The birth of dichotomies. It was in some ways the longest labor, in others, the shortest. It was the hardest AND the easiest. Let me explain.
For a month straight, I battled contractions that felt like early labor. They usually started in the afternoon (no matter how active I had been that day, how hydrated I was, etc.), ramped up during dinnertime, then slowly eased back out of my life around 9pm. But in the last two weeks of this pregnancy, they became more regular, more painful, more disruptive. Painful contractions woke me up several times every night, leaving me discouraged and exhausted the next day. I remember feeling emotionally unprepared and didn’t trust myself to know what “real” labor would feel like.
My due date came, then went.
Andrew’s words of encouragement got me through the down times. He had a gentle way of reminding me that my body was not failing me, it was working, in its own way, to prepare me. And prepare me it did. By the time real labor started, I was already 5cm dilated. Halfway there!
Saturday morning of the 20th, I woke up and joked to Andrew, “Well, today’s the day!” Adding that my new positive approach would be to say that every morning until the baby actually arrived.
It was rainy, but we decided on a family outing, which we do every weekend. Kaldi’s Coffee, browsing in our favorite antique store, then the zoo. By the time we had parked and walked to the entrance, the rain had stopped. We walked to the hippos, our favorite spot, and stayed for a while, watching through the glass as the graceful huge animals swam in giant circles around and around effortlessly. I tried to sit, but suddenly felt that impossible. I literally felt like I had a head between my legs! I told Andrew that I thought the baby had dropped, and we decided to get out of there and head home just in case. It took me a while to walk back to the car, I felt so much pressure it was uncomfortable to move. I spent the rest of the afternoon resting and hydrating, preparing for what I felt would be labor night.
Contractions started much like they did every day. They were painful, intense, but irregular. After dinner, I became discouraged again. I remember slamming stuff around in the kitchen and crying a bit, thinking that this would NEVER happen. This baby would NEVER come out.
Andrew bathed the kids and we put them to bed. We timed contractions for a while, then lost interest and went to bed. Neither of us really slept, though. At this point I was moaning through contractions and Andrew went downstairs to try to get some peace and quiet. I got up at around 1:30am, took a shower to ease the pain of contractions, then headed downstairs when the pain became more intense. I woke up Andrew to let him know I was going to call our midwife to come check me. He got up, made coffee, and we waited. I called my friend Ingrid to come sleep at our house and watch the boys for us. We still weren’t sure, but the anticipation was building.
Then my water broke. Finally, I was sure!
Our midwife, Dana, arrived, and shortly after, Ingrid. When Dana checked me, I was 5cm dilated. Definitely in labor! We decided to head to the hospital so I would get the IV antibiotics in time for the delivery to ensure the baby would not contract my Strep B.
We arrived at the hospital at around 3:30. The nurses were fantastic, and after monitoring me for 20 minutes, completely left the three of us (Dana, Andrew, and me) alone. We had expressed to them that we wanted as few interventions as possible, a natural birth, and for them to leave the baby with us for bonding once he was born. Everyone was very supportive and respectful. I remember at one point, between contractions, seeing the light of the morning sky breaking through. It was beautiful and peaceful, and I noted that I had never given birth in daylight before. With each contraction, I was bellowing and grunting and I could distinctly feel the baby’s head moving down. It was a motivating feeling, knowing I would meet him soon. At 6am, my OB arrived, and I began pushing soon after. She stood to the side, leaning against the morning light of the window, offering words of encouragement, and stepped up just in time to catch the slippery body of our baby boy at 7:02am. He cried right away, a joyous sound. They offered to take him to get him weighed and cleaned up, but I remember one of us saying, “No thanks. He’s fine.” They left us alone for at least an hour while I breastfed and we stared at Emil’s perfect little face and tiny elf ears. All of the emotional upheaval I had felt in the last month dissipated.
The labor was physically the easiest of the three. The trade-off of an emotional month. Worth every second.
And my assessment of hospital birth? It honestly wasn’t much different from a birthing center or home birth. Really! They left us alone to do our thing. Best part about giving birth at a hospital? They file a whole lot of paperwork so you don’t have to do it yourself (i.e. birth certificate and social security stuff is much faster through the hospital, and they will do newborn hearing screen there too). Oh! And the food was actually pretty decent!
Worst part of giving birth in a hospital? The damn gown. Despite being three sizes too big, it kept choking me during contractions when I would change positions until I ripped the stupid thing off and was as naked as the baby I was about to deliver. What dignity? Okay, and the other worst part was not being able to rest afterwards in my own bed and being awakened every couple of hours for some poking and prodding to make sure I was still alive. But really, I went home about 24 hours after I delivered, so I can’t complain.
Emil and I both would have been fine had we had another home birth. I was stronger than I was with Oliver’s birth, honestly. But looking back, the experience was all-around positive and I am so thankful for everyone involved who made it that way. Every single person who supported our wishes made sure this birth was exactly the way it should have been. And we are all happy for that.