Annie Leigh Cristiano made her grand entrance on Tuesday, October 16, 2018, at 8:09 AM. She was born one week before her due date at Hackensack University Medical Center, clocking in at 5 lbs. 10 oz., and measuring 17.5 inches in length.
Here’s everything that went down leading up to the moment when we met for the first time.
From start to finish, my pregnancy was pretty chill. Other than my Crohn’s disease flaring, I felt great, strong, and excited. Now, a week postpartum, I can barely remember what it felt like being pregnant, but I know that I genuinely loved it.
All along, Brian and I had been told that our baby was measuring a bit small. There was nothing concerning about it because her vitals looked strong during every ultrasound, but it was something that we were keeping a close eye on during the final weeks of pregnancy.
My 38th week of pregnancy was weird. I felt really off, kind of anxious, and just not myself. I had an appointment with our midwife, Kristin, on October 10, during which she said my fluid levels were getting low. If they dropped below a certain point, she said, they might want to induce labor. She did a cervical check, and I was 1 cm dilated, 60 percent effaced, and at -2 station.
At my next appointment, on October 15, I saw the practice’s OB/GYN, and he suggested a next-day induction. My fluids were still low, and he said that at this point, baby would be able to grow better on the outside, so we should get her out. He and Kristin (both of whom I adore, trust, and respect) suggested stripping my membranes to see if that might get things moving, in hopes that labor might start on its own instead of needing medical assistance.
So I hopped up on the table, got my feet in the stirrups, and scooted down the table. The doctor got all up in there, and the membrane strip was quick, unpleasant, and, ultimately, eventful.
When the doctor finished, he asked, “Are you leaking fluid?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “You tell me!”
The conversation then turned to, “Go home, get your affairs in order, and head to the hospital.” My water had broken while he was stripping my membranes — something he said “happens about once a year.” That certainly wasn’t the goal, but there we were. Brian and I kind of looked at each other like, “Oh shit. This is happening now.”
I asked what would happen next, and the doctor said he would see us later at the hospital. Since we were using the midwife practice, the plan and hope were that both my midwife and this doctor would be there to deliver the baby. I tried not to be too sad when they said it was Kristin’s day off, and that she wouldn’t be at the hospital, but I knew I was still in good hands.
We didn’t have time to over-think or freak out. The doctor wanted us at the hospital between 4 and 5 PM, and by the time we left the office it was already after noon. Fortunately, our doula, Jessica, was at the appointment and was super chill and said we’d see her in a few hours.
The drive home was a bit of a giddy blur. I tried not to think about the things left on my pre-baby to-do list, and instead just do one thing at a time. We called our parents to give them a heads up about what was happening, I showered, Brian cleaned the apartment, and then we took a few “last selfies as a family of three.”
I cried a little when we brought Ellie down to school. She was in good hands — her favorite teacher came and stayed with her at our apartment the first night, and then my parents came down to be with her. But I felt bad and I was sad to leave her. I am obsessed with my dog.
We finally left the house around 4 PM. We had joked throughout my pregnancy that our drive to the hospital would go one of two ways: Either we’d be driving to Hackensack at 2 AM and it would take 15 minutes, or we’d end up leaving during rush hour, and it would take an hour.
So it took an hour. Fortunately, nothing was happening on the body front. We were hopeful that because my water broke, I would eventually start having contractions on my own, but I felt nothing. I’m a little grateful for that, because the drive would’ve been very different if I were in pain in traffic. (I come equipped with a lot of road rage.)
I ate some cold leftover pasta in the car and listened to the first of my three “Birthday” playlists. (This one was happy and calming and chill, and it was perfect.)
We checked into the hospital at 5 PM and were sent straight to triage. All the while, I think Brian and I were both sort of in disbelief that this was happening. After exactly 39 weeks of pregnancy, we were about to meet our daughter! It’s crazy to think about, and I stayed far more calm than I ever expected.
Nurse Lauren in triage was amazing and fun. She got me to change into a hospital gown (blech, I hated it), did my vitals, and inserted an IV in my left arm. Fun fact: I did better during active labor than I did getting my IV. I did that fun thing where I turned bright white and needed some water and sugar and a cold cloth, and came thisclose to passing out. I’ve never had an issue with needles, but I sucked at getting that IV inserted. Sorry, Nurse Lauren!
She hooked me up to a monitor and apparently I was, in fact, having small contractions. We were in the triage area for two hours, and guess who came to visit? Midwife Kristin! The office had let her know I was headed to the hospital, and she came and I was so grateful — and she told me she wasn’t going anywhere. “We’ve been together this whole time, you think I’m going to just abandon you?” She promised she would be there to deliver our baby, and I was so happy.
Eventually, we moved to our labor and delivery room, which was pretty awesome. It was huge! Nurse Nicole started me on Pitocin at 7:30 PM, and explained that she’d start me at a 2 and would turn it up by 2 every 30 minutes. I was still feeling relaxed, and I listened to my calm music (that playlist was some of my best work) and pretty much just hung out waiting to feel something.
I hated the hospital gown and all the cords and the IV. For as advanced as the medical industry is, all those wires and non-functioning hospital gowns sure are dated. It just wasn’t comfortable or streamlined. Do better, hospitals! (I had to be monitored because I was on Pitocin. Otherwise I could’ve gone without.)
While I waited for my contractions to really kick up a notch, I watched Pitch Perfect 2, and when that ended, The Parent Trap was on! All my favorites! I was also super excited about The Parent Trap, because duh, one of the twins is named Annie!
By 10:30 PM, holy hell, those contractions were strong. I was in a good amount of pain, and looked forward to the break between contractions. But at some point, the breaks stopped. I remember being on my side, clinging to my stuffed puppy (I realize how childish that sounds, but I brought the puppy because it looks like Ellie and it made me feel happy and comforted, like a four year old), and just wanting a break from the relentless pain. At one point, I thought I was having a contraction, but according to Jessica and the monitor, I wasn’t. It was just sort of nonstop discomfort.
Jessica was amazing, and after letting me do things my way for a while — which basically meant just curling up in a ball and doing my best to breathe through the pain while she pressed on and massaged different parts of my body — she encouraged me to get up and move around. I was hesitant to do this because all those cords and wires on every side of me made it annoying to move around. But she was there for a reason, so I gave in and agreed to get out of bed and onto the exercise ball.
She had me move my hips around and breathe through each contraction, and I stayed there for a while. I don’t remember why I got off the ball, but eventually I stopped liking it. I was, to be honest, starting to get pretty miserable.
I got back into bed at some point, and I remember feeling like a wave hit me and telling everyone I needed a bucket. And then bam! Vomit! I threw up a few times, and I think that was the point when I decided I wanted an epidural.
My mindset going into this whole process was that I didn’t want to be miserable. I never expected labor and delivery to be pleasant, per say, but I didn’t want to feel like I was suffering. And after six hours of pretty intense contractions (the Pitocin started at a 2 and we got up to a 16, which means nothing to me, but 16 hurt!), I had become miserable.
I knew I wanted the epidural, and I put off actually asking for it for about an hour. I remember locking eyes with Brian a few times, sort of in desperation, hoping he would see the look on my eyes and tell me it was OK to get the epidural. Which, of course, it was fine! I had nothing against it, I just felt like I had all these great tools — the midwife! the doula! the bouncy ball! — and “should have” been able to keep going. But after throwing up, I knew it was time to call it and get some relief.
I thought I asked for the epidural politely, but according to my audience — Brian and Jessica — I actually said “fuck this shit!” Same same.
Fortunately at this point it was 1:30 AM, and the anesthesiologist was in my room within minutes, ready to give me the good stuff. I immediately relaxed and was really happy with my decision. Brian and Jessica had to leave the room while I got the epidural (this is a dumb rule, IMO), but Nurse Nicole stayed and held my hand, which I didn’t even need because I didn’t feel a thing.
The anesthesiologist was incredible. He explained everything he was doing and had the best bedside manner ever. I don’t know if I was tired or out of it or what, but I very vividly recall loving that his name was Dr. Salami.
Except that it wasn’t. It was Dr. Saladini or something. But I called him Dr. Salami, and I feel kind of bad about that.
As soon as the epidural was placed (this took very little time and truly was a breeze), I felt so relieved — and then I felt nothing. It was so cool. I could see my contractions happening on the monitor, but I felt nothing. Once I was settled and Brian was back in the room, Jessica suggested turning off the lights and trying to get some sleep — which is a thing you can do when you get an epidural! Cool!
Nurse Nicole checked me before I dozed off, and at this point I was between 4 and 5 cm dilated, and was 100 percent effaced.
So for the next few hours, Brian and I both got some sleep. It was a little annoying because every half hour the blood pressure thingy would squeeze my arm, and the nurse would flip me from one side to the other. But still, to get some on-and-off rest was a beautiful thing.
By 5:30 AM, I was pretty much awake and ready for an update. I’m not going to lie to you — I woke up because I passed some gas and it freaked me out. I was convinced I had pooped all over myself, but Nurse Nicole told me I didn’t, and that it was just some gas, and that people fart on epidurals and it’s a funny feeling. OK, Nurse Nicole!
At this point, I was still only at 5 cm dilated, and that was a little discouraging, but I was told it was “good.”
At 6:30 AM, Kristin came to check on me. She said she thought my water probably hadn’t fully broken during my appointment the day before, and she wanted to break the rest of it. So she did that, and I didn’t really feel anything, but I know there was a whole lotta liquid all of a sudden! She checked me and said I was actually dilated to 8 cm. Yay!
We turned on the lights, put on my “Fun & Upbeat” playlist, and decided to wake up, rally, and get ready to have a baby.
Then, Jessica and Kristin talked to me about pushing. They said, which I know from incessant Googling, that I would get an urge to push — that it would feel like I needed to take a big poop. I thought this would feel super second-nature to me, but it was actually the opposite. Thanks to a lifetime with Crohn’s disease, I am a pro at feeling like I need to poop and aggressively holding it in. So that was my body’s natural response. I started feeling a ton of pressure in my butt and pelvis area, and it wasn’t painful, but it was really uncomfortable. I didn’t like it! Jessica kept asking if I felt like I needed to push, and my response was no because I was inclined to try and hold it in!
I think it was probably around 7:30 AM that Kristin said I was fully dilated (10 cm!) and that she wanted me to try a “practice push.” Jessica held my left leg, Brian held my right leg, and Kristin was centered all up in the action. During this time, there was also a nurse shift change. I was sad to say bye to Nurse Nicole, since she’d been with me the entire time, but Nurse Liz was amazing. It was so clear she loves her job and her energy was amazing.
I thought that when it was time to push, there would be a rush of people in the room and it would feel very medical and stuff, but it wasn’t like that at all. Instead, it was just Kristin, Jessica, Brian, Nurse Liz, and me. (And the OB/GYN was on his way.) Kristin was loving the music, and her good mood was great. (Kristin, marry me.)
The “practice push” was weird. Pushing felt very unnatural to me, and to be honest, I think I held it in a little during that round. Kristin encouraged me to really bear down, and explained that each round of pushing would include three 10-second pushes. That’s endurance, man! I was definitely thanking Orangetheory this entire time.
I asked Kristin how long I would be pushing, not because I expected an exact timeline, but just because I wanted a sense of how it was going to go. She said “30 minutes to an hour, but don’t hold me to that,” and that was a good enough answer for me.
I started to push for real, and it was uncomfortable, but not necessarily painful. And between each round of pushing, I got three-minute breaks, which were delightful. After the first real push, Kristin told me she could see my baby’s hair. Brian and I couldn’t believe it. She could already see hair! That was super motivating.
On the next round of pushing, I got super dizzy and only got one good push out instead of three.
Then, Kristin said she could see the head. Then the head was out. Then, I was all, “Holy hell, this hurts!” and Jessica said, “This is the ring of fire. You got this.” And I love when people tell me I got this.
Kristin told me I only needed to push one more time and “this is it.” I was about to meet my baby! I got a little emotional, I pushed, and I felt this huge relief.
Suddenly, our baby girl was on my chest, all gooey and squirming around and being cute and perfect. It was an overwhelming feeling. I don’t know if I cried. I know that having her on my chest felt amazing, but I wanted to see her, so Nurse Liz held her up for me to see and then I definitely cried. She was so cute. Am I biased? NO. She’s the cutest baby to ever exist.
At that moment, the OB/GYN walked in. It all happened so fast! He walked in, saw Annie, said, “OK, my work here is done,” shook Brian’s hand, and then left. We all LOL’d.
I think I only pushed for around 25 minutes, which was pretty awesome. Kristin was down between my legs for a while after, so I assumed she was stitching me up, but when I asked, she said I didn’t tear at all. No tearing! (I also asked if I pooped on the table, because I was curious, and everyone said I didn’t. I asked if they were lying to make me happy, and they said no, I really didn’t poop on the table. I still don’t believe them.)
I’d heard people talk about how after you deliver the baby, you have to deliver the placenta, and I wouldn’t really say I did much to make that happen. I think Kristin just kind of pulled it out, because I was just hanging out and then I felt another big rush of relief, and there was my placenta.
The next few hours are now a bit of a blur. While Annie was getting cleaned up a bit, I finally got out of that annoying hospital gown and got to be naked for some skin-to-skin action. This was amazing. I was so happy to be snuggling this tiny little human, and frankly still cannot believe she was inside me for nine months. Eventually, she was taken up to the nursery to get her measurements and tests done. Brian went with her while Nurse Liz stayed to clean me up. Poor Nurse Liz. That can’t be a fun part of the job.
I’m beyond psyched to report that I felt amazing pretty immediately afterward. In total, my labor was pretty short (a little more than 12 hours), and I didn’t have to push for a long time. I’m glad I got the experience of active labor, and am so glad I got the epidural. The whole experience was pretty cool, and I’ve already forgotten about the pain of the contractions. So in that way, labor really is like a marathon! It’s the worst thing ever until it’s over and then it’s wonderful and then you sign up for another one when you’re a little drunk later that day! (I haven’t had a post-delivery drink yet, but I have had a lot of prosciutto!)
Annie’s blood sugar was a little low after she was born, so she had to stay up in the nursery for a while. We moved up to our recovery room around 2 PM, and then we all settled in as a family of four (Ellie was there in spirit).
Our parents came to visit and meet Annie, which was fun, and I basically just spent the entire day staring at our new daughter.
We left the hospital the following day. I had no interest in spending another night there, and I felt pretty normal, so we were back home by 5 PM Wednesday.
This is already the longest post of all time, so I’ll fill in any gaps next time. (Any questions?) But the first week has been lovely. There have been challenges — just one, actually, and it’s called breastfeeding — but Annie is a chill, happy baby, and we are all adjusting to this cool new life.
Oh, and as much as I hate Crohn’s for plaguing me throughout my pregnancy, it ultimately came in handy: The nurses were very impressed that within a few hours of giving birth, I had already pooped painlessly and without hesitation three times. Free-flowing bowels for the win.
If you read this whole thing, whoa baby, power to you.
And truly, THANK YOU for all the love and support over the past week, the past nine months, the past eight years. We are all feeling so lucky and loved. And emotional. Very emotional.
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