I spent the morning of my due date crying.
I was so certain Ender James would be born early. Certain because my doctor said it first. Four weeks earlier. That’s when my baby dropped, a process also known as “lightening” (so funny medical community) when the baby literally drops into the mother’s pelvis. Imagine carrying a bowling ball around with your crotch. I couldn’t lift one leg up to step into bed or the car or put my pants on without wincing in pain. I waddled everywhere. And I went from peeing 10 times an hour to peeing every .006 seconds. This is supposed to be a sign that labor is coming soon. Supposed to being the key phrase. I am not a patient person. I am the one who melts a stick of butter in the microwave while trying to soften it, leaving behind pathetic lumps drowning in a greasy pool in the butter dish.
So I indulged in a pity party. It was a Saturday, and that evening Aaron and I watched Goldfinger with a large collection of candy and ice cream because my husband is the best human being on earth. As always, Ender enjoyed the action, kicking and punching my organs throughout the movie.
“If you come out, you’ll get to stretch out all your limbs!” I told him at one point. “Imagine straightening out!”
We went to bed, and I slept like a rock. Sunday morning dawned, and at 9:45 am I reluctantly crawled out of bed to pee. Sitting on the toilet I experienced an unpleasant cramping sensation. A few minutes later, there was another.
“I think I’m having contractions.” I told Aaron numbly.
I started timing them, and they were almost exactly 4 minutes apart. Alarms started going off in my head. What was the saying the nurse said? Go to the hospital when your contractions are less than 5 minutes apart, last approximately 1 minute, and continue this way for 1 hour? Weren’t they supposed to be further apart? They just started!
I ate a bowl of Wheaties for breakfast because “breakfast of champions” seemed like a pretty good idea.
An hour later we were on our way to the hospital. It was a gorgeous day for mid February. Forty degrees and sunny. The contractions were getting stronger, going from this doesn’t feel great to oh I do not like this at all to AARON WHY ARE YOU DRIVING SO SLOWLY?
As I waddled up to the desk, the nurse looked up and smiled. “How can I help you?” She asked.
“I think I’m in labor.” I practically whimpered.
“Ok!” She said brightly. “Here’s some forms to fill out and we’ll get you checked in.”
I thought I was going to snap the pen in half and stab her with it. Forms?? Isn’t this exactly why I’d pre-registered? So I didn’t have to stand here and fill out forms while my body tried to murder me?
Triage is a fun place. It’s where you go before you’re officially admitted to the hospital. I’m sure you get to skip this step if you literally have a baby hanging out of you, but since I wasn’t that far along, Triage is where I went. The fun part of Triage is that you can get sent home if you’re not deemed actively in labor. As my contractions intensified, I made a solemn vow to lock myself in the room and refuse to leave if they tried to tell me I had to go home. They’d have to drag me out kicking and screaming in the lovely pink muumuu of a hospital gown.
Thankfully for everyone involved, I was dilated to a 4 and deemed to be in active labor.
“Since this is your first baby, you’ll probably be in labor for a while.” The Triage nurse warned me. “Most likely he’ll be born tomorrow.”
I was admitted at 12:45 pm. They took us to a labor and delivery room, and then told me I had to walk around for an hour which is exactly what anyone would want to hear as they’re doubled over in pain. That was the longest hour of my life. We slowly took laps around the birthing center, pausing every few minutes so I could grip the hand rail and wish for sweet sweet death. I clutched a little plastic bag to my chest as nausea rolled through me, followed by panic because I am pathetically terrified of throwing up. We ended every lap by going back into our room so I could use the bathroom because as your body prepares to push a baby out, it tries to get rid of evvvvvvverything. I have never pooped so much in my life. Walk and poop. Walk and poop. They don’t show this part in the movies for some reason.
After an hour, my nurse checked me again, and I was dilated to a 5. Halfway there.
So I told my nurse that I’d take that epidural now, please and thank you.
Everyone always asks what my birth plan was, and that about covers it. Step 1: Go to Hospital. Step 2: Get an epidural. Step 3: Successfully give birth. I have great respect for people who give birth without pain medication, even if I do not understand them at all. Labor terrified me, and if there was any way to make it easier, you bet I was all for it. I am also not the type of person to write out a super detailed birth plan. I am the one who buys a planner at the beginning of the year and then throws away a mostly empty, unused planner at the end of the year. And 99.5% of everyone I talked to said that their birth did not go according to the plan, so it seemed like a lot of unnecessary work to make a stressful event even more stressful. I’m just a graphic designer armed with a handful of opinions that I read somewhere. I was more than happy to defer to the nurses and doctors and follow my body’s lead.
My wonderful, wonderful nurse ordered the epidural and hooked me up to the IV. My body at this point had started shaking uncontrollably from the pain and fear. Violently. I felt like I was having a seizure. In the midst of this, the anesthesiologist came strolling in with his cart. He was an older man with stylish glasses who was smacking loudly on some gum. That gum smacking may have alarmed me if he hadn’t prepped and administered the epidural with the speed and ease of someone who’d been doing this for a very long time. I’d been nervous about whether or not getting the epidural would hurt. And maybe it would have….if I hadn’t been experiencing contractions that hurt way more. As it was, I didn’t even feel the epidural going in.
It took a few minutes for the medication to hit me, but when it did, dear sweet Jesus.
My body stopped shaking. My muscles relaxed. The pain faded away. The anxiety faded away. I felt good. Real good.
So I took a nap.
I slept for a couple hours, and then my nurse checked me again. I watched her brow knit together, and then her eyes widen.
“Oh! Yep. That’s your baby’s head.” She said, even as she checked again in disbelief. “This is crazy! We better get the doctor in here!”
Alright. Dilated from 5 to 10 while napping. This was my kind of labor.
This began a flurry of activity. Several nurses from the NICU were in attendance to check Ender over. This was standard protocol for any woman who had been taking anti-depressants during pregnancy. My nurse told me that there was a good chance Ender wouldn’t cry right away, but it didn’t mean anything was wrong. Babies with some anti-depressants in their system were more likely to be quiet. The nurses from the NICU would have been called in anyways because Ender passed meconium in utero while I was napping, which is another standard protocol to make sure he didn’t inhale any.
So the pushing began. My knees were nearly touching my shoulders. My nurse instructed me to grab the backs of my thighs, take a deep breath, and hold it while pushing for as long as possible. There was still no pain thanks to the glorious epidural, so it felt strange. The hardest part was holding my breath for that long. Everyone tells you to do kegels, but no one recommends training your lungs like a deep sea freediver. So unlike all the movies, I pushed silently. No screaming or cursing or crying. It was a little anti-climatic if I’m being honest.
“Do you want to feel his head?” The doctor asked as I rested between pushes.
“Nope.” I answered immediately.
“Or a mirror, do you want to watch?”
“Nope.” I said again, and she laughed.
Yes yes, birth is a miracle, but not one I wanted to see.
I did five sets of pushes for 23 minutes, and out he came.
That I did feel. There was no pain, just a sudden slipping sensation as my son silently entered the outside world at 6:16 pm.
They plopped him on my chest, a reddish little creature with hair and fingernails (fingernails!). He was quiet, but his eyes were wide open. We stared at each other in shock. I vaguely heard the nurses asking if Aaron wanted to cut the umbilical cord, to which he politely declined.
“Hi, baby.” I whispered, gently touching his cheek.
Then he was whisked away by the NICU nurses, who brought him to the warmer and began checking him over. Aaron followed them, leaving me and the doctor who began massaging my stomach to push out the placenta. Thankfully I didn’t have to do anything but lay there, watching the nurses. Ender still didn’t cry, but began making these adorable little squeaks that sounded more like a puppy than a human baby.
“He’s doing great!” The nurses reassured me. “His color is good and he’s breathing perfectly. He’s just a mellow little man.”
There was another sudden slipping sensation as the placenta exited my body. I lay there as the doctor stitched up a small tear, trying to discern my emotional state. Thankfully, my amazing sister-in-law had warned me that not everyone experiences that immediate flood of love and attachment you always hear about. If I hadn’t known that, I think I would have panicked that something was wrong with me, because I did not feel warm and fuzzy and drunk with love. I felt exhausted and numb.
Finally the nurses brought my baby back over to me. He looked at me with his wide, dark eyes, his little forehead scrunched up in confusion. He made little snuffly squeaks as he took everything in, and I stared at him in shocked awe. He was a complete little person, breathing and looking at me and here. The golden hour is supposed to be an hour of beautiful bonding directly after birth. I’d been looking forward to it, imagining that sweet magical moment. And at that moment, Ender took a deep breath and started to cry. Little tiny baby wails that stirred some primal instinctive response in both me and Aaron – complete panic.
My nurse helped guide Ender to start breastfeeding, and he did a pretty good job of search and
“And he’s already eating!” My nurse said, throwing her hands up in genuine bewilderment.
I probably would have been more amazed if it didn’t hurt like a mother effer.
Our success at breastfeeding lasted all of a minute before Ender lost the latch and started wailing again. The rest of my golden hour was spent trying unsuccessfully to re-latch him and sitting on the toilet trying unsuccessfully to pee. Not exactly what I’d expected.
“You already had your baby??” The Triage nurse entered the room, her eyes wide with astonishment. “That was so fast!”
I give all the credit to the epidural, and maybe that bowl of Wheaties I ate for breakfast.
My nurse helped me into a pair of stretchy underwear roughly the shape of boy shorts, which she then stuffed with a pad big enough to be an American Girl doll mattress and an ice pack roughly the size of my forearm. I was put in a wheelchair with Ender in my arms and we began our parade to the recovery room. Nurses congratulated me as we went, and I smiled back feeling like I was in some sort of surreal out of body experience.
In our recovery room, I ordered a quesadilla because it was the only word I read on the menu, and I was starving. Ender was placed in the bassinet, and we finally gave the green light to the waiting room full of visitors. My parents and sister and brother-in-law and friends poured in, beaming and crying. Ender quietly observed them all with bright eyes as he was passed around. I ate my mediocre quesadilla and tried not to be plagued by the annoying anxiety that somehow I wasn’t doing this right. Should I be smiling more? Should I be crying? Should I try to get out of bed? Should I have put on makeup or maybe just brushed my hair?
But watching my family and friends love on my brand new little baby, that weird exhausted numbness started to ease. This was real. This was my baby. I’d done it. I’d successfully given birth. I’d made it through that terrifying valley. I was on the other side. And when Ender started fussing and they placed him back in my arms, he quieted instantly. He knew me and trusted me instinctively. I’ve never experienced such a terrifying and powerful moment.
That love didn’t happen at first sight. It wasn’t sudden fireworks and swelling music. It took root and grew as night turned to day, and I stared exhausted down at the beautiful little baby in my arms. It didn’t waver as I desperately struggled to get him to latch as he screamed or as the nurse tried to get him to latch as he screamed or as several nurses tried to get him to latch as he screamed. It didn’t waver as we cleaned up his first (explosive) poopy diaper in the wee hours of the morning. It didn’t waver as trips to the bathroom were like bloody murder scenes. It didn’t just survive the pain and exhaustion and panic, it thrived.
And the crazy thing is, looking back, I can honestly say it was beautiful. Every moment.