Sunday. I went into labor on my due date, August 8, 2010 at 3:15 in the morning while laying in bed with my dog Ella at my parent’s house on Long Island. My husband Jason had to work that night and was at our home in Brooklyn.
Contractions started out short and far apart so I drove with my mom and Ella from Northport to Brooklyn later that morning and woke Jason up to tell him the news as we made our way over the Kosciuszko Bridge with New York City sprawling in view ahead of me. We have lived in the city for more than 10 years and were having our first baby there, so it seemed a fitting setting in which to tell him the big news. As contractions progressed slowly throughout the day we went food shopping, packed our bags, took a nap and even ate dinner at Chipotle (my all-time favorite), which wound up being an unfortunate mistake.
While I was pregnant, we took a six-week childbirth education class at Birth Day Presence in Park Slope, Brooklyn with nine other couples who were also looking to have natural births. One of the things we talked about in class but never really got a clear answer on was how to know when to leave for the hospital when we go into labor. All I had as a barometer up until that point was what I saw on television and the movies, which is NOT how it happens in real life.
It turns out there is no definitive answer as to what time is the right time to leave for the hospital. For starters, it depends largely on your health care provider. Where a doctor might tell you to go to the hospital soon after the first signs of labor, a midwife will most likely tell you to birth at home for as long as possible.
That’s what our midwife Beverly advised us to do. She didn’t want us to go to the hospital until my contractions were following the 3-1-1 pattern. That’s three minutes apart, lasting one minute, consistently, for an hour. But even then, it might not be time to go to the hospital. As it proved not to be, for me…
My mom and I determined that my contractions followed the 3-1-1 pattern by 10:00 Sunday night. Jason came home from work around 10:30/11 and we made our way to the hospital. When we arrived at labor and delivery, Beverly was sitting behind the reception desk with the nurses who were on duty. She took one look at me and said “the only thing you’re ready to deliver is the evening news!” Beverly and snarkiness pretty much go hand-in-hand so I had cast the comment aside. We were ushered along with all of our bags into a room leftover from when there used to be a Birthing Center at LICH. They are reserved for women who are low-risk and/or using a midwife, and I was one of them.
I changed into my Pretty Pusher and Beverly hooked me up to a portable doppler to listen to the baby’s heart rate. She gave me an internal and much to my shock and disappointment, I was only four centimeters dilated. I still had a ways to progress. I’ll spare you all the back and forth, (which was pretty frustrating at the time), but Beverly’s point was that while we “could” stay in the hospital, we “shouldn’t” stay because there was only so much intervention she could stave off from the hospital staff.
We had jumped the gun and arrived at the hospital too early. I felt all sorts of things at that point: pain, shame, exhaustion, frustration, fright. I had been in labor 20 hours and was certain I was going to have a baby on my due date but it appeared not. We hung our heads with defeat and drove the half mile home.
Monday. We returned back to our apartment just after midnight. My mom retired to get some much-needed shut eye while Jason drew me a bath. (If only he had scrubbed the tub in preparation for it like I asked earlier in the week!) While Jason was on his hands and knees in the bathroom making the tub spotless for my laboring ass to sit in, I lay in bed working through excruciating contractions. When the contraction would leave, I would vomit into a pail on the ground below. I feared the future did not bode well for Chipotle.
I never got to feel the calming affects that warm water is said to have on painful contractions because two minutes after I sat in the tub my water broke. In fact it didn’t just break, it burst! It was so alarming that I stood up stark naked and looked at Jason in a panic (our menagerie was lined up outside the bathroom door by now) and he frantically called Beverly to tell her the news. Within seconds of his hanging up the phone, my mucus plug dropped next. I wasn’t just panicked this time, but I was also a bit embarrassed. Little did I know that that would be the first of many things to come out of me during labor and childbirth.
The tub broke my water and gave me a bloody show. I was scared the baby would fly out of me next and yet Beverly still did not order us to go back to the hospital.
A term that was tossed around a lot in childbirth education class was “labor land.” Our instructor, Jada Shapiro, explained it as a state that a woman goes into during labor that is both euphoric and trance-like.
We went back to the hospital for the second time after I had reached “labor land” and could no longer talk through my contractions. And THAT is what I would say should serve as a measure for going to the hospital. It was 3:00 in the morning or a full 24 hours later when I had finally moved from the latent phase of labor to the active phase of labor. This time when we arrived at the hospital and Beverly saw me she said, “now you look like you’re ready to deliver a baby!” The intake nurse, Janelle, thought my Pretty Pusher was too pretty to wear for childbirth even though Jason tried to explain to her that that was exactly what it was for. I didn’t have it in me to fight with her though, and so nurse Janelle won what would be the only intervention battle: a dreary hospital gown.
One of the main reasons we switched to a midwife from a doctor was because I knew our wishes to go at it drug-free would be more respected and embraced, and because I wanted the liberty to move around in between contractions. I was about seven centimeters dilated when I arrived at LICH the second time and it would take a grueling four more hours to get to 10. In those four hours, Jason, Beverly and my mom did a superb job of keeping out further intervention. An anesthesiologist did a lot of lurking outside my room and even made her way in to talk to me about “managing” my pain until Beverly showed her the door.
We practiced many different birthing positions in childbirth education class because one of the beauties of not having an epidural is that you can move around, implementing positions that feel most comfortable to you. After weeks of visualizing myself on all four’s, on a birthing ball or in a jacuzzi, I wound up being able to sustain just two positions while laboring in the hospital: leaning over the bed with my head down (this was particularly handy when I was hurling), and lying down on my back. So much for freedom of movement!
I remember feeling many things while I waited to dilate those last few centimeters. I was flat out scared for one. The pain was so extreme from behind that I thought I was going to deliver the baby from my rear. I also thought at one point that I was going to deliver an alien. I remember thinking that if you told me that cutting off all my hair would help with the pain, I would have done it. I swore off having more children with my husband, stressing that we would only adopt going forward. I grounded the child who was inside of me until he was five. I even threatened to leave, saying I would jump out the window and into the Hudson River which was right outside. At my weakest, I begged for drugs but was told it was too late. I even pleaded for a doctor to cut me open, which was what I had been striving to avoid all along. It was the pain talking and I am so grateful my labor team understood that.
When I was told I had finally reached 10 centimeters I blurted out “HALLE-FUCKING-LUJAH,” which set everyone in the room into a fit of laughter. But I can tell you that making anyone laugh at that moment was the furthest thing from my mind.
I wish I had known that the pain endured while waiting to dilate to 10 centimeters was an entirely different type of pain than pushing. Pushing, while tough and at times embarrassing, was at least productive and made me realize there was indeed going to be light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. No pun intended.
I pushed with all my might for two hours. For the final two pushes I was on my side with my mom holding my left knee back and my husband pushing against my right heel. Beverly advised me at that point to do a small, half push and to roll onto my back. She then told me to reach down and grab hold of my child. I told her I couldn’t. She repeated the order once more so I leaned forward and put my hands under the baby’s arms. They were slippery and I was shaking as I literally felt my baby leave my body. I saw a butt and underneath that, a perfect set of balls dangling in mid-air before I brought him to my chest and screamed, “IT’S A BOY!” Wow. Wow. I had just delivered my own baby. It was the single, greatest and most selfless gift someone had ever given me.
It was a profound moment, meeting my newborn baby for the very first time. I was elated yet also fraught with emotion. I went into the hospital a daughter, sister and wife and in one fell swoop became a mother. Nothing could have prepared me for this life-defining moment, but I am so grateful it came, and that I did it.