On October 1, I suggested to Tim that we go out for a date. It was exactly two weeks until my due date, and I had a very strong feeling that Time Was Running Out. Who knew when we’d have the opportunity to go out for a nice dinner again, just the two of us? So out we went, for a very nice dinner. We ordered pretend sushi appetizers (the salmon was cooked), I had a pretend fruity cocktail (alcohol-free, obvs.), and we entertained each other with a running commentary on the droves of high schoolers who were out in their fanciest duds — apparently it was Homecoming night.
In retrospect, I realize I had a few contractions during dinner. At the time, though, I had no idea they were contractions. It just felt like a couple of cramps — similar to ones I’d been having a couple of times a day for the past week. I had maybe three during the course of our dinner, then the mystery cramping stopped completely for the next few hours.
After dinner, I tidied up the nursery a bit — put the last of the laundry away, cut tags off of toys, and other miscellaneous nesting activities. I still wanted to vacuum the floor, but put it off in favor of relaxing with Tim for the rest of the evening. After all, I still had two weeks til the baby was due — surely sometime in the next fourteen days I could find time to vacuum one little room.
Around 11pm, we started getting ready for bed, and I grabbed a handful of crushed ice to hold for 90 seconds while Tim helped me stay relaxed through the discomfort.
(Back story: I spent most of my pregnancy planning to attempt an intervention-free labor and delivery, keeping in mind the entire time that I really had no idea what to expect and was going to remain open-minded about the whole thing and not be disappointed in myself if, once I experienced the actual pain of being in labor, I needed some pain medicine. I read a couple of books about how to prepare yourself for drug-free labor, and one suggested squeezing a handful of ice for 90 seconds to simulate the discomfort of a contraction while your partner helped you breathe through the pain. So for about a week Tim and I had been doing The Ice Thing every night, and it seemed to be good practice. It may not sound like much, but holding ice in your hands for 90 seconds is surprisingly uncomfortable.)
I picked up the ice, but only got a few seconds in before I had to tell Tim “Um…I’m leaking.”
Tim didn’t quite catch my meaning: “Yeah, Honey, there’s melting ice in your hands. Of course some water is going to drip.”
“No, hold on,” I said as I dropped the ice and went into the bathroom to further assess the situation. I think he started to get it then, since he called through the door with questions about whether I thought my water had broken. I was pretty sure this couldn’t possibly be the case at the time, but in hindsight I think that’s exactly what had happened. But at the time I was in a pleasant state of denial, so I came out of the bathroom, we did The Ice Thing, and we got into bed.
We always cuddle for a few minutes before going to sleep, and before too long, I was sort of gripping Tim’s arm and taking a couple of deep breaths. He asked if I was okay, and I shrugged it off: “I’ve just been having these weird crampy feelings. It should go away in a couple of minutes.”
But Tim was putting the pieces of the puzzle together quicker than I was. He grabbed his Nook and started consulting Google while asking me to describe what I was feeling. It seemed pretty likely that it was just false labor, but just to be sure, we started timing the cramps (I wasn’t ready to admit that they might actually be contractions). The first ones we timed were three minutes apart.
“Let’s give it an hour and see what happens,” I suggested. Everything you read says not to consider going to the hospital until contractions are consistently five minutes apart for a full hour. Sure, mine were three minutes apart, but no way they were going to be consistently that close together for a full hour. Surely the next one wouldn’t come for twelve minutes.
Three minutes later, another one hit. And then, three minutes later, another one.
We spent the next hour googling the differences between false labor and The Real Deal. We got out of bed and walked around to see if the contractions would stop. They didn’t. In fact, they were just getting stronger. I took a bath, and the warm water felt amazing in between contractions. It did absolutely nothing to ease the pain when the contractions hit. I thought back to the books I’d read and remembered all the different positions I could get in to help ease the pain of contractions. Tim watched as I went through 5 different positions in the course of about 20 seconds, immediately abandoning each one for the next, finding each position more useless than the last.
I was starting to really consider the possibility that This Could Be It. “We have to take a picture!” I told Tim. I was 38-weeks pregnant that day, and from the week we found out I was pregnant, we’d been taking belly pictures every week to document the ever-expanding bump. Between contractions I quickly changed into the black workout capris and red tank top I’d worn for all the weekly belly pictures. I struggled through a contraction, and as soon as it ended I had Tim quickly take the picture before the next contraction started.
After an hour of three-minutes-apart contractions, we called the doctor’s office. The woman working the answering service that night told Tim in no uncertain terms that if his wife was 38-weeks pregnant and having contractions, we needed to get to the hospital.
We grabbed the hospital bags and the car seat and started the process of getting me downstairs and into the car. It took about thirty minutes, during which time Tim got the car loaded up and I officially ruined my chances to brag about having a puke-free pregnancy. The 25-minute drive to the hospital seemed to take forever. I remember reminding Tim not to speed through the construction zone near our house, and then, once we were finally out of the construction zone, telling him again not to speed because there was a cop in front of us. The contractions were continually getting stronger, and it was all I could do to hold myself together so Tim could concentrate on driving.
“At what point do we call my parents?” I asked Tim.
(Back story: Tim does not do well with hospitals and spent most of my pregnancy being very nervous about being able to stay at my side in the delivery room without passing out. I had faith that he could do it, but we had my mom on-call to be there with me in case Tim couldn’t be. My parents were on vacation until the 4th, and I had told the baby he wasn’t allowed to arrive until the 5th so they’d have time to get here.)
“We call them when we get to the hospital, get checked out, and determine that you’re actually in labor.”
At this point, I was certain there was no way this could be false labor. (But also terrified that it was, because if false labor was this bad, what horrific torture would real labor have in store?) I’d stopped keeping track of time and distance in the traditional ways — at one point I took note of where we were and told Tim, “I think we’re about two contractions away from the hospital.”
Two contractions later, we pulled up at the birth center entrance and left the car with the valet. Tim offered to get me a wheelchair, but I told him I thought I could probably walk the short distance into the hospital. Clearly, I was delusional. Another contraction hit just as we got through the first set of double doors. As I collapsed to my knees and leaned over a bench to ride out the pain, I quickly changed my mind and told Tim to get me a wheelchair.
Tim wheeled me to the nurses’ station, and the nurse asked what seemed to be one of the most ridiculous questions I’d ever been asked: “Why are you here?”
I tried not too look at her too incredulously and gave her the simplest answer I could: “Contractions.”
They put me into a pre-admission room, got me into a gown and hooked me up to heart and blood pressure monitors. We waited for the latest contraction to subside and the nurse checked my progress. She excitedly told us, “We’re having a baby!” It was 1am — just two hours after the contractions had started — and I was six centimeters dilated.
I suffered through a few more contractions while the nurse left to do whatever she needed to do to get me admitted and into a delivery room. It seemed to take forever, but Tim later told me he was a little confused when I ordered him out of the room to find out what was taking so long when, apparently, hardly any time had passed. The pain was like nothing I’d ever felt before, but what was really getting to me was the psychological aspect of the situation. It was already almost unbearable, and I knew it was only going to get worse, but I had no idea how much worse or for how much longer it would continue. As I struggled to endure the increasing pain of each contraction, I became utterly terrified of how much worse it was going to feel to actually push the baby out. I reluctantly admitted to Tim, “I don’t think I can do this without pain medicine.”
Tim was nothing but supportive and reminded me that the most important thing was that we have a healthy baby. He told me not to feel bad about anything and to just do whatever I needed to do to get through labor and meet our little boy. It was exactly the reassurance I needed, and I immediately discarded any self-imposed guilt I felt for not being able to handle the pain.
We finally got to our delivery room, and I was roasting hot. Tim and our nurse helped me into the shower to cool off, but then I was freezing. I huddled in a towel and asked the nurse about pain management options. I knew I needed something, but I wasn’t ready for an epidural yet. I wanted to try a milder option that would allow me to still be up and moving around the room. The nurse prepped an IV for me (which, again, seemed to take FOR-EV-ER) and I tried very hard not to sound impatient while asking her repeatedly whether it was ready yet. She took it all in stride and was nothing but wonderful and reassuring while she worked as fast as she could to get me some relief.
When the medicine was finally in the IV, I could immediately feel the difference. I could still feel the contractions, and they still hurt, but the pain was bearable. “Okay,” I said, “I think I can handle this.”
Three increasingly strong contractions later, I asked for an epidural.
While all this was going on, Tim had called my parents and left messages on both of their cell phones to let them know I was in labor and would like for them to get back to Colorado as quickly and safely as possible. (They were two days’ drive away, so I knew they wouldn’t make it before the baby was born, but that was okay. In the end, they got home on the 4th as scheduled and were at our house on the 5th to help us out during our first week of parenthood.)
He’d also called his family, who had all rushed over to the hospital and were in the waiting room. This was perfect because while Tim was a complete superstar and was by my side helping me through every last contraction, he really had no desire to be in the room while a huge epidural needle was inserted into my spine. I was totally okay with this, and when the anesthesiologist arrived, Tim left and his mother came in to help me through the last few contractions. I had to sit still while the epidural was administered, and it took the anesthesiologist two contractions to get everything in place. Those were the most intense contractions of all, and I think I squeezed my poor mother-in-law’s hands so hard that she probably wanted to go back to the waiting room and ice them to regain feeling. I tried to apologize, but she would have none of it.
After those last two contractions, the anesthesiologist looked over at one of the monitors and informed me that I was in the midst of another contraction, and it was a pretty strong one. I couldn’t feel a thing. I could have hugged him, but instead opted to exclaim cheerfully, “That’s fantastic!” and thank him profusely for everything he’d done.
Tim came back and brought the rest of his family with him, and we all hung out and chatted for about an hour while we watched the contractions tick by on the monitor. Tim asked me how the pain of The Ice Thing compared to the pain of actual contractions. “Not even close!” I laughed. Getting that epidural was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I don’t regret it for a second.
Around 3:30am, Tim’s family returned to the waiting room and the nurse came back to check my progress. I was 9 1/2 centimeters dilated and about ready to push. The nurse suggested we let my body do its thing for another half hour — the more work we let my body do on its own, the lower the likelihood that I’d have to push for a full two hours.
(Side note: My nurse was absolutely amazing. She was super helpful and supportive and did everything she could to help me have the best labor and delivery experience possible.)
At 4:00 it was officially Time to Push. I pushed 3-4 times with each contraction. It was exhausting, but Tim and the nurse kept telling me how great I was doing and helped me find the energy to keep going. Between contractions, I rested and the nurse ran around the room getting various things ready for delivery. I didn’t really notice, but Tim later told me she seemed to be moving a bit frantically, as if everything was progressing faster than she anticipated. Things were starting to hurt again, but with Tim’s help I powered through the pain and kept pushing with all my strength. (Seriously, I’m so glad I got that epidural. Pushing hurt enough with the epidural in place — I can’t imagine how awful it would have been without the anisthetic.) After about half an hour, the doctor came in the room. I pushed a couple more times, and at 4:36am, my amazing son was born.
The nurses placed him in my arms, and Tim and I marveled at his perfection while the doctor and nurse took care of all the icky post-delivery stuff.
(Side note: Tim was beyond incredible during our entire hospital stay. He was by my side the whole time and didn’t have any problem with all of the grossness that comes along with labor and delivery. He was so strong through all of it, and I’m unbelievably proud of him.)
The rest of our time in the delivery room is a bit of a blur. The baby aced his Apgar tests, being the brilliant genius child that he is, and I kept on snuggling him and fed him for the first time. I remember being amazed at how awake and alert he was — I hadn’t expected to see his beautiful eyes right away, but he was looking around at his bright new world for almost an hour before he drifted off to sleep. Tim’s family came back to the room right before we moved to the mother-baby room, and they all took turns holding the baby and seeing for themselves how amazing he is.
Around 5am, my parents called, having gotten Tim’s voice mails from a few hours before. “His name is Alexander Randal,” I told my mom. “And he’s perfect, Mom. He’s just absolutely perfect.”
And he is. He really, really is.