We’re on the malecon in Puerto Vallarta, the town’s iconic ocean side boardwalk that’s filled with cafés, souvenir shops and tequila peddlers and–at this moment–a group of tourists that are standing against the handrail, the Pacific ocean prettily behind them, getting their picture taken with an iPad.
“Oh my god, new rule: if you use your iPad to take photos, anyone standing within 5 feet of you has a legal right to snatch your iPad away and never give it back,” I said to Drew as we made our way past the group.
Today, we’re having a baby. Or at least that’s the hope with the healthy dose of Misoprostal smeared on my cervix. We’re walking the length of Old Town, Puerto Vallarta in order to jiggle the baby down, which is exactly what it sounds like, me walking up every set of stairs, covertly trying to do little lunges behind bushes when no one is looking, rolling my hips and massive baby bump, trying to feel for some position that will finally force this baby down.
Unfortunately, she’s not cooperating.
The theory is that she has the cord wrapped around her neck, something that happens quite often in pregnancy (Google says 30% of the time) but usually is harmless. In our case, we’re not sure it that’s the case because first, she’s been having decelerating heart rates when she moves, which could mean that she pinches her cord a little when she shifts around. Second, she is floating around in my womb, not engaged in my pelvis like she should be. I’m 1 cm dialated, but she’s a position 0, a fact that could mean all of this cardio is for naught, and I’ll be having a repeat c-section — not for the pre-eclampsia which I seemed to have managed with my salt-free diet, but for something so common it’s stunning — failure to progress. Still we’re giving it a serious attempt.
I. will. have. this. baby. today.
I feel a little like the woman in American Beauty, trying to sell that house, as I climb dozens of stairs up to the top of Puerto Vallarta, overlooking the bay. Drew is trailing behind me, carrying freshly squeezed orange juice, the energy drink of choice for labor day, and we’re having something of a date. At least it feels like that, the two of us, without Cole for the first time alone — perhaps ever, woah — since Cole was born and we’re here in Mexico, walking around like tourists, except instead of taking pictures with our iPad like the cruise ship drop-ins we keep running into, we’re nine months pregnant and hustling up stair cases like we’re looking for a bathroom.
Speaking of which, I really have to go pee. Not really, but that’s how it feels to me, the baby’s head is pressing on my bladder so hard I could cry out, but still I’m determined. If this wasn’t baby’s birth day, then I’d take a seat, rest, avoid the pounding punishment of each step, but instead, I’m picturing that pressure as productive, moving me closer to meeting my baby and kick starting the contractions I’d be more than happy to experience.
We stop for lunch at a cute café where the people around us are all tourists, and in the bathroom the woman from Chicago and the woman from Hawaii talk over the stall wall to each other and compare notes about their trip.
Me, I’m quiet. I’m not peeing, but it really, really feels like I should be.
After lunch I’m walking a little slower. I’m tired. It’s a few miles back to the doctor’s office, where I’ll sit for an hour to be monitored and find out if things have “progressed” if my cervix has changed position or thinned or effaced or for the love of everything that is good, if that baby’s head has descended.
Before we left, Dra. Laura warmly prepared us for our chances. She was letting us try the induction because it posed no harm to the baby, but she felt our chances were dwindling. Twenty-four hours into the cervical ripening, I had begun to dilate and soften, but the baby’s position was so high it seemed that the cord wrapped around her neck theory was beginning to show merit. We’d probably have a c-section. This was our last chance.
At the top of the hill in PV, we stood on a balcony and watched the ocean for a bit, the wind whipping wildly around us and cooling off the sweat from the long climb.
“What do you want to do?” Drew asked me.
“Well if the baby doesn’t move down, that’s it, right? There’s nothing else to do. We get the c-section, and that’s fine, that’s when you want to have a c-section.”
“Okay. But what if she moves down just a little?”
“Hmm, I don’t know!”
It’s a long walk back to the doctor’s office in Colonia Emiliano Zapata, but it’s all down hill, then across a wobbly foot bridge over the Rio Cuale, and skirting the blazing afternoon sun in the shade of double story buildings that line the streets, each one with a downstairs shop and upstairs apartment. Flowers and overgrown potted plants dangle off balconies overhead, with fat hibiscus flowers drooping from between iron railings. The pressure in my lower abdomen is sharp and I’m convinced the baby is now well lodged in my pelvis. I’m preparing myself for the next steps, the hospital admission, the Pitcocin drip, the mandatory epidural for my VBAC, the vaginal birth I’m about to have.
Inside the doctor’s office I relax during my non-stress test, the heart rate monitor digging into my swollen belly, Drew doing his ad hoc (and as typical, completely inaccurate) reading of the printout. I’m having mild contractions now, although I can’t feel them, the machine records each subtle movement and shift. The baby’s heart rate sounds good.
The doctor says it’s gotten even lower than before and instructs me to undress and hop up on the examination table. I do it, stripping off my pants and underwear with her watching, as I’ve learned that’s the custom here in Mexico (unlike back home, they have you undress privately, as if that makes a difference) and gracefully as possible I climb half-naked on to the table. I stare at the overhead light and wait for the verdict.
“Okay.” The doctor says.
I wait. My heart is in my throat.
“Okay. You are at 1.5 cm.”
Yay! I suppress a smile, just barely, but I’m ecstatic.
“But… the baby hasn’t moved down at all.”
The doctor stops the examination, because obviously there’s nothing else to check. That’s it, 30 hours of trying to induce have ended with a failure to progress. Drew is tearing up. He knows what this means. I’m surprisingly calm and resolved. I remember what I had said to Drew earlier:
This is when you want to have a c-section.
And like that, a phase of my life closes. I had always wondered what child-birth would be like, what contractions felt like, if I’d be able to handle the pain, how I’d feel in the last moments, what my birth stories would look like. Then my life unfolded and I found out that I was one of the ones who would save themselves and their babies with c-sections. It wasn’t in my story for me to find out about the rest of it.
I tried to reassure Drew, “it’s okay, there’s really nothing else we can do, there’s no pill to make the baby move down.”
I loved him so much in that moment, for how much he wanted this for me, even in the face of unavoidable circumstances. After a bit, I was able to convince him that I was really and truly okay with it. Even getting to try an induction was surprisingly healing for me. I felt good about it. Our daughter was tangled up in the cord, something we couldn’t have ever prevented or fixed, my stair climbing be damned! We laughed about it a little bit: our daughter, the trapeze artist. The ultrasound had even shown that not only was it around her neck but she was holding onto the cord with both hands. Maybe she just really, really didn’t want to leave. What can you do? We booked the c-section for the next day, and headed home.
Then it sunk in…
Tomorrow, we were going to have a baby!
Part II is here.