up and wait. We go to the hospital tonight, we get started, and we see what happens. As in childbirth, so in life.

Milestone Achieved: Mucus Plug

There will be a picture below, so gird your loins if you aren’t into globs of mucus. I, however, am so excited.

I don’t know why, but I’ve been totally entranced with the idea of the mucus plug. It’s a romantic thing with a horrid name—here it is, this lovely barrier between baby and the outside world, there to protect and nestle that baby until she approaches readiness. It can regenerate itself, guard against infection and contamination, and losing it means opening up and hopefully getting the show on the road. How cool is that? It deserves a much better name. Something romantic and befitting it’s heroism.

Mine has come out today in several considerable chunks, two big hunks at the OB’s office and a some smaller bits at home since then, and I am psyched. I know it means natural labor could be anywhere from hours to weeks away (37w2d right now), and I’m still not likely to get a natural labor anyway, but it’s just so rad.

Relatedly, I’ve had some sporadic, mild contractions for a couple of days after a hospital visit the other night (more on that soon), but nothing super consistent or unmanageable. Just plugging along over here.

Alright, here comes the mucus. Scroll at your own peril.


Look at you, you little hero. Thank you for protecting my baby for so long. 💞 We’ll try to take over from here.

Maternity Leave

It’s no surprise that parental leave, like so many  other issues related to women and healthcare, in the U.S. is a disaster. Fewer than half of women who take a maternity leave in this country are paid for it, and even the beauty that is unpaid FMLA is tarnished by the list of requirements one and their employer have to meet in order to qualify. And now that we know that fewer than 40% of American families can afford a $1000 emergency, thinking about income replacement for even a six week leave leaves most families in the dirt.

This is a crime.

The policy in my workplace is very average, especially in the education field—6 weeks unpaid. I’m lucky in the sense that my primary concern was not money, but time. Even if they wouldn’t pay me, I know we can fall back on family for support. This involves a tremendous degree of privilege that I recognize is not normal—it certainly would not be in my life had I not married into a much more financially stable family than my one of origin.

My issue was time. Six weeks assumes everything goes perfectly physically, and it also leaves a tiny baby at five weeks and change before mom goes back to work. I couldn’t imagine doing that. So, I had two options: try to get a better deal, or suck it up.

I tried for a better deal and got it. Here’s my advice for having that conversation.

First: ask. You can’t know what they’ll offer you if you’re afraid to ask for it. My approach was delicate but direct—“I know what the policy is, but I’m hoping we can talk about me taking a little more time.”

Second, plan. I went into this conversation with a calendar in mind—a start date and a return date, where my paid time off would kick in and end, where federal holidays and other days off would kick in, as a way to send the message that even though I was asking for more than standard, it really doesn’t amount to all that much time once you figure in the PTO, which most employers will require you to take first, and other days off. I also came in with a gameplan for who would take over my responsibilities (in my case, a long term sub and friend with a lot of experience and great rapport with kids), a sense of what I would ask her to do while I’m gone, and how I would get her up to speed (a couple days of job shadowing, complete lesson plans for two months, etc.). Part of this, too, is arming yourself with knowing your value to the organization and being willing to speak to it.

Lastly, appreciate. Know that your boss is bound by policy as much as you are. If they go out of their way to advocate and fight for something better for you, let them know that you appreciate that advocacy, even if it doesn’t work. In my case, it did work. My original request for 11 weeks off is now 12 because of medical advice to stop earlier. I’ve made sure, probably to the point of overkill, that my boss knows how incredibly grateful I am that she was willing to make it happen for me.

In short, I can’t think that it hurts to try. The worst case scenario is being slapped down, but one might be able to mitigate that possibility by  approaching the conversation thoughtfully and confidently.

Now that mine has started, I feel super weird. More on that soon.

On Dads

If there’s anything to recommend about the emotional process of pregnancy, it’s ups and downs, highs and lows, it might most be the degree of self-reflection and processing it forces upon you. The questions of how you’ll do things, what your parents did, what parents you admire do–all of these, for me, have been prompts for some of the deepest self-examination I’ve ever experienced.

And, for me, that means a lot of time to think about dads. Dads have always been extremely, extremely complicated for me. My own dad, a shadowy memory that plays in the back of my mind in random spurts like errant lightening; my gentle and kind father-in-law, who has become all the things I could have ever asked for in a dad and a friend; and, finally, my husband, who is already an extraordinarily tender and attentive father to someone who won’t even be earthside for four more weeks yet.

My father is one of the grandest mysteries of my life. My memories of him are often dark, fearful–me sitting on a toilet in the middle of the night yelling for him to come and help me, an overturned table and a sonorous yell, a goodbye kiss at a train station before my mom whisked us away, never to see or hear from him again. In the years that followed, I had a wonderful live-in grandfather–an artist, a thinker, a kind man who bought me a tiny kitten and yelled at me for wearing blue lipstick, and who died too soon for all of us to handle. This is how dads have been in my life–fleeting, fraught, complicated. I would refer to my own, during my angst-ridden teenage years, as a “sperm donor,” a title I gave him to mask what I truly felt he was–someone who did not know or care to figure out how to love me.

When my mom received a phone call to let her know that he had died, I was a sophomore in high school, obsessed with my own ennui. I knew the second she hung up the phone and furrowed her brows what she was coming to tell me, like a psychic shock to my system. I remember pulling out one ear bud, letting We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes keep playing, and saying, “My father is dead, isn’t he?” while I sat and pet that same cat my grandfather had given me years earlier.


As I was clearing out the baby’s room closet today to try to find a way to stack diapers, I found a photo of him that I find while rummaging around once in a while. It reminds me of the stranger who gave me my nose, my wild hair, my charisma, my impulsiveness, my arrogance, my hedonism, and whose darkness I often worried is buried in me somewhere to emerge when least expected.

I won’t ever know, really. I’ll know when my brother looks over with the same sharp, dark eyes—a stranger’s eyes, a vagabond’s—that we will never piece together the life of this veiled stranger. I think of him sometimes dying alone in that duplex in Brockton, Mass., almost 50, still a giant, still searching for something. And this is how I imagine his wandering too, a search. He loved the greyhound tracks, the soft thudding gallop of graceful dogs, and he loved to gamble on them so much it sent us to live in tents, in basements, in tiny ramshackle New England homes with dirt floors and windows of clouded glass. I don’t know if he wandered lost, or if he built a twisted life he may have loved for its sordidness. I’ll never know.

And now, we prepare to build a family unlike one I ever knew firsthand–two loving parents, with a dad who already cares so much I can see it radiating from him every day. I’m grateful that our daughter will get to experience the complete love of her father, but I can’t say that I’m not also, even now, maybe especially now, envious of her for that.


Preggo Anxiety

Everything has been smooth sailing in my pregnancy until it hasn’t been. I’ve been textbook, really—almost hilariously so. The very week all the books said I might experience this or that, I have. Like clockwork. This has allowed me to really trust my body and trust this process, and as a result, pregnancy has been mostly a beautiful and inspiring time in my life.


However, last week at my 30 week appointment, my OB dropped what felt like a major bombshell: “We’re probably going to want to induce at 38-39 weeks, as long as you keep looking good. If the blood pressure raises, we might be looking at 36-37.” And I just sat there and nodded stupidly, covered in Doppler gel and surprise.

This would be a preventive measure rather than a proactive one. I have “essential hypertension,” which has been well managed with medication for several years. Through pregnancy, readings have been great other than slightly elevated at this last appointment (130/90). That said, this must put me in a risk category the OB wants to tread lightly with.

I went grocery shopping in a haze. I came home in a haze. I told my husband, texted my bestie, and thought I was processing pretty well. But I wasn’t, because slowly, my entire attitude toward pregnancy started to shift. I don’t trust my body, I don’t trust myself to correctly interpret my own experiences, and I have to shift that trust from myself to my doctors, which involves an activity that I do not excel at—relinquishing control.

I’m not an idiot. I know intellectually that I have not had any real control over the process of my pregnancy other than taking decent care of myself, but when things are all good, it’s easy to feel like you do.

I also know that I really put a lot of pressure on myself, and I can’t overachieve my way out of a  pre-existing condition that hasn’t resolved itself despite a healthy weight, diet, and generally active lifestyle. It just is what it is. It all just is what it is.

But I haven’t managed my own emotions on this very well. I’ve had multiple meltdowns and a fairly epic panic attack, and the only way out is through. My husband is exceptionally supportive, and my doula’s response to this has likewise been amazing. My husband has coached me through just breathing, talking it out, and letting myself cry as I need to. I already knew he would be, but this shows me what an amazing partner he’s going to be in the room when it’s go time.

And there are worse things in the world than an induced labor. I’ve gotten some suggestions that I think are on the money, and I need to just go with that. The concrete suggestions are this:

  • My doctor is going by ACOG guidelines, and whether or not the crunchy natural birth community wants to admit it, they are the actual medical experts. Trust the guidelines, and find the happy medium between the natural birth I want and the medical birth I probably need.
  • According to my doula: check and double check the doctor’s plans to make sure that the cervix is checked the day before and a ripening agent used if it isn’t low and soft on its own, that low doses of pitocin are started if necessary after said cervical softening, and that ideal timing in her mind is 38 weeks, 6 days to give my body its best chance to take over on its own.
  • And I need to just rebuild my trust in the process, whatever it turns out to be. This means continuing to engage in a lot of self care, do my reading and education on the topic, keep up with my meditation and other soothing activities, and keep doing my fucking kegels as much as I hate them.



The 3 Hour Glucose ~Experience~

Well, it happened. I flunked the one hour test.

They had me do it at about 28 weeks. The threshold for my doctor’s office was a score of 140, and I scored a 160. I currently report from the waiting room of the medical center.

After my initial devastation/guilt/shame-induced sobbing session after finding out I flunked wore off, I decided to just do my best to watch my diet and stay resolute that all would be well as I waited out the two weeks before they could get me in for the three hour. Usually, this would be scheduled pretty quickly, but the holiday sprung up in there as well. The doctor just advised me to keep an eye on my sugar in the meantime since it is a longer wait than they usually want.

Anyway, the three hour test doubles the amount of glucose you drink from 50 to 100mLs. You go in fasting (14 hours is what my doctor wanted, but YMMV), they do a draw, have you drink the glucola, and then they’ll draw again on the hour for the next three.

I find that the internet really overdramatizes this, and my experience has been fine. Of course, I’d rather not be spending half my day on this, but it isn’t a total nightmare.

Here’s my experience:

Fasting: The worst part, no way around it. Telling a woman at 30 weeks gestation she can’t eat for upwards of 16 hours feels like a special brand of torture. Be sure to put a protein rich snack in your bag for when you’re done—I have a small bag of cashews and a granola bar that I’m waiting to bust into.

To make the draws smoother, I drank about a liter of water before I left the house this morning, and nearly a liter before bed. I’m going to get up to pee 30 billion times regardless. May as well have fresh veins.

The first draw: Totally fine. They only need 5 mL at a time, so it goes very quickly—even for me, as someone who is kicking the world’s worst needle phobia. I was told no eating, no sleeping, and only small sips of water for the rest of the morning.

The drink: I find it pretty gross, and I have a strong sweet tooth. It’s like drinking 50 melted popsicles. But they give you five minutes to choke it down and offered it to me cold or room temperature. Cold seemed like a better bet, even though it’s currently -3 degrees outside.

Hour 1: Physically, this was the toughest hour. Immediate heartburn, a bit of wooziness, and sheer exhaustion. I’m not sure if it was from the drink or coming in tired, but it didn’t feel good. Coping strategies for this hour were reading a little and doing a guided meditation. No energy for more than that. The hunger pangs were so real.

The second draw: They used to same arm as the first time. Little pinch, but not a big deal.

Hour 2: My energy picked up and the second hour was spend playing cards with my husband. Heartburn was still fairly bad, but easing up. Small sips of water did really help.

The third draw: New arm! Not so bad! By this time, I was pretty energized by being so close to being done.

Hour 3: Pretty much the same as hour two. Energy was okay, hunger pangs less pronounced, and spirits pretty high. This really was not that bad.

The fourth draw: This one hurt a little more because the last one puffed up my arm a bit more, but it was fast and easy enough.

After it all: I did immediately eat some cashews and half a granola bar on the way to lunch. This gave me some immediate fatigue that lasted through eating an actual meal, but after that meal I felt relatively normal. Which, for third trimester me, is fatigued but in good spirits.

And now I know that I passed all of them! My numbers are below:

Fasting: 73 (needs to be less than 95)

Hour 1: 135 (needs to be less than 180)

Hour 2: 123 (needs to be less than 155)

Hour 3: 115 (needs to be less than 140)

All in all, I’m super relieved that I don’t have to alter my diet or monitor my sugars or anything, and that the baby won’t be impacted by sugar issues on my part. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world by any means, but it’s one less thing on my back.

Biggest regret: laying off my favorite Christmas treats.