The Day Mathias Was Born

It’s surreal to look back on the few weeks leading up to the lockdown (for everyone of course), and the first week of it before going into the hospital. Each week was a progression: what I would call impossible or crazy in conversation with friends one week we were seeing actualized the following. The weeks were a progression of change in lifestyle bit by bit until it was abruptly a whole new world. I went from taking a crowded Path train into a sea of commuters in the Oculus on my way to Brooklyn one week, to driving into Manhattan and walking hushed and practically empty halls of my ultrasound center with a mask on the next. We ended one (kind of) normal week with our dear nanny not knowing we’d be telling her she should stay home the following week, or that it would be the last time we’d see her through today. The list goes one—One last play date with friends before realizing that was no longer considered safe, one last trip to the playground before finding caution tape around it, one last easy taken-for-granted grocery order before finding myself checking all hours of the day and night to find time slots, often to no avail.

All the while I was 38, then 39, then 40 weeks pregnant. The day before my due date my OB said “8am. I have you on the schedule to be induced tomorrow.” My whole body froze. My body didn’t feel the least bit ready for labor and the thought of trying to force it too early scared me. “Can’t I wait until 41 weeks?” I asked her. She assured me it was my choice, and that given I wasn’t dilated at all she understood why I would want to wait. We also had talked weeks prior about what a worst case scenario might look like regarding changes to the maternity ward during Covid. At the time, she believed this could mean only one person with you delivering and in recovery. Worst WORST case scenario, this one person would not be allowed to come and go. So we agreed on a date one week later. I would come in Tuesday March 24th and begin my (third) induction.

Late Sunday night I was procrastinating on social media when I saw a post about New York Presbyterian Hospitals barring partners from labor and delivery. My heart raced as I scrolled trying to figure out if this meant Columbia Presbyterian too. It couldn’t be true I thought. In my wildest imagination of Covid patients needing the maternity floor, it never crossed my mind that wherever I delivered, Josh wouldn’t be with me. I raced downstairs with tears streaming down my face and told Josh he couldn’t come to the hospital with me. He didn’t believe it and told me not to believe the news article I found. I sobbed into his shoulder in a way I haven’t for years. I texted my OB and she immediately called. She solemnly told me that yes, tragically but also for our safety, partners were no longer allowed. She talked us through it and even called New Jersey Hospitals to see what our options were for switching. She then told us that she herself was stuck in Florida, so my last hope of a familiar face was dashed. With such a small window of time to make a decision and pivot, I felt too nervous to switch gears (a best friend who is an OB in Ohio even told me to start driving and drop our kids off with her nanny so she could deliver me with Josh present). There was a comfort in familiarity and also in the extreme safety measures—there was definitely reassurance in all mothers being tested and the awareness of who was Covid positive and who was not. It was also my only shot at a v-bac—no other hospital would take me as a new patient AND perform a V-bac. A planned C-section was my only other option.

 Monday was a long tough day. I tried to focus on India + Major, and Josh gave me a big pep talk every time he found me in tears. I was less afraid of the birth process alone, and more afraid that if something went wrong I wouldn’t have anyone with me—a scenario we all know too well is what thousands are going through every day as they enter hospitals with symptoms and no one by their side.

Tuesday morning I woke up very early to quietly prepare. My younger sister’s mother-in-law, our only local family, came over to stay with Major + India while Josh drove me to the hospital (she is a dear friend and angel who’s kindness we’ll never be able to repay). We drove a quiet nervous 30 minutes and we hugged outside the car. I turned and walked as confidently as I could, mask + gloves on, into the building that felt so familiar by now, but so solemn this third time around. I checked in with a shakey voice, fighting back tears, and waited to be called back. 

Once I was brought back I Facetimed Josh and breathed a little sigh of relief. It felt oddly like I had him by my side, I had a stream of texts coming in from friends and family, and emails and DMs from more distant friends. Everyone proved to be such extra bright channels of support. I realized how far and wide people I love and admire were rooting for me. The sweet nurses, as any mother who has delivered in a hospital can tell you, are also great at calming nerves and reassuring you.

The next several hours were calm and methodical. I was tested for Covid (a procedure I was more afraid of than the epidural but was a quick and painless swab), made to keep my mask on while they waited for results, and nurses and doctors began the process of induction. I chatted with Josh, we looped in my sisters for a while, we made a quick IG live appearance with Liz and Louise who were amazing cheerleaders, and the hours ticked by. The nurse came in to tell me I was Covid negative and two of them gave a little cheer, and I took my mask off. My contractions increased more quickly than they did with Major, and shortly after the balloon came out and they broke my water I got my epidural. The quiet time continued with Josh by my side. Much like last time they were surprised I wasn’t dilating faster. Evening came and both Josh and I took turns dosing off.

In almost an exact replica of Major’s birth, a monitor went off and all the nurses and doctors from the floor flew into my room. Once again, they flipped me onto all fours as they shouted at one-an-other, and one resident calmly spoke into my ear and into the phone to Josh. They flipped me back on my back and began wheeling me out of the room, shouting, almost bumping into walls, and confirming that I verbally consented to an emergency C-section. I was rushed into the OR, and like it was déjà vu, stared up at the lights as I was tossed from the bed onto a very narrow operating table – all the while holding the phone in my hand with Josh on the other end. He calmly talked to me as tears streamed down my face and my teeth began to chatter. I could feel the pressure of the incision, the tugging of the baby, and the resident telling Josh and I how everything was going. I wanted so badly for Josh to be able to rush over and see him when I could not, but was grateful just to have him there in any capacity. Eventually the resident took my phone to take a few pictures, and then also took the phone over to show Josh the baby. Different than last time the baby never left the OR before me. He was wheeled right along side of me after the last doctor and nurse stitched me up and lifted me back into a bed, into the recovery room (my teeth chattering so hard I thought they might shatter). He stayed with me there until I was given a room, and then we were largely left on our own. They had closed the nursery for fear of spreading the sickness so there was no check in, no first bath, and no circumcisions. Like last time it took a while to regain any feeling in my legs. Over the next 12 hours or so all the needles, catheters, machines, came out or turned off. I took my first steps to prove I could pee on my own, and like last time I often winced in pain.

 I can’t explain why (different surgeon, different surgery?) but this time I was in leaps and bounds less pain. I felt less depressed by the shock of the situation and more focused on recovering. The next day when I saw the OB he said “I hear you think you're ready to go home.” I made it clear I didn’t want to do anything dangerous, but otherwise—yes, I was happy to leave. He looked at me very seriously and said, “since your incision looks good and because you’ve been able to get up and move around, go home. We have five positive patients on this floor. You don’t want to be here.” I didn’t need to hear anything else. I rushed to finish my paper work and Josh put both kids in the car and headed back to get me. The baby and I got in our wheelchair, and 36 hours after an emergency C-section said goodbye to our nurses, and were taken downstairs. I’ve never been so thankful to exit a building in my life. Both grateful for being cared for at a time when there are far more grave and needy circumstances around me, and grateful to see my three people—whom I never expected to be separated from in the first place--there waiting for me. Josh got the baby situated in the car seat and Major sat beaming and pointing to him the whole way home. The innate love of siblings is mind blowing. I couldn’t believe how he knew he loved this little guy from the first second he laid eyes on him.

 My biggest takeaway from this experience was that anticipation is always the hardest part. Being home and waiting, it consumed my thoughts and I could be the center of my world. When the day came though, I just knew that I had to do what I had to do. Stepping out and into the world I was reminded that the heroes of the last few months that bravely show up at the hospital every day, and the victims of this tragedy (physical, financial, and mental) were ALL fighting much bigger battles than I could ever imagine taking on. What I went through ended with the best of all endings—new life, new hope—Mathias Day Ott.

 Mathias means “gift from God” and a Day is “the period of light between two successive nights.” Given the time in history he was born, and that he had the chord wrapped around his neck three times, he truly is a gift from God. I can’t think of something that is more of a light between successive nights than a maternity floor during a global pandemic. Yes, there is tragedy there too, but hopefully many more gifts as the storm continues to brew around it. I have immense gratitude for the people at the hospital caring for strangers and therefore risking their lives every day. I also have immense gratitude for all of you who cheered me on. We’ll keep taking this bizarre world day-by-day, knowing that we've been so blessed during a time when so many have experienced earth shattering loss. We're keeping our chins up and focusing on the little silver linings that have come with this inexplicable reality, and hoping all of you are able to do the same.