Before I gave birth my two biggest fears were sharks and giving birth. I am proud to say that I've faced the second fear and can honestly say sharks are probably worse.
June 26th I started to get a new kind of contraction-- they didnt feel like the Braxton Hicks/false contractions (or "Carlton Banks" contractions, as Danny named them) I'd been feeling for the past few weeks-- these ones were different-- not painful but "uncomfortable"-- I was calling them, because I knew only once I was in the throes of labor would I understand true pain. These new contractions would last a second, or 15 seconds and then would vanish. But by that night they started to come every 12 minutes and always lasted 1 minute. I started writing down the times for each one, pacing for the minute long contraction and then lying down in bed again. I tried not to disturb Danny who slept peacefully. But when I was getting out of bed at around 5, he woke up. "You've been up all night??" He was alarmed, jumping out of bed. But we knew we weren't supposed to go to the hospital until the contractions were 4 minutes apart for an hour. So we got out of bed, continued to time the contractions, and Danny started nesting-- racing around the apartment cleaning toilets, wiping counters, mopping floors.
After a few hours they were about 8 or 9 minutes apart and now were stronger. I started to get a little fearful, realizing that the slow yoga breathing I'd been practicing wasn't.. well it wasn't going to do shit to help me once these started coming quicker and harder. I'd always planned on going for a walk during this early labor stage, like the couples in the birth videos we watched in our class. We walked to the Jewel Osco, but it was a painful journey and just went immediately home. Danny called to alert Angela-- my other labor coach, so she could make the five hour journey from Michigan.
By this time the contractions felt strong, and instead of deep breathing I was breathing in through my nose and out with a sustained vocal moan. "Ahhhhh.." Yes, it sounded a bit insane, but it was the only thing I could do. On the return home from the store I had to lean against a brick apartment building breathing out the slow 'Ahhh'. Danny later told me the window to that apartment was open. I picture now the residents of this building at 7 or 8 am going about their business when a large pregnant woman leans against their home moaning and then walking along.
By 9:30 they were 4 minutes apart and very intense. The pain was strong in my back and Danny would massage for the minute of the contraction and I would let out my sustained vocal 'ahh'. When we called the doctor- (Dr. Favorite was on call!!!)- she seemed skeptical. "This is your first, right?" She asked, unsure if I was ready to go to the hospital. Her doubt made us think we should wait. So at about 11:30, they had been going strong four minutes apart for 2 hours, we decided to go to the hospital.
Our plan had been to take a taxi, since we dont have a car. We knew Danny's parents would be driving us back from the hospital with the carseat, so we just had to take our suitcase and hop in a cab. Although at this point I realized I didnt feel like doing my sustained "ahhs" in a wild cab ride. And what if my water broke in the backseat? I know Chicago cabs charge $50 for vomit, what was the amniotic fluid charge?
So we booked a zip car and Danny ran to pick it up. I walked down the hall of my apartment, with my sustained moaning, and we drove to the hospital, with more sustained moaning. Danny dropped me at the door and sped off to park the car, and I made it through the elevator ride to the maternity waiting room, sustained moaning every four minutes despite the looks of the surrounding strangers. After a check, they found I was dilated to five, so I didnt have to go home, as we'd heard so many others have done when they found out they weren't ready for hospital care.
Before they wheeled me into the room where I would labor, deliver and then stay in for the duration of the care, an awkward gangly young man came in. Looking highly uncomfortable, as if he'd been given lines to memorize and recite in front of an audience of hungry bears he stood at the end of my bed and tried to ask me questions. 'uhm.. hi, heh..I am a medical student and i'm here to ask a few heh.. questions' his stunted questions were punctuated with uncomfortable giggles. 'have you had any complications. uhm. during this pregnancy?' he would ask, trying to smile. Even though the contractions were very strong now, as I was dilated to 7, I tried to be kind and respectful and answer his questions without irritation. In the middle of one a contraction came on and i started my sustained moaning- which by this time was a little louder and more desperate. Danny went into what was by now our established routine-- he would massage my lower back and count down the contraction, cheering me on with encouragement, "you can do it, honey, you're doing great! 40 more seconds! 30 more seconds, you're halfway there!" (Later he confessed he was just making up the times, but it was what got me through all the contractions). Through my half shut eyes I saw the young medical student standing in the same spot, frozen, looking even more frightened and uncomfortable. Why was he still there? The contraction ended and I took a deep breath. He stood, trying to keep the weird smile on his face, staring at me. 'Ok. What else?' I asked him.
By 5 pm I was hooked up to an epidural catheter, had two IVs in each hand- one with insulin-- my blood sugar got out of control when I didn't eat all day. Jack and Angela had arrived and we were all waiting for the baby to drop as I was dilated to 10. We watched my contractions on the computer monitor next to me, noticing when they were strong and smiling because I couldn't feel them.
At 7 they came in and said it was time to push. By this time I was feeling very exhausted. I hadn't eaten or slept in 24 hours. Dr. Favorite came in to tell me how it would go. They told me we'd push three times for every contraction. "You're my favorite." I told her.
Danny and Angela each held one of my legs and like cheerleaders on the sidelines, delivered encouragement. Between each push I tried to take a 30 second nap. Then their cheers started to get more excited as they saw her coming. I was so tired and my eyes were closed through most of the pushing and the resting between. But 45 minutes later our baby was born.
I'd always imagined they'd throw her on my chest, covered in goo, but in my hazy memory Danny kissed me, his eyes with tears, they offered him the chord to cut and then they rushed the baby to a warmer next to my bed and started conducting tests, suctioning out fluid from her lungs, trying to get her to cry and then giving her a bath.
Meanwhile, three doctors-- two of whom were more medical students-- hung out around me for the last stage of labor. Dr. Favorite was teaching them how to deliver the placenta and then stitch up the tears. At this point I was so ready for it to be over I think I was getting a little snotty. "does this hurt?" they were asking me. "No, it doesn't hurt, but I got three people peering into my crotch, so it's not exactly comfortable." I was saying between demands to hold my baby.
I always imagined when she finally came out, and I heard her cry I would break down into an emotional mess, I would feel the significance of the whole world-- I'd feel one with all women who'd given birth. Instead, though, I felt very sleepy and irritated that three doctors were still hovering around my private parts, forcing me keep my legs open for too long.
But in the days following, and now, over a week later, I feel total awe and shock when I stare at my baby. I can't believe how perfect and beautiful she is. And how lucky I am to have had such an uncomplicated delivery. For the past 9 months I've been gifted by/subjected to the birth stories of almost every mother whose noticed my bulging belly-- stranger or not. And now I finally have my own.