Zack and I were sitting on the couch watching an episode of Parks and Rec when my water broke.
I always imagined that I’d be DOING something if/when my water broke. Jumping jacks. Taking the stairs at work. Turning a patient. Something! Anything! When she was pregnant, my sister-in-law, Sarah1, always grocery shopped with a jar of pickles in her cart, so that if her water broke while she was wandering around Target, she could throw down the jar, break it, yell “OOPS” and then run away. I’m not sure she would have had a jar of pickles handy if she was just sitting on the couch watching TV. Nobody expects their water to break while they are sitting on the couch watching TV.
I told Zack, “I THINK MY WATER JUST BROKE!” He jumped up off the couch, and went running to grab some towels. Halfway to the towel closet he stopped, turned around, and asked me if I was sure I wasn’t just peeing on myself. I assured him that I wasn’t just peeing. For starters, I couldn’t stop the fluid, and if I was peeing, I could stop it. And secondly, ever since I hit about 36 weeks, I’d been peeing about 2 ounces of fluid at a time, and A WHOLE LOT MORE THAN TWO OUNCES was coming out of me at that moment. So TOWELS, PLEASE. Then he brought me towels. A giant heap of towels.
My doctor had gone over this theoretical moment with Zack and me a thousand times. It’s not like on TV, the doctor said. You don’t have to just come screaming into the hospital just because your water breaks. When you get to the hospital, he told me, they do things that makes labor slow down, so, don’t be afraid to labor at home. My doctor, at the risk of sounding a lot like a nursing midwife, was in no rush to get me into a hospital bed. He said to take a shower and try to relax. Walk around! Get your things together! Don’t freak out! It’ll be okay! He told me just to give him a call and we’d make a plan when the time came. He did tell me several times that I was free to text him if I thought I needed something, but that when I thought I was in labor, to go ahead and call him. “Some things deserve a phone call,” he said. (So naturally, when my water broke, I sent him a text message. Don’t judge me. I’m a victim of my generation.)
The contractions didn’t start immediately after my water broke. All during my pregnancy, I wondered how I was going to tell the difference between “painless braxton hicks contractions” and “The Real Thing.” I had been having pretty fiercely regular braxton hicks contractions for my whole pregnancy, and for the last 3 or 4 weeks, they were getting stronger and closer together, but they never ‘hurt.’ I thought they weren’t hurting because I was being a super bad-ass who could handle contractions like they were NO BIG THANG. As it turns out, they weren’t hurting because they simply weren’t the hurting kind of contractions. They were the non-hurting type. The hurting type, when they arrive, arrive with such a grand entrance that it is impossible NOT to differentiate them from the non-hurting type. Immediately after my water broke, I didn’t know that. I learn to tell them apart in the paragraph after the next one.
So my water broke. I sent a text to the doc. I jumped in the shower. The doc called me back. He asked, “Have your contractions changed yet?” I said, basically, no. I had 2 contractions in the shower, both of which made me think, “Hmmm, that was a stronger contraction than usual, still didn’t hurt.” But no, they weren’t yet making me have to stop and breathe through them or anything crazy. The doc (who was out celebrating his birthday [I have awesome timing] with dinner and a show), said great, he’d see me at the hospital after he got done with the show. I said great, because I didn’t think I was going anywhere anytime soon. I was going to labor at home for a while! I was so cool and collected! Contractions don’t hurt me; I am the goddess of dealing with pain calmly and bravely!
We hung up the phone and I started to blow dry my hair. During that process, my first REAL contraction happened. Friends who are awaiting labor, let me assure you. The REAL contractions, they are different. So, so incredibly different. My first contraction made me lean over on the sink and moan. After it was over, I was like, “WOAH.” Then, an instant (okay, 5 minutes) later, I was having ANOTHER one. DOUBLE WOAH. I went to the timer screen on the iPhone, ready to start timing contractions for the first time in my pregnancy.
5 minutes apart. 5 minutes apart. 5 minutes apart. That didn’t stress me out at all. I continued to blow dry my hair. I put on my make-up. I tasked Zack with things to do. Bags to load into the car, etc. We were calm. I am the goddess of pain.
Then. 3 minutes apart, 3 minutes apart, 3 minutes apart, holy crap, 3 minutes apart, still 3 minutes apart! THREE?! THREE AGAIN.
And all of the sudden I’m all, HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL GET ME TO THE DAMN HOSPITAL! Three minutes apart!!! GODDESS OF NOTHING, THIS BABY IS COMIIIINNNGGGG!
We got to the hospital about 1 hour and 15 minutes after my water broke. I labored at home for a hot minute. So much for that plan.
I had 4 mind-melting contractions walking into the hospital. Labor and Delivery is a pretty close walk from the front door, so I didn’t feel the need to get a wheel chair. I probably should have, but I didn’t. I’m stubborn. That shouldn’t surprise any of you. I thought that I knew what a painful contraction was until I sat down in the Labor and Delivery triage room. It was as if my body knew that I was in a safe place finally, and so it really stepped up the contraction game as soon as I walked through the L&D double doors. The nurse checking me in very cleverly waited until I was mid-contraction before asking me if I wanted an epidural. Up until that very moment, my birth plan had tentatively been to try and have the baby naturally. I had a round of kidney stones in October, and I’d survived that! I could survive labor, right?! I had been reserving the right to say that I wanted an epidural, but truly, I expected to be able to make it without one. But when those contractions kicked into high-gear in the L&D triage room, I wanted nothing more in this world than for someone to PLEASE PLEASE shove a NEEDLE into my SPINAL COLUMN because OH MY HOLY FREAKING MOLEY THE HURT, IT IS REAL. I calmly told the nurse that yes, I would, in fact, like an epidural. I think I added that the faster she could make that happen, the better.
After that, they threw me into a triage room so that they could start IVs, draw labs, and have the on-call doctor (mine was still catching the tail-end of West Side Story at Bass Hall) check and see how dilated I was. A nurse came in to start my IV. That nurse missed twice, and said out loud that I had little veins. My veins are like pipes that stick out of my skin. The only way it could be easier is if I had little targets tattooed onto them. When that nurse gave up, I demanded to have the nurse who started my IVs when I was there for the kidney stones. She came in and started an IV and had it fully dressed in 15 seconds. I love that girl. I love her like woah. Labs were drawn. Room assignments were made. I was staying. The baby was coming.
In the mean time, my contractions stepped it up another notch. It felt not unlike my uterus was trying to rip itself out of my body. I felt like I was going to be torn into two pieces. The pain is unimaginable. In addition to the pain, there is fear. The pain comes and goes with each contraction. They build, starting out miserable, and then hiking up to THE WORST IMAGINABLE, and then slowly tapering back off again. I had prepared myself do deal with the cyclical nature of the pain. What I wasn’t prepared for was the paralyzing fear between contractions because you don’t know when the next one is coming. You have no idea. And what’s worse, you can’t do anything to stop it! And even worse than that, you have no idea how bad the next one will be. Maybe it will be the worst one yet. Maybe the next one will GO TO ELEVEN. But maybe it will just go to 7, and then you’ll have another contraction that WILL GO TO 11 in LESS THAN A MINUTE because you just don’t know! And the not knowing… for a control freak like me? The not knowing was rough. Also, the contractions themselves were rough. It was all pretty rough.
The nurses and Zack kept telling me that I was taking things like a champ, but I didn’t feel like any kind of a champion in those moments. I felt like a moaning, squirming, miserable wreck of a beached whale that was attached to way too many lines and gadgets and gizmos. My parents showed up to the hospital at about this time. Mom came into the triage room with me and Zack. I was practically catatonic, resting between contractions. I heard her ask Zack if the contractions had gotten worse, and he said, “Oh, just hang on a second, you’ll be able to see for yourself here pretty quick.”
Before they finally got the epidural in me, there was a contraction that twisted me so intensely that I accidentally bit Zack’s finger. I’m assuming it was the years and years of ancestors before me, coming out in that moment. I was looking for some kind of a stick to bite or a bullet casing or SOMETHING, ANYTHING, and it just so happened that the thing closest to my mouth was Zack’s finger. He says that I didn’t bite it too hard, but that even if I had, he would have let me. He said he would have let me bite it off, as opposed to correcting me or taking a comfort away from me in that moment. Zack is a sweet guy, but that’s crazy. I am only telling y’all because a.) it’s funny, and b.) you should know that sometimes labor hurts so bad that you can accidentally bite your loved one’s pointer finger and not even be aware of it. It’s impossible to convey how badly it hurts. Labor hurts.
The epidural went in when I was 7 cm dilated, 100% effaced. It was approximately 9:30, meaning that I’d been in labor for 3 1/2 hours (my water broke at 6 p.m.). I almost passed out while they were putting in the epidural, but Zack was my champion, and he stood there and held me (and didn’t get sick) while they put in the magical medicine that makes life all better. The epidural worked. Oh, the marvels of modern medicine. I have never been so relieved in all my life.
My doc showed up at 11 p.m. with a playbill for a gift. By the time he arrived, I was 100% dilated, and ready to go. They decided to sit me up for a little bit to help the baby drop down a little further. My nurse popped in about 30 minutes later, checked me, and asked me if I wanted to start pushing. The inquiry surprised me, since I expected to feel some kind of pressure or urge to push or something. I felt none of those things. I told her that she was the boss. If she said it was time, it was time! So we started pushing with my contractions, which I very happily couldn’t feel anymore. Zack was on my left side, helping hold my legs in the air, and giving me all of the support I could have ever needed. My nurse was on my right, holding that leg. I have never been showered with so much positive reinforcement in all my life. Seriously. You would have thought that my nurse had never seen anyone push so awesomely in all her life. Every push was the greatest push she had ever seen. I don’t know if my parents or Zack had told her ahead of time that I am a sucker for positive reinforcement or something, but DANG. I would have pushed my whole life for that nurse and all of the praise that she was raining down upon me. Goddess of pain management? Maybe not, but GODDESS OF PUSHING, I SURELY AM!
At some point, I reached down and felt the baby’s head. “Can you feel it?” The doctor asked me. Yes. I could feel a teeny sliver of head. I started to get discouraged because, oh no, that’s just a teeeeeeny sliver of head and there is A LOT MORE HEAD WHERE THAT CAME FROM and LONG WAY TO GO and OOOOOOH NO. Then the next time I pushed, the praise rained down again and GODDESS OF PUSHING, BOOYAH!!!! And I forgot all about the teeny sliver of head. I am a sucker.
Then the rest of the head came. We were in “the ring of fire” for 3 push sets. I, thankfully, couldn’t feel what was really happening. I could see what was happening, though, because in the curled up push position, I had a pretty good view of what was going on down yonder. I said between the second and third push set that I could feel “a lot of pressure down there” finally. The doc laughed, and said that he imagined I did feel a lot of pressure. I looked at Zack, and he looked at me with eyebrows raised, nodding. Yes. We are all in agreement that the “ring of fire” + epidural = pressure. Glad we got that all cleared up. Also, insanely glad that I couldn’t feel anything. Insanely glad.
The doc asked me if I wanted to have the baby on my chest immediately after delivery. I said yes, of course. Then when her head came out, he told me to reach down and grab her. He probably had to tell me 3 times before I realized what he was saying to do. TAKE HER, TAKE HER, TAKE HER! When it finally set in, I reached out and held my baby girl in my arms for the first time.
Zack and I watched in awe as the nurses piled on blankets and towels, scrubbing her down, sucking goop out of her mouth and nose. Zack cut her cord, and everything happened in a blur. It’s impossible to remember what happened or the exact order of things. Time both stopped and fast forwarded simultaneously. One minute there was pressure and jokes about rings of fire, and the next minute, I was a mom, Zack was a dad, and there was a baby on my chest. Our baby was on my chest.
The whole world stops spinning. You remember that there was pain, but you can no longer feel it, or even really remember how badly it hurt. You know that you should be tired or hungry or something, but you’re not. You’re not anything but happy. Pure happy. You just can’t stop looking at your daughter. Your daughter. You have a daughter. You try to avoid it, because it’s just so cliche, but there’s just no other way to describe it. It’s a miracle.
Welcome to the world, Miss Galadriel Prime*. Weighing 6 pounds, 15 ounces, measuring 19 inches of absolute perfection. Your daddy and I love you so much that we could burst.
*Galadriel Prime isn’t her real name. It’s just her blog name. I’m not going to pretend that her two super-nerd parents didn’t seriously entertain the idea, because we honestly did have elf names and transformer names on the list. But that’s not where we ended up. We’ll just keep Galadriel Prime around for the blog.