My son, Connor, is now 11 weeks old. I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed in spite of how long some days feel. Now that I have a few minutes to reflect, I’d like to share my labor story so I can record the memory, commiserate with others who’ve been through it, and provide some insights to those who haven’t.
Parenting is something that many of us enter into blindly. Although we’ve all been “parented” and have witnessed many of our friends and family members do it firsthand, it’s still a role that seems so foreign before we become one ourselves. Pregnancy and labor mark the beginning of this mystifying role. Although giving birth is a natural part of life, it somehow seems like such a mysterious, ominous, unforeseeable series of events that cannot be predicted even by the world’s most renown experts. To many of us (myself included), this is terrifying!
In order to deal with the stress of this unknown territory, I decided to take every birth and labor class I could get my hands on. Breastfeeding, stages of labor, pregnant mama support groups – you name it! I deal with stress by neurotically preparing, and pregnancy was no different.
I had a vision of how my labor would transpire. I envisioned an empowering experience that would bring my husband and me closer together and culminate with the natural birth of our healthy son. My labor classes preached about the benefits of having a minimally-invasive birth experience to avoid the “cascade effect” caused by medical interventions, and I agreed with their advice. I had a relatively high pain threshold, so surely I could endure the labor “sensations” and ride the contraction “waves” (we were told to avoid negative words like “pain.”) I was mentally and physically prepared to conquer labor!
Now this is what really happened . . .
THE AGONY OF WAITING
When my due date passed, each day felt like a ticking time bomb that could explode at any moment. We felt mixed emotions – mostly excitement, but we also felt anxious about the unchartered road ahead of us.
We had an appointment with my OBGYN two days past my due date so she could check my progress. Up to that point, it appeared that our son was going to make us wait for his grand debut. My OBGYN performed the dreaded “cervix examination,” and to our surprise, I was one centimeter dilated and almost completely effaced. “You could go into labor this weekend,” she told us with a smile. When she left the room, Noel (my husband) jumped up and gave me a big enthusiastic hug. His excitement helped assuage my anxiety. Unknown territory always rattles my nerves.
After the appointment, we went out for coffee to celebrate what was ahead of us. Looking back, it’s funny how clueless we were about the degree to which our lives were about to change.
THE FINAL HOURS OF “LIFE BEFORE BABY”
Since our housekeeper was coming that day (I neurotically planned ahead in preparation for labor), I wanted to stay out of the house for a few hours. This gave me a great excuse to embrace the final hours of my pre-baby life.
My day proceeded with the following acts of self-indulgence: shopping, a bikini wax at Queen Bee, lunch at my favorite restaurant A Votre Sante, acupuncture, a car wash and a gas tank refill. I crammed as much as I possibly could into those five hours. If you have the luxury of setting aside a day for yourself, DO IT! I knew that I would soon be leaving this part of my life behind.
AM I IN LABOR?
In the midst of all the morning activities, I felt a sensation similar to mild period cramps. Was I in the early stages of labor? It was difficult to tell. I always thought the onset of labor would be obvious, but it was actually subtle and ambiguous. The “cramps” continued to get stronger and stronger throughout the day. When I went in for my afternoon acupuncture appointment with Danica (the “miracle worker” acupuncturist at Well Women Acupuncture), I told her about the sensations I was feeling. She smiled, gave me a foretelling look and said that she could do something that would help induce labor. She came back with a small apparatus that rhythmically tapped my ankle and did her acupuncture magic on the rest of my body. WOW, did it work! As soon as I stepped out the door, the cramps turned into full on contractions. I swear by acupuncture. It helped me get pregnant, and now I can say with confidence that it induced my labor.
When I got into my car, I called Noel at work and told him the exciting (and terrifying!) news about the contractions. Without hesitation, he said “I’m leaving now!” in an eager and somewhat panicked tone. He rushed out of his meeting and received a standing ovation from his colleagues.
When I got home, I went straight upstairs and prepared a warm bath surrounded by tea candles and played some new age music on my iPad. I tried to fool myself with the Zen setting, but both the excitement and anxiety made relaxing an impossible endeavor.
As the evening progressed, the contractions started to become more frequent and intense. I also realized that I was starting to feel hungry. Since we expected a long night ahead of us, we decided to order a hearty dinner to help us store up some energy for the looming marathon. Kale pizza and salad was probably not the best choice. Let’s just say that I won’t be having that meal again anytime in the near future.
I’M DEFINITELY IN LABOR
Right after dinner, I could no longer carry on a conversation. The contractions were coming on sporadically and increasing in intensity. My labor instructor’s voice kept telling me to go to bed so I could save my energy for the long road ahead. It felt strange to try to sleep right before I was about to enter the into the most monumental experience of my entire life, but I followed her advice and did it.
And then . . . holy shit! I was rudely awakened by a monster contraction. So this is what labor feels like. Okay, I was no longer uncertain if this was the real deal. Labor is no joke.
ARRIVING AT THE HOSPITAL
A must-have for labor and parenthood
After the longest 10 minute drive of my life, we arrived at the hospital around 2am. One would think we were moving in for a month with the amount of stuff we had – a turquoise bouncy ball, my enormous tote bag filled with every single item on the list from BabyCenter.com, a diaper bag stuffed with items for Connor, my husband’s overnight bag, and a pillow. The following recollection is a bit of blur, so please excuse any embellishments or exaggerations (which I would never intentionally do, of course.)
THE 15 HOUR BLUR
By the time we arrived at the hospital, I was sure I was at least 6 or 7cm dilated. I labored at home as long as I possibly could with the intention of coming to the hospital at the “transition” stage and delivering within a few hours of our admittance. We were quickly struck with a harsh dose of reality. After we were taken to our room by an impressively cheerful night staff, the nurse checked my cervix. I was only 3cm dilated! WTF?! How could this possibly be? I was so confident that we only had a few more hours to go. We had an unexpected long haul ahead of us.
Great for labor; eat with caution
The next 14 hours consisted of roaming the halls, rolling back-and-forth on the bouncy ball, staring blankly out the window, lying on my side and receiving comforting massages from Noel. I’ve got to say, I never wanted to punch Noel in the face during labor as I’ve heard some women do. In fact, I’ve never loved him more. Oh, except when he blew his ginger candy breadth in my face and caused me to vomit. But I digress . . .
In the early morning hours of the next day, we were greeted by the morning nurse who I’m convinced was an angel sent from heaven. Her name was Ronnie, and she had an endearing British accent and a warm, loving demeanor. She took the time to get to know us and shared some of her personal stories with us as well. When I told her about my intention to have a medicated-free birth, she commended my decision and assured us she’d do her best to honor our “plan.” She then told us that she predicted I would give birth by sunset that day. That meant I still had 10 more hours to go! I felt deflated.
The pain increased as expected, but with every contraction, I felt an overwhelming throb in my lower back. My OBGYN came in mid-morning to check me and told me I was enduring the type of labor that made me cringe when we learned about it in our classes – I was having back labor! This meant that Connor was in a posterior position causing his head to press against the bony part of my spine each time I had a contraction. Back labor typically means that labor will be longer and more painful than average. It’s a brutal combination.
I did my best to stay off my back by walking, standing on all fours, swaying my hips back and forth with my head resting on a counter, squatting, and lying on my side while Noel vigorously massaged my back. We sustained this routine for about 7 hours. My parents and Noel’s dad came to visit in us during this timeframe, and they all looked at me with sympathetic eyes. My mom gave me a sweet kiss on the cheek and asked, “How are you doing, sweetie?” I wanted to hug her – not just for comforting me – but also because I knew she had endured a similar experience for me. Having a child elevates your relationship with your parents to a whole new level.
THE ULTIMATE PAIN THRESHOLD TEST
Okay, so here’s the deal. I’ve always considered myself to be relatively tough. I’ve run several marathons, enjoy “feeling the burn” inflicted by intense workout, and don’t flinch when I see a needle (I had to give myself a shot in the stomach every day of my pregnancy). I know that this is nothing compared to hardships others have endured, but the point is that I have a high pain threshold.
That said, however, I had never experienced “sensations” like this before. The pain became so severe that I vomited several times. Thankfully, I didn’t scream in agony or cross the line into insanity. Instead, I internalized the pain and tried to calmly breathe through it. (I was determined to get my money’s worth from all those damn classes!) But it was excruciating.
THE TURNING POINT
At that point, Ronnie came into our room and said to me in a concerned and empathetic tone, “Sweetie, you still have at least 4-5 hours to go. You’ve done such a great job but I can tell you’re exhausted. Our anesthesiologist is really good. Just think about it. That way, you can take a nap and restore your strength. Let me know if you want me to get him.”
Noel and I looked at each other. I could tell Noel was having a difficult time watching me in so much pain. His eyes were glassy and tired, and I knew he was internally begging me to say “yes.” I paused for a minute and then surrendered. “I’ll get the epidural. Thanks, Ronnie.”
I caved. Although I had told others I was flexible and open to deviations from my “birth plan,” I desperately wanted to avoid getting an epidural. At that point, however, I couldn’t imagine sustaining that situation for another 5 hours. Each minute that went by seemed like an agonizing hour. I just wanted to be able to focus on my son and the experience rather than the pain.
The anesthesiologist came into our room and started preparing the drugs and needle. He was fascinated by my minor case of scoliosis. He said to Ronnie, “Wow, look at this! The point is here, but her spine is HERE!” Those were not exactly the words I wanted to hear when his error could result in paralysis for life. I looked at my husband who was unsuccessfully trying to conceal his terror. Then, I closed my eyes, wished for the best, and was whisked away into a new, wonderful place. . .
The rest of labor was blissful. I was happy, and dare I say, comfortable! See before and after pics below. Enough said.
After the epidural, Noel and I both took a short nap and woke up feeling revived. I couldn’t believe how much better I felt after that brief rest. I looked at the clock and realized we only had three hours to go until my estimated delivery time.
The nurse came in and told me that my doctor wanted to break my water since it hadn’t happened on it’s own yet. I had already caved to the epidural; I didn’t want to surrender to more unnecessary interventions. “Is it okay if we wait a little longer and see if it happens on it’s own?” I meekly asked. “Of course!” said the nurse. “We can do whatever you want.” She was right. Why was I trying to be so accommodating? This was not the time to be a people-pleaser. Sure enough, my water broke within a half hour of that conversation and I began pushing an hour later.
The pushing stage lasted exactly one hour. I didn’t realize it would be so physically demanding. Thankfully the squats, lunges and yoga I had done during my pregnancy paid off. I had a team of coaches and cheerleaders by my side with and mirror in front of me for motivation. I couldn’t wait to see Connor’s little face!
THE LIFE-CHANGING MOMENT
And then came the moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. Dr. Vogel said, “I can see the crown of his head. You’re so close!” That was all she had to say. When I looked into the mirror and saw the top of Connor’s tiny head, I pushed with every ounce of energy I had remaining. I took one more deep breadth, forcefully exhaled into the last push, and Dr. Vogel started pulling him out.
At 5pm on December 13, 2013, Connor came into our life. I became a mom, Noel became a dad, and we were looking at our son for the first time. He was so beautiful – a perfectly smooth and fuzzy head, a round little nose, and wide, alert eyes. The nurse placed him on my chest and I immediately felt the warmth of his tiny body against mine. Then, he picked up his head, looked at Noel and me, and plopped it back down on my chest. We were amazed that he had that much strength after all that hard work!
Never in my life had I been so “present.” I felt such an intense connection to the little person on my chest. The obscure living being that was gestating inside me for over 9 months had finally become a reality. The world stopped for that moment, and I knew that our lives had changed forever. Noel and I would love and care for Connor for the rest of our lives. Everything I did from this day forward would be for him.
Labor gave me a new appreciation and respect for myself and my body, deepened my bond with my husband, and marked the beginning of a new life. I don’t have any regrets about the decisions we made along the way – including getting the epidural. I was proud that I had endured 17 hours of labor without it and felt that the final hours of my labor were much more enjoyable because of it. Most importantly, our son was healthy and loved. I’ve made it to many finish lines in my life, but never before had the prize at the end been so rewarding.
That’s my labor story. It has a beautiful ending – and an even more beautiful beginning.
Connor William Sullivan; 1 hour old
Our angel; 10 hours old
Falling in love