Mr. E came home from his week long trip to San Francisco.
The nursery was finished.
Our tax return came.
Our dryer started working and every scrap of baby clothing was washed and folded and put away.
We blew off our final childbirth class.
I went in for my non stress test and the doctor said the baby was doing fine.
Mr. E’s mom sent an embroidered ABC for the nursery and when I opened the box a piece of styrofoam had worked itself loose from the packaging and there, clear as day, was a styrofoam E, staring up at me.
I got a new cell phone that actually worked.
Mr. E and I went out for a really nice, quiet dinner. Chinese food. We got these two fortunes:
An important word of advice may come from the mouth of a child.
Now is the time to call loved ones at a distance. Share your news.
We were headed into a three day weekend.
I breathed a sigh of relief. And for the first time in nine months, I relaxed.
I woke at 6 am on the morning of February 16th and I thought it might have been the Chinese food from the night before but probably not and I said to Mr. E “I think I might be having contractions.” They weren’t anything super painful, in retrospect, and they didn’t last very long, and I wasn’t sure they were much of anything, but at the same time, they seemed different than any of the weird random periody pains I’d had before. Still, they seemed like not much, so Mr. E went off to work and I said I’d call him if things picked up.
I didn’t do very much that day. It’s weird, but I can honestly say I have never in my life felt so mellow. Maybe I was tired, I don’t know, but I just felt this bizarre calm and I think that’s what made feel that I was in labor, more than anything else. I actually took a nap, and I am so not a napper. I just felt this intense peace, an intense calm and that’s not something I normally feel, really ever. It was weird, but cool at the same time.
At about 3:45 I noticed I had some bleeding and since I couldn’t remember if that was one of those “go to the hospital right now” kind of things I called labor and delivery and they told me it sounded like early labor and not to come in until my contractions were 4-6 minutes apart.
At that point I decided that yes, I was really in labor, even if it was early labor, and that this was really happening, and I called Mr. E. He was in his company’s annual meeting so I told him to stay there but then I realized I was HAVING A BABY and in a rare moment of decisiveness I said “No, you know what? That’s stupid. Come home.” And he did.
So there we were. The contractions weren’t coming that often, and they weren’t that severe. It was a weird feeling because they hurt, don’t get me wrong, I was breathing through them and they definitely didn’t feel nice, but I was laughing and joking and talking to Mr. E in between them and every time I did I could feel myself think “Oh, laugh now, you fool, they’re going to get so much worse.” (And so they did.)
For awhile Mr. E and I just hung out. We sat on the couch and he rubbed my feet and we just talked. At one point I turned to him and said “You know what’s crazy? All those times you heard your mom tell you the story of the day you were born? This is HIS story, happening right now.” And we both just looked at each other and I think somehow that was the moment that it all seemed real.
But then it got sort of boring, and we didn’t have any food or anything in the house, and we still needed like, diapers and wipes and god knows what else. So we went to Target and bought $350 dollars worth of stuff I thought I needed to give birth and I am here to tell you – don’t take the tags off this stuff. As you will see later on in the story, most of it I did not use. But we did get diapers and stuff and I also think it adds something to the story that I went into labor and went to Target. Really, that says a lot about me, no? Perhaps just that I really love Target.
We also stopped by the grocery store because despite all the warnings of barfage I was starving and I just really needed a turkey sandwich, and right when I walked in there was the nurse from my OB’s office. The only nurse I had the whole time I was pregnant, the one who told Mr. E he was an inspiration, right there in Safeway while I was in labor. Crazy. She gave me a big hug and asked how I was and I said “I’m fine, I’m in labor!” She said “I can tell!” and told me not to eat anything I didn’t want to see later. She was right too, but I’d eat that turkey sandwich again if I had it to do over. (I was really hungry.)
We went home, did some laundry, and then the contractions started to ramp up. Now, let me tell you. I really really didn’t want to be one of those people who got sent home from the hospital. I just thought that seemed so…stupid. Like, can’t you tell when you should go to the hospital? Did you not pay attention in birth class? I was not going to be one of those girls. Except that I totally was and I also had no idea what I was doing, and also my contractions were so erratic that it was hard to tell how far apart they were and Mr. E thought we should go to the hospital and I pretty much agreed and again, had no idea what I was doing, so we went.
As soon as we got to the hospital, I could tell they were going to send us home. I could tell we were there too early. And they made me lie down and put monitors on me and of course lying down made my contractions slow waaaaay down to the point where they were barely coming at all. When they did come, they hurt, so there was no doubt in my mind that I was in labor, but to be honest with you, the nurse seemed dubious. They told me I was maybe 1.5 centimeters dilated and asked me all sorts of questions and after leaving me on the monitors for a while longer they sent me home. We signed early discharge papers and the nurse told me not to come back until my contractions were 3-5 minutes apart for AN HOUR. She said “FOR AN HOUR” loudly and slowly like we were total morons – and told us that we could try having sex to speed things along. (I might not have been in active labor or what have you at that point, but I so wasn’t going to have sex. Eight minutes apart or no, the contractions HURT and I wasn’t about to stick anything else up there if I didn’t have to.) The nurse also said to come back if I had a contraction that I couldn’t walk, talk, or breathe during. And to keep my next doctor’s appointment on TUESDAY. (This was Saturday night).
I have no idea why I didn’t say “Lady, unless I’m in labor for 72 hours, I won’t be having an appointment on Tuesday”, but I just…didn’t. Deep down I knew that wasn’t going to be happening, that I was really in labor, and I wouldn’t be pregnant for that much longer, but I guess I didn’t really realize that at this point, the nurses really didn’t think I was in real labor, or something. I don’t know. I’m not one to argue with authority. I just assumed they knew what they were doing. Just goes to show you. Trust yourself. Trust YOURSELF.
I should have trusted myself.
And so we went home. I think I had about three contractions in the parking lot walking back to the car. They started to really hurt. And I was really really tired. Mostly I was discouraged because I had just become that girl who gets sent home from the hospital. I had not aced the having a baby test and it just felt…shitty. I felt like I had failed and I felt like an idiot.
I think it was about midnight when we got home, maybe a little bit earlier. I was exhausted, which absolutely sucked, because I don’t know about you, but it was hard for me to sleep knowing I was going to experience blinding pain about four minutes from the last time the blinding pain woke me up. But we went to bed and I tried to sleep while I went on having contractions.
At some point things started to blur. I know the contractions got worse, but not necessarily closer together. Mr. E would fall asleep, and a contraction would hit, and I’d yell his name and he’d wake up, write down the time, rub my back, and then fall back asleep after the contraction was over. At some point we’d called my best friend and she arrived and Mr. E got up and made coffee and watched tv in the other room and then I’d yell his name and he’d come running in from the other room. I’d check with him sometimes since he was the one writing down the times to see if things were progressing and getting closer together, but he was always sort of vague, mainly because the timing was so erratic and so the contractions still weren’t three to five minutes apart.
Meanwhile Mr. E had called all of our family members and I’m here to tell you if you go into labor and you’re at home turn off your phone! The phone kept ringing and it was driving me crazy. I have no idea why we didn’t turn it off. To be honest with you at that point I don’t think I was at my most coherent. I don’t think I was capable of saying “Turn the phone off please it’s driving me crazy.”
I remember reading that there’s this stage of labor you enter where the joking ends and you are doing the serious hard work of labor and you just settle down to business and you sort of…go to another place. I can say looking back that this was 100% how it was for me, but at the time I didn’t realize it was happening. I was just sort of…in it. I didn’t want any music, I didn’t want to talk to anyone or be touched. I just wanted to do my thing and be left alone. And this is when I didn’t use my magazines or my labor music cd’s or my birth ball or my fancy massage oil or my slippers or my new soft pajamas or my us weekly or my popsicles or any of the other crap I was convinced I needed to give birth correctly, so keep that in mind. If things had gone according to my plan I probably would have been in the hospital with a fatty epidural, whiling away my time while checking out my freshly pedicured toes and eating a popsicle and reading about Britney, but for natural childbirth? I doubt you would need any of that crap.
Sometime around four in the morning I threw up, three different times on three different contractions. Considering how much I hate throwing up, it wasn’t that bad.
The contractions got worse. But still not more consistent. At some point I decided that the birth class people and their various admonitions to breathe and relax and move around could go fuck themselves, and I started holding my breath and tensing my whole body during every contraction. I would scratch the back of my hands and down my arms with my fingernails because that other pain was the only thing that helped me get through the contractions. I have never wanted to get away from anything more in my whole life. I had a strong feeling that I wanted to run away from my own body.
And yet, I endured. I had a strange calm. And honestly? The pain is bad. It is bad. But it lasts for maybe, a minute? And then it goes away. So really, you can take it, because it just doesn’t last for that long, you know?
There’s this line in the sand between women who have given birth and women who haven’t. After I gave birth, all my friends and family called to congratulate me and then after the initial niceties every woman friend I have who hasn’t had a baby yet wanted to know about the pain. How much it hurts, what is it worse than? And I always said the same thing. It really really hurts. It’s worse than really, all other pain you’ve ever felt. But it’s for a very short amount of time. It goes away. And you can take almost anything for a minute at a time.
Things started to get more intense. Every time I would have a contraction, I’d get incredibly hot, throw off all the covers, and then as soon as it was over, I’d be freezing cold and I’d start shaking I was shivering so hard and I’d have to pull all the blankets back over myself and try to get warm. Mr. E would push on my back as hard as he could and he would also rub my stomach, which helped a lot. And because the pain was so intense even though the contractions still weren’t very regular, at some point he called the hospital again. They told him again that it sounded like I was still in early labor, and that I shouldn’t come in yet. I was having contractions so intense I would see stars and I could tell that I would black out soon, and that was when I decided that if this was still early labor, I could not do it without an epidural. If it was going to get worse, I knew I could not do it without an epidural, so my goal was just to make it to the hospital, where I would hopefully be dilated enough that they wouldn’t send me home, and then I would have an epidural. I remember thinking that I was going to have to do a blog post about how it turned out I was a giant wimp who couldn’t take any pain at all and had to have an epidural in early labor at about three centimeters. I think my title was going to be “It turns out I am a giant wimp”
I don’t know if you can tell from reading this, but I was SO NOT in early labor at this point. Even though my contractions were never within the time frame that the hospital specified, I was way way way into like, transition labor. But we had no way of knowing that. Looking back I have no idea why we didn’t realize that I would have been dilated at least enough to stay at the hospital if we had gone, but all I can say is that I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never had a baby before and I was also totally out of it, and in so much pain, and I had already been sent home once and by god I was going to follow their rules and every time I had a contraction even though I would almost black out I would think “I probably could have talked during that if I really had to” and the contractions were still sometimes six minutes or seven minutes apart and so we stayed at home.
Mr. E went in and got all the shit out of the shower and turned it on high and turned on the heat lamps in the bathroom and he made me get in the shower and lord, that helped so much. I argued and argued and argued with him about getting in there as I had told him ahead of time that I would and so he ignored me and pretty much grabbed me and took my clothes off and put me in the shower. And then the contractions started to come much much faster. But the shower was heavenly. It helped my back so much. I had to sit down on the floor eventually because my legs were buckling underneath me with every contraction, and I was afraid I would fall, but I stayed in the shower until the hot water ran out.
When I got out of the shower and got back in bed, once again the contractions slowed way down, maybe to five or six minutes apart. And so even though they had been very close together in the shower, I was convinced I would get to the hospital, they would make me lie down so they could put on the monitors, the contractions would slow down again, and they would send me home.
Thank goodness for Mr. E. He called my sister in law, who’s an ob gyn nurse, and she told him that the intensity of the contractions also mattered a lot, and she asked if I had started telling people to shut up or if I seemed crabby? Mr. E told her yes, and yes, and she told him to get me to the hospital right away.
So then we finally went to the hospital. I argued the whole way. I did not want to go. I was convinced that we would be sent home. The contractions slowed down again, although I did have three or four in the car. I couldn’t even yell out anymore that I was having one, I would just grunt. Other than that no one said a word. Every time a contraction would hit, I would grip the armrest as hard as I could, push my body upwards, rigid, out of the car seat, and hold my breath and clench all my muscles as tight as I could. It was just…how I got through it, good or bad, that was how I did it.
I do remember thinking how surreal it was that it was the middle of the day, a bright sunlit morning. I always thought of having babies as something that happened at night.
We got the hospital at about 10:50 AM. Mr. E parked, and we walked in from the parking lot. I would stop and hold onto his arm and brace my whole body against him every time I had a contraction. We must have looked sort of funny, a woman stopped and asked if we were ok, and Mr. E said, very matter of factly “Oh, she’s in labor.” The woman said, “Oh, I just had a baby three days ago, I’ll get you a wheelchair.” A few moments later, two nurses came running out with a wheelchair, and I remember thinking, I don’t need a wheelchair! And as soon as I sat in it, it was wonderful. It was amazing. One of the nurses ran ahead to alert labor and delivery, and I remember thinking “the contractions aren’t that close together, no one needs to alert labor and delivery”. It is really interesting to note how differently we were treated the two times we came in. Outside observers could easily tell the difference in my state, and I couldn’t.
As soon as we got to Labor and Delivery I was wheeled to my room and they said a nurse would be in shortly. Changing seemed like such an enormous project, and I almost just gave up right then and there, but instead I took off my pajamas and my University of Minnesota sweatshirt and put on the hospital gown and sat on the bed. The nurse came in to check me and as soon as she did I could tell that things were different this time. I had my eyes closed and I was really out of it, but I will never forget that moment when the nurse, sounding shocked as hell, said “Oh hon. Hon. You are at ten centimeters. You are DONE.” That was when I decided I was going to change the title of my blog post to “It turns out I’m a ROCK STAR.”
I was so out of it at that point, I don’t remember too much. I think I was relieved, that I wouldn’t have to go home, that I had made it as far as I thought I had to make it. Someone asked me if they could get me anything, and I said (polite to the end) “I would like an epidural as soon as possible, please.”
People were running in and out my room. I remember chaos and lots of fast talking, and looking up and seeing a nurse or someone ripping a bag open, people wheeling carts and pushing things around. Things were hectic, to say the least. My room was full of people, everyone doing something as fast as they could.
My memory from this time comes only in flashes. Whole chunks of time passed as if in an instant.
I could not stop shaking. Someone told me to nod my head if I gave Mr. E consent to answer questions for me and I nodded and then they started firing questions at him. They tried to put an IV in my arm and they were fucking it up and I remember feeling so glad that it was hurting because that pain was so minor it actually felt NICE.
The nurse who told me I could have an epidural came back and told me that she had talked to my doctor and that unfortunately there wasn’t any point in giving me one, that I had done all the work and that it wouldn’t make any difference in the pushing part of it, that it was a whole different kind of pain and I just didn’t need one now. I don’t remember this part, but Mr. E says that when they told me that, I started to cry.
My doctor showed up, in jeans and a t shirt. I was very relieved to see her, because a.) she’s awesome, and b.) I was worried that when they said they had to call my doctor that it would take forever for her to get there.
By the way. Let me say going into this that I am not your most cavalier of people. In the months leading up to giving birth, I worried about how much it might hurt, of course, but I was also worried that it was going to be really embarrassing, that I might poop and how gross that would be, that everyone would see my cha cha, that I’d have to breastfeed afterwards in front of everyone, that it would be so…undignified when they moved the bed around and got it all set so I could give birth.
And let me just assure you that (no pun intended) by the time I got that point, I didn’t give a crap about any of that. The end of the bed was whipped off and there was a giant spotlight situation going on down there and fifty million nurses and interns and various sorts staring at my girl parts and I could not have cared less. Just simply didn’t care at that point.
My doctor told me she was going to break my water, and I remember thinking…WAIT. Wait. It was all going so fast. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready. But birth waits for no man, and my water was broken.
Before she broke my water the doctor felt my stomach and said that she didn’t think the baby would be small after all, but after she broke my water she said that she was changing her mind, that there was so much fluid that she was pretty sure that yes, he was going to be tiny.
She told me how to push. I asked her long it was going to take. It makes no sense but I was both terrified that it was going to take hours to push the baby and certain that it would not. She pointed out that my room was full of people and that was a really good sign, and maybe that was it, the level of frenetic activity, that reassured me that things weren’t going to be lengthy.
Pushing was my least favorite part of the whole process. I was not prepared for pushing. I had somehow believed, up to this point, that pushing was going to feel great. That the pain would subside and I would have this incredible urge to push and I would push like hell and it would be AWESOME.
People. It was not awesome. I could not tell when to push. I never had the urge. And it hurt, in a terrible grinding relentless burning shoving tearing kind of way that I was not prepared for. The nurses and my doctor coached me like hell and got me through it, and it only took about three contractions, but it was not fun. And indeed, the earlier contraction pain was very different. It felt useful. It felt like my body was doing something it was intended to do. Pushing felt…horrible. It felt like I was doing something horrible to my body and it felt wrong, like I was ripping myself in two and nothing was happening and it wasn’t right. But the nurses helped immeasurably and they told me when to push and my doctor told me I was losing the power of the contraction, and to take a deep breath when they told me to and then to push like hell, and then when the nurse said “don’t lose this one, don’t lose your progress” I made up my mind to just push through it and that the worse it was, the faster it would be over. I am sure I pooped, and I did not care. You are pushing so hard and it hurts so much, I am sure you must always poop. How could you not? You’re pushing with everything you have.
And then the head was out. It hurt like hell. The doctor asked if I wanted to touch his head, and I said no. I held Mr. E’s hand and I held my best friends hand on the other side and I pushed one more time and then he was half out, they make you wait to push again while they suction him and that part is terrible, you just want the baby OUT and you have to wait. You breathe and you wait. Then they said “give one more tiny push” and I thought it was the best moment of my life when I gave that one tiny push and out he came. Man. It was amazing. It felt amazing to have that pain over with. The cord was wrapped all around him so they unwrapped him as quick as pie and it all happened in an instant, that tiny push, the pain ending, someone saying “it’s a boy” and him slung way up high in the corner of my vision – that long gray body – and then crying and then there he was on my stomach.
And Eli was born.
They took him away and cleaned him up and Mr. E cut the cord and the placenta came out. I didn’t have to push for that, it just came out, and my doctor said “after the placenta comes out, you are going to feel GREAT” and she was right. THAT was the best feeling in the world. I thought I felt great before after the baby came out, but man, I felt so much better after the placenta came out, I felt amazing.
I could not stop shaking. I must have been in shock. At no point do I remember wondering where the baby was. They brought me three blankets from the warmer before I stopped shaking.
At this point all the nurses and everyone must have heard the story of how I got I sent home and then came back at 10 centimeters dilated and I was getting a lot of comments. One nurse saw the book from our childbirth class on the table and asked who it belonged to and when I told her it was mine she said “Well, you get an A on that class.”
They brought Eli back when he was all wrapped up, wearing that weird little hat they give the babies, with the pink and blue stripes. He was all swaddled up and I remember what a warm and compact and surprising little bundle he was. All the nurses had commented on how long his arms and legs were but he was indeed tiny, 5 pounds 6 ounces. It sounds not so tiny, really, when you hear it, but when you see it in a baby, when you see a baby that size next to the enormous clothes you brought to bring him home that he can’t wear, you realize how tiny it is.
I remember things only in patches from the rest of that morning. Mostly I remember holding my son and thinking “This is it. This is the most important moment of my life.”
And most of all I remember staring at Eli’s tiny perfect face and then tilting my head up to look at Mr. E and seeing him and just smiling. Just staring back and forth between the two of them and I could not stop smiling, and I was still so out of it I didn’t ask about Apgars and I didn’t count toes and I didn’t really think or say or do anything more than just sit there, holding my son, and feeling happy, and this sounds cheesier than anything I would like to admit in printed form, but I swear I had that song “These Are the Days” running through my head the whole time.
And then we were three.