Olivia Folmar Ard

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Bringing Home Baby

After we bought our first home, my husband and I decided we were ready to start a family. We tried to conceive for nine months on our own, enthusiasm flagging a little more with each unsuccessful month, before we turned to my OB/GYN for guidance. He diagnosed me with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and, with the help of several medications and the grace of God, we learned I was pregnant six months later.

After the stressful, emotional road to conception, I was blessed with a relatively uncomplicated, drama-free pregnancy. The only strong symptoms I dealt with for longer than a few days were exhaustion and heartburn, both of which were minor when compared to the extreme sickness that many expectant mothers endure. The only complication was the development of gestational diabetes in the third trimester, and that was easily controlled through diet and oral medication. I changed jobs at 34 weeks, and the challenges and opportunities that change presented revitalized me and gave me the energy I’d been lacking for months. By the time I reached 38 weeks, I was feeling great.

And waiting for the other shoe to drop.

We hadn’t needed to pursue treatments nearly as long as many other couples with fertility issues did, nor had we gotten to the point where we needed to see a fertility specialist. Between that and the smooth pregnancy, I worried labor and delivery would be problematic. After all, our girl had played hard to get before she even fully existed and had played variations on that theme ever since, running as fast as she could from fetal monitors and ultrasound wands since she was the size of a peach. Surely, there was no way she would come easily.

So I was surprised when, during my regularly scheduled appointment on October 25, the doctor examined me and said, “Well, Olivia, it’s about time for you to have this baby. You’re dilated one and a half centimeters already, and that’s really good progress for a first-time mother. I think you’ll go in the next few days.”  

With a nervous chuckle, I voiced polite disagreement. On the inside, I was frantically praying he was wrong. The job change had brought a lot of positive elements to my life, but the one negative was that since my due date was within the ninety day probation period, I didn’t qualify for a personal leave of absence or FMLA leave. I had submitted paperwork requesting ADA leave, and I was 99.9% sure that request would be approved, but I was still waiting to hear back from human resources. Without the approval for leave, it was possible I would be out of a job—and health insurance—very soon.

The doctor was still talking, so I forced the worries and uncertainty back and tried to focus on the present. “Do you have an appointment scheduled for next week?” he asked me.

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“Yes, on Thursday.”

He grinned. “I bet you a dollar you’ll have a baby long before then.”

I laughed again but hoped beyond hope I would make it to my due date of November 4, if not pass it entirely. I had waited for this baby. Now I needed her to wait for me.

After we left the appointment, we decided to go out to dinner since there was a strong possibility it would be our last chance to do so before the baby came. I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions with increasing regularity over the past few weeks. While they’re often touted as “painless,” I’d found them rather uncomfortable and worried I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between these practice contractions and real labor. That worry was unfounded—toward the end of dinner, a Braxton Hicks contraction ended as a real one began. Unlike a Braxton Hicks, which was really more like a menstrual cramp and involved a quick tightening of the abdomen, the pain from the real contraction was knife-like and moved down my back and through my stomach with a burning clarity. I thought back to my work situation—I’d followed up with HR before leaving early for my appointment—and thanked God the contractions weren’t regular, at least. It might be several days before I went fully into labor.  

On our way home, we discussed our various strategies for getting to the hospital depending on where and when labor began. Since he works six days a week and I work five, the chances seemed rather slim that we would be in the same place at the same time when it happened. We talked about whether I should drive to him or he should drive to me, and which of our workplaces might be most forgiving of us leaving a vehicle overnight. We ended the conversation with plans for the most likely scenarios, but I didn’t feel very confident about any of them.

Like many nights in my third trimester, I slept fitfully in the recliner in the living room. My midsection was so heavy and large that sleeping in a bed was entirely too uncomfortable to promote rest. Unlike the Braxton Hicks contractions, these new pains woke me from a deep sleep a scattered handful of times throughout the night. I panicked slightly, remembering that not being able to sleep through the pain was a sign of real labor, but they were still short and irregular, so I tried to relax and get more sleep. I finally gave up on resting and got up, intending to put a roast in the slow cooker before getting ready for work, but something told me not to worry about dinner just yet. Instead I joined my husband in our bedroom, where he held me and tried to provide some comfort as the pain grew worse and worse. In the middle of the most intense contraction yet, just as I was wondering how on earth I was going to survive a day at work if the pains kept coming, I felt a pop and a warm, wet sensation.

I threw my arm out and grabbed at my husband’s arm blindly, startling him out of his half-sleep in a manner not unlike the cold February morning I’d run out of the bathroom waving a positive pregnancy test.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Um…I think my water just broke.”

“Are you serious?” he asked.

I went to the bathroom to check, and quickly confirmed that my suspicions were correct. I was relieved to notice there didn’t seem to be any meconium in the fluid—one more complication I didn’t need to worry about. I tried not to panic. My leave still hadn’t been approved! At least I’d packed our hospital bag and loaded everything in the car earlier in the week.

But I couldn’t think about that right now. Because ready or not, I was having the baby.

“Well?”

“Yep, it definitely broke.”

He jumped out of bed and turned the lights on. “Do I have time to brush my teeth?”

I laughed. “Yes. Take a shower, too. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long day.”

“Okay.” He paused at the computer desk, picked up his wallet, riffled through the contents. “Good. I have a dollar to give the doctor we saw yesterday, if he’s the one on call.”

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He wasn’t the one on call. My least favorite doctor in the practice was, at least when I reached their answering service, but to my delight, my second-favorite doctor called me back. After telling him how far along I was and describing my symptoms, he told me to come to the hospital so he could take a look. Little did he know, we were already well on our way.

We spent hours in triage as the women’s center emergency room staff tried to confirm I was in labor. I was now dilated three centimeters, but my contractions were too irregular to count and they weren’t able to confirm my water had broken because none of their tests seemed to be working. They sent us to walk the halls, and after a few rounds of that my contractions moved from uncomfortable to almost unbearable. I managed to type out an email to the HR rep I’d been emailing with about my leave application and explained the situation. Just as I was returning to the triage area for a little rest, my phone buzzed—my leave had been approved the day before! If I hadn’t left work early for my appointment, I would have already had everything I needed.

My contractions intensified to the point where even standing was unbearable. Minutes before the doctor came around, I started crying. If this was false labor, I wanted nothing to do with the real thing.

The nurse led the doctor in and explained to him that she hadn’t been able to confirm that I’d ruptured. He took one look at me and said, “Oh, she’s ruptured. And how about this—she’s at five centimeters, and…” He consulted a printout. “Her contractions are five to seven minutes apart.” He looked at me and smiled. “You said on the phone you were an epidural kind of girl, right?”

“Right,” I said, panting.

He turned to the nurse. “Let’s get her epidural in and start her on a Pitocin drip. Call me when she’s comfortable.”

The nurses sprang into action. Amid the flurry of activity, I tried to adjust how I was laying on the stretcher and groaned. “I am so sick of being pregnant,” I grumbled.

My husband laughed. “Well, I have some good news for you.”

Once my epidural was in, everything calmed down. For the first time in months I was close to comfortable, I was hours away from meeting my daughter, and my leave from work had finally been approved. I was practically floating.

I progressed rather quickly to eight centimeters before stalling out. Baby ran from the monitor, like she always did, so they had to attach an internal monitor on the top of her head. Her heartrate dropped a few times, so I had to put on an oxygen mask for a while. I became nauseated, I suspected due to lack of food, and I was forever grateful for the nurse in training for bringing me a grape popsicle and letting my husband grab me a Sprite.

When the doctor came around to check on me later in the afternoon, I was at ten centimeters. My mother was waiting just outside—I’d asked her to come back and visit for a moment. In what has to be one of the most surreal moments of my life, he said, “Is that your mom out there? Let’s get her in here for a quick hug, and then it’s time to push.”

For nearly an hour, with my husband holding one leg and the nurse holding the other, we brought baby girl closer and closer to this side. I’ve never been physically fit or especially good at anything concerning my body, so it was surprising for me to hear from doctor and nurse alike that I was a great pusher.

The handful of contractions they told me to rest through were agonizing. My epidural had started to fade, and while the pain was severely dulled, I could feel waves of pressure rolling through my body so hard I thought they would crush me. Every cell of my being screamed push, push. I have never in my life had to fight so hard against my body’s natural instinct.

And then the doctor was in the room, trying to find a place to plug in his phone—“I’m sorry, but I can’t be on two percent when I’m on call!” I gestured to my husband and said “Give him my charger.” He was about to deliver my baby, it seemed like the least I could do. And then the room was filling with more people than I could fathom, pushing trays of instruments and removing the lower half of the bed and placing my legs on stirrups and pulling out the infant warmer on the wall. And then he said, “with this next push, you’ll meet your baby,” and I was digging my fingernails into the numb flesh of my knees, and even though I couldn’t feel much of anything below my waist I was screaming with the effort of pushing, pushing, pushing.

And then I wasn’t the only one who was screaming.

“Oh my gosh. Look at her. We made that.”

Nurse’s fingers unsnapping the gown from my shoulders and then a slippery, screaming baby on my chest. My baby. The baby I’d wanted for so long, and I couldn’t even focus on her face. I was too tired. Before I could do much more than touch her and laugh, whether in delight or relief I still can’t say, my husband cut the umbilical cord and then she was whisked away.

I was worried about her. She was small. So small.

“Well, you’re not bigger than a minute, are you?” the nurse cooed as she wiped her off, weighed and measured her. “Six pounds even, twenty inches long.”

“The placenta looks healthy and the cord placement was great,” the doctor said. “I think you just make small babies.”

I make small babies.

I made a baby.

A month later, that is still a tough one for me to wrap my mind around.

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While the doctor worked on putting me back together, they placed her back on my chest. My husband laughed.

“What?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”

“She just licked you,” he said.

I looked down. As she stared up at me with wide-eyed wonder, she was dipping her tongue in and out of her mouth. Just like we’d seen her do in no fewer than two ultrasounds. This really was my baby, the same one who’d been communicating with me for months with our own special version of Morse code.

I wanted to feel peace, love, joy. But all I felt was fear.

I looked into her curious eyes, so eager to take in the wide world around her, and it hit me. She was mine. Forever. For better or worse, whether I knew what I was doing or not, she belonged to me. And no matter how hard I try, I will never be the perfect mother she deserves. I will never be whole or complete or enough.

I wanted to be thinking warm fuzzy things, but I was terrified. The only words my brain could process were lyrics from a Nine Inch Nails song, looping through my mind in Johnny Cash's unmistakable gravelly bass: "I will let you down; I will make you hurt." The warm fuzzy things came crashing in later, once my body and mind synced up again, but that fear? It's always in the background. I'm not sure it will ever leave.

And in the thirty short days she's been alive, my fears have already come true. I've scrambled around in the middle of the night, blinded by lack of sleep and newcomer ignorance while she screamed screams laced with fear and betrayal, probably wondering why this person she's supposed to trust implicitly can't figure out she needs to eat or burp, or that the diaper she's wearing is crooked and chaffing her skin.

Every day is a little easier. Every day we become a little more fluent in one another's language. But I'm not sure I'll ever forget the times I've messed up, and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to let go of the dread I feel when I think of the future, and the mistakes lined up waiting to greet me as I travel through it.

I'm so grateful God granted us this mantle of parenthood, but it fits a little differently than I anticipated. It's messier and more complex than I could have imagined. It's not easy.

But it's good.

It's very, very good.