On the seven-minute drive to the hospital, through the freshly fallen five inches of snow, I had three contractions and the revelation that this time, no matter what my birth plan said, I was going to have an epidural.
I’d already experienced childbirth au natural and did not need to relive the pain. When I told Megan my plan, she responded exactly right: “You should do whatever you want.”
Turns out the whole labor went fast enough that I never did get the epidural, much less the glass of water I asked for when admitted into triage.
But let me back up a bit.
The day Gus was born, Otto was very, very sick. The week prior, he’d been diagnosed with an ear infection and as is standard procedure, prescribed amoxicillin. About eight days into his dosage, he woke with what seemed to be a case of hives on his chest and back.
By mid-day the bumps had converged into one big swollen welt and had started creeping up his neck and down his legs. A trip to the doctor informed us he was having an allergic reaction to the medication, and that Benadryl should help relieve the swelling and itching.
That evening my parents arrived from out of town, hopeful their stay would overlap with the baby’s birth. Everyone jovially placed bets on when the baby would be born, and I all but refused to participate because like anyone who is 10 months pregnant, I stopped believing the baby would ever be born.
The next day, Jill headed out to get some work done, and Otto’s condition worsened. The itching and swelling moved away from his trunk and onto his face, hands, and feet. He became, at times, inconsolable. By late afternoon, when he started shaking and his lips, fingertips, and toes turned blue, my dad and I rushed out in the slippery, unplowed roads to take him to urgent care.
During the hour we waited to see the doctor, Otto demanded that I hold, rock, and bounce him as I paced the waiting room. He was exhaustingly heavy, and I worked extremely hard to divert his attention from his pain. So much so, that I only barely began to acknowledge my own pain brewing.
Finally, after an excruciating meeting with a far-too-upbeat-for-the-situation nurse and a near-hysterical toddler, he was diagnosed with serum sickness and prescribed something else that we’d have to pick up on the way home. They filled him with Tylenol and sent us on our way. It was 6:45pm.
I sat in the car with Otto as my dad ran into the pharmacy for the prescription. I called Jill to give her the update. At the end of the conversation I added, “and I think I am going into labor.”
Back home, Otto was starting to feel a little better and we invited our next-door neighbor and her son (Otto’s BFF) over to help ease his pain even more. For the first time in several days, he had an appetite and a smile.
I poured myself a big glass of red wine and made sure we had everything in the hospital bag. Jill quietly put Otto to bed and my contractions strengthened. We were so preoccupied that we never really had a moment to properly time any contractions, but at about 9pm my Dad cleared the new snow off the car, waved us off, and we headed out.
I felt incredibly relaxed and organized as we parked the car, walked in to the hospital, and told the man at the info desk we were there to have a baby. I had a few contractions along the way, but I was able to cope through the discomfort.
The triage nurse asked if I had any plans to manage my pain. Why, yes! I said informing her of my recent epidural idea. Then, contrary to everything anyone ever says about doctors and hospitals over-giving pain meds, pitocin, etc., this nurse somehow convinced me I could do it on my own.
It was probably about 10pm and I was only four centimeters dilated. The contractions were starting to blind me, but I was fairly comfortable situated on my side next to Jill, counting my breaths through each one.
After about an hour in triage I was feeling the urge to push. Why no one was checking on me was baffling. Finally a nurse came in, cheerfully hollering “hello!” and I wanted to kick her in the face. This was no time for cheer; I grunted extra loud through my contraction to make that clear. When she told me to get in a wheelchair, I about lost it.
Calmly, Jill asked if they could just wheel me on the bed and I think I muttered something about pushing. I recall someone checking and telling me I was only five centimeters dilated and a team of people talking me into the wheelchair.
The long ride through the hospital hallways from triage to L&D was the golden light in my labor. I buried my head in the sheet covering me, so I could only barely see the lights changing down the halls, and the sounds of ordinary conversations coming and going. It felt not unlike the trippy walkway between terminals at the Detroit airport. I didn’t have a single contraction, and I was in heaven.
In the L&D room, the order of events becomes muddled. The anesthesiologist asked if I wanted to be prepped for an IV should I change my mind and want an epidural. Someone came to fill the tub for me to labor in. Suddenly everyone but the nurse and Jill left and I had to pee really, really bad. My contractions were so strong that with each one, I sort of levitated myself out of the chair. And after just three contractions, I really started to push.
The nurse got on the intercom and hollered something about getting in here for a delivery.
“Just don’t have your baby in the toilet” she told me, as I attempted to get myself toward the bathroom. In a flash I knew that could be reality and collapsed onto the bed. A few seconds later my water broke.
Suddenly people swarmed between my legs. Someone leaned way forward, right up to my ear and shouted, “I know this is intense but…” and I couldn’t hear the rest through my own wails. She wanted for me not to push so she could see if I was fully dilated. I was both annoyed and appalled. I didn’t know doctors still told women not to push; it was like telling someone to stop throwing up.
I did not stop. Instead I just instructed (I think anyway, maybe I was only saying it in my head) everyone there that they could move my body however they needed, I didn’t care, but that I would not be able to do it myself.
It felt like I pushed furiously for a long time without a break. It was a much, much more concentrated period of labor than I had with Otto’s birth. I could feel this baby slowly press his way out of me, and it was not at all easy. But then finally at 11:34pm, he was there, on my chest, crying, all warm and wet and purple. This time I cried, too. Jill and I kissed long and hard, and I held the baby tight.
And right away, I worried about Otto, hoping his pain was easing too.