That afternoon after we returned home from the party, we continued our evening as planned - movie night at our friend's home. My mom came over to watch the kids at our place, and Marcos and I went to watch The Martian with our close friends Amber and TJ. My contractions had been regular (though infrequent) for a few hours, and so during the movie I had Marcos download an app on his phone that allowed me to track the frequency and duration of the contractions, and then rate how strong I felt they were. By the end of the movie my contractions were coming every six or seven minutes, but I was still rating them mainly "mild" and I knew that I was still in very early labor. Since Amber was a wicked brilliant nurse in a past chapter of life and TJ is a urogynecology Fellow at UNC, we joked that if I was going to labor at any friend's home, I had done a really good job choosing theirs!
After the movie we returned home late, and asked my mom to stay the night with us just in case I ended up having to leave with Marcos in the middle of the night. Sure enough, by 2am I felt like things were really progressing, and I woke Marcos and we drove to the hospital. Unfortunately, on the car ride over I experienced exactly zero contractions, and since in my history that car ride has traditionally been one of the worst car rides of my life, I knew that labor had stalled out a little and that it wasn't even worth checking in to triage. We turned around, drove home and went back to bed.
By 4am I had been sleep-contracting for enough hours that I was thoroughly exhausted and so very, very ready for the epidural I had been dreaming about. Before I had kids I imagined that I would do birthing very naturally, but with both Gigi and Orion I had asked for an epidural along the way. After two rounds of back labor and so many hours of missed sleep, the epidurals had brought such rest that this time I embraced the idea and made it part of my birth plan: show up at the hospital, request an epidural, sleep and rest, and then put all of my good energy into birthing baby boy when I was dilated and ready to go.
And that's more or less how it went. We arrived at the quiet hospital at 4am, and by 5am I was checked in and had my epidural (I was the only one laboring on the floor at that time - miracle!). From then until mid-morning I was able to sleep peacefully, with Marcos sprawled across the couch in my room. We awoke to an absolutely beautiful sight of a sky full of snow flurries outside of our huge 4th floor window - the first snow of the season! My feeling that morning was of perfect peace - the silent white sky, the joyful anticipation of meeting my son that day, the restful feeling that had been afforded by the epidural, and the time Marcos and I had to connect meaningfully with our midwife Shannon Keller and our wonderful nurse Michele (to the right and left of me, below).
Unfortunately, the epidural that allowed me to rest and conserve energy also ended up stalling labor. When I awoke from my morning rest my contractions were virtually non-existent, and after an unsuccessful attempt to jumpstart my labor by having Shannon break my waters, we ended up putting pitocin into my IV and that really got things going. On the monitor, the contractions started to pick back up into perfectly regular mountains. By early afternoon, I started to feel like the epidural was wearing off, as the pressure of baby's head started to descend and prepare to exit the birth canal. I had forgotten how intense that pressure is, and started to feel robbed of my plan to have a peaceful delivery! By 3pm Marcos was coaching me through incredibly intense contractions, and I was fully dilated. The pressure did not abate because baby boy was in place and ready to go!
I have to say that in my opinion, the one part of labor and delivery that I really excel at is pushing out the baby. With Gigi, I pushed for 25 minutes and felt like a real champion for getting her out so quickly after a good day and a half of being in labor. With Orion, it took 5 minutes for me to push him out. So, I was a little cocky and had told the midwife and nurse that I was good at pushing out babies, but I had spoken too soon: with Luca, the pushing felt like an eternity. I remember feeling like I was zooming away from earth into a black expanse with stars, as I squeezed my eyes shut and gave it my all through the contractions. At one point I gave up, and told everyone that I couldn't do it, but there were too many experienced women in that room and they all encouraged me to keep going. Once his head was out, I knew that I could do the rest, and with one final push our son was born!
I was fairly certain that I had pushed for a long time, but when I asked, the nurse said that I had started pushing at 3:00pm and he was born at 3:08pm - 8 minutes! I felt so incredibly proud that I had birthed our son, and especially because he surprised us all by being so big. For the first hour or two after he was born he snuggled naked on my chest and slept cuddled under blankets, but when they weighed him and cleaned him up, we confirmed that he was a big guy. We all made guesses but he beat them all - 9 pounds 4 ounces, and 22 inches! Wow! I felt so thankful to have had a talented midwife who helped me to birth a 9+ pound baby in 8 minutes, and without any tearing at all. Go team Prieto!
My mom was so helpful and stayed with the big kids so that Marcos and I could enjoy a relaxing two days in the hospital. Tutu brought Gigi and Orion each day for a few hours and we ate sushi together, enjoyed the pampering from the nurses who loved the big kids and brought them gifts, and visited the pantry on the floor for small cups of chocolate ice cream and Italian ices. Gigi and Orion LOVED meeting their baby brother, and were extremely sweet and gentle with him. When Orion visited, if I got up to go to the bathroom he insisted on holding my hand while I walked, "In case you fall, mama". Gigi took off my hospital socks and gave me foot rubs every chance she had.
And then it was time to pack up and go home. It was bittersweet leaving the hospital and all of the help that was available at the press of a button. As I was being wheeled down to Marcos and our waiting car I thought about when I had left the hospital with Giovanna as a brand new mom, and remembered very keenly the fear and overwhelm that I had felt. The first time I took that ride down to the car there were tears running down my face, and this time I was confident and peaceful. Amazing what power comes from experience. Welcome to our family, little Luca Armand!
These photos were taken maybe a week or so after Luca was born. I was mainly trying to capture my favorite little part of his body, which is that tiny spiral cowlick on his forehead. That, and to expose him to a very warm sunny morning, in the hopes that it might help his jaundice.
To answer a few questions we hear often...
Q: Where did you get the name Luca Armand?
A: Many years ago my sister friend Lindsay and her mom Carol went to Europe on a grand tour, and in Italy their tour guide was named Luca. They came back talking about their handsome Italian tour guide "Luca", and the name has been bouncing around in my head ever since. It was on our list of possible boy names, but it wasn't at the top (Emerson and Achilles were our top choices for a long time), but when he was born it just seemed to fit best. We are not sure where the name Armand came from. We may have come across it when we were looking through lists of names online, but perhaps it just jumped into our heads at some point. In any case, we just feel like there is something royal about it.
Q: Is he a good eater?
A: The first day of his life, Luca did not have any interest in eating. The nurses said that sometimes when babies are born quickly they don't get all of the amniotic fluid squeezed out of them and so therefore their tummies are still somewhat full and they might not feel hungry. The first night of his life I don't think he woke up once! But as his system cleared out his appetite emerged and he has been a great eater ever since. About one week to ten days into his life, breastfeeding was killer, but now we are on the other side of that hump and I am healing and we are both doing well. The pediatrician is very happy with him because at one week he was over his birth weight, and at two weeks he was already 10 pounds.
Q: Is he a good sleeper?
A: So far, so good. He eats about every four hours through the night, which isn't bad at all for a newborn. During the day he eats every three to four hours, and sleeps most of the time. I have had a few friends say that big babies are better sleepers and so far that seems accurate for Luca!
Q: How is the transition to three kids?
A: My answer is always, "Ask me when Marcos goes back to work!". Marcos is on his fourth week of paid paternity leave, and it is not wasted on us that we are incredibly lucky. Now that I am getting around more I have plenty to do, but having Marcos get up with the big kiddos, make lunches, and do all of the driving to and from school, coop preschool, etc. etc. has been incredibly helpful. The first few days were rough as Marcos and I adjusted to being around each other so many hours every day, but we've really grown to enjoy this quality time together with the big kiddos and with Luca. Marcos has been extremely supportive and I am really thankful for him.