I always did confuse Memorial Day weekend with Labor Day weekend. Now it doesn’t matter because for me, both are Labor Day weekends.
JC was born on May 27 just after 9:30 in the morning. After Sunday’s first practice visit to the hospital, I continued to bleed and feel contractions. They weren’t particularly strong contractions for most of the day Monday, and so I was able to catch up on the sleep I had lost Sunday night. J was too, and it’s a good thing we did.
By Monday evening my contractions were becoming stronger and more regular. Starting at around 10:00 p.m. they were coming in about 6 – 10 minutes apart. At first the pain wasn’t bad. I felt like I do sometimes at the beginning of my menstrual period — achy, but not to the extent that I really want to take something for the pain.
By 11:00 the contractions were becoming more uncomfortable, but they still were comparable to menstrual pain. By midnight I was beginning to breath through them.
At 1:00 a.m. my little record sheet finally showed regular contractions coming every 5 minutes or less, and I was ready to go to the hospital. J and I left a message for the dog sitter and got into the car and left the house for the second night in a row.
Because we felt more confident about the labor signs this time around, we paused at a Burger King drive-through on the way into the hospital so J could grab some food for the hours to come. I was not hungry, and by this time the contractions were more on my mind than the food anyway.
At the drive-in window J handed the cashier his money, and the man said, “Hang on, I don’t have change for a twenty in my till. I’ll be right back.”
Meanwhile from the passenger seat another sharp wave of pain started and I focused on my breathing, wondering as I did how many cashiers at drive-through windows all around the world go about their boring work shifts, completely oblivious to the quiet dramas that are going on in the cars that come past their windows.
The man came back with the change, and the contraction passed. “The fries are still cooking,” he said to us then. “They’ll be done in just a minute.”
“Shite,” I said, but he didn’t hear me. It was just as well. I wondered if I was going to be one of those really rude pregnant women like they show sometimes on tv and in the movies. The ones that start yelling at people during contractions. I decided I wouldn’t be.
Soon we were on our way again, and it wasn’t long before we were back at the hospital triage room. As on Sunday night, I was told to pee in a cup and was then hooked up to a monitor that recorded my contractions and the baby’s heartbeat. A nurse came in and checked my cervix.
“You’re five and a half centimeters dilated,” she said. “It’s time to admit you.”
Other people came into and out of our room. A doctor asked me if I wanted pain medication or an epidural. I asked him if he thought it was time for an epidural yet. I knew I wanted one eventually but didn’t want to get it too early and end up slowing down the labor. He said something neutral but not particularly encouraging, and I said I could wait a little longer for the epi.
Meanwhile the contractions were coming in regularly and strong. They were bearable, but a little less bearable than before.
Then a really hard contraction hit, and my doubts about asking for an epidural vanished. I breathed through the pain, and I guess this is an obvious observation, but breathing doesn’t really diminish what you’re feeling, when you’re feeling like that. It just gives you something to control in a situation where most of what you’re feeling is out of your control.
We were walked down the hall to a birthing room then, and I climbed into the bed I would remain on for the remainder of the delivery. Contractions came and went. The epidural technician came into the room, and I sat very still while he inserted the needle into my back. That part — the needle in the spine — was something I had been nervous about pre-delivery, but I hardly felt it. The night nurse, Dori, directed me to lay on one side and then another to let the medication take effect.
The time passed by more quickly from then on.
My left leg became numb, but I could still move my right. The contractions weakened to small things I could mostly ignore. I got the shakes and vomited into a plastic bag. Dori brought in some warm blankets and told me to sleep while we waited for my cervix to finish dilating. J, who had been there the entire time, got a blanket as well, and went to sleep on the bench couch by the window. I fell into a shallow sleep, and felt better.
Soon the sky was becoming light out the window. Dori came in again with the day nurse. My cervix was checked. A ten! The baby was very low. More people came in. The day nurse told me it was time to push, and that my doctor, Dr. K, had been called and was driving in. Did I want to wait for her or did I want to start pushing now?
Epidurals are amazing. I could barely tell when I was having contractions, and they didn’t really hurt at all. My left leg was a block of ice, not really a limb. I could move my right leg still. I didn’t feel any particular need to push.
“I’ll wait for the doctor,” I said.
A short while later Dr. K arrived. The crowd of other people in the room (there were probably five or six present, a combination of nurses and doctors and resident doctors) were all very organized and busy. A group of them clustered around me then. The leg-stirrup things on my bed were unfolded and my legs were placed on them. J stood to my right
“We’re going to tell you when you’re in the middle of a contraction and have you give three big, ten-second pushes,” Dr. K said. “During each push I want you to lean up into your knees.”
We did that for a while. At first, because I was so numb, I don’t think I was very efficient. But I wasn’t receiving epidural medication anymore and soon I began to feel what I was doing a little better. Things seemed to progress. After each round of pushes I would ask the doctor, “Is he any further?”
“He’s coming,” she would say each time. “It’s good to go slowly, because this allows your vaginal opening to stretch, and you’ll be less likely to tear.”
At one point a nurse asked me if I wanted to see what was going on. “We can bring in a mirror,” she said.
“I, errrmm…” I wasn’t so sure. I had looked at my vagina with a mirror once, years ago, out of curiosity, and had been a little weirded out by the experience. I knew there wasn’t anything unusual about it. It just looked so… alien. So foreign. This intimate body part of mine. Did I really want to see a baby coming out of it?
The mirror was brought in despite my reservations and I was given a full view of my nether regions. I asked for it to be taken away again. When I pushed, I looked at the square of morning sun that was casting a warm glow on the door at the far side of the room. It was such a nice shade of brown.
The pushing continued. I couldn’t tell how far the baby was coming, although once Dr. K told me to reach down and feel the top of his head. It was very soft. Somehow I didn’t mind the weirdness of that moment. It was exciting, really. I got my nerve up and asked for the mirror back. From then on I watched with each push as he got nearer to making his appearance.
All the while I was not uncomfortable. I knew I should be. I also knew, with each passing push, that I was beginning to be able to feel more and more what was going on down there. I knew when contractions were happening at this point. They were like very mild period pains.
One of the people around me said, “She’s having really long back-to-back contractions. Should we ask her to give four pushes each time instead of three?” The monitor they were using to follow my contractions was at an awkward angle for me to view. J later said it looked like my contractions were lasting about three minutes apiece.
I began to be a little nervous that the epidural medication would wear off before the baby came. When they asked me to push, I pushed. I was glad to do four pushes instead of three.
Finally the baby’s head crowned. I felt the pressure of it but couldn’t really see what was going on in the mirror, because the crowd of people around me was working together to pull him out. J, still on my right, was asked if he wanted to cut the umbilical cord, and he did.
Suddenly a little person was being placed on my chest. I wasn’t crying with the emotion of it all like women sometimes do on tv and in the movies. But the sun was coming in the window and shining on the brown wood of the door on the opposite side of the room. It was morning and I love mornings. J and I had our baby. It was a good moment.