No one is pregnant forever. That was the mantra I kept repeating to myself, and what I told everyone who asked. But as the days ticked past my “due date” and turned into weeks, I was starting to doubt it.
The ultrasound told us we could expect a baby sometime around December 17th. My son had come only 4 days past his due date, and everyone I talked to seemed to have a story about their second one being earlier. No one delivers babies in Seldovia these days, and transportation is unreliable (particularly in the dark and snow of winter). So on December 8, the whole family moved over to a hotel in Homer, ready to start waiting for the little one’s arrival.
So we waited. First came the “due date.” Then the full moon and lunar eclipse. Solstice. Christmas. My dad’s birthday. All of my landmarks came and went, and the baby stretched my incredibly protruding belly as tight as it could possibly get, stubbornly refusing to show any signs of an impending arrival.
We count pregnancies in weeks. And two weeks “late” has become a kind of magic number in the medical field. As I approached that deadline, the midwives got less and less comfortable seeing me still pregnant. And it was certainly testing my patience. But the baby passed every test they could throw at it with flying colors. We decided to wait a little longer.
On the night of December 29, I started to have a little bloody show, and a few sporadic contractions. December 30 brought more of the same. On an afternoon hike, I felt a few small gushes of fluid that had to be some of my water. Excited that things would be starting soon, I called the hospital, canceled the non-stress test I had scheduled to check on the baby, and waited for things to ramp up.
And waited. And waited. I would have some contractions when I changed position, or walked around, but otherwise, they just petered out. I called the midwife several times to tell her that no, nothing really was happening yet, and got a fitful night of broken sleep.
The next morning, I tromped up to the hospital for another non-stress test and ultrasound test. The leak had plugged itself. The baby was perfectly happy. And though the occasional contractions and bloody show seemed to be a good sign that the baby would eventually arrive, baby seemed to be in no hurry.
It was December 31, officially two weeks past my due date. I took off for an hours-long hike on the beach, contemplating various methods I’d heard of for encouraging baby to come. Hiking hadn’t done much for me so far, but if nothing else, it was a good way to pass the time.
The walking contractions were nothing terrible, but enough to slow my pace. It’s an odd sort of state of mind, when you’re working hard to increase your own pain. After the hike, I paced the hotel, changing positions constantly to keep things moving along, worried this “labor” might stop at any moment. After a couple hours I called to give the midwife a heads up, finally ready to believe it was for real.
I needed the ice cleats to walk up the hill to the hospital, but this time, I didn’t need to stop and vomit along the way. I worried aloud to Hig that we were showing up too early – that I wasn’t really in labor yet, and that we should go for another hike instead. But in freezing rain at 11PM on New Year’s Eve, a hike didn’t seem like the wisest or most pleasant plan.
When the midwife said I was 6cm and 100% effaced, I was extremely relieved. Baby wasn’t going to make it for 2010 (no tax deduction for us), but would definitely be here for New Years. We tromped around the hospital for awhile (very quiet on New Year’s Eve), then I got in the tub. But after a couple hours, all I’d managed to do was move from 6 to 7 cm. It was looking to be a long night.
The contractions got stronger, and longer, and much more intense, but never really any closer together. At 8cm, I let the midwife break my water. But baby’s big head plugged most of it, and things continued on a long slow pace. More hours passed. By 9cm, I was yelling through the contractions, which were still irregular, but starting to pile on top of eachother with an intensity much greater than anything I’d felt during Katmai’s birth, sometimes continuing for several minutes without a break. I passed into a labor and sleepiness haze at this point, no longer aware of the time, and barely able to stay awake in the short breaks between the pain. At 9.5cm, they gave me a very short dose of pitocin, hoping to speed the last bit along. But my body was already moving that direction, and after 10 minutes, they turned it off again. I didn’t think it could get any more agonizing, until the midwife pulled aside the final lip on my cervix so baby’s head could get past it. Then it was finally time to push.
With Katmai, the pushing was the hardest part. This time, it felt almost like a relief. I could feel the baby moving down each time I pushed. The head came down, then out. Then a sudden panic – baby’s shoulders were stuck! The midwife yelled at me to push as she worked to free the shoulders (Hig says it was a lot of tugging), then I felt the rest of the slippery weight slide right out.
Within seconds, I had a baby in my arms, squeaking just a bit, and zeroing in on my nipple. I focused on that intent little face for a minute, then couldn’t wait any longer to know our surprise. A little girl!
Meanwhile, I delivered the placenta and distractedly followed the midwife’s instructions as she gave me a shot of pitocin and a few pills of cytotec to help stop the bleeding, and sewed up the tear I’d gotten when her shoulders were stuck. It wasn’t as peaceful as I’d hoped, but as I cradled my nursing newborn, it was peaceful enough.
It wasn’t until an hour later we weighed her and discovered our little girl was not so little after all! Lituya Journey Higman was born at 9lb 15oz, 20 inches long, with a 15 inch head. Born over 2.5 pounds heavier than her brother, not one of us had any idea that such a large baby was squashed inside of me.
Despite being supposedly 2 weeks late, she was not the slightest bit overcooked, with plenty of vernix, no peeling skin, and a perfect placenta. Lituya decided to cheat her parents out of the 2010 tax deduction, in favor of the glory of being Homer’s New Year’s Baby. With a birthday of 1/1/11, no one will forget it.
By the time she was 24hrs old, we were getting on a ferry back to Seldovia. So far, she’s a calm happy little girl, and Katmai is adjusting well to being a big brother.
And what’s the origin of ‘Lituya’? Lituya Bay is in southeast Alaska, a hundred miles from the nearest human settlements. It forms the only protected harbor in a long exposed coast, and was carved by glaciers out of tall mountains. The ocean and forest around it is rich with bears, sea lions, salmon, and giant spruce trees. It’s most famous for a tsunami in 1958 that knocked trees down 1500 feet above sea level. There is evidence that this was the last and largest of a series of similar tsunamis, which may be why the native settlement that the French explorer La Perous documented in the late 1700s was abandoned by the time westerners frequented the place. La Perous lost much of his crew here to the violent tidal rip at the mouth of the bay. For me, it’s a dramatic and mysterious place that stood out on our 4000 mile trek. And it’s a nice name.
In a nutshell:
36 hours of pre-labor (not enough to slow me down at all, but just enough action to make me hopeful and impatient).
9 hours of early labor (slowed me down a bit, not too bad)
10 hours of active labor (slowly and painstakingly dilating from 6 to 10cm, of which the last 4 hours or so was more and more intense)
1 hour pushing (surprisingly much easier with a nearly 10 pound baby than for one with an asynclitic head)