Dear Brittany and Brian,
So many details of October 9th, 2019 are fresh in your mind right now. You’ll be surprised in just another few months, or a year, how many of those details have slipped away. And then you’ll look back at a picture or you’ll run into a nurse at a grocery store, or you’ll smell a certain soap or chapstick you used that day, and you’ll be reminded of something you had since forgotten. I hope when that happens, you smile at the memory.
Will you remember in a year that you were supposed to get your hair cut or your dog groomed that day? I bet you’ll remember that you were supposed to take maternity photos. The irony in the moment made you laugh out loud.
I know you weren’t expecting October 9th to be the day you met your son. And I’ll bet, Brittany, you’ll never forget the feeling of that little “pop” inside you when you knew your water had broken. I’m sure it’s cemented in your mind that you had been watching The Food Network when you fell asleep on the couch, only to be awakened later by that unforgettable sensation. How about the way you paused before leaving your house that night? Remember the weighty expectation of what the day would bring as you thought to yourself, “I won’t be back here right away. My baby won’t be back here right away.” You knew your son was coming, and you knew your first weeks of parenthood would be a long road through the NICU. I hope a memory that stands out from this time is the way you and Brian were such a team through it all.
Before getting pregnant, you two lived in Chicago for a while. Brian, do you remember how Brittany convinced you to run the Turkey Trot with her there when she didn’t have other running buddies like she had back home? You were reluctant at first, but after completing your first race you said, “Wow, I can’t believe I did that!” Eventually you really enjoyed running together. Brittany shared that memory with me as she reflected on how you supported her throughout Connor’s birth. She said you’re a person who might take a little convincing and direction at first, but once you decide to be a part of something, you’re fully in it. That’s just the way you showed up for her during her labor. You were her running partner. Encouraging her, helping her cope, keeping her focused. In it to the finish line, together.
You were both amazed at the timeliness of our discussion just the night before labor began when we’d attended a group prenatal meeting together. At the very end, I had encouraged Brittany to practice mindfulness exercises with you, Brian, so that you would know how to coach her through them. I’d explained the importance for Brittany to be aware of her needs so that she could direct Brian in how best to support her during the time before going to the hospital.
As it turned out, those bits of advice helped you both work together better as you labored throughout the night. I had intended my suggestions to be for laboring at home, but because your water broke at thirty-four weeks you needed to go right to the hospital. Another memorable moment as Brian packed the bags to leave the house (with the list Brittany had already laid out because she’s so organized!) was when Brittany called me to explain what was happening. And I didn’t answer. She tried again, and I still didn’t answer. So until morning when I finally saw your messages, you had each other to rely on for comfort and physical support as each hour of labor passed by.
Brittany, you had a lot of back labor that night. I hope in the years to come, you’re able to forget that particular feeling! But luckily you had Brian there with you, rubbing your back, noticing areas where you were holding tension and reminding you to release it, and holding your hands. You bounced on the birth ball to ease the pain and help labor along as well as to keep yourself awake! You were both exhausted by sunrise, and you decided you needed some additional pain relief so that you could rest.
You will probably smile or laugh every time you hear those birds chirping on your “meditation” Pandora station as you remember the anesthesiologist who kept commenting on how much he liked the birds while he administered your epidural. Your music created such a peaceful atmosphere in your room, and almost everyone who entered your birthing space spoke softly and seemed to absorb the calm of the music.
Something I’ll always remember about your birth is standing in my kitchen thinking I had already missed everything. I felt terrible when I saw your messages and when I spoke to Brian who told me you were about to start pushing. But when I texted my husband to say “I’m missing a birth right now!” he told me to go anyway. “At least they’ll know you tried,” he said. I think we can all agree we’re thankful to him for that advice.
I arrived as you were talking with your nurse about about what may or may not happen immediately after Connor was born, depending on his behavior. Would you get to hold him skin-to-skin? Would the doctor be able to delay cord clamping? There was no way of knowing yet. Connor was at an unpredictable age; thirty-four weeks’ gestation marks major milestones like lung development and being ready to eat by mouth. He might be born seeming more like a full-term baby who is just small, or more like a premature baby who still has some big developments to complete. I admired how calmly you absorbed this information, Brittany. You seemed so restful, not just physically because of the epidural, but emotionally, too. You appeared to be in a very positive and focused mental space for your birth, and knowing that was a goal you had prior to labor, I could see that your mental strength had served you well that night.
As you began to try to push, you had no sensation at first of how to do it. Your nurse was supportive and patient and encouraged you to take your time, wait until you had the right feeling, and to try different positions. Your contractions had spread out quite a bit by this point, which at first offered you a nice reprieve, but later made you feel like you were in a race against the clock. Placing the peanut ball between your legs and pulling on it with your hands to imitate a squatting position helped you figure out how to push with the right muscles, and you were feeling pressure in your hips and back that we used the counterpressure of hip squeezes to help ease. Eventually, we learned why you were feeling all that hip and back pain, and probably why your contractions had slowed down: Connor was facing your belly instead of your spine, and he had his hand up on top of his head. The doctor said as she checked you at one point, “Oh, he’s trying to shake my hand!”
Connor’s position had him wedged behind your pubic bone, so we got more creative about position changes. The doctor wanted to start Pitocin because you had been fully dilated for three hours, but you didn’t want that. Your nurse supported you saying no as it was suggested time and again, and then when you asked to turn off the epidural first, she helped make that happen. Even though your fairly rapid labor had taken a harder turn at this point, you had overwhelming support in your decision-making from so many members of your team. I hope you remember feeling empowered to make the calls you wanted even in the face of opposition from one doctor. Even she came around eventually.
You stood your ground about the Pitocin for as long as you could. But then you were feeling cornered by the threat of a Cesarean delivery if you didn’t birth your baby by a certain time, so you chose to use the Pitocin to bring your contractions closer together so you could still birth Connor the way you wanted. This is probably a tough moment to remember. You felt anxious, and you cried as you weighed your decision. But then you were able to take ownership again and state what you wanted. It was still your decision. Your pushing became more effective, but you also became more visibly stressed about the pressure you felt to beat the clock. Those of us most constantly in the room encouraged you to forget about the deadline and not look at the clock. I covered your eyes with a washcloth. Even when you were worried Connor wasn’t budging at all, that same nurse you’d come to trust so well checked you and assured you he was moving. You were doing everything exactly right, and we were trying to help you believe that. We talked you through imagery of diving under waves to help you maintain your focus as you struggled to get the most use out of each contraction.
This was the part of the race when you staggered. You couldn’t tell whether the finish line was right around the corner or still a long way off. And then, when you were struggling to rally your strength and regain your focus, the one doctor who had seemed to be against your timetable came around the bed and whispered to you: “We are doing this your way. You’re in charge.”
Your beautiful boy was born at 12:32pm on Wednesday, October 9th, 2019. He weighed 5lbs and 2oz. You got to briefly have him skin-to-skin on your belly while the doctor waited to cut the cord. He took a few seconds to cry, and then with a little help from the skilled members of your team over at the warmer table he pinked up perfectly. By one hour old he was breathing just fine on his own and you were able to relax about that. You and Brian each got to hold him again before he moved into the NICU where he spent the next twenty-seven days. Now your sweet boy is home with you. You’re deliriously tired but also deliriously happy. You don’t know what day it is, and it doesn’t matter. Your family has come back home from what must have felt like a long night away, and you’re together again, at last.
Story and photos shared with the family’s permission.