Where to begin…
First of all, I feel totally weird about sharing in such detail, but when I was pregnant I read birth stories obsessively and found great comfort in the broad variations of what was considered normal and the de-mystification of it all. So, hopefully my sharing will provide some insight to a reader like me.
Be forewarned: you’re getting it all!
Labor began on Friday, December 26th. I had been crampy all day, and that evening, just as we were getting ready to go to the airport to pick up my mom and brother who were flying in for the baby’s birth (talk about good timing), I lost my mucus plug. All at once I got giddy and nervous knowing this meant game time. I didn’t know if it would be hours or days, but oh my god, this was the beginning of the event I had been obsessing over for the last nine months. I was buzzing!
My husband and I stayed up late that night timing contractions. We went for a walk around the block in the middle of the night and I took a bath, both things we were told to do to make sure it was true labor and not just Braxton-Hicks contractions. Sure enough, the contractions persisted. We were advised in our childbirth prep class to wait until contractions were five minutes apart and one minute in length for at least an hour before going to the hospital. We reached that marker a few times, but then the contractions would get further apart and irregular again. They were distinct, but I didn’t feel like this was really it. I had never been in labor before, but I imagined it would be more painful.
Oh just you wait, past self. Just. You. Wait.
We decided to lay down and try to get some sleep. Ha! Sleep…while in labor. It turned out to be a good call though, to at least rest, not knowing when we’d be able to do that again. (Spoiler alert: it won’t be for another 18 years or so!) We got up and took another walk around 4:00am, stopping every half block or so to breathe through a contraction and for my husband to punch the stop watch he was wearing around his neck. Our elderly neighbors up the street saw us waddling down the sidewalk and came out to check on us. They have five kids, so they know this process well. We chatted a bit, then they gave us a knowing smile and instructed us to keep moving.
Back at home I tried to figure out what to do. Should I rest? Should I move? I did a little bit of both, some squatting with the birth ball against the wall, some cat-cows on the floor, some reclining in a chair and resting. I had conflicting feelings about eating, but I ate a tiny bit of oatmeal and soup throughout the morning, knowing I’d need energy. I drank water, too. Otherwise, we just kind of hung out, watched TV, and timed contractions.
That afternoon I took a shower, and we decided we would go to the hospital. Contractions had been five or fewer minutes apart for a while, and we figured we would just go there, get checked out, and know where we stood. I suddenly got really nervous about going to the hospital. I don’t know why, no reason in particular. Maybe because I just got comfortable at home? Maybe because going to the hospital meant it was all real? Maybe because I was afraid we’d be told I wasn’t far enough along and we’d have to go back home and keep doing this for some unknown amount of time? The pain was still very manageable at this point. I mean, contractions had definitely become more intense, but I could handle it. Maybe this was it and I was just really tough? Flash forward a few hours: HA!
So, we loaded up the car and made the very short drive to the hospital. We checked in and were assigned to an assessment room. I slipped into a hospital gown, gave a urine sample, posed for obnoxious pictures we snapped with a cell phone and sent to friends, and waited for the nurse. She finally came in and got all up in my junk. She felt around and had a perplexed look on her face. She concluded I was only 1 cm dilated, but that his head was “right there” and my cervix was paper thin. To hear 1 cm was discouraging, but she assured us those other two factors (the low positioning of his head and thinned out cervix) were equally as significant in determining the progression of labor. In other words, a ton of work had been done, I had something to show for the 18 hours of discomfort I’d been through thus far, and she predicted that when I did start dilating things would progress very quickly.
In the meantime, contractions had become stronger, I was in more pain, and I didn’t want to be sent home at all. Our nurse called for some monitoring of both me and the baby, I think in part to stall the other nurses from sending us home and see if I wouldn’t dilate more in that time. No such luck. She had one more scheme to thwart our eviction: a bath. When we took a tour of the maternity ward a month earlier, I had NO intention of utilizing the jacuzzi tub they have available for laboring women. I’m WAY not into public water things. But labor changes everything, and when this angel of a nurse asked if I was interested in taking a bath to ease the pain and buy us even more time at the hospital before her shift ended, I said HELL YEAH!
It felt good to warm up in the bath, but honestly, I was really hurting by this point and all the hot water in the world couldn’t have helped. I managed to eek out one more smile and a thumbs up for my husband to snap a photo with his phone and text it to our anxious moms. That was the last time I so much as cracked a smile until after midnight. By the time I got out of the bath and back into our holding room, I was in A LOT of pain. Lying on my back made it even worse, so whenever I wasn’t being examined or monitored, I was on my hands and knees. Another nursed came in, felt around, and determined I was 1/2 cm dilated. 1/2 cm?! We’re going backward?! I cried. How much gnarlier was this going to get? How in the world was I going to make it to 10cm if I was struggling this much at 1/2?! I felt like I was dying! Was I really this big of a wuss?! (FYI: My pre-labor self would have written, “Was I really this big of a pussy?!” But since giving birth, I assure you there is nothing, and I mean nothing weak or cowardly about a pussy!)
In our good ol’ childbirth prep classes and in my prenatal yoga classes we learned that contractions typically last 60-90 seconds, and even at the very, very end, right before the pushing part, you can expect to get a 30-60 second break between contractions. I thought, pfft I can do anything for 60-90 seconds at a time. And I still think I can. However, my husband had been tracking my contractions on the monitor and some were lasting up to 15 and 20 minutes with almost no time to recover between. I couldn’t catch my breath! I had every intention of having this baby without an epidural and as little medical intervention as possible, but after 20-something hours and contractions that literally wouldn’t quit, I would have agreed to cutting off my left arm if it would have taken the pain away. I have two arms and don’t use that one very much anyhow, right?!
I was on all fours, face down on the hospital bed, making all sorts of animalistic noises, when I turned to my husband (who had been absolutely amazing and right by my side without food or a bathroom break for hours) and said, “I can’t… I don’t want to do this.” His response: “Well, you’re gonna have to.” Wrong. Answer. Yes, I knew I was going to have to. What I was trying to express, and please excuse my lack of articulation at the time, I couldn’t f-ing breathe let alone think clearly, was that I was seriously struggling, couldn’t take many more bouts of this pain, and needed some sort of help! Breathing techniques, hip circles, lavender essential oils, and every other labor aid I had practiced and packed neatly in my stylish hospital bag could all go shove it at this point! Give me a goddamn epidural or cut this baby out of me now!
It wasn’t until I reached this point that they officially decided they couldn’t in good conscience send us home and admitted us to a real room. The pain had reached its absolute peak. I was nauseous and lightheaded. An oxygen mask was slapped on me as they started poking around to get an IV started. It took four tries and some seriously bruised arms before they got it in. The room went fuzzy, and I thought, just kill me now. So much for being a tough chick.
Finally, the anesthesiologist came into the room and administered the epidural. He said it would take about 10 minutes to kick in. Ten minutes passed, then twenty minutes…it didn’t work. He placed it incorrectly and It. Didn’t. Work. Are you kidding me?! We decided to try again with a second epidural. This one was placed correctly, and after 27 hours, finally some relief. It was 11:00pm, and I was 5 cm dilated. We were told we would have the baby sometime the next day. I was comfortable now, so as long as we were progressing, it was all good.
My water broke at some point after the epidural kicked in. That was pretty anticlimactic. A nurse came in, determined that my amniotic fluid levels were low and they would essentially need to pump me full of fluid. Here we go with the slew of interventions I so desperately wanted to avoid. She reached in to check me out just before ordering this next set of tubes to be inserted, and I will never forget the look on her face. “You’re complete!” She said. “Try to push a little bit…okay stop pushing! We’re going to call a doctor. Whatever you do, don’t push! You’re going to meet your baby very soon.” I had gone from 5 to 10 cm in under an hour, and it was finally time. My husband called our families and told them to get to the hospital now! I wasn’t scared at all. I was so, SO excited. There was an end in sight, and I was going to hold my baby tonight!
We waited for 20 minutes for the doctor to arrive, being careful not to push or move or even sneeze. He rolled in, gave us a nod, threw up a peace sign, and as he suited up said, “Alright, you ready to have a baby?” The drugs were pumping and I was feeling’ good. I said, “Yeah, let’s do this!” I shimmied down to the edge of the bed and assumed the position. My husband, who had no interest in playing any other role in the delivery other than maybe holding my hand was instructed to grab my left leg and look to see the top of the baby’s head. He didn’t hesitate and followed orders. We proceeded with a couple big pushes. It was bizarre because with the epidural I felt like I didn’t know how to push. I kept asking, “Am I doing it?” I was, but he wasn’t moving. The doctor gave me a little snip. Getting an episiotomy was like the 12th thing on my typed and double-spaced birth plan that I clearly denoted I did not want, but along with not wanting to wear a hospital gown, but rather my own clothes and not wanting to get an epidural, I didn’t give a sh*t about that anymore. I just wanted my baby in my arms by any means necessary. I heard and felt the snap of my skin being cut, but felt no pain. It took just one more big push, and his head was out. I felt him move out of my body. I heard him cry, and then he was placed right on my chest.
This was the best moment of my life.
It was as full and surreal as I dreamt it would be…and then some. The sounds he made, this little huh-huh, huh-huh… I’ll never forget that sound. The first time I felt the weight of his little body on mine. The first time I kissed his head. The first time I held and heard my son. His eyes were open, just looking. He felt and breathed air for the first time. He was touched for the first time. He was here. He was in my arms.
The doctor gave Scott a pair of scissors and said, “Here, hold this for a second.” He was tricked into cutting the umbilical cord, yet another thing he initially had no interest in doing, also stated in our birth plan. (Expectant mamas, I’m not saying don’t bother with a birth plan, but I am saying be prepared to toss it out the window.) The doctor pushed on my stomach and my placenta was delivered. Then the doctor got to work stitching me up. He was very proud of his work saying, “This is old school. No one will ever know you had a baby,” as he winked at my husband. Ha! I loved this guy. While he was down there hootin’ it up, the nurses asked the baby’s name. We told them his name was Van. Van Myles. We hadn’t shared his name with anyone until then.
My husband and Van and I spent some time together before he went to get our families from the waiting room. They came in to ooh and ah and take pictures. I was holding Van so closely under my chin that it was a while before I even got to see his face. I finally did, and he was adorable. He nursed right away. That instinct is just incredible. He was weighed and measured: 5 pounds, 15 ounces and 19.5 inches long. This was quite a bit smaller than the 7-7.5 pounds my doctor had predicted.
The next 24 hours or so in the hospital was absolutely nuts and a total blur of tests, hourly monitoring of both me and the baby, trying to walk to the bathroom after the epidural, half-sleeping, nursing, diaper changing, eating, more tests, passing blood clots, visitors, more tests. It’s bizarre that after you’ve been through and are trying to recover from this most intense experience, you’re also trying to care for a newborn. Nothing like jumping right in! As soon as both Van and I were given the “all clear” we packed up and got out of there. We couldn’t wait to get home, to be in our home with our son. I was wheeled out, we loaded up the car, strapped our baby in his carseat, and drove home.
Just like that it was over, and our new life had begun.
Van Myles, born 12/28/14 at 12:17am.