Huzzah! We’ve successfully managed to keep our tiny human alive for over two weeks! Though we are still getting the hang of this whole parenting thing, and the lack of sleep is definitely catching up to us, I didn’t want to wait too much longer to jot down the details of Penny’s birth story lest I forget anything.
So, first off, let me say this: every totally annoying, super cliche thing you’ve ever heard about childbirth and motherhood is 100% accurate: it is incredible, entirely life-altering, and no matter how much I’d read or heard or felt I’d prepared (and truly, I thought I was prepared!), there’s no way I could fully understand it until I, well, went through it. The act of giving birth was, for me, a truly transformative experience. Trite as it sounds, I honestly can’t believe I’d lived my life for 29 years without this little nugget — or that I was so scared of the changes that becoming a mother would bring. Penelope has indeed rocked our world, but in only the best, most positive way.
Now, I’m sure this will come as no shock to those of you who’ve been following my pregnancy, but I don’t tend to hold back the TMI details here when it comes to her birth story. So if you’ve come across this post as my casual Facebook acquaintance and decidedly do NOT want or need to know all about dilation, contractions, and all the other nitty gritty labor details, here’s the tl;dr version:
Much to my surprise (I am the girl who got married in a blizzard, after all), my induction went exactly as planned — smoothly and without complication! I was officially induced at 7 AM on Wednesday, August 30th and at 6:07 PM, Penelope Spencer Fox was born!
For those of you interested in hearing juuuuust a little more (lulz) than that, go ahead and strap yourselves in. Or, you know, scroll and skim through, because this is probably going to be overwrought and overly detailed to the point of serious annoyance.
As we all know, I was diagnosed with pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure) 34 weeks into my pregnancy, which eventually progressed to preeclampsia. As a result, my doctors recommended we induce labor at 37 weeks due to the risks to both baby and myself. The plan was pretty simple: I was to go to the hospital the night before I hit 37 weeks (Tuesday the 29th) to start ripening my cervix (dilating), then would be officially induced the following morning.
Now, knowing the exact date that you’re going to have a baby (and basically picking her birthday!) ahead of time was quite the mind-twist for me. I will say, however, that despite any anxiety I was feeling with regard to my medical issues and the process of induction itself, it was kind of nice in a Type A, love-to-plan kinda way to know exactly when I’d be going into labor, lol.
In fact, my day leading up to going to the hospital ended up being pretty nice! I tried to keep myself busy so that I wouldn’t dwell too much on what was to come, so I went for my final prenatal massage, got a pedicure + my eyebrows waxed, and enjoyed a visit from a friend. I also made sure to take a shower, washed my hair, triple-checked my hospital bag, got in some final extra pre-baby puppy cuddles with Harry & Daxter, and took care of the final items on my work to-do list.
When Sean got home from work around 5 PM, we packed up an overnight bag for him, loaded the dogs into the car, and headed into Falls Church to drop them off at my parents’ house. My doctors all told me to make sure I ate a good meal before checking into the hospital, so I made arrangements for my parents to pick up food from my favorite restaurant, and had dinner with my entire family before heading off to the hospital. I did experience a burst of emotion when Sean and I arrived at my parents’ place, as what was about to happen started to hit me, but I didn’t have too long to fixate on it. After all, we had a very important appointment to keep!
We arrived at Inova Fairfax for our 7:30 PM appointment and checked in at the Labor & Delivery registration desk. We were led to room 123 — same as our wedding date! — and I had a chance to settle in and change into the labor gown I brought from home (it’s this one, if you’re interested!) as the nurses prepped.
A few pokes and prods later, I was set up with a saline-lock IV so that they’d later be able to administer my induction medications and intravenous fluids. Alas, getting an IV is never a fun experience for me, as I have deep, hard-to-find veins. They had to stick me twice, ultimately putting it in on the side of my wrist because there was no other good vein they could find — ouch! I was also set up with fetal + contraction monitors, as well as a blood pressure cuff that went off every 15 minutes.
It took quite a while to get all of that set up, plus I had to answer questions about my medical history and go over what would be happening. My doctor had me set up to receive a drug called Cytotec that would help dilate my cervix in anticipation of being induced, and I was to receive a low dose pill every 3 hours. Unfortunately (don’t say I didn’t warn you about the TMI thing!) I had to receive the pill vaginally — which means exactly what you think it means. Every 3 hours, the nurse would give me a cervical check to see how dilated I was and then shoved a little pill all up in there — not gonna lie, it was a very uncomfortable process. I tell you, the cervical checks at the hospital were not nearly as quick or gentle as the ones I had received previously at my OB’s office.
The first dose of Cytotec was administered around 9 PM, and I received another two doses at 3 hour intervals — midnight and 3 AM. My nurse disconnected me from my various monitors to try to allow me to get some sleep but, given that I was always waiting for the next, er, rather invasive dosage (not to mention all the general excitement and anticipation), I only ended up getting like two hours worth of sleep in total. Sean was able to conk out though, despite his less-than-stellar sleeping arrangements (a chair that pulled out into what we’ll generously call a “bed”), which was good because I needed at least one of us to be well-rested and level-headed for what was to come!
I didn’t feel much different after the first dose of Cytotec, which made sense because nothing really happened in those first three hours. After I received my second dose, however, I started to feel very mild contractions. They weren’t painful, and it made me happy that it felt like something was happening! These contractions really just felt a lot like Braxton-Hicks at this point, and they continued as I got my third dose, increasing very slightly in intensity as morning came. They were still so mild, though, that in addition to watching lots of Scrubs reruns on my iPad overnight, I was also able to do my makeup as I waited for things to really get kickin’ in the morning. Priorities, y’know? 😉
Doctor’s orders were to begin my Pitocin drip at 7 to officially start my induction, so they hooked up my IV and we were off to the races! Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin — the hormone that is released during labor that tells your uterus to contract and your cervix to dilate. Basically, it’s what lets your body know that it’s baby time! And the Pit definitely works, I tell you what. They started me off on a very low dose and increased it every 15 – 30 minutes, and my contractions began ramping up in frequency and intensity almost immediately! While it took 10 hours for that first centimeter, by the time my doctor came in to check on me at 8:30 AM, I’d gone from 1 to 3 cm!
My doctor was happy with how things had been progressing, so she went ahead and broke my water. They use a plastic hook thing that looks alarmingly like a crochet hook, and it was a painless procedure — just made me feel like I was leaking, haha. My doctor suggested that I put in my request for an epidural at this point as well, as breaking the water really tends to increase the intensity and pain of contractions. Plus, it could take upwards of an hour for the anesthesiologist to get to you once you put in the request. I followed her advice and was sooooooo glad that I did, as my contractions ramped up VERY rapidly, to the point where I was now doing the whole comical HEE-HOO-HOO type of breathing and closing my eyes to get through them.
As soon as I got that epi though — sweet, sweet relief! I couldn’t feel a single contraction anymore and it was absolutely fabulous. My mom and mother-in-law arrived at the hospital and I was just happily chatting away with them – that stuff really is magic, ahahaha. The process of getting the epidural wasn’t bad either — the worst pain was from the initial needle poke that you get when they put numbing stuff into your back. I won’t lie, that did hurt (made my eyes well up with tears, and I feel like I have a relatively high pain threshold for needles + shots), but I didn’t feel the epidural needle or catheter going in at all.
The medicine started working within like, 5 minutes, and I seriously felt like a whole new person! You hear a lot of epidural horror stories out there, but I think it worked pretty well on me. No more contraction pain, and it didn’t give me dead legs or make me feel all doped up or anything like that. I felt some numbness at the tops of my thighs but still had full control over my legs and could easily turn from side to side, etc. My only negative side effect was that my skin got quite itchy — which is apparently a very normal, if slightly uncomfortable, reaction.
Once the epidural was in, it was really just a matter of hanging out and waiting for things to progress. The doctor came back in around noon, and I was excited to see how much progress I had made in the four hours since she broke my water. Came to find out I had dilated… a whole whopping centimeter more. 4 cm and 60% effaced, wooooooo. I was, once again, a bit discouraged by this, but my doctor once again reassured me that things were looking good, and told me that labor progresses kind of exponentially. It can be very slow to get those first centimeters, but you can progress very quickly the further along you get. She’d be back to check in on me again in — you guessed it — four more hours.
The hospital provides a peanut ball in each delivery room — basically an exercise ball that’s literally shaped like a peanut — which I also started utilizing at this point. It’s supposed to help open your pelvis, encourage dilation, and help get the baby to slide into position, all of which I was definitely aaaaall for. You keep it between your legs, and I alternated laying on my right and left sides to change up my position. Then I just kept my fingers crossed that things would start moving along a little more quickly — I think I was getting impatient, heh.
I’d now been at the hospital for like 18 hours, and the previous night’s dinner was becoming a distant memory. Now that my contraction pain had dissipated, I could focus on the fact that I was HANGRY, and the hospital-approved consumables of water, popsicles, and jello were simply not cutting it. Now, I’m a big believer in following doctor’s instructions and hospital rules, but I do think it’s total bullhockey that you’re not allowed to eat anything while you’re in labor. As if, you know, pushing a watermelon through a bagel-sized hole doesn’t REQUIRE STRENGTH OR ENERGY OR ANYTHING. So I totally had Sean sneak me bites of Panera mac ‘n’ cheese while the nurses were out of the room, and also plowed through my stash of contraband granola bars while we were waiting around.
At around 3:30 PM, I started feeling a lot of pressure down there, paired with the feeling like I needed to take a biiiiiig ol’ poop. My baby books, the internet, and the hospital nurses had all prepared me for the fact that feeling you have to go to the bathroom is a sign that you’re getting really close. I wasn’t at I’m-gonna-crap-my-pants-immediacy yet, but I let the nurses know, and since the doctor was supposed to be coming back to check on me around 4:30 anyway, we decided to wait for her.
Well, shockingly, patience has never really been my strong suit, and after about 20 minutes of waiting, things started to really feel like they were escalating. I very quickly started to feel some serious downtown pushdowns, so the nurses called the doctor to let her know that things were speeding up. Alas, my doctor still wasn’t able to make it back to me until almost 4:30, which was about the time she was supposed to come back around anyway, lol. She checked me, then had one of the nurses who was new & still in training check me as well (with my permission, of course) to see how much of my cervix she could still feel. Well, turns out it was kind of a trick question, because I was fully dilated to 10 cm and what she was actually feeling was baby’s head!
Despite having held it together really well (especially considering it’s, you know, ME) since checking into the hospital, this was the moment where I promptly started freaking out and crying. After all, I knew what 10 cm meant! And despite having been in the hospital for 20 hours at this point, and in active labor for 9 or 10 hours, it really didn’t feel quite real until that moment.
Alas, I’d have plenty of time to check my emotions, as my doctor informed me that all three of her laboring patients had reached 10 cm at like the same time (ha!), and she had one mom she wanted to deliver before me (she referred to her as her “troublemaker,” so I assume she had some complications.) “Can you wait 20 or 30 minutes?” she asked me, as if A) I had a choice, and B) I had any idea if I would be able to wait or not, lol. I’d never done this before, after all! I nodded meekly and proceeded to turn onto my back… where I stayed basically just trying not to move until the doctor returned almost an HOUR LATER for fear of, like, accidentally sneezing and pooping out my baby. In retrospect, of course, I realize that my rationality may have started escaping me at this point.
I had Sean turn on my delivery playlist (which, sidenote: I received lots of compliments on it from all the nurses and my doctor, so if anyone is interested in putting something similar together, here’s a link! It’s full of super chill music that really helped me remain calm and focused leading up to and during the actual delivery) and after a while, the nurses came in and told me that my doctor was on her way back, and I was allowed to start pushing now!
I gotta say, despite all my prep work, all the research and reading and forum-surfing and obsessing I had done, I still was not prepared for what the actual experience of pushing would be like. I knew that you were supposed to bear down as if you were going #2, but the reality was still just nothing I could have expected. You lie there with your legs held back, do a stomach crunch with your chin to your chest, and push literally as hard as you can for ten seconds at a time, three times in a row — trying to time your pushes with the contractions that you can’t really feel (although I did feel the down-there pressure increase each time I was having a contraction, so I tried my best to go with that.)
I don’t know what I was really thought, if I was expecting that just you got to 10 cm and — whoosh! — suddenly your baby slides on out of you, but it was definitely a lot of work and it was really exhausting both physically and emotionally. I was straight up sobbing for the last five or ten minutes of pushing, partially from the effort I was expending, partially from the pain (the epidural had gotten rid of my contraction pain, but I could still feel a lot of what was happening “down there,” especially as she actually came out — urk!), and, of course, mostly from the sheer emotional weight of it all. I am happy to report, however, that unlike some 80-90% of women giving birth, I did NOT poop on the table as I was pushing — it’s the little victories, y’know?
They placed her on my chest immediately for a minute of skin-to-skin contact while Sean cut the cord, and then she was whisked over to the baby scale to take her measurements while I delivered my placenta (didn’t even notice this happening) and my doctor stitched me up (kinda felt it). I had a second-degree tear, which, according to my doctor is pretty normal for first-time deliveries. And as we already know, Penny herself was pretty perfect at 19.75 inches long and 6 pounds, 15 ounces! She was born still covered in vernix, the cream-cheesy-looking substance that protects babies’ skin while in the womb (it is usually gone by the time full-term babies are born), so they also wiped her down a bit and gave our little Penelope Spencer back to us to keep.
We didn’t have her name picked out going into labor, but had a list of our top 5 choices that I was planning on “trying out” on her once she was born. As soon as they placed her on my chest, though, I just knew right away that she was our little Lucky Penny — didn’t even give a second thought to the other names on our list.
Her middle name comes from my paternal grandmother, Gretchen Spencer Powell, who I was named after. I also have an uncle and a cousin Spencer, and the Powell side is big on family names, hehe. She also has a Chinese name that my mother bestowed upon her: 美玲 (Mei Ling). It means “beautiful bell” which is accurate IMO. 😛
And who knows, her name might end up being the most Chinese thing about her, since even though Sean and I are both half-Asian, Penelope popped out with — I’m not kidding — a head full of golden peach-fuzz hair! We, along with our families, our doctor, and all the nurses, were pretty surprised at that one! I mean, even my quarter-Asian niece Mia, who now has light brown locks, was born with black hair, hahaha. Penny’s has already gotten a bit darker though, so we’ll have to see where she ends up! (With her eyes too — she was born with dark grey-blue eyes, like many newborns, and they still haven’t really changed so I can’t wait to see what color they end up either!)
Anyway, after a bit more time getting cleaned up, we were transferred up to our recovery room, where Penelope got to meet our patiently-waiting family members!
And just like that, our lives were changed forever — and immeasurably for the better. I can’t believe Penny’s already been in our lives for over two weeks! It’s also so weird to think that, under “normal” circumstance and had I not been induced early, we wouldn’t even have met her yet, because I already can’t imagine what my life was like without her in it.
And that’s the whooooole story, in far more detail than you were probably expecting or wanting. You already know about the bit of extra drama we experienced upon bringing her home, but otherwise she’s a really great baby. Sleeps well, nurses well, doesn’t cry much — I know all of those things can change in a heartbeat, but for now we’re just grateful to have such a great little girl and are really enjoying getting to know her! Basically, she’s awesome and we feel really fracking lucky that she’s, well, ours.