The Lead Up to D Day:
I am a prepared person. No matter what it is I’m doing in life, writing a new novel, starting a new venture, even going on vacation, I do my research. Childbirth is no different. Before I even entertained the idea of getting pregnant, I watched numerous videos on childbirth. I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” BEFORE I was expecting. (You can probably tell I’m not the kind of girl who enjoys surprises). I watched “The Business of Being Born” 6 times leading up to my impending delivery. I signed up for “Prepared Childbirth Classes” at the hospital that painstakingly went through every stage of pre-labor, active labor, transition labor and postpartum. I took a crash Hypnobirthing class on my birthday so I would be ready in case I had no choice but to deliver the baby with my own two hands, in a pitch-black elevator shaft in the wake of a natural disaster. At the moment when I was driving to Costco on Monday, August 8th when I felt my first real contraction, I could not have been more prepared. I had 5 copies of my birth plan tucked neatly into my pre-packed hospital bag. I was going to stay at home as long as possible and hopefully get to the hospital when I was ten centimeters dilated and ready to push. My birth ball was inflated. My husband had been practicing effleurage and the breathing exercises. We could not have been more ready to go…
The contractions started slowly. I’d get one then I wouldn’t get another until thirty minutes later. Sometimes they’d stop all together and start back up. By midnight I decided I was not in labor and went to sleep. On Tuesday morning (August 9th) when I woke up, I convinced myself that I’d imagine the whole thing. Surely a person would know when they are in labor, right? Wrong.
There is actually an entire show devoted to people who didn’t know they were in labor. They didn’t even know they were pregnant. This is what I thought Tuesday afternoon while walking in Dolphin Mall. Every step I took brought another contraction. Some were strong and others I couldn’t even be sure were contractions. Each one felt different. “I need to go home” I declared to my husband and father while we stood in line to buy a whale lamp for the baby’s room at Home Goods. The contractions continued throughout the day to come more regularly, ten minutes apart. Sometimes I could talk during and sometimes I couldn’t. By 10PM I told my husband we should call the doctor and ask what we should do. Yes, I was having contractions, but it wasn’t like I was dying. Wasn’t I supposed to feel like I was dying? Isn’t that how it looked on TV?
My doctor assured me that I should feel like I was dying.
I told her that the hypnobirthing teacher said I had a strong uterus because I didn’t experience menstrual cramps. Could it be possible that I am about to have the baby but my strong uterus is making it easy on me? She didn’t think so.
Around midnight the contractions started to go in the opposite direction. After getting stronger all day, suddenly they began to get weaker. Instead of coming in a regular 9 to 10 minute interval, they started to stretch to fifteen or twenty minutes. This is when I started to suspect something might be wrong.
“Let’s go to the hospital,” I told my husband. “Something is happening”. Well, that’s all my father needed to hear. He got so flustered he spent ten minutes running around the apartment in his underwear looking for his pants. Matt and I were in the elevator and he still hadn’t managed to get dressed and find his keys despite the twenty minute notice I had given him. Regardless, we went ahead. I wasn’t in pain but I wasn’t waiting any longer. I’d been feeling contractions for over twenty-four hours and I thought there was a good chance this baby was coming out. Her head was so low that the ultrasound tech was alarmed the day before when she’d tried to guess the weight. “Does the doctor know she’s this low?” the tech asked. “How low is she?” My husband wanted to know. “She’s as low as she can be without actually coming out,” the tech said.
We got to the hospital and I told the nurse I wasn’t sure if I was in labor. I told her about my strong uterus. She told me to fill out the forms and a nurse would be with me. She didn’t seem to know about people with strong uteruses. My husband and I sat patiently as I got hooked up to machines and waited for the internal exam. Was I in labor? Was the head about to crown? Could I be one of those people on TV who confused childbirth with food poisoning? Is it possible I could just sneeze the baby out with no discomfort what-so-ever?
“You’re about 1 and a half centimeters dilated,” the nurse declared. I couldn’t understand it. I’d been having contractions since Monday afternoon and here it was, Wednesday, August 10th at 1:00AM and I was only 1 and a half centimeters dilated. “If you want we can admit you and induce you,” she offered. No way, I said. I have a plan. I’m going to go into labor naturally and stay home for as long as possible. Then I’m going to arrive at the hospital when I’m 10cm dilated and start to push. It’s all in my birth plan if she would like to take a look. She did not want to take a look.
“Come back when you’re doubled over in pain and crying,” the nurse told me. “Then you won’t have to wonder if you’re in labor.”
We went home and went to sleep. The contractions had gotten substantially weaker since learning how little I had dilated. I went to sleep thinking that I would be pregnant forever.
The clock said 5:45AM when I felt a dragon had bitten through my abdomen. The pain radiated down my legs and wrapped several times around my body like a boa constrictor, squeezing the absolute life out of me. I sat straight up in bed but couldn’t manage to get any further. The pain seemed to pin me in place and I couldn’t make a sound. All the air got sucked down into some dark place inside of me. I saw my husband sleeping beside me but he might as well have been miles away. I couldn’t reach him. I couldn’t cry out. It was as if I was encapsulated by my pain. It was so strong that it incapacitated me. I watched the clock for a full 90 seconds until the grip began to loosen. Just like that, I felt perfectly fine. I lay back down wondering if I’d imagined it. I’d just been to the hospital and the nurse told me I could be pregnant for another three weeks. There is no reason to believe that what I’d just experienced was a contraction. It was late. Maybe it was a dream?
Ten minutes later the dragon bit me again. This time I managed to roll out of the bed and squat against the bed frame. I realized very quickly that it was far more painful to lay down than to stand up, so for the next four hours I stood, bracing myself against the wall in silence as my husband slept. I started recording the contractions. They were coming in a regular pattern ten minutes apart. After the fiasco of the night before, I didn’t want to wake anyone up. Besides, wasn’t my plan to stay at home until I was 10cm dilated?
By 10:00AM I had taken two showers, bounced on the birthing ball and couldn’t labor alone anymore. I decided it was time for the husband to wake up and help me. “Get the F* up,” I caressed his face gingerly as I breathed through another dragon bite. “I’m having a F*ing baby over here!”
“No you’re not,” he turned over and stuck his head under a pillow.
I decided to try my Dad. “Dad, I’m in labor. I’m having this baby today,” I told him.
“That’s what you said last night,” my Dad sighed as he rolled over and went back to sleep.
I was the girl who cried labor and now nobody would believe me.
In my mind it was time to take another shower. When I came out I found my husband had roused himself to go to the mall and grab some breakfast. “Would you like anything from the Ebar?” he asked as he looked for his keys.
“I can’t eat anything, I’m in labor,” I declared. I had to admit, even to me it sounded unreal. How could I be in labor? I was just at the hospital and they told me I was nowhere close.
“You won’t go into labor in the middle of the day,” my Dad assured me, “you’ll go into labor at a far more inconvenient time. Nobody has babies in the middle of the day.” This logic seemed to convince my husband that he had plenty of time to grab a coffee and a bagel and even do a little browsing over at Nordstrom before coming home.
By then it was noon and I was in some serious pain. The problem was that neither my father, husband nor brother believed that I was anywhere near having a baby. At twelve thirty something changed. This time, everything got more intense. The pain lasted longer. The contractions came closer together. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t breath. I felt the baby’s head and it was low. “As low as it can be before coming out….”
“I need to go to the hospital,” I announced as my husband and Dad laughed at something on the TV.
“Why don’t you wait til later?” My Dad asked. “There’s no rush to go now. I want to watch the rest of this show.”
“Matthew, take me to the hospital,” I demanded. Matthew ignored me as he texted on his phone. “Just relax,” he assured me, “it’s not as bad as you think”.
I decided right then and there that I was 100% alone in the world and I would have to pick my ass up and walk to the hospital. The thought of that walk with the August Floridian heat met a contraction head on and tears sprung to my eyes.
“Take me now!” I screamed so loudly that my husband literally jumped up off his chair. Finally he could see that this wasn’t a joke. I was in labor. I was having this baby today. As far as he knew, I might be having this baby right there on the couch. He finally agreed. The seven minute ride to the hospital was one of the most painful and fearful of my life. I felt like I was sitting on the baby’s head. I felt like if I breathed too hard she could fall straight out.
We walked into the hospital to see a long line of people waiting to get through security. That is when I lost it. Here I was, (in my mind) minutes away from giving birth, and we had to wait for a bunch of people to submit their IDs and get processed before I could get to the maternity ward. I’d have to have my baby here in front of the imitation Starbucks in the lobby with a dozen strangers watching me. When the contraction hit me, I doubled over and started to weep. Yes, weep. I am a degree holding drama queen and when confronted with the scariest situation for womankind–natural childbirth with an audience–I weep. The security guard took notice and asked my husband what was going on.
Finally, Matt summoned the words he’d been denying all day. “She’s having a baby!” He declared. The crowds parted and I was ushered quickly to the appropriate floor. After filling out all the admitting paperwork for the second time in twelve hours, I was finally taken to triage to be checked. If you’d asked me, I was ready to push. The pain was ten times worse than anything I’d ever experienced. I’d watched the videos on youtube and I knew what ten centimeters looked like. That was me. If I wasn’t ten centimeters then I didn’t know anything about anything in this world. “I’m ready to push,” I told the nurse, expecting her to rush me straight into an ER. I saw visions of myself having this beautiful natural childbirth experience. Three pushes and the baby would be on my chest. She would look around with her alert eyes, crawl to my boob and magically latch on. I would feel endless relief, joy and exhaustion. Hell, I was exhausted now. I hadn’t slept much since Monday night!
“You’re three centimeters dilated,” the nurse reported matter-of-factly. That was it? 3 centimeters dilated? How could that be? I was in so much pain. I was literally weeping in front of strangers.
“I’m going to need the epidural,” I told the nurse. “As soon as possible”.
My husband looked at me guiltily. “Is there anything I can do?” He asked helplessly.
“Yes,” I told him. “You’re in a hospital. Find a doctor and get a vasectomy.”
The pain only escalated between the triage bed and me being moved to a delivery room. The contractions were getting much stronger and closer together now. I have no idea how women have babies without epidurals. I know that I never want to experience that level of pain in my life. The epidural was quick and painless. Once it was administered I fell straight to sleep for four glorious hours. Yes, I felt totally loopy and I loved it. I overheard my Dad, brother and husband idly chatting on the couch in my room as they watched some lunatic on the news try to climb Trump tower. They were wondering what would happen first, would the baby come before the guy reached the top?
Around 6:00PM the doctor came to check me. “You’re ready to go,” she declared. My Dad was about to go get something to eat. “Go where?” He asked. “She’s ready to deliver,” my doctor told him. “Is this a good time for you?” she wanted to know.
“Sure,” my Dad said, “we can wait to eat.”
The doctor turned off my epidural and let it wear off for about half an hour so I could have some feeling of where to push. I woke up from my nap feeling totally rejuvenated. Everyone left the room except the doctor, one nurse and my husband. I told them to turn the TV off because my baby was not coming into the world watching FOX News.
With the first push my husband saw the head. (I told you she was low). Twenty-five minutes later my daughter was on my chest at 7:04PM weighing 7lbs and 4 ounces. I didn’t feel a thing. We were all laughing when she was born. The thought of my daughter entering into the world to the sound of laughter and absolute calm filled me with endless joy. In an instant, everything and nothing changed. It was like my life before was a dream, and she was always there with me. My husband watched her take her first breath. He cut the cord and held my leg steady as the doctor delivered the placenta and stitched me up. I saw none of it. All I saw was my baby girl. It was everything I said I didn’t want, but exactly what I actually wanted. I felt energized and calm from my nap. The room was quiet and intimate. My baby was healthy. My husband took the baby and came over to me. We cuddled together looking at her endlessly dark eyes and I felt nothing but complete wonder. It wasn’t a scary childbirth story, it was one hundred percent wonderful.