I didn’t write out much about my first baby, Lucy’s birth, in Virginia (induction, epidural, disappointed that I didn’t have an empowering “natural birth” story, but uneventful and fairly quick). Then my second baby, Lilly’s birth, was one of those empowering natural births in Los Angeles (spontaneous labor, 2 pushes, easy baby, early discharge). I laid out by the pool with Lilly the very next day. You can do things like that in SoCal weather.
Not so much in Connecticut. It’s been cold.
These birth stories (there’s two babies so there are two different stories. Who woulda thought, right?) will take multiple posts to get through. There’s part one, which is Levon’s uneventful and (sort of) ideal birth. Then there’s part two (stay tuned), which is the birth that may possibly keep me from having any more babies. At least I cannot mentally grasp that idea right now, even though I always wanted five kids.
Now, I’m 4 weeks postpartum (the twins are almost a month old!) and I am playing a game of overdoing it and then lightening the load of life, on repeat. This recovery is so, so different from my other two for a few reasons. One, I have two other little children who are old enough to walk and talk, but little enough to have meltdowns and need me to physically do a lot for them. See: #4under4, which I can use for the next few months until my girls turn 2 and 4 in April. Then life will continue to be chaotic, but the hashtags are not as fun.
The second reason, is (SPOILER ALERT) I had a vaginal birth followed by an emergency cesarean, which some twin folk call the “double whammy”. That term makes me shutter and gag still. So much ouch. No matter, it’s a lot of healing in different places, but there’s been grace upon grace poured for my case. I’m walking, doing stairs, never on narcotics. I’m nursing, I’m dressing myself and showering, and I’m keeping my house somewhat straight. (I kind of have to in the middle of RSV season with two premature babies and preschooler.) I’m even cooking meals and doing the nighttime feeds and changes, mostly by myself so Michael can keep the other two in line. I keep telling people that I’m alive, which sounds like a joke on the outside, but it’s all real on the inside.
I’m alive. It’s good to share my life with these 4 littles, my dream guy and all of the support that surrounds us.
So here goes, the birth of Levon!
On December 18th my sister-in-law, Katie, flew in from Virginia. Katie is 15 and came to help me prepare for Christmas and the twins. I kept repeating that I could not guarantee she’d meet the twins during her stay, knowing their 40 week due date was January 26th. Twin pregnancies almost never make it to 40 weeks, but you can’t plan on anything. Most doctors induce by 38 weeks, at the latest. Nevertheless, Katie appeared at the airport, chipper to spend her first Christmas away from home with her boring brother and sister-in-law. My words, not Katie’s. The only decorating I did for Christmas was, in my opinion, an over-the-top tree. It was part of my nesting phase and I’m so glad I was able to do it.
I had a routine doctors appointment the day after Katie landed. I left my two girls with Katie and drove over to my OB office solo because really, what could happen? (Literally, the same words I said before going solo to the ultrasound that revealed twins) I was a little over 34 weeks and the appointment was uneventful, except for the fact that I was supposed to have non-stress tests (NST) for the past two weeks. I had a lot of trouble scheduling with the hospital so I was behind. I was scheduled an induction date and time, January 12th at 7 AM. Then, I heard the familiar words that would keep repeating themselves from different people, all leading to new fates:
Before you leave, let’s check your cervix.
It was my first cervix check this pregnancy and I was a little eager since I knew from here (34 weeks) on out, that they would deliver if I went into spontaneous labor. Plus, I had help at my house for the next 10 days. I was hoping maybe 2 cm or 3 cm, just to know my body was doing something.
My cervix measured at 4, almost 5, centimeters and very soft and stretchy. If you’ve had your cervix checked for such an occasion as labor and delivery, you know a soft cervix is a good thing if you’re hoping to go into labor. But I wasn’t ready just yet. I wanted to have Christmas first.
I didn’t think 4 cm was a big deal, but… twins. My OB sent me to the hospital (Saint Francis in Hartford, highly recommend) to do an NST, just to check in on the babies and to confirm that I was not in real labor. I was a little nervous but since I had all of my ultrasounds at the hospital I felt comfortable going alone. The NST was done in labor & delivery and it went fine. The resident on call came in and told me I had “happy” babies. I was ready to go home, jacket on, purse on my arm, until I heard those words again.
Before you leave, let’s check your cervix.
This time I was a solid 5 cm, 70% effaced, and Levon’s bag of water was bulging, ready to pop. The resident changed his tune completely and advised that I stay, assuming that I was progressing. So, I stayed the night on monitors. This went on for another two days. Every check showed just the slightest change in my cervix, just enough to assume I was on the verge of real labor. My last birth went really, really fast. And given that we were still only 34 weeks, and I lived well over a half hour away from the hospital, it would be very dangerous to accidentally deliver in my bathroom or a car. Officially, I was a prisoner of the hospital until the babies came out.
Soon I realized that I’d be alone on Christmas, that all my planning for a fun Christmas would leave me out of it. But the hardest part of the stay would be the first night, without Lilly. I co-sleep with my kids and that first night in the hospital was the first night I had ever been away from Lilly. I felt tons of guilt and I felt like I was missing out on so much.
From my Instagram on Christmas Eve, December 24:
Update on the twins: I’m still in the hospital waiting to go into labor… more. They can’t induce me because it’s not medically necessary right now and the twins are still considered premature, 35 weeks 2 days. I’m too far dilated and effaced to go home. So, we wait. It could be tonight, it could be another week or so.
This is the first Christmas Lucy has recognized baby Jesus, after I read her the nativity story throughout Advent. (The most interesting question she’s asked is, why wasn’t Jesus a twin?) It’s a little hard to not be home for Christmas, to not read them stories and tuck them in on Christmas Eve. Christmas mass is my favorite mass of the year and this is the first year of my life that I’ll miss it. But they are in good hands. And I think they hardly miss mom. Which is a beautiful thing right now.
There are people dying in this hospital. There are very sick people, people in pain. There are new mothers, vulnerable, uncertain of themselves on my floor. There are single mothers and overworked fathers working the night shift on Christmas. There are residents whose families are thousands of miles away. There is pain and heartache looming these halls, made visibly pale in the fluorescent lighting.
But there is joy of Christmas here too. There is a nativity of tired pregnant women needing shelter, and Holy communion that brings peace. There is humble welcome in seeing a familiar pregnancy. There is thanks in a warm meal and cool drink of water. There is space for tired shepherds to sink into, and to breathe deeply before finishing up four, 12 hour night shifts in a row. There are wisemen here, bringing gifts of experience and knowledge. There is hope here in the hospital, in the most raw, untwinkling, unwrapped, beige and silent of ways.
We are all waiting. Waiting for Jesus and waiting for the moment when grace will fill my lungs and these two little people will exit my body, as planned by God. And I’m overwhelmingly grateful to each person who has stepped in to help make this the best Christmas for us, or called, or prayed.
The nurses took great care of me and became my friends within the hospital prison. Actually, all of the staff was so wonderful, everyone—housekeeping, cafe catering and the administration also became my friends. I met a man from Jamaica who’s son still lived there. He sent his son a package of policemen accessories and toys for Christmas. The cafe service people told me to dance, and they’d sing to me while delivering bland hospital meals. I had a sweet nurse who baked me cupcakes on Christmas. She would be the first visitor I had after surgery, as she stopped by after her shift to congratulate me.
My oldest SIL, Mary Beth, flew in and between Mary Beth and Katie, my “big” girls were well cared for (understatement, they had more fun those two weeks than they do at Disneyland) and I confidently slept each night knowing no one really missed me. Michael and I even had some “dates” in my hospital room and I had time to work on Take Up & Read’s Lent book.
We were 35 weeks and 5 days when we induced. It began with pitocin, which I am familiar with from Lucy’s birth. I anticipated some nasty contractions without any breaks. What I experienced with twins was dull almost non-existent contractions, far apart from each other but working together to dilate my cervix. I went from 6 to 9 cm from about 3 PM to 1 AM. Even at 9 cm, without any pain medication, I was able to walk to the bathroom, and talk through my contractions. I was texting updates to family and friends, just because. It was almost boring, but I was grateful for the peace and ready for things to pick up. I agreed to break my water just after consulting a resident anesthesiologist who explained to me that I needed an epidural because if not and I needed an emergency cesarean, I would go under, be intubated, aspirate and possibly die.
There was no medical alarm for a cesarean or aspiration. Besides being in labor with twins, this was a miraculously easy and worry-free delivery.
I declined the epidural because I couldn’t wrap my mind around having it when I wasn’t in pain. The difference between Lucy’s and Lilly’s births were that with one I pushed for an exhausting hour (I know, it could be worse) and the other I was able to hold a baby in 2 pushes. I was aiming for less pushing since there were two babies. Maybe that was a little too idealistic.
Most hospitals require twins to be delivered in the operating room (OR), and if you ask to tour the OR you may get laughed at, and told that it doesn’t get much touring. Fair enough. And if you’re at all sensitive to lighting, smells and sounds—if you at all want a picturesque natural birth, don’t have twins in a hospital where you know you’ll deliver in the OR. They wheeled my hospital bed into the OR, where my doctor broke my water.
The OR is a weird place. It’s very cold. It’s a sterile environment. Once you go in, you’re in. You have to wear that medical hair net cover. Michael was in scrubs from head to foot, complete with plastic eye guards (I guess for all that blood and guts splashing?) and face mask. There’s no bathroom and you can’t get up and walk around to labor. There’s obviously no birthing tub, no rocking chair. I was lucky they let me stay in my hospital bed to deliver Levon. The lights were bright and bleached out everything. My doctor broke my water and literally, every person in the OR stood around watching and waiting, as I sat with my legs in stirrups, for me for crown a baby.
Within a few strong contractions, I felt a little pressure and my doctor directed me to start pushing. Maybe I was too tired. Maybe I blocked everyone out, including Michael. With my other births, I knew when we were close because someone would tell me about a head. With Levon, I had a few uncomfortable pushes and started to get frustrated. I took a deep breath and thought about how late it was, how I wanted to get out of this room and I pushed his head, shoulder and body out in one big push. I half expected both babies with how quickly he shot out, but it was just one.
Six pounds and one ounce. Michael cut the chord. He never stepped foot (not that he was walking) in the NICU. I was relieved at his size and health.
Cue exhaustion, cue elated “I’m done! Let me hold that baby!” Time to nurse and snuggle and revel in the push that saved someone’s world… except there was another baby in there.
I don’t care how easy a birth may seem in comparison to the possibilities of what could happen. After that first baby came out I could only think, I have to do this all over again. I held Levon for about all of 30 seconds, until I reminded everyone that I was actually still in labor. I was having contractions worthy of 10 cm of pain. I was not in any mood to cuddle and nurse my son yet. I was really sore, pretty tired and not finished yet.
It was time for an ultrasound, which is routine with twins. Lyla’s heart fluttered in a happy rhythm. She had the house all to herself, so she decided to lay transverse. My doctor manipulated her to head down and I kept laboring her down. And then, I think it was that mother’s intuition, when you just get that feeling, I asked passively for an epidural.
“Is it too late for that epidural?”
Something in me knew I needed it. Maybe it was just fear of laboring and delivering another baby when I was already very tired. Maybe it was the soreness.
I was denied my epi. My doctor shrugged and said, “You already made it this far,” while the resident anesthesiologist told me that it would take a half hour to an hour to complete the epidural, and by then I would have a baby in my arms. I asked a second time, to which she said it wouldn’t help my soreness and again the resident anesthesiologist assured me there wasn’t enough time. Later, I would be angry at them, and then eventually very grateful.
I wasn’t satisfied with these answers, but I wasn’t in the mood to argue either. So we waited and I kept laboring Lyla down. Michael went back and forth from me to Levon, who was wide awake and alert, looking around the OR. Everyone was excited for us and I tried to enjoy the excitement in between contractions.
Then, I felt more pressure building.
To be continued!