“It could be tonight,” they had said to each other so many times already. This was not the first day full of possible signs that their baby was coming. But after a full day of contracting on and off, by the time they were heading to bed for the night a pattern of ten minutes or less in between waves had finally settled in, and they smiled at each other as they said the familiar words with increased confidence. “It could be tonight!”
Sean was somewhat in disbelief as the waves became closer, moving from eight minutes to five to three minutes apart. He and Danielle had gotten their hopes up so many other nights over the past week that he wasn’t sure he should give in to raised expectations just yet.
Danielle took her time packing her hospital bag, leaning over the bed during contractions and slowly easing herself upright again to reach for a shirt, a tube of chapstick, or an extra toothbrush to add to the bag. She knew things were picking up, but she wanted to spend as much of her labor at home as she could to build steady momentum before moving to the hospital. She felt calm, peaceful, and excited to meet her baby.
She only had about three minutes between contractions, now, and they were heading for the door. Just as she slid her foot into her boot, she felt a pop. Her water broke, soaking her foot and boot and the floor. She and Sean looked at each other in shock, laughed at the timing of this occurrence, and she turned around to clean herself up in the bathroom. Round two, she began to put her boots on, and more water gushed onto her foot! She shook her head and resigned herself to having a wet foot as they made their way out the door.
Not long after arriving at the hospital, Danielle began feeling like she had almost no break in between contractions. She struggled to focus and to relax as she felt herself being pummeled by wave after wave. The nurses asked her so many questions; sometimes she couldn’t answer because she felt as if she was spinning in the waves. “I felt like I was swimming and swimming, and I needed air, but then I had to keep swimming. And I don’t even really like swimming!” She said later as she recalled her first few hours in the hospital.
In the brief moments between contractions, she agreed to attempt many different comfort measures that Sean and I could provide for her, but if anything involved touching her then as soon as a contraction began to overtake her she would simply say, “No” or “Not this one,” and shrug away our hands, which really meant, “Not any of them.” We tried letting her lean on each of us, forward or backward, which only brought a fraction of the relief she needed, and not for very long. “The bathtub helped as much as it hurt,” she described later. The warm water allowed her to relax, but it also intensified her labor, which she could only handle for a little while before needing another change. The only thing that consistently helped was a folded, disposable Chux pad full of hot water. She hugged that pad to her belly as if her life depended on it for hours in between letting me refresh the heat for her. At one point I think she even referred to it as her “little friend.”
As much as every moment felt like such a struggle, she also felt like time was passing absurdly quickly. “Every time I looked at the clock it was one or two hours later!”
But the passing of time wasn’t enough. Her contractions had been about two minutes apart for more than four hours, and despite outwardly appearing to be in control and relaxed during each one, inwardly, she was fighting for every breath and was exhausted. “At one point I even forgot I was pregnant. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s how much I couldn’t think about anything but the pain!” When she hit that point, she realized she needed more relief than we were able to help her find so that she could return her focus to the most important thing at hand: meeting her baby. Danielle kept saying between contractions, “I’m just so tired, and I can’t get on top of this. And then I’ll have to breastfeed, and take care of a baby. And I’m too tired for that.” She needed rest, and she was unbelievably wise to be able to weigh that consideration in the midst of nearly non-stop contractions. She decided to get an epidural, and was so confident in her decision that she didn’t even want to know how dilated she was before receiving the medication.
Danielle sat on the edge of the bed as instructed, ready to feel the sensation of relief sweep over her, waiting for the anesthesiologist to finish prepping her back so that he could insert the needle. But then the unimaginable happened—the anesthesiologist left! He got called away to help another patient whose circumstances were apparently more urgent. The next contraction that hit Danielle was the worst one yet. She had her mind made up and could see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, and then it was as if a door shut to block out the light. It was all she could do to catch her breath. Thankfully, the doctor came back, finished her procedure, and she was finally able to relax. She was even able to laugh about that particular episode when we spoke about it three weeks later!
The epidural was one of many things that had been different from what she’d expected. She hadn’t anticipated that labor would pick up speed so suddenly at home. She hadn’t expected her water to break so early since her mother’s and sisters’ hadn’t. She hadn’t expected the pain to be so consuming.
And now, she was surprised once more as she discovered that she could still move her legs and eventually could feel pressure, yet the overwhelming, back-to-back sensations of pain were gone. She was able to rest, to chat and joke with her husband and me, and to mentally prepare for meeting and caring for her baby. She hadn’t expected such a contrast in her experiences of labor.
Danielle returned to the calm, peaceful mental space she had enjoyed late in the previous evening and remained there for about three hours before she began to feel her body begin to involuntarily push. Her nurse assured her this was what her body was ready to do and encouraged her to go ahead and push. She appeared to be a little dazed as she began pushing, so I whispered to her, “You’re going to meet your baby soon!” Her face lit up with amazement as she looked up at Sean and said, “Oh my gosh, we’re going to have a baby!” Those moments of joy are such treasures to witness.
During pushing was the only time Danielle wanted to be touched. Her “No,” from before now turned to, “Sean!” which meant “Please push on my hips.” This helped her cope with the pressure she was feeling despite her epidural. She commented several times between contractions that she had the perfect epidural: enough to remove the pain, but “light” enough to allow her to move and feel just what she needed to be able to work with her baby through this stage of labor.
Danielle had been nervous earlier in the night that she wouldn’t get to hold her baby right away because she had passed meconium. When the midwife came in, she reassured Danielle that it would be no problem as long as her baby cried right away. The midwife’s confidence that things would be fine put Danielle at ease, and she focused her energy on bringing her baby out.
After only forty-five minutes, Isabel Marguerite cried heartily as she was lifted into Danielle’s arms. Sean beamed at his wife with his teary eyes full of pride, and Danielle was astonished to finally be holding her baby girl. Meeting Isabel was another moment that was different than she expected. She was shocked that this baby was hers, that she and Sean had a daughter, and she hadn’t been prepared for the feeling of surprise. It didn’t take long for the surreal nature of the moment to pass and for Danielle to settle into all the protective, loving instincts she had expected to feel.
Isabel Marguerite. A darling baby girl, the namesake of her great-grandmother, Marguerite. She looks just like her daddy who adores her, and she is cherished more than anything by her courageous mommy who set her mind on loving her daughter in the depths of one of her hardest moments. It was beautiful and inspiring to witness Danielle’s strength, her devotion to her child, and Sean’s love for his family as he supported Danielle in every decision she made that night. Well done, you two. Congratulations!