I couldn’t believe it was 60 degrees in March! I had just read a blog post that recommended to pregnant women to “get up and leave the house on the spur of the moment just because you can!” so I did! I walked the whole loop at Delaware Park for the first time since moving to Buffalo, my sweater tied awkwardly around my pregnant belly because it was too warm to wear it. Surrounded by snowbanks and wearing a t-shirt. Typical Buffalo!
Then there was yoga on Saturday morning; I felt so strong and in tune with my body. I moved through squats and warrior poses, often closing my eyes, imagining myself breathing into these stances in labor. I would bring this baby earthside with strength and grace. I couldn’t wait.
On Sunday afternoon, March 15th, I texted my mom that I felt “like one big Braxton Hicks” because I was having pretty much constant light contractions, occasionally crampy but mostly just tight. In retrospect, that was my early labor. I was texting my sister-in-law, Halli, on and off throughout the afternoon asking questions about how her labor had started, and when those light contractions went away for a couple of hours I said to her “I’m pretty sure she’s staying put for a while longer.” Little did I know!
I enjoyed a huge helping of homemade pulled pork, and then seconds, at my in-laws’ house that night during our weekly family dinner. The crampy feeling came and went occasionally, and my father-in-law told me later that he “knew something was happening because of the way you kept leaning over the counter.” “It was just the most comfortable way to stand,” I told him.
Contractions started to creep in again around 10pm, and by 10:30 that crampy feeling was definitely back. Nathanael was asleep, and instead of being “one big Braxton Hicks” there was a definite start and stop to each wave. Contractions were about 5-6 minutes apart from the start of this pattern. I remembered learning that if they’re Braxton Hicks they will go away if I change positions, and if it’s labor they’ll stay, so I woke Nathanael up enough to tell him these thoughts and that I was going to go downstairs and pace around for a bit to see if they went away. I asked him before going downstairs “Do you think this could actually be it?” and he said, pretty assuredly, “No.” I smile at that memory, now.
Pacing circles in the dark downstairs, the contractions were less noticeable but didn’t go away. They were gradually getting stronger. I went back to our room, filled in Nathanael, and we decided he should sleep as long as possible while I was handling the contractions fine on my own.
I took a shower, drank a 4oz glass of wine to help me relax (I actually measured it because I didn’t want to drink any more than what I had read was ok during labor), and managed to fall asleep. I woke up feeling proud of myself for sleeping so well during labor, just like I was supposed to try to do. I figured it had been a few hours, but when I looked at the clock and saw that it had been 45 minutes I was a bit deflated. “Are you kidding me?” I muttered aloud to the darkness.
Lying down was the least comfortable, which was disappointing since I wanted to keep trying to rest, but then I remembered that my midwife had told me to stay upright anyway to encourage Ella to be facing my spine. She had been facing my side at my last three appointments. I piled pillows onto my lap and slumped over them in hopes of snoozing a little while I wasn’t in a whole lot of pain.
Just before 1:30 I felt what I would describe as a water balloon popping inside me, but it also felt kind of like Ella had jumped, so I lifted up my head and sat there thinking “Was that my water breaking? But I’m not leaking… That felt weird.” I must have shifted my weight just a little in that split second because I felt a leak spring within me, and I thought “Oh no! Get off the bed!” It was too late. As soon as I moved at all (and shoved the pillows away from me to keep from soaking them) fluid gushed all over. I said “Oh!” in surprise and then, “Babe?” as I leapt off of the bed. He sat partway up, awake faster than I’ve ever seen him.
“Yeah?” he asked with surprisingly clarity for a man who sleeps like he’s sedated.
“My water just broke. Can you get some towels?” I waddled off to the bathroom as fast as I could, dripping amniotic fluid all over as I went. While he cleaned up in our room I noted that the liquid was clear (not green, which is bad), cheered a little that we didn’t have to go to the hospital right then, and carried on.
Nathanael said something like “Ok, this is real. I guess you are in labor” and we both made comments like “We’re having a baby today!” and “This is exciting!” Those were such sweet moments! We were both smiling and full of adrenaline.
We called the midwife at the hospital around 3am. She talked with me through a couple of contractions and then said that although my contractions were only about 2 minutes apart they were also only about 30 seconds long and needed to be longer. She explained that short contractions like that aren’t able to effectively dilate the cervix, and that their being close together was just going to exhaust my uterus. She instructed me to get really well hydrated to lengthen the contractions. Looking back, I now realize that my labor simply didn’t fit the textbook description of effective contractions. They must have been productive despite their short duration and rapid frequency, because my labor ended up being quite short for a first time mom.
From that point until we left for the hospital I labored in the shower because the warm water was incredibly relaxing. I only got out long enough to let the hot water tank refill when necessary. At some point I threw up all the water I’d been guzzling (and that spectacular pork dinner…). My dear husband didn’t even blink about cleaning up after me. He is the best.
Around 4:30 I started to feel like I desperately needed to have a bowel movement, and I told Nathanael this. Repeatedly. He was unfazed and continued trying to help me relax. I learned later that he thought we were about halfway through labor. I probably should have told him I was envisioning having the baby in the shower, but speaking coherently wasn’t really a thing I did at this point. By 5am I had finally started to talk enough to tell him I was trying not to push, and I said it enough times that we decided to call the midwife back. When I told her I was in the shower trying not to push, she very calmly and sweetly said “Ok well it sounds like you need to get yourself dressed and come on over.” That bit about getting dressed was so not easy! Dressing a wet writhing woman focused on not having a baby in the bathroom… Not easy at all.
Anyway, between the two of us we managed to get ready and get out the door. It only took about twenty minutes, and I remember thinking that was a great sign because I had read if it takes you less than ten minutes to get out the door you’re going to the hospital too early. I was also still having visions of delivering a baby everywhere I paused along the way to the car: on the bed, on the floor at the bottom of the stairs (where I laid down to take a couple of contractions. No, I didn’t fall down the stairs), on the floor just inside the door, and finally in the car throughout the whole long, slow motion drive to the hospital.
We ran lots of red lights and rolled through every stop sign, with me, the typically overly-cautious passenger-side-driver, saying “Go, just go, it’s clear, go!” at each one. We got off at the wrong exit, got back on the highway with me convinced we were going the wrong way (we weren’t), and finally arrived in the front loop of the hospital where a beautiful wheelchair was conveniently available to get me up to Labor and Delivery. It was about 6am. Nathanael sprinted inside pushing me in the wheelchair and as we went by, the security lady called out, “Hello? Oh, you’re having a baby! Congratulations!” He ran the wheelchair into the wall of the elevator and the wall outside the elevator upon exiting. It felt like a complete comedy of errors between the highway exits and the wheelchair fiasco.
As he pushed the call button outside of L&D I experienced a surreal moment of tunnel vision. Everything seemed slow motion and dreamlike as doors automatically opened in front of us and nurses stood inside each door holding a hand out to show the direction we should go.
When we got into our delivery room nurses were trying to do different things to me that I’m sure would have been helpful under different circumstances. I think they just wanted my vitals, but I was on a mission to get on the bed and push the baby out now that I could finally stop trying to hold her in! Except I don’t think I said anything like that if anything at all. I just got on the bed and maybe asked “Can I push now?” The midwife confirmed that I was fully dilated, much to Nathanael’s surprise. She asked the nurses to get my vitals after the fact, and we went to work getting Ella into the world. It didn’t take very long.
Remember how we arrived around 6am? She was born at 6:24. All 6 lbs 15 oz of her “flew out” of me as my dear husband put it. 19.5 inches long, a full cute head of black hair, big beautiful eyes, and the softest skin I’ve ever felt.
I was handed the baby immediately to enjoy skin to skin, to rub in the vernix mucosa I had read about, and to try breastfeeding as soon as Ella and I both wanted to. I lay there with her on my chest for at least an hour, which was pure bliss.
At one point I felt bad for not sharing her with Nathanael right away, but by later that day I was really glad I had just held her for that first long stretch because afterward I didn’t see her for several hours. When they first tried to get me up to use the bathroom, I passed out, and while taking care of me the nurses also decided that was a good time to take Ella to the nursery for the routine newborn exams. While she was there they became concerned that her temperature was a little low and her white blood cell count was a little high. They eventually admitted her to the NICU to monitor both of those things and put her on antibiotics in case of infection. I didn’t get to go see her until 4:30 that afternoon, which was torture, but by the end of our hospital stay things had improved dramatically, and we were even able to bring her to our room when it was time to feed her. Overall the hospital stay was not the happy experience of rooming-in, feeding on demand, frequent skin-to-skin, and getting to know each other that we had planned on, but we made do, and after a few days at home we were sleepy, delirious, and totally in love with our snuggly baby almost as if the NICU stay had never happened.
When I share my firstborn’s birth story now, it almost seems like a shame to end such a triumphant tale with the disappointment and confusion of Ella’s time in the NICU. But birth and its aftermath can be so unpredictable, and as painful as it was to have my baby removed from me for much of those first two days, it’s part of my story. The bond I have with my midwife who sat on the foot of my bed listening while I sobbed over how unfair it felt that someone else was in control of how often or for how long I could see my baby is also part of my story. I would never want to forget the way she fought for us to have more flexibility than what seemed possible at first, and so I take the bitter with the sweet, the pain with the healing.