“Do you have any questions?”
It was the part of the prenatal visit that always went the fastest for me. Every time, without fail, my doctor asked me if I had anything to ask; every time, without fail, I answered that I didn’t.
I was 34 weeks into my third successful pregnancy, and with the first only happened three years previously, there weren’t a whole lot of questions to be asked. This time, though, I had something that had been weighing on my mind.
“What exactly am I looking for, here?” In my typical introvert fashion, I phrased the question poorly, and instantly regretted it the moment it left my mouth. I rushed to clarify. “I mean, I don’t have a very good track record of recognizing labor. With my first I was having regular contractions when my induction started, but I didn’t know it. Then the only signal I had with my second was waves of pain in my back–and he was born just a few hours later. What am I supposed to be looking for? Everyone says labors get faster each time, and I’d really not like to have this baby at home. But I don’t want to be rushing to L&D every day.”
My doctor put her clipboard down thoughtfully and answered as best she could, but I think we were both baffled by how to find what I was requesting: basically, the exact signs to looks for so I could assuage both my paranoia and my perfectionism and save myself the humiliation of mistaking false labor for the real thing–or mistaking the real thing for false labor.
I left that day with the general instructions to just call or go in if I felt off in any way. It wasn’t exactly mollifying, but it was the best I could get.
With my first pregnancy, I has successfully convinced myself that I would go past 40 weeks (and probably to 42) only to be blindsided by an emergency induction at 37 weeks 1 day. Then, with my second, I couldn’t get the number 37 out of my mind, which I felt like I was going to lose until giving birth at 38 weeks 1 day. This go-round I had managed to keep myself firmly grounded in the fact that baby could come whenever he wanted and that I had absolutely no idea when exactly that would be. Oddly enough, that didn’t do much for my anxiety.
As I reached the 37-38 week mark, I kept a careful vigilance over anything and everything I was feeling. I kept my phone close by so I could time contractions. I had several of those frustrating episodes of contractions that were spaced 7-8 minutes apart that would fizzle out after an hour or so. During one of these episodes, I called my doctor at around 10:30 at night; by the way she sounded on the phone, I believed I woke her up, something I felt terrible for, then felt even worse for when the contractions once again stopped. I apologized profusely during my next visit, and was informed that I was one of five to call that night within a span of 30 minutes, which made me feel slightly–slightly–better.
One Sunday, after an entire morning and partial afternoon of feeling pains in my back of the same sort that sent me to the hospital with my second born, I decided to go in to L&D to be monitored. We brought our suitcase just in case (though I wanted to leave it in the car) and were admitted into an actual delivery room as all of the triage rooms were full. Oddly enough, it was the same room that Clive had been born in.
I was hooked up to monitors, and we chatted and joked with the nurse while we waited to see if anything was actually happening. It wasn’t. A contraction here or there, but the back pain was just that–plain ol’ back pain–and without any cervical progress since my last appointment, I was not to be admitted that day. I felt simultaneously relieved and embarrassed–the latter because I really felt like a woman who was about to go into labor for the third time in three years shouldn’t have any false alarms, the former because being in that room brought back an awful lot of memories, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that I wanted to give birth right then. I had a few things I wanted to go home and do first.
We left, but not before our nurse told us she really hoped she was here when we came back to have the baby. I hoped she would be, too–I liked her.
A few days passed, and I found myself wearying quickly of the uncertainty of it all. We had worried that Anselm would make his appearance on the early side of things, so my mother-in-law had flown in a week earlier than we had all planned. It was now two weeks later, and I began to worry we had inconvenienced her as much as I fretted that I’d miss my labor signs and accidentally give birth in the shower or something. (If you know the story of my first birth, you know why giving birth at home is a real fear for us.)
On Thursday, March 6, I felt “off” and contract-y enough to call my doctor (and just get the answering service, since they were at lunch) and, yet again, we headed off to the hospital to see what was happening. Jeremy took a video while we were on our way, and if you watch it, you will see me looking very peeved and unbelieving, as I was not wanting any documentation of what I was sure was going to be another false alarm. We tramped up to Labor and Delivery, where I was checked in by the same lady that checked me in on the previous Sunday, and I hoped she wouldn’t recognize me (but she did.) We were sent to a room in triage where I would be monitored, and the monitoring would show some contractions that were irregular, and a check showed still no cervical progress since the last time I had been in, and I was told I could walk the halls for an hour to see if that would get anything started.
We walked them for an hour and a half.
I can’t remember how many miles our walk figured to, though we calculated it, but by the time we got back to our triage room my contractions were around four minutes apart. I had progressed another cm and was now at 4. If I got to 5, they’d admit me, they said; while I was lying down to be monitored, however, the contractions had spaced out again. There was a three-fold criteria for admittance, I was told, and I had to meet at least two: dilation of at least 5 cm; contractions closer than 5-6 min apart (I think); contractions that I couldn’t walk or talk through. Since I tended to not have contractions like that until my water was broken, and then tended to have a baby around an hour after said water was broken, I tossed the third criteria out immediately. But walking got the contractions going, so we were sent out to walk the halls again.
We walked another ninety minutes or so, until around 7:30 p.m. I set my mind on walking an hour, then coaxed myself along by laps–just five more laps, just four more, three, two–then when I got to one, reset the goal and walked another five. We talked and walked together in silence by turns; we took bets on which number room we might be given. We noticed while walking that some rooms didn’t have windows, and we agreed that, since most rooms were empty, we would ask for one with a window. By the time we got back to triage there had been a change in shifts, and my contractions were perfectly regular. I was checked again and determined to be at 5 cm, so my doctor was called and apprised of the situation, and we were given a room.
“Don’t forget to ask them for one with a window!” Jeremy whispered, and I did. Ask them, I mean.
I had blood drawn to check my platelet level, and the anesthesiologist stopped by to explain why I couldn’t be given an epidural (as my last CBC had shown my level at 52,000). Jeremy hustled down to the cafe to get us something to eat before they closed, and we settled in for the long haul.
I have never labored at night, but with two fairly fast labors behind me, I hoped we wouldn’t have to wait too long for Anselm to arrive. I ate, then waited while the nurse monitored me for bit (again) before she took the monitors off and said I could walk around some more if I wanted to. Since sitting had made everything slow down again, walking was exactly what I intended to do. I left Jeremy in the room (which did have a window) while I went out and made laps around the floor once more, stopping occasionally to chat with nurses or to refill my cup of ice.
At around 10:30 I was halfway through a lap, headed back toward the end of the hall where our room was located, when our nurse appeared around the corner with my doctor behind her. I hurried to where they were and followed them back to the room, where she did her own check to see where I had progressed to.
My heart sank when she shook her head. I wasn’t even at a 5 by her assessment–somewhere between a 3-4, closer to 4, but definitely not 5. We all sat in disappointed silence for a moment. The nurse looked chagrined, and my doctor had driven out in icy weather just to see me, expecting that I’d be at a 6-7 by the time she arrived and she’d break my water and then we’d have a baby around an hour later and that would be that. And I was embarrassed again–here I was, admitted when I shouldn’t have been, and I had been walking for hours at that point, and my feet really hurt, and I hadn’t really progressed much at all. Jeremy and I looked at each other, and I thought about our boys whose bedtime routine we had missed for no reason at all, and I wanted to cry. I wondered aloud if we should just go home.
We held council there in the delivery room, weighing the pros and cons of staying the night or going home and waiting it out. In the end, it was decided that we would just stay, since the weather had turned icy and it was possible that we’d get home and not be able to get back if we needed to. I was still contracting around 5 min apart, and it was only a guess if that’d stop on its own or pick up intensity in the night. They were also not busy that night and we already had a room, so it didn’t matter to them if we hung out there until morning. My doctor had a scheduled c-section at 9:00 the next morning, and she said she’d come by and check on me before then. If I had made it to 5 cm by then and was still contracting, she’d break my water. Since I wasn’t yet 39 weeks, though, she refused to do anything until she was sure I was actually in labor and progressing.
She left, but not before advising me to get some sleep if I could. I nodded obediently, though I knew there was little chance of that. I sat on the bed for a few minutes after she was gone, thinking, and contracting. Suddenly my doctor stuck her head back in the door, asking, “How was that last one?” She had been watching my monitor in the hallway, and the last contraction had apparently read fairly intensely on it. She left again, saying she expected that I would progress in the night. I hoped she was right. I was running out of false alarm passes.
It was a really long night. As I expected, I didn’t sleep at all. I watched TV for a while, standing beside the bed because it made my contractions closer together. Then I walked the halls again. Then I came back into the room for them to check Anselm’s heartbeat. Then I once again set to walking the halls.
At around 2:30 or 3:00 a.m. I gave up on walking. I figured I’d done the best I could do. I went back to the delivery room and sat down in the bed. I watched some ridiculous George Clooney movie. As I sat, the contractions spaced back out again. Around 5:30 a.m. I was so exhausted that I managed to stop thinking and doze a bit, but I woke with every contraction. By 6:30 I was up again and standing beside the bed, trying to see if my contractions would pick up again. They did, but not by much.
Jeremy woke up, and our new nurse brought us coffee. We watched the History Channel and waited for my doctor to come by. At around 9:00, she did.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was shocked when she came in, chatted for a second, checked me, said “Five centimeters–let’s do this!”
She broke my water and left to do her C-section. I sat on the bed, savoring the fact that I didn’t really have to work for anything, but just let my body do whatever it does and hope that the long night I’d just stayed awake through wasn’t an indication of this being my first long labor. Jeremy asked if I was going to keep walking and I said no, I was just going to sit for a bit.
The nurse came and drew blood for another CBC since something had apparently gone wrong with my last one (since it said my platelets were normal), removed the monitors, and said I could shower if I wanted to. This was my first labor with intermittent monitoring, so I figured I’d take advantage of the shower, even if I didn’t particularly want to. I waited half an hour or so before getting up and getting in.
Immediately I realized my mistake (if you could call it that.) If standing up before my water was broken brought the contractions closer together, standing up after my water was broken brought them almost on top of each other. They became intensely painful–really as bad as my first labor, which as I mentioned before was an induction sans epidural–and I wondered why on earth I had gotten into the shower and how I was going to get out, dry off, dress, and get back to the bed between contractions. I don’t like vocalizing during contractions, so I would hold on to the bar in the shower and talk to Anselm through each one. Just saying his name helped me focus through the pain. I told him I loved him, and that I would see him soon. Then the contraction would pass and I would briefly consider trying to get out before another contraction would start and the whole process would begin again. I was really feeling my all-nighter at this point and tried not to think about how much I didn’t want to do this all day.
As one contraction passed, I called for Jeremy, and he helped me get out of the shower. If trying to towel off during a contraction is torture, trying walk back to the bed is even worse, and getting the monitors strapped back on during one is the worst of all. After a bit I felt my control of the situation starting to slip, and I asked the nurse what the result of my CBC was. She said my platelets were at 123,000–that’s the highest they’d been in years–which of course meant I was a candidate for an epidural. And having already experienced two births with one, I was over the experience. I was sure this would be my one ridiculously long labor, and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to do it. I asked the nurse for it, and she went out to the hallway to contact the anesthesiologist.
While she was out, I felt that strange, familiar sensation of Anselm moving down, as far as he could go without crowning, and I frantically told Jeremy to call our nurse back into the room, and she hurried back to find I was at 8 cm. She was very cheerful about that (I was too, as much as I could be) and someone (I am not sure who) went to page my doctor.
A couple of minutes later, I felt my body begin to push on its own.
This is kind of my favorite part of labor. During my first–the induction–when I felt my body do that I was a little concerned, but was told to try not to (I never asked why and they never said) and so I tried. It was the best distraction for the pain of contractions, trying to stop your body from doing something involuntarily. It’s even better than eyeing the IV stuck in your hand that is seriously grossing you out. (Wonderfully distracting, that.) During my second, I only had to hold back for a moment while they checked to make sure I was complete. It was short, but it feels like a brief reprieve from labor to concentrate so hard on that task.
This time I told the nurse what I was feeling, and she cheerfully said, “Ok! Start pushing!” And I wasn’t sure what to do. (Since I was already pushing without trying.) Only a few minutes before I had been at 8 cm. My doctor wasn’t even there yet, no one had checked to see if I was complete. There were nurses milling around and getting things ready, and there I was on the bed saying “I’m really not comfortable pushing without my doctor here!” and pushing anyway, because no one had told me to not push and so I had forgotten to try. Jeremy was holding my hand and ecstatically giving me a play-by-play of Anselm’s arrival, and then he was here, squalling like a kitten (and I told him so–the first thing I said to him). The nurse who had monitored me Sunday and said she hoped she was there when we had the baby was the one who actually delivered him. Only a minute or so after his birth my doctor arrived. (“I can deliver a placenta with the best of them,” she said, laughing.)
Anselm Ioan was born at 10:45 a.m. March 7, 2014–some fifteen minutes or so after I decided I couldn’t do it anymore and asked for an epidural (which I never got.) He was 6 lbs 5 oz and was measured at 17.5″, (though he was mysteriously 19″ at his first pediatrician appointment.) He has ten fingers, ten toes, his Mama’s eyes and (we think) his Daddy’s hair. He is named after Anselm of Canterbury (oddly enough, our nurse had attended Saint Anselm College). His middle name is the Welsh variant of John, and means God is Gracious.