“Do you know how small the chances of that happening are?” my husband said.
Still, I planned everything around that date – my hair appointment, getting my nails done, my workout goals. I didn’t even buy Halloween candy to pass out because I was sure we wouldn’t be home. At my moms’ group the morning of the 30th, I told them – “there’s still time. My contractions could start this afternoon, and he would still be born before midnight.”
Denial – it’s a powerful drug.
The 30th came and went. I was disappointed – weepy, short-tempered, unable to deal – the denial hangover hitting me hard.
On the 31st, I wake up early as usual, but this time by contractions that come steadily. I start timing them on my phone at 5:25 and shake my husband awake – “I think we’re going to have a baby today.” “That’s exciting,” he says, before rolling over.
At 8:10, bloody show. I debate whether my blowout will last through labor and decide that no, it won’t, so I wash my hair. I eat breakfast at the bathroom sink – bacon from our latest Butcher Box delivery, Eggo waffles, a perfectly cooked hard-boiled egg, iced coffee.
The morning is a blur of thoughts and tasks. Tasks: Find Judah’s costume. Pack the lavender oil and diffuser. Make sure Noah has his water bottle for school. Reply to DMs on Instagram. Thoughts: Do I have time to update our budget on Mint? Should I call Erica (my doula and friend)? Should I buy Halloween candy? I don’t update our budget. I don’t buy candy, and I don’t call Erica, convinced she would have been stuck in LA traffic while baby was being born.
I planned on chicken noodle soup with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc – “my labor wine”, I told my husband, as we stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way home from our last date night. Instead, I eat – also at the bathroom sink – half of a leftover burrito from Cuca’s, another example of expectations clashing with reality.
At 11:30 a.m., I call Labor and Delivery. “This is my 3rd baby,” I tell them. “I’ll let the hospital know you’re coming,” the nurse says.
She did not let the hospital know.
When I give them my name via the wall telephone in the waiting room, the check-in nurse asks me, “What are you here for?” I wonder if she’s joking. “Uh, labor...”
A few minutes later, the check-in nurse calls a name, and Dave ushers me in. “Oh, I called Yesenia,” she says. I shuffle back out, cursing under my breath, hissing at my husband, “Help me out here.”
We’re called in again, and Dave hands the same nurse my insurance card. She looks up: “This is an infant card.” He scrambles to find my card, while I’m doubled over in the middle of a contraction.
“You’re not even helpful,” I say to him. “I should have called Erica.”
I’m annoyed and frustrated, and also annoyed that I’m annoyed, not wanting to stall labor with my negative emotions.
The triage nurse, Dawn, hooks me up the monitor asks me what my pain level is. It’s only a 4 or 5, which I know doesn’t bode well for admittance. She leave the room, and the contractions start to slow. We watch Hocus Pocus while we wait.
After 20 minutes, she checks me. “You’re at a 4. We can’t admit you until you’re at 6.” Disappointment all over again. “You can walk around, or you can go home and come back in two hours,” she says. “This happens a lot – as soon as women get in here, their contractions slow down.” At 1:50 p.m., we leave triage, and I’m back in the hallway, waddling at a snail’s pace, weighed down even more by the feeling of failure.
In college, I lived across from frat row. From my window, I could see the girls leaving the frat houses the morning after a party, still wearing their mini dresses, holding their heels, disheveled and hungover.
“This is the walk of shame,” I tell my husband. “The pregnant version.”
The contractions intensify as soon as I start walking. Of course. I have three contractions back to back, just walking to the elevator. A man stops his conversation on his cell phone to ask me if I need a wheelchair.
Outside in the cafeteria courtyard, I try a walking meditation, trying to recall everything that I read about but not actually practiced. The contractions are intense and so painful that the only way I get through is by standing perfectly still and moaning. I make it through a few more contractions before I tell Dave that we need to go back up – and that I need that wheelchair.
“What happened to my pain tolerance?” I ask him.
All the rooms are taken, they tell us, so Dave pushes me up and down the hallway in the wheelchair. The reverberations of the wheels against the shiny floor are unexpectedly soothing. The contractions hit hard, one after another, and my moaning comes out more like a growl.
It is 2:45 when we’re called back in. My L & D nurse tells me that one of the birthing suites just opened up, so I can go directly there. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all day,” I tell her. Dawn checks me again. “You’re 6 cm now,” she says. “We can admit you.”
“I think maybe I want an epidural this time,” I say. “You want an epidural?” she repeats. I backtrack. “I’m not sure…” “You can decide after the next contraction,” she tells me.
I climb into the bed to get hooked to the monitor and the penicillin drip. A man comes in to draw my blood. More contractions that just about knock me out. “I think... I do want that epidural,” I say. “Sure, the nurse says. “But have to wait for your blood test to come back.” I know then that this will be another unmedicated birth.
I can’t leave the bed, so in between contractions, I switch positions, getting on my knees to face the window. Switching positions in this stage of labor is supposed to keep it progressing, I remember reading. I also remember reading that I should focus on what doesn’t hurt, but then I just notice that I can feel the penicillin burning through the IV in my hand.
Dave is encouraging and supporting, and I mentally take back everything I said about him not being helpful. He reminds me to relax, and in the few seconds between contractions, I do. I can see the on-ramp to the 405, and it offers a little bit of relief to know that people are still going about their day, picking up their kids from school or running to the grocery store. That even amidst the pain, cars keep moving; the world keeps turning.
I’m shaking and sweating now, and my teeth are chattering. I know this transition period from past labors. It feels awful, but I know that it’s a good sign – that I’m progressing. I change positions again, still on my knees, but with my arms draped around the back of the hospital bed. I’m in the hospital gown, which means that my backside is totally exposed, and I feel momentarily embarrassed that the first thing that the nurses will see when they walk in is my ass.
When I think that the contractions can’t get more painful, they do. I’m breathing down and trying to keep my moans lower than the decibel of a scream. From that position, I can feel baby moving into the lower part of my hips. It’s the strangest feeling, a tiny human literally traveling down your body. The midwife pops in for a minute, “Is he coming soon?” she asks me. She checks me, and I’m nine and a half cm. “Just keep doing what you’re doing,” she says. Someone asks for a delivery table, and when she leaves the room, the other nurses talk about which one of them will catch the baby if she doesn’t come back in in time.
The muscle memory kicks in – I push when I feel the intensity of the contraction coming on, and then I rest when it subsides. The midwife returns and asks, “Do you want to deliver in that position, hon?” I don’t have time to tell her that I physically cannot get out of this position. Then comes the whoosh of wetness as my bag of waters finally breaks. I grip the back of the bed and push and feel that best kind of relief when baby boy’s entire body slides out. I think the first words out of my mouth were, “I’m so glad that’s over.” It was the worst of all three labors, but gratefully, the smoothest delivery, and I’m still “intact.”
And then I somehow get my leg over the umbilical cord and into a seated position, and they place baby boy in my arms, and that moment is worth everything. “You did it, mama,” Dave says. “There he is.”