This is the longest post I've ever written. For those of you who want the Cliff Notes version, I'll tell you that it ends with a baby being born. And for those of you who know how long it takes for a baby to be born, you'll understand why this writing is so long.
The Friday before Ivar was born, I finished number 62 of the thank you’s I needed to write for gifts I had received at the baby shower. To celebrate the conclusion of such a hefty stack of stamped envelopes, I made myself an appointment for a pedicure. I’m a big fan of rewards, and attention to my feet seemed like the perfect compensation for plowing through so many thank you notes. Plus, I figured if I was going to be staring at my feet while pushing a baby out, they might as well look nice.
As I drove to the place for the pedicure I thought, “well, that’s it. That’s the last of my to do list that actually needs to get done.” (I did have other things on the list, but 'change blog header' and 'clean under refrigerator' were sort of filler-chores to help pass the time, and I knew it. Those things didn’t have to get done. I was onto myself.) I left the pedicure place with lovely toes and a true hunch that this whole labor train could easily be set in motion at any moment. I felt it.
That night I moved out to the couch because my back was hurting so badly. It would spasm about every hour. I also felt like I needed to go number two, like I was having trouble passing a bowel. In retrospect, I can easily now see that what I actually needed to pass was a baby, and my body was just starting its engines.
Saturday came and Rory had scheduled a full work day out of the house so my mom came over and helped me pass the time. I told her that I was heading into the scariest Halloween of my life. It had never dawned on me that my baby could be born on October 31st, and suddenly that seemed very, very likely. I have nothing against Halloween, but I do have something against a lifetime of, “Oh, October 31st…born on Halloween” and I’m so big into birthdays that I just didn’t like the idea of one holiday overshadowing the other. (Though every kid I talked to under the age of 12 seemed to think there could be no greater day to have your birthday. My nieces Josie and Mara were so excited that the baby might come…Josie said the baby would get double candy once it told each house it was its birthday, and Mara said then the baby could get candy, presents AND cake in the same day!) I was really hoping for a November baby, though.
By Saturday night I was having regular, strong contractions about every hour. They hurt horribly and made for a long evening. By Sunday morning, October 31st, they were about six minutes apart and seemed regular enough that we should go to the hospital. First Time Mama Learning #1: If you’re walking into the hospital while in labor with a smile on your face and excitement in your heart, you probably aren’t actually in hospital-worthy labor yet.
We got there and I was monitored for an hour with consistent contractions and then I was checked and was told I was dilated to a “tight one.” First Time Mama Learning #2: “Tight one” is polite hospital speak for: nothing is happening. In fact, I probably was born a tight one.
So Rory and I discussed the day and how now we would need to get candy to hand out to the trick-or-treaters. And if we were going to head to Target, we might as well go out for breakfast next door at the Original Pancake House. We went to Target first, and I had a few contractions right there while walking around. We had to stop at a hand drill display while I counted through one of them to pass, and when I opened my eyes I could see people in each direction staring at me with little thought bubbles popping out of their heads, “Why would you go to Target while having contractions?” And I suppose I have no good answer for that. Just as I have no good answer for why I would think it wise to go and eat bacon, eggs and hashbrowns just moments later. But I did eat those three things, and Rory and I had a really sweet lunch, excitedly talking about how this really was all beginning, stopping for moments of silence while I suffered through my contractions.
Then we went home and I crashed on the couch for the day. My contractions greatly intensified later in the afternoon, life became more and more miserable and by evening the really, really hard contractions were each ending with a climactic round of throwing up. The flu-like symptoms hit me hardest once the sun went down and the trick-or-treaters started to show up. It made for a bit of a mad house, as Rory would run to the doorbell, hand out the candy, close the door, run to my side, clean out my bowl, run to the doorbell, hand out the candy, close the door, help me to the bathroom, run to the doorbell, hand out the candy, close the door, help me back to the couch, clean out my bowl and run to the doorbell. Finally we ended that mayhem when I asked that he leave the bowl of candy on the porch (which was protested because “kids will take more than 2 pieces!”… but the pregnant woman won this one.) First Time Mama Learning #3: You can skip participating in minor holidays if you are in active labor.
It was during this time of throwing up and utilizing the toilet in full force while enduring horrifying contractions that I pondered deep thoughts. Thoughts like how I would tell Rory that I had changed my mind and no longer wanted a big family. I would have this baby and that would have to be enough. I was watching TV and every single person on the screen was a marvel to me. I couldn’t believe they had all come into the world this way. I saw Sabrina Soto on HGTV and thought, “her mom went through this for her.” Then I thought of the whole wide world…every single person was born from a mother who experienced this same pain. How on earth have we populated this planet so well? Surely every mother in their right mind would only have one child, figure out the horror involved and decide one was enough. I thought about Eve, and then I thought about labor for elephants, water buffalo, giraffes and cows.
Around eight o’clock it was obvious that I was in a terrible place, dehydrated, so weak and basically ready to keel over. So we went back to the hospital. This time when we returned I was not smiling. They hooked me back up the machines, with contractions 4-5 minutes apart and dilated to a three. But after an hour and a half of monitoring, I hadn’t dilated anymore. I was given an IV to increase my fluids and then was encouraged to stay the night to see if we would progress any further. But I was miserable in the hospital bed and Rory was my equal in looking exhausted and overwhelmed. So we decided to go back home for the night and try to get some sleep. We got home at 11 and slept until 12:30 when, after a good and strong contraction, my water broke. First Time Mama Learning #4: You will know when your water breaks.
I wasn’t counting on my water breaking since most women have to have theirs broken for them. But like the pluck of a rubber band, I felt a little break and then I felt Niagara Falls. I told Rory that my water had broken and before I could even roll onto my hip to get up he was out of bed and fully dressed. I kid you not. I still can picture his lamp flying on and watching the world’s fastest dad put on his clothes. I threw up some more, I soaked every pair of pajama pants in our house and we headed back to the hospital with me sitting on a garbage bag and bath towels in my bath robe while holding my barf bucket. This time I was really not smiling when we went back to the hospital. I wasn’t even walking. This time we were that cliché couple with the husband pushing the wife into the lobby area in a wheelchair, leaving her there momentarily while he raced around to park the car, returning with every piece of luggage strapped to his shoulders, ready to fly her through the hallways. She has her head down, rubbing her forehead, willing herself not to puke. First Time Mama Learning #5: This is the real deal. You will not be discharged from the hospital in this condition until you have a baby in your arms.
We returned to the birthing floor and they were ready for us. I was given another IV of fluids and was asked what my plan was for medication. I told them my plan was that I was interested in anything they had to offer me and that the moment they wanted to give me an epidural, I was very, very ready. My contractions intensified, and all was miserable and wrong with the world. I was quiet in my deep breathing, counting slowly through each one, gripping the side rail of my bed and praying to survive. The only thing to say about these hours is that they were not fun. At all.
Around 4 am a man dressed in white showed up to give me the epidural in my back. I cannot explain how my life changed in that moment. And I'm still not totally convinced that he wasn't actually an angel. :) My legs turned to tree stumps, my toes were immobile and I got super happy and chatty. I couldn’t feel a thing. The monitor showed that I was having ridiculous contractions, and I was oblivious. Rory had gone out to the car to get a few more things while the nurse was getting me situated after the shot and he could not believe the transformation in me when he returned. I had returned from the pits of hell...well, not really, but I was able to look at him for the first time in six hours and to converse with politeness. The nurse got me on my side and Rory and I both slept for the next four hours. First Time Mama Learning #6: It’s okay to need an epidural.
We woke up around eight and were told we’d have a baby today. All I could think about was the fact that it was not Halloween anymore. This was going to be a November baby. Rory said he thought his was a very kind move on behalf of the baby, waiting until 12:30 on November 1st to have my water break and all. It was a beautiful, sunny morning and I napped on and off.
At noon it was time to start pushing and my phenomenal nurse, Theresa, coached me every step of the way. She and Rory held my legs for the next two hours as I pushed through every contraction. I could feel my feet by this point, as well as my abdominal muscles and felt fully in control of where I needed to direct my pushing. I felt strong and able. I remember thinking this many times during those two hours. I knew we were close, and somehow, after four hours of sleep and a blessed epidural, I was ready for this next phase. Rory said that I pushed with all of my might on every single push and then after three pushes, would lay my head back, close my eyes and grin. I would say something happy to him and Theresa like, “Oh man, that last one…I sort of quit at 8. Sorry.” And I’d smile some more. I felt a lot and it was not comfortable. But the epidural clearly had taken the edge off and I still felt fully present and aware the entire time.
Theresa called for the doctor in the last fifteen minutes and then said we needed to stop until the doctor came in. It took a while and then she went in the hall and found the doctor talking to another nurse. We missed a strong contraction, but then got things rolling again. I had no idea just how close we were to the grand finale. I didn’t know babies came out so fast after that last wide part of the head made it through. But my baby completely surprised me by his entrance. Unfortunately, I had just heard the opening of scissors and was so distracted by fearing the pain that was coming next that I had my eyes closed tight while bearing down that last time. On the second push I heard the scissors and on the third push there was laughing and loud sounds and a clear, “It’s a boy!” I opened my eyes completely startled to see a beautiful, perfect baby boy descending on my chest. I was so sure it would take much longer to get the body out. First Time Mama Learning #7: Once you get that bulky head out of the way, your baby may very well shoot out of you.
Rory was beside himself and I remember watching him as much as looking at our sweet little boy. Ivar came out with his eyes wide open, looking around and so content. I think I even asked if it was okay that he wasn’t crying so hard and was reassured that he was just fine and just taking it all in. Rory cut the cord and Ivar was taken to be wiped off and weighed.
First Time Mama Learning #8: Your baby may be out, but you are not quite done yet, new mama. Ouch. Thankfully my sister had forewarned of the next half hour and all that needed to be done to my belly and underside to make things right again. Honestly, you would think the process could end with the actual birth, but instead I was still enjoying the fine work of my doctor while watching the excitement all around me.
First Time Mama Learning #9: Your doctor may be done and your legs may be back in bed, but your body is still in some rough shape.
I was so grateful we had our friend Jaime there taking pictures to document everything that was happening around me and obviously I was good and distracted watching my husband and my baby as they took each other in. We had our parents come in shortly after and I was so proud to show them our son. When our folks walked in, I saw them all in a completely new light in that moment. I remember looking at my mom and dad and really understanding that they had gone through this exact thing for me, ending with the same exact joy. Life is beautiful like this. Then it was just Rory and me in the room with our tiny little life bundled beside us. All the mystery of who this little baby would be, if it would be a girl or a boy, what he would look like, if he would be healthy…all of these answers were wrapped in the alert eyes that were opening and closing and scrunching at us as we started to get to know each other. And that’s what we’ve been doing ever since…spending every waking hour staring at each other, making sweet sounds and giving lots and lots of kisses and hugs.
First Time Mama Learning #10: Life will never be the same, and that is the most exciting and wonderful reality you could ever imagine.