Friday, May 08, 2015

Introducing Nico Alexander Goldenberg Calvo


he arrived a week earlier than the doctors expected, although i always expected him early. i wrote a blog post about my pregnancy in november where i pegged his birthday as march 23. not sure if it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, lucky guess or true psychic powers on my part, but sure enough he arrived the morning of monday, march 23, 2015, at 10:02 am.

in that same post, i also predicted he would look more like Warren (true) and that he would be a good eater (also true), as he has been a champion nurser since his first day. i did get his birth weight wrong, however, saying he would be past the 8-pound mark, when he clocked in at 7 pounds, 9.5 ounces and measured 20 inches long.

as a joke, i also wrote that i would have a hellish labor to compensate for the fact that my pregnancy went so smoothly. certainly, nothing about childbirth is meant to be pleasant, and i suppose a hellish labor is better than a pregnancy full of complications. still, i wish i hadn’t put that into the universe, because my labor ended up lasting a total of 34 hours, with those final 10 spent on augmentations and interventions that culminated in the antithesis of the pristine natural birth i had outlined in my birth plan.

so much for planning.


i had decided in my third trimester of pregnancy not to get an epidural during labor. as brave a choice as this seems, it was mostly made for me. i have written here before about the titanium rods in my back to correct my childhood scoliosis, a painful surgery i had 17 years ago. more recently, it had been discovered that one of the rods had broken. these rods line the lower lumbar region of my spine, right where an anesthesiologist would administer an epidural, creating a barrier that may render it ineffective.

i was told that an attempt could still be made, if i wanted it, but after discussing it more with my OB, who advised against it, and thinking i wanted a no-meds childbirth experience for myself anyway, i decided to forgo the epidural completely. and i stuck to my guns on this point, perhaps foolishly, during all 34 hours of my labor, even as my contractions (and screams) intensified.

i like to think i have a pretty high threshold for pain. that spinal surgery did much to create that threshold, as i spent a week in the hospital, in traction, on a morphine drip, re-learning how to walk. then came months of painful physical therapy, a constricting back brace and deep depression. i figured this episode in my personal history, which still makes me queasy when i consider the pain, qualified me for a natural childbirth. after all, the pain of recovering from the back surgery lasted about a year, whereas labor lasts just a day. easy peasy, i thought. 

to give myself added confidence, i spent months watching childbirth videos — getting particularly cozy with a British series about midwives called One Born Every Minute — reading books by midwives such as Ina May Gaskin, studying pain-coping mechanisms, doing daily squats and learning about hypnobirthing. preparation was the name of my plan.

but so much for planning.

at home, on my yoga ball, in the throes of a contraction

labor began at midnight on a sunday. in retrospect, i should have just gone to bed because the contractions were easy enough to sleep through, resembling mild menstrual cramps. but my excitement kept me up, bouncing on the yoga ball i did not yet need, while watching a documentary on the amish and then another on scientology. 

at some point, i did crawl into bed next to Warren and managed to get a few hours of sleep. at 8am on sunday morning, i called my OB who told me to labor at home as long as possible. soon after, i called my mother and told her to pack her bag, as she would be watching the dogs while we were at the hospital. then i labored at home as long as possible.

still breathing

at that point, my contractions were more intense yet still very manageable. all that prep ensured i stayed breathing deeply, with shoulders relaxed, body swaying and mood upbeat. yet there was something peculiar about my labor: the contractions did not come at regular intervals like they are supposed to. sometimes they came two minutes apart, other times five, and sometimes even 10, with no predictable pattern. when i mentioned this to my OB, she said i could be having “prodromal labor,” which is basically a false pre-labor that feels very much like actual labor, though does little for dilation.

still, i wouldn’t know for sure until arriving for a check at the hospital. so with bags packed and spirits heightened, Warren and i arrived at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena at 6pm on sunday evening. much to our amazement, i was dilated 7-8cm. cue the happy jig and joyful declarations that we would be parents before midnight. an hour later, we were in a labor room with lights dimmed, playing Bob Marley. i kept powering through my intermittent contractions, my breath still solid and spirit now impatient.

at midnight, there was still no baby. another check showed no progress on the dilation. not exactly normal as i should have been entering the transitional phase of my labor at that point — the most painful yet quickest phase that precedes the pushing. with my birth plan indicating no interventions, the nurse asked me what i wanted to do. i said i didn’t know. she told me my labor was stalled. i asked her what would happen if we were in a rural village. she said i could labor for days before finally delivering or die in childbirth. i said i wanted to do neither.

then my OB showed up and suggested breaking my water. though this was technically an intervention, i rationalized it to myself by thinking that a strong contraction might break it at any time, so it wasn’t totally artificial. Warren asked me 10 times if i was sure. i wasn’t but i knew i wanted to keep my labor moving so i allowed my OB to place a long apparatus with a small hook at its top inside my hoo-ha and do the deed, which made me feel like i peed myself. then she went to sleep in her car, telling the nurse to call her when things got more interesting.

hours passed and the pain intensified, with the contractions still coming at irregular intervals. i remained steady, still deep breathing up a storm while telling myself it would only be a little while longer until i could meet my son. the nurse asked if i felt the need to push. i did not. another check revealed no progress on the dilation.


my OB reappeared at 4 a.m. and suggested pitocin augmentation. pitocin mimics the natural oxytocin of labor to speed up dilation and get a baby born. apparently, my contractions weren’t strong or regular enough to keep dilating on my own. i asked for an option B. she said there wasn’t one beyond waiting to see what happens. my labor nurse said she thought the baby’s head was too big as she could feel it during the cervical checks. i flashed back to the ultrasound i had a week earlier with a specialist who told me my baby already weighed more than 8 lbs, with a noggin measuring in the 93th percentile.

so at 28 hours into labor, i agreed to the pitocin. Warren asked me 10 times if i was sure. i wasn’t but i felt tired and wanted to keep my labor moving, so i allowed my OB to administer an IV with that devil drug, turning up the dosage every half hour. though i couldn’t rationalize this being natural, i still kept telling myself it would only be a little while longer until i could meet my son, so i should just shrug off the fact that my labor didn’t go according to plan. then my manageable labor turned hellish.

i want to stop here and say that i’m 100% convinced that if my labor did follow my plan, i could have delivered normally without any augmentation or pain medication. of course, i could be wrong about this and am probably just saying it to make myself feel better about what ultimately happened. and of course, because my birth plan outlined a pristine natural birth with no interventions, the universe would give me the exact opposite to remind me of just how little is in my control. good prep for parenthood, i suppose.


within an hour and a half of receiving the pitocin, i was begging them to turn off the IV and somehow remove it from my bloodstream. my once manageable contractions, which felt like severe menstrual cramps at best, became nuclear reactions that reverberated from my abdomen and shot into my toes and fingertips, covering my whole body in a fog of paralyzing pain. all attempts at deep breathing were replaced with horror movie screams. as much as my rational brain tried to tell my body to relax and roll with the pain, my body replied that we were being sawed in half so fuck your breath.

the only thing that helped was having my hips squeezed toward each other, a job Warren performed faithfully every two minutes, even as his arms shook from exhaustion and face dripped with sweat. meanwhile, i kept screaming and crying, screaming and crying. i may have even invoked jesus. i also remember uncontrollably wetting the bed while shouting, “please, make it stop!”

soon after, my OB arrived to check my cervix again. NO PROGRESS ON THE MOTHERFUCKING DILATION. i was still at 7-8cm, just like i was when i checked into the hospital 12 hours earlier. at that point, it was 6am and i had been in labor for 30 hours. daylight began making its way through the hospital windows, and i could see doctors walking through the courtyard outside, wondering if they could see me, too, thinking the room looked like a scene out of The Exorcist. 

then my OB handed me an oxygen mask and told me to take a few breaths to get an energy boost, that it was time to push. she shoved her hand up into me and spread my cervix to help aid the dilation. at every contraction, i was instructed to hold my breath, put my chin against my chest and pretend like i was pushing out the biggest turd of my life.

so i pushed and pushed and pushed. i pushed until my face turned red and they told me to relax it for fear of broken capillaries. i pushed with legs in stirrups, then with a squat bar. i pushed until i was shaking, drenched in sweat, grunting and moaning like an animal. all the while i kept asking if they could see the baby’s head, assuming he would slide out of me at any moment. i was told we were closer, i was doing great, progress was being made. keep pushing.

so i kept pushing for two hours, asking “is he here yet?” after every push until i was finally told that the baby hadn’t made his way into the birth canal yet. he was still in my pelvis, above my cervix. with that news, i lost any shred of hope that i could deliver naturally. i began to sob — defeated, exhausted and with a twisted body i wished only to escape. “make it stop,” i kept yelling. “this is cruel, have mercy!”

my OB said she would get me an epidural. i refused it, knowing that i would have even more trouble pushing numb than i did feeling every pitocin-induced contraction, which lit up the whole labor and delivery ward with my screams. so i asked for the C-section. maybe begged is more like it. “it’s over, it’s over, it’s over,” i remember saying. “i can’t do this anymore.” this time, Warren didn’t ask me 10 times if i was sure. i looked at him and apologized. i felt like a failure. he wiped away my tears as he began shedding his own, telling me i had nothing to be sorry for. then they wheeled me into the operating room, Warren walking beside me while holding my hand, in scrubs, both of crying.

my infinitely kind and patient labor and delivery nurse, Cynthia, with Nico

a buzz of activity permeated the operating room. there must have been 10 people there, some of whom introduced themselves to me cheerily. i wanted to stab every one of them. but first, before they stabbed me, came a bunch of consent forms, which my shaking hand signed with an awkward squiggle i did not recognize as my own signature.

finally, i met the anesthesiologist, a creepy European man who kept rubbing my legs and back. Warren didn’t like him. he put his arms around my shoulders and said, “you’ll feel no pain in five minutes.” but he was a filthy liar because it took him half an hour to work around the rods in my back and get the spinal block to take.

but when it did take — thank you, jesus, buddha, allah, the dalai lama and bob marley! the agony instantly turned into ecstasy as everything below my armpits slackened with numbness. it felt like having 100 orgasms at once. i could have kissed that creepy anesthesiologist. then a nurse stood in the center of the operating room and read aloud the terms of the surgery: that i, Milla Goldenberg, had consented to it and it was “being performed on this day, monday, march 23, 2015, in pasadena, california.” it felt like i was being read my last rites.

Warren came in a moment later, sat down next to me and took my hand. “he’s finally coming,” i said. “we’ll meet our son soon.” i looked at his face the entire time, my tears flowing, still sputtering out apologies, as they lasered open my abdomen — releasing a smell of burning flesh — pushed aside my intestines, cut into my uterus and pulled out our baby.

fresh out of the oven

i heard him cry immediately and smiled with relief. a moment later, Warren stood near the nurses, who allowed him to cut the cord, which they said was unusually thick and ropelike. they told me his weight: 7 pounds, 9.5 ounces. come again? this was supposed to be the porker baby, definitely over 8 pounds and probably closer to 10, i had convinced myself. after all, why would i labor so long and unsuccessfully with a baby that size and hips a gynecologist once told me could shoot out babies “like torpedoes”?

“he was trying to be born face first, ‘sunny side up,’” my OB said while stapling my abdomen shut. apparently, he had turned at some point during labor, still head down, but with his backside against my own back instead of my belly, making for a tighter squeeze through the birth canal, a common cause of stalled labors like my own. also, his noggin did measure large, in the 90th percentile.

at that point, i still hadn’t seen him so, naturally, i began yelling like a madwoman: “show me my son!” a nurse came over and held him above me for a few seconds. he looked pink and puffy, his big eyes open and swollen face scrunched in a scream. he looks so weird, i remember thinking, like fleshy cotton candy. then they carted him away to clear fluid from his lungs. the last thing i remember before the room faded into darkness was watching Warren take our son into his arms.


two hours later, i arrived in my own hospital room, feeling groggy and still numb. nurses floated in and out, taking my vitals, administering medicine, pushing on my uterus, asking how i felt and checking on the baby. i wished they would all shut up and disappear. i still hadn’t held my son and worried i was missing those precious golden hours of skin-to-skin contact that all the baby books told me were vital for bonding and getting nursing established.

when i did finally get him into my arms, i expected to feel that magical surge of love i had heard so much about, the one that rendered the pain of labor forgotten and marked my entry into motherhood, but given the drugs, the drama, the people all around me, the fact that i had barely slept in two days, i only felt a flicker. i held him just an hour, enough time to get him to latch onto my breast, before handing him off in favor of a few hours of deep, dreamless sleep.

first contact

on the second day, i finally felt the surge. in fact, my whole being felt electrified as every circuit in my mind, body and spirit was being rewired toward this little bundle of flesh, bones and my DNA that i never wanted to stop holding. i had spent most of the day crying uncontrollably as the cocktail of maternal hormones washed over me, perhaps drowned me, and caused me to declare to Warren that i was “now made of love.” he kindly suppressed his laugh, kissed my forehead and wrapped his arms around me, our baby between us, our family formed.

day two, after the surge


i need to stop here and give Warren, who is now my husband (blog post on our wedding ceremony to be posted soon), due praise. he remained a class act and unwavering source of support during labor, ensuring i never felt alone. his strength, dedication and small acts of kindness during those 34 hours — like wiping the tears off my face, kissing my hand and telling me he loved me — provided me with every reassurance that, no matter what happened, i knew it would be OK because i could count on him to remain my side.

i could not have dreamed up a better man or a more handsome doula to carry me through what was probably the hardest day of my life maybe his, too until it turned into the best day. i remember lying in bed the second night in the hospital, wide awake while gazing at our baby, as Warren snored beside me in a cot, and thinking that i have never loved two people more in my life. even today, when i think that i couldn’t possibly love him any more, i watch him hold our son and feel the tears pool in my eyes and the pressure in my heart intensify. he is my rock.



we spent the maximum four nights at the hospital as the pain associated with recovering from a C-section kept me mostly bedridden and in no rush to get home. four days watching a parade of people leave and enter our room, sometimes a few an hour, including nurses, student nurses, room service bringing food, room service removing food trays, housekeeping to change sheets and clean the bathroom, the lady handling the birth certificate, a lady offering a newborn photo shoot, a lady who brought water a few times a day, hospital staff to debrief me on the quality of care (to which i said, “too many visitors”), daily visits from my OB to check on my incision and eventually remove the staples, daily visits from the pediatrician who said the baby looked fine and i should sit topless in bed with him all day, night nurses who woke us up every three hours to administer medicine and get me to nurse, plus our own family and friends. it was the worst hotel EVER.

and the total cost? $38,282.68. thankfully, i only have to pay a sliver of that out of pocket. 

Nico with his babushka

on the bright side, the room had basic cable and our stay allowed us the time to get Nico’s circumcision performed he’s a jewish boy, after all. i also used the time to get help figuring out how to breastfeed and practicing the “Caesarian shuffle,” which saw me walking around the maternity ward via tiny steps, as though my feet were bound.

at the hospital, i also met with my placenta encapsulator, Sara from Mommy Feel Good, who, yes, helped me eat my placenta like the dirty hippie i am — but only after much research identifying its many benefits (which are supported by science). sadly, this did not involve eating it with a fork, knife and nice Chianti as blood dribbled down my chin, but instead getting it dehydrated and then ground into a powder to be placed into capsules. downside is the capsules smell and taste like rotting meat, making it hard to get them down. 



i left the hospital on a friday afternoon after having entered it the previous sunday evening, a time during which i went outdoors not at all. seeing my normally pale complexion get even milkier, Warren worried i had developed jaundice and needed light therapy. (the baby never did, thankfully, as i supplemented with formula in the hospital before my milk came in on the third day.)

on the drive home, everything looked different to me. i know it’s cliche to say that colors looked brighter and the sun felt warmer, but they really did. everything also looked like a potential threat as i now saw the world through the prism of parenthood, which sees danger lurking in the most mundane places. even though i sat in the backseat next to a sleeping Nico in his carseat, i still placed my hand on his chest to make sure he was breathing, like the total paranoid parent i promised myself i would never be.

first nap in his crib

we introduced the dogs to the baby outside, letting them get close enough for a good sniff. Warren had left one of Nico’s hospital beanies with them earlier in the week so they had some exposure to the new hairless pack member already and seemed to accept him readily. then i gave Nico a tour of the house, as suggested by one of the parenting books i read, describing what he could expect out of each room and discussing the memories i hoped we could create in them.

then i took him outside so he could the whole house in its entirety. i stood and looked at it along with him, thinking of when i first purchased the property on my own eight years ago. that was my baby then, one i spent years and too much money remodeling. it provided the backdrop for many parties, a place to celebrate my triumphs and provide refuge during the defeats.

i emptied countless bottles of wine on its deck, cooked many meals in the kitchen, hosted out-of-town guests in its spare room, welcomed new dogs to live permanently, carried one dog out for the last time, all the while wanting to fill it up with the sounds of children laughing, their small shoes lost under the bed, their sleepy heads climbing into my bed on weekends to be held in my arms as i leaned back into the arms of another, our love compounded and growing, seeped into each wall, secured by the unbreakable bond of family.

and here i stood finally! — at 38 years old, on my own porch and on the precipice of my dream life, my child in my arms and husband by my side. ive never been happier, i told Warren, as we interlocked hands and walked into our home, together, for the first time as a family.  


Anyanka said...

beautifully written, and with love xoxo

Riley said...

Very moving, it touched me and enlightened me - - sadly never had kids. You're ordeal was reason to regret additional measures. We be human with uniquely human births.

Michael Landis said...

Well written indeed. Warren, you are an awesome holder of what is dear to you. My hat is off and over my heart. Milla, you are an oxytocin-charged rock star. Love seeing you loving these guys. <3

Christie del Castillo -Hegyi said...

I didn't read this until now. Tears. I am so happy for you.