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Baby Dreaming

Published on April 23rd, 2017 | by Nadine Kenney Johnstone


Now the “I” is Us—A Birth After IVF Story

The National Infertility Awareness week runs from April 23rd to 29th. In observing this week, I’d like to share the story of the birth of my son, Geo, who was conceived after several rounds of IVF. It was a day of overwhelming triumph and happiness, despite the normal worries brought by a fragile pregnancy and a history of dashed hopes.

I share this story to encourage other women to share their own birth stories after conquering infertility. Together we can create a more open space for telling what comes from, and after, this unique struggle.

I am eight centimeters dilated upon arrival.

Though I am in the most vulnerable of positions—feet in stirrups, a midwife’s hand up my insides—I feel victorious. This is the biggest confidence boost I’ve ever received. I am just two centimeters away from delivering. I am the most badass woman who has ever lived. The hospital no longer seems like a house of torment. It is the place where I am going to deliver our son. I am going to deliver him soon, and I am going to deliver him naturally.

My labor and delivery suite is a serene palace. Sun spills through the large windows onto the wood floors. The Jacuzzi tub beckons me, and I immediately change so I can get in. Our doula Amy laughs when she sees my bedazzled bikini.

“I look like some kind of knocked-up Malibu Beach Barbie,” I say, pointing to the rhinestones on my triangle top. When I chose clothes for my hospital bag a month ago, I didn’t anticipate how ridiculous my spring break-style two-piece would look on either side of my enormous middle.

My husband Jamie helps me into the tub while the midwife, Esther, places LED candles around the bathroom. The jets massage my lower back me, as Jamie kneels next to the whirlpool, scooping water with his hands and pouring it onto my belly. “How are you feeling?” Amy asks from her perch on the ledge of the tub.

“My contractions are lighter,” I say, slipping deeper under the suds until my stomach is a small protruding island.

“Your body knows you need a break,” Amy says.

I shower and step into a loose sundress. It’s cotton and comfortable and allows easy access to my nether regions. Best of all, it is not a hospital gown. For the first time, medically, I’m making the decisions. I chose the hospital, the midwife group, the doula, the tub room, the outfit. Finally, I am in charge of my hospital experience. I nod to myself, indicating that I’m ready for the labor finale, and, as if igniting the wick, a contraction firecrackers through my back. It’s pain with a purpose, I think as I reach for my yoga ball. It’s going to bring us one step closer to meeting our son.

Jamie and Amy are a seamless stream of support. Jamie mops my wet hair out of my eyes, and just when I feel that my lower back will crack open, Amy presses her full body weight through her palms and onto my sacrum, applying amazing counterpressure.

As the pain intensifies, I feel as if I have sipped champagne. Time and people become hazy. I see everything through a gauzy curtain. Hands press against my back, a voice whispers into my ear, “You’re doing a great job,” fingers rub my arm, ice chips slip into my mouth, limbs lift me from my yoga ball to a lunged position then a squat then back to the ball, a nurse shift ends, a new one begins. Meanwhile, the glow of the morning sun becomes the pink of a sunset. I contract and contract and contract.

Because I take each contraction as it comes, and because I know labor can last a while, I don’t think to ask why twelve hours have passed and I still haven’t delivered Geo. Finally, Esther checks my dilation and calls out nine centimeters. I expected ten, and I frown. How did it take me an entire daylight to dilate just one more centimeter? Esther breaks my water, and the contractions come on stronger. When Esther leaves and Valaree takes her place, I say that I have the urge to push, even though I really don’t feel that instinctual shift that everybody talks about. Regardless, I decide that it’s got to be time for this baby to come out.

The nurses strap the fetal monitor around my middle like a belt. Geo’s steady heartbeat thumps through a speaker. My brain chants, My son, my son, my son, I’ll meet you very soon, my son. I lean back on the bed, my feet pressing against the squat bar. Then I take a deep breath and clench down.

I push and push until it seems like my eyeballs will pop out, and I can actually feel the capillaries near the bridge of my nose breaking, but no baby comes out. Someone says, “Push like you’re pooping,” and I do exactly that. I poop, but no baby comes out. I push till my face turns purple, but no baby comes out.

Over my knees, I see the nurses glancing at each other. One mentions Pitocin and an epidural. She presents a clipboard of forms for me to sign, and Amy shoots her a dirty look. The backup OB enters the room. He pats my knee and says, ever so softly, that a C-section might be in my future.

I cry and cry and say, “Let me push.” But when I do, the fetal heart monitor’s steady beats slow almost to a halt. The nurses glance at each other again.

They order me to take off my cotton dress and put on a johnny. That’s when time morphs. There is no dreamy drunk haze anymore. Time is now on crack: an epidural needle in my back and “Push, Push, Push” and the fetal monitor going almost flat and I hear “C-section now” and it’s me on the gurney being rushed down the hallway.

And all I can think is, The last time I was rushed into surgery, I almost died.


But now “I” is us.

Don’t let us die.

Don’t let us die.





Photo by Paul Lovine / Creative Commons License


A blue curtain bisects me. There’s the test of the scalpel and there’s the doctor saying Can you feel this? and me saying Yes and the doctor saying More meds! and then the slicing of my abdomen and me shouting in pain, I can feel it oh my god I can feel it! and the doctor pulling and tugging my abdomen and skin tearing and me saying I can feel it I can feel it! and me crying and asking Why can I feel it!? and the doctor saying I can’t get in there, her damn pelvis is too small and a body lying across my abdomen and hands in my body and a final pull and the doctor saying He’s out! and silence.

The doctor unraveling the cord from our son’s neck and silence.

And more unraveling and more silence. Geo’s blue face and silence.

And silence.


And then the most blissful cry.

Adapted from Of This Much I’m Sure (She Writes Press, 2017)

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About the Author

Nadine Kenney Johnstone is author of Of This Much I’m Sure (She Writes Press, 2017), a memoir of her experiences struggling with IVF and illness, and the healing power of hope and love. Her work has been featured in Chicago Magazine, The Month, PANK, and various anthologies, including The Magic of Memoir. Nadine, who received her MFA from Columbia College in Chicago, teaches English at Loyola University and doubles as a writing coach, presenting at conferences internationally. She lives near Chicago with her family.

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