It was the first week of October. I was around 37.5 weeks along in my pregnancy. I had already been to the hospital and been told I was in labor, and that it wouldn’t be long. As medication stopped my vomiting, my contractions slowed. I never dilated past 1 centimeter and was sent home to wait.
Over the next week, we walked along the Sacramento River. We ate out. We rented one of those covered bikes where you sit side by side and ride. I had so much extra water in my body at this point, my skin would turn bright red and itch unbearably.
One day we went to PF Chang’s downtown and a bee crawled through the hole in my crocks. (Crocks were literally the only thing my giant, swollen feet could fit into.) It stung me right on the tip of my toe. (This was my second bee sting during my pregnancy and a part of me wants to think there is some sort of symbolism to it, although I haven’t figured out what. I haven’t been stung in the 16 years since.)
The second week of October, I was back to my weekly appointments on base. The doctor who had worked with us through our fertility issues basically said, “Hey, I have nothing going on on Friday. Why don’t you come in and we’ll induce you!”
Me, knowing absolutely nothing about risk factors, anxious to meet our baby, and tired of being pregnant was like, “Sure, that seems like a great idea!” He explained they would use a pill, Misoprostol, which would be put against the cervix. He thought it would help me along. I would be approximately 39 weeks.
Gratefully, the universe had other plans. The doctor called me Thursday, apologizing. The base was having an air show on Friday (the 14th) and they weren’t doing any non-emergency procedures. This baby would come when she was ready, and I think had we induced we would have had a very different experience. While the information is mixed, there is generally the opinion that induction can increase your chance of a C-section. I didn’t want a C-section. I really wanted to have her as naturally as possible. (And yet, and yet, I thought this would all happen magically and my body would know exactly what to do.)
The third week of October, around 4 a.m. on October 17th, I woke to contractions. These weren’t at all like those 2 weeks earlier. Thankfully, no vomiting with each squeeze. This was steady and consistent. We lived an hour from base and I kept thinking about the mom who can’t get to the hospital in time; the mom who is birthing on the side of the road or in the passenger seat as the husband drives.
I was terrified I would be one of those which really didn’t help my anxiety. The hospital told us to wait until four minutes apart, but would that be enough time for the hour’s drive? What if there was traffic on the freeway? (This was Sacramento, there was always traffic on the freeway.) I left my husband to sleep and went downstairs. Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” was playing on TV and I used it to pass the time, recording minutes, walking, debating on when to wake up my sleeping husband, watching Madonna be Madonna.
I let him sleep and somewhere around 8:30, with my contractions coming closer, I woke him. We packed and headed on our hour-long drive. We had missed morning traffic and made it to base. I was ready. So ready. My contractions were around 4 minutes apart. We headed upstairs for them to check my cervix… 2 centimeters.
What did they mean they wouldn’t keep me at 2 centimeters? I just drove an hour to get here. My contractions were 4 minutes apart. I was NOT driving an hour home just so that I could drive an hour back. But they wouldn’t let us stay. They made us leave.
I sat in the car with Fred and started to cry. Hysterical crying. The pain at this point was intense. I couldn’t stand during contractions. I couldn’t talk or walk during contractions. And with my emotions came the vomiting. It’s kind of my thing; get stressed, and throw up. Fred started to drive out of the parking lot with me crying. He fully intended on driving us all the way home. I told him I wasn’t leaving. I was sitting in that parking lot until they let me in. At this point, I was doubling over with each contraction. I was vomiting. Anxiety and fear were my companions.
Fred parked the car and up we went, back to labor and delivery. In the time I spent crying in the car, I had gone from 2 centimeters to “almost” 4. Despite their rules on only admitting at 4 centimeters, they let me stay. Probably something to do with my propensity for throwing up.
They didn’t even ask if I wanted an epidural. I guess my pain levels screamed, “get this woman the anesthesiologist!” They got me checked in, and within minutes, the anesthesiologist was at the door. They checked my spine, immediately noted the slight twist, and unlike every other spinal tap I’ve had, they easily got the epidural in place. It was like a wave of peace floated down over my body. The vomiting stopped. The pain stopped. I could speak and breathe. What I couldn’t do was walk. At this point, I was confined to a bed, but my body could finally rest.
I think I was lucky with my epidural. I could still feel my legs, nothing was numb. I could still feel every single contraction, but there wasn’t pain associated with the epidural, just squeezing and pressure. Checking my cervix, however, was still tortuously painful.
At 7 centimeters, my labor began to slow. Apparently, this is a thing with getting an epidural too early, it can cause issues with the progression of labor. As I know now, one intervention almost always leads to another intervention which then leads to another. My first intervention was the epidural. My second intervention was their need to give me Pitocin to get my labor moving again. But labor with Pitocin is stronger, the contractions are harder and last longer. The stress on the baby increases as the contractions are medically strengthened.
Suddenly, I’m starting to hear comments about stress on our baby and the possibility of a C-section. They are telling me she needs to come soon as if I’m somehow not birthing fast enough. As the hours passed, the sensation changed. The overwhelming pain in the upper part of the uterus was numbed by the epidural, but the sensation moved lower and lower until the contractions became sharply vaginal, perhaps pain within the cervix itself.
We had arrived at the hospital that morning around 10 a.m. At midnight, as the 17th turned to the 18th, they finally wanted me to start pushing. “Am I at 10 centemeters?” I asked. “No,” the nurse responded. “You’re about 9.5, but the doctor wants you to start pushing.” Wait, don’t you push at 10 centimeters? Another thing I have come to learn is that the rate of C-sections increase as doctors come to the end of their shifts, and midnight was the end of his. So he wanted me to start pushing, regardless of what my body was ready to do.
Laying on my back, our baby was also still really high. She hadn’t dropped the way one would expect. And so, with every push, you could see my belly lower, and on every break, she would move back up into position. The nurses commented that I didn’t seem to be making much progress and she seemed really high.
This is where laying on my back probably didn’t make too much sense. Gravity would have been my friend. A birthing chair, walking, squatting, these all would have helped. But I lay on my back, pushing with each contraction, my energy fading. My husband held my left leg, but no one held my right. I had to hold my right which felt really lopsided and horribly exhausting. Isn’t it enough to push? Do I also have to hold my right leg continually up by my ear?
Some people might say labor feels like it lasts forever. I started pushing at midnight, my contractions were right on top of each other due to the Pitocin, one on top of another on top of another. My nurse monitored me the whole time, talking me through every moment. Fred holding my left leg, me holding my right. Finally, after 2 hours and 10 minutes of pushing, she was born. (The male doctor literally walked in for the last 2 minutes and caught her, had Fred cut the cord, and the doctor walked out.)
I don’t know if you remember me saying that I first suspected I was pregnant on my birthday. February 10th, 2-10, 2:10, the time of my daughter’s birth. She was always going to be born at this time. It didn’t matter if that doctor started me pushing at 2 a.m., 2:10 is when she had decided. While I certainly never questioned that she was my baby, that somehow cemented the idea that she was my daughter, the one we had been waiting for. She was born on a full moon, and if you go back to the day I was born, so was I.
Through all the pushing, she had passed meconium (the first bowel movement) and so they rushed her to another table to vacuum her mouth and nose. Meconium, if inhaled, can lead to lung problems and even death in newborns. She was strong, healthy, and had a beautiful wail of rebellion being pushed into this world. 7 lbs, 5 oz. 19 inches long. A birthmark by her left eye. Thick, black hair. They cleaned her up and gave her to me, and almost immediately she tried to nurse. So that one thing I actually researched and planned, it happened naturally.
A few notes on our experience… Despite being 7 lbs, 5oz, the military hospital seemed to think she was heavier than she should be and were concerned about diabetes, pricking her foot to check her sugar. I think maybe this was just their go-to to draw blood. In the United States, the average birth weight is exactly 7.5 with normal being between 5.5 and 10 lbs and boys often being a bit bigger. Because of the meconium and their concern about her weight, we had to stay an extra night, which was fine, she stayed with us in the room.
Within 24 hours, my milk was already changing from colostrum to mature milk. Normal is usually 2-5 days. Fred, after 2 weeks of waiting, had to go in to work on the 18th, which is why we have photos of him asleep in his flight suit. As for me, despite the labor and hours of pushing, I wasn’t tired. I must have been riding an adrenaline high for a few days. All I could do was look at our beautiful daughter, mesmerized by this human I had been waiting to meet.
It’s 16 years later. I had a daughter. The one I envisioned and the only child I would ever bring to term. She’s amazing. And terrifying. And smart, and honest, and complicated, and loving, and funny, and sarcastic. I love seeing her every day and know as she prepares for her life, the one where I don’t get to see her every day, that I’m going to miss her desperately. At the same time, I’m so excited for the life she gets to have, whatever direction it takes her.
One of the things that I was told when she was little, something I still hold on to is, “It’s all a phase. The bad stuff, the good stuff. It’s all a phase. Know that the bad stuff won’t last forever, but the good stuff won’t either. Appreciate it all.”
I have a passion for birth stories. I love hearing about the experiences that other women have gone through. I think it’s important that we support each other through this process, whether it is natural birth, C-section, home birth, hospital birth, birth centers, the grief of miscarriages, the experience of abortion, menopause, hysterectomies, first periods, and every other aspect of our reproductive rights and experiences. I wish to add the stories of other women to honor the collective experience and help us to learn from and honor each other.
Are you interested in telling your birth story? Are you interested in sharing the experiences you have around reproduction, from your first period to menopause and everything in between? Please contact me at email@example.com and title “Birth Stories” in the subject line.