“I’m so glad she’s not coming tonight.”
I had wavered on doing maternity photos and finally had them scheduled for the afternoon of Wednesday, May 6, 2015. It was only four days before my due date, but I was convinced our daughter would be late since that was what I’d heard about first children, especially when they were girls.
All that week, I’d taken a few hours of vacation from work in the afternoon. I was supposed to be going home to rest. But instead, I ran errands. That Wednesday, though, I actually went home and rested before getting ready to meet the photographer.
I thought about finishing packing my hospital bag. Instead, I pulled out the information from the Labor & Delivery class we’d finished the week before. I reviewed what contractions are supposed to feel like—how long and close together they should be before you call the doctor, etc.
After John got home from work and changed clothes, we headed over to the University of Richmond to meet the photographer by the lake. Naturally, the parking adjacent to the lake was blocked, so we had to walk quite a bit to get there. Then we proceeded to walk all the way around the lake taking pictures. I joked that all the walking would make me go into labor. (Foreshadowing alert!)
We wrapped up pictures at 7:30 and picked up Chick-fil-A for dinner. Our air conditioning had gone out earlier that week, so the coolest place in the house was our bedroom; we ate dinner and watched Netflix while sitting on our bed with the cat.
As we were about to go to sleep just before 10, John had asked me if the baby had been active much that day.
“Yeah, she’s doing this weird thing that feels like she’s stretching her arm up the middle of my stomach. But it hasn’t been consistent. And, apparently, that’s not what contractions are supposed to feel like, so I’m not in labor.”
“Good,” he replied. “I’m so glad she’s not coming tonight. I’m exhausted.”
We then said goodnight, and John turned off the light.
(You can see where this is going, right?)
No sooner was the light out than my water broke.
This was no trickle; it was unmistakable. I gasped and jumped out of bed, causing John to ask, in disbelief, if my water broke. When I said yes, he jumped out of bed. “I’ll grab the bag!”
Since I’d just that afternoon reviewed what to do when your water broke, I knew we didn’t necessarily need to head immediately to the hospital, but that we did need to call the doctor. She confirmed that we could take our time, shower, labor at home for a while, and then head to the hospital.
We called our parents (mine in Texas and John’s in Richmond but out of town for the day) to let them know. I texted my best friends (who had helpfully sent “Are you still pregnant?” texts every day). We both showered and finished packing our bags. Then we sat in the living room and just looked at each other.
“I’m going to feel much better if we just go on to the hospital,” John said. I agreed (the hospital would be air-conditioned, after all), and we headed to the car just before midnight.
“Will things ever be the same again?”
Some people have a whole playlist they use during labor and delivery. John and I didn’t have that. But when we got in the car to head to the hospital, we did play the song that has been my countdown theme music since college: Europe’s The Final Countdown. It was my theme music for graduation, vacations, road trips, visits from friends, our wedding, and now the birth of our first child. A delightful turn of events is that we lived close enough to St. Mary’s Hospital that the song lasted until the last minute of our drive.
We arrived at the hospital shortly after midnight on May 7. They took us to our Labor & Delivery room without any hiccups, and with me still feeling like I wasn’t having contractions. The L&D nurse had me change into a gown, took my vitals, and hooked me up to the monitor so they could see what was happening.
“Oh, you’re having a contraction right now,” she said, pointing at the monitor. That sensation like the baby was brushing her arm up the middle of my stomach that I’d had off and on all day? Those were contractions! It had felt nothing like the “symmetrical tightening” I’d heard and read about.
For the first couple of hours…
I walked around our room and tried several of the pain management techniques we learned in our birthing class. Around 3 a.m. when my contractions got to the point I couldn’t talk during them, I told the L&D nurse I wanted to try nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas).
We’d learned in our birthing class that St. Mary’s had only been offering nitrous oxide for pain management for about a year. I really liked the idea that it could be out of my system after a few deep breaths but still “take the edge off” of the pain. Going into our birthing class, I’d joked that my pain management plan was to ask for the epidural early and often. But after learning about nitrous oxide, I told John I’d give it a try.
The nurse brought in the tank.
She explained that I needed to 1) hold the mask over my nose and mouth, 2) begin breathing deeply during the 10 or so seconds before a contraction hit (for the gas to have an effect), and 3) breathe deeply during the contraction and then for a few seconds afterward before removing the mask. My contractions were close enough together at that point that I didn’t have much time where the mask wasn’t on my face. That meant that I couldn’t talk to John or the nurse, which I found very disconcerting.
I’d been up for almost 24 hours straight, and I was both mentally and physically exhausted. Having to constantly count to keep track of the time between contractions was just too much for me to deal with at that point, especially for the meager amount of pain relief the gas provided. Incidentally, for the woman who needs to set her mind to a task to get through labor, the nitrous oxide would probably be much more worthwhile.
Around 4 a.m., I told the nurse I was ready to do the epidural.
It was administered shortly afterward and, blissfully, worked just as intended. By 5:30 a.m., I could finally relax and rest and so could John. After getting the epidural, the morning passed in somewhat of a blur. We chatted with each other and the nurses, dozed off and on, and tried to read. We’d both brought A Tale of Two Cities (because we’re cool like that), but we just couldn’t concentrate. Around noon while John was getting lunch from the cafeteria, the nurse told me that it was almost time to get things going; we’d start pushing in the next two hours. The doctor came in around 2:15 p.m., and at 2:37 p.m., she put Caroline on my chest.
That was one of the most surreal moments in my life.
I know it’s normal to say “it was the most beautiful moment” or “it was the most wonderful moment.” And while it was certainly beautiful and wonderful, what struck me both then and now was how surreal it was. I was “just me” in one moment, and in the next, I was a mother holding her child for the first time—still me, of course, but with another layer inextricably added into the mix.
We spent the first “magic hour” after Caroline was born in the L&D room with her on my chest or being held by John while the nurses checked her out and the doctor finished up with me.
I remember very little of that time, or the next few hours after getting to our recovery room. Coming off the epidural made me nauseous, so I wound up with an anti-nausea medication. It knocked me out for a little while, and I felt much better afterward. I think John secretly enjoyed this time because it meant he got to do alllll the Caroline-holding while I was asleep. And honestly, it was probably good to have some knocked-out downtime since it was the longest stretch of uninterrupted sleep I’d get for weeks!
Two days later, we did the scariest thing imaginable; we got in the car to head home with a tiny human in the car seat. John and I looked at each other. “Here goes nothing,” John said. And off we drove as a family of three.