On Wednesday morning, June 10, I woke up feeling like today was the day that I needed to tie up some loose ends. I had a list of things to do around town that I'd been sitting on for months and some baby items I knew I'd regret not having if the little one arrived before his or her due date. I had not slept well at all, waking up repeatedly and having trouble falling back to sleep. I lingered in bed until I couldn't justify it any longer, and prepared for the day.
It was sunny and hot. I can't remember now what we had for breakfast, and I wish I could. In my mind I like to think it was a day my sweet husband cooked breakfast, and honestly that's probably true -- during the summer, he made breakfast nearly every day. But I know I took my sweet time getting ready and out of the house... I put my makeup on the couch while I watched Price is Right, and put on the same outfit I had worn 3-4 times a week for the last few weeks of pregnancy (because it was all that fit): layered green and yellow Motherhood maternity tank tops with black Old Navy yoga pants. We googled the directions to the stores we needed to visit because they were spread all over the metroplex (the reason why these errands had not been done earlier.) It was early afternoon before we hit the road.
We went to the Post Office to drop off a diaper bag we had received in error, and a coffeemaker that needed to be returned to the manufacturer after the motor burned out pre-warranty (no need to mention that it was because my BIL filled the grinder far beyond capacity). We dumped a few boxes at Goodwill. We crossed town to Half Price Books and sold probably $1000 worth of textbooks for a paltry $38, which we turned around and spent on baby books. We had so much fun sifting through the kids section finding the perfect books for the special little person we were so anxiously awaiting... due in just 4 days. I chose developmentally appropriate board books; my husband chose hardback storybooks far "too old" for an infant, with wild illustrations and creative writing. Looking back, his are much more meaningful and I know that they will stay on our shelves far longer than Baby Einstein and First Words.
We were exhausted by this point, but I was filled with a nervous energy that I can now attribute to the beginnings of labor. I was starting to feel crampy and was having frequent contractions, which I assumed to be Braxton Hicks since I'd been having them regularly since about 15 weeks. I thought little of them. We ventured on, finally ending up at Babies R Us for one thing I simply couldn't live without and somehow hadn't yet purchased: a diaper pail. We found it quickly - a simple step can that I couldn't' find anywhere else - but we dawdled in the store, looking at boy clothes and girl clothes, dreaming of our mystery baby and wondering which section we'd be revisiting after the birth.
As we walked out of Babies R Us, I said to my husband, "We can have the baby now. We have a diaper pail." We both laughed, oblivious.
The exact order of events over the next few hours is foggy, but I know at some point I pulled the stuffed animals off the nursery bookshelf, moved them next to the crib, and replaced them with the baby books we'd just bought. I set up the new trash can, feeling its significance. This was the only changing table in the house, and we just couldn't change a baby in this room without a diaper pail. I looked around the room thinking... it's really ready. A baby can really live in our house now. So silly, I know... but that trash can was the last detail. I was ready.
By this point it was starting to get rainy. My sweetie and I cuddled on the couch for a while, watching something silly I'm sure... probably It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. At some point it dawned on us that alone time was nearly a thing of the past, and we took full advantage of that drizzly evening on the couch (... and then the bedroom). Afterwards I was feeling decidedly uncomfortable, but kept it to myself, not wanting to cause any undue alarm. We were laying in our bed together when the house shook with a deafening clap of thunder and branches and debris began whipping against our second story window. I said to hubby, "I hope this baby comes in the storm." Within seconds the sirens started.
We sprang out of bed and down the stairs to check the weather. While I turned on the TV and started gathering blankets and pillows for our "tornado bathroom," hubby walked right out into the storm. I felt panic grip me in a way I was unfamiliar with and pleaded with him to come inside. I had been joking about the baby coming tonight, but I was feeling an intensity to these "Braxton Hicks" that I hadn't even felt a few minutes earlier.
We watched the radar for a bit and decided we weren't in imminent danger. Hubby went upstairs for a while and I quietly started timing contractions on my laptop. My heart began to thus with excitement and anxiety as it became apparent that they were regular - 3-4 minutes apart, a minute long. I clued in hubby that I was having regular contractions, but I went on about my evening. He picked up dinner somewhere... I honestly can't remember. Maybe Taco Bueno. I was overcome by an urge to clean the house, and did so somewhat frantically as the storm raged on around us. Sometime around 8:00 I messaged my mom and sister, who live in Texarkana, to let them know I was having contractions. They told me to get some sleep and see how I felt in a few hours... I would need the rest if it was real labor. I didn't go to bed, of course. I had not yet packed a hospital bag, and hadn't formally written my birth plan. My husband suddenly realized that I seriously might be in labor when I asked him to get me down a few duffel bags to pack for us to go to the hospital. He seemed shocked, like he hadn't heard me when I told him my contractions were regular several hours earlier. I thought he seemed a little too calm... I think he was in denial.
I can't remember everything I did between 8:30 and 12:30. I called the hospital to find out where I needed to go if I decided to come in; I hadn't taken the tour. I packed my bags, checked emails (I set up a day for the lawn guy to mow, haha), and I wrote out a very simple birth plan in magic Marker, as our printer wasn't working: Please don't offer drugs, No artificial augmentation of labor, prefer intermittent monitoring; after the birth, please no circumcision if it's a boy, and no bottles. By about 11 I was pretty uncomfortable and was breathing through contractions, leaning on whatever surface was closest. I let the pain come and focused on staying relaxed and open through the hips, and letting the baby press downward even though it was more painful than tensing up. I was surprised at how calm and controlled I felt. The pain at this point was easily manageable and nothing like I expected.
Around 12:30 I felt content that when I was ready to move to the hospital, everything was ready. Hubby and I headed to bed, and he passed out within minutes. I fitfully rested for 45 minutes or so, but during this time my labor began to pick up and I finally knew what women meant when they say, "you'll just know." I woke up my groggy husband and told him I was ready to move. He said, "move where?" I resisted the sudden urge to say "WHERE THE !@#$% DO YOU THINK?!" and remained calm and polite... I think.
Despite having gone to bed feeling prepared to go at a moments notice, it still took about an hour to get out of the house. It was absolutely pouring rain. While I labored on an exercise ball, arms folded over the back of a chair, hubby loaded up the car with our bags and the carseat. We tried to wait until the rain let up, but it never did. Between contractions I hobbled/waddled as carefully as a huge pregnant lady in labor can in a downpour. I had heard that the ride to the hospital is a painful one, and this one was no exception. My contractions intensified at exactly the point that I could not control my position. It is a very short drive, but in labor, in a thunderstorm, it felt like an eternity.
I checked in at labor and delivery and met my nurse, Angie. She turned out to be an angel. She checked me in triage (at 2:34 am) and found that I was between5-6 cm already! I couldn't' believe it! I was unable to talk or walk through contractions at this point, but I still felt the pain was quite manageable and couldn't believe I was more than halfway there already. She asked me what my plans were for pain management, and she looked pleased when I told her I was hoping not to use medication of any kind. I was surprised, after preparing myself for a fight in the hospital to have my wishes for a natural birth fulfilled. To my amazement, she told me she had delivered two children naturally herself and was extremely encouraging. She told me I was already doing great and that she knew I'd make it with no problem if I'd gotten this far. But she was also honest... she told me, "you will continue like this for a few hours and you'll do great. And then your water will break and al hell will break loose. But then you'll know it's the home stretch." She was exactly right.
I called my mom to tell her I was already 5 cm and I thought she was going to cry, she was so happy. She and my sister so wanted me to go through with a drug-free delivery. She told me she would leave early in the morning with my dad and grandmother. I did not wish to have any family besides DH in the delivery room, so she decided not to hurry and to see us later in the day.
I got into my room and continued to labor calmly and quietly. I felt very in control, even as I had to answer a billion stupid questions and fill out ten billion stupid papers. I found that I liked the rocking chair, and that I hated the birthing ball. I spent a lot of time leaning on a high table in the room, and sneaking drinks of water while the nurse was out (She wasn't supposed to let me drink water, but let it slip that if she happened to be out of the room while I did it, she wouldn't' have to know. Sweet gal.) At one point I asked Angie if I was the only person there; the hall was completely quiet. She said, "no, every room is full! But they all have epidurals; they're all sleeping." I laughed and said, "Well, I'll be waking them up around 6 am I have a feeling." She assured me I wouldn't; she said I looked like the "quiet type."
At some point my MIL arrived and spent a little more time than I wanted in the room with us. I absolutely love her and she does so much for us, I felt guilty about not letting her see the birth... but I felt strongly that this was a private time in my life and that I wanted to share it intimately with my husband and only my husband. DH was supposed to be in charge of keeping the room clear, but being his own mother, it was a little tough. But then another nurse came in and started chatting loudly with my MIL, and that was the last straw... I shot a look at my husband that could only mean "GET THEM THE HELL OUT OF HERE." He did.
For several hours I labored around the room, occasionally getting in bed to be monitored. My sweet husband rubbed my back the whole time, as the majority of my contractions were concentrated in my lower back. Around 5:00 Angie asked if I'd like to try the whirlpool, to which I responded "HOLY SHIT YOU HAVE A WHIRLPOOL, WHY AM I NOT IN IT?!" Actually, I said something more like, "that sounds nice." But the former was what first came to mind. When my body hit that warm water, it was like somebody turned the volume down on my pain. It was beautiful, wonderful relief. I wanted to stay in there forever. After about 30 minutes Angie returned to do a quick check of the baby's heartrate. At that moment I suddenly felt the strongest contraction yet, and felt a distinct *pop* and a gush that could only mean one thing. I told her I thought my water had broken, and sure enough, the water started to become tinged with my amniotic fluid. She said right away, "it looks like there's a little meconium. You're going to have to get out." I thought I would cry, but dutifully got out and dried off (between contractions) and headed back to my room with a steady stream of warm fluid flowing down my legs the whole way.
I had to get in bed at this point to be monitored due to the presence of meconium, which I would have fought, but at the time laying in bed sounded great to me. I was becoming extremely exhausted and the pain had intensified quite a bit, particularly in my back. Angie suggested laying on my side, which felt good for a while. Suddenly the contractions had me nearly paralyzed with pain. I could no longer relax, and I found myself gripping the bedrails so hard I thought I might break them during contractions. That's when the quiet labor ended. In the middle of an intense contraction I became aware of a low, guttural growl, a moan from deep within the soul... and I realized it was me. Beyond my control, I moaned through the rest of my labor as I had told myself over and over I wouldn't do. The next hour and a half is hazy. I felt like no time was passing; at the same time, I felt like everything was moving so quickly I couldn't keep up. I was unaware of anything but my body, the bedrail I clung to, and the low howl that escaped my lips at the peak of contractions. At some point my wonderful doctor came in; I had switched to a kneeling position against the back of the bed, which felt HORRIBLE and I became extremely dizzy and nauseated in it. I don't know what she said to me or what I said to her, but I know I was not pleasant. (My demeanor at least; I pride myself on the fact that throughout the entire labor, I never swore or yelled at anybody.)
At some point during an intense, mind numbing contraction, I suddenly felt like my whole "undercarriage," as my husband puts it, was trying to escape. I heard myself grunting, at the end of the moan, a sound I'd never heard before and remain embarrassed about. I realized with elation... is the infamous "URGE TO PUSH?!" I told my husband to page the nurse; something was different, I wanted to push. The grunting contractions continued, and I felt that my body was pushing that baby out without my permission, lol. The nurse came and checked me; I was 9 ½ cm with just a tiny "lip!" She left to find the doctor, and gave me permission to bear down during contractions to try and get rid of the lip.
I'm not sure how long I was bearing down on my own before somebody came back to check, but it felt wonderful to be able to push back against the pain. I didn't push every contraction, and I didn't push hard; but the freedom felt wonderful. The pain was still so intense I can't describe it; but something felt better about pushing. When the nurse came back, it was to tell me the shift was changing. I would have been heartbroken if I wasn't in so much agony. The new nurse was gruff and ambivalent. I have no idea what her name was. She checked me out and watched me push through a few contractions. Then she went about typing who knows what on her computer monitor and stayed busy around the room. Suddenly, as I pushed hard against a killer contraction, I felt that something qualitatively different was happening. My husband almost shrieked. (Actually, I think his words were, "whoa, whoa, whoa...") I freaked a little and started telling the nurse the doctor HAD TO COME NOW. I wanted the doctor. The baby was coming. GET THE DOCTOR. She assured me the baby was not coming so soon, but my husband told me later that she immediately called the doctor and told her to come ASAP. She was in a C-section.
Within a few minutes, things started happening fast. The nurse told me to stop pushing. I WAS FURIOUS. Are you CRAZY, stop pushing? It was agonizing. I was writhing, seething in pain, everything in my body was trying to crawl out my rectum and I wasn't allowed to push. I panted like a maniac and felt like death was imminent. The nurse broke down my bed and had me scoot my butt way down. The NICU team arrived (they have to take the baby right away to suction meconium and check vitals) and some doctor I'd never seen came and introduced herself "just in case Dr. Flowers got stuck in the c-section." I told her just to deliver my baby, I didn't care. She didn't.
More nurses filed in, and I was elated to see Angie return. She apparently stayed just to see me deliver, and I was really flattered. Apparently all the nurses on the floor wanted to watch, because they had only seen a "natural delivery" a handful of times. I was a spectacle... but I didn't care. I wanted that baby OUT!
Literally, at the moment I could no longer stand it and wanted to scream at everybody in the room who was watching me pant like an idiot to just DELIVER THE BABY ALREADY, Dr. Flowers scooted in like a ray of glorious sunshine with a smile on her face. She slid to the end of the bed and the nurse told her that I had crowned while pushing on my own. She made it sound like I had accomplished something incredible; I liked that.
At the end of the second push, I heard myself scream. Actually SCREAM. I couldn't believe it. When the contraction ended, I told Dr. Flowers, "They were serious about the ‘ring of fire'!" She asked if I wanted lidocaine and I graciously accepted. I didn't even feel the needle. Two pushes (and more screaming) later, the head was out; one more push and I felt the rest the body slide out nearly painlessly. It was 7:56 am, a violent storm was still raging outside our window, and my baby was here! I was in shock; Dr. Flowers rushed to cut the cord and hand the baby to the NICU team when it suddenly dawned on me...
"IS IT A BOY OR A GIRL?!"
Dr. Flowers tilted the baby and flashed its "privates" in our direction. I looked in disbelief. There was... no penis. NO. WAY. It was A GIRL!! I screamed with delight and my husband lost it. He cried out in absolute joy and we held each other so tight, laughing and crying as we heard our little girl scream at the doctors who were trying to suction her. We have a girl. A little girl!
I told him to go to her; I wanted him to be near her since she couldn't be with me right away. He stood back against the wall as he watched them clean her up, his eyes filled with tears. He looked so overcome; it was beautiful watching his face as he laid eyes on his daughter for the first time.
They told me she weight 6 lbs, 7 oz, and I cheered. I was so glad to have a "little" baby. I am not sure why I said it, but I suddenly turned to everybody and said, "that wasn't so bad." The whole room laughed. The doctor asked me what the worst part was and I told her it was the very end, not being able to push. While DH stood with our angel, I delivered the placenta easily (nobody tells you that this is actually quite painful) and endured a few stitches in a small abrasion. Angie laughed and told me I had proved her wrong about being "the quiet type."
Within a few minutes they brought her to me. She was incredible. I couldn't believe how perfect every feature was; how much she looked like her daddy. She was clean and soft; no white gunk, no blood. Her head was nice and round (looking back, it was coney-er than I thought; but it looked perfect to me). I asked them if they could unswaddle her and put her on my skin and the nurse said, "I think you deserve at least that" with a wink. I was in awe. I couldn't speak. I couldn't stop touching her downy head; her tiny fingers. Her little squeaks and cries were music to my ears.
After a little while, the nurse reminded me I could feed her. I awkwardly offered her the breast and she nursed immediately like it was the most natural thing in the world. I suppose it is. Justin and I decided that her name would be Willa, which had been a frontrunner of our girl names, and we bantered a bit about the spelling of her middle name. Within a few minutes, it was decided. And there she was... our Willa Kate.
I think she was with us for a few hours before the nurse came back to take her to the nursery. I was sad to let her out of my sight, but I suddenly realized that I was completely, utterly exhausted. I had never felt so completely drained. She gave me some medicine for pain, and I rested sleeplessly until my wonderful husband came back to show me the dozens of photos he'd taken of Willa in the nursery. Somebody had put a sweet pink crocheted hat on her head; I cried when I saw it. I had a daughter.
All in all, my labor and delivery was absolutely textbook; it was everything I hoped for. Aside from the meconium, there were absolutely no complications. I had a wonderful nurse who supported me through a drug-free delivery, an amazing husband who was a perfect labor companion, and a body that knew just what to do. I know the Lord was with us throughout our journey to meet our baby girl, and I feel so incredibly blessed to have such a wonderful birth story to share.