Remember 8 days ago when I posted about life at 38 weeks and said “Waiting is the hardest part?” HAH. If only I’d known that the next morning labor would start around 5am with mild, confusing contractions that turned into active labor by 11am and had me delivering a baby boy into a birthing tub by 2:52pm. What a whirlwind it was. But let me start from the beginning and give more details. I love oversharing and find birth stories to be fascinating. For those of you out there who are curious about labor/delivery/recovery, this post is for you. If you never want to know the details of birth or would prefer to think the stork brings babies, check back next week for less intimately detailed posts.
So, back to 5am on Thursday, April 9th. I’d had a night of tossing and turning, baby seemed to be moving and squirming. It wasn’t until around 5 that I noticed that some movements seemed to be repetitive: there was a tightening, like his whole body was being squeezed, in my lower abdomen and into my pelvis. I wondered, is this a contraction? I would fall back asleep and twenty minutes later I’d feel the same thing. Then I remembered that I had a concert to sing that evening with the Chamber Chorale, so I told myself, these are probably just false contractions and will go away. Kevin’s alarm went off at 6am, he rolled over to a very awake wife who said, “I think something’s happening” and described my contractions. He was instantly awake as well and told me, with a bit of indignation, “You could have woken me up earlier!” But then I would have had to admit that they were real, which I wasn’t ready to do yet. I stayed in bed til 6:30am breathing through contractions that weren’t too painful. In my snoozy state I would spend each contraction visualizing Letchworth State Park (don’t ask my why, it just popped into my head while semi asleep and I found it so beautiful and peaceful). I would imagine myself climbing the stone steps around the waterfalls and then watch the hot air balloons inflate and float off over the waterfall during each contraction. It was a way for me to keep myself relaxed and a good image for opening and releasing any tension I felt.
I had a regularly scheduled check up with a midwife at the clinic (that is attached to the hospital where I’d be giving birth) at 9am that morning, so I had to decide, was this real enough for Kevin to come in with me? Should I cancel the appointment and wait to check in at the hospital when I’d reached the 5-1-1 (1 minute contractions that come every 5 minutes for an hour). From 7am-9am my contractions were still erratic, going from every 10 minutes for 30 seconds or so, to every 15 minutes for a bit longer, or sometimes every 7-8 minutes. Combined with the fact that I was only feeling them in my lower abdomen (another symptom of false contractions) convinced me this wasn’t the real deal. There was still the possibility that they would stop. Kevin and I decided to go to the appointment together, since I didn’t really want to drive, and we sat around beforehand watching Friends on Netflix. During each contraction I would get up and sway around the room, often counting my steps to help keep my mind off any pain. A few weeks ago we had watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. In the tv show she tells one of her friends that you can get through anything if you count to ten. In her case, she had to turn a crank in the bunker she’s kept in by a cult leader, and she would count to ten, then start over again. I found myself walking around the house counting to ten over and over again.
When we got to the hospital for my appointment the contractions seemed to slow down and lose intensity. I found myself losing any certainty I had that they were real contractions and downplayed my pain to the nurse and midwife. Throughout my pregnancy I’d been seeing one midwife, who was on vacation that day, so I ended up seeing someone brand new. If I’d been with someone I knew, I might have asked to be checked to see if I was dilated at all, but I just described what I was feeling and was told that these were probably just practice contractions, that they could progress to something real, or could stop for a few days. Off we went back home, I told Kevin to go into work since they were probably fake contractions and drew myself a hot bath to hopefully get them to slow/stop. After sitting in the bath for an hour and still feeling some contractions I got out and felt exhausted. I lay down on our guest bed downstairs with a clock and timed my contractions, they were coming every 7-8 minutes or so and were usually about 30-40 seconds long. Around 11:40 it was too uncomfortable to stay in bed, so I stood up and went to the bathroom and noticed that my mucus plug had come out. At this point I was feeling convinced this was the real deal, so I g-chatted Kevin and told him to come home from work. Then I read that the mucus plug can come out weeks before labor and told him that maybe this still wasn’t the real deal. Poor Kevin responded, “I’m getting mixed messages here, do I come home?” I thought about it and realized how nice it would be to have him home with me to get through the pain, even if it ended up stopping, so told him to come home. At this point I could feel the contractions throughout my abdomen and my lower back and at times it felt like I could feel my cervix opening during a contraction.
[At this point, I’m realizing how incredibly long this post is going to be. Sorry for all the detail. You can skim it, I’ll be happy to come back and read this before my next labor or to make Calvin read this someday before his wife gives birth.]
When Kevin came home 25 minutes later at 12:20pm he found me standing in front of the stove boiling water for some pasta breathing through a contraction. He wanted to help, so I put him in charge of timing and writing down contraction details. Being the statistician that he is, he put it all in excel and would tell me the standard deviation and other smart things.
Mainly, he gave me the confidence to say we’d achieved the 5-1-1 by 1:40ish after standing in the shower for awhile and lying down on our bed upstairs having him press on my back through contractions. By 1 the contractions had gotten very painful, but I managed the pain mostly silently, by breathing in and out rapidly and counting in my head. The first 20 seconds were always the worst and the relief that came once they were over often made me underestimate how long each contraction was. I had a hard time telling Kevin when they were over because I was just so relieved to be done with the beginning I would discount any pain at the tail end. I often had shorter contractions in between longer ones, so sometimes I didn’t report those either (notice the 8 minute gap at one point).
We headed to the hospital at 1:55pm and Kevin walked me into the emergency room entrance. They called up to the 5th floor to labor and delivery to tell them I was on my way up, but when they offered to wheel me up I told them I could get there on my own. Kevin said he’d walk me up and I told him to go park the car, I’d be fine (why was I so independent?!). As I walked through the lobby of the hospital I had one of the more surreal experiences of my labor. A gathering of beauty pageant contestants were gathered around a piano that can also play karaoke and were having a talent show. One girl was singing some american standard that I knew but can’t remember and I remember thinking, “Stand up straight, use your real voice, stop singing like some teen pop idol and be real.” Then I looked at myself and realized I was a hunched over witch like individual with my hair straggled up in a bun and wearing a voluminous black maternity dress. I couldn’t have been more different than the made up beauty contestants and it made me laugh.
I got on the elevator with an old lady, breathed my way through a contraction and had to answer her query of “Are you ok?!” with a finger pointed at my belly and a strangled, “I’m in labor.” With her wishing me good luck I walked off the elevator to a very quiet labor and delivery ward. Apparently I checked in at a shift change, because someone put me in an observation room and told me they’d be back with some water, but I ended up being alone until Kevin showed up. I was feeling hot and extremely thirsty (even though I’d been hydrating well at home) and since Kevin couldn’t see any nurses anywhere and couldn’t find any cups in the room I made him deliver a mouthful of water to me on the observation bed. That’s true love right there.
Around 2:15, 3 nurses and the midwife (another new one to me, Glenda, “the good witch” as she called herself) arrived. The nurses strapped me to the fetal heart monitor and blood pressure cuff to start monitoring me and baby while the midwife checked how dilated I was. FINALLY, I would know how far along I was and how “real” this labor would be. At this point I knew I was in labor because contractions seemed to be coming 2-3 minutes apart and were more painful. I had to moan my way through them now. The midwife looked up and said with a bit of shock, “She’s complete!” Kevin and I were like..wait, what do you mean… She responded, “She’s 9 cms and will be ready to push soon.” We were so happy and relieved. We’d done it! All the hard work had already happened (or so I thought) and we were so close to meeting Calvin. At this point I also had Kevin text one of my friends in the choir to tell them I wouldn’t be at the concert (another instance of me deluding myself until the last minute).
The midwife and a nurse rushed off to the birthing suite we requested (where we could only stay 24 hours, but would give us the closest experience to a home birth you can get in a hospital) to fill up the birthing tub. They decided I’d have 20 minutes of monitoring in the observation room so I wouldn’t have to be monitored at all in the suite before getting in the tub. I was told NOT to push and while being monitored I allowed myself to tense up during every contraction so I wouldn’t push. It was oddly freeing being told not to push. I stopped thinking about what I needed to do to get through labor–relax, breath and visualize my way through contractions and feel open–and just allowed my body to react naturally to the pain I was in. Kevin told the nurses I was a singer, so they told me I had to sing through my contractions. I would moan on a low tone through most of them, when it got very painful the pitch would rise and it would turn into a bit of a yodel. Finally I was done being observed and ready to move to the suite. The midwife and nurse helped me off the bed and I was wrapped up in a sheet and gown to catch any residual bleeding from the mucus plug (which was surprisingly bloody, in case you’re wondering). I booked it to the suite, walking so fast the nurse and midwife were kind of trotting to keep up. I saw the tub, said, “Can I get in now?” And basically threw off my clothes and dove in. Just kidding, but I did climb in very quickly to the nurses’ alarm. It felt so great to sit in the water. The midwife said I could start pushing when I contracted next, so as soon as one hit I gave it a try. It was not as pleasant as I’d read.
Most books say it’s a relief to push by the time you get there. I think I was so unaware that I was “there” that the pain of pushing was startling. It felt a bit like vomiting, where your stomach takes over and you can’t stop yourself from throwing up, except it was your pushing muscles. It felt like there was a little alien taking over and forcing his way out of my body. During the rest between contractions the midwife said she was going to check Calvin’s position on the next contraction. When it came she reached down, felt the bag of waters break and told me he was crowning! The next contraction was most likely going to be my last. I felt a huge rush of affection/fear. Kevin leaned over and gave me a kiss and I couldn’t help but feel emotional….and terrified. Kevin said you could see a baby shaped bulge just waiting to come out. When the next contraction came I had to go for it and luckily my body took over, because I don’t know if I would have willingly continued to push. I felt the “ring of fire” (or the head moving into the birth canal) and next thing I knew Glenda was holding his head and with another push his body came rushing out. It wasn’t the calm, quiet waterbirth we’d seen on video. Calvin was squawking right away, though he settled down quickly as we let him hang out in the water on my legs. Very soon afterwards, with some pressing on my stomach by the midwife, my placenta was delivered, though some blood spilled in the water as it came out. I was so in shock I didn’t even mind that I was sitting in extremely red water. However, it wasn’t conducive to hanging out in the water. So I climbed out (I didn’t remember where the stairs into the tub were, so I just took a huge step over the side, to the surprise of my nurses), and was helped onto the big double bed, where Kevin and I stayed with baby while they stitched up my second degree tears. Time of birth was 2:52pm, about 15 minutes after climbing in the tub.
PHEW! Recovery at the hospital was lovely, we ordered room service (the food was pretty good!), called our families and talked a lot, held Calvin all afternoon and evening. He breastfed 2 hours after being born and it’s gone pretty well ever since. Becoming a mom has felt like one of the most natural things in the world for me. Even though giving birth to Calvin was painful and intense, it also left me feeling powerful and confident and proud. I would never discount any woman’s birth experience, you should feel proud and confident in yourself regardless of going natural/using pain medication/getting a c section. I’m so glad that I was able to achieve the birth I wanted.
It really helped that I have an amazing partner who encouraged me and cheered me on every step of the way. He was strong and positive and affirming, everything I needed, and hasn’t stopped being proud of me since. Kevin joked while I was in early labor that I was the general manager/owner of our team, and that he felt honored to be the coach. Sports metaphors always work for him ;-). He’s been a great coach and guide through this first week, making sure we have what we need and doing whatever needs doing. Every morning I tell him how much sleep I think I’ll need during the day to feel normal, then he reminds me every time Calvin naps to nap as well. Day 1 at home I needed an extra 3 hours in naps, but since then Calvin has been sleeping pretty well through the night and I only nap if I feel like it. Being home as a family is so lovely. I’m excited to see what the next few months are like as we get to know our baby boy!