Most of Nov. 15 is stored in my memory as a blur. I was awake for almost the entire day, my body working harder than it ever had before. Nerves were high, emotions were higher, but the promise of holding my little girl got me through.
I guess Allison's birth story begins the day before. Jerry and I attended our week 41 appointment and were happy to learn that the equipment I had been hooked up to for a fetal non-stress test was measuring contractions.
Granted, I wasn't really feeling them, but it was a start.
They progressed throughout the day, even stopping me short a few times when we went out to lunch and ran a few errands afterward. By that evening, we started timing them -- about three minutes apart, 45 seconds long. I shrugged and decided to go to bed.
When I woke up about two hours later from the uncomfort of being nine months pregnant, the contractions continued. I timed them as I killed time by writing. They were increasing in strength and frequency. When they were a minute long and three minutes apart, I couldn't take it anymore. I woke Jerry about 1 a.m.
"Are you ready to be a father today?" I asked him.
His eyes opened wide and he just grinned and nodded. Then he shot into action, calling the doctor to say we were on our way to the hospital.
The ride was quiet and uneventful in the dark. I hadn't eaten anything since 2 p.m. the day before, so I asked Jerry to stop and get me a plain bagel from a local convenience store. Wanting to peruse the juice selection myself, I opted to go in and muster through contractions near the coolers before settling on cranberry.
Without any traffic, the ride went quickly. We pulled up to the emergency entrance and I told Jerry to park because I could walk. I had already learned to wait for a contraction to end, then make my next move.
We checked in and were wheeled up to a labor and delivery room. A woman named Kim introduced herself and said she would be our nurse for the evening. I somehow managed to get into a gown and find my way to the bed where Kim measured me at three to four centimeters dilated. I could've jumped for joy. We were having a baby.
Jerry had already called both of our parents and they were on the way. The nurse instructed me to walk around the hallways for an hour before she would check me again for progress.
It wasn't easy. I was tired and hungry, but running on adrenaline. Jerry's mother arrived as we took laps around the nurses' station and fell into pace behind us. When a contraction hit, I gripped a wooden rail along the wall, put my forehead against the cool wallpaper and breathed through it as Jerry rubbed my back.
Surely the labor was progressing, I thought.
An hour later proved otherwise. Kim said there hadn't been any change. Discouraged, but determined, I somehow managed to walk another hour. My fingers were swollen, my eyes heavy, but I shuffled along at a snail's pace, hoping and praying that gravity would help.
It didn't. Kim explained that she had messed up my first exam. I wasn't dilated to a three or four. In fact, I was still only one or two centimeters. She apologized profusely, but it didn't matter. I wanted to shove my swollen hands in her mouth just to shut her up so I could cry.
She called the doctor who said to send me home. I felt so foolish. I didn't want to be the idiot first-timer who came to the hospital prematurely. My parents were on their way from New York. They were going to be so disappointed. I wanted to crawl under the scratchy hospital sheets and just sleep it off.
But we had to leave. I just kept saying how sorry I was as I squinted through the pain of another contraction. The nurse had said they could continue for up to a week like that. The mere thought of consistent pain with no progression made me question my ability to handle it. Maybe I wasn't strong enough. I certainly didn't feel up to it at that point.
With Jerry's help, I forced my legs to carry me out. As Jerry filled in his mother who had been in the waiting room, I called my parents to tell them to turn around.
"We're here," my mom said.
And before I could answer, the elevator door opened and they were standing in front of me.
I kept my eyes on the ground and hung my head. I couldn't look at either of them because I knew what little strength I had left would drain out of my toes.
My mom hugged me and told me it would be alright. A nurse encouraged me to get into a wheelchair and helped us navigate our way through the empty hallways. The sun was starting to come up.
The drive home was long and frustrating. I got mad. My contractions continued to get more painful even while I was resting -- a sure sign of labor.
"This is bullshit," I said.
As soon as we got home, I crawled into bed and curled into the fetal position as each contraction hit. I have no idea how I managed to sleep, but I got at least an hour or two of rest.
By 9 a.m., I couldn't take the pain anymore. I remembered our childbirth class instructor saying that a hot shower often helps, so I hobbled to the bathroom as everyone else slept off the long night.
The water turned my skin red, but I found little relief. I put my head against the smooth tiles when a wave of pain came and practiced my breathing. Then I crawled back into bed and moaned when the mood struck.
Eventually, I woke Jerry.
"I don't know what to do," I said. "My contractions are steady and strong, but I honestly can't bear to be sent home again. It would crush me."
So I decided to wait it out. My mom brought me watery oatmeal that I declined, then a piece of toast that I also declined. I couldn't eat. The thought of it nauseated me.
"I think you should call the doctor," my mom said. "Just to get some advice."
So I did. I was forwarded to a midwife and explained my situation.
"Here's what I tell my patients," she said. "If you're doubled over in pain, you need to get to the hospital."
It gave me pause. I wasn't exactly doubling over, but it wasn't any picnic either. I thanked her and decided to wait it out a little longer.
Eventually, it became clear that I needed to get to the hospital again.
Jerry loaded up the car with all of our bags for the second time and pulled around to the front door. My mom helped me into the passenger seat then sat behind me to rub my shoulders through the contractions. My dad followed in their car.
I spent most of the ride with my eyes squinted closed, digging my nails into the palms of my hands and breathing, breathing, breathing.
By the time we got to the hospital, I could barely speak or move. As a nurse wheeled me to the elevator -- the same one I had left on just a few hours earlier -- I couldn't stop tears from streaming down my face. I was sore, scared, excited and anxious.
"It's so interesting to watch people's faces as we pass," Jerry said. "The older women smile, and the younger women look terrified."
Even as uncomfortable as I was, I was happy he could be my eyes. That's the exact type of observation I would've made if I had been physically able to.
When we reported to the nursing station, they asked my name. I could barely get it out, but managed to squeak "Kelly" as the tears continued streaming down my cheeks.
We were informed there weren't any more rooms available, so we were escorted into what Jerry referred to as a "broom closet." It was just big enough to fit a cot-like bed and a single cart of equipment.
The nurse introduced herself as Alisha and I didn't know then that she would be my favorite part of my delivery experience. She is the most senior nurse on staff and had a good sense of humor mixed with a take-charge attitude -- exactly what I needed to get me through.
"You're in active labor, honey," she said. "Did you take prenatal classes?"
"Move on to the next breathing technique. It'll help."
She coached me through it and Jerry joined in. When I moaned on the exhale, Alisha reprimanded.
"That won't help you," she said. "Keep going. ... That's it."
Somehow I managed to undress and get on the bed. Alisha announced that I was five centimeters dilated, had done most of my hard laboring at home and would definitely be having a baby today.
"We're cleaning a room for you right now."
I smiled and asked for pain relief.
The next hour occurs to me in snippets. I know there was a lot of poking and prodding -- an IV drip for fluids because I was dehydrated, someone else took a blood sample -- but I didn't really feel any of it. I just concentrated on listening to Jerry help me with my breathing.
After what seemed like an eternity later, the anesthesiologist arrived. As I followed instructions and hung my legs over the side of the bed, arching my back and tucking my chin to my chest, Jerry asked me one more time if I was sure about the decision.
I just looked him deep in the eyes and said, "YES."
And it was the right choice. Besides the almost complete and total pain relief, I felt lucid again for the first time in hours. I would be able to remember and participate in my daughter's birth. My parents came into the room and we talked as the fetal monitors continued to display my waves of contractions, but I couldn't feel a thing.
Alisha examined me again and said I'd be ready to push very soon. The doctor broke my water with a tiny hook that reminded me of a crochet needle. It was the oddest sensation. A gush of warm.
By 5 p.m. Alisha started coaching me. Her interns were busy with another new mom, so she asked Jerry and my mom to each grab a leg until they arrived.
The thought of that at one point would've horrified me, but a delivery room is no place to be modest. In fact, it felt comforting that they would be able to participate so closely in Allison's birth. The interns never took over.
I pushed for three hours. It was the most physically demanding work I've ever done in my entire life. Although the nurse said I was pushing expertly, Alli was very far up in the birth canal and I had more distance to cover than most.
When the baby's heart rate began to drop, Alisha got the doctor. He explained that it wasn't bouncing back after a contraction as quickly as he would like. He started to discuss options such as using a vacuum and possibly a C-section.
Although I wasn't able to communicate at that point out of exhaustion and because the pain relief was wearing off, Jerry took control and started asking all of the questions I had rattling around in my head.
As if the word "Cesarean" wasn't incentive enough to push harder, the thought of him putting a giant suction cup on my baby's head sent me over the edge. I mentally refused, summoned a power deep within me I didn't know I had and willed myself to get her out without any intervention.
The final few pushes were so exhausting, my arms would collapse back onto the bed like they belonged to someone else far away. But the verbal encouragement from Jerry and my mom as I made even a slight progression, forced me to continue. Everyone else in the room was rooting me on, but Jerry and my mom had something personally invested in this child, and I could hear it in their voices. They wanted me to succeed as much as I wanted me to.
Once her head was out, I felt a wave of accomplishment. One final small push and the rest of her followed. They hoisted her onto my chest and I can't possibly describe what went through my head at that moment. Shock. Love. Surprise. Feeling incredibly, incredibly grateful and blessed.
It didn't matter that she was goopy and screaming. She was beautiful. And huge. I couldn't believe something that big had just been inside me moments earlier.
I just stared and cried as the nurses toweled her off. When they placed her in a warmer next to my bed to examine her, I couldn't take my eyes off her. I had a daughter. I was a mom.
The doctor congratulated me and tugged out the placenta, which felt like a huge relief. Being overly curious, I asked Alisha if I could see it. She brought it over in a tray and flipped it from side to side. I decided it was definitely gross, but also amazing. Without it, a baby couldn't grow.
I had a second-degree tear, but couldn't feel it as the doctor stitched me up. Maybe it was because I was numb, but I think it had something to do with the fact that they placed Alli in a blanket and cap and handed her back to me.
Her eyes were wide open. Her hair. Oh my God, her hair. Her lips. Her cheeks. Her chin.
I know I passed her around eventually, but that moment will be frozen in time as long as I have the ability to summon the memory.
It was the moment I had been praying and waiting and working for.
And she exceeded any expectations I had.