Don’t worry, this is not a grizzly tale.
Last Sunday while enjoying a Culver’s Butter Burger with my friend Vanessa I got an odd strong cramp in my lower abdomen. It happened twice during our meal and another time after that while we were hanging out back at my house. By the time Vanessa left, I looked at Mike and told him that I was having some strong cramping and needed to go right to bed. At that point I had absolutely no idea that I was in labor. The Braxton Hicks contractions that I’d felt a few weeks earlier were higher up in my mid-section, and based on how the nurses at birthing class described what contractions did to move labor along, I was expecting to feel my actual contractions closer to my rib cage (if the muscle is pushing out the baby, wouldn’t it make sense to feel it towards the top of where the baby is?).
After laying down and having another strong cramp I briefly mused to Mike “what if this is actually labor?” Neither of us were convinced, so I went to bed and he went to watch what I assume was the latest episode of Sons of Anarchy. By the time Mike came to bed, I was still having those cramps and they were hurting a little bit more. Being logical, Mike suggested we practice the Bradley Method of relaxation. He figured that I’d get some pre-labor practice in and it might help make the cramping hurt less or go away.
Around 1am I had to go to the bathroom and got a little over-zealous with the TP (it wasn’t our usual brand). This left the only toilet in our house clogged (TMI, I know, but I remember thinking to myself as we were struggling to fix it, “haha wouldn’t it be amusing if I’m actually in labor and this is how we’re spending our night!”). I tried several times to unclog the toilet (it’s a weird shape that makes it difficult) before conceding that I’d need to wake Mike up. He didn’t have much luck either and blamed it on the shape of the plunger. After disappearing for a short time, he came back upstairs with his trumpet plunger mute (apparently it’s just an actual plunger sans the stick…) and got back to work on the toilet. Meanwhile, another one of those cramps hit and brought me to my knees. I told Mike that this had better be labor and not just Braxton Hicks contractions because I only wanted to go through this once.
The rest of the night passed with the cramps coming in waves, my breathing waking Mike up and him relaxing me through the contraction. By morning the contractions were still uneven in their frequency and mostly every 10-15 minutes. We were still skeptical as to just how far along I was/if I was actually in labor (I don’t think either of us wanted to get our hopes up, not that I was particularly looking forward to the rest of labor/delivery, but at least it was a light at the end of the pregnancy tunnel). I decided that heading downtown for work didn’t seem like a wise idea and toyed with the idea of remoting in. Mike convinced me just to take the entire day off since we didn’t know what lie ahead.
Around 7:30am we were eating Target-brand Cheerios when a contraction again brought me to the floor (I found more comfort in laying down than sitting/standing). That’s when they started to come at a more frequent/consistent pace. Mike got me back into bed immediately and into the relaxation position that the Bradley Method suggested (for those unfamiliar with the Bradley Method, it’s husband-based coaching for couples looking to try to have a drugless birthing experience and it’s centered around relaxing during contractions). We brought a laptop into the room and continued to labor while watching Everybody Loves Raymond (I could have cared less whether or not we were watching anything since I was so focused on letting the pain wash over me, but Mike thought that it would help me pass the time and be a bit of a distraction). Whenever a contraction hit Mike would start to kneed my lower back (it gave me something to focus on) while timing the duration/start and stop times. I remember thinking to myself that although the contractions were very painful, they must get so much worse for someone to want an epidural. I figured I must not have been very dilated. Eventually, I asked him how far apart they were and when he responded 3-5 minutes and that they were lasting 60-90 seconds, I was like holy crap – we need to call the doctor, I think we’re supposed to be en route to the hospital by now. Mike got on the phone with the doctor’s office (it was about 10:45am) and the nurse told us that we could either head straight to the hospital or come in for an appointment around 1pm to have the doctor take a look to see how far along I was. I was in no head space to make a decision, so I told Mike to decide. He took one look at me and away we went to the hospital. He had to pretty much drag me with my arms around his neck from the bed to the car.
En route to the hospital we were slowed down by 1. a bad driver, 2. a school bus and then 3. a street cleaner. By the time the street cleaner pulled out in front of us I told Mike to forget about the double yellow lines and pass him. As soon as Mike pulled up to the front of the hospital I was doubling over trying to get out of the car and hanging onto the door for dear life (it was harder to relax through contractions not laying down with Mike kneading my back). The hospital staff had me in a wheel chair and heading towards the elevator while a valet took care of Mike’s car. While I’m sure we were only waiting for the elevator for a minute, it felt like an eternity. Once on the 4th floor, nurses crowded around to get all of the needed information. But once one noticed me bearing down, the paperwork was temporarily abandoned and I was on the move again. She bypassed the examination room (I suppose bearing down in a wheel chair is a pretty good indicator that I was more than 4cm dilated) and took me straight to a labor room with a tub (we’d asked for one, not for a water birth, but for the pain management).
Well, there was no time for any hydro pain management, the nurse took one peek and said that I was 10cm dilated and had only the slightest big of cervix left. Thankfully, my doctor was already at the hospital checking on another patient, so there was no waiting on him to arrive. I had about 2 more regular contractions before the nurse told me that I’d transitioned and it was time to start pushing. I was in disbelief – every account of drug-free labor that I’d read said that the transition was murderous and left you screaming out for the epidural or at least the narcotic to take the edge off. I just assumed that it was feel something like a scene from the Exorcist with my head doing a full 360 rotation. I honestly couldn’t tell you when ‘transition’ happened – it felt the same as all of the other late contractions that I’d been feeling (disclaimer, I’m sure that it’s different for everyone and if there’s a second go-around for me, maybe my head will do a full 360 spin).
While most tales of pushing that I’d heard said that it was a relief and welcomed by comparison to Stage One Labor, I found it to be quite the opposite. I believe this to be because I couldn’t just relax through those contractions on my side with Mike kneading my back (though I did do several rounds of pushing while on my side – but I think that’s because I wouldn’t roll onto my back…) The nurse kept telling me to pull my legs back, and yet – she and Mike each had a leg, so I failed to see why I needed to do any work there, especially when I was doing all of the rest of the work (Mike explained to me afterwards that the nurse had repeatedly been telling me that I needed to do it to help focus the pushing and not just scrunch up my face). Once the pushing started it was determined that the baby was not recovering well from each push. So after each set of pushes (there were supposed to be 3 in a set, I usually opted for 2 – yes, I was a tad obstinate during pushing) I was put on oxygen and had to breathe out through the next contraction. The problem there was that now I knew how to not push, so every-so-often I’d just breathe through the contraction instead of pushing like I was being told to do in order to give myself a break (hey, I did say that I was being obstinate, remember?). The whole pushing process was a fairly out of body experience. I could think pretty clearly in my mind, but I didn’t feel like I could audibly communicate to Mike/Bonnie the nurse.
Bonnie kept telling me that I was this close to having the baby crown (her fingers gesturing that it was about half a cm). I thought to myself, “well, if it’s really that close, then why is the baby not out already?!” At one point there was talk that the baby might need to be vacuumed out, but thankfully that plan never came to fruition (though I did wonder to myself if that meant I could stop pushing so much). Eventually Bonnie got excited and told me that if I pushed really well this time, she could call the doctor and tell him to come in for the delivery. I think I gave her 3 pushes that time and next thing I knew lights above me were being turned on, the bed was being raised, the bottom of the bed was coming out from below my legs, feet things were coming up and the doctor was coming in. Thought process: “good, I can stop pulling my damn legs back”. In actuality, I still had to pull my legs back, the feet things were more of a guide. I had all of a few seconds to mentally prepare myself for what had been described to me on several occasions as “the ring of fire” and I’m pretty sure the terror was visible in my eyes. By now there were no breaks between pushing (no matter how hard I tried to put my legs back together and roll over), and a few painful (yet not quite fiery) pushes later there was a head. I was floored. I mean, I knew that I was pregnant all this time, and I knew that this day would come, but none of it felt so real as when I could look between my legs and see a baby’s head having its nose aspirated with a little bulb. Another two pushes (I think it was two) and I had a baby sitting on my stomach rather than inside. He was crying and dark reddish purple in color and had a head full of dark hair (that was a little bit of a surprise – I often suspected that I’d have a hairy baby with all of the heartburn that I’d experienced, but I also assumed that our son would be blonde or bald like Mike and I were as babies).
Bonnie allowed me to keep him on my stomach while the doctor started to take care of, let’s call it the rest of the proceedings. Unbeknownst to me, I did procure a level 2 tear, so a local anesthetic (NOT fun) and stitches were required (also not fun since one of the shots didn’t work the first time around). Eventually the baby did need to get his APGAR scores so I was left to endure the rest of the ‘clean up’ sans a baby to offer as a slight distraction. Mike alternated between being at the baby’s side and holding my hand and eventually fished out the list of names that we’d narrowed it down to. I told him that he could make the call (I’d been the one to suggest most of the names on the list so I’d be happy no matter what). He went over to look at the baby and came back pointing to his selection. I nodded in agreement and it was settled. Our son would be named Luke Thomas.
Eventually the magnitude of what had just transpired settled in. I don’t have the best reputation when it comes to dealing with pain, and yet I’d just given birth totally drug free. I was elated that I never needed the hand IV that I’d been dreading for 9 months and that Mike’s coaching had worked better than I could have anticipated. All said and done, we were in labor at the hospital for about an hour and a half – with total labor lasting about 18.5 hours (the time that I felt that first ‘cramp’ at Culvers).
I fell in love listening to Luke’s little mummers/cries and found myself missing him when he was taken from our room for various things. After our families had come and gone and it was just the three of us (watching the Seahawks wipe the floor with the Saints) Luke gave Mike and I some eyes wide awake time and that sealed the deal. I’d found the second love of my life and in the course of that day, we’d officially become a family.