Remi burst into the world at 5:58 AM on September 1, 2016, weighing just under 7 lb, 3 oz and measuring 19.5 inches long. She’s incredible and smart and perfect and Waffle and I are deeply smitten.
For about three weeks before I went into labor, I’d been having pre-labor contractions in the evening. I’d go to bed and wake up to find the contractions had passed while I was sleeping. I had other pre-labor symptoms, too, including my bloody show, but none of them progressed to actual labor.
On the evening of August 30th around 9 p.m., a week and a half past my due date, I started feeling the familiar uterine cramps and lower back pain. I was scheduled to be admitted for an induction at 8 p.m. the next day and I’d somewhat given up hope that I’d go into labor spontaneously. However, these contractions seemed to be coming at more regular intervals than the pre-labor contractions I’d had in the past. I surreptitiously opened the contraction timer app on my phone and started monitoring.
After an hour, I spoke up. “Babe,” I said to Waffle, “I’m having contractions again. But they’re coming 15 minutes apart and they’re, like, 30-to-45 seconds long. This might be it.” I monitored for another hour and the contractions were still coming at regular intervals. We decided to go to bed right then in case it was the real deal. Labor was going to start the next day, anyway, whether Baby T. Rex came on their own or was coaxed out with Pitocin. Maybe Baby T. Rex was a procrastinator like me, waiting until the last possible second to avoid induction.
At 4:30 a.m., I woke up still having contractions. They were coming faster and stronger. I got up, went to the bathroom, and started timing. They were 10 minutes apart, then eight minutes. At 5:30 a.m., they were coming six or seven minutes apart and I decided to take a shower.
I heard Waffle come into the bathroom. “You alright?” he asked sleepily from the other side of the shower curtain.
“They’re coming faster now,” I said, “Like, six minutes apart.”
“So this is real?”
“I think maybe, yeah.”
I got out, dried off, and put on a loose-fitting black dress. Waffle was tense. His nervous concern was not well-masked by his forced smile. “I’m going to call Christy,” I said.
Christy, our doula, told us to call her when I thought I was in labor, because the plan was to do early labor at home. Christy gave me some tips for coping with the contractions. She said to call again when I couldn’t talk or walk through them. She said that Waffle might notice before I did when my mood shifted. Meanwhile, Christy worked on getting coverage so she or a backup doula could meet up with us. We were pretty far past my due date and of course it just happened to be a day when she had a bunch of appointments and commitments.
I turned on the TV. The contractions were regular, but not too painful at first. As they became stronger, I had the urge to stand up and walk them off. I began to have to actively breathe through them. I tried to remember what I could from our childbirth class. I used the door frame for support as I leaned into the tightness in my lower abdomen.
Waffle started loading our hospital bags into the car. He got me a heating pad. Every couple minutes he’d ask if I was OK. He followed me from room-to-room when I got up to walk. He was quietly panicking and not hiding it well.
Between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., the contractions progressed from six minutes apart to two minutes apart, lasting 60-90 seconds. I anticipated I’d stay in the five-minute range for longer. I assumed we’d have a few hours at home before I would go to the hospital. However, according to the literature I’d read, two minutes apart was more typical of active labor, when the cervix dilates from four to ten centimeters. Most hospitals want you to call when you’re five minutes or two minutes apart.
At 8 a.m., the contractions were still coming two minutes apart and they were more painful. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law had very quick labors and I wondered if I should be more concerned, if I was going to keep progressing this quickly. I couldn’t talk through the pain at this point and I felt like I couldn’t breathe each time a contraction crested. The lower back pain was becoming unbearable, even with a heating pad. I had to grip the couch or lean over a chair when I felt one coming. I told Waffle to call Christy.
Christy suggested I get in the shower for relief and that Waffle call the midwives. Waffle called the midwifery group and told them what was going on. I stripped off my dress and got in the shower, turned the water on scalding hot. I let the water run over me and leaned against the wall, moaning through the pain. Waffle said he could hear me from downstairs. The midwives instructed us to come to the maternity center. They seemed concerned that my contractions were already two minutes apart.
The five-minute car ride to the hospital maternity center was awful. I typically drive, but obviously I couldn’t. Waffle was stressed out. I was stressed out. I kept snapping at him to follow the GPS when he asked me for directions. Waffle thought I was going to give birth in the car. I assured him I wouldn’t as I gritted my teeth through a contraction.
I didn’t want to spend a long time laboring at the hospital. I would have stayed at home slightly longer if my contractions hadn’t progressed so quickly. Or if I could have waited long enough for Christy to make it to our house and coach me through the pain. But that’s not the hand we were dealt.
When I got to the maternity center, a nurse hooked me up to a monitor in their triage room. My cervix was only two centimeters dilated. Even though my contractions were two minutes apart, which is more typical of active labor, I was still in early labor. They could have sent me home. Since I was scheduled to be induced that night anyway, they decided to admit me. I was glad to be admitted. I couldn’t walk during the contractions and I had to hang off Waffle’s neck and lean into him and sway to get through them. I hoped things would continue to move quickly.
Christy met up with us at the hospital. Thank god. Having a doula was the best decision we made. She provided support to both of us and was an instantly calming influence on Waffle. She knew the hospital and was friendly with the staff. She had the experience of assisting with over 150 births and she’d seen most anything from home births to C-sections. She came up with ingenious ideas we wouldn’t have on our own, like making a sling out of a pillowcase to keep my hand with the IV out of the bathtub or wrapping the birthing ball in a bedsheet so it wouldn’t roll away. She suggested positions and helped me breathe through the pain and always, always listened to what we wanted.
When we had to make decisions about medical intervention, she talked through it with us and assured us we were doing what was best for us and for Remi. We both had a better labor experience because Christy was there. Waffle was an incredible support person in no small part because he had a support person in our doula.
I won’t go into the grisly blow-by-blow details of the rest of my early labor, partially because I don’t want to turn this into a fifty-thousand-word post. The contractions continued to be painful and long and one-to-two minutes apart, but my cervix was very slow to dilate. At 4 p.m., about eight hours since I’d been admitted, the midwife came to check my cervix and I’d just finally made it to four centimeters. I was laid out in the jacuzzi tub screaming through contractions and had been for a few hours at this point. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I was still so far from the finish line. Christy reminded me that each contraction was moving me forward as I turned onto my side in the tub and wailed into a makeshift hand towel pillow.
Five hours later, at 9 p.m., my cervix was finally seven centimeters dilated, making the beginning of the transition stage of active labor. The midwife assured me it would start moving faster now, as this stage usually lasts 15 minutes to an hour. However, two hours later, I was still at eight-and-a-half centimeters, curled into the fetal position on my left side and feeling unable to stand or move. I could barely talk between contractions. I continuously moaned and vocalized. (According to Waffle, the low moaning noises I made sounded like the theme from Jaws.) The pain never subsided, just gradually built into a ferocious stabbing pain and came back down to a moderate pain level for a minute or so in between. The back labor felt like a knife being twisted under my skin.
Over the course of the long day, I learned to breathe through the contractions, to keep my moans and sobs low and guttural, to conserve my energy as best I could in the minute or so of relief between contractions, to visualize the pain subsiding with each outward breath. The contractions were actually more painful earlier in the day, but my body was so worn down that each contraction felt more and more impossible. I’d been awake for almost 20 hours and working through very emotionally and physically intense contractions for almost 16. I was shaking and cold and exhausted. “I can’t do this,” I whisper-whimpered to Waffle.
I pride myself on having a high pain tolerance. I wasn’t nervous about pain during labor because I felt confident I could handle it. I had no idea how hard it would be. The pain, itself, would have been manageable on its own or for a shorter period of time. However, with relentless contractions coming two minutes apart for so long, it became torturous.
I’ve never before been pushed to my topmost limit, to the very edge of my physical threshold. I made noises that were pulled up from this primal, earthy place, that didn’t sound like they were actually coming from me. I grabbed Waffle’s hand and arm so hard I left bruises and dragged his skin off with my nails. I whimpered. I shrieked. I made sobbing noises, but I couldn’t cry. It was too much effort to cry and all my focus was on making it through the contractions. I kept chanting in my head, Just make it through this one. Just one more. Just one more. Just one more.
By 11 p.m., though, I felt like I couldn’t take one more. I dreaded each contraction as I felt it start to build. “You can do this,” Christy assured me, “Breathe through it. You’re doing great.” I kept breathing. I held Waffle’s hand. I took each contraction as it came because I didn’t have a choice. I felt like I might be in transition forever.
At this point, the midwife offered pain management options. I’d really wanted to have a natural birth, but my birth plan was always open to me changing my mind or things going differently. Part of me, the stubborn part, felt like I’d been doing this so long that I wanted to see it through to the end. The other part of me, the pragmatic part, knew I had hit a wall. Physically and emotionally, I didn’t want to keep going like this. I chose to have an epidural.
The epidural was instant relief. I was finally able to talk, to thank Waffle and check in with him. I realized we had barely spoken all day, not since my contractions became too painful to talk. I’d turned inward to this meditative place to deal with the pain. He was amazing throughout the labor. He knew I didn’t want to be talked to. I just needed him holding my hand or letting me hang onto him or letting him rub my back. While I laid and moaned in the jacuzzi tub for three hours, he poured warm water over my back with a cup. In all our years together, I’ve never felt so close to Waffle. I don’t like needing people and I’d never needed him as much as I did that day. I was vulnerable and literally naked (I ditched my hospital gown early on and never felt like putting it back on) and raw and exposed and I kept reaching for Waffle and he was right there every time. It is, hands down, the most intimate experience we’ve ever shared and that I’ve ever had with anyone.
Because of the epidural, I was finally able to get a couple hours of rest. Though, between the endorphin high and being hooked up to a blood pressure monitor that went off every 30 minutes, I didn’t actually sleep. Waffle took a nap on a fold-out chair next to my bed.
The epidural slowed down my contractions and I still wasn’t fully dilated, so I opted to be administered Pitocin to strengthen my contractions. Pitocin is what they use to induce labor, so ironically, I’d avoided induction but still ended up needing Pitocin to augment labor. The Pitocin helped me dilate fully and then, finally, a full 24 hours since I’d woken up in labor, it was time to push.
I was still numb from the waist down because of the epidural. The nurse and midwife told me when to push because I couldn’t feel my contractions. The nurse put a mirror at the end of my bed so I could see the head crowning. It was surreal, seeing my body giving birth, but not being able to feel it, like having an out of body experience. It was strangely peaceful after a long day of difficult labor. It was beautiful, too, seeing the top of the head, the blood and everything else, and finally, witnessing the final push as Remi’s head emerged with the shoulders and body following closely behind. Waffle and I watched together, holding hands, as I birthed Remi Lee Waffle into the world.
I’d prepared myself to not have an immediate emotional reaction to my baby. I know some people don’t feel intense feelings right away and that’s normal. I tend to not be very interested in babies, so I thought I might not react strongly. I was wrong. I loved her the moment I saw her, the moment I looked into her little face and saw her little nose that looks just like mine. The nurse put her on my chest immediately after birth. I held her close. “She’s perfect,” I said to Waffle, holding back tears.
Unfortunately, we only had a few minutes with Remi. Waffle never even got to hold her. She was having trouble breathing. She had meconium (baby poop) in her amniotic fluid and it was possible she’d inhaled meconium in utero. She was taken for tests and observation by special care.
We were moved to our postpartum room without her and not knowing if she was okay. As soon as my epidural wore off, I threw on some clothes and we went to see her. She looked awful. She’d aspirated meconium in utero and her respiratory rate was way too high. We couldn’t really touch her at first because we didn’t want to overstimulate her and she was hooked up to a bunch of machines. You could see her little diaphragm working hard with each breath.
She stayed in special care for the next 48 hours. We visited her every few hours and, when she was able to start eating, helped with her feedings.
Remi couldn’t figure out how to latch and my breastmilk was slow to come in (possibly because we’d been separated so early on), so we gave the OK for her to be fed formula. She started recovering quickly after that. She was well enough to stay in our room on Saturday.
On Sunday, we had to be discharged without her and she went back to special care. She was supposed to stay there for seven more days. However, Monday morning I got a phone call that she could finish her antibiotics at our pediatrician’s office and she could come home that very day.
Since then, she’s fully recovered. We’ve switched her off the formula and onto breast milk exclusively. I feed her every hour or two and Waffle and I tag team childcare so that we can both get naps in here and there. Waffle’s got the magic touch for putting her to sleep. She is trying to lift her head already and has strong reflexes. She’s gaining weight and makes adorable noises and regularly tests our limits as new parents. I can’t believe she’s really here and I love her so much! She’s tough like her mom!
5 Random Final Thoughts on Queer Baby-Making
1. Letting Go of Perfect Birth Plans
We knew that our birth plan could change at any time and I think that was the best way to approach birth. Almost every person I’ve talked to about their birth experience had a different experience than what they planned or hoped for. Labor and delivery are unpredictable. There are too many variables you can’t control.
However, I think having a strong support team is what made our birth experience feel empowering and positive, even though I didn’t labor the way I’d hoped to. Doulas aren’t always affordable. Childbirth education isn’t necessarily readily available for free. Not everyone can choose a midwife for their care. Not everyone has a supportive partner. I was lucky to have access to all these resources and support. I can totally see how some people get bullied into birth choices they don’t want or talked into medical interventions that are unnecessary.
I had a moment of self-defeat about choosing the epidural, but my doula reminded me that I did all the work and that I did what I needed to do to deliver my baby. “You did this,” she said. “It was all you. You are so strong.” By choosing midwives for my care, I avoided being pushed into other kinds of medical intervention like episiotomies or a C-section. There’s nothing wrong with having a C-section. I just didn’t want one unless medically necessary or if there were other options to try first. We were able to discuss our options for medical intervention with our doula and she gave us useful advice so we didn’t feel like we were making decisions in a panic.
Everything feels like a life or death decision in the moment, but it really isn’t. Epidural? Life or death. Formula? Life or death. Ultimately, you have to do what feels right to you, whether that’s a scheduled C-section or a home birth. It’s just hard to feel like you have autonomy when you are worried about your baby and dealing with a huge amount of stress and pain and uncertainty as new parents.
2. Reflections from the Non-Gestational Waffle
The waiting game was just as awful as everyone said it would be. The constant stream of unsolicited advice was obnoxious. The stress of trying to figure out my time off in a country that places emphasis on job productivity and little value on family was, well, stressful. In the end though, I can confirm 100% that it was worth it. Kae asked me to jot down a few non-gestational parent notes so here goes!
This will not be new news to anyone who has read first hand accounts of support people during labor experiences but the most striking feeling during labor, for me, was helplessness. You constantly hear partners talking about their experience of feeling sorry for the gestational parent. THE STRUGGLE IS REAL FOLKS! I was sure I would feel bad for the pain that Kae would endure but I was totally unprepared for the magnitude of helplessness. While there were things I did through the labor that I am sure “helped” as much as anything can help during labor, for the most part I felt wholly useless.
There are no words to describe watching someone you love go through something so intense and painful while having no control over alleviating that pain. KaeLyn swears up and down that I was helpful but I truly felt like I was useless 90% of the time. It was much harder than anything I had anticipated. I will fully admit to crying out of hopelessness at one point shortly before the epidural was rolled out.
One word: doula. I like to joke that our doula saved our marriage. For real though, our doula saved my life. I feel super privileged to be in a position where we could, financially, use a doula and it was the right choice. I do straight up think KaeLyn would have murdered me had it not been for our fantastic doula. I was a panicked mess when we decided to take it to the hospital. I had zero real-world experience with labor and delivery and try as I might, I definitely lost my ever loving shit. I know I was driving Kae crazy but I couldn’t stop my fear from manifesting in obnoxious overbearing ways.
The mere presence of our doula gave me the calmness needed to properly support Kae. I didn’t have to worry about logistics like how to work the tub or where the hot packs lived and was able to be physically present for the labor. I was also able to follow the doula’s lead on pain management. I was at a loss on how to help KaeLyn manage the pain. I read books and researched methods to cope with contractions but most of them went flying out of my brain when the time came. The doula was great about making helpful suggestions of pain management and when something seemed to help a bit I was able to use those suggestions. It calmed me and made me feel empowered in a situation that was totally out of my control. I was able to sneak short food breaks without feeling like I was leaving my wife hanging. If you can, get a doula.
Once Kae had the epidural, it was nice to be able to enjoy the actual birth together. We were both able to physically watch our daughter being born and it was, hands down, the best experience of my life. KaeLyn makes perfect, beautiful, strong Baby T. Rexes. I must have told her she was amazing about one million times in the hours following Remi’s birth.
Perhaps the best thing was watching Kae fall in love with Remi. I was one of those parents that looks at the ultrasound photos and gloats about how cute the baby looks and how smart they will be based on their brain pics. I loved Remi from the first ultrasound about seven weeks in.
Watching Kae meet Remi and fall in love with our daughter was the best! I know she was unsure if she would love Remi immediately or if it would be a love that would develop over time but it was evident from the first moment she held Remi. I didn’t actually hold Remi due to the respiratory distress until she was almost a day old because I wanted Kae to have that experience and I don’t regret that decision for a minute. I love Remi unconditionally and we have a lifetime of hugs and cuddles to look forward to thanks to my amazing wife!
3. I Stole This Underwear
I’d read in the mommy forums about the infamous postpartum mesh underwear they give you at the hospital for maternity pads. I fall squarely in the “love it!” camp. These undies are so stretchy and comfortable. They feel like nothing and provide absolutely no support and that is exactly what I wanted after pushing out a baby. I totally raided the hospital stash in my postpartum room so I could keep them in rotation at home.
I’m wearing them right now. I wish I could wear them forever.
4. Things I’ve Googled in the Past Week:
- newborn won’t sleep on back
- meconium aspiration common
- formula spitting up gassy
- how much should a newborn eat
- bleeding from umbilical cord stump
- how to clip newborn nails
- tummy time when to start
- how to get breastmilk to come in faster
5. Breast is Best(-ish) But Not for Rest
The formula that Remi was eating was giving her a lot of gas and stomach upset. She was spitting up after every feeding and, like, a lot of spit-up, sometimes hours after the feeding. I finally was able to get her to latch onto my breast the day before we were discharged from the hospital, but she preferred the bottle. I don’t blame her. My milk still wasn’t in and I wasn’t producing a lot of colostrum. The bottle is also just easier to get food and, therefore, satisfaction from. We decided to keep mixed feeding her, breast and formula. We followed the feeding schedule of the special care unit at the hospital, two ounces of formula every three hours and I topped her off with breastmilk if I could.
However, the spitting up and gassiness seemed to be more than what we thought was normal. We asked our pediatrician about it at our five-day check-up and she said the hospital was overfeeding her. She assured me my milk supply was enough and suggested going back to breastfeeding exclusively. So we started transitioning her off the formula. I have absolutely nothing against formula. I don’t think it’s wrong to formula feed. I do think it’s expensive and, for Remi, it didn’t seem to be working well.
Since we’ve switched her back to breastmilk, her stomach upset is a lot better. The first day was especially rough and there was a lot of crying and screaming as we took away the bottle gradually. Now, she’s totally transitioned back and seems satisfied with breastmilk. My milk is also coming in a lot faster and I have to pump a lot less now that she’s feeding regularly. The only downside is that breastmilk digests a lot faster than formula, so I’m feeding her on demand every hour or so, sometimes every half hour when she’s fussy, every two hours if I’m really lucky. That equals a really weird and unreliable sleep schedule.
Thankfully, all my breastfeeding anxiety was for naught. It isn’t my favorite thing and my nipples are constantly tender, but it’s working fine (after a slow start) and my body is cooperating. Remi is mostly cooperating.
Thank y’all so much for the love and support you directed toward Waffle, Remi, and me over the course of this miniseries. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun sharing our experience in queer baby-making with you. Don’t worry. There will be more dispatches from parent-land in the future. Now, this exhausted queer mom is going to try to sneak in a nap.