It feels appropriate to say that my daughter Margot’s birth story started two days before she was born. It was early February 2013, and I was officially 40 weeks + 1 day overdue, lying on the table in a doctor’s office, with my midwife telling me that no, sorry, the baby hasn’t dropped yet, so you’re still only 2cms dilated, with no likely sign of anything getting moving anytime soon. I left that room some time later feeling deflated, as you can imagine, and positive that I’d be the first woman in the world to remain pregnant forever. I rounded up all my closest girlfriends that evening to sit around a table at a café, gorging on cheesecake while they empathized to their finest abilities. It was an evening of complaining, wistful thinking, and commiserating. That night, I went to bed with a tummy full of cake, a belly full of baby, and an acceptance that I’d just have to hang on a little bit longer – albeit a weak acceptance it was.
The next morning was a Saturday, and after sleeping in (as much as I could at that point, anyhow – sleep wasn’t my finest skill since I was rolling around and getting up to pee in the night like it was my full-time job), I waddled to the bathroom only to realize – okay wait – is that my mucus plug?? I had been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions for months leading up to this, and that morning I was feeling them with relatively stronger intensity, but suffice it to say they never once had me batting an eye; I could feel my belly tightening and cramping up every so often, but the contractions were painless. So when I saw blood that morning, I suddenly found myself enlightened at the prospect that maybe I’d end up meeting my baby after all…! Not that day, I reckoned, and not the next, but just maybe the one after that. I got myself up and ready for the day and had a better outlook on things.
The day went on, and more of my plug passed. And in hand with that came these stronger contractions. They still weren’t anything particularly noteworthy, and if anything I actually found them kind of fantastic because a) it meant my body was gearing up to birth this babe of mine, and b) would you believe me if I told you I actually had this twisted, “bring it on” mentality with regard to labor? I actually dared it to come at me because I wanted to take it on and see just where my limits laid.
The day passed without anomaly, and that evening we had plans for our friends to meet us at our place, and we’d walk to one of our favorite restaurants for dinner. The streets were laid thick with snow thanks to a recent blizzard, so the roads were quiet and the streetlights lit our path as we walked a mile toward pizza and hot chocolate. My contractions at that point had increased in strength, and although I didn’t think much of it, every handful of minutes I’d have to yell out to everyone to just hang on a sec… “Just give me a minute to ride this out…” before the cramping would pass, my body would relax, and I could walk at a reasonable pace again. We ate our dinner, talked, laughed, and had a great time. It wasn’t until we were in line at a coffee shop picking up our hot chocolates for the walk home that the thought crossed my mind, “I think I might be in labor.” I said it out loud to my husband, Daryl, at which point my heart swiftly exited my body via my mouth (or maybe my butt), and I got weak in the knees out of nervousness. There was something about saying it out loud – like, did I just say that? Am I really in labor? No. I can’t be. I suddenly barely thought of myself as pregnant – I was the girl whose friends got pregnant while I tried fruitlessly, peeing on negative test after negative test. People around me go into labor; people on TV do, too. But not me. I don’t go into labor.
We walked a mile back to our house, and in my total denial, we made plans to meet these same friends for breakfast the next morning at 10 o’clock. “See you in the morning!” we said, and we climbed the stairs up to our second-floor duplex. Once we got up there, though, it occurred to me that I might want to start timing my contractions. So I opened up the app on my phone, and while we watched TV, I started cluing into the fact that my contractions were happening every four or five minutes. A couple hours went by, then we decided we should get some sleep in case things started to really gear up. We packed a hospital bag just in case, and got ready for bed.
I think I lasted about 10 minutes, though, before realizing there was no way on God’s green earth I was going to be able to sleep. These contractions were surely nowhere near what they’d end up being, but they meant business nonetheless. I crept out of bed so Daryl could sleep, and I headed back to the living room to labor on my balance ball until I couldn’t take it anymore. About three hours went by, and at that point it was 1:30am and my contractions were closer to three minutes apart – four at most. I called the hospital to ask for some advice since my water hadn’t broken and I wasn’t in the throes of pain, but I was certain I was in labor – and sure enough, they said come on in. So I woke Daryl up, told him it was time, and I’m pretty sure he was up, dressed and with his shoes on before he was even quite awake yet.
We made a wholly uncomfortable drive to the hospital, and checked in at the ER, where we were escorted up to triage in the birth center. This was where we met the on-call midwife – the woman who’d end up overseeing the majority of my labor & delivery, save for the final two hours when a shift change happened. She was a surly woman with a curt demeanor who examined my belly, told me that this baby of mine was going to be massive, and said that since I was still only at 2cms (What?? Seriously?), “these contractions you’re feeling are nothing. Honey, they’re gonna get so much worse,” she said. THANKS. Then in between contractions I daydreamed about clocking her in the face.
Eventually we were brought to our birthing room, where a really kind nurse said to us, “Here we are! Here’s the room in which you’re going to have your baby!” And I think Daryl & I both gulped in unison. If my heart hadn’t fallen out of my butt by that point, it did just then. The nurse got us all set up, put me on a bed, and advised us to get some sleep before things really got going. Well with all due respect, I thought, I came here because I can’t sleep through this. If it’s not happening in my own bed, it’s sure as hell not happening here in the hospital. But she left us alone in a dimly lit room, and told us to buzz her if we needed anything.
Now Daryl remembers this as the time in which he laid on a makeshift chair-bed, in the corner of our hospital room, waiting for me to fall silent – knowing that he wouldn’t be able to sleep through my laboring moans – he’d be able to sleep as soon as he heard me relax and drift off. Except that as he recalls it, it was only about 30 seconds of him thinking that okay – this was it! We could get some sleep! – before he heard me scream out, “OH, SICK! EW!”
“What?! What’s going on?” He answered.
“My water broke! Ew. Ew. Ew.” I had been lying there on the bed, trying unsuccessfully to relax and fall asleep, when I felt what I can only describe as a water balloon pop between my legs. It was quick, it was painless, and it was warm and disgusting. It caught me entirely off guard. So we called the nurse in, and from this point onward I can’t recount the details with much accuracy. My plan all along was for a water birth, but they wouldn’t let me in the tub before I reached 5 cms. I don’t know how far along I was at that point, but I wasn’t there yet – because I instead labored in the tub in the bathroom. From my fuzzy memory, I recall that things geared up immensely from this point on. I remember drifting in and out of a focused consciousness, moaning loudly, and being offered intermittent sips of water and bites of banana. I remained motionless and I moved this way and that, gripping the shower handles with the strength of the Gods. It’s amazing I didn’t wrench them out of the wall.
All I remember thinking as I endured each contraction with deep, labored breathing and knuckle-busting hand-holding was that I was going to explode if somebody didn’t check me and tell me I was 5cms. And once I was, once I moved from the bathtub into the birthing tub, that I wasn’t going to last much longer if somebody didn’t check me and tell me the baby was crowning. I labored in the birthing tub for what I can only tell you felt like days – weeks, even. Time stopped and swallowed me up. I weathered each contraction on my knees, with my arms draped over the edge of the tub and my face rested on the edge. I did it until my bottom half fell asleep, then was prompted to change positions to regain blood flow. Daryl held my hand, blew on my face, rubbed my back, and my midwife (post-shift-change – a veritable saint of a woman) coached me along with words of support, and poured water down my weary spine. The pain I felt was immense; the contractions so strong I’m not sure I didn’t spend most of them hanging from the ceiling. If I didn’t know up to that point what kind of laborer I was, I knew now I was a fierce and vocal one. Each inhale was swift, and each exhale was a deep and labored moan. Either that or an accidental YELL.
Eventually, after what had to have been months and years of contractions and breathing, I felt my body start to push. It was beyond my control, and so “this is it!” is what I thought. Well – sans exclamation point, I’m sure, because I was so exhausted there’s no way my brain had any punctuation to offer. So I pushed, and I pushed, and I pushed. With all my might. “ANYTHING??” I remember thinking. “IS SHE CROWNING?” I’d reach my hand down to check – I so badly wanted to feel my baby making her way out – but nothing. I pushed and pushed for what legitimately felt like hours, only to be told in retrospect that it was about half an hour altogether. Everything culminated when my midwife said, “Okay Sandy, you’re probably feeling what we call, ‘the ring of fire’. It’s your baby making her way through your cervix, and it’s gonna burn.” Oh I felt it, alright. I think I still feel it.
Finally – FINALLY – I got word that my baby was on her way out! “Push, Sandy!” they said, and told me to push again. I did, and on one of the final contractions, I managed to get her head halfway out; but then the contraction ended, and my midwife got worried. “Okay,” I was told, “your contraction has passed, but we need you to push this baby out anyhow. Push as hard as you can.” So I did, and in a split second I felt her rush out of my body. Just like that, it was over. There was this 7lb, 14oz daughter of mine in the water, and I lifted her out and placed her on my chest. I don’t even think I cried – I just stared at her in wonder, half panting, half laughing. I did it; I birthed my baby girl in the water, unmedicated. Words can’t even come close to describing how I felt. I was over the moon.
A few minutes passed, and Daryl cut the cord, and my wee girl and I were moved out of the tub and onto a bed so that I could deliver the placenta. (Oh – can I get an amen over how birthing a human being didn’t even hold a torch to the pain of delivering a placenta?) Then shortly after this, I remember being told that I’d suffered a severe tear, and a surgical team was coming in to stitch me back up. The fact that I was improperly repaired over the course of the following 90 minutes is a story all on its own, but suffice it to say I lived those minutes somewhere between the precipice of hell and snug in the heart of bliss while I nursed my brand new baby girl. Daryl held my hand all the while, and we marveled at what love we were experiencing for the very first time.
There, lying on my chest, laid this wiggly baby girl that caused my heart to explode into a thousand pieces; she in her tiny glory turned me into a mother and forever changed the way I look at the world.
Part 2 here.
Originally published on sandsmama.com