This post has been two weeks in the making. I haven’t had all that much time to write (and when I have I’ve mostly used it for sleep), so I’ve stolen a few moments here and there to cobble together our birth story.
Before I was pregnant I loved a good birth story blog. Then I became pregnant and I avoided them like the plague. I was almost phobic about reading anything at all about labor. There was just something about reading about other peoples’ experiences and expectations of birth that made me very uncomfortable. I knew that as much as I planned, my delivery was in large part up to my baby—and I didn’t know my baby yet, so I didn’t want to go into the experience with any pre-conceived notions of what birth should be.
Having said that, my labor was still nothing like I expected.
When you’re pregnant everyone wants to tell you everything about what having a baby is like…mostly the bad stuff. But no one could really answer me when I asked what an honest to goodness contraction felt like. They all just said, “Oh, you’ll know.”
I didn’t know.
I woke up around midnight on Friday, June 3rd with a little back pain. Nothing unmanageable. A little back aching was pretty par for the course at the end of my pregnancy. The Fella and I had been taking turns sleeping on the pullout-couch for the past few months, the couch was way softer than our bed so it allowed for more cushion for my hips that always seemed to ache, but provided no support for my back. And so we did this bizarre dance of alternating who would sleep where so that we’d get the most sleep. Actually, so The Fella could get any sleep at all because the more pregnant I became the more miserable I was to sleep next to.
I just figured my backache was couch related. Ironically, The Fella and I had decided to share a bed for the first time in months because I was feeling a little clingy the night before. I went back to sleep a few minutes after I woke up, and then got up again 2am and again at 3am with some random back pains and decided it was probably time to time these pains. The “pains” weren’t exactly painful, just weird and I had a feeling that these they might be a sign that labor was eminent. I got out of bed the pain around 3am and my pain moved from my back to some dull cramping in my uterus—cramping that was still completely manageable—and exactly 8 minutes apart.
It really didn’t hurt. I was pretty zen about it. I kind of enjoyed the process and the quiet of our apartment in the wee hours of the morning. I didn’t want to wake The Fella because I figured we might have a long day ahead of us, and because the whole experience felt very primal and solitary.
Once I realized I was in early labor I remembered how when I was a kid our dogs would go off to be alone when they had puppies, and I totally got it. It all felt like a very private experience.
I contracted by myself for a few more hours and finally around 6:30am I woke Roy up. Mainly because I wanted a back massage but also because I figured he should probably call his boss and let her know he wasn’t coming into the office.
Despite the fact that I was three days shy of my due date, The Fella seemed skeptical that I was really in labor. He kept asking me if I thought this was really it or if I had any gut feelings about how the day was going to progress.
I kind of wanted to hit him over the head with something, but I refrained. I figured that domestic violence was not the right mood setting activity for expanding our family.
As he tried to make the best of the situation he asked periodically if we should turn on the TV or if I wanted to turn on the lights and the answer was a resounding NO! I wanted everything to be dark and quiet for as long as possible. My contractions still weren’t hurting, but they were becoming more erratic and by 9am they were 4-7 minutes apart. Even though we’d been instructed to call our doctor when they were consistently 5-minutes apart for an hour, I had a feeling we had to let them know what was up.
So we called and the doctor and she told me to head to Labor and Delivery immediately.
I was pretty incredulous that whatever was happening to me wasn’t a big deal and asked if she was sure; maybe I could stay home to labor in the comfort of my own living room for a bit, but she said no, she’d meet me at the hospital. I decided to text my doula, Erin, to let her know that I might be having a baby, and since she has a day job to be on alert, but to not worry about rushing to get to us because I was sure there was a whole lot of labor still ahead of us. Obviously if I was really in labor it would hurt a whole lot more.
About an hour later we finally got a cab and made our way to the hospital. I remember sitting outside triage when our doctor—who was already there for another delivery—asked me how I was feeling and I told her “Fine, really…no rush.”
She raised an eyebrow and told the nurse to put me in a room so she could check my cervix.
Turns out I was 4cm dilated.
“Can I go home,” I asked.
“You’re staying here.”
Still, completely in denial, I texted my doula and said she should take her time, eat some breakfast, take a shower and make her way up to the hospital at her convenience.
I remember telling The Fella that it was kind of a bummer that I’d forgotten to pack my Kindle in my hospital bag because I wouldn’t mind reading. The nurse in our room looked at me like I was nuts.
My contractions, mild as they were, weren’t reading on the monitors (my mom had the same thing when she was in labor with me), so the doctor came in and broke my water. The plan was that I would then get some Pitocin to hurry labor along, but turns out I didn’t need it. Shortly after my water broke my contractions were 45-seconds apart and more painful than I could ever remember anything at all being. Now I understand why people can’t describe contractions. I can’t describe them either. First of all, they feel nothing like bad period cramps, let’s clear that up right now. The closest I could come to describing the feeling would be that it was like my entire core was a wet towel that someone was trying to wring out.
I had been on the fence about getting an epidural, but after a half hour I wasn’t on the fence anymore. I wanted one.
The anesthesiologist came in to give me the spinal catheter and told me that relief would be immediate.
It was like I’d taken a couple of Tylenol. I could still feel my legs, do some kegels, feel every single contraction. At the time I just thought it was a “walking epidural” but the nurse told me later that it just didn’t work because I was too close to delivering. They literally didn’t have time to give me the Pitocin or put in the catheter for my bladder that are standard with epidurals. Within a few minutes I was ready to push, and by “ready to push” I mean that my body was pushing with or without any conscious effort on my part. This baby wanted out.
The nurse ran out of the room and came back with my doctor, who had been delivering someone else minutes before (there was a huge baby boom at our hospital; the day before I delivered there were 39 deliveries and the day of ours there were 30 other deliveries—there were so many newborns that they didn’t have room to put all the new families on the maternity floor and had to close down three other wings of the hospital). I pushed once lying on my back, and it was awful, I felt like I couldn’t engage my core enough and had nothing to brace against. Then my doctor asked if I wanted to squat and I was like ABSOLUTELY. Standing up seemed like the most obvious way to have a baby, why would anyone be on her back? Gravity. It makes sense.
So they adjusted the bed, and since I had full mobility thanks to my failed epidural, I stood up, squatted, pushed twice and Ethan Dean Schwartz was born! All 6lbs 5oz and 19.5 inches of him.
I also screamed so loudly that I scared myself. I had no idea I was capable of making so much noise. I’m not a loud person. And I screamed for good reason. While having a short labor (we were in the hospital fewer than four hours) is great in some senses, it wasn’t without its drawbacks. I tore severely. Like in half. I’m writing this because I feel like most birth stories are super happy, sweet, lovey dovey moments. Guys, I love my son, but he tore me in half! The pain was pretty excruciating and I had a shitton of stitches to put me back together and some complications a few days later that I will not describe on the Internet. Let’s just say I have plenty of fodder for embarrassing guilt trips later. Thank goodness he was a small baby!
Honestly, I was so stunned by the pain that I hardly noticed that the doctor had handed me a baby. I didn’t even look at him. I just kept asking her if she was done with the stitches yet. She wasn’t. But she did suggest that I hand the baby to Roy, who was far less traumatized by the whole thing. It wasn’t until she had finished stitching me up that I held my baby again and actually looked at him.
Guys, I make gorgeous babies.
I mean I know all mothers think their kids are gorgeous, but mine is seriously good looking. He’s also a pretty sweet kid. So far he really only cries if he’s hungry or needs a diaper change, he loves swaddles and sucking on his hands and staring at the world all glassy-eyed.
I won’t sugarcoat things: Newborn life is hard; especially the week when I was feeling physically incapacitated but had to take care of a tiny new human. There were a lot of tears (some hormonal, some just being completely overwhelmed) and a lot of self-doubt, but we’re starting to find our groove. Every day I feel a little less scared of hurting him, a little more confident about how to clothe and change and rock him to sleep.
Breastfeeding is hard, much harder than I had anticipated, especially because Ethan has a tongue-tie which makes it very hard for him to latch and when he does it’s very painful for me, so we’re working with a lactation consultant to try and mitigate the issue until we can get him the proper treatment (which we have an appointment for on Thursday). So I’m feeding him the best I can 12 times a day and pumping 8 times a day to try and build my supply since he can’t suck well enough to really trigger enough production on my end. Being milked 20 times a day feels a little dehumanizing, but it’s getting better every day and I hope that one day it will be easy.
Sadly, because the US has some seriously crappy parental leave practices, The Fella had to go back to work a few days after Ethan was born. My mom comes to help a couple of days a week and we hired a baby nurse to help me for a couple of days on our first solo week. This week will be rough because I’ll be on my own for a few days and that’s petrifying, but I feel like Ethan and I will make it through—maybe a little worse for wear, but we’ll make it. In the meantime, this “healthy living” blogger is living on pretzels and string cheese and baby food pouches when she can remember to eat. My exercise comes in the form of baby rocking and short walks around the neighborhood at dawn or dusk, when the temperature is cool enough to keep a newborn comfortable. Baby steps.