We waited too long.
I didn’t realize my labor had started the night before. While I sat on the couch watching TV, I kept getting a dull pain in my lower back that came in waves. Without giving it much thought, I went to bed.
I was 38 weeks pregnant with a baby I knew would have bilateral clubfoot. The Down syndrome marker that showed up on ultrasound seemed like a distant memory, and my thoughts centered on wondering if it was a boy or girl, and worrying about how I would deal with clubfoot casting appointments and lack of sleep when my two older kids were constantly fighting.
As usual, I woke about 3am to pee, and during the trip from bedroom to bathroom and back I had about 3 contractions. “Braxton Hicks contractions,” I thought, and went back to bed.
At 5:15am I awoke to more intense contractions that were coming every 5-10 minutes. As I washed my face, combed my hair, and put on some makeup, my 4-year-old daughter E joined me in the bathroom. “I think your baby brother or sister is going to be born today,” I told her.
I debated whether to wake up Daddy or to call my parents to warn them they would need to take E and Bud, but managed to wait until a little after 6am for both while I packed up the little that was left for my hospital bags.
My first two labors lasted 19 hours and 14 hours, and since I erroneously thought my labor had started at the earliest 3am, I was counting on a day of labor. I dutifully recorded the start times of my contractions in a notebook on the kitchen counter between waking up Daddy, calling my parents, and putzing around the house.
Within the next half hour, I looked at my notebook and was a bit shocked to realize my contractions were 2-3 minutes apart. I called the midwife.
After describing my labor symptoms, she said, “You need to come to the hospital right now.” I asked, “Do you think I would have time to drop my other kids off first?” (My parents’ house was 30 minutes from our house, then 30 minutes from the hospital.)
“No, you really don’t,” she asserted.
As my husband packed up the car and the kids, I ate a bowl of cereal. A little after 7am we finally left the house. We had to take the interstate for the 45 minute drive to the hospital, and then drive into the center of a mid-sized city during rush hour. I started to get really nervous.
The contractions were so intense that I would rise out of my seat, close my eyes, and grip the door handle tightly as I breathed through each one. This was accompanied by my children asking me questions, arguing, or chattering excitedly, along with Daddy’s attempts to placate them so I wouldn’t need to answer. Once in a while I spoke, only to be hushed mid-sentence by the rising pain.
We entered the city and sat through multitudes of red lights as we approached the hospital. When we got to the nearest intersection and the light turned red yet again, with the hospital in view I nearly opened the car door and ran the remaining block. The light turned green and Daddy lead-footed it to the hospital. Through a wave of pain, I gestured to the main entrance and instructed him to drop me off.
I hobbled into the doors and was relieved to see an attendant standing nearby. I pointed at a wheelchair and managed to force out the word, “triage!” She helped me into the wheelchair and whisked me towards the elevators. As she walked she said, “I’m glad you had someone drop you off a the door. That was smart! Just last week someone had her baby on the floor of the parking garage because they tried to park first.”
She dropped me off at triage and the nurse there pointed me towards the last of the three beds separated by curtains. I paced beside the bed, breathing with the contractions that were one on top of the other. When the midwife came in, she said I would need to lay down and I was doubtful of my ability to do so. I managed it, and she checked my my cervix. Ten centimeters. Fully dilated. Ready to push.
Next was a flurry of activity. Luckily the room across the hall was open, so the nurse led me in there and I headed towards the bathroom while she assembled the team and located the birthing supply cart. I kept my blue maternity shirt on, took my bottoms off and threw on one of those lovely green birthing robes.
When I walked out of the bathroom, my kids were sitting on the couch in my labor suite.
They looked darling sitting there with their juice boxes and graham crackers. My husband had gone back to the car to get more stuff. He was thinking back on my previous births too, figuring we had hours before the baby would be born. And I was standing there about ready to push, looking at my kids sitting innocently in the room with me.
A nurse walked in and I led her into the bathroom. I cried, “Somebody has got to get those kids out of here!” My mom was on her way but hadn’t arrived yet, so a nurse took my children to a waiting room and got them some coloring books to occupy them until their Granny arrived.
Once the kids were taken care of, I started feeling the urge to push. The midwife was nearly ready with supplies and backup, and she asked me where I wanted to have this baby. I looked at the bed, and could not for one second imagine climbing into it. Or laying on it. Or birthing a baby on it.
I had read a few articles about the squatting position and how effective it is for pushing, and (between contractions) asked her where would be the best spot to try a modified stand/squat. Looking around, the most logical place was the toilet. She said, “It certainly wouldn’t be the first time!” The toilet was clean, they were able to cover it with barriers, and had handles on the sides for me to grasp.
The nurses instructed Daddy to support my back and hold me up while I pushed, and he did so dutifully. He didn’t realize just how much effort that took until the next day when his muscles were stiff with soreness.
By the time Kyle was born at 8:21am, we had only been at the hospital for 30 minutes. He came into this world swift and loud, which I think on with smiles because it is just so fitting for my Kyle.
The next moments were a fog. My first glance was at baby’s lower half and was surprised to see his tiny penis. I thought the pregnancy signs had pointed more towards girl.
My second glance was at Kyle’s face. I saw his eyes–slits slanting upwards. I saw his flat nasal bridge and his tiny low ears. And I knew instantly: my baby boy has Down syndrome. I became quiet as the fog enveloped me.
I had settled into a sitting position and the midwife handed Kyle to me. Instead of cradling him in the crook of my arm, he stretched across my arms while I supported his head and legs in my hands. I was afraid to move, afraid I would drop him. As we waited for the placenta, I was aware of the activity around me and of my husband standing to my left. I didn’t know if he had noticed Down syndrome. I didn’t say a word.
We don’t have many pictures from that morning. In his rush, Daddy had left bags in the car that he assumed we wouldn’t need until after the birth, and one contained the camera. However, that moment of looking down at Kyle while nurses and Daddy surrounded me in a supportive cloud will be burned forever in my memory.
I still don’t know why I didn’t say anything out loud about Kyle’s Down syndrome, despite knowing with 100% certainty from first glance. I think I needed that moment. It was my moment alone with Kyle and his diagnosis before it became real to the world. Before I had to share him with everyone else and hand him off for all of the necessary tests.
I am glad I didn’t know about Down syndrome. I am glad that the blood test results put my mind at ease and took away my worry for the remaining 17 weeks of my pregnancy. I am glad I got to have my moment with Kyle, and to realize he has Down syndrome while holding his beautiful, slippery, perfect body in my arms.
Happy birthday, Kyle.