With the new baby on the edge of the horizon, I’ve been thinking a lot about Otto’s birth. It’s a story I’ve wanted to write for almost two years now. Here it is.
After weeks of incessantly Googling “What does a contraction feel like?” I woke at 4:30am on Friday, February 13, 2009 with my answer. The first ones are nothing. It’s like a strong menstrual cramp that sort of eases in, then out. It’s the later ones that are too mind-bendingly painful to describe.
Excited, I forced myself to ease back to sleep until daylight. Then, around 7:30 I woke Jill to tell her excitedly, and in these exact words: “It’s happening.” In retrospect, I wish I had taken this moment of insight to pack the hospital bag. Because things got a little crazy after that.
If you are reading this, and one day plan to have children via the birth canal, let me give you one piece of advice: lie about your due date. Add a week. Or at least a few days. It just so happened that I went into labor on my due date, and on that very day, everyone I knew descended upon me in a frenzy of phone calls and emails to see “how I was feeling.”
As contractions and phone calls continued through the morning (including a phone call to see if I would be a guest speaker the following day for an event!), I got in touch with my doula to let her know things were starting. I just so happened to have a doctor’s appointment at 1:30 that afternoon, and was eager to find out if and how much I was dilated.
Turned out, not much. My doctor thought I was maybe, just maybe one centimeter and surmised with no certainty that the baby could come as soon as the next day or two. My blood pressure was extremely high, so I was to return later that afternoon for another check, and to be monitored for the ever-scary preeclampsia. I never made it back for a check.
Instead Jill and I went to our usual post-appointment lunch spot, where I had a pear and cheese salad and my contractions continued to build and become closer together. I remember Jill jotting down the time on a piece of scrap of paper every five minutes, then four, and soon I had to halt conversation to breath through what could no longer be described as a menstrual cramp. I remember using the bathroom before we left, working through an especially large contraction, and thinking, “I see how this is going to be painful.”
Still the mental notes from my doctor, eight weeks of birth classes, and everything I ever read or heard about first-time labor had me prepared for hours, possibly days of this. We would stop and pick up a few movies, some groceries, head home, and you know, light candles, listen to music, and bask in the glow of our impending motherhood.
At this point (about an hour after my doctor’s appointment, mind you), I could barely sit in the car. With each contraction I had to sort of go into plank position so I could stretch out my torso. Still, we made the decision to stop at Blockbuster where Jill lingered over new releases, and I shuffled along, doubling over every few steps I took. The pain was big enough that I remember my peripheral vision going dark.
Back in the car, with movies in hand, I should have decided to go to the hospital. Instead I merely decided I was not up for a trip to the grocery store. So we returned home where I changed into a beautiful maternity pajama set Jill splurged on for a Christmas gift. For weeks I’d had visions of a long night laboring in these lovely pajamas. It was exciting to be in them, comfortable, and – if not feeling – looking good.
Obliviously timing the now 2-3-minute-apart-contractions, we both tended to our new email messages from family and friends. In one message, a friend of mine reminded me how good it felt to sit on the birth ball; I immediately pulled myself off the couch to sit on the blue ball I’d been enjoying for months.
Only this time it wasn’t so enjoyable. It hurt. A lot. I could actually feel the baby’s head down so low it pressed sharply between my body and the ball.
There is a point in labor called “transition.” In theory, I didn’t understand what this was, but at that moment I knew I was there, and I knew I needed to get to the hospital. I doubled over, resting my knees on the floor and my head on the ball.
And then my water broke.