About half way into my pregnancy, when it became really obvious that I was pregnant and not just gaining weight for a part in a TV movie, people started to ask if I was nervous about labor.
At that point, my general feeling about it was that it was inevitable and not worth stressing over. I knew the baby had to come out somehow, eventually, whether I liked it or not. There but for the grace of God, go I, as they say.
And the thing is, for most of my pregnancy, I genuinely was not at all stressed or concerned about what labor would be like.
Then, about three weeks before my due date, I started to read and think about it a little more. This included taking an 8-hour long labor and delivery class at the hospital, which was extremely tedious, extremely helpful, and extremely discomfiting all at once.
At that point, I began to slowly admit to myself that yes, in fact, I was a little (a lot) terrified by the actual labor process, and maybe it would be better if I could just be knocked unconscious at home, transported to the hospital, have the baby removed by magic, and be woken up when the whole ordeal was over. Unfortunately, however, that is not a menu option on my OB's list of services.
I also spent most of my pregnancy in relative comfort, and was generally pretty pleased with myself for being so good at carrying a baby. I considered listing "pregnancy" as one of my skills on my resume, or at least on my LinkedIn profile.
But about the same time that I realized labor was not going to be fun, I also became increasingly cranky and uncomfortable with being pregnant. Ben spent a lot of time bracing his feet on my ribs and forcefully pushing his head into my bladder, sometimes kicking so suddenly and forcefully that it knocked me off balance.
|Even my shadow is pregnant.|
October 3, the Friday before my due date, I tied up all my lose ends at work, set up my out of office message, and took another long walk. Saturday was uneventful. Sunday I was due. Tim and I spent the day indulging my nesting instinct with a long, satisfying trip to the Container Store. We took a two-hour long walk. I baked three quiches and a pumpkin cheesecake. By the time I went to bed I was exhausted and had had absolutely zero signs of labor.
At about 3:00 in the morning, I got up to pee (for the 700th time) and realized I was having my bloody show, which is one of those labor-related things I wish there was a nicer term for, but which is really only the first of many disgusting things related to having a baby. Pretty much simultaneously, I started to have brief contractions, random but frequent, that were painful and distinctly different from the Braxton Hicks "practice" contractions I'd been having for months.
I got back in bed and told Tim what was going on. Despite his being deep asleep, he hugged me so tightly I couldn't breath and then immediately went into "THIS IS HAPPENING" mode until I told him it could still be days or even weeks (god forbid) before the baby came.
Monday was fairly awful. The contractions were strong enough and frequent enough to make things miserable, but not even close to being hospital-worthy. Like having someone randomly and sadistically tighten a vice grip on your lower back. We decided to go see a movie as a distraction, and ended up seeing The Box Trolls, which was frankly not a great last movie to see before having a baby for lots of reasons I won't go into here. By the end of the movie, my contractions had gotten bad enough that I had no desire to sit through the credits, which is, Tim said, how he knew things had gotten serious.
Monday night, I made a valiant attempt to sleep through my contractions, and Tim tried to time them for me but kept falling asleep. By 3:00 a.m., 24 hours after the first sign of labor, they were bad enough that I gave up sleeping, got up, closed the bedroom door, and went into the living room to be alone with my misery. I figured that if Tim was awake, he would not only want to help and have no real way of doing so, but he would be exhausted when the time came to go to the hospital. Better to let him sleep while I rolled around on the living room floor in agony by myself.
At about 6:00 a.m., my contractions had gotten so strong and close together that I decided to wake Tim up (by politely yelling at him from the other room). I called the on-call Doctor and told them my contractions were 3 minutes apart and strong enough that I had difficulty talking and was crying, at which point they said, "Yes, please come to the hospital!!" and I realized that I'd waited way too long and had a very miserable 45-minute drive during morning rush hour ahead of me.
I also fixed myself a bottle of water and completely forgot it on the kitchen counter. Words of wisdom: contractions make you very thirsty (at least that's how it was for me). Put water bottles in your car ahead of time so you don't suffer from both dry mouth AND contractions for 45 minutes in the car on the way to the hospital.
When we finally arrived at the hospital, about 7:45, the first person to see my face immediately grabbed a wheelchair. At that point, I was still in denial enough to think I could walk to the L&D floor, but I'm thankful for well-trained hospital staff who knew better. And thankful that because I'd already called ahead, the room was ready and waiting for me when I got there.
I changed into a gown and a nurse checked to see how far along I was. She looked at me like I was crazy, said I was only 1 cm dilated (exactly where I'd been for a week already), and left the room. To which my immediate response was, "you have to be effing kidding me" before gritting my teeth through another contraction. After a few minutes, Dr. Johnson came in with the nurse and said, "what I'm seeing does not match what you just told me." She checked again, shot the nurse a very dirty look, and told me I was at 3 cm.
At that point, I met Rachel, the nurse who would stick with me through the whole delivery (for the record, she was very good. All instances of nurses behaving badly in this story are other nurses who stepped in while she was busy). She asked if I wanted drugs, and I said, "YES ALL THE DRUGS." I commend those brave souls who are able to have babies without drugs, but I was already to the point where I had begged Tim to tell the doctor that I would like to be made unconscious and have a C-section immediately. Anything to make it stop.
The problem with having waited so long to come to the hospital is it takes time for them to get everything in order before you can get the sweet, sweet drugs. From the time you walk in until you're actually able to have the epidural is at least 45 minutes. 45 of the longest minutes of your entire life.
During this time, the nurse asked 700 questions, hooked up the IV, the contraction monitor, the fetal heart rate monitor, and what seemed like 35 other cords that all had to be unhooked every time I had to pee, which for me was every single time I had a contraction, so once every few minutes.
After all the initial hooking up and after receiving an entire bag of IV fluids, a beautiful, miraculous angel came into the room wheeling a cart full of magical drugs. He made Tim put on a face mask and cover his hair, then sit in front of me and hold my hands while I hunched over and tried to sit perfectly still so he could stick a needle into my spine. The nurse repositioned Tim's grip and said, "Pregnant women are very strong, and I don't want you to get your fingers broken," which is a little terrifying, but absolutely believable.
I'm 100% certain that the anesthesiologist who does epidurals in a hospital gets a disproportionate amount of thank you cards, fruit baskets, and love letters. It's not at all fair, because the nurses do 99.999% of the work and deserve all of the credit, but it's impossible NOT to fall a little bit in love with someone who makes the pain of labor go away so quickly.
About 10 minutes after receiving the epidural, I looked at Tim and told him my outlook on life had greatly improved. So much in fact, that after receiving my catheter (TMI - but you can't walk with an epidural, and you really have no way of knowing if you need to pee or not anyway. After nine months of having to pee constantly, the catheter was my second favorite thing in the world right behind the epidural itself.), and having my water broken, I promptly fell asleep.
**This is where things get a little weird. Let me say up front that I would still describe my hospital experience as five-star, top-notch, and generally fantastic, especially when put in perspective. Labor is UNBELIEVABLY PAINFUL and I didn't even have to feel the actual delivery, so I can't imagine what it must be like to go through that in a non-sterile, non-medicated environment.**
After I received my epidural, the nurses told Tim to go grab something to eat, so that he wouldn't pass out, then turned down the lights and essentially disappeared for four hours. They came in intermittently to refresh my IV fluids or reposition my monitors, and I was told to press the call button if I ever felt the urge to push, but at no point did anyone actually say, "this is the part where you just sleep until the baby gets here."
This is not so bad in and of itself, but Tim and I were both a little confused and no one really explained what was happening (or really, not happening). At no point did I ever feel the desire to push, but I did notice that I would feel particularly powerful contractions that were strong enough to push the baby so far down into my pelvis that his heart rate actually faded off of the monitor. The contraction would end and his heart beat would slide back into focus, coming through loud and clear once again.
I rang the call button and told the nurse about the deep contractions and she said, "that's great! Let the baby do all the work!" and then left without checking my progress at all. This happened twice. I'm convinced that Ben would have been born much earlier if the nurse had actually checked my progress.
About an hour later, around 3:45, the Doctor herself came in to check on me. "I thought we'd have a baby by now," she said. "I was sure you'd be the first one to deliver today."
Early on, Tim and I had the naive notion that he would help me without really getting involved, that he would keep his eyes on my eyes and hold my hand, and tell me how to breathe. That is not remotely how it happened.
As soon as everything was set up, about 4:00, the nurse had me try a "practice" push. She told Tim to hold on to my left leg while she held my right, and said "When I say, 'now,' Daddy is going to count to ten. When he does, you're going to hold on to your legs, put your chin to your chest and push as hard as you can. We'll do this three times with each contraction and then rest."
After the first practice push, something changed on Tim's face and he was totally focused. The nurse asked if I wanted a mirror to see my progress and I said no. I relied on Tim to tell me what to do. After the first practice push, I pushed through about four more contractions before the doctor came in to take over.
I pushed through one more contraction and the doctor asked me to reach down and touch Ben's head. Up until then, I had been very focused and intent on just getting the baby out. Frankly, with the epidural, I didn't feel like my pushing could possibly be accomplishing anything. I couldn't feel much of anything, so I was mostly just following orders and pretending, so that everyone would feel like they were accomplishing something (I'm accommodating like that).
However, the second I reached down and felt his head, I totally lost my mind. It took everything I had to not starting bawling uncontrollably. From that point on, I think I only pushed through one or two more contractions.... and then I saw his arm and shoulder, and the doctor began to suction out his nose and mouth, and he wailed, and she held him up and Tim said, "it's a boy!" He didn't shout it, but sort of just told me with this look of total awe and incredulity on his face.
|LOOK AT THAT DIMPLE.|
I regained my composure while I got my stitches (later, I asked the Doctor how many stitches I had, and she said, "let's not worry about that." So think about that before you consider having a baby.) I could hear Ben crying as he was poked and prodded and it was wonderful. At that point, one of the nurses exclaimed over the dimple in his chin, which I hadn't actually seen yet, and I started crying all over again, because I really, really, really wanted this baby to have Tim's dimple.
When he was all clean, dry, measured, weighed, and suctioned, they wrapped him up like a burrito and handed him back to me. He nursed a little bit, then fell asleep, and I couldn't take my eyes off of him. I still can't.
In the end, I really didn't have anything to be nervous about with labor. Yes, it was the single most painful thing I've ever experienced in my life (and the day after wasn't a lot of fun either), but I was lucky that my delivery was so easy and fast, and that Ben was born perfectly healthy and happy. I'm lucky to have such an amazing, supportive husband, who did literally everything right on the day our baby was born. It was the hardest thing I've ever done and it was so, so totally worth it.