A Labor of Love

“Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers- strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.”

—Barbara Katz Rothman

As a labor and delivery nurse with 8 years of experience in the field – I’ve seen every kind of birth. The beautiful ones, the scary ones, the long ones, the short ones, the ones that end wonderfully, and the ones that don’t. If I’m going to be totally honest, most of my pregnancy was filled with fear. Fear of the unknown, the change, the birth, and the aftermath. I have seen people in their brightest and darkest hours and I was preparing myself for the absolute worst.

I chose a career that allows me to be in peoples lives during their most life changing moments – while most of those moments are the beautiful ones that leave you speechless, some of those moments are ones that leave you feeling like you never want to walk back into work again. The last week of my pregnancy something occurred at work that made me feel like I couldn’t possibly give birth or stay a labor and delivery nurse any longer. The fear had reached a level I did not think it could. I was sad, angry, confused, and down right heartbroken.

I have a dear friend who is a yoga teacher and who fills a room with positive light and has an energy about her that is palpable and growing (if you don’t follow her journey you must – @livewellwithjanelle.) Her along with my midwife, coworkers, family, and husband carried me through the 9 months and last days of my pregnancy. I will never forget the day my midwife pulled me into an empty room at work, grabbed me by the shoulders, looked into my tear filled eyes and said, “manifest the beautiful birth you want to have.” This was on a Thursday, the day after this tragic event, and I was 37 weeks and 4 days pregnant.

While I can get down with the spirituality vibes and whole heartedly believe in manifesting – I won’t lie- it took me a solid 12 hours to let that statement sink in. I knew in order to get through the last two and half weeks of my pregnancy I would have to focus on the positives and learn some skills that would help me get through the upcoming weeks. Friday morning I worked a half day from 7-11 am and Janelle had said let’s do some yoga and meditation exercises before the weekend to help you cope with the week that is now behind you. I took a quick cat nap and then met up with Janelle for some yoga, stretching, and meditation. After our practice she lead me through a visualization exercise in which I was creating a space in my mind that would help bring me to a peaceful place. This was something we had been working on in previous weeks and honestly I didn’t think I would use this at all in my labor and delivery process. More on this later. I left there feeling in a much better place than I ever imagined. However the fears remained – I was so afraid that I wasn’t going to bond with my baby, that I would feel spiteful and miss my “previous life,” that I would spiral into depression, that I would have a horrific delivery, the list went on. I sat with these thoughts and instead of ruminating on them – I let them flow through my brain and then right on out. Onto the weekend I went.

At this point I’m 37 weeks and 5 days pregnant. Maybe I’ll pack our hospital bags this weekend, do a deep clean of the house, get organized, take some naps. Yes, you read that correctly- 37.5 and no hospital bags packed. If you’ve been following along for a bit now you know I am a lot of things, but being type A is NOT one of them.

Friday night rolled around and we decided to grab some dinner with our close friends. I ate until I felt physically ill, which unfortunately isn’t a shocker if you know me. Throughout my pregnancy I thankfully felt amazing. I never really had any side effects from being pregnant, but the back pain. WOOF! But this night the back pain was on another level.

Now you’d think being a labor and delivery nurse for all these years and taking care of laboring woman for all these years that I’d know when I was in labor. HA – Keep on reading kids.

As Walter and I are driving home from dinner I am complaining of back pain, and he’s probably thinking another night of me listening about this girls back pain. We get home and get ready for bed. My husband climbs in and has this wonderful skill of falling asleep before his head hits the pillow while I count sheep until I hit the thousands. I finish brushing my teeth and climb into bed. I roll onto my side and shove the pregnancy pillow between by thighs and I feel a pop. I could feel my heart beat in my throat. Did my water just break? I lay there for a solid 10 minutes in fear of moving. Finally I get up and start to walk into the bathroom. Now I say this because I have a terrible bladder. Have since a young age. I am not below being honest about the fact that I have trickle peed my pants for years, so when I get up and feel a slight trickle I wonder the question that is as old as time. Pee or did my water break?

I walk into the bathroom and sit on the toilet and think that couldn’t have been my water there really isn’t much. So I get back into bed. My heart is still racing. My mind is spinning. I lay down for 30 minutes and then I think omg, the hospital bags! If this is real I should pack them. So at around 11:30 pm I get out of bed, walk into the nursery, and start packing the baby’s bag. I start thinking if this is real then this could be the last time I’m in the house with just my Wally and I. The next time I come back here- there will be three.

I feel some contractions but that was no different than any other night. I was the crazy person who was doing spin classes until 37 weeks pregnant and walked the 10 mile road race in my hometown at 32 weeks pregnant. A side effect of being that crazy was mild braxton hicks contractions throughout most day and nights.

I don’t really know what I threw into that bag for this precious baby and I, but the bags were packed. My husband goes on a 2 week European trip and packs in a backpack so I wasn’t too worried about him.

I got back into bed and a few hours pass and I think I may have maybe fallen asleep, but maybe not. Then my husband gets up at 3 am to go to the bathroom and I am staring at him wide eyed asking him, “what are you doing?” He looks at me with groggy eyes and says, “I’m going to the bathroom, what are you doing?” “Oh nothing, I can’t sleep, I think my water may have broken.” He turns on every light in the bedroom and comes over to my side of the bed “WHAT!?” I reassure him that I’m not exactly sure but no matter what I don’t want to go to the hospital yet as it was 3 in the morning and my contractions were here and there and some hurt, but most didn’t. I had left work Friday morning and the floor was SO busy – I didn’t want to be the person to add to the work load. I texted a friend from work asking her if things had slowed down. She said it was better and she knew me texting at 3:30 am meant one thing only – I was in labor. She responds, “Why? Are you in labor!?” I respond, “I think my water may have broken, but I’m not sure?” She asks all the questions we tend to ask our patients. Clear fluid? Baby moving? How often are contractions? When do you think you’ll be here? I reassure her that fluid is clear, baby is moving, contractions are still irregular, and I’m going to stay home until at least change of shift which is at 7 am.

Going back to the whole I’m a labor and delivery nurse thing- you’d think I’d know. I think back now and can only laugh. What happens when your water breaks? You may feel a pop. What happens after that? You have a trickle and sometimes start contracting more frequently. I was textbook at this point and still I wasn’t sure. And you better believe – I wasn’t going to be the nurse who goes in thinking their water broke and it was pee.

Walter and I decide to lay down after he has turned on every light in the house, threw on a pot of coffee, and put a t-shirt, sweatpants, and a pair of boxers into his backpack. We shockingly fell asleep until about 6:30 am. I then text my work bestie Amanda, who I knew was working Saturday morning at 7 am. What she knew was she was probably going to be forced to come in for my labor anyways even if she wasn’t on. I told her she would possibly be tied up with a labor today, and she excitedly asked if it was me! I stuck with the same story. I think maybe my water may have broken? But I wasn’t sure. She said, “I’ll make my way in to see what Lori (my beautiful midwife) wants you to do.” Shortly after I get a text that I should make my way in. At this point I’m breathing quite heavily through contractions as my husband is looking at me with the widest eyes to date.

We pack up the car and drive away from our house. I can only think – is this the last time we’ll pull away without another friend in tow and are we really coming home with another person who will be living in this house with us? It is the strangest feeling.

Looking back now I also find that fear was not an emotion that was sitting with me besides for when I first suspected my water may had broken.

We get to the hospital- it is Saturday September 7th at 7:30 am and the air is crisp and the sky slightly cloudy. Amanda admitted me directly to a room, performed an amnisure (which is a test to detect whether my water had broken or not) and checked me. I was 3-4 cm. This wasn’t a shocker as I had been 3 cm since my appointment earlier that week. At this point my contractions are still quite manageable.

Shortly she comes back to tell me that I indeed hadn’t lost my mind and my water was ruptured, broken, whatever you want to call it. I was officially being admitted for labor. Still fear not entering my mind.

Around 9:30/10 am my contractions become quite uncomfortable and I am now on a labor ball breathing heavily through most contractions. Walter is calling the troops to let them know today was the day. My dad hops on a plane from Charleston, my mom pacing the streets of Narragansett, and his family hanging locally for the updates.

Now my midwife and labor nurse Amanda both delivered their children naturally. They were trying to convince me that I could do it! “You just ran the NYC marathon 10 months ago and if you can do that you can definitely deliver without an epidural.” If you know me you know I was ready to sign my c-section paperwork at 6 weeks gestation. Delivering naturally is NOT my thang! But to the woman that can do it… holy hell you have my praise! So when Amanda snuck off to have breakfast I decided I would give myself my fluid bolus for epidural. I’m sure I was the 1st nurse in the history to give herself her own fluid bolus before her epidural. Psycho I know.

I got my epidural around 11 and finally was able to rest. Shortly after the epidural I knew my blood pressure had dropped as I had that weird I might pass out dreamy feeling. There was the fear entering my mind. What happens if something happens to me, if my low blood pressure makes the heart rate drop and it doesn’t come up. What tool did I start using? Not the deep breathing or the meditation I thought I would lean back on, but the visualization and guided imagery exercises. I took myself to that calm, peaceful, and “in control” place I had created in my mind. Within minutes the fear was gone. It wasn’t until later that I fully processed how amazing it was.

At some point nana showed up at the hospital because she was so nervous. After a quick look at me she knew I was ok and was able to remove herself from the room. At some point around 3 pm I was about 6 cm, Amanda left and my work mom Annie stepped in. Things were so blurry at this point. Now it’s about 5 pm and I am feeling so much pressure. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Put the call bell on, Lori and Annie come in. I am 10 cm. OMG! Here I am thinking I would be the girl in labor for days because you know, nurse curse, but I am fully dilated and it’s not even dinner time yet.

We start pushing. Most first time moms push for 2 hours. I say this almost every day to my laboring patients at work. It isn’t until you’re in the bed you realize how long 2 hours really is. I pushed for abut 30 minutes before I said turn the epidural off I want to be able to feel more and be done with this! At the 40 minute mark of pushing I was exhausted. I could not believe how hard it was! I was in completely shock and couldn’t process conversation, time, or events. Mind you as I said previously I ran the New York City Marathon 10 months prior to this day. That was hard- this was harder! Much harder!

It finally got the point where they could see the baby’s head. My sweet Wally was so excited, so amazing, and such an incredible cheerleader. Everyone couldn’t stop talking about how much hair this baby had. Now I have always loved a fat and hairy baby at work. I could go with the hair, but please don’t be fat little baby! Mind you I was monitored for size my entire pregnancy. We were expecting a peanut. I was 9 lbs 8 oz and my brother was 10 lb 10 oz – I avoided carbs like the plague after 20 weeks. I couldn’t have a 9 or 10 pounder!

If someone told me one more time that it was so close. I was going to punch them. Finally everyone prepared and out came our baby. After turning off the epidural half way through pushing I could basically feel everything- NOT enjoyable.

It was a surprise baby and I would have bet my life it was a little boy. Lori held the baby up over me and I lifted the leg and saw…. A VAGINA! A GIRL!? I screamed… “ITS A GRACIE!” I pulled her onto my chest and felt beyond relieved that the hardest endurance exercise I had ever done was over. I couldn’t process anything beyond that. While tears filled our room – I couldn’t feel more blessed. I had just birthed my daughter and it was one of the beautiful short ones that ended beautifully. My Wally looked at me, hugged and kissed me, and said “You’re amazing. Did you look at her? She’s REALLY cute.” That will forever be engrained into my mind. His little girl on his favorite girls chest, and he couldn’t have been more proud and excited.

At 6:13 pm on September 7th, 2019 my life changed forever. I locked eyes with my new best friend and knew that everything was going to be ok. I loved her, I cherished her, I wanted to protect her, and that was all that mattered. My whole world would change and evolve, but I would love every single minute moving forward. Those minutes moving forward wouldn’t all be easy but damn would they be worth it. There is no way to describe this to anyone else, and while I’ve heard it a million times before- parenthood is amazing and you can’t quite understand it until you’re there.

All the other cliche things they say? Those are all true too. Time flies, there is no love like it, it is exhausting but it is worth it.. No one can prepare you for how humbling the whole experience really is.

So what have I gathered in my first year as a mother? Honestly I could go on endlessly – but for now I’ll leave you with just a few.

1.) Ain’t no tribe like the mama tribe – so many of my thoughts, opinions, and fears revolved around how much mom shaming is out there. Before I had my daughter I could never believe what people had the nerve to say about another parent. Parents who had never walked a mile in another persons shoes had too much to judge and criticize. Yet when I had Gracie I was inspired by the endless moms (and dads) who approached me and went out of their way to do and say things that made me feel like I wasn’t alone and there was a tribe of us out there in this wild ride together. No one can quite understand the highs, lows, and the beautiful disaster that is parenthood. Get it together people – it really isn’t that hard. And if you haven’t lived in someone else’s house – please don’t even comment! Just be a good human.

2.) It really does take a village – I can’t tell you how many times I have picked up the phone and called a family member or friend and they helped me find my sanity, a meal, a glass of wine, a hug, a good cry, or a GD break. These are the people that love you when you forget to call, are cranky, and are running an hour late. It took me a little while to realize that I wouldn’t be able to do this thing called parenting alone, and to actually be able to pick up the phone and ask for help. If I can offer one bit of advice- don’t be ashamed to ask for a hand. Our parents asked for help, their parents asked for help, and I sure hope my Gracie girl picks up the phone and asks for help when she is in need! By the way – most people will run at the chance to hang with your baby!

3.) My body (image) will never be the same – I’m not one of those people that really ever put much thought or care into how I look. If you know me I know you’re laughing. Even when I had time – I never did my hair or wore make up. I don’t own a blow dryer and use a hair brush 3xs a year. I’ve always worked out and been mindful of what I put into my body – but it isn’t an obsession. Fast forward to now – you’re lucky if I remember to change my undies kids. I have skin hanging in areas I never thought, I have 10 lbs that I can’t seem to drop, I pee when I laugh, and I can’t freakin find the time to do that home work out. I won’t lie – I have to remind myself (sometimes often) that I have a 1 year old and there is a global pandemic wrecking havoc on our world. Mama – your baby doesn’t care about your hair, the extra 10 pounds, or the lack of effort put into how you look. They care that they are fed, happy, and cared for. If you’re doing your best then don’t even think twice about second guessing the way you look.

4.) Time flies when you’re having… fun, sleep deprived, crying, feeding constantly, and chasing your tail. Oh man, the first year of motherhood. It’s wild. I remember in the first few weeks after Gracie was born I was SO JEALOUS of the people in my neighborhood with all their lights off sleeping. It is so exhausting in the beginning – I wasn’t prepared for it. I was tired, overwhelmed, and couldn’t find the time to refill a glass of water and grab an apple. Yet I can’t explain how it felt to watch her face as that little gummy smile took over her face and listen to as her laughter filled our living room. Everything was so new and fun. Looking back now those first few weeks feel like a lifetime ago and they flew by, but when you’re in it you feel like tomorrow will never come. The first year has FLOWN BY- I feel like I should have a 6 month old. Our pediatrician just told us the years just keep going by faster, and I can only imagine it to be true. Mentally letting that sink in, and especially on the tough days. I know it may hard to hear but enjoy the little moments as one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big moments. Those late night and early morning feeds, fussy evenings, long days- I know I’ll think back to those days when she is off at college and can’t call me back and I’ll miss those times together.

5.) You will love, adore, cherish, honor, respect, uplift, and appreciate everything this child is. Probably not every minute, but dang some moments it will take your breath away and bring tears to your eyes. I am so humbled by the whole experience. How blessed we are to have conceived a child, given birth, and are able to watch this little girl blossom every single day. There are so many people out there in the world who dream of this and pray for these moments, don’t take them for granted, and be mindful of that when you open your mouth. Know you will have days that you miss what you used to have or have days that feel harder than others, but know how blessed you are to be on this journey. This love is like no other and to know that I have experienced this love for one whole year is honestly more than I could have ever asked for. It blows me away on almost a daily basis. That being said I can’t tell you how important it is to put yourself and your partner at the forefront of your mind. Make time for yourself and if something doesn’t feel right find someone to talk to even if its a professional, and if something still doesn’t feel right don’t be ashamed to take medications. I always tell my clients and patients – mental health first. This goes for everything – feeding, sleeping, career, child care, the list goes on. Do what feels right and trust your gut! You may have to try a few different things before you find what works. The first year is all trial and error and phases. Life is all a phase. If one phase sucks, don’t worry the next phase is around the corner!

I could go on and on but I’ll finish up here. Three hundred and sixty six days of Grace Marie and I just can’t get enough!

Thanks as always for being on the journey

XOXO GANSETT GAL

What do you feel you have gathered in your motherhood days?

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