Lionel (LYE-a-nel): A form of Leonard and Leonora; a male derivative of Helen. Our son’s first name was chosen to honor Sara’s grandmother and Jord’s great-grandmothers, all of whom share the name Helen. (Latin): Like a lion, young lion.
Conner (KAH-ner): A favorite name of Sara’s since elementary school. (Irish): lover of hounds (especially his doggie brother, Wyatt).
It was a Tuesday morning, and Jord and I were seated in the waiting room of our hospital’s clinic, waiting to be seen. I was 38.5 weeks pregnant. The night before, we had visited the emergency room because I hadn’t felt our son move very much that day. Even though everything was determined to be fine (the baby and I were monitored for an hour, and the baby’s movements were normal), our doctor wanted to see us in the morning to check my cervix, since the nursing staff in the ER surmised that the baby had lowered into my pelvis in preparation for birth, which is why I couldn’t feel his movements as much as usual. So, that morning, I called the clinic and was told to come in at 10AM.
As Jord and I sat in the waiting room of the clinic, I began to feel my belly tighten in a way that was unfamiliar. It felt like the round ligament pain that I had been experiencing intermittently since Christmas, but the tightening was happening more regularly that morning. I told Jord that I thought that I was having contractions, and he responded that it was a good thing that we were at the clinic, so that we could know for sure.
Our doctor’s nurse eventually called us back and asked me the usual questions (had I noticed any bleeding, was I in any pain, etc.). I mentioned that I thought that I was having contractions that seemed semi-regular, which she notated in my chart. It was a few minutes before Dr. Olson came in to check on me, and when I mentioned my belief that I was having contractions, she checked my cervix. I was dilated to a two, and my cervix was beginning to efface, so Dr. Olson decided to send me over to labor and delivery to be monitored. Jord and I looked at each other, absolutely surprised; we had been guessing all morning that we would be sent home after our appointment and would be told to just keep an eye on things as they progressed. Instead, we proceeded to a labor and delivery room, where the nursing staff had me change into a gown to be monitored.
I was hooked up to a fetal monitor to check the baby’s heart rate and my contractions. My heart rate was monitored as well. Dr. Olson came back to check on us at noon, and she told us what we never thought that we would hear, at least not for another nine days or so: I was in labor, and I was being admitted to labor and delivery. We were having our baby.
After being admitted, things with my labor progressed normally. As soon as the baby and I were monitored for a short period of time, Jord and I were encouraged to walk around the hospital in order to ensure that labor continued to progress. We took the nursing staff’s advice and made our way to the hospital’s healing garden, which was especially warm on this June afternoon. Every few paces or so, I would feel a contraction coming on, and I would lean on Jord and sway back and forth to ease the tension of the contraction. At this point, I was still in a relatively happy mood – the contractions were rather tolerable at this point. In addition, I think that Jord and I were still in a state of disbelief that we were really here, that we were actually going to meet our son in a matter of hours; the disbelief helped, I think, to delay the onset of the pain of the contractions.
When we arrived back to our labor and delivery room after our walk, the baby and I had to be monitored again for a short period of time; we were still doing very well. Dr. Olson checked my cervix again, and she told me that I had not dilated any further. Needless to say, I was rather frustrated, but I resolved to do my best to help the labor to progress. Dr. Olson suggested breaking my bag of waters to hopefully stimulate dilation, and I agreed. The breaking of my water was a rather uncomfortable and annoying occurrence; the only way that I can describe it is to compare what I felt to a persistent leaky faucet that, at times, would gush and gush water, and then, at other times, would only drip and drop into the metal of the sink at an intermittent pace.
After Dr. Olson broke my bag of waters, I requested the birthing ball to help to ease the contractions, which were beginning to grow in intensity. By that time, my mother had arrived at the hospital (in shock and disbelief that she was to meet her grandson, her first grandchild, in a matter of time), and she took up post in a corner of the labor and delivery room to offer comfort and help, should I be in need.
Jord was my primary source of support and strength during the labor process; from the moment that we learned that I was in labor, that my contractions were “for real,” that we were actually going to meet our baby boy in just a matter of hours, Jord was ready, he was committed to supporting me, no matter how long it took. He was outstanding. He diligently watched the fetal monitor (when I was being monitored) to tell me when a contraction was coming on and when the pain should subside. He rubbed my back as I bounced on the birthing ball. He tended to our family’s inquiries via cell phone regarding how things were progressing, and he did so without making me ever feel alone, not even for a moment. He was, in a word, fantastic.
Eventually, the pain of the contractions began to worsen, so the nurses suggested that I labor in the whirlpool tub that was available in our labor and delivery room. At this point, I still attempted to maintain some semblance of modesty in dress, though as the tension in my belly grew more unbearable with each contraction, I quickly discovered the futility of such an attempt. The whirlpool tub was outfitted with jets that surged water over my belly in powerful ripples, which helped to distract me from the discomfort that I was feeling with each contraction. While I was in the tub, I felt at ease enough to send Jord away to find something for himself to eat – it was nearing dinnertime, and I knew that he needed nourishment in order to keep up his strength for the journey ahead, especially since we had no idea how long we had before we would be meeting our son. My mom kept me company while I labored in the tub.
I was feeling rather hungry myself, since I hadn’t had much of anything to eat prior to our arrival at the clinic (and the subsequent and unexpected onset of my contractions). However, despite my desire for food, since I was in labor, the hospital only permitted me water and other types of liquid-based products, such as popsicles. While the popsicles that I consumed during labor tasted outstandingly refreshing at the time, I quickly grew quite desperate for more substantial nourishment. That, combined with the painful tension that continuously was rippling through my belly, quickly weakened my resolve to continue laboring without some semblance of pain relief.
Our birth plan largely left the door open in terms of pain medication; it was important to me that I not set unrealistic expectations for myself and for the birth of our first child. Furthermore, prior to giving birth, I had only a limited experience with pain, and truthfully, I had no idea regarding my ability to withstand physical pain. In preparing to give birth, it comforted me to have options. Jord’s support of our birth plan helped me immensely, especially during the labor and delivery process itself. When Jord returned to the hospital, I was still laboring in the whirlpool tub, and I expressed to Jordan my desire to ask the nursing staff and my doctor about getting an epidural, despite my unspeakable fear of needles. By that time, I had been in labor for eight hours or so on very little food, and the contractions were growing more and more painful by the minute. To this day, I still wonder whether or not it would have made a difference in my ability to handle the pain if I had been given the opportunity to eat; I feel strongly that not only was I weakened by the pain of the contractions, but I was also weakened by a lack of nourishment, and I wonder if I would have been able to stave off getting the epidural, at least for another few hours, if I had eaten a proper breakfast that morning, or if I had been permitted a snack or two, apart from popsicles.
As Dr. Olson entered my room to discuss the epidural and to check my cervix, I learned that I had only progressed to 3 centimeters after eight hours of labor. The frustration that I felt upon hearing that my body again was failing to progress (or, at least, to progress at a rate that was expected or, I thought, was even respectable) was, and is, difficult to put into words – in that moment, my tears spoke for me, conveying my utter desperation for relief from the hours of pain that I had endured thus far. Soon enough, I exited the whirlpool tub in preparation to receive my epidural.
The entire process of getting the epidural terrified me; from signing the consent forms to listening to the anesthesiologist describe the procedure, I was horribly nervous and, of course, extremely grateful for my husband’s supportive grasp of my hands. I don’t remember many details of getting the epidural – I’m sure that Jordan saw the sheer terror that gripped me as he looked in my eyes. I remember feeling what seemed like a pin prick and then a surge of burning tension in my back. I remember being told not to move, a prospect that seemed more difficult than it actually was, even though my body was still contracting. And then, as vividly as I remember the moment that I saw Jord for the first time on our wedding day, such a blissful memory, I remember the antithesis of that moment, the utter shock and pain that I felt as the anesthesiologist ripped away from my back the plastic sheeting and tape that he had attached to ensure a sanitary field upon which to insert the epidural. In that moment, as I felt the skin of my back tingle and writhe in pain and in surprise, tears fell from my eyelids in floods, and I sobbed uncontrollably. I remember thinking that it was a miracle that the nurses had told me, just moments before, that I could move again, that the time and the need to remain still had passed, because as I sobbed, my chest heaving, I can recall only the look of helplessness in Jord’s eyes, and the feeling of his hands clutching my shoulders in an attempt to comfort me. In looking back on it now, with one month of clarity, the ripping away of the tape on my back after the epidural was among the worst pain that I felt that day, probably because I didn’t expect it, because I wasn’t warned that it was coming, not at all.
My fit of sobs decrescendoed into mere tears as I began to feel the cooling sensation of the pain medication dripping into my back. My feet and legs slowly became numb, and at long last, I felt relief from the persistent tension that rippled through my abdomen, and relief that the process of getting that reprieve from pain, that feeling that I so desperately desired, had finally ended.
I don’t remember much of the next few hours, apart from being in good spirits after the epidural took affect. I do remember seeing my brother and my father, who had, by then, arrived at the hospital to keep my mother company. Since it appeared as though my labor would continue into the night and, foreseeably, into Wednesday’s early morning hours, my family stayed the night at our apartment in Vermillion while Jord and I got some much-needed rest after the day’s events. Jord’s family had decided to remain in Sioux Falls until our son was born, and at that time of night, it made sense for us all to rest as much as we could.
I recall being awoken in the midst of the night later by the nursing staff and by Dr. Olson to check my cervix. Before I knew it, my body had fully dilated to ten centimeters. I remember Jord waking up on the tiny couch in our hospital room in a state of disbelief – we had finally reached the culmination of all of the day’s work. It was time to push!
Although the exact timing of when the pushing process began escapes me, I remember watching Dr. Olson and our nurses ready themselves and the room for delivery. As soon as the room was ready and the warming bassinet was wheeled in, everything that was about to happen became all the more real. The excited nervousness that I felt prior to pushing, I also saw in Jord’s eyes – it was exhilarating to think about soon meeting our baby son.
This is where our story grows difficult for me to tell, precisely because I never imagined that I would be telling this story, with this ending. Isn’t that always what it comes down to? How our minds imagine the way in which a monumental life experience will take place, and how it will shape us, versus the actuality, the reality of the event itself? For me, my imagination told quite a different birth story than the tale I’ve relayed to you here. But the story must go on, for the birth of our son was, and is, a miraculous and beautiful occurrence.
Pushing was intimidating at first because I had no feeling in the lower half of my body (due to the epidural). While pushing, I tried to visualize my body opening up and the baby moving down in order for our son to slip through the birth canal and enter our world. The pushing process was among the most vivid of the memories that I have of giving birth. After only a little while, I recall the numbness in my legs and my abdomen slowly beginning to wear off, despite the fact that I had requested another dosage or two of pain medication by pushing a button that was connected to a machine that was monitoring my epidural. Soon after I reported to my doctor that the epidural seemed to be wearing off, I began to endure the most intense and terrible pain of my entire life for what seemed like forever. Despite the fact that I was lying in the hospital bed with my feet in stirrups, I could not remain in a pushing position; as each contraction gripped my body, it was all I could do to simply remain on the bed. I jerked my body from side to side, thrashing about like a mad person in the bed, all in an attempt to ease the pain. Jord held my hand, held my face, held my gaze as I did everything, anything that I could to attempt to ease the pain. He spoke to me softly, calmly at first, but slowly, his desperation for me to find some relief from my pain came through in his voice. He reminded me of the strength of the women who had given birth before me, such as my grandmother, who birthed nine children in her lifetime. He pleaded with me to realize that this pain, too, shall pass, despite the fact that it felt endless. He reminded me that we were pushing now, that we were so close to meeting our son.
It was during the pushing process that I began to reflect on my preparation for childbirth. In readying myself to give birth, I thought about my mother, and my grandmother. I thought about their childbirth experiences, their birthing experiences that didn’t require surgery or extensive medical intervention. I thought about watching my sister-in-law give birth nearly three years ago, and watching my pink and beautiful niece slip from a hidden world into our world in one outstanding moment. And I thought about my own baby, my little boy, my baby son. I thought about how he was to make his way into this world by my force, my effort, my energy, my work. And in preparing myself to continue to push, I felt empowered, I felt beautiful, and I felt determined – I wanted to bring my child into this world on my own.
However, empowerment and beauty and determination can only take a person so far – and these entities did not take me or my son far enough on that Wednesday. Despite the fact that my entire pregnancy proceeded normally, despite the fact that the labor process, the epidural and the dilation of my cervix were all by the book, and despite the fact that our baby boy was never in distress throughout the labor or pushing process, the birth of our son came about not by my own power, my own energy, but instead occurred via c-section. Yet, that is not the most difficult part of my son’s birth story – not only was a c-section deemed necessary by my doctor, but because of an unforeseen (and highly unlikely) complication with my epidural, I needed to be placed under general anesthesia during the c-section. What this means, in simple language, is this: I was not able to be awake for my son’s birth.
My doctor explained the reasoning for the c-section to me as two-fold: A) I had pushed for four hours, and despite doing so with all of my might, the baby was positioned head down, but was in the “sunny side up” or “face up” position inside the birth canal, which not only made it extremely painful for me to attempt to give birth, but also was far from the ideal position for the baby to be in when attempting a vaginal birth.
The second reason, B), was that in a rather strange and highly unlikely complication, the nursing staff determined, after my repeated insistence that my epidural was not providing me with any pain relief, that the epidural had fallen out of my back during the pushing process. This meant that I felt every single (excruciating) attempt that I made to push our son out into the world. After such a long labor process and four hours of pushing, my doctor, Jord and I determined together that I was too exhausted (and too hungry – I hadn’t been permitted to eat anything more than popsicles in the past 20-some hours) to continue pushing for any longer.
Despite the fact that I was writhing in pain, the ultimate blessing was that throughout the entire labor and pushing process, our baby son was never in distress. His heartbeat remained strong and steady, and he (unlike his Mama) was handling the contractions like a champion. While this certainly was (and still is) a blessing, it was also a curse of sorts: because the baby was not in distress, my need for a c-section was determined to be not emergent, which meant that Jord and I were told that we needed to wait ninety pain-filled minutes for the c-section procedure to take place – another surgery, a tonsillectomy, was scheduled to occur first.
The ninety minutes in between the time in which I was told to stop pushing and the time when I was wheeled into the operating room felt like nine hundred. My desperation for relief from the pain had pushed me to the limits of my ability to cope. I wailed and screamed in pain for all ninety of those minutes; in looking back, I am confident that I sounded like one of those women in the movies who is in an inconceivable amount of pain while giving birth, and who isn’t afraid to let the world know it. I remember hoping that I was the only woman in the labor and delivery unit that morning, so that my shouts didn’t alarm any other mothers who were anticipating their own birth experience.
I recall a nurse tossing Jord some scrubs to change into, which was the signal that I was waiting for: I knew now that the c-section was happening soon; it was finally our turn in the operating room. I could finally see the darkness that I felt clouding me dissipate – I could finally anticipate the relief that I would feel, soon, from the pain.
I was wheeled into the operating room, and Jord came to sit by my side. Yet, as the anesthesiologist began his attempt to reactivate my epidural, I could hear unmistakable tension and frustration in his voice. I soon learned that because the epidural had fallen out of place during the pushing process and thus needed to be replaced, I was no longer numb enough to complete the c-section using my epidural. Further complicating the delivery process, the anesthesiologist explained to me that replacing the epidural and beginning the numbing process again was a time-consuming endeavor, which meant that there was not enough time to replace the epidural prior to beginning the c-section, since I was already on the operating table and the surgical team was already in place to operate.
I then remember hearing the anesthesiologist utter the words “general anesthesia.” My eyes immediately filled with tears, and I began to sob. I felt Jord’s grip on my hand tighten, and I recall a nurse coming into my line of sight and promising that everything would be allright. The nurse assured me that they would place the baby on Jord’s chest, skin-to-skin, to ensure that our son felt that bond as soon as possible after the birth; I had wanted that skin-to-skin moment as soon as possible with my son, so hearing that Jord would be able to experience that with our little boy, instead of me, felt like the next best thing. I was comforted by that image. Jord squeezed my hand and assured me that he would be by my side during the surgery and that he wouldn’t leave me or our son, and that’s the last thing I remember before I awoke in the recovery room.
As I opened my eyes in recovery after my c-section, I instantly thought of Jord. My eyes began to scan the room for a nurse or a doctor, and as soon as I found my nurse, I asked her how my husband was doing. She told me that he was doing well, and that our baby boy was doing well, too. I think it’s so funny (and kind of sad) that I asked about Jord’s well-being, and not about our son; I think that I felt so disconnected from the birthing process that by the time that I woke up in recovery, my mind was rather foggy about the reasoning for me undergoing the surgery in the first place.
However, soon after I awoke, my nurse wheeled me back into our labor and delivery room. When the nurse opened the door and began to wheel me through, I saw my husband, bare-chested, clutching our little baby, swaddled in a blanket. And in that moment, I truly began to understand what it means to be married, to have a husband who treasures you so much. I saw Jord’s relieved smile in seeing me, awake and allright, and that sight made me feel so blessed. His proud grin when he handed me our baby son melted away, at least for the moment, any frustration or anger that I harbored about my birth experience. Our son was here, he was born, he was healthy, he was perfect. He was our boy.
In those first moments of being reunited, this time as a family of three people, Jord whispered to me that he hadn’t shared the baby’s name with anyone. Because I missed out on the first moments of our son’s life, he said, he wanted me to be able to announce the baby’s name to everyone.
And with joy, I kissed my husband, I kissed my baby son, who by then was lying on my chest, skin-to-skin, and I announced to the world our little boy’s name.
“This is Lionel Conner,” I said. And our lives as parents began.