Preface: I know that birth stories are not everyone’s cup of tea, but for the sake of not letting the details of the greatest day of my life continue to blur around the edges some two weeks post partum (and because a handful of people have asked to read it, especially since I hinted that it was an easy labor and delivery as opposed to all of those horror stories they’ve heard), I’ve decided to write and post it here. If you decide to skip it, no hard feelings. If you do decide to delve into it, I apologize in advance, for it is long.
What I quickly discovered in the weeks leading up to the end of my pregnancy is that birth stories are like snowflakes. Not one is exactly like another, and mine is certainly no exception. But based on the reaction of family and friends, it seems the consensus is that I got a pretty good deal! Because I had the baby a little more than two weeks early, I hadn’t begun to really think about the impending details of labor and delivery, nor did I have to endure the final weeks of pregnancy that everyone says are the most uncomfortable. Essentially, I went into the experience somewhat unprepared, but in the end, a little naiveté was for the best.
Here is my story.
On the Sunday before Rowan was born, after putting away freshly washed baby clothes courtesy back-to-back surprise baby showers thrown by our co-workers, Roth and I both agreed that we really needed to start packing for the hospital and write a birth plan the following weekend. We figured two weeks prior to the baby’s due date was ample time to prepare such things, so why kill ourselves trying to get it all done right then? Plus, we still needed to pack up gifts to ship to our parents, write an annual holiday letter, and address about 40 envelopes with which to send photo cards. The baby stuff could wait a little longer.
Tuesday night, after finishing packing up the parental gifts but further putting off writing the holiday letter, we crawled into bed a little later than normal. I was extra tired that night, having slept a total of zero hours the night before, so I fell fast asleep. I woke up around 2 a.m. to what felt like a mild contraction. Huh, I thought. Must’ve been those Braxton Hicks contractions I’d yet to experience. I didn’t think much about it and drifted back to sleep. A few minutes later, I felt the same sensation. This went on for about 30 minutes until finally I rolled over to wake Roth and tell him I thought I was maybe possibly having contractions. But I wasn’t sure, having felt nothing like it during the 37 weeks prior to that night.
We started timing them and noticed they were pretty regular, every four or five minutes, but each contraction only lasted for about 15 to 20 seconds before subsiding. Still, I couldn’t relax, and Roth agreed that there was no way he would be able to go back to sleep. We decided to seek answers from the Google, as one does these days when baffled by some new bodily sensation, and quickly learned that Braxton Hicks contractions, or false labor pains, are usually more sporadic and random than what I had been experiencing. And not to mention, less painful, too. But it was too early in the morning to call my doctor, so we decided we’d just see how things progressed, then go from there.
Meanwhile, we turned on the local early morning news only to discover the entire Pacific Northwest bracing itself for the mother of all storms. Fantastic, I thought. What better time to maybe possibly be having the baby than in some crazy-ass storm? Roth considered not going into work, just in case what I was experiencing was in fact the Real Thing. But both of us were most certainly in denial at that point, and we decided it would be best for him to go to work, and for me to see my doctor. I even thought I might end up going to work later.
I continued to have increasingly intense contractions after Roth left, but that didn’t stop me from doing a few loads of laundry, all of the dishes, sweeping the kitchen floor, and haphazardly packing a bag for the hospital filled with all kinds of randomness, none of which included the camera cord. If there was ever a time for me to be crazily nesting, it was then. I just didn’t know it.
Then my mom called the house, rather than my cell phone as she always does, to ask for my mailing address to send us a Christmas package. I hadn’t planned on telling my mom about the contractions until I knew for sure it wasn’t a false alarm. No need to unnecessarily send her into a tailspin of panic. But I was so thrown off by her calling our house phone when normally I would’ve already been at work that I couldn’t not say something about what had been going on for the last few hours. She remained surprisingly calm, reassuring me that likely I was only having Braxton Hicks contractions. I was, after all, born a week late, as was my brother, so there was probably no need to freak out.
It was finally time to call my doctor, and the triage nurse agreed that it would be a good idea if I came in as soon as possible to get checked. I threw my hospital bag into the back of the car and managed to drive myself (!) to the hospital, all the while having fairly intense contractions the whole way there. Luckily, there wasn’t much traffic on I-5, but still, probably wasn’t the best idea to be driving while maybe possibly in labor. After about 30 excruciating minutes waiting to see the doctor, it was finally my turn. Of course, my doctor was not in that day, so I saw the on-call doctor, who ended up being really great.
Turned out I was already dilated 2 to 3 centimeters and completely thinned out, this after zero dilation and only 50 percent effacement the week before. Huh, wow, really? The doctor calmly advised that I walk around the hospital for a couple hours, return to be re-checked, and hopefully, if I’d progressed enough, I’d then be admitted into labor and delivery later that afternoon. Um, OK, I thought. I should probably call my husband, I said to the doctor.
I should probably call my husband? This is what I said the moment the doctor told me I was more than likely going to be admitted into the hospital that very same day so that I could deliver my baby? Not OMG, holy shit, are you frakking kidding me? For some strange reason, I managed to remain mostly unaffected by the magnitude of events that were (unbeknownst to me, very soon) to come. After all, my due date was still 16 days away. I didn’t even have a birth plan. First babies are almost always late. So, you know, there was no way I was having the baby that day.
I’m not sure Roth believed me when I called to tell him I was likely going to be admitted to the hospital later that day. Really? Are you sure? So I should go to the hospital? YES. And NOW, please.
Before the doctor released me to the world at large, I was hooked up to a fetal monitor to check the baby’s movements while having contractions. During that time, about 40 minutes, my contractions intensified to the point of my having to resort to dramatic yoga-type breathing to get through each rise and fall. It was then that I finally started to feel nervous, and not having Roth right there beside me made matters worse.
It certainly felt a little peculiar to be walking around the hospital by myself while having contractions as if I was just some regular person not about to give birth to a baby, but that was the facial facade I tried to maintain while waiting for Roth to meet me in the lobby. Finally, after first going to the wrong building (oops), Roth arrived, and we sat on some lounge chairs to strategize our next course of action.
We quickly realized that we’d each driven to the hospital, and having both of our cars there didn’t make much sense, but what to do? The doctor told me to stick around the hospital, but neither of us was content to just walk the halls when we could quickly take a superfluous car home, check on the dog, and grab a few more essential items (again, not the camera cord) from the house. But then, how would we get back to the hospital? Take a cab? Ask a friend to pick us up? I certainly couldn’t drive again, no way. After a few frantic calls, wherein I had to hand the phone to Roth every time I had a contraction, we arranged with a co-worker of mine to meet us at our house so she could take us back to the hospital, and off we went.
Meanwhile, the impending storm outside was just starting to brew something fierce. But luckily, traffic wasn’t bad, so we got home quickly. Once in the house, I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than my contractions, which were now coming fast and hard. Roth tried to get me to eat something. Chips? No. A grilled cheese sandwich? No. An apple? OK, fine. I managed to eat an apple, after having only eaten half a yogurt and a banana earlier in the day.
In my hasty hospital bag packing that morning, I hadn’t even thought to include a going-home outfit for the baby – the baby that was most definitely going to be born that day, no question about it, if my contractions had anything to say about it. We managed to throw a onesie and a pair of footed jammies into my bag before my co-worker finally arrived, and back to the hospital we went. I sat in the backseat so as to not totally freak her out with my hoo-hoo-hoo breathing, as she was most definitely nervous about having to transport a woman in active labor, like some scene out of a movie.
By the time we arrived at the hospital, I almost could not walk through the contractions, having to brace myself against walls, doorways, and the elevator the nine floors up to my doctor’s office. Again, we had to wait a bit before seeing the doctor, but once she finally came into the exam room to re-check me, it was a matter of minutes before I was on my way to labor and delivery, because in just two hours, I had progressed to 7 centimeters dilated! Most women are admitted to the hospital when 4 or 5 centimeters dilated, and that’s when they typically administer an epidural. The doctor asked if I thought I could still walk myself to labor and delivery – across two sky bridges to an entirely different building on another block – and at first, I said sure, I think so. But then Roth, always the voice of reason, quickly chimed in and said no, why don’t you let them take you in the wheelchair? Fine, OK. And off we went.
The next 45 minutes were mostly a blur, but basically I was admitted, braceleted, IV’d, and epiduraled all during that time. I felt maybe three more contractions before I was finally able to lie in the hospital bed and relax for a bit. By then, it was 3 p.m., and my nurse (a lovely, lovely lady from South Africa named Gina) predicted I would deliver the baby within the 7 p.m. hour. We were finally able to make a few phone calls to let our parents know what was happening. My mom planned to fly to Seattle the next morning. I managed to send a message out to the blogosphere via Twitter, which I’m sure was quite a surprise to some, to read that I was suddenly in labor.
We spent the next couple of hours trying our best to relax. I was still so tired from waking up at 2 a.m. that all I wanted to do was close my eyes and get some sleep. But no real sleep was to be had, because before we knew it, it was already time to start practice pushing. The on-call doctor was pretty busy that evening, as I was just one of three women very close to giving birth. She only came in a few times to check on my status, one time accidentally breaking my water, which made it so I could really start to push.
The epidural numbed my right side more than my left, so my right leg was completely limp, and Roth was quickly put in charge of that leg, to make sure it didn’t fall off the bed and to hold it up when pushing. The next thing I knew, I was in the position to start pushing for real. And push I did, for the next two hours.
Oh, it was … exhausting.
I really had to dig deep to find the strength and energy to keep going, as I was running on empty, what with little food in my system and little sleep the night before. But there were two things that kept me going. One was my nurse Gina. Her shift ended at 7 p.m., and she kept saying how she really didn’t want to go home without seeing our baby, so could we make that happen before 7, she joked. She even stuck around after the shift switch for another hour and a half, periodically coming back into my room to check on my progress. I really wanted to deliver the goods, so to speak, just so Gina could get a look at our baby. And two, there was the promise of a chocolate milkshake immediately after I was done, so I persevered, even though all I wanted to do was take a nap.
Finally, I was getting close to the end, as I heard the nurses call in the doctor and an extra set of hands. The doctor suited up in scrubs, and the nurses prepared for the imminent arrival of our baby. Another set of three hold-my-breath and count-to-10 pushes, and his head – with the cord loosely wrapped around his neck – was out. Look, look, Roth said, but I kept my eyes closed as the rest of his body effortlessly released itself from the grip of my body, and that was it. Our beautiful son – Rowan James – was born at 8:22 p.m.
The doctor placed the baby on my chest as the nurses rubbed his body with a warm blanket, trying to get him to cry. It didn’t take long, and soon he was crying – as was I. Those first few moments with my son were the most surreal of my life. And simultaneously: the most awesome.
I held him for a few more minutes as the doctor stitched me up – thanks to his face-up arrival, there was some minor tearing and a couple of stitches, which ended up being the most painful part of labor and delivery – and then the nurses took him to the other side of the room to do a more thorough evaluation. A chocolate milkshake was ordered for me.
From across the room, I watched Roth watch the nurses as they weighed (7 pounds, .04 ounces), measured (21 inches) and bathed our son. Roth was happy to report that he was perfect. Ten fingers and toes, no birthmarks. His skin and coloring looked really good, too. A nice head of light brown hair. Soon, he was swaddled and brought to me again so I could try breastfeeding. With the baby successfully at my boob, the chocolate milkshake was finally delivered, and Roth held it near my mouth so I could drink from the straw. It was the best milkshake of my life.
Parents, grandparents and best friends were called. Text messages were sent. Camera phone pictures were taken. A grilled cheese sandwich and fries were ordered and eaten. And then it was time to move from labor and delivery to recovery where we would spend the next 36 hours marveling at the beauty of our son and adjusting to our new roles as mom and dad.
I could probably go on and on about what happened next – how we awoke the next morning to a winter wonderland just outside our window, the arrival of my mom the next afternoon, our first challenging night as parents the next, coming home from the hospital, and the next several days spent mostly stuck at home thanks to the ice and snow that shut all of Seattle down – but I think I’ll end the story there, with one of my favorite pictures from the hospital.
Seriously, I would do it all over again.