My son Jack was born on a Friday afternoon, which made his birth even more perfect because Friday is my favorite day of the week. True, it’s a work day, but there’s so much excitement and anticipation for the weekend that you can’t help but be happy. And that’s a pretty great metaphor for someone on the brink of motherhood: so much excitement and anticipation for what’s ahead, ice packs and large mesh panties notwithstanding.
There is a long and a less long version of Jack’s birth. I’ll give you the less long version, which is still really long. And for the sake of not burying the lead, I’ll tell you up front: yes, it hurt (up until I had the epidural and then again when the epidural wore off, which can happen); yes, it was the most extraordinary yet also the most human experience I’ve had; and yes, I would do it all over again and, truth be told, I can hardly wait.
Jack arrived after nearly 39 hours of obvious labor signs. I say obvious labor signs because how exactly are you supposed to time your labor? I don’t know. What I do know is I woke up with what seemed to be mild-ish contractions shortly after midnight on Thursday and it wasn’t until 2:47 p.m. on Friday that we welcomed our 8 pound 1.8 ounce, 21.5 inch bundle of joy. This 39 hours does not include my Wednesday afternoon meltdown about not knowing how to be a mom, which in hindsight had to be due to impending labor hormones (right?).
Backing up to earlier in the week. My doctor told me on Tuesday that if I did not go into labor by the following Tuesday (three days after my expected due date), we’d induce, reason being that I had low platelets during pregnancy (fancy medical term: thrombocytopenia) and my platelets were currently stable. The most important thing a woman about to give birth with thrombocytopenia needs to know is that if your platelets drop below a certain level, you cannot get an epidural. And I think there’s something very different about opting to not get an epidural because you are woman, hear you roar, and you are in control of the situation (you go, sister!), and being told that an epidural is not even an option, persona non grata, so get in there and have that baby!
Fortunately, labor started on its own, no induction was needed, and I was able to get an epidural, which was the second greatest thing to happen that day next to actually having the baby (only half-joking). For the first 18 hours or so, my contractions were all over the place: 20 minutes apart, then 8, then 45, then 20 again, usually lasting between 30 to 45 seconds. So as I often do in serious, life-changing situations, I turned to Google, which told me I was probably experiencing false labor and could still be days or weeks out from the real thing.
Google results aside, I continued timing whatever it was that was going on in my abdomen. Wisdom says I should have been sleeping because I was about to not sleep for the next two days (possibly the next year), but when you’ve been waiting 40 weeks to meet your baby and might be on the verge of doing so, sleeping is really hard. Getting in one last Starbucks run, stocking up on healthy snacks (code for Pop-Tarts—my final pregnancy craving), and refolding all the clothes in your hospital bag is more like it. So that’s what my husband and I did. There’s something very sweet and cliché about having contractions in the grocery store parking lot.
Things started getting more serious around 6:00 p.m. My contractions were about five minutes apart but still only lasting around 35 seconds and never quite satisfying the 5-1-1 rule. Nevertheless, I called the midwife on call for my doctor, who told me I didn’t sound like I was in active labor and so I could try to speed things along by taking a walk and a hot shower. I did both. Did they help? I don’t know, but they did pass some time until dinner. Around 7:30 p.m., we decided to finish packing up the car and get something to eat.
I had always pictured our “last supper” before heading to the hospital as a big event, like a #3 from In-N-Out with french fries and a chocolate milkshake. We opted for a healthier option instead, because who wants to deal with the ramifications of eating a #3 from In-N-Out while in labor (or coaching their spouse through labor)? That might be TMI, but this whole post is about birth, which is already TMI. Turns out, it didn’t really matter for me at least because as my contractions increased, my appetite decreased. I got in a few bites in between breathing deeply, hunching over, and frightening the underage waitstaff.
After dinner, we hunkered down at my mom’s house for about 90 minutes before heading to the hospital. We live about 20 miles from the hospital; she lives just one exit north of it, so it was the perfect waiting place. My contractions seemed to lessen when I walked around but became regular when I lay down, so I did so and continued to time them. After an hour of can’t-talk/can’t-open-my-eyes contractions coming every 4 to 5 minutes, we called the Labor & Delivery Unit and told them we were on our way.
Then started the most surreal 10 minute drive of our lives: we were driving to the hospital possibly to have our baby. Or possibly to be told I still wasn’t far enough along (even after 22 hours of mild to intense-ish contractions) and should come back later. I didn’t want to be that pregnant woman who got turned away from the hospital because she was indeed in false labor (with Google telling me “I told you so” the whole way home), but the desire to get “checked” and see how far along I was won out. So to the hospital we went.
We arrived shortly before 11:00 p.m. and were ushered into a triage room to the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me news that I was only 1 to 2 centimeters dilated. The nurse gave us the option of progressing at home or staying at the hospital and getting checked again after two hours of walking. Stay and walk we did. It was a beautiful night in San Diego, so we alternated between lapping the Labor & Delivery Unit and lapping the outdoor patio, with occasional stops in the triage room for water, restroom breaks, and Pop-Tarts (I knew they’d come in handy; also, the small silver lining of not yet being admitted is you can still eat).
The nurse checked me again at 1:30 a.m. and told me I had progressed to 2 to 3 centimeters. By this point, my contractions were coming every three minutes or so, were incredibly painful, and were invoking nausea. We then sat in pregnancy purgatory for an hour waiting to hear if we would be admitted. And at 2:30 a.m., the heavens opened and we were taken into our very own room. Question #1: How long till I get the epidural?
But the thrombocytopenia had to rear its ugly head again. Although my blood work from earlier in the week showed my platelets were stable, the anesthesiologist wanted to be sure. It took two hours for the nurses to start my IV, draw blood, send it to the lab, and get results. I literally felt like I was sitting on pins and needles in the meantime. This might be a good time to mention that, for much of my pregnancy, I thought I’d give drug-free childbirth a go, but then I went into labor and modern medicine became my friend real quick.
At 4:30 a.m., we received the results that my platelets were just over the required threshold and I could get an epidural. Thank goodness—otherwise the rest of this story would look a lot different. Instead, labor became enjoyable. In hindsight, I remember the entire experience as being enjoyable and (dare I say) fun, both pre- and post-epidural. Pre-epidural, however, there were moments where I was wondering if the pain was truly worth it and doubting whether I could ever do it again (spoiler alert: it is and I can only hope to be so fortunate).
After the epidural was in place, the nurses said we should try to get some rest until the morning shift change. Between the adrenaline pumping through my body and the beeping of the many machines attached to it, sleep didn’t come so easy for me, but Calen looked as cozy as one can be in a fold-out hospital bed. Around 7:30 a.m., the day nurse and the new midwife on call introduced themselves. We became fast friends, because shortly thereafter the midwife checked me (7 centimeters!) and broke my water. Game on.
The next few hours were a waiting game filled with as much excitement and anticipation as a Friday can hold. My mom arrived at the hospital around 9:00 a.m. She and Calen drank cappuccinos. I ate the occasional ice chip and daydreamed of tall glasses of water. By 11:00 a.m., I had reached 10 centimeters, but was instructed to “labor down” for a bit because all of the doctors and midwives were delivering other patients (turns out, August 26 was a very busy birthday). Also, Jack wasn’t progressing down the birth canal as much as they’d like, so giving him time to come down on his own now would make pushing easier on me later.
The 150 minutes between 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. involved awkward hip-opening positions, a giant peanut ball (Google it), and the return of being able to feel my contractions (which we remedied). By 1:40 p.m., we were ready to push. Bring on the tears! The emotions of that moment were intense—no longer were we just waiting for Jack to arrive, but we were about to take deliberate action to bring him earthside.
Some remarks on pushing. I don’t know what exactly I was expecting, but it was harder than I thought it would be. I chalk it up to a combination of not having slept in more than 37 hours + not being able to feel what was going on because of the epidural + the simple fact of what I was trying to do (push out an 8+ pound human). Jack still wasn’t coming down the birth canal as needed. At one point, the midwife asked the nurse if the OR was open, and I thought they were talking about another pregnant woman because surely I was rocking this delivery thing. Turns out, they were talking about me and the nurse told me afterwards that she didn’t think we’d get him out vaginally (we learned upon his birth that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck twice, which may have hindered his progress down the canal). Fortunately, Jack was stable and the midwife was patient, so she didn’t rush me in for a C-section prematurely. At some point, maybe 40 to 50 minutes into pushing, she performed an episiotomy, and just a few pushes later at 2:47 p.m., Jack was born.
My initial thoughts were those of relief: relief it was over; relief my baby was safe and I was safe; relief I could eat and drink something besides ice chips again. We took pictures, we cried, we reveled in the golden hour, and Jack latched for his first time. In the hours and days to come, the bond I felt with Jack grew tenfold, maybe even a hundredfold. And that was only the beginning.
Welcome to the world, Jack. We love you with a kind of love we’ve never before known.