My due date was March 3, and based on what I know of statistics on first children and my mom’s experience, I was fully expecting that I would be late. Not that we weren’t generally ready for the baby, but I was assuming in the back of my mind I’d have more time at work, one more weekend for housecleaning and organizing. Apparently babies don’t pay attention to when you want them to be born.
I had been feeling really great the last few weeks of pregnancy, which surprised me. I expected to feel huge and just ready to get the baby out, but I was pretty energetic and savoring the last days of freedom as a childless adult. Monday night was the first time I started to get uncomfortable—I was getting on-and-off menstrual-like cramps, which were very unpleasant (lack of PMS is supposed to be one of the perks of pregnancy, WTF!) and I slept pretty poorly Monday night because of them. Tuesday morning I went to work feeling generally yucky, crampy, like my whole pelvic floor was extra heavy. All day I just wanted to go home and lie on the couch, and I thought about leaving early, but in the back of my mind I knew something wasn’t right and I went through the extra effort to tie up my most important loose ends. I thought if I felt the same the next day I would work from home in the morning until my doctor appointment, when I would ask about my symptoms.
I went home around 6 p.m. and was so happy to just curl up on the couch. I was still feeling generally achy, starting to get stronger twinges that bothered me occasionally, though I could mostly ignore them. Don got home and I told him how I was feeling, and we started making dinner, and around then (probably 7:30 p.m.) I realized maybe these twinges were contractions and maybe I could make them feel better if I moved around and did some coping mechanism-like things … so I alternated making salad with bouncing on my exercise ball when needed. I timed a couple but there was no pattern, sometimes I’d have one every 15 minutes and then I’d have two in five minutes, and they were never too intolerable. We ate dinner and I was still comfortable enough to enjoy it, but afterwards I curled up on the couch again and started wondering how I was going to manage to get any sleep.
After that, I talked to Megan on the phone, and my downstairs neighbor (who is a doctor) came up to visit. We discussed how I was feeling and we both agreed it was likely that I was just getting pre-labor pains, who knows how long they would last, and I told her I thought I would take a bath to see if I could relax and get them to go away so I could get some sleep. After my bath I went to bed, around 10 p.m. Meanwhile, Don was running around packing the hospital bag and setting up the bassinet.
Being in bed didn’t allow me to doze off, but it did allow me to be still enough to realize that there was now a definite pattern to what I was feeling. The contractions were getting intense enough that I was starting to naturally focus on my breathing to get through them. I glanced at the clock when a couple of them started, and was surprised to see they were coming every few minutes. I asked Don to sit with me and time a few of them, and they were short—about 30 seconds long—but happening every 2.5 minutes or so. I was still convinced that it wasn’t real labor since there was no way real contractions would be that close together the moment I started timing them. Real contractions start at 15 minutes and get closer together, everybody knows that right?! But Don insisted on going downstairs and asking our (wonderful) doctor-neighbors their opinion. They both agreed it was an unlikely pattern but said we should keep timing them for a bit and see how they progressed. So, Don, sat with me a while longer and continued to time them and mostly help me relax between them, which was hard to do because two minutes is short enough that I was getting anxious thinking about the next one as soon as the previous one ended. By then, when the contractions happened I couldn’t talk and didn’t want anyone to touch me.
After another 30 minutes or so of the same pattern, Don called the hospital to see what they thought about coming in. They said the contractions sounded short, and to see if they got stronger and/or longer with time, and then call back if they did. We waited another hour, and by 12:15 they were still 2 to 2.5 minutes apart but lengthening to 45 seconds or so and getting stronger. We called back and the hospital said to come in and they would check me out.
So, we packed up our stuff and off we went. The frequent contractions in the car didn’t suck as much as I thought they would, but the walk into the hospital was slow since I had to stop about five times between the parking garage and the 5th floor to breathe through the contractions. I got to labor and delivery (around 1 a.m.) and they brought me into triage to check me out. The nurse put on monitors to watch the baby’s heart rate and my contractions. Then the midwife came in, looked at the contraction record and started explaining that the contractions were short and didn’t feel super strong, and I knew she was bracing me to be sent home, so in my head I started to despair because if this was pre-labor and I was going to have the baby in a week (or even 24 hours), I didn’t know how I would survive. Then the midwife did a vaginal exam, and I was 8 centimeters dilated with a bulging bag of waters over the cervix. She seemed surprised. I cried, I was so happy and relieved. Those little 30-second contractions had been doing their job after all!
So, I got to stay. I was ushered to a delivery room and labored on the bed for a little bit—they were encouraging me to move around but I was feeling so much pressure at that point that walking and changing positions was becoming uncomfortable. There was a tub in the room so they asked if I wanted to try that. The tub was amazing, not because it relieved pain so much as that it allowed me to really relax and let go between contractions. On the bed I was still getting anxious between them and having a hard time not tensing up and getting shaky in anticipation. I was in the tub for maybe half an hour, and what started out as contractions that I was breathing and vocalizing through turned into contractions that I was screaming through, with waves of feeling the urge to push, which was really intense and honestly pretty scary. I felt like the baby was just going to pop out of me into the tub, and everyone kept telling me to relax, relax, don’t push, because pushing too early can cause your cervix to swell and you can reverse progress. Somehow I was still able to relax and stretch out between each one—I think they spaced out a bit in time, too—it’s amazing how my body kind of did what it needed to allow me to recover. Finally during one contraction my water broke with a big pop and the pressure increased even more. Everyone told me to finish the contraction and get out of the tub to get ready to push. I felt simultaneously panicky and wanting to get out of my own body, and relieved because I knew I was nearing the end.
I went back to the bed (they made me dry my feet off first, which was really annoying at the time) and started pushing right away. They were monitoring the baby’s heart rate and for the first time she wasn’t doing great, so they started moving me around to different positions to try to fix it. After a couple contractions they gave me an oxygen mask, which seemed to help. So I switched around between pushing on my sides and on my hands and knees. Switching positions really sucked because with all the pressure every movement was so uncomfortable. In the end, I pushed for about 20 minutes, maybe six or seven contractions. It was easy to tell what to do because I knew when exactly to push based on how I was feeling, and everyone was telling me longer, harder, and the more they told me I was making progress the more motivated I was to work harder. One nurse kept scolding me to put my energy into pushing and not grunting! When they could see the baby’s head they had me put my hand down to feel it, and in my head I was like, “that’s it?” I was hoping I would feel more head at that point but it was just a tiny sliver of hair! They asked me if I wanted a mirror to see the progress but I didn’t really care about seeing it, I just wanted to make it end.
Pushing didn’t really hurt, at least a lot less than the contractions during transition in the tub, but once the baby’s head crowned it really burned and then even in the time between contractions it was pretty uncomfortable … but I knew I was really close by then so I just wanted to keep working. Finally, they told me just one more contraction, and I pushed the head out, and then the shoulders, and in a moment Betsy was born and placed on my chest.
Don cried. I was just so happy it was over and I was still in disbelief that I had just managed to have a baby like that. The whole experience was kind of like being hit by a freight train. I think I expected to feel more emotional and immediately in love the moment I held the baby … and I did think she was beautiful (especially her ears, she has really cute ears) but I fell in love with her more over the hours afterward as I got to know her. My initial feeling was mostly immense relief. I couldn’t have wished for labor to go any differently, and it was amazing to have it be so short, but in the immediate aftermath I am already feeling scared to have another kid. I do hear that fades away. And like I said before, I have great admiration for people who endure really long labors. Managing contractions was honestly harder than I could have imagined. But in hindsight, I have few complaints over how things went down, and the beautiful baby is way more than worth it.