Last Friday, I had my 38-week check-up at my OB’s. I was exactly 38 weeks pregnant.
I had decided the baby was going to come a little early by that point. I figured it would be some time the following week. The night before my appointment I felt some contractions in the middle of the night, from 1-4 or so, but they weren’t strong or regular enough to constitute real labor as I remembered it. Still, they were enough of a warning that I knew I should finish packing my hospital bag and putting the infant car seat back together, which lay disassembled around the apartment after we took it apart to clean it. I told myself I’d finish all that Friday afternoon when I got home from my appointment, while Smudgie was in daycare.
I headed into Manhattan early that morning for a therapy appointment. Turned out, I had the wrong date and my therapist wasn’t there. I was tired and mildly annoyed, cramping a lot and feeling run down. I had 90 minutes to kill before my appointment uptown, so I stopped into a restaurant and ordered myself some lemon ricotta pancakes. Thankfully, given what came later.
When I met LG for my appointment, the OB asked me how I was feeling and whether I was having any contractions. I told him about the night before but emphasized that they hadn’t been a big deal. I discussed with the nurse who weighed me getting another TDap vaccine. I saw a quickie, low-res ultrasound of Nu-Nu’s heartbeat and position. The doctor showed LG where he could feel the head if he put his hands in a certain spot on my pelvis. And then he did an internal exam.
He told me that I was 3.5 cm and 70% effaced and that, given I was contracting the night before, he was sending me to the hospital around the corner to be assessed for labor. In shock, we gathered up our things, received our instructions, and left to walk the five or so blocks to the hospital.
I wasn’t in labor. I kept telling LG that. We didn’t have our bags, my cell phone was completely dead and I didn’t have a charger. It just wasn’t possible for me to be in labor. I wasn’t in any real pain. Everything was going to stall soon, I was sure of it.
But I was wrong. An hour on the monitors in triage took me to 4 cm with increasingly frequent contractions. Another hour and I was still at 4, but the cervix had thinned further. Considering we had to take the subway back to Brooklyn, an hour+ long trip, and then drive back to the Upper East Side if I should go into more rapid labor, *and* that it was now 2 pm and rush hour just a few hours away, the OB on call from my practice (Dr. B, for those who know it) wanted me to be admitted. I worried that labor would stall and I’d be confronted with pitocin, a c-section– a lot of interventions that I didn’t want. But I agreed to be admitted anyway.
By 4 pm, LG and I found ourselves in an L&D room watching TLC’s Four Weddings while I laughed through my contractions and spent the periods of time off the monitors walking the horse-shoe-shaped delivery ward. The contractions were still irregularly timed, as close together as four minutes and as far apart as ten. I doubted I was making much progress at all. But we had the doula on the way, my MIL headed to pick Smudgie up from daycare and spend the night with him at our apartment, and one of my sisters planning to pick up our bags (my mother-in-law would finish packing them per our instructions) and deliver them to us in the hospital. I’d even managed to borrow a phone charger from a nurse. I hadn’t quite wrapped my head around the fact that the baby was coming and soon–not even when I saw them setting up the warming table with its little hat and blanket (I cried, of course). But I accepted that practically speaking, this was turning out for the best. We had people to care for our son and all the things that were left undone could be taken care of later or simply forgotten about. We were having a baby.
At around 6 my OB returned. He suggested breaking my water, since my labor pattern was funky and the contractions weren’t regularizing the way he’d expect in active labor above 4 cm. But I knew that labor increased in pain a lot after the water broke and I preferred to continue as I was, with intermittent monitoring and the freedom to walk around the room and very bearable labor pain that didn’t seem to require more than some quick breathing to get through. After he examined me and found that I’d reached 5.5 cm, he agreed to let me continue as is.
Over the next several hours, my labor gradually intensified, so gradually that I didn’t quite notice at first. I started laughing through my contractions and fantasizing about the cheese pizza I was not permitted to eat (I think I hallucinated a vision of powdery, chewy crust and melty globs of mozzarella) to wincing and even moaning a little. We shut off the tv and I began experimenting with my doula’s birthing ball. I snapped at LG to get off the phone at one point and requested the lights to be turned off.
At around 11 pm, everything changed. The manageable, if strong, pain crossed over into unbearable territory. The contractions were lasting 90 seconds or more, with multiple peaks. I began shivering uncontrollably. Nu-Nu was still kicking the heck out of my ribs and head-butting my cervix, as she’d done for weeks past. My doula and I suspected I was nearing transition, but whether or not I was, I wanted an epidural.
I got the meds in at around 11:30 and was then examined. Eight cm along! I felt proud I’d made it so far and amazed that the labor pains had been so moderate for so long. The entire active laboring period was so much less intense than it was with Smudgie–the contractions were still ranging irregularly between 4-8 minutes apart right up until the end.
After the epidural went in, things progressed rapidly. I rested, shifting position in bed every 20 minutes or so. In about an hour, I began to feel pressure. My doctor examined me again around 1 and found I was 10 cm and at zero station. He decided to have me labor the baby down further with contractions rather than begin pushing right away. The pressure built with every pang. I knew it would be time to push soon.
And it was. The OB returned, suited up and ready to go. My nurse, doula, and LG took their positions around me. They started coaching me and I started pushing. Three pushes later, the OB told me to stop and breathe. I felt unbelievable pressure that I couldn’t imagine easing and then–release. Another little wiggle and I felt the baby slip out and heard the cries.
I peered between my legs and the doctor’s arms as he suctioned and prepared the baby. I thought I saw girl parts but maybe not? “What is it?” I asked, and he answered, “Take a look!” and then held up my spread-eagled daughter and put her on my chest.
I was seriously stunned. “Really? I have a girl? Really?” I turned to LG and asked him if we had a name and when he nodded, we called Nu-Nu by her name for the first time in her life. They weighed her and tended to her and then she was back in my arms and I was nursing her as they stitched me up.
We ordered a pizza into L&D and my husband fed me bites of cheesy deliciousness as I held my daughter in my arms. One of those perfect moments I know I will look back on for the rest of my life with gratitude and awe.