Back when I first started blogging, I can’t say that I ever imagined writing a post about giving birth. But hearing and reading the very open stories from others about infertility, pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum helped me feel more informed and comfortable about my own experience, and simultaneously showed me just how different every woman’s experience can be. I know that hearing details on these topics isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so feel free to skip over these posts if that’s the case!
6 AM – FIVE days before my due date
I woke up with sharp tightening pains in my lower belly. I’d been having a lot of gas cramps and Braxton Hicks contractions (aka “practice contractions”) throughout my pregnancy, so assumed it was just that and tried to fall back asleep! But after the pains kept coming, Nick tracked them on an app and saw they were happening regularly at ~7 minutes apart. My heart started racing as I realized these might be REAL contractions, and I was hit with a rush of emotions. I was excited to meet our baby, but I also loved growing and carrying her in my belly more than I’d like to admit, and felt bittersweet that chapter was coming to an end.
After frantically putting the last of my hospital bag together, my contractions actually started to slow down to nearly 1 hour apart (they usually grow closer in frequency as labor progresses). Our doctor had advised us to use the “5-1-1” guideline, which says no need to go to the hospital until your contractions are as frequent as 5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute each time and going on for 1 hour. If you show up too early, they may send you home because you’re in pre-labor and not yet active labor.
I called my OB and she said the heat and humidity might be causing early contractions. She went on to tell me about the doctor who’d be on-call at the hospital over the next TWO DAYS. I was shocked to hear “two days” since I didn’t realize pre-labor could go on for that long! I started to mentally prepare myself for what could be an uncomfortable 48 hours.
I decided to try and nap, but was awoken by a warm trickle of liquid between my legs. “Grab the pee pads!” I yelled to Nick (my Grampy had given me some of his elderly incontinence pads for this specific purpose ; ) Not much liquid actually came out and the whole water breaking seemed anticlimactic. And then a contraction hit me – the strongest one yet. It had me on all fours on the floor barking at Nick to back away and stop touching me (poor guy was just trying to be supportive rubbing my back). Luckily we had laid the pee pads down because next thing I know I hear a “POP” like a balloon bursting, and then another, larger spurt of fluid come out – my actual water breaking.
I then called the doctor on-call with these symptoms, and she told me to take my time, eat some food, have a warm shower and make my way to the hospital in about an hour or two.
Thinking I had plenty of time, I randomly remembered that I wanted to recreate a cute vintage pregnancy photo of Nick’s mom right before she gave birth to him. I leisurely picked out an outfit for it, when my contractions suddenly grew stronger and had me doubling over and hollering. All of a sudden, they were coming in at just 4 minutes apart (the photo effort was quickly forgotten), and Nick was tripping over his own feet trying to escort me down four flights of stairs and shove all our bags into the car. On the ride to the hospital, I was literally cradling my belly tightly around every pothole and turn (our car has very stiff, “sporty” suspension according to Nick). The cars next to us could definitely hear me cursing loudly, as I thought that baby was going to get bounced right out on Commonwealth Avenue!
By the time I checked into the hospital I was pretty much a walking contraction begging for an epidural – apologies to the folks who had to ride the elevator with us! I don’t remember this, but Nick says as they tried to move me to the delivery room in a wheelchair, I kept insisting I could walk. But as I stood up, I was shaking uncontrollably and told the nurse an odd sensation had overcome my lower half. “Does it feel like you have to take an urgent poop?” she asked. Umm yes… she looked at the contractions monitor and said I was likely entering the “transition” stage of active labor. Needless to say I ended up taking the wheelchair.
Prior to placing an epidural, they need to put in an IV to give you fluids. I was a bit dehydrated, and heard the nurse and anesthesiologist discussing how thin and dried up my veins had become. After 7 attempts poking veins on both of my arms and hands, the IV was finally inserted. Needles are my nightmare (the fear did not get better after IVF) but I was more than preoccupied this time by the contractions!
When the epidural was finally placed (which went smoothly compared to the IVs), I was about 7cm dilated. It was like day and night pre and post epidural … going from a raging, mind-numbing pain to tranquility. An epidural typically slows down the labor process, so the nurses encouraged me to take a nap and build up energy for pushing later. I was way too anxious to fall asleep, but did conveniently use some of this downtime to slap on mascara for pictures later!
The nurse came in every so often asking if I felt the urge to poop again, which apparently signals that your baby is ready to be pushed out. (Side note: I know a lot of ladies are worried about having a bowel movement on the delivery table, but every doctor and nurse I talked to says they don’t bat an eye and it’s truly nothing to be embarrassed about). I didn’t feel the sensation again, but she checked my cervix and exclaimed that I was fully dilated. So how soon is the baby coming, I asked? And this was my face when she responded, “probably in 10 minutes!” :
Before I started pushing, the nurse told me she was going to empty my bladder with a catheter, since you can’t feel your bladder muscles with an epidural. I was expecting a little puddle (I always thought I had small bladder issues), but moments later I see her wheeling away a half-gallon tub of liquid, which Nick told me with an evil chuckle that it was all my pee…
Next, the doctor came in and gave me a crash course on how to push – deep breath in, push, breathe out. Repeat three times during each contraction. So when the next contraction came, I pushed with all my might and was so surprised to hear “we can see the top of her head!” and see a VERY wide-eyed and frozen Nick.
The nurse offered me a mirror, which I initially declined … but when curiosity got the best of me and I changed my mind, the mirror (a hot commodity apparently) was occupied by another laboring patient. With the second set of pushes, I heard “Oh she has a lot of hair on her head! About an inch long.” And after another few pushes, the doctor said her head was out and advised me to push more gently to minimize tearing when her torso comes out. After a final little push, there was a feeling like something very large coming out on a Slip N Slide followed by a gush of liquid, and Nick jumping back (to avoid being splashed, he claims). And then there was a quick silence. And then a loud, loud baby “waaahhhh!”
I was always certain that I’d cry when meeting my baby. But to be honest, I was just so astonished that she was actually here. We shed many emotional tears over the next few days, but in that moment, I think our feelings could best be described as shock and awe when they laid this little one on my chest.
The next hour or so involved cutting the cord (which I didn’t even realize Nick did until later), delivering the placenta, getting stitches, doing “skin-to-skin” time, and learning how to breastfeed – but it was all a blur. At the end of the day, I had a fast and straightforward labor (according to the doctors) which I’m extremely thankful for. But it was such a special yet hectic experience for us, and I am grateful to have a few photographs to help fill in some of the mental blanks and remember it by.
PS – By chance, the resident doctor who delivered our baby in Boston was Nick’s high school classmate in San Diego. He realized it partway through, but decided the midst of childbirth wasn’t quite the right time to reminisce about track team ; )
To the mamas out there – how was your delivery and labor experience? How did it compare to your expectations?