Monday, July 28, 2008

The birth of Meera Grace as told by her Papi

The birth of Meera Grace Johnson-McCormick

After Meera was born, I took two weeks off from work to spend with my family and it was wonderful. On the eve before going back to work full time, I stood at the crib downstairs and was changing Meera’s diaper. She was loving it – she loves hanging out with no diaper on and was kicking and waving her arms. Then she looked up and me and saw me. And I started crying in a deep, deep way.

There is no mystery to life when you stand there like that, your totally dependant baby looking up at you. Life is just that, the love you feel for your family when everyone is at the most vulnerable.


In August 2007, when I ran into the grocery store to get the pregnancy test, and event when it came back positive and we were so excited, I never could have imagined standing there in that moment.

In early May the Doctor had said that the baby might come any time, but that Heather might also go up to her due date. Heather had really really wanted to get past the boys birthday before the baby came. Not just the party, which was great, but also their birthday. She wanted it to be their birthday and not overshadowed by the baby’s arrival.

When we got through May 8th, we were all ready. All of us. It felt like the baby would arrive any second. Heather started to have some more Braxton Hicks, but nothing. Then the due date came and went. We were all starting to feel very anxious and ready for the baby to come, We went out to lunch at Panera on a Saturday and the boys made friends with a little boy when we were sitting outside. Heather started to have more consistent, but weaker contractions. We thought it would be that night. It was not.

On May 20th, we had an appointment with the Doctor who told us she was not dilated or anything – nothing. We went ahead and made an appointment for the next week, thinking that it was silly to do so. The week came and went – some minor contractions, but nothing really. The boys were struggling with waiting. They expressed over and over how they wanted to baby to be there and why wouldn’t she just come out. Heather and I could totally understand. The house was ready, we were ready.

It felt so surreal. Almost like we were not going to have a baby. We went about our life, on hold. Everything on hold. We didn’t go anywhere, we didn’t do anything. We didn’t even go an hour away. But it also didn’t feel like it was going to happen.

And we wanted it to be natural. That her body would kick into gear on its own. That the baby would be delivered vaginally that Heather would labor like women throughout history.


The weekend before, Don and Janet had decided they couldn’t wait any longer and they came down. The plan had been for them to get the call and make the 8 hour drive, but with the 2 week wait, it was time. And it was good they did.

On May 27th we went to the follow up OB appointment. Nothing was happening. They put Heather on a NST (Non-invasive stress test), where they monitor the baby’s heart and the contractions. Heather’s were about 20 min apart, but not too strong. And they would stop; it wasn’t the real thing.

The Doctors determined that it was time to move things along, that we couldn’t wait anymore. In the OB practice there are several Doctors and we had been playing them a bit against each other to keep from them insisting that Heather be induced. They were actually surprised it had gone this far. We were told to be at St Luke’s at 8 PM.

We went home and got ready. It felt so strange. That the baby was coming, it was sure now. There was no stopping it. We were excited, but Heather was a little sad that she was going to be induced. We talked about it and she started to feel better.

We had a great dinner with the boys and got them to bed.


After everything was ready - Don and Janet at the house, everything packed: clothes, comfy stuff, snacks, pillows, computer (for blogging) and camera, we got in the volvo and drove off around 7:30. We arrived and 8 and went straight in. At 42 weeks, Heather was so big and uncomfortable, she kind of waddled in. It was a clear, beautiful night and we went from the little parking garage into the main lobby and to the 3rd floor for the baby center. The hospital seemed so quiet.

But the maternity ward was full, so they sent us to overflow. The nurse took us down the hall. It was an older section of the hospital and weirdly quiet. There was another couple being admitted as well – they spoke only Spanish, but we could tell they were nervous too. We were in a private room and they were in a different private room. We sat and hung out.

The nurse made Heather wear the hospital gown, Heather didn’t want to, but put it on, and rebelliously put on a sweat shirt over it too – you go girl!

We waited for quite some time, it was a full moon and the ward was totally full. Finally around 1 AM, they were ready to get rolling: give Heather some medicine internally to soften her cervix and maybe even start labor. The discomfort was almost immediate – and it was pretty intense. It was time for Tylenol with Codeine to help. I slept a bit, Heather dozed a little, but not much in general.

In the morning, we were moved back into the main part of the baby center – into our labor room. The nurses were great – so nice, so helpful – so thoughtful. Heather’s first Doctor, Chris wanted things to start slowly – the first round of medicine, Cervidil, had not done anything – Heather was barely 1 CM dilated. Around noon, he started the pitocin to induce labor at 2 ml/hr.

A little while later, Dr. Ron Kriner took over (shift change) and wanted to get things rolling much more aggressively. He ramped up the IV drip. The contractions started immediately and were pretty intense. The nurses had the external baby monitors on. They increased the dosage every 15 minutes from 2 ml/h all the way up to 28 ml/hr.

The thing about pitocin, is that since the labor is artificial, the body does not create endorphins to reduce the pain – which is a long way of saying that being induced is really painful. But Heather took no pain killer – no medicine at all. That is really incredible. At one point the nurse looked at her and asked her if she wanted anything for the pain. She said no and the nurse said “Honey, I can’t tell you what to feel, but most women would be screaming right now!” Heather was totally focused. We worked on the Lamaze breathing to keep her loose. I held her hand and coached her to relax and breathe.

The only thing she ate the whole time was Italian ice (the lemonade, not the red stuff). There was a little fridge in the main room of the baby center. They had that in there. Don and Janet brought me Panera for lunch, but Heather did not have anything. For supper Don went out and got Red Robin – I had a bacon cheeseburger – but I didn’t taste it.

Since St Lukes is a teaching hospital, and Heather was definitely the most interesting thing going on there that night, there were a number of residents and medical students coming and going. And in addition to that there was a new computer system being installed. Now – some people would have balked at that – but we like having all the extra attention!

Alex took the boys for the day and Janet and Don came to the hospital. They were so supportive the whole time. Janet would standby with Heather while I took a break or ate something.

After 9 hours – yes, 9 hours of pitocin induced labor without drugs of any kind – the Doctor was pretty sure it was going to be a Cesarean delivery. I checked in with him – with the anesthesiologist, residences and medical student in tow – and grilled him on why we should or should not. Nobody should take surgery lightly and I wanted to make sure it was the right thing. His concern was that after 9 hours there had been NO real progress in the labor, and that counter-intuitively to me, the baby’s heartbeat was too stable, meaning she was getting tired – and that was not good. It was a round 10 PM on the 28th. Things moved very fast once the decision was made.

Heather was unbelievable, totally amazing. I knew she could do it, there was never any doubt in my mind. And she was glad she had labored, but now it was time to have our baby.


After Heather got ready and they gave me scrubs to change into, they jokingly asked Heather if she wanted to walk down or ride down to the operating room. She didn’t realize it was a joke and told them she wanted to walk. They were kind of taken aback, but went with the flow. What a crazy entourage that was! Heather leading the way, pushing her IV stand with several nurses, residents, medical students tagging along pushing the gurney.

They stopped me outside the operating room and gave me a hat and facemask to put on. Heather disappeared into the OR. I waited for what felt like forever. A janitor walked by pushing a mop and bucket and cheerfully said hello and wished me good luck. I was worried they had started with out me.

Finally the nurse ushered me into the OR. I hadn’t been able to figure out how to get my facemask on, so she helped me. It was all hurry hurry hurry. When I entered the room the tone was very serious – all business. The lightness and relaxed atmosphere from before was gone.

In the center of the room Heather lay on the table with a large blue screen/shield just below her chin like a fan, blocking her view. She had a operating hair net/hat on. Above her head the anesthesiologist stood a few feet away talking to his resident. There was a little stool for me on Heather’s right side next to her head, also behind the screen. There was Dr Kriner on the left by Heather’s abdomen, Dr. Puja Gupta (a resident) on her right by her abdomen, and Carl the medical student by Heather’s right leg. There were several nurses around as well.

I sat down and said hi to Heather. She looked up at me. If the moment hadn’t been so intense and fast, I would have been thinking about how lonely she looked. But I also felt so incredibly connected to her, it was amazing. Although she was the one being operated on, I felt like we were really there together, doing this together.

It was 10:19 PM. Within maybe 20 seconds of my arrival I heard the Doctor say “start” and they were off. I stood up to look over the screen. I bent down to ask Heather if she minded that I look – I didn’t want her to feel left out. She just told me to tell her what was happening. I also took out the camera. They told me to wait to take pictures – apparently they did not want me taking pictures of the incision. I watched them make the incision. They pulled up on the one side and down on the other. I heard the doctors calling out instructions to each other. One hand, two hands, four hands.

I kept bending down and telling her what I saw. I kept saying it was incredible. She couldn’t move anything and she was so calm and doing great.

I saw Meera’s head. It was just sitting inside like she was napping. It was perfect. They tucked their hands under her head and began to pull. They pulled her pretty hard and she started to come out. Then she was all the way out and they were cutting her umbilical. They held her up and the Doctor told me to take a picture. I had already taken about 50 before he said that. From the time of the first incision to the time she came out it was 55 seconds. She was born at 10:21.


Meera’s body was just a full blown baby. It was incredible. She was a little blue. The Doctor held her up by her neck and body. Her little arms and legs shook a bit. And then she cried. She was alive and here! It was the most unbelievable sound I have ever heard. Pure and perfect. I heard her draw in her breath and let it out announcing her arrival. She drew short little breaths and cried. I told Heather she was perfect. I will forever remember the exact sound. Her cry sounds different now than it did then.

They handed the baby to the nurse and she rushed her off to the warmer, I conferred with Heather and went after her. I felt bad leaving Heather there, but I felt like I needed to be with our baby. Heather felt the exact same way.

Meera was under the warmer, crying and crying. And when I got there, and talked to her, she stopped. The nurse had me cut the rest of the umbilical (not for any medical reason) and got her toweled off. I took pictures of this perfect little baby. I put my hand on her little chest and reassured her. They swaddled her and we went back in to the OR with Heather.

The nurse handed me Meera and I held her for the first time. I sat on the stool next to Heather and asked the nurse to take a picture of us. Heather started to cry when she saw the baby. It was incredible. I did not cry, but am starting to as I write this.

They took Meera back out and put her in a little incubator/warmer and started to roll her to the nursery. I went with her, and they finished sewing Heather up and took her to recovery. We rolled out into the main hallway, Meera, me and the nurse. We saw MorMor and MorFar who were thrilled to see the baby. I went into the nursery with my baby girl.


They rolled Heather out of the OR and into recovery. I saw her go through the hallway, but I was with the baby. I ran out and met her in recovery. When I got there, it was weird, her whole body had the shakes and she was so pale. It was a little unnerving except that Heather was in a great mood and was doing great. I held her hand and kissed her. She had done great.

It was around midnight when she had stopped shaking enough that they brought Meera in. She was crying and Meera nursed for the first time, it was amazing to see mother and daughter in that moment – the first time for her to eat. They both did it perfectly. Even with the wires and the exhaustion, Heather was incredibly beautiful in that moment.

During labor, I had talked it over with the nurse and they gave us the best, most private, largest recovery room in the ward. And it had a nice view of the back – all trees and green. It was perfect. Around 2 am we rolled in there and they took the baby back to the nursery and Heather got a little sleep and so did I. Turns out I can sleep through a lot, because they brought the baby in for a couple feedings and I slept through it.

It was wonderful and magical, even though our dreams of a natural childbirth had not come to pass. And it’s just as well that we were in a hospital since it turns out that Heather’s pelvis is misshapen and the Doctor said she would never have and will never be able to have a baby vaginally.


The next day Kyle and Owen came in and saw their sister for the first time. They held her and loved her from the moment they saw her – it was incredible.

A couple days later we were discharged. We rolled out of the hospital – Heather in the mandatory wheel chair and went home, a family of 5.


The birth of Meera Grace is one of the most incredible and wonderful things I have witnessed and one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Different than adopting Kyle and Owen and no less powerful and wonderful. We are so lucky that everything went so well and that everyone is healthy and happy. We have the best family in the world.

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