It sure is nice to get to write another one of these.
There’s really nothing more exciting than labor. I know that sounds weird, since TV and movies condition us to think of the process as grueling and terrifying and disturbing and filled with lots of anger and yelling. But really, it’s the culmination of months (and sometimes years) of anticipation and excitement and waiting. I really love the whole process (especially under the influence of an epidural) and I feel nostalgic for it as soon as we leave the cocoon of the hospital and head back into the reality of diapers and laundry and facebook politics.
That’s why I write these birth stories, and spend inordinate amounts of time reading other women’s birth stories. I’ve been working on Charlie’s since he was a week old, but it turns out that life is busier with 2 kids, so I’m just now getting around to finishing it. I’m sure I’m missing things, considering that Charlie is now a month old, but something is better than nothing, right? Right. Here we go.
As we got closer to Charlie’s due date, I started to realize that there was no guarantee that this labor would be the same as Bonnie’s. Bonnie’s was long (30 hours) and mostly in my back (ouch) but after having done it once, I figured I could handle it. Then I started reading other birth stories and realized that it could actually be very different. Duh, right? My denial knows no bounds.
Everything looked good at my 38 week appointment, so I went back to work on January 3rd. I had been feeling some Braxton Hicks contractions off and on for a month or so, but they weren’t anything like the contractions with Bonnie. After my lunch break on Thursday the 5th, I started to notice some stomach pains that felt stronger than normal. Once I took a minute to pay attention to them, I realized they were probably contractions. I also realized that I had been having them on and off all day, so I figured I should probably start writing them down, just in case. I was surprised to find that they were coming regularly, about 8-10 minutes apart.
With Bonnie, I had a full day of contractions on the 4th of July that petered out that evening. I figured this was the same, but I was excited that something was finally happening. It had been snowing for most of the day, and was supposed to get colder that night, so I decided to stay at work a little late and finish up some projects just in case the snow kept me home on Friday. Even though the contractions were coming regularly, I was convinced I wasn’t in labor. I had my 39 week appointment the next day, so obviously, I couldn’t be in labor yet. Denial is my superpower.
I finished up at work and waddled out to my car, still surprised that the contractions were keeping up with me. I had tried to get them to go away by sorting the mail, drinking a ton of water, eating, putting my feet up, etc. When I got to my car, I realized I’d have to scrape it before I could drive home, so I contracted and cleaned off the windshield before finally heading home.
Steven’s Dad was in town that night, so we made plans to meet up with him for dinner. I told Steven that afternoon that I had started having contractions, but he didn’t seem too concerned about them either. I guess my denial is rubbing off on him. He seemed a little alarmed when I showed him how long I had been having them and how close together they were, but I assured him it was nothing and so off to dinner we went.
I had a few more contractions during dinner, but I decided to ignore them and chase Bonnie around the restaurant. When we got home from dinner, the contractions started to get longer and more painful, but I figured I just ate too much at dinner. I had been having terrible heartburn the last 2 months of this pregnancy, so feeling bad after eating was normal. Steven went out to shovel our sidewalk and then drove over to Dad’s to shovel his as well. I told him to give Dad a heads up about the contractions, just in case. If we had to go to the hospital that night, he would need to come over and watch Bonnie until Betsy could pick her up the next day. By the time Steven got back from Dad’s house, I was starting to panic. The contractions were getting closer together and longer and I just wanted them to stop. It was too early. There was laundry to do and dishes in the sink and a bassinet to set up and the weather was complicated and I just. wasn’t. ready.
I put Bonnie to bed and cried as I rocked with her. I explained to her that we might not be there in the morning, but that Poppa would get her up if we weren’t there. She gave me extra snuggles and went right to sleep without crying. I’ve heard that the best thing you can give a child is a sibling, but in that moment, I wasn’t so sure. One night she went to bed and life was normal, and the next morning she would wake up to a totally new reality. A new reality that I suddenly felt completely unprepared for.
Steven started working on some edits that were due and I paced around the house trying to slow/stop the contractions and figure out what all I still needed to do, just in case we actually did need to go to the hospital that night. In the end, I settled on starting a load of laundry, brushing my teeth and clipping my fingernails. I figured the laundry would give us a good end point. If the contractions had gotten worse by the time the load was done, we would go to the hospital. Even if it was too early, we would just go check. We had all the people alerted, it was snowy out, and if we waited too long, Dad would be asleep and then we’d have to take Bonnie with us. Plus, I had tested positive for the Group B Strep this time around, so we didn’t want to wait too long and not have time to do a couple rounds of antibiotics before delivery. Charlie’s whole life had started earlier than we anticipated. Why would his delivery be any different?
The first time around, I thought that the worst parts of labor were the contractions and the pushing. Having done it twice now, I’ve decided that the actual worst part of labor is trying to figure out when to go to the hospital. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to decide when I’m in labor and then when I’m in labor enough to actually go to the hospital and do something about it, but there you go. If only there was a pregnancy test that could tell you exactly when to go to the hospital. You hear that, Shark Tank? Get on it.
Finally, around 10, I decided we needed to go to the hospital, so I made Steven stop editing and pack a bag. I could tell things were getting serious because I was willing to leave the house without making Steven wash the dishes in the sink. Steven packed a bag and packed the car and I paced around, too afraid to keep timing the contractions. We got all packed up and Steven called Dad to come over and… no answer. Of course. Steven decided to drive over to Dad’s to talk to him in person and I crept into Bonnie’s room to spend a few more minutes with her, trying to calm myself and soak up these last few minutes of life at home with one baby.
I had been texting with Betsy for most of the evening and she told me that Abby’s due date was also Friday, January 13th. They had scheduled an induction for that day, but apparently Mom was determined not to have a baby at her age on Friday the 13th, and Abby ended up being born the Friday before, on January 6th. So at least if Charlie was going to come early, he would have birthday buddies. I focused on that story through the worst of the contractions and prayed for Mama strength. I’m still convinced she was tougher than me. With Abby’s labor, she had contractions all through her workday and then came home and made us dinner. Probably. I really can’t remember. The only thing I remember was waking up early Friday morning before school and walking with Betsy through the snow to the hospital to meet Abby.
Dad got to the house and we gave him a frantic list of instructions for Bonnie and then rushed out into the cold. On the short drive to the hospital (God bless Garden City), I remembered that we had never decided on a girl name. We ran through a few and I still didn’t like any of them. I also remembered that I had never finished crocheting the girl blanket. I still wasn’t sure I was really in labor, but I was about 100% convinced that we were having a boy. We had decided on the name Charlie months earlier, and I had felt from the very beginning of the pregnancy that he was a boy, so once we got to the hospital, I just started calling the baby Charlie.
We got checked in to St. Catherine’s and the contractions just kept on going. They checked me for what felt like FOR-E-VER and decided I was probably dilated to a 4, maybe a little more. I was a 6 when we checked in with Bonnie. A 4 is in the maybe range, so they said I could hang out for an hour and then they’d check me again to see if I made any progress. Now I was really freaking out. Now that we were there, I wanted to stay. But I was also terrified that I’d get to a 5 and then stop, and then they’d have to induce, or do something to make Charlie come early, or I’d get an epidural too early and that would cause complications, etc, etc, etc. Then again, I thought if they sent me home, I’d have to come back at 2 in the morning and then who would watch Bonnie and I’d have to go on my own and then Steven would come later and he’d miss the birth and I wouldn’t get the antibiotics and then Charlie would get meningitis, etc etc etc. Y’know. Your basic super pregnant freak out. So I stayed for the world’s longest hour, having contractions every 5-7 minutes of varying degrees of awfulness. It was comforting to be hooked up to the machines so that we could watch Charlie’s heartbeat and my heartbeat and my blood pressure and the peaks and valleys of the contractions, though I’m still not sure we’re reading that machine correctly. After an hour, the nurse came back and checked me again and said I was maybe to a 4.75 or a 5 now? But definitely more effaced? They decided to call the doctor and let him decide if I could stay, but also asked me about an epidural, so I started to feel slightly more hopeful that they would let me stay. Blessed Dr. Stucky gave me the green light to stay, but they told me that the anesthesiologist was on another case, so it would be awhile before I got the epidural. No problem. As long as I could stay and it was coming eventually, I’d be just fine.
I got moved to my permanent room a little after 1 in the morning. Steven went to get all our bags and started texting everyone that we were staying. It was official! Baby time was almost here! The other case was at 1:30, so they got the IV in (my least favorite part), took the blood work, started the antibiotic and got all the necessary information from me. Walking from the temporary room to my delivery room, I could tell that things were definitely progressing, because it was MUCH harder to walk than it had been the hour before. Even still, I asked Steven if I thought it would hurt the baby to get an epidural before I was at a 6. Should I wait a few hours? Should we go home? Do you think they’ll send us home? Are the contractions still coming regularly? On and on and on. We had to wait until a little after 3 to get the epidural, and, of course, finally found a comfortable position about 2:45. Steven turned off most of the lights and rubbed my back and helped me lay on my side and remembered to turn on the playlist I had made for the hospital. I had just fallen asleep when the nurse came back in and said they were ready for the epidural. I was grateful, but scared. The contractions had definitely slowed down. What if labor had stopped? Could I still get the epidural? Should I tell them? What if I said no to the epidural and then they came back and it was another 3 hours? In the end I said nothing (of course) and they came in to set up the epidural.
The epidural is both my favorite and least favorite part. I feel like it’s the scariest part of the whole experience because it’s ultimately voluntary, and so I feel like it has the most potential to go wrong and then cause complications. Luckily, it took on the first try, though the anesthesiologist did scare me by saying after, “wow. That’s the easiest one I’ve had in a long time.” Um, thanks? She left and I settled into that nice, warm, numb, sleepy relief. Steven finally got to set up his chair bed and we had a good 4-5 hours of sleep. With Bonnie I was too wired or too tired from the previous 22 hours of contractions to really sleep, so it was kind of shocking to wake up at 7 and meet the new nurse. I woke up in a panic though, because I was convinced that my contractions had stopped and that’s why I was able to sleep. The nurse checked me and sure enough – I had stalled out at a 5.5. Again, I was convinced that they were going to send me home. Even though I was admitted and hooked up to the epidural, I was sure that Dr. Stucky was on his way in and was going to scold me for coming in too early and wasting everyone’s time. In labor Susan is not the sanest Susan. Also, I was using the story about Mom and Abby to make me feel better about having a baby a week early, so if I was stuck in the hospital all day and missed having a baby on the 6th I was going to need a new silver lining. Luckily the nice morning nurse started some pitocin, and Stucky came in and broke my water, though again, it took a super long time, which again, made me think that I wasn’t actually in labor. Those two things did the trick and I jumped from a 5.5 to a 10 in the next couple of hours.
Our nice nurse got me all set up and called Dr. Stucky back to the hospital and then said that we could start pushing. Um, really? Before the doctor got there? I told her it took about an hour of pushing with Bonnie and she assured me that it wouldn’t take anywhere near that long with this one. And with that, we started pushing. I was confused about why we were starting before he got there, especially because she kept saying things like “not long now” and, “just a few more pushes,” and, “oh look, there’s the head. And a full head of hair!” Still no doctor through all these comments and yet I didn’t say anything, just thought loud things in my head and kept on pushing when she told me to. Maybe I’ll be more assertive with the next one. After the third push, Dr. Stucky came flying in the room, took one look at the birth in progress and quickly traded his coat for a gown. Three more pushes, and there was a head, one push after that and Charlie was born. Steven said that the cord was wrapped around his neck and his shoulder, and I was grateful, yet again, that I couldn’t actually see what was happening. The nurse kept trying to get me to sit up enough so that I could see him down there, but I was content to wait the extra 30 seconds until they put him on my chest.
As soon as I held him I could tell that he was smaller than Bonnie, and longer. He was such a long, skinny little thing, but so sweet and perfect and undeniably mine. Instead of trying to nurse him right away, I just let him lay there on my chest and warm up. We laid there for a little over an hour, calming each other down, getting good and warm and sleepy and ignoring the rest of the people in the room. Labor is such a weird experience in that respect – there are a lot of people paying a lot of attention to you, and then once the baby is here and they give him to you, you can just kind of tune them out. They still have work to do and they’re still in the room getting stuff done, but after all the contractions and pushing and monitoring, it is so nice to just lay back and relax and let everyone else work for awhile.
Since I had the Group B Strep, we got to stay in the hospital for 48 hours instead of 24, which I was initially really annoyed about. In Manhattan, I hated being in the hospital. The nurses were nosy, there were constantly people coming in and waking us up, and I had to wear the stupid blood pressure cuff the whole time. The Garden City maternity ward is heavenly. The nurses are great, the rooms are huge, you don’t have to try and change rooms when your legs are still all jelly from the epidural, you don’t have to watch any scary videos about purple crying, and they have special hospital movie channels! It really is the greatest. I highly recommend having your babies in Garden City.
The first couple of weeks after Charlie was born, I replayed the labor and our time in the hospital over and over. With Bonnie, I remember being nostalgic for pregnancy, and missing my big round belly. With Charlie, I definitely felt nostalgic for labor. I think it was because it happened so quickly, and I spent so much of it resisting, convinced that my body was failing me instead of doing this miraculous thing. Hopefully next time (if we’re blessed with a next time), I’ll do a better job of remembering that.