Once we got checked into the hospital, things actually slowed down for a while. I knew my water had broken, but aside from extremely minor cramps, I really didn’t feel anything yet. The general rule is that you need to deliver within 24 hours of your water breaking to avoid increased risk of infection, and I’d already “used up” at least 8-10 hours of my clock since I woke up that morning. Since it didn’t really feel like much was happening, I figured this meant I would have have pitocin to speed things up. I really didn’t want that — I’d heard from too many friends that pitocin makes contractions way more painful. Fortunately, since I was already close to 4 cm when I checked into the hospital, I was given a few hours reprieve! I had until about 7:00 p.m. to see whether labor would really begin on its own.
I was already settled into my oh-so-lovely hospital gown and they hooked me up to a heart rate monitor (measuring Emma’s heart rate) and a contraction monitor — both of which were VERY annoying and continued to be so for the rest of the night. First of all, the contraction monitor didn’t actually work very well — as things began to pick up later in the night, I would often have a strong contraction only to see nary a blip on the roll of paper the monitoring machine was slowly spitting out. And the heart rate monitor, though accurate enough, would NOT stay in place. Every time I shifted position, the heart rate monitor (which was secured around my belly with a big elastic belt) would move and lose track of Emma’s heart rate. This would set off some sort of notification at the nurse’s station, and within a minute or two someone would come in to readjust the monitor.
I was also hooked up to an IV as part of the check-in process, and that thing was ALSO annoying. The needle went into a vein in my forearm about halfway between my wrist and elbow, and if my arm deviated too much from a certain position, the needle would pull or poke in a most uncomfortable way.
When you see women having babies on TV or in movies, you see them walking up and down the hall of the hospital, pausing to lean against a wall or whatever. They’re in pain, but at least they have freedom of movement, right? Not so much in my experience! I could walk around the room, but I could only go about 10 feet before the cords to the contraction and heart rate monitors reached their full extension. And when I got to unhook the monitors to go to the bathroom, I still had to drag the IV pole along with me. I was basically limited to sitting on the bed, on a big bouncy ball, or standing somewhere between the bed and the door to the hallway. Oh well.
Despite all the annoying medical devices, Jose and I were both pretty giddy about the fact that we were about to have our BABY. WHOA.
After we were somewhat settled in, I called my parents. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Hey Mom! So how’s Lucas (my hours-old nephew)?”
Mom: “Well it sounds like he is doing well! I can’t believe he came so early, I’m glad Brian got home in time, etc, etc, etc.”
Me: “Yeah me too. Sooo…guess where I am?”
Me: “Well, I’m at the hospital…”
Me: “Yeah, so my water broke this morning but I didn’t realize it until this afternoon…so I’m going to have a baby sometime in the next 12 or so hours.”
Jose called his mom also, and within minutes he started getting text messages from all his aunts. News travels fast in his family!
Sometime around 7:00, the nurse came back in with the intention of starting me on pitocin. But her check showed that I was making some progress on my own and had made it to 4-5 cm, so I got another reprieve until midnight — and doctors orders that no one was to check my progress again until then. (Let’s just say there had been a lot of people up in my business up to that point.) Although I was feeling contractions on a regular basis now, they still weren’t that bad and I was happy to avoid intervention for a while longer. I even had a passing thought that maybe I wouldn’t even need an epidural! Oh, silly me.
The hours continued to pass while we sat in our little hospital room. Emma’s choice of arrival date fell smack in the middle of the Summer Olympics in London, and the track and field competition had just begun, so there were plenty of events to watch on TV that evening and into the wee hours. Around 9:00, I talked to my parents again — they were in Pennsylvania with some of my extended family, and one of my cousins had an iPhone so we were able to Facetime. It was kind of surreal to be talking to all of them from my hospital room. My mom said she was going to sleep soon, but would have her phone next to the bed all night!
I remember 9:00 as a turning point in the whole labor process. Before then, I had felt contractions slowly getting stronger, but they really weren’t too bad. I could talk and laugh through them, and complain good-naturedly about how the contraction monitor basically didn’t work at all. But after 9:00, things started to hurt more. They were still manageable, but definitely not pleasant — and growing more and more unpleasant by the hour. Whereas earlier I had to tell Jose when I felt a contraction, now he could tell just by looking at me. I did my best to breathe deep and just stay calm.
Around midnight, my extension expired once again and the nurse started preparing to start me on pitocin. With that announcement, I finally decided to ask for an epidural. The pain had grown enough that I was already considering it, and knowing that they were very likely going to become worse with the pitocin made me pull the trigger. That process took a while and I don’t remember the exact order of events, but sometime between 12:00 and 1:00, Jose had to leave the room for about 15 minutes while the anesthesiologist came in and did my epidural. (He said he didn’t know what to do, so he just wandered downstairs to the vending machines and back.) At some point, the nurses checked me again and found that I was at 6 or 7 cm — and that made them change their mind on the pitocin once again! No drugs for me! This must have been after the epidural was already in, because I don’t remember reconsidering whether to get the epidural or not.
Despite all the stuff going on in that hour, I still remembered the one other big event happening that night — MSL landing on Mars! We had been planning to go over to Jen’s to watch it with her, but obviously Emma had other ideas. We didn’t get NASA TV in the hospital, but sometime around 12:40, I had Jose check his phone for the news. Success — MSL was safely on the surface of Mars! Amazing! With the discomfort of contractions blocked by the epidural, I spent some time surfing Facebook and Twitter on my phone to share in everyone’s excitement. Emma would be born on the same day MSL landed. So cool.
After all that excitement, we finally decided to try to get a little bit of rest. Jose curled up in a chair and we were both able to sleep for about an hour. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. At 3:00 a.m. the nurses returned for a final check and lo and behold, I was 10 cm. The epidural apparently allowed me to relax enough that I went from 6 to 10 in only 2 hours! Jose jumped out of the chair in a flash, since we were both thinking the same thing — it was baby time! But our expectations were quickly dashed when the nurses had me do a few “practice pushes”…and felt nothing. My lower half was so numb from the epidural that I couldn’t even push properly. The only option was to dial the epidural back — way back — and let me regain some feeling. In the meantime, the nurses said, I would just “labor down.” I had no idea what this meant, but I figured it out quickly enough — it basically meant I had to sit in bed for the next 1.5 hours letting Emma slowly begin to work her way down while the epidural wore off. In other words, I had to sit there feeling more and more painful contractions by the minute.
I don’t remember much about those 90 minutes other than extreme discomfort. I dealt with it as best as I could — closing my eyes, keeping my breathing as slow and even as possible, and just repeating telling myself that it wouldn’t last forever. Jose was sitting right next to me, but we didn’t talk much. Hilariously, I think the thing I told him most often was that it felt like the baby was going to come out of my butt. I didn’t feel like I was having a baby as much as I just felt like I really, really had to poop! And while in retrospect I’ve learned that it’s really common to feel this way because of all the pressure the baby puts on the mom’s rectum on the way out, I totally wasn’t expecting it at the time. It was so bizarre!
Around 4:30, we finally tried pushing again and this time around, let’s just say I could DEFINITELY feel things well enough to push. The epidural had almost entirely worn off and I was quite ready to get Emma out of there, thankyouverymuch. But the doctor wasn’t there yet! Since it was early on a Monday morning, we weren’t waiting for my doctor — we were waiting for an on-call OB who I’d never met before. This didn’t bother me at all, and I was way more concerned with what was taking her so freaking long to get to the hospital! This was by far the most frustrating part of my entire birth experience — after waiting a few hours to be able to push, now I was being told NOT to push until the doctor arrived.
(In retrospect, I do wonder whether I could have gotten all the way through delivery without the epidural, since I never needed pitocin after all, and I ended up having to let the epidural decline to almost nothing before being able to push. But I also recognize that those last 4 cm would have been SO much harder if I’d had to feel them. A drug-free delivery was never my goal anyway — I always just said I’d see what happened when the time arrived, and that’s what I did. In the end, I have no regrets about it.)
The doctor finally arrived around 4:45 and I’m pretty sure I let out a GIANT sigh of relief. The atmosphere in the room immediately changed as people started appearing out of nowhere and all the lights got turned back on. By 5:00 — or maybe a few minutes earlier — I was pushing in earnest. After sitting there for a few hours just suffering through each contraction, it was a great relief to finally feel like the end was near. The silver lining of having to labor down while the epidural dwindled was that by the end of all that, Emma was extremely ready and willing to make her appearance. I only had to push for about 10 minutes…
…and suddenly there was a baby in the room! The pain went away in an instant, and I heard Jose laughing — just laughing. He was giddy with excitement, and I was crying. I heard Emma let out a cry, and Jose cut the umbilical cord with a shaky hand, as he later told me. They wrapped Emma in a blanket and put her on my chest, and I just remember saying “Hi baby! Hi! Your name is Emma! You’re here! I’m your mom!” and kissing the top of her sticky head.
It was so surreal. After a moment, the nurses whisked her away to the other side of the room to be cleaned up and weighed and measured. You can see in the photo above that she was a little blue, but she pinked up over the next several minutes. Jose went with her and I just remember lying on the bed trying to process everything that had just happened. The doctor and nurses got me cleaned up as well, and before I knew it, Emma was back with me. Slowly the medical staff all left the room until finally it was just Jose, Emma and me. Our new little family of three! We got to spend more than an hour together oohing and aahing over our perfect little girl and feeding her for the first time. Jose got a text from my mom, who had woken up that morning with no new news and was dying to know what was happening — in the rush of activity over the last few hours, we had forgotten to let anyone know that Emma was finally here! We finally sent out a text to our family and friends around 6:45 a.m. and enjoyed the flood of congratulations that came in return.
Writing this a year later, there are a few moments that stick out in my mind. Sitting in Pei Wei and finally realizing I might be in labor. Walking from the parking lot into the hospital. Finding out that MSL was safe on Mars. Hearing that I was at 10 cm. Ironically, the actual moment of Emma’s birth is a little fuzzy — blame it on the pain, or fatigue, or hormones, or sheer emotion.
But I do remember two sounds. I remember Jose laughing, because it was so unexpected — and yet I could tell that he was overcome with happiness and laughing was the only thing his brain knew how to do.
And I remember saying “your name is Emma” because it seemed so overwhelming — to see this little girl, and realize that she was my baby, and that I could put her name with her face. In those first moments, saying “Emma” out loud sounded so strange. But now I can’t imagine anyone other than our Emma. And she’s perfect.