Alice: A birth story
I’m not really a risk taker and sharing something so vulnerable like this feels very much like a risk. So here I am, feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
This story, while a beautiful one has a dark preface. We had our third child on the wonderful island of Saipan and though we adored him I still felt like I wanted more. We were leaving island soon to head back to the mainland so despite my pushing we decided to reassess once the craziness of our relocation simmer down. Something was off though. I started having symptoms. Even my husband (very carefully, ha!) made mention that I looked like I was in the early stages of pregnancy. But that can’t be possible, right? We shrugged it off as just a few added pounds from the stress of moving and I was working quite a bit. I later tried to take a test but because of the humidity on island the results were inconclusive. No problem, I’ll just take one later when we’re on the mainland. It’s super unlikely anyway.
Fast forward to a month later. We were packing and had just gone through a typhoon that had knocked out the cell phone towers. I hadn’t feeling well and was in a lot of pain that day. My husband took the kids to grab a bit to eat and minutes after he left it happened. Alone, confused and in shock I miscarried. This child that I had wanted, the one I didn’t know even existed— was gone.
It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was raw, heart breaking and so incredibly jarring. The next full year I lived in a state of mental survival. I was only half there. I didn’t feel like myself. I couldn’t find joy in the things I used to. I tried to drown myself in work, in the move, in resettling the kids, exercising—none of it helped.
And then, a miracle came. I was pregnant again.
I knew she was a girl the moment I found out I was pregnant. I was intensely emotional and constantly throwing up so there was little doubt in my mind. My pregnancy with her was so similar to my pregnancy with her sister, June, but also so extremely different than any of my other pregnancies. I was much more sick this time around, the fatigue was really intense and the pain from sore ribs (from all the vomiting) and the hip/pubic dysplasia was tough.
At 20 weeks we had our long awaited ultrasound and were thrilled to have our thoughts confirmed—it was DEFINITELY a girl! Her sister was going to be over the moon. It was also then that we discovered I had placenta previa, where the placenta was blocking her escape route. This was obviously a problem but one that we were assured would fix itself in time.
We were sent to a specialist to further investigate. My husband and I were very nervous. We knew this would likely be our final biological child and with previous miscarriages we were already anxious. The specialist assured us that everything would fix itself before it was time to deliver and basically to not worry about it in the least. I cried as soon as he left the room. I was so relieved.
Unfortunately, he was wrong. The placenta did not move. Because of this growth was carefully monitored and I had to be very careful in my physical activities. No exercise and no lifting as well as complete pelvic rest. This was very difficult to say the least, especially since I had a full schedule of weddings to shoot that summer. Luckily my assistant and second shooter, Anna Peters, was incredibly helpful (SO grateful for this amazing human being!) and though it was uncomfortable and hard, we made it through without any issues.
Since the previa didn't correct itself a c-section was scheduled for 37 weeks. Though I was in pain and uncomfortably swollen I begged for them to let me stay pregnant for at least another week. She was measuring quite small and though they checked through ultrasounds every week for the last two months there was no chance of a normal delivery or a later one. I was devastated. I'm that strange breed of woman that relishes child birth. I was so excited to work hard for her, to fight for her and to see her for the first time with all those endorphins rushing in. Regardless, I was so thankful that there was a way to deliver safely and that I would still be there after birth to care for her.
The day came and I was nervous. As I got ready for the hospital I took as many pictures as I could knowing this would be my last time being pregnant. The last time I'd have her connected to me. The last time I'd feel her moving and see her kicks. I tried to keep my spirits up as we left our other children to make our way to the hospital but when we arrived I panicked. I sat on the hospital bed as they prepped me and begged my husband to take me home. “I don't want to do this. I want to go home.” I said this over and over while he tried to comfort me.
(My husband:the calm-in-every-situation dude.)
When they took me to the operating room they took me alone, without my husband. This terrified me. As I stepped inside I laughed a little at how closely it resembled episodes of House, a TV show we sometimes watch. I made a joke about it saying how excited I'd be if Hugh Laurie were in the corner scrubbing up when another nurse tried to joke back saying, “Yes! It's just like the set of House except this time YOU will be on the table!” I immediately started to cry. It was true. They had prepared blood transfusions, several backup doctors and even a defibrillator. They were afraid I might die. This is serious.
As I was getting the numbing shots to prep me for my spinal I embarrassingly asked the nurse if I could hold her hand. She sweetly agreed and stood by me as I tried to be brave. The effect was fairly immediate and soon I couldn't feel anything from my waist down. Unfortunately, I had adverse reactions to this and started dry heaving while my blood pressure plummeted. They tried to fix it but then I couldn't breathe. I was panicking. I thought I was possibly dying and I cried thinking I'd never lay eyes on my baby. They were forced to administer morphine and by the time my husband was allowed in the room I was barely lucid. I remember hearing a few sounds but mostly just wanting everyone to be quiet so I could sleep. Clearly my mind was not present. My biggest regret is not having someone there to photograph it all, especially since I was physically there but not mentally. Soon I heard a baby crying. I turned to my husband and asked if it was her. He was smiling as he told me it was. She was healthy, she was safe and we were relieved.
All the nurses and doctors kept commenting on how beautiful a baby she was. When they were removing my tubes they asked us over and over, “Are you sure you're done having babies? You make such beautiful ones!” As much as I would have loved having more I knew my body was done so I pushed forward with it.
She was just as beautiful as they said. Once she was wrapped up my husband placed her near my head. I soaked up her sweet smell and kissed her smooth, warm cheeks. I loved her so much already. She had gorgeous, dark hair and the tiniest little frame. At only 5 lbs 5 oz she was the smallest of our babies but boy did she have the biggest voice! She cried and cried but her cries didn't bother or alarm me. It was such a sweet sound and I was more than happy to snuggle her and calm her by pulling her close.
With all our children I was very specific about the name. This time however I could not figure out which name suited her best so I left it up to my husband. He chose Alice. When the doctors asked us if she had a name I turned my gaze toward him and he proudly said, “Yeah, it's Alice.” It made my heart want to burst. Though he knew he was in charge of the name he didn't quite understand that that meant the middle name as well. It took us days to figure out that one. I was worried we'd leave the hospital without one when he suggested we give her a Filipino middle name since only one of our kids had one. I wasn't very keen on this as most of our family names on that side aren't very pretty sounding. At first we thought Tala, the name of the goddess of the stars since it was the eclipse. That dropped pretty quickly though after my mother told us the folklore said she was somewhat of a hussy—ha! Then we stumbled on Marisol. It wasn't a family name like Alice (my aunt's middle name) but it meant sun flower in Tagalog and my mother told us it was the name of the street we lived on in the Philippines when I was born. Additionally it had the first four letters as my mother and she'd always wanted a granddaughter named after her. It was perfect. She was perfect and our love for her has only grown.
One of the funniest things I remember about the whole thing is how my oldest, Owen, was so disappointed that the baby was to be a girl and not a boy. He complained about this the entire time I was pregnant. When the kids came to see us in the hospital he was the first to hold her of the siblings. He stared at her with his shy grin and it was all over. He adored her. And crazy enough, he was her absolute favorite person for the first few months of her life, even preferring him to me. Proving once again that she is our little miracle.
Welcome to the world Alice Marisol. We are so glad you're here.