It was business as usual up until Monday, July 28. Something changed that day and I found myself making 11 or 12 trips to the bathroom instead of 2 or 3. I knew something had happened – indeed, baby had dropped — but I wasn’t about to get my hopes up.
That afternoon, while working at my desk, I felt a Braxton-Hicks contraction. But this one was different. I usually didn’t notice them until they were in full force. This time, I looked down at my bulging stomach in wonder as tightness started at the perimeter of my belly and built, wavelike, toward the center and top of my uterus. That was weird, I thought, and went on about my afternoon.
That night, I had plans to go to dinner with three friends. The contractions continued, but I timed them and they were erratic, so I wasn’t too worried. On the way to dinner, I had two more contractions, and they hurt, but only a little. Concerned, I started timing them again. Still erratic. I arrived at the restaurant with zero appetite and a serious case of the shakes from nervous energy. The girls were excited, and grew even more so as our dinner continued and the contractions became regular – about 2 to 2.5 minutes apart, and consistent. But they didn’t hurt – just tightening across my abdomen.
I called Labor & Delivery and told them what I was experiencing. Given the nearly painless labor I had with Peanut, I was taking no chances. After explaining “silent labor,” the nurse told me to come in to get checked out. I called my mother, who quickly decided I was in labor and started the two-hour drive toward me. I called my husband, who was at home with Peanut, and said I would call when I knew what was happening.
As soon as they hooked up the monitors in the triage room, my contractions started making little mountain peaks on the screen, regular as a clock. I felt vindicated – it was for real! Actual timed contractions!
My joy was short-lived. A resident came in to check my cervix and see how much progress I had made in dilating. At my last appointment, 5 days earlier, I had measured 2-3 centimeters and 60% effaced. When the doctor reached in to check, I could just tell by how far up he was reaching. Sure enough, I was still 2-3 centimeters. These contractions were “unproductive” and not producing a change in the cervix. They sent me home and said to call them if they started hurting or if my water broke. Strangely, almost as soon as the doctor told me I wasn’t dilating, my contractions stopped. The power that your mind has over your body is wild.
I was frustrated and embarrassed. False labor? Seriously? I thought women who didn’t know if they were in labor were stupid (like those girls who didn’t know they were pregnant).
Now I was one of them.
I headed home feeling silly, and hoping for a good night’s sleep.
Morning arrived quickly. I showered and dressed for work. We were having breakfast when suddenly I felt a painful tightening. I glanced at the clock as I grimaced: 7:21am. A while later, another one: 7:26am. Then again at 7:31am, and 7:36.
I lay down on the couch to see if they would continue. For an hour, they did – every five minutes. After two hours of contractions, I called Labor & Delivery, which advised to wait until they were 3 to 4 minutes apart, and call when I was on my way.
The contractions stretched out to 7 minutes, then nine, and 11 minutes. I was growing frustrated and decided to stop timing and take a nap. My brain felt scrambled. I couldn’t think straight, make plans, or answer questions during or immediately after each pain. I tried to calm down, but it was hard.
My nap wasn’t great – the contractions kept waking me up – but I watched the clock and by the end of my nap, they were four minutes apart consistently. Ever a rule-follower, we loaded up the car and headed to the hospital. My contractions all the way to the hospital were 3 minutes apart, and I couldn’t talk through them. We arrived at Labor & Delivery and I went straight up to a triage room (the same one I had been in the night before) and got hooked up to monitors. To my horror, as soon as I was on the monitors, my contractions stopped almost completely.
I started to get scared that this was going to be another false alarm. The doctor checked my cervix again, and just as the night before, I knew the moment he reached in really far.
“Shit,” I said. “Nothing, right?”
“Still two, maybe three,” he replied sadly. I was so disappointed. I had followed their instructions exactly: called when they grew painful and came in when they were very close together. And it was another case of false labor. I was so embarrassed.
The doctor tried to reassure me through my tears. “There are people who come in over and over and over again, and it’s not the real thing. Don’t feel bad. Given what happened with your last labor, you did the right thing, you really did.”
I felt a little better once she said that. My husband laughed: “Last time, you didn’t know you were in labor but you really were. This time, you think you are but you’re not. Completely opposite.” He was right.
I asked the doctor how I was supposed to know when to come back. If the indicator was pain, that didn’t count because they were already painful. They advised me to watch for increasing intensity, a long period of regular timed contractions, and to definitely come back if my water broke.
The contractions stopped by bedtime, and I was able to get a good night’s sleep. The next morning, Wednesday, we had our regular OB appointment. The doctor checked my cervix and declared me a solid 3 centimeters. I was unsurprised. After two false labors, my resolve was solid: I wasn’t going back to that hospital unless my water broke or a baby head was poking out.
After the appointment, I went to work as usual. Life was back to normal, except for the fact my mother was staying with us, hopeful something would happen and her presence would be needed.
The next day, Thursday, I got up and went to work as usual. I arrived home that evening around 5:40pm and as I made myself some toast, I felt a contraction that hurt just a little bit. I noted the time silently: 5:42pm.
A while later, another one, and I checked the clock again: 5:45pm. If there was a third in three minutes, we’d have ourselves a pattern.
Sure enough, contraction #3 arrived at 5:48pm, and I told my mom and husband I was having painful contractions three minutes apart, but with a large dose of “this is probably nothing, so don’t get excited.”
Peanut was cranky so we decided to go for a walk. The whole family headed out together to walk the dog around the block. I asked if we could go by my friend Shelly’s house and say happy birthday to her daughter. Shelly asked if anything was happening; I told her about the every-three-minutes contractions, but that I wasn’t getting too excited about them. She wished me luck and we continued down the sidewalk…
…For about 30 seconds. Just two houses from Shelly’s, I felt a little pop, and then a trickle of fluid. A moment later that trickle turned into a gush.
I stopped walking and turned back toward my friend. “Hey, Shelly!” I hollered.
“Yeah?” she answered.
“MY WATER JUST BROKE!” I shouted gleefully.
She let out a cheer. “Just now?” she asked, and I nodded vigorously. I was very, very excited.
I called my husband back up the sidewalk. “Sweetie, we gotta go, come on!”
I waddle-walked to the house and grabbed my flip-flops, changed into another pair of britches, and high-tailed it to the car (where our suitcases were still loaded from the false alarm on Tuesday).
We arrived at the hospital at 7:30pm; my husband dropped me off at the labor & delivery entrance and parked while I went up and got settled into a triage room. This was old hat – my third time in triage – so I knew what to do. Gown, robe, lay on the bed, yada yada yada.
Except this time I knew I wasn’t going home.
They sent in a nurse, Kasey, who asked me the standard questions. I laid flat for a while to allow the amniotic fluid to pool so it could be tested–they don’t take your word for it if you say your water broke.
Around 20 minutes later, the resident doctor did an exam and quickly agreed that my water had broken. Yippee! I could stay!
But the real test was yet to come – how dilated was I?
The contractions had been 2 minutes apart the entire car ride, and were getting steadily more painful. I could still talk through them at this point, but they weren’t comfortable. I hoped they had an effect on the cervix and that I was dilated at least to five, maybe even six centimeters. The resident doctor did her sock-puppet thing and checked me out.
“Four centimeters, baby’s at minus one,” she declared.
I felt defeated. FOUR? If I dilated a centimeter an hour, which is typical, I’d be here all night. My husband remembered this, and didn’t hold back.
“Aaaaand we’re going to be here all goddamned night,” he sighed.
I shot him a dirty look.
As the nurse went to get our room ready, I started walking laps up and down the hall outside our room. When a contraction would come, I’d stop and have my husband press on my back, way down low. It felt better that way. We moved into an L&D room, but I never stopped moving as the nurse asked me medical history questions, pacing the room and stopping by my husband when a contraction would come so he could push on my back. After a while, even his pushing was barely soothing the pain, and I asked the nurse for suggestions. She said she’d bring a birthing ball and I could try that, or the whirlpool tub, or an epidural if I wanted. I wasn’t quite ready to give up on a natural birth, so I asked for the ball. She brought it quickly and I sat on it, bouncing gently and moving my hips. During contractions, I rested my arms and head on the bed while he pressed on my hip bones and lower back.
The contractions kept getting more painful and I was starting to lose my resolve. “When will they check my cervix again?” I asked, and the nurse explained that they wouldn’t check more than once every two hours, to minimize the risk of infection. I had been checked at 8:30pm, and it was 9:30pm at this point. I wanted to know how much more pain I needed to endure. A few centimeters, I could maybe handle, but if I had barely budged, I was going to need that epidural and soon.
We asked her to send the anesthesiologist in to explain the epidural to us, and explain the risks involved. She paged him, and I started practicing to see if I could sit perfectly still through a contraction (a necessity, if you want the epidural). The pain was excruciating, but I managed to stay motionless through three contractions in a row, sitting on the ball and resting my head and arms on the bed.
The pain kept getting worse. The contractions were mixed; some incredibly painful (a 9 on the pain scale), some just painful-painful (closer to a 6 or 7). It didn’t matter — the intense ones were searing. I couldn’t take it anymore. I told my husband to go find the nurse and tell her I didn’t want to hear about the epidural risks anymore. I just wanted the goddamn epidural. I was fast approaching the point where I couldn’t sit still anymore. Between contractions, I texted my friend Shannon, telling her that I couldn’t do it; I was getting the epidural. I texted Shelly and my sister, too. I think I was looking for reassurance; someone to tell me I wasn’t a weakling.
The nurse started prepping me for the epidural, and the poky anesthesiologist finally arrived and started running through health questions. I was in so much pain, I just answered ‘no’ to every question. “Do you have asthma? Do you have a heart murmur? Do you have a history of chronic respiratory disease?” His list went on and on. I was in so much pain I’d have answered ‘no’ to “Do you have a vagina?” so long as it kept him moving. Finally he finished his list of questions, and said he needed to go get something and that he’d come back.
I almost sobbed. Come back?!?! What the hell?
Just then, an incredibly intense contraction hit. My husband wasn’t there—I had been too distracted to notice him leave—so the nurse squatted down next to me and rubbed my back through it. I swore, something which I hadn’t done up to this point.
“Ahhhh, shitshitshit, it hurts!”
Suddenly, an overwhelming urge to push hit me like a Mack truck.
“Oh my God, I need to push, I need to push!” I told her. Nurse Kasey grabbed her cellphone and dialed, still squatted next to me.
“I need a doctor in room six, she says she feels like pushing,” Kasey said quickly, and hung up.
The door opened a moment later and a young resident walked in. Kasey helped me off the ball and up onto the bed. “Hi there, I’m Michael,” the resident said to me.
I remembered him from Monday night, when I’d asked him if he was 14 years old. He looked incredibly young, but had an open and friendly face.
“Yes, I remember you from Monday,” I told him as I crawled onto the bed, moaning through another contraction and trying hard to sit still.
I looked at Doctor Michael after he reached in. He started to smile and looked at Kasey.
“She’s ready,” he said, chuckling.
“What?” Kasey said. “She’s ten?”
“I’m ten?” I asked incredulously. It was supposed to take six hours to go from 4cm to 10cm. It had been an hour and 15 minutes.
Dr. Michael nodded and I flopped back on the bed. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all day.”
He smiled again. “Yep. You’ve got a small anterior lip, but you’re ready to push after about two more contractions. Do you still want that epidural?”
I shook my head vigorously. “No, I want to push! And where is my motherFUCKING husband?!”
(My brain was completely focused on the task at hand, and I had completely missed it when he left to go get his pizza.)
Kasey reminded me that he’d gone down to get his pizza, and asked if I wanted some Fentanyl in my IV, but Doctor Michael said no – we were too close. I whined that I had gotten Fentanyl at 10 centimeters with my last labor, but luckily I was quickly distracted by another contraction and lost my will to argue. There would be no pain meds this time.
Kasey helped me back onto the ball, and got on her phone again to page the attending physician. More people came in – the med student who would observe, and the attending physician, Dr. Wonderful, who walked around the bed, and bent down to my line of sight.
“You are doing great, you’re doing this with grace and you’re doing it all by yourself. You are AMAZING,” she said emphatically. I nearly burst into tears.
“Thank you,” I whimpered.
The door opened again and my husband walked in, holding his pizza box. Dr. Michael said, “Dad, I have news. We’re having a baby.”
He paused, confused. “What, now?!”
Dr. Michael nodded. “Yes. Right now.”
I climbed back up onto the bed just as a contraction hit, and flipped over on all fours to rock through it. My gown had come untied and my bare ass was in the air, but I was in too much pain to care.
“Want me to take a picture of this?” My husband asked with a laugh as he came to my side, placing his pizza box on the TV. We’d brought our fancy camera so he could take a few choice pictures throughout labor and delivery.
“No, please don’t,” I answered half-heartedly. I didn’t have the energy to argue. Instead of the snarling monster I expected to be, I was more like a whimpering kitten.
“You seem comfortable in this position,” Dr. Wonderful said. “Do you want to start pushing like this?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Okay, then at the next contraction, just squat down into it,” she instructed.
I did, and pushed as hard as I could. After the next contraction, Dr. Wonderful told me that the baby didn’t like my position and I would need to flip over onto my back. I immediately did as she asked, and Kasey adjusted the sensors on my belly. This position I was more familiar with; it was how I’d birthed Peanut.
Dr. Michael checked one more time. The anterior lip was completely gone, and he told me the baby was only an inch from crowning. Squeak was so close hair was visible.
“Will this be quick?” I asked, and the doctors nodded.
“If you push hard, it’ll go quick,” Dr. Wonderful assured me.
I was sooooo ready. Game on.
My husband grabbed my left leg, Kasey held my right, and I put my hands behind my knees and pulled back, curling into a C with my chin to my chest. I pushed like crazy, remembering not to let up even when I took a breath.
The benefit of being a second-time mom is that I knew what to expect during this process. I knew that pushing harder meant it would happen faster, and I knew that pushing through the pain got me closer to the finish line. I was actually disappointed when my contractions would end and I’d have to take a break from pushing. It was painful and I wanted to be done.
At one point, between contractions, I laid back and turned my head to the side and sobbed. Just a little. I was working so hard and the contractions were hellacious. But then another contraction kicked in, and I got back to work.
“Breathe, Mom. Baby needs oxygen too,” Dr. Wonderful urged. “Can we get her some oxygen?”
But there wasn’t enough time. At the next push, baby started crowning. I could feel the burning, and I didn’t fight it. I embraced it and pushed harder.
I took a quick break after the contraction ended, and at the next one, Dr. Wonderful said, “Right now, Mom, this is it, you are going to have this baby.”
I believed her. I pushed like hell and felt Baby crown (ouch) and start to slide out.
I opened my eyes in time to see Dr. Michael deliver the shoulders and gently guide the rest of baby out, and he held the baby up to me for inspection.
“It’s a boy!” Kasey shouted (which we’d requested her to do), but we didn’t need anyone to tell us. I could clearly see his little wiener. He was a boy, just like I thought.
And just like last time, I collapsed back on the bed, sobbing. The flood of emotion that comes after you deliver a baby can not be described. It’s relief and happiness and joy and exhaustion all mixed together with a huge dose of euphoria. They placed him on my chest, skin to skin, as he tried out his lungs and cried loudly. They suctioned and rubbed away the vernix, and I held him tightly and awkwardly (I was amazed at how tiny he was – I forgot babies came so small!).
My husband took a couple of pictures and as they continued working on me, he turned his attention back to his still-hot pizza. As Dr. Michael guided the placenta out, my husband fed me bites of pizza. I was ravenous. Dr. Michael looked up at me and smiled. “This is the first time I’ve had a patient eating pizza while I delivered their placenta,” he laughed.
Squeak was 7 pounds, 7.2 ounces and measured at 21 inches long. The entire ordeal, from water breaking to baby’s arrival, had taken a touch over three hours. I had pushed for eight minutes.
(The best part was texting Shannon and Shelly; they immediately noticed that Squeak was born less than 20 minutes after I’d texted that I was getting the epidural, and were astonished.)
As the chaos of the previous few hours calmed, I realized that I had once again had a natural childbirth, and even more “natural” than last time since I didn’t have Fentanyl. This time, I had felt the contractions all the way from the beginning. I DID IT, just like Dr. Wonderful said, and I did it all by myself. I was so proud! But at the same time, I know I couldn’t have made it 20 more minutes. If I hadn’t been 10 centimeters when Dr. Michael checked me, I’d have gotten that epidural in a second.
No matter – the pain, as all moms say, was totally worth it. I love my little boy so much, and July 31, 2014 was one of the best days of my life. I can’t wait to see what kind of person he is going to become.