I woke up the morning before my due date and thought I had food poisoning. I sat in the bathroom, waiting to throw up. I was having extreme stomach pain that came and went in waves and I thought, “Is this because I took castor oil? Did I make myself sick? Did I have one too many mugs of red raspberry leaf tea, have I officially gorged myself on dates and pineapples? Is this the price of trying every crunchy hippie induction technique I saw in my due date group?”
It wasn’t until about a half an hour later that it occurred to me to time these surges of pain. Who knew labor felt like eating bad tortellini?
Spoilers: it doesn’t.
Shortly after we started timing the pain escalated past bad tortellini, to the point that I couldn’t stand still long enough to take a shower (thankfully I got a quick shampoo in, screaming the whole time). My contractions were already only two minutes apart. I got dressed and knelt on all fours like an animal, the closest I could get to comfortable. The nurse my husband was on the phone with could hear my moaning from across the house.
“Normally we’d wait until she’d been in labor for two hours but if her contractions are two minutes apart, you need to come in now.”
I don’t know how to explain to anyone what the drive to the hospital felt like. When you’re in labor there is already no position that doesn’t hurt, that doesn’t feel like your body being torn apart, but sitting still in a stiff car seat feeling like a baby is about to shoot out of you while the world whizzes by is torture. I kept my legs crossed tightly just in case.
My husband asked if I wanted him to pull into the ER entrance so I could be taken up to the birthing center via wheelchair. I responded with more vague screaming so he parked in the ramp instead. We started walking through the hospital and I kept it together for a couple of minutes before I had to stop, doubled over and clutching my belly. An older woman shuffled past, flashing us a knowing smile and remarking, “Oh, I know what you’re here for!”
Thanks, Karen. I feel like I’m dying but okay.
I was 50000% less annoyed when a minute later I heard her telling someone at the information desk down the hall to bring me a wheelchair. My sweet, doting husband pushed me very gently to the birthing center where I was met with paperwork.
As someone who has worked in hospital registration, I absolutely understand the importance of signing consent forms and showing a form of ID. That said, sitting in that wheelchair in active labor and signing a stack of forms was hell. If I hadn’t been in so much pain I would have found the whole thing hilarious.
Truthfully, the next two hours were more or less a blur. Somehow I ended up in a hospital gown with monitors wrapped around my belly. My plans for a natural drug-free labor had gone out the window earlier that morning and I assume I must have begged for an epidural because once it was established that baby was in fact coming, the nurse kept reassuring me, “I’m sure the anesthesiologist will be here any minute, just a little bit longer, hang in there!”
And then he came. And my fears of having a giant needle in my spine had already dissipated, washed away by the waves of pain that had been crashing through my body all morning. Almost immediately after my entire lower half went numb. My mom and auntie, the strong women who raised me, came into the room with my husband. We spent hours laughing, chatting, watching TV. My husband left and brought back food for everyone who wasn’t in labor. I was starving and felt great but the most the nurses would let me have was apple juice or low sodium broth. Womp womp.
When I had arrived at the hospital that morning I was four centimeters dilated. When I was checked after the epidural I’d made it to 6. A few hours later, after about 7 hours of labor total, I was dilated to a full 10cm. Our nurse, the quintessential sassy-with-a-heart-of-gold nurse type, told me they’d give me an hour or so to rest and prepare before we started with some practice pushes. I twiddled my thumbs for about an hour and a half and then it was time to push. Baby girl was sunny side up which meant pushing was a slower process– two steps forward, one step back. Unlike Paula Abdul’s music, though, it actually wasn’t that bad. I thought we were just practicing until they started setting up the bucket.
“Are we really pushing now?”
“Yup, that baby’s coming out any minute now!”
Women talk a lot about the ring of fire. To be honest, I didn’t feel it. In fact, after the epidural I felt almost no pain at all except a slight throbbing on my left side whenever I had a contraction, but nothing worse than a side-ache after a workout. To me, giving birth was more of a weird slithery feeling. My sister in law explained it best by waving her arms in the air and making a slurping sound and I’ll be damned if that isn’t 100% accurate.
And then she was on my chest and screaming in my face and all I could say was “uh… Holy shit…”
I had been daydreaming about the “golden hour”, about the opportunity for skin to skin contact and bonding. It was the only part of our birth plan that was really important to me. And in keeping with her nature, Moonbeam had other plans. She had swallowed a considerable amount of fluid. After less than five minutes on my chest she was whisked away to the warming table. A NICU doctor and nurse were called in and suctioned her lungs out for a full 45 minutes. Between tending to my 3rd degree tear and tending to the baby’s lungs, no one had time to fully explain to myself or my husband what was happening. We just stared at each other helplessly, occasionally asking, “Is she okay?” and receiving half-responses. My nurse clearly wasn’t comfortable offering reassurance in such a precarious situation. She just kept patting my arm and repeating, “they’re suctioning her out, she has a lot of fluid in her lungs.”
My pregnancy was so easy. Labor was so easy. I have no right to complain. The first 45 minutes of her life, though, were hell. Absolute hell. Now she’s a hearty, healthy, sassy 7 month old but at that time she was still tiny, fresh, and terrified without her mama. I still feel pangs of guilt when I think about her screaming on that table without me.
When it was over my nurse said to me, “They recommended that we wait before trying to nurse her because of the fluid, but her lungs sound great and I’ll bet latching will calm her down.”
I’m so thankful she gave us the green light to nurse. Our latch was perfect right away and it gave us the opportunity to spend time together before we were flooded with visitors. Even though we missed most of our “golden hour” we got that opportunity to get to know each other Earthside and I feel really blessed that we’ve had this breastfeeding journey. In those early weeks I found myself missing the closeness of pregnancy, and being able to connect physically in that way felt like a lifeline. For all of the amazing relationships she has formed with everyone else, this was the one thing that was just ours.