I was kind of an emotional mess during my third trimester. And part of my distress definitely came from anxiety over childbirth. There were a few things that contributed to my fears: seeing dramatizations of traumatic births on television and movies as a child, allowing my imagination to run wild, and hearing way too many horror stories from friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. Today, though, I’m here to share an extremely positive experience, and hopefully alleviate others’ fears of childbirth as a result. Because I have to say: Emma’s delivery was incredible, and not at all traumatic. And from what my doctors and nurses told me, it was a very run-of-the-mill delivery, too!
At home: the night of August 1st
Around 10 or 11 p.m. on Monday, August 1st, I was plugging away on my laptop, when I started to feel some cramps. They just felt like bad period cramps, but they definitely caught my attention as I hadn’t had a period in quite some time. While they really weren’t very painful, they prevented me from sleeping that night, partly because they added to the discomfort of being nearly 41 weeks pregnant… but also because my mind was racing. What if I went into labor at any moment?!
At home: the morning/day of August 2nd
The next morning, I felt like the cramps were getting stronger, but I wasn’t sure whether it was all in my head. I’d had a few false alarms at that point – none of which landed me in the hospital, but I really didn’t want to be that girl who runs to the hospital over something like Braxton Hicks or gas. But Mitch and I decided to stay close to home just in case. We did, however, go out to lunch for deep dish down the street.
While at lunch, things intensified a bit, and I told Mitch that I was relatively sure the cramps were contractions. Everything was pretty irregular, but Mitch started to time them anyway. This was quite the struggle.
Some of the pains had definite beginnings and ends, but others were more gradual. Some lasted a while, while others were short… and some were 45 minutes apart, while others were as little as seven minutes apart. Was the length of the contraction the important part? Or was it the time between? We were constantly forgetting to write the times down, too. Must have been distracted by that deep dish, haha.
When we got home, I texted Darby, my best friend from New York who’d just had her baby, and she suggested using this app. So much easier! The app worked flawlessly and provided us with the average length of the contractions as well as the average time between them.
At home: the night of August 2nd
By 5 or 6 p.m., the pains were starting to hurt. They definitely weren’t unbearable, but I couldn’t really talk through them. The pain would start in my lower back, and then slowly wrap its way around to my front, lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. I was most comfortable while sitting up in a dining room chair, elbows on the table, head in my hands. Mitch rubbed my back through each contraction, which was so helpful.
Around 7, things started to get real, and when the contractions – lasting anywhere from a minute to three minutes – came, I was on the floor. (Not painful enough to cry, though!) You know that scene from “The Office,” where Pam is very obviously in labor, but she refuses to go to the hospital? That was me. All of a sudden, the pain had gone from manageable to very intense, but there I was, telling Mitch I didn’t want to call the doctor or even consider going to the hospital. Part of me was simply scared, yet another part was convinced I was just being a wimp, and that when we arrived, the nurses would tell us that I wasn’t far enough along. We’d be sent home, and I’d be embarrassed.
So what did I do instead? I took a shower, naturally. (Because who knew how long it would be before I had the chance again?) Showering was challenging, though, as the contractions were getting stronger and more frequent. Thank goodness Mitch put his foot down while I was in there and called the doctor. After hearing our description of how things were going, the doctor said we likely still had a lot of time, and to call back when the contractions were five minutes apart.
But we seemed to skip over the whole five-minute marker because all of a sudden a bunch of the contractions were two and three minutes apart, and I was on my hands and knees, unable to get up while they were going on. (The weirdest part about contractions, I found, was that when they weren’t going on, I felt totally normal, and was able to do things like throw last-minute items into the suitcase, make the bed, and clean the bathroom. #priorities)
The contractions were still irregular, but we called back and the doctor said to come on down to the hospital. Noodle went into her crate, and we texted Jess and Neal that it was go time. (They had graciously offered to watch Noodle for a few days.) Before we left, though, I demanded that Mitch vacuum the living and dining rooms. Totally normal. 😉 He laughed at first, but then he realized I was serious. I’ve never seen a man vacuum more quickly or efficiently.
The car ride/hospital arrival
Mitch and I waited for a break in the contractions, and then hustled out to the car around 9 p.m. When we got to our little Prius, I started to have another one, and Mitch remembered that he’d forgotten the car seat inside. He ran back to the house while I worked my way through the contraction – not fun since I couldn’t be on my hands and knees! When he got back, we started the drive downtown to the hospital. Since the contractions were about two or three minutes apart at that point, I had my eyes closed for most of the car ride. But Mitch tells me that there was some major speeding going on. 😉
A few really nice things: The hospital is also only 4.3 miles from our house, or a 15-minute drive without traffic. And as it was late at night on a Tuesday, there was no traffic, and we therefore whizzed down Lakeshore Drive. The hospital also has valet parking, making a somewhat frantic experience less crazy. (From what I can remember, Mitch just kind of threw the keys at the super nice and understanding valet guy, and that was that!)
Inside the hospital, our first stop was the waiting room, where Mitch handled a small amount of paperwork, showed my ID, and talked with the receptionist who was apparently very friendly and excited for us. (I was in my own little world, trying my best to get through contractions without embarrassing myself.) There was another pregnant woman and her husband in the room, and they were also incredibly kind. (The woman thought her water had broken, but wasn’t sure and was there to be checked out.) After five or so minutes, a nurse came to get Mitch and me. I sat in a wheelchair, and the nurse brought us to triage.
Triage was a small, private room with its own bathroom. Once in there, the nurse told me to take all my clothing off and put on a hospital gown. She left to call the doctor on call while I was changing, and when she came back, she hooked me up to a CTG, which monitors the fetal heart rate as well as contractions. She also numbed a small area on my arm (which felt like a tiny pinprick) and hooked me up to an IV. She then checked me to see how far along I was dilated.
Triage was, without a doubt, the hardest part of Emma’s delivery. I was a ball of nerves, still convinced that I was being a baby, and that I was going to be sent home. I also started panicking. If contractions hurt this badly now, there was no way I’d be able to handle them when they intensified, which was bound to happen soon. This is the one and only time I cried, and I truly think I cried mostly because of anxiety. Could I actually do this? Mitch rubbed my back, hugged me during rough contractions, told me I was doing a great job, watched the monitor and assured me that I wasn’t being a baby, and texted our parents that we’d arrived at the hospital.
Eventually, the nurse came back and told us that we were officially being admitted and that she could now bring us up to the delivery room so the epidural could be administered. Like Mitch, she was so kind, and told me I was doing wonderfully and that it was time for some pain relief! I was ridiculously scared of getting the epidural, but hallelujah.
Ladies, I want to debunk all the myths surrounding the epidural right now. Because it did not hurt. Like, at all. Truly, I had no idea when the anesthesiologist started and when she stopped. It was that painless.
When we got to the delivery room, a new nurse explained exactly what was about to happen, and she also explained that husbands weren’t allowed in the room while the epidural was being administered for sterilization reasons. I wasn’t thrilled about Mitch leaving, but the nurse said she’d be with me the whole time, and that she’d literally hold my hands for it.
She also asked me to list all my fears about the epidural… so I did. I told her I was scared of how much it would hurt. She explained that it wouldn’t hurt at all; that the area would be numbed beforehand, and that all I’d feel is the small pinprick much like I felt when I’d been hooked up to the IV. I also told her I was scared that I’d have a contraction while the epidural was being administered and that I’d move and end up paralyzed. She explained that they’d administer it right after a contraction and that it would be extremely quick, so there’d be no chance of this. And I told her I was scared that the epidural would wear off. She explained that this wasn’t possible: that the epidural is no longer a shot; it’s now a “drip,” and it stays attached to you until the delivery is over. Finally, I told her I was nervous I’d pull it out or mess it up since I would be laying down on it. She explained that it would be positioned against my back so this couldn’t happen.
Best nurse ever.
When the anesthesiologist arrived, I was walked through everything again. My nurse helped me sit up and dangle my legs off the side of the bed, and she helped me with my posture. She knelt down and held both my hands, and told me to focus on my breathing and that it would be over before I knew it. I think I remember feeling a tiny pinprick, but I’m not sure. Because like she said, it was over before I knew it, and I’d felt nothing.
It. Was. Amazing. (And again, best nurse ever.)
Within a few seconds, the lower half of my body started to feel a little warm, and then things started to tingle and go numb. I could still move my legs (and would continue to be able to do so throughout the entirety of the delivery), but I couldn’t feel anything. And the pain from the contractions was completely gone. Mitch was allowed back in the room, and let’s just say he was very surprised that I’d gone from tears to a huge smile so quickly!
Also, fun fact: I was given a little button and told to press it whenever I felt pain. The nurse explained that it was impossible to administer myself too much medicine, as the machine would simply cut me off if I pressed the button too many times. I never felt any pain, but I have to admit that I pressed the button a few times just for peace of mind.
After the epidural was administered, I was a different girl. Yes, I was still nervous about the whole pushing part and definitely still had doubts about whether I’d be able to do it. But there was just so much excitement in the room: the nurses who filtered in and out seemed so happy for Mitch and me, and Mitch was beside himself. I mean, we’d be meeting our baby in a matter of hours!
On a few occasions, a midwife came to check how far along I was dilated. (This was VERY surprising to me, as I hadn’t been told that a midwife would be present. But it seemed like she was simply in charge of checking for dilation and breaking the water.) Each time, I was further along, and I started to feel more and more pressure. (It kind of felt like I simply needed to use the bathroom. Sorry: TMI.) During one of her last visits, probably around 1 a.m., she came in to break my water. This, of course, made me extremely nervous as well, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to feel anything. But when she started, she discovered it’d happened on its own. (I was unable to tell because of the epidural.) A couple of nurses quickly cleaned me up and then administered Pitocin to make my contractions more regular and to get things rolling.
Mitch and I were advised to try to get some sleep, so Mitch laid down on the “husband couch,” and I tried to close my eyes and get some rest, but it was impossible. Too many nurses were coming in and out of the room, and my mind was racing. I also couldn’t stop staring at the fetal heart rate monitor, as there had been some talk earlier about whether the heart rate had been low. (Turns out it the machine was just having a hard time picking up the baby’s heart rate, or it was confusing my heart rate with the baby’s.) Worry, worry, worry.
Sometime around 5 a.m., the midwife proclaimed that I was 10 centimeters dilated and that it was time to start pushing. Mitch and I were both pretty shocked, as I’d been only six centimeters during the last check, but it was almost nicer that it happened so quickly as it gave us no time to freak out. The doctor on call arrived–unfortunately not my doctor, but c’est la vie!–and helped me get into the correct position: half sitting, half on my back, with my arms under my legs, holding them back. She also instructed the nurse to help hold back my left leg, and Mitch to help hold back my right leg.
Side note: Mitch had already told me how important it was for him to watch the birth of his child, but I was completely amazed at how little I cared when the doctor told me that he would, in fact, be “down there” to help. In the months leading up to delivery, I worried that Mitch would be traumatized or never look at me the same again after the birth. But I think that by that point, the priority was delivery and delivery only. I’d been poked and prodded so many times, and it seemed like a zillion people had seen me naked and exposed. Did it really even matter anymore? No shame. Also: this so wasn’t the case. Mitch says it was the most amazing experience of his life and that it was absolutely beautiful.
The doctor explained that we’d wait for a contraction to show up on the monitor, and then we’d do a set of three 10-second pushes. I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to push effectively, but the doctor told me not to think about it too much, and just push like I was trying to get something out.
Again, absolutely no pain – just pressure. (Epidurals = pure magic. I also feel like the epidural allowed me to take in the magic of the experience.) The only challenging part of pushing was that it was physically tiring. I did well through the first two pushes of every set, but usually lost steam somewhere around seconds six or seven during the third. That said, hearing the doctor, nurse and Mitch tell me that I was making progress was beyond helpful, and kept me going. After five sets of pushes, Mitch told me he loved me and that I was so unbelievably close, and I saw tears in his eyes. That was the last bit of encouragement I needed.
The birth: the morning of August 3rd
At 6:07 a.m. on August 3rd, Emma Catherine Larkin was born.
I really can’t express just how emotional and profoundly moving the birth was. I remember the doctor holding her tiny body, and I remember that both Mitch and I were crying. I remember the doctor telling us that the baby was a girl. I remember her being wiped down and placed on my chest, and then I remember sobbing. I remember telling Mitch that I hadn’t yet seen her face because she was so snug under my chin. I remember calling her “Emma” for the first time. I remember Mitch cutting the umbilical cord. I remember how amazing she smelled. I remember her little breaths on my shoulder. I remember kissing her and telling her I loved her more than anything in the world.
In the hour that followed, the doctor and nurses worked to clean up both Emma and me. I did have to get a few stitches, but because of the epidural, I honestly never would have known had the doctor not told me. Really: do not worry about tearing. Lots of people don’t tear, but if you do, you can’t feel anything, and you can’t feel anything when the doctor stitches you up, either, since you’re still hooked up to the epidural. I was so enamored with our little girl that I didn’t even realize I was getting stitches. On a somewhat related note, I also think the epidural allowed me to take in just how special the moment was. I was completely present, and I was focused only on our Emma. Our pediatrician came in to weigh, measure, and look over Emma, and then Mitch and I were able to go back to snuggling our little girl and reveling in the fact that we were a family. I’d never had a more surreal experience, and my heart had never been so full. I think I cried for a solid hour.
It would be impossible to put into words the happiness and love I felt… and continue to feel. Life forever changed at 6:07 a.m., and now this little girl – who’s captured our hearts so completely – is everything. I know I said this before, but how is it possible to love this much?
About two hours after Emma was born, we were taken to our recovery room to get some rest. (I hadn’t slept in two full days, after all!) Later, we’d be visited by both sets of parents.
Emma Catherine, you are our single greatest accomplishment in life. We love you to the moon and back.
I’d imagined that the experience would be downright awful, but it was truly beautiful. Next to the day I married Mitch, August 3rd was the best day of my life. If you’re an expectant mother and feeling nervous, please don’t listen to the horror stories like I did. You can do it!