My Birth Story: Rachel Blumenthal
Trigger Warning: This article mentions loss and/or miscarriage.
Rachel Blumenthal is the founder and CEO of Rockets of Awesome, a truly out-of-this world kid's clothing company that your kids will be as obsessed with as you will. She has two kids, always has a good hair accessory on hand (how Hill House of her!) and can be frequently seen holding a banana phone.
My husband Neil and I were talking about having a baby, but I wasn't tracking my cycle or anything. To be honest, I didn't really understand my cycle. I still don't understand my cycle. One day, I had gone to this hot yoga class and I didn’t feel so well...
“Is my period late?”
I stopped into Duane Reade and picked up a thing to pee on and I just went straight to the bathroom. I didn't even say anything to my husband. I looked and it said, "You're Pregnant" and I was like, "Holy shit!"
From the time I had left yoga till I looked at that stick I had this severe anxiety. Like, crazy anxiety. And I don't know if it was the not knowing or just the way that my body was responding, because every other pregnancy I've had, I've also had that anxiety. (I was pregnant three times in between Griffin, my first child, and Gemma, my second, because I had miscarriages.)
Anyway, I called Neil into the bathroom and was like, "Uh...Um...I'm pregnant."
And he was like, "Wait, you went and got a stick? What do you mean? How did you even know!" I didn't want to make a big deal of something if I didn't know it was real! We both just sat there on the bathroom floor and were like, “how did that happen?”
The beginning of my pregnancy was kind of crazy and stressful, because I found out after the first visit with my doctor that I carried a gene called Fragile X. After my first appointment, a random nurse called me and said, "Oh, by the way, you're a carrier of Fragile X and you're going to have to come into the office so we can talk to you about it." And then in the same breath, she told me my doctor had left the practice.
So here I am, my first pregnancy, and I’ve just been told that I have this thing that I've never heard of that is potentially so scary they can't talk about it over the phone and my doctor isn't there anymore. Great.
I had to do something called a CVS, which is similar to an amniocentesis, but you do it at 10 weeks. It determines if there's anything wrong with the baby. The test is really stressful in and of itself because it's risky. It could cause a miscarriage.But we did the test and it turned out that the baby was totally healthy. That was the first moment I realized that this process isn't that easy.
With that said, in general, I had a very easy pregnancy. I exercised until basically the day I went into labor. I did SoulCycle and Physique57. I remember being at Physique the day I went into labor--I was on a bike and the instructor was like, "Do you think you should be here?" They were so afraid that I was going to have the baby on the floor. I think I was just overly conscious about maintaining my lifestyle.
I didn't have morning sickness throughout the first 12 weeks, but I was obscenely exhausted, like, so debilitating that was almost making me depressed. I didn't love being pregnant. But I didn't not like it. I was very sort of neutral through the pregnancy.
I didn't read a single book about being pregnant or having a baby. I'm very Type A and have a tendency to over plan things. I really didn't want that anxiety and stress to permeate to my baby. I just told myself, "People do this all the time. I'm just going to follow my body at the baby's lead.” I was really chill about that.
I was due on March 20th and my birthday's March 24th. For my birthday, Neil planned for us to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and go to dinner.
In the middle of dinner my back started to hurt, and I kept complaining throughout the night about it hurting. I woke up in the middle of the night and it was really killing me--a sharp, extreme ache in my lower back. Really aggressive.
Neil calmly was like, "Well, is the pain going in and out?"
He asked, "is it happening with similar periods of time in between?"
And then said, "You're in labor! Call your doctor."
It was probably midnight when I called my doctor, who confirmed I was in labor, but barely, and suggested I try to go back to sleep. Neil agreed. "So it's going to be really long next couple of days,” he said. “I should get some rest."
And then, as I'm writhing in pain he adds, "Are you sure about the name?" He wants to start talking about Griffin's middle name and I was like, "I can't talk to you about this right now!”
He was super calm. I was totally calm, too, but I was in pain. I was trying to fall asleep or distract myself, but by 6:00 or 7:00 a.m., I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to go to the hospital.
So we went, but I guess it wasn't dilated enough (I was like three centimeters or something) and they sent me home.
I writhe in pain for like another eight hours until again, "I really can't take this anymore. We have to go back." A friend of mine had told me that if the hospital sends you home but you want to stay, to say you need to be admitted for pain management. Apparently, then, they can't send you home, even if you're not dilated enough. So, I told Neil the plan. I knew that if I opened my mouth, I would lose my shit and scream at these people. I told Neil he was going to do the talking and be really nice but really direct and get this done.
They admitted me. I waited around for the epidural. Once I had the epidural, I was so calm. No pain. I took an eight-hour nap--the best of my life and then they woke me up and said it was time.
I remember my doctor sitting on the edge of my bed, sending text messages and emails and being super chill about the situation and then suddenly looking at the monitor and being like, "OK. You want to push now?
I remember Neil asking if he needed scrubs and going up to the hand sanitizer on the wall and like, sanitizing up to his shoulders like we were going into surgery. I reminded him, "you're not delivering the baby."
I pushed for like an hour. I couldn't really feel anything because of the epidural, but I felt enough to be able to push. It took a while to figure out like how I was supposed to push--it's hard to figure it out.
And then he came out. And it's one of those things where you don't know how you're going to react or how you're going to feel, but they put him on me and immediately just ripped open the hospital gown and immediately, like, put the baby on your boob. He was super slimy and I was just hysterically crying, just overcome by the whole thing.
In total, I think I was probably in labor for 36 hours and I pushed for about an hour.
I breastfed. You're learning everything and trying to figure it out. I remember when we got home from the hospital, probably a day later, my boobs were just exploding, but I wasn't actually producing enough milk. I just felt this pressure. I couldn't get it out.
I was really one of the first of all my friends to have a baby, so I spoke to a friend of a friend that I had met maybe once who had had a baby. She's gave me all these tips, like covering your boobs in cold cabbage. I tried everything. Nothing worked. At the end of the day, my milk just wasn't ready to come in yet. I was convinced that I didn't know how to use my pump or something was wrong with me. And it was probably a 24-hour period, but it felt like forever.
With Gemma, my second, I had a different doctor. I had told her about how long I was in labor for with Griffin and so her priority was really just for me to be comfortable.
Every year, we go to the Good+ Foundation Bash. I've been taking Griffin to that fundraiser since he was two years old. It's the thing we do together. Gemma was due about two days after the event. I was determined to get to that carnival. After that, I thought, I can have this baby.
I saw my doctor an hour before the carnival.
“Are you ready to have this baby? I can move this along for you,” she told me.
I said okay, but: “I have to go to this carnival, so, don't move it along too much.
She removed the mucus plug, which hurt like hell--like, the worst period pain ever. So technically, I was in very early labor at the carnival. But we went! We did the whole thing. I brought Griffin home. I put him to bed and two hours later I went to the hospital.
I called my doctor and got admitted. They gave me Pitocin. I wasn't really moving along and the doctor told me that I wasn't going to be ready for a while. I think it was about 2:00 a.m. at that point. Neil and I took the longest walk around the Upper East Side. We were close to JG Melon and he was like, "Maybe I should get a burger! It's gonna be a long day." Neil gets his burger and has this amazing meal and I can't even breath.
We walked back to the hospital to get this thing moving and they gave me the epidural. What ended up happening is that they gave me too much of an epidural. I think the doctor was just being really cautious and didn't want me to be in pain. Because of that, I could not feel a thing. I really couldn't push correctly.
I pushed for two hours--in all the wrong ways. The doctor ultimately pulled her out of me because I couldn't even feel how to do it. And I ended up fracturing my tailbone because I just had pushed so hard --I don't really know what I did.
My doctor gave me really good advice about how to introduce Griffin to the new baby, which was to make sure that when he came to the hospital, he didn't walk into the room with me and Neil holding the baby. Here he is, the only thing in your life, and now he walks into his parents with this other kid that he doesn't know. That is really such a horrible feeling for a little kid. She suggested we put the baby in the nursery and have Griffin bring Gemma to us.
She told us to make sure to keep calling the baby “his” baby. So, when he got there, we were like, "You've got to go get your baby from the nursery and bring her to us." He felt really a part of it. She also brought him like a giant Lego as like a toy for which he was like, "But Mom, how did she go to the store to get this?" He was too smart.
Again, with Gemma, I had no birth plan. I was just totally there for the ride.
Between Griffin and Gemma I had three miscarriages. And I didn't really understand or know that my miscarriages were driven by the fact that I'm a Fragile X carrier until after the third one for which I changed doctors and this new doctor who told me: “You can't keep getting pregnant. It's not good for your body. You have to do IVF to be able to control and be able to test the embryos.”
So, Gemma is IVF. I get pregnant with my eyes closed, so I went into IVF really cocky. And it was really traumatizing because I didn't respond to the medications. My hormone levels weren't doing what they were supposed to do.
I did two rounds of it. The first round, I think we both got one or two embryos and they weren't healthy. And then I did it again and I got three or four and two of them were healthy. It was a long path. You think you can just have a baby and then suddenly you go through this period where you're wondering: Will I ever have another child again? Do we have to consider getting a surrogate or adoption?
That was a crazy period where you're both really grateful for the baby you already have and realize that was such a miraculous pregnancy, given the gene that I carry.
I also felt like once I did get pregnant with Gemma, there was so much more pressure because it took so long to get there. I tried not to feel anxious. I think I was more aware that it's way harder to get pregnant and carry a pregnancy. It's riskier than you realize it is. With every check in with the doctor, you're like, I hope everything's okay. I hope the baby's healthy. I think by the time I delivered her, it was a real weight off my shoulders. I felt like I had been holding my breath for nine months and could finally just relax.
Now, Griffin is eight and Gemma is four. It's really, really sweet. Griffin was always really sweet with her. He always felt really responsible for taking care of her. They're in school together and they're bullying me to have another baby.
But I'm so satisfied. And I think it's very rare in life that you ever say your satisfied about anything.
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