I am about to share the most personal, most amazing moment of my life. The birth of my son, Henry.
To be honest, I had never read a birth story before writing this. But after talking to some friends and hearing from so many of you, I get it now…
First, I wanted to write it all down so we have a record of it and we don’t forget anything. And I can’t wait to share with my baby boy some day.
And I’m sharing it with all of you in the hopes that it helps anyone out there who has questions or concerns going into childbirth… as believe me – I had all of them. There were so many things I learned throughout the process, so I’m hoping that reading it here might help anyone should something similar come up for you.
I spare very few personal details, so if you are squeamish or judge those for sharing TMI, just click away now. This isn’t for you.
If you are expecting and wondering about your own delivery and don’t make it through reading all of this, I understand – but just know… you will get through it. It’s 1-2 days of your life. Trust the doctors. They are superheroes. Seriously do not stress about a birth plan. Added stress is the last thing delivery day needs. Focus on yours and the baby’s health. Everything will turn out.
Without further ado…
It all began at 1:30 am on Tuesday, May 8.
1:30 am: It’s happening.
Dan and I went to bed around 11:30 pm Monday night. We had retrained the dogs to sleep on the floor at night, but Tucker kept jumping up to be by me no matter how many times we sent him back down – he definitely knew something was up. It was really sweet, so eventually, I just let him cuddle with me…
Right around 1:30 am, I woke up feeling strong pressure in my lower back and near my bum… I got out of bed and went into the bathroom at which point we’re fairly certain my water broke and let’s just say… there were clear signs labor was imminent. I had heard, however, that said event can happen a week or more in advance of actual labor though so I wasn’t convinced this was labor… after 5-10 minutes, Danny woke up to check on me and I told him what was going on. At this point, I started getting menstrual type cramps on and off which alternated with the pain in my lower back.
Everything I read about how contractions felt described them as “a wave starting at the top of your abdomen and rolling down to your pelvis with your whole stomach hardening.” I didn’t experience this at all. Just menstrual cramps and a feeling like I had to use the bathroom. Fun.
Dan, however, was convinced I was in labor. Me? I wasn’t so sure. After all, everyone had been telling me I’d definitely be going late since I was carrying the baby so high. This was basically two weeks early from my May 20th due date.
I put a call into the on-call doctor and hopped in the shower to relax knowing it would take 5-20 minutes to get a call back. Once she called and I described what was happening, she said “Alrighty I’m putting your name down, head on in. We’ll see you soon.” “Oh – so I’m in labor?” “It sure sounds like it! We’ll see you soon.”
Ah. It was happening. Dan teared up. I was still just trying to process…
We weren’t in a crazy rush because my funny “contractions” were super irregular but I thought quite close together… maybe three to six minutes on and off. We threw the last few things in our hospital bags, which had been packed, thank goodness (of course I forgot to pack any of the joggers ya’ll suggested I get). And we left the good camera at home that I had hoped to use to take pics of him in the hospital. Ah well. We got the dogs quasi-situated (we had no one lined up to come get them or watch them or let them out, but we were going to figure that out once the world started waking up) and set off in the dark, en route to the hospital around 2:15 am.
The drive to the hospital was so peaceful.
The city looked so beautiful all lit up at night, not a single car on the road but us. We both felt good and excited. As we were driving along the river downtown (which is absolutely beautiful at night), the song Say You Won’t Let Go by James Arthur came on… at this point, I started crying.
If you don’t know the song, it’s a love song about the night he met who would be his wife, and what he saw for their life together… including the kids they’d have. The poignant lyrics are what really got to me in that moment as it reminded me of the night Dan and I met… which yes, was in a dark bar and we danced the night away, and our future together…
I met you in the dark, you lit me up
You made me feel as though I was enough
We danced the night away, we drank too much
I knew I loved you then
But you’d never know
‘Cause I played it cool when I was scared of letting go
I know I needed you
But I never showed
But I wanna stay with you until we’re grey and old
Just say you won’t let go
I’ll wake you up with some breakfast in bed
I’ll bring you coffee
With a kiss on your head
And I’ll take the kids to school
Wave them goodbye
And I’ll thank my lucky stars for that night
We just looked at each other, and Dan grabbed my hand, and again both started crying.
Our baby boy was going to be born today.
2:30 am: Arrive at the Hospital and Triage
We pulled up to the hospital parking garage close to 2:30 am… we had skipped taking a hospital tour since we kinda figured we know where the entrance is, they’ll direct us where we need to be when the time comes. Easy enough.
During our two hour Cliffs Notes birthing class, they said moms usually have plenty of time to park and walk in on their own without being dropped off at the door, so we did that. I was feeling great! Excited! Contractions were tolerable. Who hasn’t had menstrual cramps before?! I could walk across the street, both of us laughing and excited. I think at this point Dan was more nervous than me.
Dan grabbed all of our bags and we headed into triage at Prentice Women’s Hospital, part of Northwestern. We checked in and waited for 10-15 minutes before being taken into a triage room.
We were told by a nurse that all of the labor and delivery rooms were full – “it was a busy night for babies!” – and that we had to wait in triage until one opened up. They’d let us know when that would be. Surprise #1. I genuinely didn’t realize they could run out of labor and delivery rooms. That thought had never crossed my mind. Either way, no big deal, I assumed 30 minutes or so and we’d be good to go.
The triage room was exactly how it sounds. Very small. No real bed, just a gurney. Bright fluorescent lights. Not a super comfortable or calming environment. But ya know – what’s 30 minutes?
Ohhh how wrong my assumption was.
I labored in that room, unmedicated, for the next six hours… contractions getting worse and worse.
If you recall, I entered the hospital super upbeat and excited. But hour after hour passed, and I started getting more and more exhausted from lack of sleep. My contractions were getting stronger. Oh, and it took three nurses to “find/reach my cervix” to see how far I was dilated. THREE. Apparently, it’s really high up? Something I didn’t even know before that night and had never heard from any doctors before. Anyone who has had their cervix checked knows this isn’t the most comfortable experience.
And after three nurses checked, we got our answer:
My water had mysteriously broke, I was having contractions, yet I was zero centimeters dilated.
Yet the contractions kept coming. I basically sat on a bouncing ball, leaning back against Dan’s legs for some comfort, and watched Friends for hours… even chatted with some of my employees once they started signing online around 7 am.
8:30 am: Laboring and the Epidural
I didn’t even know how much time had passed. Eventually, they came and said a room was open – it was time to go upstairs. Hallelujah! I got happy again.
I was also freezing. And I’m never cold.
The gentleman who wheeled me up to the labor and delivery room was so funny… he saw our three overstuffed bags Dan was lugging and said, “so – first baby?” We all laughed. We were clearly amateurs who overpacked.
Also, this is what I look like when I’m really tired… #flawless. (Also you can see the room we’d just spent six hours in right behind me.)
There was a newborn giraffe machine to lay the baby in just sitting there with a little hat and blanket ready to go, and the sight of that just filled my heart with joy x10000.
At this point, I also learned my favorite doctor in the practice was coming on her shift and I was SO excited. Contractions were definitely getting worse, but our setting was much more comfortable, and I was terrified of the epidural, so I was trying to hold out for a bit. I think I made it another hour or so before giving in and saying okay… it’s time.
I was scared of the epidural for two reasons: something going wrong, and the fact that I would no longer be able to get up — what if I had to go to the bathroom?
Good news is – the epidural is HEAVEN ON EARTH. For starters, it is NOT just a giant needle that goes into your spine and administers drugs and that’s it. That is a spinal, which only lasts a couple of hours and is used in emergency c-sections when they don’t have time to administer an epidural.
An epidural, on the other hand, is a catheter into the epidural space of your spine. I did NOT know this before our birthing class. Crazy. So essentially, you feel a TINY prick of a small needle numbing the area. And after that, you feel nothing. It’s awkward having to sit upright for 15 minutes or so while they administer it – and no offense to medical residents – but I didn’t looove having a resident (still in training) do it, granted it was overseen by the head anesthesiologist, of course. So it was more a mind game than anything else, but the nurse held my hands and arms and kept talking to me to distract me as it was happening; overhearing them discuss what they were doing was the worst part. You literally feel nothing.
Dan had to leave the room during the epidural as they require a sterile space for the procedure… I know it’s not the case at all hospitals.
When he left the room for me to get it I was crying because I was scared. And when he came back in 15 minutes later, I was laughing and on cloud nine. Pain-free. BLISS.
Epidurals are heaven.
The timeline over the next several hours is fuzzy. The following happened:
– Once you get the epidural, you’re stuck in bed. This means a catheter is put in and you go on a liquid diet. No food. So as the hours wore on, I became increasingly exhausted and so so hungry. I don’t do well without sleep and food. Which really affected me as we went into nighttime. So all I ate in roughly 40 hours were some grape popsicles and hot broth. I really wish I had asked for it sooner. Anyone who knows me knows I do not do well without sleep and food… :/
– Somewhere around this time, my mom came. And Dan’s parents came a bit later. I had asked all of our parents to come when we went to the hospital… I just really liked the idea of having family there waiting and ready to meet the baby. Blame all the Friends I watch. My mom stayed in the labor/delivery room with Dan and me for most of the remaining time. Dan’s folks went and walked around and kept checking back in.
– Speaking of Friends, we watched a lot of Friends.
– I learned from my doctor that because my water had broken, the risk for infection was highly increased, so she’d have to really space out the number of times she checked my cervix for dilation.
– They started me on Pitocin to increase contractions and get dilating going.
Within the first couple of hours post-epidural and starting Pitocin, I went from 0-4cm. The doctor said amazing – it was going to be a fast, easy process!
When she came back to check a few hours later… still at 4. Increase Pitocin.
When she came back to check a few hours later… still at 4. Increase Pitocin and insert something internal to measure contractions (none of which I could feel).
They saw contractions were regular and STRONG. Yet no dilation was happening.
At this point, the right side of my lower back started hurting a bit again. Not horribly… but I shouldn’t have felt any pain with the epidural, so they had to up my epidural medication.
As we get into the evening, I am REALLY starting to feel out of it, almost light-headed. I think this was exhaustion and hunger wearing on me. They got me some hot broth and that helped. But the thought of pushing was seeming impossible at this point. I knew pushing could take hours and I didn’t know where that energy was going to come from. Around 7-8 pm, we opted for one last ditch effort.
They had me lay on my side with a peanut medicine ball between my legs because, apparently, that could get the baby to drop and increasing the odds of dilating. They also tried an hour with the bed in a crazy position that I can’t even explain but basically had me squatting but laying in bed… I didn’t know the beds could transform like that but it did!
The doctor came back to check again around 9-9:30. Nothing worked. Still at 4 cm. She said she didn’t want me to have to do this all night… which I think was really her reading my [lack of] energy… I whole-heartedly agreed to just move to c-section. I never felt particularly strongly either way about a vaginal birth or c-section. Everyone in my family ended up needing c-sections for one reason or another, so I was perfectly fine with the idea. I always said my birth plan was to get the baby out of me while keeping both of us safe and healthy.
So it was decided. I’d be going to c-section. They spread the news to all the necessary hospital staff and got me prepped for surgery. I think I cried somewhere in the mix at this point… again probably from exhaustion.
9:30 pm: Surgery
I was taken into the room first before Dan could come in… they had to prep me and the anesthesiologist had to make sure I was good and numb. After a few minutes, Dan was brought in and he sat just over my left shoulder, talking to me the whole time.
A few things about the c-section that surprised me:
– You lay with your arms stretched out at your sides. They don’t tie them down or anything, they’re just straight out at your sides. This doesn’t sound like a big deal… but doing it for 40+ minutes… it’s not comfortable. Your arms hurt.
–You shake. Like teeth chattering, arms slightly convulsing shake. I guess not everyone experiences this, but a lot of people do. And it was, for me, the worst part about the experience. It was such an uncomfortable feeling. Dan actually thought my arms were tied down because of it… I said, no, I just had to hold them down while they convulsed. Whaaat.
– The sheet they hang to keep your face and the surgery separate was basically draping on my face. Like sometimes literally on my face… not a few inches down like the lady in the photo above. This was also surprisingly uncomfortable.
– You really really don’t feel anything. A bit of pressure – like someone pushing on parts of your stomach? But seriously – no pain. Again, the shaking was the worst.
Once it got started, ALL I could think about as I laid there was waiting to hear his cries. ALL of my focus was on that because I was so uncomfortable. And Dan was there talking to me and telling me how great I was doing and how strong I was and just trying to keep my calm – he was wonderful… but I was so distracted by my teeth chattering that all my focus was on waiting for those cries so I knew he was out and safe and breathing and healthy. It takes about 15 minutes or so to get him out (at least, I think?). I do remember Disney music was playing… and thinking I should be appreciating this more since I love Disney music.
Eventually… we heard it. That sweet sweet perfect cry.
10:12 pm. 20 hours of labor and one surgery later. He was here. My boy was here.
“Happy birthday!!” the doctors shouted.
It was such a rush and a high and they said “oh look at him!” and I looked to my left… but they had him on my right. I turned my head… and there he was.
I can cry just thinking about it. They were holding him up and he was so tiny and crying and he was here. Wow. There he was. My son. This little boy we had talked about and planned for and dreamed up a future with… was here.
They quickly did his APGAR test which he passed with flying colors. Weighed him… 6lbs 8oz, 19 in. Totally healthy. “Strong grip!” the nurse said. He basically stopped crying right away. Cool as a cucumber – just like his dad – right out of the womb.
Then they cleaned him up and brought him over, offered for me to hold him but I was LITERALLY shaking, and there was a sheet in my face, the task seemed impossible and dangerous and scary. “How can I hold him if I’m shaking?!” I was terrified I’d drop him! So they handed him to Dan who did skin to skin right there next to me… but again, Dan was behind me and I had to crank my neck back to try and seem them, which hurt after a while, especially combined with the shaking.
Dan just kept saying how perfect he was… how handsome and calm and how he was looking around and it was amazing and he couldn’t believe he was here.
So at this point, I think, okay, let’s get this over with so I can hold him and see him properly!
But the stitching up and putting me back together took… what felt like forever. Dan said it was all over quickly. I disagreed. I was exhausted, shaking, neck hurting, eager to hold my tiny babe… and had no sense of how long it would be. It was probably another 30+ minutes laying there. It felt like hours.
EVENTUALLY, we were done.
They had to lift my totally numb, dead-weight body onto a gurney, then, even though I was hesitant because, yes, I was still shaking, they placed my baby boy in my arms against my chest. I could not believe it. I can’t even explain how surreal it was. He was here. Who was he? Who did he look like? Do I know how to be a parent? Who was this tiny little human? How did he go from being in me to being here? How did I grow him? THIS is who had been kicking me and squirming around in me the past several months.
And love. Oh my gosh did I love him instantly. Despite all the confusing questions and surrealness of it, he was mine and I knew I was going to love him so so hard for the rest of our lives. I just held him close to me and he nuzzled in. We were instantly best friends. He needed me. And I needed him.
12:00 am Recovery
They wheeled us into the recovery room where I’d have to spend the next two hours. So this, actually, was the worst part of it all for me, mainly because of anxiety. Combined with the best part of it all… here’s what happened.
My body temperature was skyrocketing, at least it felt that way. I was SO hot. And hadn’t drunk in several hours, so I was dying for water or ice chips.
I was also still shaking a lot. Then, as my blood pressure was being checked, we heard a small bang and the nurse let out an, “oh my god.” I looked over and saw she had accidentally dropped my dead weight leg against the metal side of the gurney. At this point, I realized just how numb I was – something I had never experienced before (this was my first surgery) and my anxiety set in… “oh my god. I’m not paralyzed, am I?” and she was like “Oh my gosh, I’m so so sorry. No, of course not. You can wiggle your toes!” To which I replied… “No, I can’t.” “You can’t?” And we both looked at my toes… nothing. No wiggles.
Anxiety increases tenfold. She continued, “I’m sure it’s fine. I’ll call the anesthesiologist just so he knows you’re worried and can explain it all to you, but really, I’m sure you’re fine.”
Body temperature increases… blood pressure increases. All I want to do is enjoy my baby boy but I’m in full-on worry mode coupled with extreme exhaustion and thirst.
Basically, the anesthesiologist comes in, tests my knee cap thing for reflex, which works perfectly. He said it was taking a while for it all to wear off. And Dan and I will never forget this because it was so funny: the nurse said once the doctor left, “I think you just got like… a really good epidural.”
I spent the remainder of the time we were in there anxiously waiting for some sign that feeling was coming back to my toes. Eventually, I could twitch the left one. And eventually the right. It was all going to be okay. Thank goodness.
Skin to skin truly is wonderful, and Henry latched IMMEDIATELY. And I know it does not come easy for most, so it was not lost on me how lucky we both were. Breastfeeding felt crazy natural and shockingly easy and didn’t hurt (yet). I’m telling you, this teeny tiny baby boy needed me and knew exactly what to do and knew I was his person. That feeling was magic.
Dan went to get our parents who had been in the waiting room. It was now almost 1 am. Sadly only one could come in at a time and stay for just a few minutes. He brought my mom in first, then his mom, then his dad. They all got to hold their new grandson, while I think I laid there and snacked on ice chips the nurse had finally snuck me.
It was such a magical moment. Once they all left, I was just so eager to get back to our room and get some sleep. I felt awful. And that felt awful. I wanted to feel amazing for my baby boy. Oh, what’s that? Mom guilt instinctively kicking in immediately? Yes.
We eventually made it back to our room. This was all a bit of a daze for me, I was delirious from being so tired, basically going on two hours of sleep in almost 48 hours. I know women who labor 30+ hours, do all-natural births, and one of my best friends pushed for six hours to deliver an almost 11 lb baby, so sure – I might be a big weenie. But damn, was I tired.
We got to the room – again it was a whole process getting me into the bed from surgery – and the nurses asked if I wanted to breastfeed again. I started crying from guilt, I was so tired. I needed to sleep. And I felt so so horrible and guilty saying that to them. I thought the nurses would think I was a horrible mother and go back and tell all the other nurses and secretly judge me forever. I felt like I didn’t even have the energy to try.
They had formula on hand, so yes – our son’s second meal on earth was formula, bottle fed to him by his beaming father as his mom drifted into a mini coma of sleep that I think lasted about 1-2 hours. It was glorious. Dan fed Henry and stayed awake looking over him, too scared he might stop breathing.
Eventually, the nurses came back in and took him to the nursery so we could both get a couple hours of sleep…
They brought Henry back in as the sun was rising. He needed to eat again, and Dan and I were “rested” and ready.
WE WERE PARENTS.
Dan and I spent the next four days at the hospital and it was amaaazing. Each day got easier and easier, I healed more and more, and our confidence as parents to this tiny nugget increased tenfold. I honestly don’t know how I would have felt had we been discharged on day two like they do with vaginal births. Bonus: the room service three times a day was pretty awesome, as well, as our view of Lake Michigan.
The hot shower I got to take on day two was the greatest shower I’ve ever had in my life.
I will do a whole other post on recovering from a c-section that includes the time at the hospital and the first few weeks at home.
In the meantime, here are some photos from the professional photographer that comes around at the hospital. We took these on day two.