I had a prenatal appointment the day before we left for the wedding in New York and everything looked good. Cervix closed, etc etc. (Let me take this moment to warn you that I lost any sense of modesty I ever had fifteen minutes after we arrived at the hospital, when I puked all over myself while wearing an open-backed hospital gown. There's going to be a lot of talk of and bodily fluids and other assorted TMI in this entry.) The doctor gave me the go-ahead to attend the wedding, with the warning that of course there was really no way to predict when I'd go into labor now that I was past 38 weeks. But if worst came to worst, we'd deliver in New York. We brought our hospital bag and car seat (in our rental car, since guess what WE STILL DIDN'T HAVE OUR CAR BACK) (and in fact we STILL DON'T HAVE IT five weeks later, but who's counting) and a copy of my medical records with us just in case. As we got on 95 and started the 4-hour drive, I hoped against hope that this wasn't the dumbest idea we'd ever had.
We had a lovely weekend away, knowing it would be our last as a twosome. The wedding was great and I did not go into labor. On the way home, I thanked my lucky stars that everything had worked out. We went and saw two movies while we were in New York (again, knowing it would be the last time we'd be able to do that without a babysitter) and for some reason, sitting in a movie theater makes me have contractions. Both times I thought, oh shit what were we thinking driving four hours away from home nine days before my due date? But we made it back to Baltimore and would not be leaving the vicinity again until after the baby was born. I still really, really wanted to be able to finish my yoga weekend, but I was just relieved we'd made it home without having to speed down 95 while I was having contractions, peeling into the hospital parking lot like some kind of bad rom-com. Everything else would just be icing on the cake, I told myself.
The next week I could feel things start to change. I couldn't really describe it, I just felt like things were different. One morning I realized that I could get out of bed without feeling the little baby foot lodged quite so far in my right lung and I realized, huh. This must be that "lightening" thing people talk about. But I also just felt like things were happening. Despite everyone telling me that first babies are always late and I should be prepared to go to 41 weeks, I felt like the baby was coming. I had another prenatal appointment that Friday and suddenly I was 2-3cm dilated and 80% effaced. I started shaking when the doctor told me. I was fully expecting another report that everything was closed up tight and they'd see me next week, even though my due date was four days away. This was really going to happen, I realized. Just hold out for 48 more hours, I pleaded with the baby. I was allowed to miss one day of the yoga training without penalty, which I'd saved up to use on Sunday if needed. All I needed to do was make it through Saturday at 8:30pm and I would have officially fulfilled my attendance requirement.
I decided that that day would be my last day of work. Previously I'd been planning to potentially come in the next week if the baby hadn't arrived and I still felt OK. But I figured now that if I was lucky enough to make it through the weekend, that would be plenty. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn't really need to go into labor at work. I packed up the last of my things, said goodbye to my coworkers, and turned on my pre-drafted "I'm on maternity leave" out of office email reply when I shut down my computer.
After work I studied a bit for my yoga test. I took a shower and washed and dried my hair and had some dinner. By 7pm I was outside waiting for the classmate that had generously offered to drive me to and from training all weekend because, you know, NO CAR. STILL.
I made it through that night's training, including teaching my a 90-minute class as part of my exam. I got home at 11pm and felt exhausted but elated. This is really all going to work out, I thought. I just need less than 24 hours. We're going to make it. I collapsed into bed around midnight and fell asleep instantly.
Seven and a half hours later I woke up having what I thought might be a contraction. I looked at the clock: 6:33am. One of the nurses had told me the week before that real contractions would feel like the worst case of constipation I'd ever had, and I had to laugh at that. Uh, constipation is one of the pregnancy symptoms I've suffered with since the very beginning. How are you supposed to distinguish between a contraction that feels like the worst case of constipation you've ever had and, well, constipation that feels the worst case of constipation you've ever had? She assured me that when contractions really started, I'd know.
I got out of bed and waddled to the bathroom. When I got back to bed Joel woke up and asked if I was OK. I told him I thought I might be having contractions. A few minutes later, I had another one. It could just be false labor, we told each other. Joel went and got a stopwatch.
Just before 7am I called my mom. Don't freak out, I told her, I'm not sure if this is really it, but something's happening. I think you'd better come down. She asked if she had time to eat breakfast or if she should go immediately to the car. No, eat breakfast, I said. Everything's fine. It's probably just false labor, but I think you'd better come down and just stay here until the real deal starts. I don't think this baby is going to be late.
After we hung up I called my dad and emailed my brothers to let them know that something *might* be happening. I still thought it might be false labor and I could possibly go to yoga that day. Just give me until 8:30 tonight, I told the baby. I don't even have to do anything today, I just have to show up and take a test. We'll take it easy, and at 8:31 you can can do whatever you want.
The contractions I was having weren't terrible, but I certainly couldn't go back to sleep. Joel went to take a shower and get the things on our last-minute hospital bag list ready (my favorite pillow, the comfy brown skirt I wanted to wear home from the hospital, the laptop and camera, etc). I moved downstairs and started watching Jersey Shore after making myself four slices of cinnamon toast. One of my biggest fears about labor was that I was going to be starving the whole time. I knew they weren't going to let me eat once we got to the hospital (a precaution in case you have to have an emergency C-section) and I had a terrible time with this when I was admitted overnight back in July, so I wanted to eat as much as possible beforehand. Just in case.
Around 9 or 10am, things started to suck. I was having terrible pain in my lower back. Two words I never want to hear again in my life: back labor. The contractions in my stomach were uncomfortable but tolerable. The back labor... I don't know how to describe it. It wasn't the sharp, acute pain I was expecting with contractions. It was more like this wave of all-encompassing, nauseating discomfort radiating from my back. The only thing that made it feel better was for Joel to press really hard on my back through the entire contraction. We were still trying to time contractions, but it was difficult for me to tell when one ended and the next began. Some were two minutes apart and I wasn't sure if they were really one long contraction with two peaks or if we were suddenly at the oh shit we should be at the hospital stage. Then the next two would be twelve minutes apart, but I wasn't sure if I missed a small one in between. The hours suddenly seemed to be going by really quickly. I realized there was no way I was going to yoga today, whether this was false labor or not. I tried taking a bath, which helped a little bit, and then moved back to the bed with Joel to try and watch a movie.
By the time my mom arrived at 11:30, I was in rough shape. She found me draped over the bed (thank goodness our bed is so high off the floor, it was the perfect height for me to lie over with the top half of my body while keeping my feet on the ground, giving me a nice stretch in my back) and started taking turns with Joel pressing on my back during contractions. We sent her down the store a few blocks away for some Sprite, which apart from cinnamon toast is go-to comfort food when I'm feeling sick. Part of me was still thinking that if I could hydrate well enough, maybe we could stop this false labor.
Ten minutes later I threw up and I decided it was time to go to the hospital. We piled into my mom's car at 12:45 with our hospital bag and our camera and my barf bucket and drove the five minutes to the hospital.
The receptionist at Labor and Delivery was asking me questions and it was all I could do to not barf on her forms. The other girl behind the desk was on the phone with a sandwich place, double checking that the order she'd placed had no tomatoes. I was like, HELLO I AM HAVING A BABY HERE CAN WE AT LEAST PRETEND THIS ISN'T BUSINESS AS USUAL. But of course, it was exactly business as usual there, and soon enough I was checked into a room and given a hospital gown to change into. How can we help, my mom asked as I struggled to get out of my clothes and into the gown. Don't look at my butt, I answered. She laughed because obviously people were going to be seeing a little more than my bare butt in a hospital gown pretty soon, but at the time... I don't know. It seemed humiliating. As soon as I got the gown on I puked all over myself, the floor, and the garbage can I managed to grab just in time. I changed into another gown in the middle of the room, no longer caring who saw my butt or anything else. Joel informed me that he thought I'd lost my mucus plug, as it seemed to by lying on the floor. I had the vague idea that I should be grossed out, but I didn't care. I didn't even look. My mom cleaned it up.
A doctor came in and checked my cervix. I was 4-5 cm dilated, 90% effaced and the baby was at position -3. (For the uninitiated, pushing starts when you get to 10cm dilated, 100% effaced, and baby at position +2.) This meant that I wasn't being sent home, this wasn't false labor. It was the real deal. No yoga, but it looked like at least we'd have no problem getting the baby out before midnight -- giving her the awesome birthday of 9/10/11.
Now, my original plan was to go as long as I could before getting an epidural. But by the time we got to the hospital I'd decided that six hours of laboring at home was quite long enough and I think the first words out of my mouth after I handed over my insurance card were "can I have an epidural now?" It seemed like a really long time before the anesthesiologist showed up, but when she did... oh my god. You guys, I wanted to name the baby Epidural. The doctor warned me that I shouldn't expect complete relief, and that often epidurals were less effective on back labor. But almost as soon as they started pumping the medicine in I felt 100% better. I couldn't even feel the contractions any more. The back labor was gone. I felt awesome.
That lasted for about five hours, during which we watched movies on the hospital TV, talked, updated Facebook, sent Joel and my mom out for food. But I had stopped progressing. After no movement for about four hours, the doctor wanted to start me on pitocin. My original plan was also to refuse pitocin the first few times it was offered because I wanted to give my body a chance to do its thing in its own time. Plus, I was feeling great and wasn't really anxious to change anything. But the doctor insisted it was necessary, so in went the pitocin at 6:30pm.
After a little while I could feel the contractions again, but they weren't terrible. At 7:30pm I felt my water break. The contractions slowly got worse and worse. I no longer felt awesome. I started pushing the little button that gave me an extra dose of epidural juice evey once in awhile. Then I started staring at the button, waiting for its little indicator light to turn green, meaning that twenty minutes had passed and I could push it again. That green light bulb became my best friend.
Things got bad again. I was having trouble remembering to breathe deeply and the baby's heart rate started dropping during some of the strongest contractions. I was asked to lie on my side and wear an oxygen mask for awhile. Since the doctors weren't freaking out, I didn't freak out either. I asked for and got another dose of something in my epidural line that made things significantly better. I was progressing slowly, and we were anxiously watching the clock tick closer to midnight. The nurse that had been with me left when her shift ended. A new set of doctors came on. Time ticked by and slooooowly I progressed, part of my hoping we could just hurry up and get this show on the road... and the other part of me hoping we never got to the pushing part, which I was terrified of.
At 11:15pm I was officially declared fully dilated. What does that mean, I asked. Do we start pushing now? Yes, the doctor replied. Now we start pushing. So, I pushed.
It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Then again, I thought I might die... so that's not really saying all that much. Thanks to my beautiful, wonderful epidural, I could feel contractions but they weren't horrible. I was able to time my pushes with the contractions, which is supposed to be great but it sure didn't speed things along any. I ended up pushing for two hours. While it didn't hurt like I was afraid it would, oh my god... it was hard work. I had to wear the stupid oxygen mask again and it made me so, so hot. The contractions were coming 1-2 minutes apart, which was giving me almost no break between pushes. A few times I pretended like I wasn't having a contraction just so I could have a minute to rest.
A special pediatrics team was called in because the baby's heart rate was dropping during pushes again, plus there was meconium present when my water broke (meaning the baby pooped in utero, which isn't great because it can get into the baby's lungs.) I had the vague feeling that I should be scared that they were calling in special people, but I was just relieved at the time because I figured it meant we were getting close to the end. One of the doctors announced that the baby had light brown hair.
Just before 2am, the pediatric specialist announced that she wanted to use a vacuum. The baby's head was turned sideways and was having trouble moving down the last part of the birth canal. She tried to break the news to me gently, explaining that the baby really need to come out now. Thank god, I told her. No one agrees more than me that this baby needs to come out NOW. So she broke out the vacuum (which is a suction cup type thing that attaches to the baby's head so the doctor can pull while the mother pushes) and after a few more really hard pushes, Hannah was finally out. It's a boy! my mom announced, confused by the umbilical cord. No, it's a girl, Joel said.
So much for finishing yoga, so much for not having a baby with a 9/11 birthday. So much for giving a shit about any of that.
I expected to feel some huge rush of emotion at that moment, but I just felt so, so tired. The entire labor I'd felt sort of disconnected from my body, I think as a defense mechanism. I felt like the entire thing was happening to someone else and I was just watching. Even while I was pushing as hard as I could, I just kept thinking, my god I hope this is over soon because I'm tired. And after 20 hours of labor, I was really, really tired. I knew it, I said. I knew it was a girl. Hannah.
(Everyone else was tired too.)
The pediatric team had Hannah for awhile, cleaning her up and making sure everything was OK. Despite the dropped heart rate and the meconium and the long time she had her head stuck sideways in the birth canal, she scored great on the Apgar scale. She was OK, and it was over. I couldn't believe it.
I still can't believe it. It's been two weeks and I just can't believe that we have a baby.