Jul 22 2015

P’s Birth Story

I’m 37 weeks today, which is impossible for me to believe. Things went CRAZY FAST this time around. I know that every birth will be different, but 37 weeks feels significant because that’s when Peaches was born. Do we have a name yet for our second child? No — we literally have not even discussed it. Have we put sheets on the bassinet? Why, no. Have I washed my nursing tanks? Is our newborn car seat installed? Is my hospital bag fully packed? No, no, and no. However, I HAVE found time to start feeling just a wee bit concerned about the whole birth thing. It’s happening, and soon. I will have to get this child out of me somehow.

I did this already? And survived it? Are you sure? I’m skeptical at best. It is such a hazy, two-and-a-half-year-old fog in my mind that I’ve recently tried to force myself to relive it so I’ll have a better idea of what to expect.

As part of that process, I’ve started to reread snippets of the private blog I kept while I was pregnant with Peaches. For my memory’s sake — and because it’s only fair, since our son’s birth story is (probably?) coming soon — I’ll share her birth story just as I wrote it right after she was born, minus the real-names thing (and a few personal details).

AND THEN THERE WERE THREE: P’S BIRTH STORY

it's a girl hospital signIt’s a GIRL!!!

I absolutely can’t believe it, but I have a tiny, almost-two-week-old daughter. I’m supposed to be 39 weeks today. I’m supposed to be protecting her and carrying her inside me for another seven days at least. But nope — our little babe was on her own schedule.

Based on my mom’s exhausting experience with me, I expected to go well past my due date and labor for several days. I was also FULLY planning on an epidural. And based on every old wives tale in existence, plus my (clearly faulty) mother’s intuition, I just knew it was a boy. So did everybody else in my life: friends, family members, and strangers alike, based on my total lack of morning sickness and the way I was carrying. Everyone was convinced.

In fact, everything about her birth story is the total opposite of what I expected. (I did have three “birth dreams” throughout my pregnancy, though, and she was a girl each time. It’s like my subconscious knew something no one else did.)

On Tuesday, I woke up at 3 AM. The bathroom was almost pitch black, but in my sleepy haze I became vaguely aware that I might have lost my plug. But it was dark; maybe I was just imagining things. I went back to sleep for a couple hours.

By 6 AM, I was up and ready for work — dress and leggings on, lunch packed — when the phone rang. It was the most magical gift a teacher can receive: SNOW DAY! It had been icy for a while, and this was our second snow day in a row (!), which is pretty much unheard of. On Monday, the weather was so bad that a day off was expected, but this one came as a surprise.

I called my mom, who works in the same district, to make sure I wasn’t having some kind of glorious dream. While I was on the phone with her, I mentioned my 3 AM experience. “If that’s true,” she said, “You will have this baby within 72 hours. My bet is today or tomorrow.”

“There’s no way,” I laughed. “I’m 37 weeks today. You were two weeks late with me! Plus, I haven’t felt a single contraction.”

Mothers are always right.

I changed out of my clothes and crawled blissfully back into bed. An hour later, Al left for work (his career doesn’t get snow days; poor guy). For the first time since I can remember, I slept until the afternoon — it was almost 1 PM by the time I woke up! Apparently my body knew it had to rest up for a serious job ahead. Me? I was still in denial.

My mom did talk me into calling the doctor just in case, who told me I might as well go to L&D to get checked out. I tried Al at work a couple times — he didn’t pick up. Mom and Dad offered to come with me, but I was so unconcerned that I just hopped in the car and drove myself to the hospital. “I’ll let you know if I need you!” I told them.

It was about 2:30 PM. The midwife on call did an internal exam and hooked me up to some monitors to check contractions. I was only 1 cm dilated, 80% effaced, and apparently contracting every 3-9 minutes (though I couldn’t feel them). “This doesn’t seem like active labor to me,” said the midwife, “but your doctor wants us to keep you for another hour just in case.”

While I waited out that hour, Al finally called back. I still wasn’t even close to worried. “I’m leaving in a little bit,” I told him. He said he would head out to the hospital anyway.

They let me go me before he arrived, and along with the discharge papers, they handed me a note from Dr. G that ordered “temporary bed rest” for the rest of the week. I was instructed to lie down for the next few days to keep pressure off my cervix. “Your doctor wants you to make an appointment with her on Friday,” the nurse said, and then she gave me a knowing smile. “But I don’t think you’ll make it to Friday. I think we’ll see you back here before then.” This scared me a little, but I was still in heavy denial. People walk around at 1 cm for weeks, I reasoned. Baby still had plenty of time to cook.

Al pulled up behind me when I was halfway home; he waved, tailing me the rest of the way, but I was on the phone and a bit frazzled. I had to figure out a sub for the next three days of work. I called the long-term sub we’d already hired; since she’d be in for my maternity leave, I had already sent her tentative plans for each class, so she had a general idea of what was going on. We spent an hour on the phone getting everything situated. “I’m only going to be out for the next three days,” I reminded her. “Then I’ll come back to work for a couple of weeks, and you’ll be in for me next month as planned.”

By the time I pulled into our garage around 7 PM, I felt the very first stirrings of a few mild contractions. It’s just stress, I told myself. When I mentioned it to Al, though, he insisted on timing them. The midwife had told me to “relax in the tub” once I got home, so at about 8 PM I made myself a bowl of cereal and drew a warm bath. It was the first and only bath I took during my entire pregnancy.

Al sat in the bathroom with me and continued to time my contractions — he even had a new app on his iPhone to keep track of them. The pain was really mild at first, like semi-annoying cramps, but we monitored them even so. From the beginning, my contractions had been five minutes apart, but brief: they only lasted thirty or forty seconds. In between, we Googled things like, What is false labor? I was still under the impression that the pain would just subside and I would get in bed, sleep it all off, and rest for the next three days while Baby got comfortable again.

My hospital duffel had been sitting in a guest room, half-packed, for a couple weeks; I got out of the tub so I could finish packing my bag, just in case. As I went from room to room grabbing my belongings, I kept calling out to Al whenever a contraction would start or stop. I could still talk through them. I was still not alarmed.

At about 10 PM, my sister called to chat about my hospital visit, and I kept packing, talking, and timing. While I was on the phone with her, my water started to break, little by little. “I think I have to go,” I told my sister, semi-panicking at last. As the pain started to ramp up, Al insisted that we get to the hospital.

“This can’t be it,” I argued again. “I’m only 37 weeks! And wouldn’t my water break all at once?” Plus, I felt stupid. I was just at the hospital only a couple hours earlier. They had sent me home, for crying out loud. But the contractions were painful enough now that things were starting to get a little hazy. I let him pack up the car. It seemed so surreal: the gender-neutral baby bag with gender-neutral clothes, my own duffel bag filled with items I didn’t know if I’d need. (Answer: I didn’t. The hospital basically provided everything.)

I remembered a couple months back, when Al and I took a dry run to the hospital to see how long it would take. “This will be me!” he cried, hitting the accelerator. He mimed dodging his way through traffic and fake-honked the horn.

I’d laughed and told him to slow down. “It won’t be like in the movies,” I said. “I’m a first-time mom. We’ll have hours once we get to the hospital. Trust me.”

I was wrong, okay? I was wrong. This felt VERY MUCH like the movies. I kept begging him to go faster. I called my mom as things grew more painful. “This is it,” she said calmly. “You’re going into labor. Just breathe through it. It’s okay.”

Al dropped me off at the front of the hospital and raced away to the parking lot. I passed a group of nurses on their way out to their cars; they had clearly punched out for the night, but one of them stopped and asked, “Do you need a wheelchair, honey?”

“I think so,” I said. The nurse helped me into a wheelchair and told the rest of her crew to go on ahead. “Thank you so much,” I told her as she wheeled me down the hallway. Al came sprinting along behind us, catching up just before we reached the elevator.

This is where things start to get really blurry. Like, a blackout-drunk, bits-and-pieces-coming-back-in-flashes haze. Later, I had to ask Al to fill in the blanks. Apparently I asked some Labor & Delivery-related question as we rode up to the third floor. Maybe, Is it crowded up there? Are there any rooms left? or Is this normal?

“I don’t know, honey,” the nurse replied kindly. “I work in X-Ray.”

She wheeled me over to the L&D desk, said good luck, and left for home. I don’t remember much of the check-in process; I know I moaned a few times and signed some things and apologized for the broken water on the wheelchair seat.

Back in triage, I got undressed and put on a hospital gown. I was hooked up to a variety of monitors and the nurses asked a bunch of questions. They wanted to know if I had a birth plan (ha!). We had a pretty extensive one, actually, but I could only remember two things that were important to me in that moment: I wanted an epidural (NOW), and I wanted my husband — not the doctor — to tell me the sex of our baby. Amy, the midwife on duty, did a quick exam. “She’s three centimeters and fully ruptured,” she told her team calmly. “Go ahead and call her doctor to let her know she has a patient here.”

“When can I get the epidural?” I asked. “Is it too early?”

“We can order it for you right now,” the midwife said.

“Good,” I said. “I don’t want to be one of those people who waits too long and then can’t get it.”

Amy actually laughed. “It’s only too late if you’re crowning,” she said. “Don’t worry.”

I signed some paperwork pertaining to the epidural, and they told me it would arrive within a half-hour. “Do you think you can walk down to your room?” one of the nurses asked.

I don’t remember what I said, but apparently the answer was no. They wheeled my bed out of triage and headed toward L&D Room 2. “I feel like such a wuss,” I said as they rolled me down the hall. “I can’t believe it hurts this much at only three centimeters!”

In my room, I sat on the edge of the bed, gripping its plastic handle. It felt like I needed to move to get comfortable, but there was absolutely no position that made it better. Al said I continued to beg for the epidural, and that I kept saying, “Please help me. Please help me,” over and over.

Apparently I was making a little too much noise for someone who was only dilated to three, because Amy decided to check me again. “Five centimeters,” she told the nurses, clearly surprised. “That was really fast. Someone call her doctor again, please, and let her know she should probably get up here.”

We’d only just arrived at the hospital ten minutes ago.

Al said that everyone left the room at this point — to check on other patients, to put a rush on my epidural, who knows? — but we were alone for about twenty minutes. I don’t remember this part at all. It’s like my body totally went into survival mode, or shock, or some combination of both. Suffice it to say, my brain made sure there would be no clear memory of a pain that intense.

Still sitting on the edge of the bed, still alone with Al, I suddenly cried, “Something feels different! Something feels different!” I said it again and again, and must have been loud enough to get noticed. A nurse we hadn’t seen before popped into the room.

“Who’s your nurse?” she asked.

“We don’t know,” Al said, gesturing to the empty white board on the wall.

“Do you feel like you have to push?”

“I think so,” I gasped. I remember feeling a pressure like I’d never experienced in my life. It felt completely separate from the painful contractions I’d had since my water broke.

She left, and my team came rushing back in. “Your epidural is here,” someone said. I was vaguely aware of a woman in scrubs standing near the door beside a cart.

“Something feels different,” I insisted again. I was breathing so hard and fast that I was borderline hyperventilating.

“I’ll check her again.” Amy sounded a little bit skeptical. Then she raised her eyebrows and looked meaningfully at the nurses. “She’s nine and a half.”

And that was it. We were ready to go. No wonder I’d been in THAT much pain at three centimeters: everything was happening so abnormally fast, there was no down time between contractions. I remember feeling more than a little awestruck; I’d never experienced anything like this before, but somehow I’d known exactly what was happening to my body and just how far along I actually was. Everything was so primal, so innate.

Which was all fine and good, but I wanted it to include just a bit more modern medicine. I started to panic as I watched them wheel the epidural back out of the room.

“Wait!” I said, in near tears. “I don’t get the epidural?”

“It’s not worth it at this point,” said Amy, attempting to sound reassuring. “It’s too late for you to feel any of its benefits. The hard work is done. You already made it through transition. That’s the worst part.” Around her was a flurry of movement as the nurses readied the bed; they told me to scoot down and took off my socks and laid down a blue tarp.

My mind was absolutely racing. I couldn’t believe I was about to do this drug-free. I had imagined a leisurely experience: I’d get the epidural around three or four centimeters, and, as usual for a first time mom, I would take forever to make it the rest of the way. I’d sleep comfortably for eight hours or so and awaken in the morning when they told me it was time to push. That was my “birth plan.” Not this. This was insane. I’d gone from three to ten in less than thirty minutes.

“I’m so scared,” I said aloud.

For the next half hour, I laid on the bed and just yelled with each contraction. Amy and her team weren’t exactly holding me back, but they weren’t facilitating the process, either. I’m sure they were trying to wait for my doctor to arrive. “Can someone call her doctor again? Is there another doctor at her practice who lives closer?” Amy asked. She looked up at me from her position at the foot of the bed. “When Dr. G gets here, you’re going to try to push in a totally different way. Okay? When Dr. G gets here,” she repeated pointedly.

And so Dr. G arrived. I was thrilled that she was the one on call and not one of the two male doctors. Everyone had told me, “You won’t care at all once the time comes!” False. I still felt way more comfortable with a woman.

She slid into position on her stool. Her voice was so soft and slow, so calm and practiced. “Beautiful,” she said. “Now, with your next contraction, you’re going to take a big breath, hold it for ten seconds, and really push.” This was my job for the next half-hour. 

In between contractions, all the pain and pressure went away, and I was able to lie back for ninety seconds and rest. I would literally have these totally normal snippets of conversation with Al and the nurses, and then it was Go Time again. A fictionalized, based-on-a-true-story mini script:

[Contraction ends. I lie back on the bed.]
NURSE: So where did you guys go on your honeymoon?
AL: Hawaii. It was awesome! We rented a Jeep and did the Road to Hana, which–
ME (laughing): –which is SO SCARY when he’s behind the wheel! Just kidding. He was pretty careful. But there are no guardrails or anything, and you’re just driving along on a cliff–
NURSE: That wouldn’t be for me! I hate heights.
ME: The weird thing is that it’s basically just one lane for most of the drive! You really have to watch out for other… [PAIN. PAIN IS COMING.] Okay. Okay, guys. Okay.
[I sit up. Everyone around me gets into their supporting positions. Forty seconds later, contraction ends. I lie back on the bed.]
NURSE: So you really have to watch out for other what? Cars? What DOES happen if there are two of you on a one-lane cliff with no guardrail?

It’s so amazing that your body knows just what to do; it knows you can’t push for all that time without a break…and so it gives you a break. And then you can feel everything ramping back up again, and you force yourself upright, and then you just hang on for the ride because you are no longer in control. Even then, I was fascinated. I just kept thinking, I can’t believe I’m doing this right now. I can’t believe I’m actually in the hospital, right here, right now, giving birth. Everyone kept reminding me to breathe, but I didn’t have much control over that either.

I’ve been notoriously chilly my whole life — even during the summer, I feel most comfortable in front of a space heater — but now I was sweating and parched. One of the nurses placed a cool washcloth on my forehead, and I remember continually asking for a replacement. Also, I’d heard of eating ice chips during labor and never understood the point, but they were unbelievably refreshing and delicious.

And then it was over. It was the most intense, immediate, addictive relief IN. THE. WORLD.

Al said, “It’s a girl.”

I was in such a daze, I’d actually forgotten about this part. And then I was sure he’d been mistaken. “What?” I said.

“It’s a girl!” he repeated. I couldn’t believe it. But then she was on my chest, and they were toweling her off.

“Hi, sweetie,” I said. It was so incredible to hear her cry.

My parents were P’s first visitors. They waited patiently until 3 in the morning so I could have some skin-to-skin time with the baby. They were totally in love from the start. Watching them hold her, I couldn’t believe how quickly time flies; didn’t we just give them that card on Father’s Day, like, a week ago? It was just a plus sign in a photo. And now she was here.

daddy holding newborn silhouette

The view from my hospital bed

Peaches was born on Wednesday at 1:39 AM. She weighed 6 lbs. 2 oz and measured 20.1 inches long. The nurses said she’s a tall baby — 20.1 inches is in the 95th percentile for a 37-weeker! Maybe she came early because she just ran out of room. 🙂

We didn’t get very much sleep while we were in the hospital (like, none), but I absolutely loved being there. The nurses were so helpful and friendly. The whole experience was amazing. I want to remember every single detail, always. It seems like such a long story with everything typed out like this, but here’s the abridged bottom line: we checked into the hospital just before midnight, and P was born at 1:39 AM. That’s crazy fast, and I feel so, so fortunate that it happened the way it did.

And in retrospect, what a blessing that I couldn’t get the epidural! No needles in my back, no postpartum swelling, no catheter, no itching (so many of my friends have complained about these things) — and I was able to stand up almost right away and use the bathroom and take a shower. The more I think about P’s story, the more awestruck I am. I still thank God for such an incredible experience, from her easy pregnancy to her fast delivery. (Not that I’m opposed to the possibility of an epidural next time, though, if timing will allow it!)

In the days that followed, I kept trying to put myself back in those moments. When I feed her, or while she’s sleeping, I stare at her face and try to relive everything. It’s weird to actually want to relive that pain, but it was absolutely the most beautiful trauma I’ve ever experienced.

We checked out on Thursday night at about 10 PM, forty-eight hours after my water broke. It was so surreal to strap her into the car seat and drive away from L&D with this tiny thing.

No one gave us an instruction manual. The nurses just waved — a couple of our favorites hugged us goodbye — and wished us luck.

For real? That’s it? And for the first time, we drove home as a family of three.

About Melissa

I'm a high school teacher from Michigan who (reluctantly) moved across the country when I was six months pregnant. Now that I'm in California, I spend my days babbling to a toddler, dancing with a four-year-old, and wandering aimlessly around the two locations I can find without using Google Maps. The plus side: since the move, my work has been published by Writer's Digest and The Writer, and is also featured on The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, BlogHer, and Mamalode, among others. I am a frustrating mix of contradictions: as a member of SAG-AFTRA, I relish the thrill of a film set, but the stage fright struggle is real. I'm an anxious ambivert who both yearns for alone time and profoundly misses the company of other adults. I prefer my words (and my people) genuine, with a side of humor.