Sunday, December 12, 2021

You Belong With Me

Only eight hours after signing the adoption placement papers, my depression reached the deepest and darkest depths ever. Sitting at the dinner table, surrounded my beloved family, it felt like someone was missing. It felt as if someone had died. My heart had a gaping hole in it. The sadness was all-consuming.

What started as a silent cry as I pushed food around my plate grew into an animalistic wail. My emotional state was scary. I hated myself for even introducing the idea of adoption into the narrative of my life. I was angry at my husband for being unwilling to make parenting another kid work. I was jealous of the adoptive parents, who were surely doting over the baby at this very moment.

There was nowhere I could go in my home that didn’t remind me of the baby. The triggers were ubiquitous, from the positive pregnancy test pinned to my bedroom wall and the framed ultrasound photo on my dresser to the unopened box of newborn diapers in the closet and the infant car seat that remained in my backseat. I simultaneously wanted to purge all of it but also wanted to store it in a safe location, just in case...

I was even still wearing the hospital ID bands on my wrists on the off chance that the adoptive couple hadn't picked up the baby from the hospital. Maybe, just maybe, I would get a call from the postpartum floor asking me to go back and retrieve her…

After weeping until I was breathless and bereft of tears, I found my way to bed and fell asleep. But I woke up in the middle of the night, distraught and twisting over the decision to place the baby for adoption. I thought I was willing to sacrifice the baby to save my marriage, but now I realized that wasn’t true.

My priorities, for once, were irrefutably clear:

1) the baby

2) my toddler and teens

3) my mental health

4) my marriage

I tiptoed downstairs to the couch and woke my sleeping husband.

“I’m sorry I got us into this situation,” I said. “Getting pregnant without you being fully on board was a mistake. But the baby isn’t a mistake. I need to get her back. If you are able and willing to help me raise her, great. If not, then I will figure it out on my own.”

We had a surprisingly calm and rational discussion, in which he acknowledged how heartbreaking this was for me and how he couldn’t stand to see me so sad. I recognized that I needed to be less bitchy and more loving so that our home felt like a haven, rather than a torture chamber. 

And so, it was decided: in the morning, I would tell the pregnancy counselor that I needed to bring the baby home. For once, it felt like my husband and I were on the same side again.

The pregnancy counselor, however, was not so easily convinced.

“Yesterday, you were listing all the reasons why bringing the baby home wasn’t feasible,” she said. “What’s changed in the last 24 hours?”

I told her that I hadn’t been willing to accept help with childcare before, but now I was. I was going to take my mom up on her babysitting offer. My older teen had agreed to move back home temporarily to help out. The nanny search was underway again. And, of course, my husband had pledged his support.

The pregnancy counselor hemmed and hawed. She seemed reluctant to indulge my insistence that I wanted the baby back. I was confused because she was so insistent that the baby belonged with me the day prior; now she was reluctant to return the baby to me.

But legally, she didn’t have any right to stand in the way. The baby was still mine.

She said she would call the adoptive couple and break the news to them, but that it would be up to them to determine a timeline for returning the baby. It might be today; it might be tomorrow. They got to decide how much time they wanted with her. That’s when the mama bear in me riled up. Though I said I would sit back and patiently wait for word on when the reunion would happen, the truth was that I wanted my baby in my arms as soon as possible.

As it turned out, the couple didn’t want to prolong the process, either. They arranged to have the pregnancy counselor pick up the baby that morning. By mid-day, she arrived at my door with my bundle of joy dressed in Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas that were already too snug for her long legs.

The adoptive couple had sent a bag of newborn clothes and a care basket for me that had been assembled before I’d changed my mind about the adoption. I felt terrible accepting these gifts. Didn’t they want the newborn clothes for when they finally did adopt a baby? Didn’t they need the care basket – filled with DoorDash gift certificates, tea, and organic toiletries – now more than I did?

Maybe this makes me heartless, but I decided not to dwell on the adoptive couple’s emotional state. Handling mine was difficult enough. I knew I had hurt them – how deeply I could only imagine – but I also felt like I had been honest about my ambivalence from the very beginning.

Now, my focus was on tending to the two little people who were meeting each other for the first time. My toddler didn’t quite know what to make of the sleeping, swaddled being in my arms. At times, she would lean in and give the baby a kiss; at other times, she’d swipe the baby’s bottle, bonk her on the head with a toy, or throw a jealous tantrum if I held the baby too long.

My therapist Shania told me that no matter what decision I made, there would be regrets, and she was right. Only a day into parenting two kids under 2 years old, I started to doubt my decision (again!) and wondered aloud if the baby deserved the undivided attention of the adoptive parents instead.

“Give it a minute,” my husband said.

So I did. And my husband, surprisingly, was the one who seemed to adjust most easily to the new family member. He bonded with her instantly. He was literally happy to help, picking up the slack when I became weary and weepy, tending to the baby all night long, and making sure I had time to decompress every day.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. When my milk came in, my breasts turned heavy and hard. I had to stuff cabbage in my bra and strap ice packs to my chest to dry up my supply. I apparently sprained my SI joint while giving birth, but it took a few days for the pain to ramp up, and when it did, I landed in Urgent Care because I couldn’t put weight on my right leg. (Postpartum recovery was literally a pain the butt.)

The baby didn’t stay as sleepy as she was in the hospital, and as she became more alert, her fussiness increased. The sleepless nights made my husband irritable and revived his fears that he wasn’t up for raising another kid. We both felt like we were losing our minds, misplacing keys and cellphones, forgetting basic facts like birthdates and addresses, and making silly mistakes like pouring apple juice instead of milk into coffee (which we drank in copious amounts).

We are now four weeks in and it's been exactly as hard as I anticipated. The days are a logistical nightmare. There is never enough time, energy, or help. There are nights when no one sleeps, everyone cries, and we all feel like a bomb has been detonated in the middle of our already-messy lives.

I am always amazed when we make it out the door as a foursome – me, my husband, toddler, and baby – and even more impressed when I take the two little ones anywhere, even just on a walk around the neighborhood, by myself.

But slowly, painstakingly, we establish routines. We divide and conquer. I try to be less bitchy and more appreciative (some days I’m more successful than others). I practice patience (whether I like it or not).

I came to understand that this whole experience was a trauma – a self-inflicted one, perhaps, but a necessary one, too. Was the adoption drama a manifestation of my depression? My attachment issues? Something else? I don’t know. But Shania thinks it served a purpose. “You had to go through what you went through to get here,” she said (in perhaps the most therapy-ish statement ever). That horrific grief I felt after giving up the baby? It serves as a reminder of how badly I wanted her and of how grateful I am that she is here, with our family.

I was right when I predicted that I would say, “I don’t know if I can do this” every single day if the baby came home. I still don’t know if I can do it, but somehow, every day, we make it through. I am exhausted and overwhelmed. I am often anxious and afraid. Depression still threatens to swallow me sometimes. But here we are. We keep going. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

I Guess This Is Goodbye

Thirteen hours after giving birth, I returned home – without the baby. My toddler ran toward me as soon as I hobbled through the door and we sat on the floor and just hugged one another for a long time. I ate a bland dinner of soup and fruit with yogurt, then took a shower so long and hot, I felt woozy afterwards.

My toddler had a major meltdown and when we finally collapsed into bed, sleep couldn’t come soon enough. I hadn’t had any shut-eye in over 36 hours. We slept like the dead.

Morning did not bring the clarity I had hoped. I was still firmly on the fence about what to do regarding the baby. My husband didn’t want to talk about it, and when cornered, began to cry, repeating that he didn’t think he could handle another kid.

I drafted a text to the pregnancy counselor telling her I was going to the hospital to say goodbye to the baby and that she could place her with the adoptive parents, but once again, I couldn’t bring myself to send it. An avalanche of sadness crushed me whenever I thought of giving the baby up. I conjured her little face, and all I wanted to do was kiss her and love her and bring her home.

“I don’t think you’re in the right headspace to make a decision about this,” my older teen (who had been present at the birth) opined as I broke down in tears yet again. “I think you should bring the baby home and see what it’s like.”

It was what I wanted to hear, so I went with it. My teen put the infant car seat in the car and we set out for the hospital. But on the way there, I had another change of heart. I thought about the logistics of putting the baby in the car, of dropping my teen off at college, of coming home to my toddler and introducing her to the baby and then my husband leaving for work. I thought about all the newborn-related tasks we had left undone – like sterilizing bottles, setting up a sleep space, and washing onesies – and I felt overwhelmed. I questioned whether my husband was capable of feeding the baby and changing her diaper in the middle of the night (because I was co-sleeping with the toddler, and she would wake up if I left the bed for more than a few minutes). It felt like a lot to ask of him. It didn’t seem feasible. Keeping the baby was an impossible dream – beautiful, but unrealistic.

“I think we need to go say goodbye,” I told my teen.

While she understood, she was also devastated. She had been the baby’s advocate, even before the embryo transfer. She had had faith that everything would work out, even – especially – when I had not. She had been our family’s only witness as the baby entered the world. She had already bonded with her. This was her sister we were talking about, not some random infant.

We cried and cried and cried all the way to the hospital.

Between tears, I called the pregnancy counselor. She had mentioned in one of our conversations that some birth mothers have a ritual when they say goodbye to their babies. The one that resonated with me was saying a prayer over the baby with a pastor present. I asked her now if she could arrange that. She said she could, and that she would meet us at the hospital in an hour.

My teen and I reported to the postpartum floor, where a room had been reserved for us. A super sweet, maternal nurse rolled the sleeping baby into the room in a bassinet. She was wearing a new pink-and-blue striped hat with a bow on it. Somehow, the baby had become even cuter overnight. Her face had already changed. But her scent was the same, and I recognized it instantly. Holding her, I started bawling again – big, gulping, heaving tears. I could hardly breathe.

“I don’t think I can do this,” I said to my teen. “But if I bring her home, I might be saying, ‘I don’t think I can do this’ every single day.”

We wept and took turns holding the baby. A lullaby echoed in the hallway. Every time a mother and a new baby were transferred to the postpartum floor, it played again. Oh, how I wished I could just be one of those exhausted yet overjoyed mothers, having a typical birth experience.

Soon, the hospital chaplain arrived. For some reason, I assumed it would be a man (that’s the Catholic in me, I suppose), but thankfully, the chaplain was female. She had straight brown hair and wore a bright purple sweater with dangly earrings and exuded such calming, grounding, caring energy. She reminded me of a best friend I had had in high school. 

The chaplain asked me to share the backstory of my situation. I’d told this story so many times, but with her it felt especially cathartic, perhaps because I could say things like, “I don’t know what God’s will is in all this. I feel so disconnected from Him. I want to believe His plan was for me to birth this baby and give her to this couple, but it’s so hard. I feel like a part of me has been ripped away.”

“A part of you has been ripped away,” the chaplain said.

She had some probing questions, like: Did I feel any peace about the adoption decision? (Mostly no, but I had a glimmer of that once in a while.) Did this all feel like it was happening too fast? (Yes! Only two days ago, the baby had still been inside of me!) Was there a way to take more time to make this decision? (Maybe? But that would involve bringing the baby home or placing her in foster care, which I didn't want to do.) How did my husband feel about all this? (Oh, don’t even get me started.)

Then she initiated the prayer. She prayed for comfort, for clarity, for love, for compassion. I rocked the baby as the chaplain prayed, and gripped my teen’s hand for support. I came in and out of feeling comforted by the chaplain’s words. At times, my cynical brain interjected thoughts like, “This is bullshit. Just give me my baby and let’s go home.” But the chaplain kept talking about gratitude, and that word stuck with me. How had I lost that crucial element in all this drama? 

At the end of the prayer, my teen had to leave in an Uber to get to class. Since I was still (unthinkably, unforgivably) undecided about what to do with the baby, I stayed.

The pregnancy counselor arrived next. By then, I was wrecked.

“I’m so sorry to do this to you,” I said through my tears. “But I think I’ve changed my mind again. I want to take the baby home.”

The pregnancy counselor wanted to explore that for a bit, revisiting the same ground we’d covered so many times before. But this time, I felt like she was endorsing me keeping the baby. She said things like, “The baby is already bonded to you,” and “The best place for children is with their parents.”

This was news to me. The entire time I’d known her, I thought she was pushing us towards adoption.

“I wish you could drop the professional artifice and just tell me what to do,” I said.

“I honestly don’t know,” she responded. “Every adoption situation is so unique and complex.”

We sat in silence for what felt like a long while. I stared down at the baby, my gaze obstructed by my mask and my tears.

“You seem like you want to take the baby home,” she finally said. “You seem decided to me.”

But it was easy to want to keep the baby, here in the hermetically-sealed environment of a hospital room where everything was clean and contained and taken care of, where the baby slept all the time and the nurse offered to change the baby’s diaper and prepped the bottle and just handed me everything as I needed it. That’s not what it would be like at home, where it never felt like there were enough hands, no matter how many people were around to help.

And yet…the depth of the grief of giving her up terrified me.

There would be so many reminders of her. I already regretted her name (which the adoptive parents had vowed to keep). Though it was old-fashioned, it was surprisingly common. Lately, it seemed like it was everywhere, from characters on television programs to musical artists – even my husband’s therapist shared the baby’s first name!

That wasn’t the only trigger, either. The previous night, my younger teen had asked me to sign a permission slip for school – and when I left the date space blank, he prodded me to fill it in. I hadn’t forgotten – I just hadn’t wanted to write it, because it was the baby’s birthdate. How many more triggers like that were waiting in the wings to assault me?

I told the pregnancy counselor I needed to call my husband. During our conversation, he said (very honestly, to his credit) that he wouldn’t prevent me from bringing the baby home but that he could not support me as much as I needed him to. He feared that adding another family member to the mix would mean we would end up divorced – and how could that be the best outcome for any of the kids? Surely adoption was the gentler option.

Listening to him – and I was listening, deeply, because I now acknowledged how shutting out his objections pre-pregnancy had gotten us into this mess – I switched over to my rational brain. It became clear that we could not upend our lives like this. It wasn’t fair – to ourselves, to our toddler, to the baby.

When the pregnancy counselor returned, I told her that we could fill out the adoption placement paperwork. So that is what we did, while I rocked the baby and fed her, and rocked her some more. I could feel myself detaching, little by little, inching closer to acceptance that she wasn’t coming home with me.

I signed a slew of papers that I didn’t read, recognizing all the while how dangerous that was. I asked for reassurance that I hadn’t done anything permanent…just in case…

Soon, a hospital social worker arrived to fill out the hospital-related paperwork. She had zero bedside manner.

“You’re making a decision that alters your life path and the life path of another person,” she told me sternly. “We just want to make sure you’re as sure as you can be.”

I looked back at her blankly. How could I be sure of anything at this point?

“Your score was super high on the postpartum depression scale,” she continued.

“Super high” didn’t sound very scientific to me, but I wasn’t surprised. The scale consisted of asinine statements I had to agree or disagree with to varying degrees. A sampling:

I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things.

(Well, yes, because the flip-side of my depression is that my morbid sense of humor emerges.)

I have been so unhappy that I have been crying.

(Wait, you need to be unhappy to cry? I’m confused. I often cry just because.) 

I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong.

(But the things going wrong are totally my fault, so…)

I have been anxious or worried for no good reason.

(I have many, many good reasons to be both anxious and worried!)

“We want to make sure you’re making these decisions in a good mental state,” the social worker said.

What I heard was: “You are temporarily insane and you’re going to regret this when you snap out of it.”

She recommended I reach out to Pregnancy & Postpartum Support MN.

“I’ve had depression for 25 years,” I told her. “But I’ve never had postpartum depression.”

Now it was her turn to stare at me blankly, as if I were an amputee in denial about the loss of my limb.

I couldn’t wait for her to leave. When she did, to fetch yet another piece of paperwork, the pregnancy counselor and I strangely indulged in small talk like we weren’t on the precipice of the biggest event of my life.

I wondered aloud how the baby would define me when she was old enough to comprehend what had happened. Was I her birth mom? A weird kind of surrogate? Would she want to meet me someday? I was looking for clues from the pregnancy counselor about how this had all played out with other birth mothers and their children, but she said she didn’t follow the cases after the adoptions were finalized.

“So I suppose you don’t know how the birth mothers cope long-term? Are they wrecked for life?” I asked.

The pregnancy counselor’s expression fell. “It’s unpredictable. Mother’s Day is hard. Birthdays can be triggering…” Her voice trailed off. I suspected she knew more than she was letting on. I just wanted her to be real with me. This all felt survivable if only someone could tell me how intense the pain would be and how long it would last.

“It’s called ambiguous loss,” she said.

I was familiar with the concept. It’s the same kind of loss women who’ve had miscarriages experience.

“It’s like a death,” the pregnancy counselor continued. “But in this case, the baby is still alive…and that can be comforting for a lot of birth moms.”

It wasn’t comforting to me. It made this situation worse. Knowing that my baby was alive and being raised by other (better? More competent?) parents sounded like some kind of fresh hell that would torment me for the rest of my life.

Once the paperwork was all finished, I had five minutes alone with the baby. I stroked her hair and kissed her stork bite and took pictures of us together, though I looked so haggard I couldn’t imagine ever treasuring them.

The pregnancy counselor returned and I put the baby in her bassinet. I asked if I could take the ID card with my last name and the baby’s birth stats on it. The pregnancy counselor said the hospital likely needed it for ID, so she went to ask for a copy. I took the baby’s little hat off her head and pocketed it, aware that no number of mementos would ever be enough to replace her.

“Would you like to take the tissues?” the nurse asked, indicating a box of Kleenex I’d torn halfway through in the span of just a couple of hours. “We’re going to throw it out if you don’t.”

It had no sentimental value, obviously, but it was practical.

“Sure,” I said, grabbing the box. “I know I’ll need it.”

I kissed the baby again and the nurse led us down the hall, pushing the bassinet. Under the bright lights, the baby finally opened her eyes. I stroked her cheek and told her I loved her.

“We’re turning off here for the baby’s hearing test,” the nurse informed me.

I looked down at my baby, trying to mentally photograph her in that moment, a moment that would have to last a lifetime. I still couldn’t believe that I was saying goodbye. But I did.

“I’m proud of you,” the pregnancy counselor said as we walked toward the parking lot together.

Proud? I wondered. Of what? Of this mess I’ve made? Of being so laissez faire with a life? Of wishing my own baby would die in utero so I wouldn’t have to make a decision about her fate? This decision was nothing to be proud of.

Soon, the adoptive couple would come pick up the baby from the hospital. The worst day of my life would be the best day of theirs. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how those two things could be true, simultaneously.

I drove home in a silent state of shock. I had a full afternoon ahead of me: a therapy session, caring for my toddler, chores. The next day, I would be back at work. Less than 48 hours after giving birth, my life was going “back to normal.” Isn’t that what I wanted? If so, why didn’t I feel relieved?

I held it together until nighttime descended, and with it, a grief so intense I thought it might annihilate me. Everything went black. The gulping, ugly crying returned. My older teen tried to comfort me, but I was inconsolable.

“I don’t want to exist,” I kept saying.

I couldn’t help but think that giving the baby up had been the biggest mistake of my life…

Thursday, November 25, 2021

On The Night You Were Born

Saturday night, just as I was drifting off to sleep, my water broke. I stumbled to the bathroom and more fluid released. When I looked into the toilet, it was confirmed: the water was clear but speckled with tissue-like matter in it. Labor was underway.

I went down to the basement, where my teens were hanging out. I told them the news and both were insanely excited. We had already decided that if my older teen was home at the time I went into labor, she would accompany me to the hospital. (COVID restrictions meant only adults 18 years old and older would be allowed as support people on the labor and delivery floor.)

I dialed the OB clinic’s after-hours paging service, and within minutes a calm, soft-spoken, female doctor called me back. I told her my water had broken but that I wasn’t having any contractions yet. She said she would let the hospital know I was in labor.

“So…do I go in now? Or wait?” I asked. Even though this was my fourth birth, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. The doctor seemed surprised.

“You can take a quick shower if you want, but, yes, you need to get to the hospital now,” she said. “Things can progress quickly, especially given that this is your fourth baby.”

And so, we were off. Because my teen isn’t covered on the household car insurance, I drove. (Reckless, perhaps, but luckily, there was no one on the roads.) On the way, I dictated a text for my teen to send to the pregnancy counselor, alerting her to the news and asking her to check in with me in the morning. At this point, I felt confident that I would be placing the baby for adoption. It was just a matter of what time the adoptive parents would come get her at the hospital.

We checked in at the maternal assessment unit, where I changed into a gown and got hooked up to a fetal monitor. Contractions had begun, though they were far apart – 6 to 7 minutes. A nurse checked my cervix and said I was still only 1.5 centimeters dilated. Things were off to a slow start.

“I just want you to know that we read your doctor’s notes,” the nurse said during a lull in the action. “We’re aware of your…situation…and we want you to know that you are in control of what happens next.”

Ha! In control? I wish. I felt anything but.

A hard contraction kicked in and I asked how soon I could get an epidural. I wasn’t even going to pretend that I wanted to labor naturally for a while. I wanted all the drugs, as soon as possible.

“You’re not dilated enough yet,” the nurse said. “We like to wait until at least 3, preferably 4 centimeters before we do the epidural.”

There was no telling how long that would take. In the meantime, I was transferred to a labor and delivery suite, where I was given the option of either trying the birthing tub or getting an IV with Fentanyl to “take the edge off.”

“I can’t do both?” I asked.

“Fentanyl can make you disoriented,” the nurse informed me. “We don’t want you in the bathtub in that state.”

I doubted the drug would be that powerful, but I opted for it over warm water. I was not fucking around with pain this time.

“This can hit pretty fast,” the nurse said as she administered the medication. “You’re going to feel like you’ve had a few glasses of wine.”

Because I don’t drink (and never have), I had no idea what she was talking about. 

“I don’t feel anything,” I told her.

Then it hit me. And the room started bouncing. Up and down. Up and down. It was so disorienting, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. As promised, it did take the edge off the contractions…for a while. But sometime around midnight, it wore off. And when the contractions hit, and my body began to shake violently, my only recourse was to grip the bedrails and hold on for dear life. It felt like I was being crucified. 

My teen had since fallen asleep on the fold-out sofa; somehow even my primal moans didn’t wake her up.

The nurse came in to check my cervix again. Thank God, I was in between 3 and 4 centimeters dilated. She put a call in to the anesthesiologist, and it felt like forever until a stick-thin, bug-eyed man appeared at my bedside. The nurse woke my teen up and had her sit at the edge of the bed. I placed my trembling feet on her thighs for support and curled my body over a pillow.

The process of actually administering the epidural was painfully slow. The anesthesiologist was meticulous in his work, giving me instructions on how to position my body and what sensations I would experience at each step, but fuck, he really wasn’t moving fast enough. It didn’t help, of course, that every time I had a contraction (now every 2 minutes or so), I had to alert him so he could stop what he was doing.

“I’m contracting!” I’d wail.

“Thank you for that information,” he would say. Then, when the contraction ebbed, he’d give me another instruction, and when I obliged, he’d say, “Thank you for being the perfect patient.”

(“He has autism,” the nurse later told me. “In case you were wondering why he speaks that way.”)

When the epidural finally took hold, it felt like mercury sliding into my veins – cool, refreshing, tingly. By around 1 a.m., I was completely comfortable. The nurse positioned me on my left side, turned off the lights, and told me to get some rest. I wanted to sleep – I was so desperately tired – but I couldn’t. I was too wired. The nurse came back to flip me to my other side 45 minutes later. Once again, I failed to sleep when she left the room.

Around 3 a.m., I started to feel pressure in my pelvis. To be blunt, it felt like I needed to take the biggest shit of my life. When I paged the nurse to tell her so, she checked my cervix again – and confirmed I was fully dilated and ready to push. There was just one problem: the doctor wasn’t there yet, and wouldn’t be for at least 30 minutes.

“Don’t start pushing until she gets here,” the nurse instructed.

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to abstain from what felt so necessary an action. I wondered if waiting was bad for the baby. But wait I did, and when the doctor arrived, I was oh-so-ready to give birth to this baby.

The doctor was not Dr. Baby-Maker, but one of her colleagues. Though she didn’t have the Suzy Sunshine aura of Dr. Baby-Maker, she was a comforting, compassionate, and unflappable presence. I couldn’t have asked for a better team – once again, all female, and so empowering – around me.

“Normally we put the baby on mom’s belly after birth,” the doctor said as she positioned me to push. “Do you want us to do that?”

“Yes,” I said. “And I want to hold her.” I wanted as much time as I could have with her, even as I was equally aware that the more time I spent with her, the more I would attach.

My teen stood over my right shoulder and encouraged me as I pushed – three rounds of three pushes each. I couldn’t tell if I was making progress or not, but my teen peeked a couple of times to watch the baby descend. Everyone laughed, and the doctor reported that the baby was shaking her head from side to side as she crowned. And then, faster than I expected, she was out, in one glorious rush of blood and fluid and hormones. 

The doctor placed the naked baby on my belly and my teen cut the umbilical chord. The nurse moved the baby up to my bare chest and she fit on me so perfectly. All I could think was, “Mine. Mine. Mine.”

My teen and I both started bawling. It was a beautiful birth, and the most powerful experience we’ve ever shared together.

The placenta emerged, and the doctor stitched up a second-degree tear. I had some excess bleeding, so the nurse administered Pitocin and massaged my uterus.

Meanwhile, I took in the baby. Her hair was the same strawberry-blonde hue as mine and she had blue eyes, like me. There was a heart-shaped stork bite between her eyebrows and a concerned expression on her face. She was wide awake, yet quiet and serious. Definitely an introvert.

But even as I contemplated her face and basked in the way it felt so natural to hold her, I was preparing myself to give her away.

When the doctor finished sewing me up, she tapped me on the knee and said, “I’ll be praying for you.” It made my tears start flowing all over again.

The nurse weighed the baby (8 pounds, 5 ounces), measured her (21 inches), and did the Apgar tests (if she told me her scores, I don’t remember them). The baby began rooting for a nipple, and my teen offered to feed her. The nurse handled the tightly swaddled bundle to my teen with a bottle of formula. I snapped a few pictures of my oldest and youngest daughters together. They looked so sweet.

When the baby finished her bottle, my teen handed her back to me and offered to take some photos of me with the baby. “Only on your phone, though,” I said, already preparing for potential future triggers. She snapped a few pics with her phone and showed me. I looked drained, pufffy-eyed, and shrouded in sadness. At least the baby was photogenic.

The nurses, while incredibly kind, seemed uncomfortable with the ambiguity of the situation. They kept asking if I wanted to send the baby to the nursery, or if they should call someone. No and no. It was still too early to call my husband, much less have him arrange childcare so he could come see the baby (and, presumably, say goodbye to her).

I waited until 6:30 a.m. and dialed his cell. I was surprised to hear his scratchy morning voice. Since I hadn't heard from him overnight, I assumed all was well on the home front and that they had slept fine. Well, I was wrong.

“She kept asking for you,” he said. “But I didn’t want to bother you.”

They had been up all night and eventually crashed in the recliner in the wee hours of the morning. My call woke them both up. He said he would get himself and our toddler ready for the day, call my mom to babysit, then make his way to the hospital.

My teen and I ordered breakfast. As I devoured an omelet with breakfast potatoes and fresh fruit, I drafted a text to the pregnancy counselor announcing the birth and giving her permission to alert the adoptive parents that they could come pick up the baby...but I couldn't send it. I had bonded to the adorable little snoozer in my arms. I half-hoped that when my husband arrived, he would see her and hold her and fall in love with her, too, and we wouldn’t have to go through with the adoption proceedings.

But that’s not what happened. When my husband finally arrived, he did indeed hold her and sweet-talk her. He helped me change her first poopy diaper (it was a two-person job). He stood by while a tech gave her an EKG because a nurse thought her heart was skipping beats (it turned out to be nothing).

But when my husband and I were finally alone, we started talking about adoption…and he broke down. Not because he was sad about giving the baby up, but because he felt there was no other option.

I won’t share what he disclosed, but suffice to say he had been struggling with depression to a degree I never fathomed. While he had seemed to me over the past several months to have his head in the sand in stubborn avoidance of our domestic difficulties, he had been just trying to survive. Now, a torrent of confessions came forth, and the depth of the darkness he had been living in terrified me. He was not only suffering; he was unsafe. I couldn’t imagine him helping me care for a newborn. He didn’t have anything left to give.

I wasn’t sure how much I had to give, either. I had conveniently forgotten how brutal the collateral damage from birth is. It took two nurses to get me to the bathroom, one of whom had to assemble and help me step into my postpartum undergarment – mesh underwear topped with a massive maternity pad, an ice pack, and Tucks pads slapped like pepperoni on a perineal pizza. I dripped blood behind me as I penguin-walked to the sink to wash my hands. I was ravaged. How could I care for a newborn in this state? I couldn't even go to the bathroom alone!

Morning turned into afternoon. Nurse after nurse came in and out of the room. Because of my "situation," they let me stay in the labor and delivery suite instead of transferring me to the bleak postpartum floor. They also said that I could leave the hospital as soon as 3 p.m. if the baby's placement was arranged.

"I don't have to stay 24 hours?" I asked. "I thought that was mandatory."

"The baby has to stay at least 24 hours," a nurse said. "You can go home as soon as you're stable."

I’m ashamed to write this, but I was so desperate to get out of there, it seemed like a fair trade to give the baby up right away if I could just go home. I sent the text to the pregnancy counselor. She said she would alert the adoptive parents and that she would come over to the hospital right away to walk through things with us. When she arrived, both my husband and I were bleary-eyed with tears. We talked in the same circles we’ve been talking around for months – the battle between the head and the heart, in which the head was increasingly winning out.

“Would it be OK if we filled out the placement paperwork?” she finally asked. “You can always tear it up when we’re done if it doesn’t feel right.”

We started to fill the paperwork out, but I couldn’t finish it. My heart hurt too much.

“I just want to go home,” I sobbed. “With my baby.”

But, as has been the norm throughout this ordeal, I couldn’t have it all. And every one of my options sucked. I could place the baby for adoption and go home to my family. Or I could stay another night with the baby in the hospital and decide about adoption the next day.

Reports from home were that my toddler was deeply confused, first about where Mommy went, and now about where Daddy went. Being away from her another night would be traumatic for both of us. But placing the baby with the adoptive couple didn’t sit right with me, either.

“Why does this feel like Sophie’s Choice?” I asked aloud.

The pregnancy counselor had another idea: maybe I could go home and the baby could stay in the nursery overnight? She went to float the idea by the hospital staff and returned with a nurse from the postpartum floor who would watch over the baby until the following morning. I could come back any time the next day to either take the baby home or sign the placement papers. It sounded like the best of the bad options.

The nurse prepared to take the baby upstairs. I leaned over the bassinet to kiss her goodbye. She was such a good baby, so calm amidst all the adult tumult.

“Do people do this often?” I asked the nurse, feeling afraid that I would come back the next morning and the baby would be gone, the victim of some paperwork snafu or staff miscommunication.

“Um…no. Never,” the nurse said. “We’re making an exception for you.”


Now I really felt like the Worst Mother in the World. I also felt guilty because the adoptive parents, who had planned to come spend the night with the baby in the hospital and take her home in the morning, were being told to back off because I was still undecided. I couldn’t even imagine how upset they were. So many people were hurting, and it was all my fault.

The baby was whisked away. I packed my things and a nurse pushed me in a wheelchair down to the patient pick-up area, where my husband came to fetch me. I was bone-tired, sore, and depleted. I needed a hug from my teens and my toddler. I felt bereft without the baby in my arms. All I had to remember her by were the teddy bear ID bands on my wrist. 

I had no idea what I was going to do, but I hoped that with a good night’s sleep – and some kind of miracle – I would know what was right in the morning

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Then That Happened

"I got the strangest phone call this morning," Dr. Baby-Maker said at my 40-week prenatal appointment. "It was about an adoption agency wanting to know if you’d delivered? I think they just got you confused with someone else, but I figured I’d ask…"

"No, that was about me," I said. The tears I had been holding back from Dr. Baby-Maker for so long streamed forth and slid under my face mask. "I was ashamed so I didn’t say anything sooner."

She handed me a box of Kleenex. I continued blubbering and blowing snot into the tissues. 

"My husband and I have been feeling ambivalent about the pregnancy and our ability to parent another child, so we're considering adoption," I told her when I caught my breath.

"That maybe explains the indecision around induction," she said. "I guess I noticed you were more reserved this pregnancy, but this year has been hard for a lot of people. Is it just feeling like you’re not bonded with the baby?"

"That’s part of it," I said. "But mostly, I just feel overwhelmed. My toddler is high-maintenance. She’s the hardest kid I've ever had. And my depression has been really bad."

"For how long?"

"The whole pregnancy. I thought it would get better after the first trimester, but it didn’t."

She glanced at my chart on her laptop. "Are you taking any antidepressants?"

"I used to, a long time ago, but I just felt like they didn’t work or they made things worse."

"You’re in therapy, though, right?" she asked. "Is that…helping?"

"You know that therapists don’t tell you what to do," I said, then realized maybe she didn’t know that. I always assume everyone has been in therapy and completely forget that there’s a whole contingent of mentally healthy people who don’t need it or those who do need it but have never bothered to go. "So in that sense, no, it’s not been as helpful as I’d like."

"I’m so sorry you didn’t feel like you could tell me about this," Dr. Baby-Maker said more than once. She seemed really stuck on the fact that I hadn’t confided in her, that it meant something about her as a person or a medical professional. 

"It’s not about you!" I wanted to say, though of course my silence has been a little bit about her – the fact that she’s so happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic, and optimistic (which I don’t fault her for at all) make it harder to be a doom-and-gloom raincloud in her presence.

"I’m not here to judge," Dr. Baby-Maker said. "And I don’t have any advice to offer, either. I don’t have to take responsibility for the babies after they’re born. I’m just here for you."

Was she, though? With all this induction pressure, I was questioning whether or not she was really on my side.

"How long have you been considering adoption?" she asked.

"Since July, maybe?" I said.

"Oh, that’s a long time."

Then she wanted to know about logistics: did the adoption agency or the adoptive parents need to be notified when I gave birth, or not until after?

"This decision obviously doesn’t affect the medical care you receive, but in these scenarios we do alert the labor and delivery and postpartum nurses," she said.

I explained that my husband and I were undecided and wouldn't be making a decision until the baby was born.

"I'm so sorry you're going through this," she said. "But I’m sure you and your husband will make the best decision for your family."

"That makes one of us!" I thought.

And with that, the conversation returned to induction. After I canceled the second induction, Dr. Baby-Maker insisted on another biophysical profile. One of the first things the sonographer checked was the baby's heartbeat, though even before she announced the measurement, my ears recognized that something was off. Usually, a baby's heart rate sounds like a horse's galloping hooves. This sounded more like a canter. Whereas the baby's heart rate had always been in the 140s, now it was in the 110s. It was still within normal range, but way on the low end.

As is the norm in OB practices, one intervention (in this case, the ultrasound) led to another: a non-stress test. Without asking my consent or explaining what was going on, I was taken to a treatment room where a nurse propped me up on an exam table and strapped me to a fetal monitor that looked like a remnant from the 1800s and sounded like it was going to go kaput any second. She handed me a clicker and told me to press it every time the baby moved, but the baby, who was all kicks and wiggles during the ultrasound, was now eerily still.

"Feeling any contractions?" the nurse asked as she reviewed the peaks and valleys on the printout, indecipherable to my layman eyes. 

"No," I said. 

"Well, your uterus was contracting." For the next 40 minutes, she came in and out of the room, every time scanning the printout and asking, "Not feeling anything?"

I shook my head. All I felt was uncomfortable, antsy, and impatient. I was wasting precious babysitting time on this appointment when I could be doing something enjoyable like, oh, anything but this

When Dr. Baby-Maker reviewed the printout, she didn't seem to think much of it. Then she checked my cervix, which was only 1.5 centimeters dilated.

"My preference would have been to deliver you today," she said. "But the baby seems to be OK. We can wait a few more days. Do you want to start the induction on Sunday night with Cervidil or wait until Monday morning and do Cytotec?"

"I like the timing of Monday morning better, but I'm afraid of Cytotec," I said. 

"You could come in Monday morning and we could just start Pitocin and see what happens. How does that sound?" 

It sounded like I was going to be her guinea pig, but I agreed to the Monday morning plan because the drop in heart rate concerned me. It seemed like the baby would be safer out than in.

"The scheduler will call you will an exact arrival time," she said. "Any questions?"

"Can I eat breakfast before I come in?" I asked.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “Though keep it light. Don’t eat a big omelet, fruit, and a cinnamon roll or something.”

("That sounds delicious," I thought. "That’s exactly what I’d like to eat.")

Dr. Baby-Maker stripped my membranes one more time, then trilled "See you on Monday! No more cancellations!" as she walked out the door.

In the car on the way to the appointment, I had prayed that labor would start spontaneously, that the birth would all unfold in a healthy and safe way, but I felt like I was talking in a vacuum. On the way home, I drove in silence, on the verge of tears. My body felt like a big disappointment.

That afternoon, I went for a long, sad walk in frigid, gray, windy weather. I soaked through a Poise pad, but I was pretty sure it was just urine, not my water breaking. (I should be so lucky.)

Friday night, I slept fitfully. I woke up on Saturday morning despondent. I really didn't want to be induced, but other than going MIA on the OB and waiting for labor to start spontaneously (and potentially risking the baby's well-being in the meantime), what choice did I have?

I had big plans for Saturday: a trek to a particular café for a massive cinnamon roll, the Children's Museum, a couple more walks, but somehow the day never got off the ground. We ended up staying close to home, which in hindsight seemed fortuitous because after a brisk 2-mile stroll with my teens, I started having contractions. They weren't painful and were inconsistent – 7 minutes, 5 minutes, 8 minutes apart. I wanted to believe I was headed in the right direction, but by late afternoon, they had stopped. Yet another false alarm. I felt stupid for getting ever-so-slightly excited that maybe today was the day.

By bedtime, I was emotionally and physically exhausted, and looking forward to a deep sleep. My toddler conked out quickly and I cozied up to her in bed. 

But just as I was about to drift off to dreamland, I felt a pop and a gush of warm liquid between my thighs. I knew, unmistakably, that my water had broken, marking the end of pregnancy and the beginning of the hardest week of my life...

Friday, November 12, 2021

If You Want To Make God Laugh...

“I’m sorry you’re still pregnant,” Dr. Baby-Maker said to me when we spoke on the phone hours before my induction was to begin.

“Me, too,” I replied, though I didn’t really mean it. It was the day after my due date, and I’d called her office anxiety-ridden and teary-eyed because I didn’t feel like I could go through with the induction.

Despite having made all the arrangements once again, from meticulously planning childcare to finishing chores to stocking the refrigerator to skipping ECFE so we could all get to bed early, I didn’t feel at peace about forcing my body into labor. I felt like crying (which is no longer a novel or noteworthy sensation, I suppose, but still…).

Throughout the day, leading up to the dreaded hour of hospital admission, everything I did was punctuated by “the last” time. The last workout. The last nap. The last load of laundry. The last article. The last shower. The last meal. I could feel the axis of my world tipping, soon to never be the same. And that was terrifying. I didn’t want to confront it.

Given that I’ve been on high alert for signs of labor for over three weeks now, it seems absurd that I would want to stay pregnant even one second longer, but there you have it. For someone with zero patience, I seem to have an incredible ability to delay the biggest impending event in my life right now. (I guess I can still surprise myself. Too bad it’s in all the wrong ways.)

So a few hours before I was to appear at the hospital for “cervical ripening,” I called Dr. Baby-Maker’s office to ask what my options were if I canceled. She called back immediately.

“How are you feeling about the induction?” she asked.

“Anxious,” I said. “I don’t want to spend an extra night in the hospital and I’m not looking forward to a long day of labor.”

“Have you had any signs of labor?” she asked.

“My mucus plug fell out,” I said. (That's basically the boogery substance that keeps germs out of the cervix during pregnancy. It can fall out anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours before labor begins, so not exactly a red flag.) “But that's it.”

Dr. Baby-Maker said that instead of Thursday night, I could come into the hospital early Friday morning and we could dive straight into the Cytotec (aka the scariest labor induction drug ever that isn’t even FDA approved for that use) and Pitocin (also evil, for pain-related reasons).

“I’m on call Friday night, so even if it took longer than expected, that would be fine with me,” she said. “Though labor could last into Saturday morning…”

So I would still potentially be laboring for a full 24 hours?! Then what was the advantage of waiting until Friday morning? Once again, though I had options, all of them sucked.

“What if I don’t want to do induction at all?” I asked. (After all, the baby seemed to be doing fine according to all the measurements of modern medicine.) “How long can I go?”

“I wanted to induce you a week ago,” she reminded me. “I know it’s hard to accept given that you’ve had three spontaneous labors, but with your age and the IVF, I don’t recommend waiting. I'm concerned about the risk of stillbirth. I don't say that to scare you. I say it because I've seen it happen. I don't let anyone go past 41 weeks, even healthy women in their 20s."

What I didn't say (because it is a thought so vile I hesitate to even write it here): I'm not concerned about stillbirth. It would mean I wouldn't have to make a decision about adoption. But (another horrible thought coming), I don't think I'll get off that easy. (I know that's naïve to say; stillbirth would obviously bring a whole host of other devastating emotions I have no experience dealing with and that would wreck me in their own ugly, unique way. But from my self-centered perspective, it would "solve" a problem without requiring me to take responsibility for it.)

Further complicating all this: the dominant feeling over the past few days that I don't know if I can bear to give the baby up – but I don’t feel like I can admit this to my husband, who seems so detached from the baby that I actually needed to ask if he wanted to meet her before a hypothetical adoption placement happened. (Him: “I guess saying goodbye would be the Christian thing to do…”)

This sudden fear of parting with the baby, however, was preceded by three crazy-making sleepless nights due to my toddler’s persistent cold and subsequent breathing issues; a big middle-of-the-night blowout argument with my husband in which we imagined aloud what divorce might look like (hopeless, broke); and a crying fit that got so out of control I hyperventilated and considered calling 911.

So, yeah. Things have been hard. And complicated. And confusing. No wonder the baby doesn’t want to come out. I don’t blame her. (I mean, hello, I don't even have the time, energy, or motivation to give birth!) And yet…at some point isn’t biology just going to kick into gear, regardless of all the ambivalence?

Dr. Baby-Maker droned on about how I shouldn’t wait any longer to induce, that it would be Thanksgiving soon (um, yeah, not for another two weeks; cool your jets, doc). Then she asked if I would be willing to come in on Sunday night for cervical ripening because she's on call again on Monday. (Interesting how induction only seems to be urgent when it conveniently coincides with a doctor's schedule...) I said sure, then realized I didn't mean it. Didn’t I just say I didn’t want to spend an extra night in the hospital if I didn’t have to? I am so tired of feeling bullied around this decision. (Oh, the irony, given how I was basically begging for an induction with my last pregnancy.)

"Can I just come into the clinic tomorrow and see what's going on with my cervix and then decide?" I asked.

She agreed (though dare I say begrudgingly?) and ordered another biophysical profile (the ultrasound where the baby racks up points for practice breathing, movement, etc.). 

So once again, we have a plan. But as they say, if you want to make God laugh

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Our Lady Of Perpetual Indecision

When I last signed off, I had accepted an induction appointment, but after researching the medications involved, was planning to cancel it and wait instead for my body to do its thing naturally. But in news that will shock none of my regular readers, I changed my mind. Again. And then again.

It all started at 3 a.m. on Monday morning. No, not labor. A depressive episode. I once again found myself wide awake and unable to fall back asleep. I tried all my tricks: relaxation breathing, calming music, journaling, a hot pad. At 4:30 a.m., just as I felt sleepiness begin to descend, my toddler woke up...and also refused to fall back asleep. 

By 9 a.m. I was feeling fried, slightly insane, and full of "fuck you" energy. I texted my husband to tell him I might never forgive him for his role in this situation. I ate several peanut butter chocolate Rice Krispies bars. Then I took my toddler for a walk...which turned into a run. Around the one-mile mark of lumbering, huffing, and puffing, I seriously started questioning whether I should check myself into a psych ward. And maybe I would have if I thought it would be more restful and beneficial than just crying it out at home.

On my way to do just that, I passed a yard where a lettered sign read, "Karissa, You Are Loved." It wasn't clear what the occasion was or how Karissa was related to the homeowners. But I felt envious of her. I am not one for public displays of any kind, but what a difference it would make to recast myself as the beloved in this situation rather than the villain. (Also, word nerd aside: I actually prefer the passive voice in that phrase. It makes it more about Karissa than about whomever is doing the loving.)

I went home and had my private pity party...and by late afternoon, when the clinic called to confirm my induction appointment three days hence, I didn't have any fight left. If nothing else, the timing of the induction was so freaking convenient. It meant that my toddler would have round-the-clock care provided by family. I could cancel my doula (which I was looking for an excuse to do because I really didn't want another stranger in the room). My husband could be present at the hardest part of the birth. (Even though I was pissed at him, I still kind of wanted him there.) The plan fell together effortlessly.

I spent the next couple of days preparing – making lists, stocking up on essentials, repacking my hospital bag, running around for my required Covid test and getting my hair cut. I wasn't looking forward to the induction, per se, but I anticipated some sweet, sweet relief from the many physical discomforts of pregnancy.

But on the morning of the big day, I just couldn't go through with it. I was afraid of the pain, the drugs, the unknowable amount of interventions that awaited me. I didn't want to spend any more time in the hospital than absolutely necessary.

I had other anti-induction reasons that were, admittedly, trivial: I didn’t particularly like the birthdate. I didn’t want to rob myself of the surprise (and the story) of how it would all go down. The weather was going to be nice over the weekend and I wanted to get in all the walks I could – as well as one more, end-of-season lactose-free ice cream fix from my favorite out-of-town creamery. ("Only you would postpone a birth to get some ice cream," my husband said. He's not wrong.) I wanted to finish Squid Game, which I only watch on the Elliptical (and which will be off limits for six weeks post-partum).

So I canceled the induction. And then I spent the next 24 hours playing the "If I had been induced, I'd be...checking into the hospital/in active labor/holding the baby right now" game.

On Friday afternoon, around the time my Dr. Baby-Maker had basically promised the birth would be over, I was prone on the ultrasound table, peeking in once again on my seemingly perfect baby in utero. The sonographer shared that she was checking off certain criteria –  amniotic fluid, fetal breathing, moving limbs – and assigning points. The baby scored an 8 out of 8. (Already a straight-A student. Atta girl.)

Dr. Baby-Maker was pleased with the ultrasound results but seemed a little disappointed that I'd had a change of heart about the induction. She reminded me that because of my age, a 39-week induction was more medically indicated than it was elective. She didn't want me to wait much longer to take action. And in the meantime, she wanted to strip my membranes, because my cervix remained the same stubborn one centimeter dilated that it's been for the past two weeks. For the uninitiated, stripping the membranes is when a doctor sticks a finger up your cervix and separates the amniotic sac from the uterine lining. This releases natural hormones that can jump-start labor. It only took a minute and wasn't the worst finger-fuck I've ever had, but it was far from pleasurable.

"If this is going to work, it will do so in 24 to 48 hours," she said. Then we made another induction appointment.

I drove home weepy and defeated, wondering if I'd made a mistake in skipping out on the original induction appointment. My body has done everything it was supposed to do during this pregnancy up until this point. Why the delivery delay? My first two kids were born well before their due dates...what's the hold-up now? Is it just my expectations that are out of whack? (Probably.) Or is there something else that needs to be worked out in me or the world before the baby's arrival? 

My ambivalence about the adoption decision didn't feel like a factor in all this, but let's be honest: it probably is. Maybe I wasn't ready to face the dragon yet. "This isn't your forever home," my husband keeps warning my belly. I think he's trying to be cute, and by "home" he only means my womb, but the fact is he has left all the new baby merch unassembled. 

Could clarity about the baby's fate still come before she does?

I sound like a broken record but: I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.

And so, once again, I wait, sans any sign of imminent labor...

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Countdown To Catastrophe

I cannot tolerate being pregnant anymore and yet I realize that as soon as the baby arrives, the hardest part of the journey will begin. I will have to make a decision about her fate and live with the consequences.

Emotionally, of all the shitty situations I have found myself in over the past 40 years of my life, this seems like the worst, if only because it was completely preventable yet I plowed ahead anyway. Now, so many people’s lives hang in the balance.

"You were trying to better your family, for lack of a better term," my therapist Shania said during our most recent session.

Yeah, well, as an ex of mine used to say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. What I wouldn't give to go back one year and do everything differently.

It wasn't that long ago that I marveled at women who somehow magically knew they were done having kids. How does a mother ever discern that? I wondered. It befuddled me. Now I know, because I am utterly, completely done having kids. It's unfortunate I didn't figure that out before I got pregnant.

"Maybe you didn't need to have another child to know that," Shania said. "Maybe getting pregnant was enough. It was an itch you needed to scratch."

It would seem so. But doesn't it suck to be the baby I created in that pursuit? Granted, none of us had a say as far as when or under what circumstances we came into the world, but this little girl really got dealt a bad hand. Shouldn't she be welcomed with all the love and joy her parents can muster, not fear and dread?

Physically, I am at the point in pregnancy where everyone feels the liberty to gawk, smile, and comment on the state of my body. The pregnancy counselor wants to check in. The doula wants to chat. The teachers at my toddler's ECFE class inquire about names. I want to pretend none of this happening.

"Let me see if I can get a few pictures of the face," the sonographer said at the 37-week OB appointment after breaking the news that the baby continues to measure huge. (Why do I make such big babies despite lower-than-average pregnancy weight gain? It’s a mystery.)

"That's not necessary" I said. "She'll be here soon enough."

At my 38-week appointment, there was no warning, no consent. The sonographer went straight for the 3D face shot. And how dare she! The baby is freakin’ cute. I’ve often thought that the decision to give the baby up for adoption would be easy if 1) I could be unconscious during the birth and 2) I never saw her face. Neither of those things are realistic.

How in the world am I supposed to meet a little being I grew inside of me and then give her away? On the flip side, how the fuck am I supposed to care for another kid when I can barely take care of the current members of my household, much less myself?

The fact that the 8-pounder who has been treating my cervix like a punching bag will be here soon feels so surreal. Like many women nearing their due dates, I feel like I will be pregnant forever. But in reality, we are talking days now, not weeks, until I give birth.

We’re also talking about induction, which Dr. Baby-Maker has offered me at 39 weeks because I am of “advanced maternal age.”

At our last appointment, she laid out the timeline: arrive at the hospital at night, insert Cervadil to soften my cervix, and take something to help me sleep (because, believe me, I'd need it). Twelve hours later, break my water and start Pitocin.

"Ideally, you'd meet your baby by 4:30," she said.

There was one hitch, however; quarantine has resulted in a baby boom, so if the hospital was full on the night of the scheduled induction, I would have to wait until the next morning, and receive Cytotec every two hours instead of Cervidil.

Once Dr. Baby-Maker started listing the medications and interventions required for induction, I silently questioned who all this was for. It wasn't better for the baby, and it didn't sound great for me, either. My primary concern, though, was that an induction would mean I'd miss another night with my toddler, whose breathing, mucous, and choking issues have reemerged. (Whether that's due to seasonal allergies, a cold that's been circulating through our household, or something else has yet to be determined.)

It sounds absurd, but I don't want to dedicate any more time giving birth than absolutely necessary. I have other responsibilities to tend to!

When Dr. Baby-Maker asked if I had any questions, I said, “I’ve heard induction can be very painful.”

Labor is painful,” she responded.

OK, but I think we can agree that not all pain is created equal. It's a spectrum. That's why the pain scale exists. A 5 is not even in the same stratosphere of sensation as a 10. And I've heard induction is an 11 at best. I suppose it doesn’t matter since I’m dead-set on getting an epidural anyway, but…why prolong or intensify the suffering unnecessarily? Haven’t I been through enough?

Induction seems like a lot of hassle for something that will eventually happen on its own -- and likely more efficiently, if only I can summon some patience. Still, I agreed to the induction date proposed by Dr. Baby-Maker, figuring I could always cancel or change the appointment. Then I went home and Googled Cytotec, and was horrified to discover it associated with things like uterine rupture, maternal hemorrhaging, and fetal distress.

So, yeah, that’s a no. At least for now. Nature can have a little more time to take its course.

Every morning I think, “Today could be the day! It’s a beautiful day to give birth!” By nighttime, I think, “Phew. I’m glad it wasn’t today. I wouldn’t have been up for it.”

Back and forth. Back and forth. Get out of there, baby. Stay put, baby. Let’s get this over with. Wait, I’m not ready.

In the meantime, I try to cherish the one-on-one moments I have left with my toddler, taking them as seriously as though I had a terminal illness and will have to say goodbye to her soon. I love watching her sleep, the way she throws her little arm around my neck or falls into my lap and kisses me unprompted. I delight in the funny things she does, like shuffling around the house in her big sibling's Crocs or busting a move to '80s pop. She adds new words and phrases to her vocabulary every single day. (“Hello there!” “Here you go!” “Uh-oh!” “Rascal!”) I am so enamored with her. And I feel terrible about how much her life is about to be upended. She has no idea what's coming (nor do I, really, for that matter) but I know my mental state and my ability to be fully present will likely decline after the birth, regardless of where the baby ends up.

What would it take for this situation to feel less like a waking nightmare and more like a dream come true?