Me and my husband, Aaron, two hours before Nora was born. Photo taken by Kathy Chinn
Before I went into labor, I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen. I knew I was going to go into labor much later than my October 13 due date. My mother was 11 days late with both me and my younger brother, and new moms are often late. Plus, I had a birth plan, which said that I would have an intervention free birth. No pain medication, no epidural, and nothing that could lead towards these options. My husband, Aaron, and I wanted as simple and natural a birth as we could have, for the safety and health of our daughter. While a lot of things went as planned, I was not prepared for how labor would start.
During my last full week of work, I had to train a new administrative assistant and my part-time temporary replacement. I had a full week scheduled, which culminated with a final training on Friday, October 7. While I was still scheduled to work the following Monday and Tuesday, I was constantly hoping that I could just make it through my Friday work day. I kept mentally telling our baby to stay put through Friday.
On Thursday, October 6, I didn’t feel very well. I had a full day’s work ahead of me and I didn’t feel like myself. But, to be honest, at 39 weeks pregnant, I just assumed that this was normal. Around 9:45 AM on that morning, I started to feel something that could be contractions. They felt like slowly unfolding menstrual cramps that would last a few moments and then subside. I also felt like it could have been indigestion, because I had an intense urge to poop. I quickly determined that it wasn’t just indigestion.
My administrative assistant, Sarah, noticed that I wasn’t feeling well, as I was standing at my desk during one of these cramps. I told her that I had a stomach cramp and she jokingly asked if I was having contractions. I replied that I didn’t know, because I had yet to have contractions during my pregnancy. Her question made me wonder if I was in labor.
At 11:15, I called Aaron. He was at Burger King, grabbing lunch in between classes. I told him what I was feeling and asked him what I should do. He suggested I call my doctor. My clinic, Women’s Health Consultants, has a nurse line, so I called them. I described my symptoms and the nurse confirmed that I was likely in labor. She wished me luck and told me to call once I went to the hospital.
I called Aaron back and we had a big decision to make together. Should I stay at work until 4:30 or should I go home as soon as possible? After a few minutes of talking, we decided that I should go home. We share a car, which means he had to pick me up to take me home. At that point, I called our doula, Kathy Chinn. and let her know that I was in early labor. I also left a voice mail for my boss, Lori, to let her know that I wasn’t feeling well and I would be going home. I told her that I might be in labor, but that it also might be a false alarm. Since this was my first experience with contractions, I wasn’t convinced that this was the real thing yet.
Aaron picked me up and we went home together. The contractions were relatively far apart and short. I wasn’t sure if this was the real thing or not. It was so early and I hadn’t had false labors or many Braxton Hicks contractions. Finally, I said, “Fuck it – let’s have a baby,” as if any of this was up to me anyway.
Once we made it home, we settled in for the day. During the afternoon, I tried to eat food (a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a yogurt), but it was hard to feel hungry. I watched some television – Modern Family, The Biggest Loser – and sat on my exercise ball. During each contraction, I began vocalizing in deep moans, which made me feel better.
I also used a contraction timing app on my phone. Timing the contractions made me nervous. I assumed that the contractions would be consistent –starting off short and far apart and becoming more frequent and longer. However, my contractions were all over the place. They wouldn’t last much longer than a minute, but they would be anywhere from 2 minutes apart to 7 minutes apart. I got so nervous that I called Kathy and asked her what I should do. She laughed under her breath as she assured me that there was nothing to do. Eat,drink, rest, and wait. Her laughing pulled me back to earth and I realized that I needed to stop timing my contractions and wait for the long haul.
Around 6:00 PM, I went to the bathroom and lost my mucous plug in one globby, bloody mess. It was at this point that I realized that I was indeed in labor and it wasn’t going to stop. My boss called around this same time and I let her know that I was in fact in labor. I then realized that I needed to contact my administrative assistants, my replacement (who I hadn’t finished training) and then set up my out of office messages. It took forever to do all of this, because my contractions were getting strong enough that I needed to focus during them. It took a while, but with help from Aaron, we finally got it done.
At 7:00 PM, I tried to eat dinner. We had butternut squash pasta with no seasonings at all. It was incredibly difficult to even eat this amount of food. We watched an episode of Breaking Bad and I used my exercise ball to circle my hips and keep my lower back loose. During dinner, Kathy called me and asked how I was doing. I told her that I was doing well, but was worried that I wouldn’t be able to sleep during the night. She recommended that I take a warm bath, have a glass of wine, and then crawl into bed during our normal bed time. She said that any amount of sleep will be helpful, even if it’s light sleep between contractions.
After receiving these instructions, Aaron went to Humm’s Liquor down the street and bought a bottle of Yellow Tail Merlot while I took a warm bath. I was nervous about being left alone, but I figured that nothing really bad could happen to me in the bath tub. I had some strong contractions in the bath and got out around the time Aaron returned from the liquor store. I poured myself a small glass of wine, a half glass really, and watched Parks & Recreation while trying to drink my wine. Then, I went to bed.
Throughout the night, Aaron held me while we slept. I woke with almost every contraction and moaned through the hard parts. At 10:30 or so, I had a strong and violent urge to vomit. I raced to the bathroom and made it just in time. I vomited up my squash pasta and my small glass of wine, and then returned to bed after I cleaned myself up.
Around 3:30 in the morning, the contractions were incredibly intense. I started to wonder when I should contact Kathy and ask her to come over. She said to call any time, but like a good Minnesotan, I wanted to wait until it was a reasonable hour. At 5:30 in the morning, I had a good enough reason to call her. My bloody show, which had been light pink and viscous up to this point, turned bright red. There was also a lot of it, as much as I would have during a strong period. I showed Aaron and we decided to call Kathy. She assured us that this was a good sign; it meant we were progressing really well. She asked at this point if we would like her to come over. Aaron answered unanimously – yes. The timing was perfect. Kathy was able to take a shower and eat breakfast and still miss the morning traffic into Minneapolis from St. Paul.
While we waited for her, Aaron dressed and changed and I tried to eat a big bowl of oatmeal that he made for me. Once Kathy arrived, we spent the morning on comfort measures. I spent much of my time on my hands and knees, draped over the exercise ball. She also recommended sitting on the birth ball and draping my body over the bed, which felt great. While Aaron and I assumed that I would need comfort measures during the contractions. I actually felt the opposite – I didn’t want anyone to touch me during a contraction, but I appreciated lower back rubs and cuddling afterwards. The pressure of his touch plus the contraction was too strong for me to handle. I was also surprised at how lucid and conversational I was throughout my labor. Kathy, Aaron and I discussed all sorts of different topics during labor. While I was having a contraction, I listened well enough to respond and engage after the contraction was over.
Around 9:00 in the morning, I started to wonder when we should go to the hospital, so I asked Kathy. She asked, “In a perfect world, how many centimeters would you like to be dilated when you arrive?” I knew that transition was at 8 centimeters, and I wanted to be settled in my room and comfortable by then, so I decided I wanted to be 6 centimeters. That should give enough time for processing us, getting in the room, and feeling comfortable, before the really intense contractions hit. It also meant that we would be less likely to request an epidural, since you can’t really get an epidural after 7 centimeters. She told me that she would let me know when it’s time to go.
After more comfort measures, I decided to try to nap, which worked for maybe 30 minutes. I woke up from my nap and decided I needed to take a bath. Kathy agreed and said that after the bath, it was time to go to the hospital. That declaration immediately made me nervous. I started to wonder how I would tolerate the car ride, how I could walk all the way from the valet area to the Labor and Delivery ward in the hospital. The thought of leaving our condo, where I was safe and laboring comfortably, terrified me. Aaron calmed me down and told me to just enjoy my bath.
After the bath, I dressed in a loose dress and we packed the rest of our birthing bag. Kathy gave us an extra towel, in case my water broke in the car, and we were off. Then, we drove to Abbott Northwestern Hospital, which was about 10 minutes away by surface streets. While in the car, I called my doctors’ office to let them know we were arriving. I had a contraction in the car, but it wasn’t awful. We did have to walk the full way from the valet area to Labor and Delivery, but a kind hospital employee guided us to the elevators.
When we arrived at Labor and Delivery, we checked in. A nurse escorted us into a tiny exam room and they checked my cervix. I was at exactly 6 centimeters dilation, 100% effaced, with a bulging bag of waters. I had no idea what the last part meant, until Kathy told us that it meant that when my water broke, it would be a large gush, rather than a trickle. After the exam, we got settled into our room. Our nurse, Mary, reviewed our birth plan and promised to work with us on our wishes. She was incredibly respectful of all of us.
Once we were in the room, it was around noon. We practiced comfort measures and the nurse strapped the fetal monitor on us every 30 minutes. Both Kathy and Aaron took turns grabbing lunch, so that they could be energized for the road ahead. My doctor on call, Lynn Gibeau, came in to greet us and reviewed our birth plan. She also promised to work within our plan. Around 1:00 PM, we had a shift change in nurses. Kathy asked Mary to find a nurse who was just like her. She made sure that Sue was assigned to us.
As labor progressed, I was feeling closer and closer to needing to push, but I could stop it by focusing on my breath. The only place I couldn’t stop it was the bathroom. If I even stepped in the bathroom to shower, I felt like I needed to push badly. I hated going to the bathroom. At 3:00, Dr. Gibeau returned and asked if she could check my cervix. She had to do a caesarean for another patient and wanted to know how close I was to pushing. My water hadn’t broken yet, but she felt that we were likely close to needing to push. After she checked my cervix, she said, “If I were to tell you that you were at 9 centimeters, would you let me rupture your membranes?” I asked if she was telling me that I was 9 centimeters. She said, “I think I am.” I declined, mostly because I was afraid of having any more of an intense experience. I could handle the contractions really well at this stage. Frankly, I didn’t even know that I was in transition – it didn’t feel like anything I saw in any birth movie. I was scared of feeling anything much stronger. After Dr. Gibeau left, Kathy told me that having my membranes ruptured at this point wouldn’t be that bad. I was experiencing the worst of it right now and it wouldn’t get any worse. I still refused.
Pretty soon, I was having a hard time not pushing. I was even lifting my leg at each contraction, like a horse kicking something behind her. Sue checked my cervix again. I was 9 and ½ centimeters, but there was a little cervical lip that wouldn’t dilate. It was caught on the bag of waters. Dr. Gibeau checked me and decided that the best course of action would be to push that little lip out of the way, so that I could begin pushing. I had a pinhole leak in my bag, but didn’t experience the waterfall that I was expecting. At each contraction, either Dr. Gibeau or Sue worked on the cervical lip, by pushing on it with their fingers as I bore down. This was the most painful part of my experience. I had a very hard time not whining “Owee” each time they pushed on the cervix. During one of the tries, Dr. Gibeau “accidentally” slipped and ruptured my membranes. Luckily, my contractions stayed at the same intensity. After several tries with both Dr. Gibeau and Sue, we finally got the lip over the baby’s head.
At that point, around 5:05 PM, it was my turn to push. Dr. Gibeau was convinced that I would be a good pusher. I actually found pushing to be very difficult. Kathy, Sue, and Dr. Gibeau had to teach me how to push. I had difficulty extending my pushes for 10 seconds and so I often needed to take a breath and push again. I also needed to focus really deeply between contractions, so Kathy put a damp washcloth over my eyes, which I would raise after the pushing was over. As I felt a contraction coming on, I lowered the washcloth, which signaled to the team that it was time to push. In between my contractions, Aaron and the birthing team kept telling me that they could see her hair and there was a lot of it. I wanted to tell them to shut up, because it was frustrating to hear that they could see hair and nothing else. Not a forehead or eyes, just hair.
Eventually, Nora’s head crowned and we had to transition my pushing to gentle, short pushes to ease her head out. This was so frustrating, because I had finally figured out how to power through each contraction, and now they wanted me to slow down and push gently. Luckily this was a very short part of the pushing. Once Nora’s head and shoulders were clear, she came out in a fast rush. Before I knew it, she was resting on my chest.
At that moment, I had the most clear and distinct feeling of relief. This little stranger and I had made it through the birthing together, whole and healthy. In the early moments of her life, as I was cradling her little tiny butt, she pooped on me. I was so happy to know that she was alive and her body was working that I actually felt happy for this smear of meconium on my fingers and stomach. That’s when I knew I was now a mom.