A Boat-Baby Birth Story (One Year Later)

Dear Zephyr,

Is it weird to write your birth story to your son? Maybe. But it feels right, too.

Nostalgia. noun. a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past.

That exactly sums it up. A year! A whole year later. I woke up at 4 am and laid in bed thinking about how one year ago you weren’t quite here just yet — I was actually in the middle of pushing you out as Hotel California played on the radio and your daddy held my hand and the nurse counted slowly to 10 so I’d keep pushing.

It hadn’t gone quite as I’d expected, of course. They warn you about that — that you can have birth plans and doulas and birth classes and all that jazz… but in the end, it’s going to happen the way it’s going to happen, and there’s not much you can do about that.

I’d been having high blood pressure. I woke up one morning and realized my watch was digging into my wrist and maybe I was retaining a little water?? The nurse confirmed that I’d gained 10 lbs in one week (!!!) and that my BP was right on the edge of hyper-tension. At this point I was 38 weeks pregnant so when they suggested that I might be induced at 39 weeks, I thought “Great! Bring it on! Anything to get this bowling-ball feeling out of my pelvis!”

Waddling doesn’t even describe the walking attempts; turning over in bed was a herculean effort, although I was extremely proud that I managed to sleep in our not-super-easy-to-climb-into-vberth for my whole pregnancy.

Anyways, my blood pressure fluctuated a little and just when we thought an induction date was right ahead, my BP dropped again. Induction off.

It’s a weird thing to think that you’ve got a scheduled baby-arrival date, and then have it off the table. I wanted you to come without an induction, but I also just wanted you to come. I was still so focused on the fear of losing you — that somehow, at the last minute, you wouldn’t actually make it earth-side — that I was ready to do anything to have you out.

But the imminent induction was off, with a future one scheduled for later in the week, so on your due date your daddy and I spent the day de-bubbling Brio, taking down all the shrinkwrap and the shrinkwrap frame, and then moving Brio out to her ‘spring’ slip. The marina had kindly agreed that we could extend our winter season a little, so that you could arrive and we could adjust to life aboard without also having to adjust to life aboard on a mooring all at once! I’m not sure I was much help in the de-bubbling process, but I did drive Brio to her new slip (and I did an excellent job docking, just in case you were wondering 😉 ).

And then the next morning we got up and packed our bags and drove to the hospital for my scheduled induction. When you’re a non-emergency case, you’re lowest-lady on the totem pole, so we mostly sat around in a hospital room waiting for something to happen. I changed into a hospital gown and then felt ridiculous (I wasn’t even in labor yet!) so I changed back into my own pyjamas. In the end I wore my pyjama shirt the whole time and it’s one of those weird little details that I wondered ahead of time (would I labor naked??) that worked out in a totally different way than I’d expected. But anyways.

Around 2:30pm they came and did a check (0 cm dilated, 0 effaced) and gave me some Cervadil which is a 12-hour drug that’s supposed to soften your cervix so that when they start you on the labor drugs you’re ready to roll. Mom popped in a little later and delivered us a home-made lasagna, and we all sat around eating lasagna and watching tv and wondering if a baby would be making its way into this world any time soon. My doctor had warned me that it would be at least 24 hours, and probably more like 48+ before anything happened… the nurses had one story of a woman who was in the hospital for 5 days, waiting for labor to progress… so expectations had been set.

At 7pm I started to feel a little grumpy. It had been a long day.

At 8pm I decided to do a few laps of the hallways, thinking some air might help. It didn’t. I sent mom home.

At 9pm I wrote “ouch!” in my journal. I was keeping a time record with little notes so I could remember this all later, and “ouch” was all I could come up with. But I’d been having contraction-like pains for weeks (damn braxton hicks sound so cute and fun but they’re actually painful and confusing) and I didn’t want to be a faker and the monitor was showing absolutely nothing, so I mostly tried to ignore it all.

To distract from the pain and the frustration of not being in labor but feeling like I was in labor, I got into the big tub.

Perks of American healthcare? Every room in the hospital was private, with its own birthing tub. Downside of American healthcare? Even with health insurance, Z’s birth cost us $5000. Ouch. But I digress.

The tub was amazing. It made everything feel instantly better, and I calmed down and started wondering if I really was faking being in labor after all.

But by 10pm I was yelling. I was out of the tub, I wanted an epidural, I was in a lot of pain, and the damn monitor still wasn’t showing that I was actually having any contractions at all. They wouldn’t order an epidural until they knew I was actually in labor, and of course everyone was busy, so I just stood on the side of the bed and yelled through every contraction. I thought I’d be self-conscious about the pain-sounds, but I was in such a blur that just focusing on Jon’s face when I wasn’t in a contraction was hard enough.

Finally the nurse came in and said she couldn’t handle listening to me yelling in pain anymore when she knew I definitely wanted an epidural, so she was going to check me herself. She checked and discovered that somehow the Cervadil had fallen out (???) but actually I was at 3cm, so “yay! you’re officially in labor!”. The resident then showed up and of course didn’t believe her, so he searched around for the Cervadil on his own and I standby that that was the most painful part of the entire delivery process. But he did confirm that I was indeed in labor – now at 4cm – so I could get the epidural.

The resident anesthesiologist first showed up around 12:30am. You have to sit on the edge of the bed and curl your head down (“like a shrimp”) and then hold perfectly still while they try to thread the needle into your spine.  I sat on the edge and squeezed Jon’s hands through every contraction until finally the pain of it was too much and I straight-up puked in his face.

On review, lasagna is a poor choice for a pre-labor-dinner.

Poke-poke-nope. Poke-poke-nope. Poke-poke-yep! Third try’s a charm.

They announced the epidural was in and I laid back. I did indeed feel better… the edge was gone. The docs hung around to make sure it was working, and I tried to say it was — I definitely didn’t want any more of those needles in my back! But I was also still in pain. I thought maybe it was just going to take a little longer, but they decided it wasn’t working. Let’s try that again! At least at this point there was no more lasagna left to share 😉

The second attempt ended up in a different part of my spine — the area you get it if you’re having a c-section — so it definitely worked, and I felt joyful nothingness. No pain. Zero. Zip. Zulch. It was heaven. I fell asleep and hoped that I’d wake up in a few hours and maybe have some progress to show.

Around 1:30 am I started feeling weird pains again. Kind of like an extreme need to pee coupled with the worst PMS of your life. I told the nurse and she suggested we wait a bit before doing anything… but 15 minutes later the pain was just getting worse. So guess who got to come back! That same lovely resident anesthesiologist. This time they were able to just adjust the drip rate of the epidural, and then it was back to the bliss. And back to sleep for Jonny and I.

At 3:00 am the doctor came back for a check. By the way — “check” sounds all sweet and innocent, and really doesn’t capture the full-handedness of having someone examine your insides up to their elbow. It’s not fun. But the good news was that I was already at 8cm and while he was there my water broke (a very weird feeling…. like, “did I just pee the bed in front of the doctor??”). I fell immediately back to sleep.

At 3:30 he was back, checking again. I woke up to “you’re at 10 cm, it’s time to push!” so I leaned over and woke Jonathan up and told him “they say it’s time!”.

Surreal is not a strong enough word to describe how not-real this moment felt. Time to push? How could it be time to push when I’m not even in labor yet? Part of me still felt like the whole thing was fake, and they were all going to get mad and tell me to quit making a big deal out of a few little braxton hicks contractions.

But Zephyr’s heart rate didn’t agree that the whole thing was fake, and he was dipping with every contraction. The doctor gave me a little lecture along the lines of “do a good job or this baby is going to come out a different way” and then it was time to push. 3:59 am.

You came so quickly, little man. One minute I was asleep, and the next nurses were appearing from every corner of the room and I remember Elizabeth, the best nurse in the world, asking if she should get the mirror because I had requested it (so I could watch your entry into this world!) and the doctor saying there wasn’t time and she should just grab a leg and hold it back (because that’s what the nurses help with, did you know that??) and count to 10 while I pushed.

So she did. And I did. And 4 contractions later, with Hotel California playing (“you can check out any time you like… but you can never leave”), *poof* you were here. 4:13 am.

This was the moment everyone talks about — when the baby comes out and your breath catches and you lock eyes with your little miracle and your heart explodes with love. Except it didn’t quite happen that way for me. Instead you came out quite purple, with a loop of cord around your neck, and when they handed you up to lay on my chest, I felt like I was holding someone else’s kind of slimy and foreign baby, and I cried because you were here but I also cried because it wasn’t feeling the way I thought it would. It happened too fast. My head couldn’t keep up.

And while they spent 90 minutes stitching me up (fast labor has its own set of costs) I examined your little witch’s fingers (you had the longest fingernails ever, which was also weird) and held your little hand and wondered how long it would take for any of this to feel real.

And so, dear Leah of the past and Zephyr of the future… I hope you both know that it all works out in the end. That I really was in labor, and I really did love you from the moment you were born. One year later, I am so grateful to have you in our lives — and also so sad that the first year is already over! I’m not sure I exactly want to go back and relive it over again, but I’m also not sure that I don’t.

It’s kind of like how Jon says he wishes he could go back and be a guest at our wedding; as the bride and groom you’re so focused on what’s coming next that you kind of miss the fun of the experience. Good thing I have 18,000 photos to remind me of (many) of the moments from this year.

Full of nostalgia and love,

Your mom.

ICW Sailing (in Beaufort, SC)

As someone who takes pride in “delivering what I promise”, I struggle with changing plans.

Sailing off the South Carolina coast with 11-month old Zephyr

We set out from Charleston on a bit of a rough note — I thought it was slack but there was clearly still current running, so we very nearly, *nearly* slammed into our neighbor (I had to ask Jon if we’d hit, cuz it was sooooo close, and Michael, the owner of that very-nice-boat-I-almost-hit-at-5am shouted, “Bravo!” when I finally got us turned and facing the right way!), only to get out of the Charleston Inlet in the pitch black and into a big lumpy mess of a seastate, rolling us gunwhale to gunwhale while Zephyr protested and we wondered why we were so eager to leave the dock…

Changing baby diapers while underway - daddy duty on a little sailboat

Find a man who will change diapers by headlamp while underway, and hold onto him with everything you’ve got

We’d been so set on leaving Charleston and heading off overnight, that we’d never really looked at everything in between. But as we rocked and rolled and tried to reassure Z that his world would one day stop rolling again, the futility of continuing to choose to be out there hit us.

Sailing with a baby on a little cruising sailboat

There were all sorts of interesting options in between! And anyways, why were we trying to get to Florida??

We purposely never set a “destination” for our winter down south, other than somewhere that wouldn’t snow on us. This was intentional because I knew that if we said “Florida” or “the Bahamas” or “South Carolina”, I’d feel a huge responsibility to follow through on what we said (and after eight years of boat ownership, I should know better!).

Sunrise out the porthole on NorWest 33

But there are strange sorts of competition and stigma that exist around cruising — people breathlessly taking in our smaller boat and miniature crew-member, gasping “are you going to the islands?” with wide eyes (and I did, in fact, want to sail to the Bahamas)… But I never wanted to say we were going there in case something came up and we couldn’t end up sailing there.

Which it did, of course. And somehow the little decision to change our plans from sailing overnight to Florida to just popping back in to the ICW felt symbolic of our whole winter…

Charleston to Beaufort, SC on the outside - not quite the most efficient route

So long story short, I’m still working on accepting that not everything has to happen this year, and it’s okay to adapt plans to meet your circumstances.

Nor'West 33 Sailboat at Anchor in South Carolina

We’re cruising with an 11-month old, on a 33′ sailboat, working around a full-time corporate job schedule.

Boat baby underway in the cockpit

Flexibility is key.

Thankfully Brio doesn’t mind a change of plans, so we found a great little inlet (South Edisto Island) and jybed back towards shore, settled the motion, and had a freaking awesome downwind sleigh ride right back into our beloved ICW.

Say what you will — I know some people hate the ICW (“the ditch”) — but I love it. You can sail (if you’re up for some active sailing!), you can anchor every night, you can see every mile of this beautiful coast… and you don’t have to rock and roll and stress about night watches and baby happiness.

Dolphins at sunset while cruising on a Nor'West 33

Dolphins heralded our entry into the ICW, the golden sun set with a pod leaping around our anchored boat, and we slept peacefully with not another soul in sight.

Sailing with a baby in his Salus lifejacket in the cockpit with weathercloths upAnd then the next morning, we had one of those picture-perfect days; cruising wing-on-wing at 5-6 knots in a 10-12 knot breeze, sun sparkling, tunes cranked in the cockpit, Zephyr happily pointing out birds and boats and points of interest on land…

Nor'West 33 sailing wing-on-wing down the ICW - who says you can't sail in the ICW?

This is why I love sailing,” I whispered to Jon, “and I’m so thankful we changed our plans.”



Small But Mighty (in Charleston, SC)

Can you spot the cruising boat, nestled in amongst the big ladies? 😉

Small cruising boat as a tiny home liveaboard

We kicked tires for a while before we found Brio (and before we had any money! haha), but always with the same goal in mind: to buy the smallest boat we could stand, in the nicest condition we could afford, so that we could be happy with her for 3-5 years.

Baby onboard! Living on a little sailboat with an 11-month old

Can you spot the boat baby?

“10-foot-itis” is a real thing in the boating world (and maybe in the housing world too??), so 8 years later I’m pretty proud that we’ve been able to make our little 33′ lady work for us, despite the Maine winters, new crew, and cruising challenges!

Small cruising boat as a tiny home liveaboard

As a sidenote — I always think it’s funny when people ask if we’ll live on Brio forever. “Definitely not!” is always our answer — “we want a bigger boat someday” 🙂

PS – It’s awesome to have some cool drone shots from our new Charleston friends (thanks Ryan and Brooke!!) I’m officially adding “drone” to the someday-wish-list!

PPS – The radar is back! Yay for working radar!!

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