“I bet you’re really ready for him to come out, aren’t you?!”
Such was the sort of question I heard over and over, starting in approximately October, when I was still technically six months pregnant and measuring right on target and nowhere near as big as I would become. But right up until the end, my answer was the same:
“Not really. This part is easy. It’s about to get way harder.”
Over 39 weeks pregnant, heading to work
I’ve mentioned before that I had one the easiest pregnancies ever, so right up until the end, I was eating well, sleeping okay, and staying quite active (I walked at least a mile every day up until his birth). I felt like I could be pregnant forever and physically be just fine. So I realized I should enjoy the ability to fall asleep on the sofa whenever I wanted, to cook and eat leisurely meals, to wander around a store until I found just what I wanted. It was easy and it was about to get way harder.
But I do admit, after Thanksgiving, I was getting antsy. Not only did I feel like I could be pregnant forever, I felt like I was going to be pregnant forever, in that really awful antsy come-on-already state of mind. I’d over-prepared to have everything done by Thanksgiving (when I would be almost 38 weeks pregnant, technically full-term), so going to work was becoming an exercise in inventing things to do. Being at home was exceedingly boring as well – I couldn’t start any big projects around the house for fear that I’d have to run to the hospital and leave a mess behind. The fact that I was spending days in false labor wasn’t helping my spirits, either – all pain, no progress. It’s not that I wanted to rush him out, it’s not that I was over-eager to meet him, but nonetheless the idea of not having this baby by my due date was seriously dragging me down.
And that was the frame of mind I was in that Saturday afternoon that we took this photo, the day before my due date. Once again, I was thinking, “Maybe this is our last meal out in a restaurant before baby!” But it was a lot less fun to think that when I’d thought it four or five times before.
Although the events of that Saturday were quite lovely (both at the time and in retrospect), the worst part of the day was that I was having absolutely no contractions. See, as far as Mr. P and I had a birth plan, it was to labor at home as long as possible, and wait to go to the hospital until my water broke or the pain was too unbearable. I’d spent the days prior in false labor which had elevated my hopes, but that day, it seemed like everything had shut down. My hopes that Baby P would be here by his due date after a happy, healthy, mostly-at-home labor were quickly being dashed.
And so. I woke up on my Sunday due date around 7:30, convinced I would be pregnant forever and ever amen. I sat with my (weakly-brewed) coffee at the kitchen table, writing out my goals for the day that didn’t involve having a baby. Then I started to make a cake for that evening’s neighborhood Christmas party. I mixed the dry ingredients in the bowl, got out the eggs from the fridge, and... suddenly had to run to the bathroom.
“Uh, Mr. P? I think we have to go to the hospital.”
Yes. At 8AM, on my due date, just before I cracked those eggs, while standing on one of the few non-carpeted surfaces in our apartment, my water broke. Because of course. Baby P is nothing if not prompt, conscientious of avoiding a mess, and appreciative of saving perfectly good cake ingredients. He is clearly my child.
Since I was officially 40 weeks pregnant that very morning, Mr. P snapped the above photo to complete the belly series before we left for the hospital. No, it absolutely does not match the previous photos – wrong clothes, fuzzy focus, bad lighting. Which is exactly why I love it. My water broke, and we had to pack our bags and get to the hospital – of course it looks like that. That is basically the perfect 40-week photo.
But for all the perfect timing in the world, you can see a problem here based on my Plan A above: I wasn’t in labor. Absolutely zero contractions. With water broken, I couldn’t labor at home due to infection risk, and without contractions, I would have to be induced. Practically every induction story I’d ever heard was long, brutal, and ended in C-section. Pitocin was not a desired part of Baby P’s birth story, and the major abdominal surgery of a C-section was definitely something I wanted to avoid. So as we headed to the hospital, I was excited that things were happening, but I was also disappointed by the order of events.
the start of the Pitocin drip
So Mr. P and I figured we were in for the long haul – and so did my doctor. I asked her around 10:30 AM, just as the Pitocin drip started, whether she thought the baby would be born that day. “Ehh, maybe,” she shrugged, saying it can take awhile for first-time moms. Mr. P tried to press her a bit more for an idea of what to expect, and she just reiterated that she couldn’t say. “Get to six centimeters dilated, and then we can start talking about timing,” she replied.
And then she left to go do some yardwork at her house on that unseasonably warm December day. I tried watching an episode of The Wire. Mr. P started grading his students’ papers. Like I said, settling in for the long haul.
But within the hour, I was starting to panic about how the contractions were becoming so painful so quickly. I knew that because my water had broken, they’d be more painful than if it hadn’t, but I honestly wasn’t mentally prepared for back labor. Every bit of advice I’d read about laboring naturally felt out of reach. For instance, “they” say to rest between contractions. At that point, my contractions were a very intense 90 seconds long, with less than 90 seconds between them. I couldn’t communicate during contractions, so the short times in between were spent trying to tell Mr. P what I needed, frantically re-positioning myself to brace for the next one, and mentally shouting at myself, “YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO REST”... none of which is actually restful. “They” also have breathing techniques, deep breaths with low vocalizations, coupled with visualizations. Pardon my language, but those are shit. Forget slow and deep, I did good to breathe at all.
But worst of all, I had an overwhelming desire to push, as if that would help me cope and relieve the pain. But I was nowhere near physically ready to push, and doing so could harm both me and baby. The nurse was actually alarmed when I asked if it was okay that I had such a strong urge to push, but I was worried that I couldn’t help it.
Basically I felt like I was losing control.
All along I’d been very “wait-and-see” regarding epidurals, considering I had no frame of reference for that sort of pain. I figured if I were getting too exhausted in a long labor (and therefore upping risk for C-section) I’d have one so I could rest. But if I showed up at the hospital so far along that an epidural would slow me down, I’d skip it. I thought I could be restless and want to walk around. Now that I was in it, unable to talk or breathe or do anything but lay there bracing myself, I knew I needed one – though I confess, I felt super weak for giving in at four centimeters. But it was barely noon, I was already exhausted, and I knew I couldn’t do it for another hour, let alone the 8-12 hours I expected were ahead of us. And so: time for an epidural.
Once the epidural kicked in, I felt like a person again. That’s the best way to describe it. I hadn’t realized how inhuman I felt until the drugs kicked in and the fog cleared. I could breathe, I could communicate, I could think. By then it was almost 1PM, I’d dilated another centimeter (getting close to that magical 6-centimeter benchmark), and I could just chat with Mr. P and my fantastic L&D nurse. If this was the long haul, I could do it.
Speaking of that fantastic nurse, Larissa had techniques, and as someone without a rigid birth plan, I was happy to take her advice. She was especially fond of the peanut-shaped birthing ball, which she put between my knees as I laid on my side (both before and after the epidural). “It opens up your hips and helps you dilate,” she said. I confess that her enthusiasm for the peanut ball seemed almost superstitious to me – but why argue with a practiced expert? Sure, peanut ball it is.
An hour later, Larissa said, “You know, I think you might have made some progress.” She checked me out, and people, I am now also a peanut ball evangelist because I’d hit ten centimeters. A long active labor for first-time moms, the much-anticipated six centimeter benchmark, that whole “transition” business? Yeah, blew right past all that. In an hour. “It’s the peanut ball,” Larissa said, . “I told you, it’s magic.”
Larissa called my OB, who as you’ll recall, has assumed I would take forever and had gone home to work in her yard. “She wants you to start pushing,” Larissa reported. And so she, the resident on call, and Mr. P himself (because hey, extra set of hands while the doctor changes out of her gardening clothes) prepped for delivery and got my legs up in the stirrups. Larissa gave me a super-helpful visualization for how to push – basically describing my pelvis and angles and which “direction” to push in – and started coaching me. I pushed through one contraction, then a second. But then: “Stop!” she said. “Don’t push any more.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Baby’s head is right there. If you push again, he’ll come out.”
“Oh,” I said, stunned. “Um. Isn’t that what we want?”
“I can’t deliver this baby! We need to wait for your doctor. Just hold on! Whatever you do, don’t push.”
I turned to Mr. P. “Can you seriously see his head?”
He nodded. That was freaky. I was especially grateful I’d not wanted a mirror.
And so I laid there in stirrups, Larissa holding my right leg, Mr. P holding my left, and the resident there in the middle, for a half an hour. We joked about how long it was taking the doctor to arrive. We watched the contractions on the monitor while I did my best to hold my baby inside. It was pain-free, quiet, and relaxed. At one point, the resident broke the relative silence to ask, “Is this what you thought delivery would be like?”
“Not at all,” I replied.
Around 3PM, my doctor arrived, apologetic and ready to go – except, before I started pushing again, she asked, “Do you want to feel his head?” Even though Mr. P said he could see it, I hadn’t realized I’d just lain there for thirty minutes with a baby head poking out. I hesitated, then reached down. It was warm and incredibly squishy, not hard like I’d thought a skull should be. I know it’s a cliché to talk about how surreal giving birth is, but that is truly the best way to describe what it is like to feel a squishy baby head poking out of your body.
Finally, it was time to push again. I thought back to Larissa’s description of where to push and gave it all I had. One contraction, then two. On the third, at 3:08, just six hours since I arrived at the hospital, Baby P made his way into the world.
Skin to skin time immediately after birth
Baby P had his cord wrapped around his neck when he came out, but fortunately it wasn’t tight. He let out some very loud, very healthy cries almost immediately, probably in protest of being partway out of my body for the better part of an hour. Once the cord was unwrapped, they placed him on my chest for skin-to-skin time. More than love or responsibility or marvel for the miracle of life, I was most overwhelmed with this thought:
“Holy crap that baby is huge. That is a huge baby. I thought newborns were tiny. I had no idea the feet kicking my ribs were so big. How on earth did he even fit in my body? And how did that huge baby just get out?”
To this day I am still rather flabbergasted by that. I think I always will be.
For the record, Baby P was a larger-than-average-but-not-enormous eight pounds and two ounces, which is almost a full pound less than my own birth weight (but a full pound more than his dad’s). I just think any time a whole new person comes out of your body, that fully-formed human will seem humongous.
Still. Just because I was preoccupied with Baby P’s seemingly gigantic hands doesn’t mean I wasn’t also feeling all those lovely maternal instincts. I think at some point I whispered to him, “I will do anything for you.” If I didn’t, I sure did think it. And there was also the very strong sense of completion, that after so many months of preparation, we’d finally become a Team P of Three.
The new and improved Team P
And there you have it, Baby P’s birth story. I feared that the world’s most boring pregnancy could end in drama and trauma, like I had pushed my luck too far. But instead, Baby P came into the world on his due date, after a few hours in the hospital and a couple of pushes. It’s the birth story that every doctor and nurse I encountered said I shouldn’t tell, because “it’s never that easy.”
Heh. Almost never. This kid? He’s that easy.
I’ve often said that I’m a pessimist because there’s only two outcomes: either I’m right, or I’m pleasantly surprised when things are better than I expected. But when it comes to Baby P, somehow both outcomes came true. The end of pregnancy was easy and it was about to get way harder – but not as hard as it could be. And for the last month, he’s continued to keep it as easy as an infant possibly can.
The rest is just epilogue, right?
Well, epilogue to this story. I’m sure there will be so many more stories to come.
Happy one month birthday, Baby P!
May your life always be as easy as it began.