Sooo…you might have noticed that it’s been awfully quiet around here for a while. I literally just found the time to open WordPress…and to breathe…and to take a proper shower…and to think…because, would you believe it, I am now a mother!
A couple of weeks ago, a little human being whipped and nae-naed his way out of me. He did whip and nae-nae, I have video footage to prove it! I will be keeping that to show his friends when he’s a teenager and starts to annoy me.
This was my perfect, ideal birth plan.
- At the 39-week mark, with my husband and aunt in attendance, go into labour.
- Manage the pains of first stage labour with activities like sitting on my exercise ball, long walks, baking, reading a book, taking a warm shower etc.
- After my water breaks, proceed to the hospital with my packed bag containing my music player, framed pictures of calming scenery, energy drinks and cookies for my nurses.
- At the hospital, chat with my nurses. Brave the pain. Dance a bit to the playlist K was supposed to compile for me.
- Delay or totally avoid the epidural. Labour for 6 hours or less. Deliver in the squat position.
- Avoid any tears that will require stitches.
- Walk out the next day with my child.
Didn’t happen, folks.
First, D. arrived at 37 weeks. Everyone said that was almost impossible. It’s your first baby; first babies usually overshoot their due date. Didn’t happen, people. 37 weeks, and I hadn’t packed my hospital bag or bought him a car seat. When labour started, I remained in denial. “It’s impossible, I’m not in labour. This can’t be happening in real life…”
It happened in real life.
January 10, 2015
Our wedding anniversary. K and I go out that evening. In New Orleans, there’s a street called Frenchmen. It has the most amazing jazz clubs and the music is top-rate. We went dancing 🙂 Hard to imagine with my big, 37-week pregnant belly but yes, I managed to make a few moves. 🙂 When I get home, I notice some cramping, nothing major. I ignore it.
January 12, 2016
I wake up with an unexpected burst of energy and the inexplicable need to scrub the bathroom. I pull up a new playlist on Amazon Prime and I belly dance. I wash the bathroom, on my hands and knees. (One of the signs of early labour is a spurt of extra energy that the body plans to use to labour.)
When I stand up, I notice that my bump seems lower. My husband agrees it looks funny but we shrug it off. (This is called ‘lightening’ and is another sign of early labour.
I sit on my exercise ball all day. At some point, I even pump it higher. (The exercise ball is used during pregnancy to relieve back pain by promoting good posture. It also widens the pelvis, and helps position the baby in the optimal position for birth.)
By bedtime, I have cramps and a backache. I’m too restless to lie in bed, I lie on the floor instead.
Me: These cramps are uncomfortable.
K: Drink water. (My OB-GYN had once commented that false contractions might be caused by dehydration.)
January 13, about 1 am
I drink water for hours, people. I lean over on my exercise ball, hugging it and rocking myself back and forth. It helps a bit. I drink more water. I’m tired but I can’t sleep. Maybe this is really labour. The thought crosses my mind for a second and I panic. I am not ready to have the baby. There are things to buy. There are preparations to make. There are books to finish reading!
Me: I think we should call the doctor.
K: And tell her what? It’s midnight. There’s nothing wrong.
Me: What if I’m in labour?
K: You’re not. This baby isn’t due for 3 weeks. Just rest. Sleep. We’ll see her in the afternoon.
Me: *lies down on the floor. Starts to Google early labour signs*
I download an app to time my contractions (honestly, this is the only way to time contractions. I can’t imagine using a clock). Some contractions are long, some short and the intervals vary. The randomness comforts me. The standard for confirmed labour is the 5-1-1 rule; five-minute intervals, one-minute duration for at least one hour. This can’t be real labour, I think.
About 3:40 am.
Somehow, improbably, I doze despite the discomfort. I’m lying on the floor, covered in blankets. How do contractions feel? Like period pains multiplied by a million. They’re not unbearable if you don’t panic, if you don’t think about them lasting multiple hours. And they stop. So you have a minute or so of intense contracting where you can’t talk or think of anything and then you have two minutes of nothing. No pain. No squeezing. Nothing. Not so bad, right?
Then my water breaks. A small pop and a release of tension I wasn’t even aware of. A leak, like I’m incontinent. My pyjama shorts are wet but I can’t tell if it’s because I’m sweating so much.
Me: I think my water just broke.
K: That’s not how water breaks, na. There should be plenty. This is too small.
At this point, I decide to listen to my body instead. And my body is telling me that this baby is coming at 37 weeks. And that I’ve been in labour for hours without knowing it. And that I better get to the hospital unless I want to give birth at home.
We wake our very amazing friend and hostess, Akunna. She agrees with me. We call the doctor and she tells us to go to the hospital. She’ll meet me there.
We drive for what seems like hours to me. In reality, it’s less than 10 minutes. I grit my teeth for for every bump and pothole on the road.
At the hospital, my contractions are strong enough to make me tremble. I’m taken to the observation room and given a hospital gown.
“We have to confirm that you’re actually in labour and that your water has broken before we can admit you.”
They check; I’m about 1 cm dilated and they think they can feel the baby’s hair but they’re not sure my water has broken. They decide to wait and see before sending me home. I just want to sleep. I’m hoping they give me a sleeping pill or something. If I can only sleep for a bit, I know I’ll be able to wait out the contractions. I ask K to hold my hand, massage my feet… anything to distract me. Nothing works. I start to pray.
An hour later, the nurses return to check me. I’m still only 2 cm dilated but they decide I should be admitted. Yay!
I’m not allowed to eat or drink anything except for ice till the baby comes. The nurses poke me with needles over and over, drawing blood, setting hep-locks, setting up my IV. They keep apologizing for the discomfort they think they’re causing me. I don’t have the energy to tell them not to worry. Compared to the contractions, needles in my arm are insignificant.
K leaves me at a little past 7. He has to go back to the house. The nurses offer me an epidural once, twice. I’m worried that if I take it too early, it’ll wear out by the time I really need it. I ask to see my doctor first. A nurse teaches me how to breathe through each contraction and not hold my breath. It helps. In my lucid moments, I pray, “God help me, I can’t do this by myself.”
I didn’t expect labour to be… tiring. It wasn’t so much painful as it was exhausting. When my doctor announces that I can have the epidural as early as I want, I nearly weep in relief. The epidural needle is relatively big (5 inches long) and it will be driven a few inches below my spine and a catheter threaded through it. Some say it hurts and that sudden movements by the patient could lead to paralysis. I’d even heard that an epidural could cause one of my legs to drop lower than the other, and that I would limp forever after.
At that point, I did not care. I just wanted the contractions to stop so I could sleep.
It works within 15 minutes. I felt it as a cold gush down my back and then the contractions stop. I start to shiver hard; a side effect I’d never heard about. I couldn’t get warm. I request blankets. And then my baby’s heartbeat starts to drop. The nurse stares in horror at the heartbeat monitor. I can hear the murmur of his heart quieting.
I get on my knees, lie on my left side, my right side. Anything to get his heart back up. It keeps dropping.
“We have to wheel you in for an emergency c-section.”
Not good. Not good. “Why?”
“Your baby is in distress. We don’t know why. We need to get him out immediately.”
“Is it because of the epidural?”
“We don’t know.”
They wheel me to the operating room. “Please call my husband,” I tell them.
“We can’t wait for him. We have to operate now.”
I’m lying in the operating room, staring up at bright lights. They’re running around, getting ready. Then the baby’s heart rate picks up again on the monitor. I can hear it and it is the most beautiful sound in the world.
“He’s up!” Everyone cheers. They wheel me back to my delivery room and eventually the doctor explains that the epidural lowered my blood pressure and that was what affected the baby. It’s a fairly common side effect. I wish I’d known that before.
Things progress after that bit of drama. I dilate slowly and I sleep. They give me an oxygen mask. K contacts our family and friends. He starts a poll; getting our friends and relatives to vote for the baby’s name. A part of me is still worried about the baby arriving at 37 weeks. Will he have to be in an incubator? Will he need specialized neonatal care?
At about 2pm, the nurses check me and confirm that I’ve dilated to 8cm. I’ve been in the hospital for almost 12 hours. Another effect of the epidural is that it slows down labour so you labour for longer. But it was a trade off I was willing to make. They give me Pitocin to speed things up. Shortly after I dilate to 10cm, I feel the pressure of the baby’s head between my legs.
“I’m ready to push.”
The nurses get ready. I am put in position to push; half-sitting, half-lying down. The doctor lays out her instruments: forceps, scissors a bunch of scary medical gadgets. She sits on a stool in front of me.
Doctor: You can’t feel the urge to push because of the epidural so we’ll have to tell you when, okay? You’ll push at the start of your contractions; we’re monitoring them on the computer. You’ll take a deep breath and hold it like you’re underwater, and then you’ll push with all your might.
Me: Got it. (frightened out of my mind, actually. OMG. Baby is really coming!)
K: *starts to play Coldplay because Baby needs a suitable soundtrack to come into the world*
Nurse: Okay. Wait for it. Contraction starting. Go!
I push. I really can’t feel anything on account of the epidural but everyone is so encouraging. K is cheering me on like I’m running a marathon. I brace for the next contraction. My doctor is massaging me, preparing my body to accommodate the inevitable stretching. I don’t feel any pain. (It’s kind of like pushing a car. It’s difficult but not painful. So I’m not shouting or screaming. I’m actually pretty quiet. Isn’t epidural just bae?)
I push four times before my son’s head appears. “He has so much hair!”
The doctor helps him out, pulling under his arms. I gasp loudly as I catch my breath. And then he’s born; purple, and quiet as a mouse. Purple because he hasn’t started breathing. Quiet because he’s stunned by what just happened. His head is cone-shaped from the birth canal. He looks alien. I ask, “Why is he purple?”
He coughs and cries. K cuts the cord. My baby looks at me and I don’t feel that gush of maternal love that people talk about sometimes. I don’t feel anything but awe and relief that he’s out and he’s well and he’s so warm.
The days of routine episiotomies for first time mothers are over, thankfully but I still get a few stitches. They aren’t as painful as I thought.
D. doesn’t need any specialized care. We spend two nights in the hospital and he sleeps beside me the whole time. I can’t believe they let us go home with him afterwards. We’re novices at parenting!
I’m learning to be a mother. I hope I’m a good one. Thank you all for your kind wishes and prayers and advice. They worked! In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten so many comments and emails and I would love to reply them all but I’m in over my head at the moment. I will respond with time, I promise. J
So how have you been these past few weeks? If you’re a mother, what was your first labour like?