When I was pregnant with my first child, I wondered how I would know when I was really in labor. And the answer I always received, along with advice about the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and the real ones, was that you’ll just know. It’s good advice, really. But better advice, I think, would be to remind the man that he should just believe the woman when she says it’s for real.
And with an intro like that, you know there’s a good story coming.
The day before my due date was a Saturday. We decided to continue our never-ending and mostly frustrating search for upholstery fabric to recover our couch. We’d been to this particular fabric store at least three other times so they knew us pretty well by now. The lady that helped us was always very sweet and nice. That day, as we were leaving with some samples to bring home and ponder, she asked when I was due.
“Tomorrow.” I said brightly.
“Oh, my!” She said. “Well, I hope it goes well.”
“Thanks.” we replied. I didn’t really think I would deliver tomorrow. We’d been told many times that first time babies are often late. I’d decided to count it as fact so that I would not be disappointed when he or she showed up a week later. This was also how I planned to get through the early stages of labor that “aren’t too bad” instead of anxiously thinking the baby should be here already after only a few hours of “light” labor. I was prepared for labor to be much harder than I could imagine it to be. Denial was going to be my modus operandi.
I don’t remember if we did anything else after the fabric shop but I remember being very tired and when Mr. F suggested we check out another fabric store he had heard about that was about 45 minutes away, I said I had to go home.
“I just don’t feel like doing that. I’m tired already and I want to take a nap.”
He dropped me off and went on his way, nary a cell phone between us.
Before lying down for my nap, I got out the labtop to check my e-mail. I had a message from one of my aunts in Kansas. I read it and as was my policy pre-children, hit reply to respond right away. But I just couldn’t. I felt too overwhelmed by fatigue. Uncharacteristically, I logged off, shut down the computer, and went right to bed.
When I awoke, some time later, it was dark. And Mr. French was not home. This immediately made me nervous because I had expected him home much earlier. Then I heard the key in the lock and the door open. Mr French came into the bedroom.
“What took you so long?” I asked.
“Well. You know how it goes with me. I got lost several times. But I did find the place.”
“Did you find any possibilities?”
“Maybe. Probably nothing more than we could get at the other store.”
After awhile, we decided to get take-out from our favorite Chinese place and bring it home to watch a movie.
I had been experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions for months by that time, sometimes very frequently and in the last month, I would often have to stop and lie down when they came. So those kinds of contractions would not have made me think I was in labor but something else was making me think about it more and more. Of course, I wanted to have this baby soon. I didn’t want to go another week, but I had a hard time admitting that to myself because I didn’t want to be disappointed. So I didn’t mention anything to Mr. F.
He stayed in the car since there was no where to park, while I ran walked awkwardly into the very crowded restaurant. I put our order in and waited for a stool to open up so I could sit down. I had to admit I felt weary. I remember sitting there, surrounded by people oblivious to me, thinking to myself, I might have a baby tonight and no one here can tell.
That was the first moment that I admitted to myself that I might actually be gearing up to have a baby that night. There was just something that made me wonder if that night was the night. I continued to have the BH contractions while I sat on a high stool watching people talk and laugh. The food came and I waited outside for Mr. French to see me and drive through the slushy snow in the crowded parking lot to pick me up.
Back home, we put our noodles and rice on plates and put ‘Chariots of Fire’ in the DVD player to watch. We’d seen it many times before. About ten minutes into the movie, I got up to the bathroom. And that’s when I noticed what I interpreted to be the bloody show. I got excited but tried to keep myself calm. Yes, this meant I would have the baby soon-ish, but don’t get excited. It could still be days. It doesn’t really mean anything. I was not going to say anything to Mr. F. I thought he would start to get nervous and excited and I thought it best if I could still try to pretend that I wasn’t going into labor, at least until I finished my dinner.
Within a few minutes after sitting back down I had a contraction, the first of which I could not ignore. Mr. French noticed. I stopped and put my food down. Then, I decided, just to be safe to also get off the couch, just in case my water decided to break or something.
“I wasn’t going to say anything, but I think I just had some bloody show or my mucus plug or something when I got up to the bathroom.”
I had another contraction, even stronger than the last and that is when I knew.
This was going to be very hard.
When that contraction finished, I looked at Mr. French and, “This is going to be really hard.”
He looked nervous. He stopped the movie, which we’d only watched about 20 minutes of, and started putting food away. I moved to the bedroom. I just wanted to lie down. But, since we didn’t have a plastic sheet on the bed, I laid on the floor instead. Contractions were coming regularly. I didn’t know, nor care, how often they were coming or how long they lasted because I knew that I was in labor and that we should call the Doctor soon.
I would yell for Mr. French to come in and hold my hand every time I could feel another contraction starting and he always did, but as soon as it was over he would try to run out of the room to finish cleaning up. I wanted him to stay because it was a comfort to me not to be alone. Mr. French, however, felt compelled to neaten up the house. I was getting annoyed.
I was not dealing with the contractions too well, I thought. They were very painful and I really wanted some kind of relief. Moving my position didn’t help much. Doing anything but lying still on the floor was about all I could handle. At this point, I had been telling Mr. F I thought we should call the doctor after every contraction, but he was very hesitant because he had been told over and over again that first-time mothers always think they are further along in labor than they are. They always think it’s worse than it is. Everyone told us that, but I still wanted to call the doctor.
Finally, Mr. F suggested I try getting into a bath of warm water. I was game to try anything that continued to allow me to stay in a horizontal position and that sounded like it might help. He ran the water and I got in. Then he got out a yellow legal pad and a pen and started timing and charting the contractions. After he had finished his multi-tiered graph he realized that the contractions were actually coming awfully close together. He then decided it was time to call the doctor. I was still in the bath when I heard him tell the doctor in exact terms how long the contractions were lasting and when each was occurring. He brought the phone into me. I was a little confused, but took the phone.
“Hello.” I said.
“Hi, how are you doing?”
I don’t actually remember what I said, but I remember very well what he said to me.
“I’m going to send someone out now to check on you. I just wanted to hear your voice and I can tell you’re in labor.”
I was very relieved to hear that. I handed the phone back to Mr. French and proceeded to throw up in the bath tub. And at that moment I remembered reading that it’s common to throw up during transition. And I knew transition was the last bit of dilation before giving birth. It was also at that moment that I decided I might actually survive this after all. I had been uncertain up until that point. It gave me hope.
When my two nurses showed up about 1/2 hour later, I had been in labor for about 3 hours. I was laying on the bed sideways when they walked in and introduced themselves as Carol and Sharon. They started to get organized and Sharon donned gloves so she could check how far along I was. As soon as a contraction ended, she checked. I was a ten.
Just what every laboring woman wants to hear. Second only to “Just one more push and you’re there.”
She called the doctor right away, so that he could be on his way. It was at this point that my contractions became less intense. I was able to relax a little bit in between. After about half an hour (though it felt more like 5 minutes) one of the nurses asked me if I felt like pushing.
“I don’t know.” I said uncertainly. At that moment my body spontaneously gave a push.
“I think you’re ready to push.” they said.
After a few wimpy pushes with contractions, they gave me some instruction and off we went, pushing with the contractions. This part of the delivery took one hour and while it was hard and tiring and not altogether pleasant, it was also something I could do and was better than the hours previously spent lying around feeling contractions come and go. My doctor showed up about half an hour into the pushing phase. He was late because it had started to snow which made for poor visibility plus, when he got just outside our apartment complex he found the police were stopping everyone at a sobriety checkpoint. And then the elevators in our apartment were out of order, so he ran up three flights of stairs to get there.
We were very close to the end. Nurse Sharon was in front of me, Mr. French was at my side helping to support me and the doctor was in the front to the side of Sharon. At one point, after the head emerged, the shoulders got stuck. The doctor and nurse quickly traded positions and the doctor eased my baby out. And with a whoosh, it was over.
“What is it?” asked Mr. French.
“Look for yourself,” they said.
“It’s a boy.”
“He’s so big!” I said.
“How much do you think he weighs?” someone asked me.
“He’s so big! He’s at least 8 pounds.” I said confidently.
“OH no! This one’s a nine-pounder for sure.”
Sure enough, he weighed in at 9 pounds, 8 ounces. I couldn’t believe he was so big and that it had only taken 4 1/2 hours.
He was born on November 26th at 1:26 am.
Right on his due date.
And he’s been just as punctual ever since.