The weeks leading up to L’s birth were pretty magical, or at least my nostalgic memory remembers it that way. Spring was in bloom, work was winding down, and J was busy finishing up his rigorous 12-week computer programming course. With him away many evenings and weekends, I had a lot of time to nest, hang with friends and prepare for our upcoming baby. I wasn’t sleeping well and my hands and feet were swollen, but otherwise I was feeling great.
Our fifth anniversary was on Saturday April 9th, and we spent it not doing any tasks off of the long to do lists (me) or school work (him). We hadn’t seen each other much in the last couple of months, and it was possibly the last quality time we would spend before we became parents, so we woke up late, went out for a long lunch, did some shopping, got ice cream, and lounged around. It was a low key, but lovely day!
The next day I planned to tackle the last items on my to do list, including a much-needed pedicure scheduled with my sister in-law after church. So I got up early, journaled a bit, and published this blog post.
At around 8:00 am I started to feel bad, so I went back up and got in bed, telling J I didn’t feel up for going to church. We watched TV in bed for a little bit, and after a while I decided to take a bath and I realized my pain had a pattern to it. So, I started timing them, and they were coming every five to eight minutes. I was starting to think — hm, maybe this could be labor? But dismissed it because it was still eight days until my due date and most first babies are late, right?
I was fine.
I told J not to worry (it was probably false labor), but in case this was the real deal, he needed to get his bags packed. We ate some lunch together, watched an episode of a TV show (How I Met Your Mother, I think?), and my pain was starting to get worse. So he started a load of laundry, got his bags packed and began working on homework that was due the next day.
In a matter of 30 minutes or so, it went from ouch that hurts to oh my gosh I can’t breathe this hurts so bad pain. I had continued to time the contractions and noticed they were getting closer together. My gut then told me this was the real thing.
Mentally I was struggling, trying to wrap my brain around what was actually happening. We were not prepared for her to come so early! J still had two more weeks of his program! I kept saying “It’s too early!! She’s not supposed to come yet!” But I was in so much pain and the contractions were coming two to five minutes apart, so we decided to call our after-hour nurse line for advice on whether we should go to the hospital.
The nurse said to come.
So while J’s clothes were still in the washing machine, we packed up our car and headed to the hospital, texting our families the news. That car ride was terrible. We were running on empty, so we had to stop and get gas (that’s how unprepared we were), and I remember a couple of contractions came while J was pumping gas, and I was screaming and groaning loudly in the front seat. I’m sure people around us were wondering what was going on, but I didn’t care! I was in so much pain. I chuckle (and shudder) sometimes when I pass that gas station today.
I think we got to the hospital around 2 pm. We were in a dreadful triage room for about two hours, getting checked and having blood taken. I don’t remember all of the details, but all that I knew was I was only two measly centimeters and could not be admitted. My choice was to either go back and labor at home, or walk around the hospital until I was at least four centimeters. I also remember the nurses were laughing about random things and I was amazed (and annoyed) that they could be so casual when I was in the worst pain of my life.
I was so discouraged. My contractions felt like they were on top of each other for the last hour and I really thought I would have been farther along! Some women are at two centimeters for weeks — how in the world was I not farther along?
I didn’t want to get back in that car, and was convinced there was nothing false about this labor, so at around 4 pm we were discharged. They told me that in order to progress the labor, I needed to keep moving. We walked the halls of the hospital and ended up in a courtyard outside. Thankfully it was a Sunday and we had the courtyard to ourselves, except for a couple of nurses or doctors on break, so J and I walked in the chilly air for what felt like an eternity. It was a slow, painful walk. I paused every two or three minutes to lean on J and power through a contraction.
Looking back, I really thought I prepared well enough and knew what to expect about labor. I read books, took classes, gathered as much information from friends and formed my own perspectives from TV shows or movies in labor. But I don’t think anything can really prepare you. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and maybe I have an abnormally low pain tolerance, but the pain was worse than anything I had ever experienced or ever imagined. I was surprised at how exhausting it was. I think there were times when I actually fell asleep in between contractions because of all the energy it took. Before I went into labor, I was nervous that I would be mean or rude, as you sometimes see of women in movies or TV shows, but I was surprised to realize I had literally no energy for anything — no capacity for kindness, rudeness, or any conversation of any kind. I couldn’t talk and didn’t care what people thought, (which is humorous and a little embarrassing thinking of me groaning aloud in that hospital courtyard).
Finally, after a torturous walk, I heard the chapel bells signaling it was 5 o’clock. I started crying because it had only been an hour and I didn’t think I could go on. J thought we should go back to the OB floor and have them check me again, since I was in so much pain. But I was so nervous they were going to send me away again, since most women with their first babies labor for days before being admitted. I decided to go, though, since it was something to do, and the entire time we walked back I prayed that I was at least four centimeters. I just need to be four centimeters.
The staff welcomed me back to the OB floor, surprised to see me so soon (ha), checked me again and praise the Lord I was five centimeters. As soon as I heard that, I asked for an epidural ASAP. The next couple of hours were a bit of a blur. I was still in agony, but had hope of relief coming soon and so much motivation knowing I would get to meet my daughter soon!
I was admitted to a labor room and don’t remember much except that the doctors and nurses were changing over to the evening staff. The anesthesiologist came in finally, and I got the epidural. I know this isn’t the case for most women, but for me, the pain instantly disappeared. I thought maybe it would work like Tylenol when you have a headache, just gradually go away. But this was like magic. The pain just instantly disappeared and I felt like a brand new person. It was like I was Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde, experiencing two people that day.
I relaxed into the hospital bed and finally felt like I could breathe for the first time all day. The doctor told me I was at seven centimeters, but warned me that the epidural would probably slow things down. Since I was still in shock that she was coming a week early, I was fine with keeping things slow and enjoying some quiet relaxing moments before I had to push.
By this point, my family had arrived at the hospital to only see me after the epidural (lucky timing for them), and once I was all settled in, the women came back to see me. Those memories of that evening are so special, spending time with my sisters and mom right before giving birth. I know a lot of people have various opinions on epidurals or any kind of interventional medicine, but for me, it made the whole experience so enjoyable.
We could only have a couple of people in the room at a time, so they would take turns or take breaks to go get food. J left me once to go get dinner while my sisters stayed with me. We spent those hours laughing, telling stories, and getting so excited about the baby girl about to be born.
The doctor checked me again at 9 pm and I was at nine centimeters, and then at 11 pm I was at 10 centimeters. She said the baby wasn’t yet ready to push, so she recommended I try to rest and lifted my bed so that gravity could do its job, but to call them when I felt the need to push. J and I tried to sleep, but we just couldn’t. We spent those quiet moments in the dark room praying and talking about our dreams for the sweet child that was about to enter the world. It was really special.
The nurse came in around 12:30 or so to check on me and said it looked like it was about time. I texted my sister Lucy and mom since I wanted them there to help. At this point I still couldn’t feel anything, but took the instructions from the nurse on the best ways to breathe and push. The doctor got there around 1 am and I started to push. I pushed for over an hour, which seems like a long time, but at the time it seemed like just a blink.
She was born at 2:20 am on April 11th, with a little bit of hair and the cutest little cry. They laid her on my chest, and I was in shock. It was the most incredible moment of my life, finally meeting the one who I had dreamed about for years and had been living inside me for the past nine months.
She was on me for a long time and then they cleaned her up. There were a few complications with the placenta, but thankfully about an hour after she was born, we were both doing well. So many family members were still in the waiting room and eager to meet her, so one by one they each came back to welcome her to the world. Everyone finally left around 4:30 or so (they stayed up so late!!).
We finally got settled in our recovery room and as soon as our heads hit the pillow to get some sleep around 6 am, L started crying. After I fed her, she continued to cry, so J rocked with her for a little bit and then the morning shift of nurses changing staff and doctors flooded in throughout the morning to check on us and run the necessary tests. Neither of us slept much during our stay in the hospital.
Looking back on L’s birth day, I am filled with so many emotions. When she was first born I was elated of course, but if I’m being honest, I was terrified. Maybe this is because she came early (or maybe all first moms feel this way?), but I felt so unprepared for everything: the love, the work, the weight of responsibility. It was up to me to keep her alive, and I felt so unequipped for that task.
Eventually, though, I found my “mommy sea legs,” and each day, each week I got a little more comfortable caring for this new little person entrusted to my care. It’s so amazing to see how far we have come since she was first born, and yet I know there’s still so much more to learn about her as I watch her grow. I can’t wait to experience it all.