On Tuesday, November 17, 2020 at 5:44 pm, my husband and I met someone who would change our lives forever. Our first born, our son, our Alden. As a first-time parent, pregnancy was filled with so many unknowns, with many of those unknowns revolving around the process of labor and delivery. In my journey, I found that reading the birth stories of other women was one of the most helpful ways to prepare for childbirth both mentally and physically. So here it is – my contribution to that small part of the internet. I hope this story brings some enlightenment or peace of mind to anxious first-time moms.
Is This Labor?
If you’ve read my work either here on the blog or on POPSUGAR, then you’ll know that pregnancy wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I could NOT wait for it to be over and was counting down that last trimester with reverence. I also knew that as a first-time, healthy mom, it was likely that my due date wasn’t actually going to be my son’s birthday. Looking back, I’m glad that I mentally prepared myself for this, as it helped keep me from being too terribly anxious when I was 3 days past the due date with no indication that labor was on its way.
It was in fact 3 days after the day that I started having my first contractions. Andy and I were eating dinner (6 pm) and I had some very mild back pain. The pain gradually started to increase and I noticed it was coming in a pattern. I was hopeful that it was the onset of labor but wasn’t fully convinced as I knew false alarms were a very common occurrence (especially in first-time moms who hadn’t done this before and didn’t really know what to be on the lookout for). After several hours of this, Andy and I were pretty hyped up but knew that no matter what was happening, sleep was important so we made ourselves get ready for bed around midnight.
Or course, as soon as we decided to lay down to go to sleep the pain started to dramatically increase. Laying in bed I couldn’t get comfortable, with the pain coming every 10 minutes and so intense that it was keeping me awake. I tried sleeping until about 4 am before Andy and I got up and started tracking the contractions. At this point, the timing of them was irregular (they came dangerously closer together whenever I was up and walking around – every 3 to 4 minutes close) but the pain was beginning to become unbearable so I called the birthing center.
After supplying them with a recap of what as going on, they advised we come in. We both showered and gave our hospital bag a final check. I also took the time to make and wolf down a PB&J, knowing that if this was real I wasn’t going to be allowed to eat again for a while.
Once we got to the birthing center we waited several hours before I was finally able to see a midwife (apparently it was a busy birthing morning) and when we finally did we discovered I was only 1 cm dilated. At this point I had been having contractions for 16 hours and was disappointed that things weren’t further along. Unfortunately, this disappointed was paired with frustration with the midwife – she was NOT our favorite and was incredibly dismissive. She gave me one tablet of what she described as essentially being Benadryl to make me drowsy and instructed me to go home and sleep (despite my explaining the pain was too unbearable to sleep through). Before heading out she also scheduled a follow-up appointment for me for Friday (it was Monday, BTW and I was 3 days overdue) and when I asked about getting an ultrasound because I hadn’t seen the little guy in a long time and was curious/nervous about how big he was, she felt my stomach and declared in condescending tone, “This is NOT a big baby.” (Ha – ha, ha).
Discouraged, exhausted and annoyed, Andy and I made our way home, stopping to grab pizza on the way (Pizza is one of those labor-inducing wivestales – Yes, we were desperate.) I ate a slice, took my make-you-drowsy pill and waddled upstairs to try and sleep. I laid in bed for about 4 hours, sleeping between contractions (so “sleeping” in 10-minute increments) with a heating pad wedged under my back and our youngest dog, Albie, curled up next to me (he definitely knew what was going on) before coming downstairs to mope and resume my position on the exercise ball.
After a full day of pain and struggling, we decided to call the birthing center again at 10 pm — yes, we waited until that midwife was off-shift. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep and was hopeful that even if this wasn’t the real deal, that they may be able to give me something stronger for the pain. Upon arriving, we learned that I was in fact 2 cm dilated and the doctor made the decision to admit me (Hallelujah!). It was approximately 11 pm.
It was too early to get an epidural so I spent the next several hours trying to rest which – due to the insane back pain – was nearly impossible. They wanted to keep me hooked to several monitors so I was mostly confined to a hospital bed which made the back pain so much worse. I’m incredibly thankful that Andy was able to be there with me at all times (in the early COVID days, this wasn’t always looking like a reality) – sleeping just as little as I was, (after long, loud strings of profanities) reminding me to breathe through the contractions and providing support in any way he could.
A Step in the Right Direction
Around 4 am I was given the go-ahead to get up and walk around if I wanted and it was at this point that my water broke. A step in the right direction! We promptly buzzed the nurses. Unfortunately, I had a nurse that I didn’t really love and he was convinced despite my insistence that I had just peed myself (Everyday-Emilee would have been super annoyed at him and his general disposition but I was doing everything in my power to remain calm and stay focused). Well, after he did a pH test it was confirmed that I was, in fact, correct. My water had broken naturally and there was no going back now.
A Turn for the Better
In the early hours of the morning I was given the option to try the jacuzzi tub for natural pain management. I decided to give it a whirl but unfortunately it didn’t do a lot for me and my pain. I’ll probably skip this step next time and go right for the medication.
At 7 am it was determined that I was dilated enough to receive an epidural if I still wanted one. This was a decision I had made ahead of time and was glad that I was resolute in my decision so that I didn’t have to him and haw during labor. At one point I was honestly feeling a little terrified at the prospect of having a needle shoved into my spine but then I had a back-breaking contraction and quickly felt confident that I was making the right decision. There are a lot of conflicting view points around receiving an epidural so it wasn’t a decision I made lightly but I can look back now and say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my entire 27 years of existence.
In case you’ve ever wondered or have done research on the topic like I had, I will join the conversation of the majority and say that receiving the shot didn’t hurt at all and that the procedure was over quickly. I’d be lying ,however, if I said it was all sunshine and rainbows. Before they placed the epidural, I was told that a common side effect was a drop in blood pressure. Almost immediately after the drug hit my system my blood pressure plummeted drastically. I felt like I had just taken a major drop on a rollercoaster – I felt nauseous and lightheaded and my face started twitching uncontrollably. I had a few brief seconds of terror where I mentally prayed that if I didn’t make it they would at least be able to save the baby (perhaps a tad dramatic but I was exhausted and definitely unprepared for what a drastic decrease in blood pressure actually felt like) and could see Andy was equally scared but was trying to hide it for my sake. Thankfully, the team of medical staff was prepared for this to happen and quickly pumped me full of medicine meant to reverse the side effect. Within minutes I was back to normal.
After that fun little incident, I saw a major turning point in my labor. I could no longer feel the contractions that were spiking on the monitor next to me and I could – for the first time in over a day and a half – relax. Now that I could no longer feel pain, I was given pitocin to speed up my labor. Apparently my body really just needed that small shove as the medical staff kept remarking how – despite giving me a very small amount – things really started to accelerate.
I’m told that pitocin without pain medication is hell. For me, pitocin paired with an epidural felt like literally nothing. I spent the next several hours lightly napping and watching episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond” that Andy had downloaded onto his iPad. I wasn’t allowed to eat anything solid but I contentedly enjoyed my jello cups and hot broth, just so incredibly happy and relieved that I could no longer feel the pains of labor and knowing we would be meeting our son at any time!
My joy was only furthered when we met the midwife who was now on the clock. I am not being dramatic when I say this woman was an absolute Godsend. Her calm and warm demeanor was everything Andy and I needed in this situation and we felt so blessed that the end of my labor aligned with her work schedule.
As I watched the snowflakes beginning to fall outside the window, I smiled. I had known our baby was going to be born on Tuesday during the predicted snow (I myself was born during a snowstorm). Drinking coffee, watching the snow, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Was this the medication at work? Maybe. But I’ll remember the last few hours of labor positively none the same.
Around 5:30 pm I was sitting up, drinking a cup of coffee when I unexpectedly puked it up into a nearby bin. We buzzed the nurse and told her what happened. At this point, my entire body had also started to shake uncontrollably. The midwife just happened to be coming in and noticing my shaking she decided to see where we were at which was – apparently – plus 2. Andy inquired what that meant, exactly, to which we learned that plus 3 was the baby was “here on the floor.” So – apparently – this was the finish line.
At this point, we had been in the hospital for approximately 20 hours, during which various members of the medical staff kept giving mention to how – even after an epidural – pushing really sucked and would not be totally pain-free. This made me nervous which – for my personality – meant I became incredibly determined and mentally locked down on getting the baby out as quickly as humanly possible.
As it turns out, there was no pain. I could feel the contractions enough that I knew when they were happening, allowing me to push, but it was nothing like what I had mentally prepared myself for. I put my entire mental and physical energy into pushing and after about 15 minutes (it actually felt shorter to me), the midwife told me to look down.
And there he was – our precious little son! Our Alden.
The midwife immediately placed him on my chest and Andy and I marveled at this little human that we had made together. It felt so incredibly surreal. We cried and smiled and spoke to him (he recognized Andy’s voice immediately and looked up at him when he said “Hey, little buddy” – something he had spoken to my stomach all the time while I was pregnant) and repeated our disbelief that he was finally here. All of the fears and anxieties I had secretly harbored about not knowing what to do once he was here or not being maternal enough immediately melted away. Where there had once been insecurities now lived only love. He was totally new – and yet – completely familiar.
Despite some annoyances (I’ll admit part of me would like to find that first dismissive midwife and ask her if she thinks 8 lbs, 10 oz qualifies as a “big baby”) and the inevitable pain of labor, I will remember Alden’s birth as an overall positive experience. Giving birth was an incredibly empowering experience and I am now, more than ever, in awe of the female body and the miracle of life.
I look forward to one day sharing this story with our snow baby, our first-born; our Alden.