How’s that for a title? I can’t believe my baby girl is over 6 months old and I’m just now writing this. As I mentioned before with Henry’s birth story, there’s something biologically altering in a woman’s memory that happens after she has a baby. Over time, the negative things are mostly forgotten and what’s left is a pretty rosy narrative. It’s nature’s way of insuring she won’t suffer too much PTSD and perhaps she’s foolish enough to do it again!
This was proven to me with a recent trip to the ER with Henry over a concussion. Long story, and HE’S OK, but I swung by labor and delivery on my way out to say hello to the nurse who pretty much single handedly delivered Magnolia, and she looked absolutely NOTHING like I remembered. In my memory, she was a young brunette version of Shawn Johnson, as in the US Silver Medalist Gymnast.
I was utterly gobsmacked when she came walking down the hallway; I even told her she was the wrong person at first! If she didn’t remember me so well, our crazy fast birth and my “military husband who was a nervous wreck”, chances are I would still be doubting whether it was really her. She was Shawn Johnson alright… plus about 30 years and 60 pounds. It’s CRAZY how your memory distorts and makes things seem better than they actually were. More on that later. But it was enough to make me realize I need to get these details down before they’re lost forever!
My pregnancy was mostly joyous. I was over-the-moon thrilled to be having another healthy baby, and a girl! Her due date was Nov 12 which was also Henry’s due date and was also my due date. CRAZY, right?! I’ll say it again: God’s in the numbers. Another Scorpio for Travis to manage, but also a granted wish of his for having everyone in the family’s birthday around the same time so that he only has to remember one key week out of the year.
It feels wrong complaining about anything. But I’d be lying if I said the pregnancy wasn’t physically so difficult.
Morning All Day Long Sickness hit me like a dodge ball to the face at around 5 weeks and camped out firm until 20 weeks. Travis was busy galavanting around the Pacific through most of it, saving the day and what not. And I was busy puking and becoming the World’s Worst Boy Mom with Zero Energy. The things I do for my country! I kid. Then we moved back to the states from Japan when I was around 27 weeks, and anxiety came knocking at my door like an overzealous process-server man. Unlike my pregnancy with Henry, I had major Braxton Hicks contractions since about 28 weeks. She was due Nov 12, but I kept saying, “I’ll be lucky if I make it to October!” I thought surely she’d come early. But my greatest anxiety was having a fast birth and not making it to the hospital in time. Waiting for Henry’s care giver to get there, Travis to get home from work, etc. etc. I had nightmares about having a baby with dear Henry as the only witness. Instinctually, I knew she would come fast. Henry was an induction and came so quickly I barely had an epidural in time. And the women in my family have had all fast births too. I was so sure she’d be early that I switched my insurance to be able to give birth at the nearest hospital, rather than have to drive 45 minutes to the nearest military base that would deliver. That turned out to be the wisest decision ever!
I was shocked when November came around and I still hadn’t gone into labor. My doctor started talking about induction, and I just wasn’t feeling good about it. Henry was an emergency induction, not by choice, and he had a few complications when he was first born that I believe could have been a result of the induction trauma. But Magnolia was completely healthy and I couldn’t find any good reason to force her into the world early. People have to induce for many reasons, but the day we are born, just like the day we die, are God’s time- just like seasons-and it almost feels blasphemous to me to mess with it. I saw her as a little flower bud that shouldn’t be pried out before she was fully ripened and strong enough for this world. Even though it made it difficult to figure out what to do with Henry, I wanted so badly to let her bloom in her own time. Having said that, I went ahead and scheduled an induction a week after my due date, just in case- primarily because our plans with care for Henry fell through at the last minute and we ended up sending him to go stay with his Aunt Kelly in West Virginia a few days before the due date. He would hang out there until a few days after she was born. As much as he was getting spoiled on his “cousin-cation” we didn’t want to have to be away from him for more than a week.
My due date came and went and I was starting to feel like she would never come! With Henry away, Travis and I were trying to enjoy our kid-free moments, but the silence was so unusual and awkward! Nonetheless we took advantage- went out to nice restaurants and even watched a long movie at an actual movie theatre–Interstellar. Then November 13th rolled around and it was my mother’s birthday and I was hoping she would come on that day. Walking at that point was so painfully difficult! But we were out of milk, so I pushed myself to get out of the house just for a quick walk to the store. I wasn’t having any contractions, but I remember the pelvic pressure being so great that every step was taxing. I wasn’t sure I would make it across a busy intersection in the :25 allotted. I thought, my water is going to break. right here. in front of all these people to see. but I won’t care at all because I am just so ready to have this baby! But it didn’t. I went home and took a nap. Then my sister called around 5 to see how I was doing.
“I guess you’re not going to have this baby on Mama’s birthday.” She said.
“I guess not.” Sigh
I hung up the phone and went to the kitchen to get some spicy salsa. Trader Joe’s Salsa Especial to be exact. Travis was home from work and we sat on the couch eating chips and salsa, enjoying not having the tot around to try and steal bites. He went to the basement to get some studying done. About 30 minutes later, things started heating up. The salsa started to kick in like gun powder. I was uncomfortable, but wasn’t really contracting yet. It was about 6pm. It was time to figure out dinner, and I didn’t really feel like cooking anything, so I put a frozen lasagna in the oven. It’s crazy writing this; I had no idea I would be holding my baby an hour after that. Then I started having what I thought was Braxton Hicks contractions- they didn’t really feel any different than what they felt like before. And because Henry was an induction, I had no experience with going into labor naturally! I tried to distract myself by playing guitar. But that became too frustrating so I started watching some boring documentary on PBS. I was having trouble paying attention as my “Braxton Hicks” began to get painful.
“Travis! I’m not sure just yet, but you may want to put the suitcases in the trunk. Tonight may be the night,” I hollered down into the basement.
“Ok honey! Give me about 10 minutes until I find a good stopping point!” he called back.
The contractions began to intensify, but still- I had had some painful Braxton Hicks so I wasn’t sure. I asked Travis to cut his study session short and said I wanted to go get checked to see if I was in labor. He loaded the car and we stood in the kitchen trying to decide whether or not we should wait for the lasagna and eat before we left the house!
“Let’s just go. Just in case.” We decided.
As we were walking out the door- around 6:30- my water broke. I knew then it was go time! No turning back. I did a quick mop of the floor (didn’t want to come home in 2 days to find ruined hardwoods), changed clothes and then bolted.
Travis tells me the car ride was 13 minutes. It was in that time that everything unravelled and it gets a little fuzzy. I have no idea at what point “active labor” started, and I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the various stages of labor and why it all happened so quickly. I called my doctor to tell him I was on my way and asked him to please hurry. Then he had the nerve to call me back and ask me 20 questions that I could tell were probably for him to decide whether or not he had time to finish his steak. I did my best to keep it together and answer him kindly while also in the most polite way possible communicate that he better PLEASE GET HIS REAR END TO THE HOSPITAL STAT. You know that feeling you get when you need to throw up but you’re trying to wait until you get to the bathroom? It’s about 75 percent physiologically uncontrollable but that 25 percent allows you to hang on just a little bit. That’s exactly how I felt waiting to get to the hospital to have the baby. Travis also didn’t realize how close I was to delivering. He tried to joke with me about how they better not ask him to cut the cord!- something he specifically had me include in my printed birth plan. I wanted to set his hair on fire but needed him to pay attention to the road! Sweet Jesus knew if he was concerned about cutting the cord, he sure as heck did not want to be delivering a baby in the car. Travis is a lot of things, but medical emergency technician he is not.
Turns out the copies of my birth plan, along with my delivery bag, never even left the car.
We pulled up to Alexandria Inova hospital at 7:00pm in Travis’ dad’s 1990 Volvo sedan. Travis dropped me off at the front door and went to go park. When people have fast births in movies, there’s somebody waiting at the hospital entrance to sweep you away in a wheel chair and rush you to the delivery room. That magical wheel-chair driver person was nowhere to be found. There was a short line for hospital check in when I first walked in. I started to stand in it and then told the man at the front that I was having a baby and needed to GO! He didn’t seemed bothered and nodded his head. I started for the escalator, then realizing it was broken, waddled up a few steps.
“Ma’am, there’s an elevator over there,” the check-in man motioned.
I waddled back down and headed for the elevator. I got there just in time that the person in front of me closed the door and I HAD JUST MISSED IT! It felt like an eternity waiting for the next one. Where’s the wheel chair driver?!?
The next elevator came and it took me to the labor and delivery ward. I tried to keep it together as I approached the dreaded check-in office. The lady motioned for me to have a seat and I said if I sat down I wouldn’t be getting back up. I told her I couldn’t wait and I waddled out. Where is Travis? And the wheel chair driver?!?
When I got to the nurses station, I realized I had arrived right during the shift change. The nurses that were still there all had that 7 o’clock stare, ready to leave, and then in walks me. I’m like the guest at the restaurant that swans in at closing time demanding a table.
“Excuse me, I’m having a baby. I need a room please, now.” I asked in the most calm tone I could muster.
The nurses just sat there, starring back at me as if I was from another planet.
“I don’t think we have any clean rooms!” One of them said.
“Should we put her in triage?” another one asked.
“Nah.” Said the nurse who said the rooms were all dirty.
Great. No room in the Inn for me. Why are they all just sitting here? Didn’t I just say I am having a baby?!!!
“Give us a minute,” another nurse muttered.
“I don’t think I can wait! Seriously. I am having this baby now.” I pleaded.
“Who are you WITH?” another nurse asked, sizing me up as if I just wandered off the streets.
“I’m with my husband! He’s parking the CAAAARRR!!”
I realized if they didn’t act quick I was going to have to play the drama card or else have the baby in the floor. It’s not my style to make a scene but they were leaving me with no choice! I get it, they deal with laboring women all day long who most believe they are about to have their baby any minute, so of course they didn’t believe me! I kept thinking about the I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant episode entitled, There’s a Baby in my Sweatpants. I totally understood in that moment how a woman can birth a baby into a pair of sweatpants because it was about to be me. It was time to play the drama card. It gets a little fuzzy but I recall there was a lot more swearing than screaming. I don’t remember ever really screaming but there were some very strong choice words.
That’s when an angel emerged from the far corner of the nurses station. She looked me straight in the eyes and knew I was close to delivering. She looked like Olympian Shawn Johnson but her name was Lacey. She was young, beautiful, courageous, confident, calming and reassuring. And she was moving fast.
“You, come here with me!” she came and grabbed me by the arm. I started down the hallway with her when my husband finally decided to make an appearance. The passage of time is fuzzy but our paperwork says we got the room at 7:07. I kept telling Lacey I needed to use the bathroom but she knew better. She gave me a gown which made it halfway on.
“I hope you’re not planning on having an epidural today because baby is right here. You can push whenever you feel the urge to.”
Expletives! I did NOT sign up for this! It’s not written in ‘the plan’ for a natural childbirth. I am 100% TEAM DRUGS!! Whyyyy?!!!!
“It’s ok honey. This is going to be so fast, it’s almost over already,” Shawn Johnson reassured me. Her calming presence and confidence helped me get to where I needed to be mentally to have a baby.
All of the other nurses who dismissed me minutes before came flooding in the room. Lacey must have pushed a magic button somewhere. My doctor was nowhere to be found. A strange new doctor by the name of Dr. Walters ran in and quickly introduced himself. This was the point that Travis freaked out a little. The man can handle emergencies in the cockpit but medical goopy seriousness is not his thing. He was afraid to approach the bed. He stood at a safe distance asking if I wanted him to text our families. I told him I did. Then as soon as he started texting I yelled at him, “What are you doing?! I’m pushing!! GET OFF THE DAMN PHONE!!!”
People ask me about the pain of a natural childbirth. I’m sure it was slightly worse than I remember it being, but truthfully- it wasn’t as bad as I imagined it could be. Granted, I’m lucky that it was so very fast. But I was surprised at how the breaths in between the pushes made me go numb. And the intense contractions that I had in the 30 min prior were perhaps worse than the actual pushing.
Travis’ text to our moms at 7:09 read, “Natalie’s in labor. No time for epidural. Pray for us.”
Our sweet Magnolia Ann was born at 7:11pm.
She was placed on my chest and I was still in such shock that it didn’t seem real. She could have been an alien. It took me a good solid minute before I checked to see that she was actually a girl or even looked at her face! When I finally came to, I took in the sweetest little face I had ever seen. She was perfect. And had a fantastic set of lungs! I didn’t remember Henry crying that much when he was born, but Magnolia wailed for what seemed like an hour. Bless her sweet little baby heart- the fast birth was traumatic for her too! We have no pictures from these first few moments. Our camera was still in the car.
In the moments after getting acquainted with our sweet flower, things got a little fuzzy again. Giving birth is such a vulnerable place; it’s funny how abnormal things are so common. Dear reader, before you get jealous of my “glorious” fast birth, please understand- it is so overwhelming and there are complications with the territory. I had several rounds of shots followed by an IV of pitocin to stop a bad hemorrhage- common with fast births. Then I had a weird reaction to the pitocin, making both arms swell up. I didn’t have a pitocin reaction with Henry’s induction, but I was told it can develop with time. Kind of like an allergic reaction. Good thing I didn’t have that induction after all! And we thanked God that I had actually made it to the hospital! I could’t help but wonder if any variables were different- if I had to wait for Travis to get home from work, if we had to wait for Henry’s caregiver to arrive, if we had gotten to the hospital 10 minutes later- we would have had a baby in the car. In all seriousness, I could have bled to death in the car. I am so thankful that we were in America for this. I don’t even want to imagine what this birth would have been like in hot Bangkok traffic. By the grace of God, everything was just fine and our sweet baby girl arrived big, strong and healthy.
Once everything settled, the staff cleared out. It was as if a tornado had blown through and it was all calm after the storm. I was grateful that the hospital gave us our space and time to bond. They didn’t even weigh or measure her until hours later. She wasn’t even bathed until the next day. Simply toweled off and snuggled. I couldn’t get over her scent. I swear to the heavens she smelled like a flower. I didn’t remember Henry smelling this way. Her skin was like silk and she was the sweetest thing I had ever laid eyes on. She was 8 lbs 5 oz and 21 1/2 inches.
We didn’t name her Magnolia right away. It took us a night’s sleep and some change to fully commit. We had 3 options for girls names, and all very different. Then that was narrowed down to a prim and proper gemstone name versus Magnolia. She just wasn’t a gemstone. She was big and strong and naturally birthed- very much a Magnolia.
Magnolia doesn’t really “mean” anything, rather- it’s more what it represents. It’s hard to picture a Magnolia without the sun shining on it. (And really all the floral names for that matter.) My favorite quality in Travis is that he’s so positive, never in a ‘mood’, just full of goodness, peaches and sunshine. I’ve always said that he’s the full sun to my partly cloudy skies. And so it was my hope that his daughter would possess some of these same qualities. It’s my wish that she’ll be both strong and tenderhearted. Full of grace and radiant with the light and goodness of God.
Mississippi and Louisiana claim Magnolia as their state flower. What does this have to do with my daughter’s name? Absolutely NOTHING. The origin of the name first comes from the beloved French botanist and naturalist Pierre Magnol, renown for his botanical scheme of classification. His students named the flowering ornamental tree genus Magnolia after him. But the name for me is reminiscent of a certain naturalist-of-sorts in my life–my late father, who loved Magnolia trees and planted a number of them in his lifetime. He was buried with Magnolia leaves when he passed in 2004. It’s a sweet smelling Southern name for a Southern lady, but I’ve come to appreciate it as a universally unique and appealing name. Because it was named after a person, the name Magnolia is the same, pronounced the same, and even spelled the same in so many languages. I learned this when we first moved to DC and I conducted a very formal and scientific survey of my name choices on DC cab drivers (mostly immigrants). They didn’t really “get” my other 2 name choices but they all lit up when I said Magnolia–because it was a unique, feminine name that they could recognize and pronounce. And a rare name in all of their languages. I had similar conversations with babushka ladies at the playground and a friend’s Peruvian nanny whose favorite aunt was Magnolia. Honestly, Magnolia wasn’t my original frontrunner, but thanks to the DC cab drivers it bloomed. After seeing her and holding her, it was so obvious that she just was a Magnolia in every way.
Her middle name Ann is derived from the Hebrew Hannah, mother of Samuel, and means He has favored me. It is the common denominator on both sides of the family. It’s the middle name shared by both of her grandmothers, two of her great-grandmothers, Travis’ sister and my sister. Even a beloved childhood friend of mine is part Ann. It’s a name that ties her to almost all of the women who will be influential in her life (besides her mother), and I loved how it paired with Magnolia.
There are lots of cutsie nicknames derived from Magnolia–Maggie, Magpie, Noa, Noli, Lola, Nola–but for now, she is just Magnolia. Why give her a big bodacious name if we’re not going to use it? Though sometimes we do call her Mags.
She’s such a sweet baby. As I had hoped, she really does have a mostly cheerful, sunny disposition! But a true passionate scorpio she is- either hot or cold, her relatives say she’s “intense”. She’s somewhat of an introvert/homebody, happiest in her familiar surroundings. Forgive me for comparing our children to pets, but when we had Henry, he was (and still is) very much a puppy dog. I feel like we got a cat now. Magnolia has the temperament of a cat sometimes, hates the water, and loves to snuggle. She has a particular resting face that’s akin to her two dopplegangers that have earned her the nicknames Grumpy Cat and little Genghis after Genghis Kahn. And sweet Magnolia, when you read this one day… understand your mother was once compared to E.T. as a baby, so it’s all out of LOVE!
We all love her to pieces and have forgotten what life was like before she joined our family. I don’t know that Henry will ever have memories without her around. He’s come a long way from poking her curiously. He loves to make her laugh, is usually very concerned when she’s crying, and I’ve even caught him giving her his beloved bear when she cries.
I’m so blessed to be her mother!
And I’ll leave you with this sweet poem that was at the end of something I had pinned on scripture preparing for birth and dealing with anxiety- and something I referred to many times at the end of both pregnancies!
It reflects my thoughts exactly on welcoming our sweet girl to our family.
Gift from God
I give thanks to You alone
Who sits on the throne
To loan me this precious gift
And to call it my own.
May I always see, Lord
In every waking hour,
Your majesty and grace
In this delicate flower.
Help me, O God,
To guide and preserve,
This wonderful blessing
to love and to serve.