You think you’ll know when you go into labour. Hollywood tells you that your water breaking will be dramatic and happen in the middle of a restaurant, you’ll go red, scream and everyone will rush with you to the hospital. What you don’t imagine, is standing with take out food waiting, taking off your toenail polish just in case, and talking to the on-call OB GYN telling him you’re not sure if you wet yourself…
Weeks in advance, Jared and I looked at our calendars and decided that the perfect day for a baby would be Wednesday November 18th. Jared finished teaching a semester of classes at noon that day, and it gave us 10 days before any family arrived, so we threw it out as our perfect day and when it arrived, we did everything we knew to kick (a very not impending) labour into gear. We wrapped up warm at 7am and hit the trails for a good long walk, I drank ginger shots, went to the gym, and we ordered extra spicy chana masala takeout for dinner. As usual Jared grabbed the keys to pick up our food but I didn’t have anything pressing so we made it a pre date and went to the Indian restaurant together. It was dark, and a little chilly, I was wearing my new grey joggers and the ultimately comfy Nikes that had been my maternity uniform from 30 weeks on. I swung one foot out of the car, and as I stood up I felt a warm trickle down my leg.
Wait no, what just happened, did I wet myself?
I knew my muscles weren’t the same being pregnant but that would have been the first time this had happened. I tested out ‘those’ muscles. They felt good. We went in to get our food. As I handed over my card to pay, I changed my mind and told Jared he could finish up, my legs were getting wetter. Back to the car.
‘Did my water break?’ I asked Jared a few times. We thought not, you can’t not know if your water has broken. Right? Remember all the movies?! So we found ourselves in our bedroom, spicy chickpeas waiting on the coffee table, calling the hospital. I had a doughnut order to finish up for the next morning and that, along with my toe nails, and epilating my legs was all I could think about. I got my toes done and Jared told me my legs were perfect, so we ignored epilating. Those 24 almond butter doughnuts sitting on cooling racks, I would have finished glazing but my sweet husband suggested that they probably didn’t matter right at that moment. So along with my legs, I let them go.
Finally after waiting with my call on hold, a vague pre hospital to do list running through my mind, adrenaline kicking in, and also a strange calm that wanted to ignore it all, I stood talking to the OBGYN. From what I described he told me that my water had broken, and so I’d need to come in to the hospital. Then he explained, if it was my water, I’d be staying until our son was born. Until my son. Was. Born. That freaked me out. This was it.
Wait, no, I’m not ready. Can’t we wait, go in a few hours, the morning? I started to run around and put things in bags with the same feeling as I have before any trip, that I know I must have forgotten something. We didn’t know if we’d be back tomorrow or in five days, what did I need for five days, wait, can’t we just eat our food and hang out first? We’re about to have a baby. Help.
Jared was a lot calmer, but also a lot more keen to get to the hospital. He told me nothing mattered, that it was all going to be ok, and to get a towel to sit on in the car. Right before we left, we got the mail and sat in one last quiet moment in the house and opened the day’s deliveries from Amazon. Parchment paper cups, and a cloth diaper gift from a kind company in England. Then we loaded up the car, I sat on my towel and off we went.
Being out of hours, we made our way to the maternity ward via the Emergency Room. Jared filmed a quick video as we went in where I told him the date, and that we were probably about to have a baby, then I did everything I could (i.e. nothing, but I tried) to cover the wetness, and we walked up to the ER triage desk.
‘I think my water has broken.’
A few pages of paperwork and a forgotten insurance card later, a security guard arrived with a wheel chair. ‘Do I have to ride in that?’
‘Yes you do, they prefer it when your water has broken.’
I uncomfortably squelched my way into the chair and took the ride to maternity. He told me it was a good night to have a baby, as it was quiet and no one else was in there. The only other time we had visited the ward was a week prior when we finally made it in to look around and get our bearings ahead of birth. That time I had walked in excitedly and left in a flood of tears. Jared loved the set up but all I saw was tiny rooms and machines and a place where I most definitely did not want to give birth. Where were the large spacious rooms from the birthing videos? Where was the airy, light and bright hospital?
As they wheeled me through the double doors this time and showed me to the weighing scale I happily felt none of that, we were greeted by kind nurses and the happiest, calm atmosphere. Our room was little, but it was happy, it was our space.
They sat me on the bed and asked questions, so many questions. Over the next few hours I was quizzed, prodded, tested, hooked up to machines and told that I was actually having contractions every 5-6 minutes. The idea that I’d made it that far and felt nothing seemed amazing to me. Even seeing them show up as a line on a machine, I couldn’t feel a thing. Baby’s heart rate and my heart rate beeped alongside each other on a screen and we were told to settle down for the night. My main concern at that point was, trivially, the idea that at some point I was going to be told I wasn’t allowed to eat any more. The idea of life without food, let alone the extended emotional workout of labour, is awful to me, and so a preparatory hunger kicked in. Between a broken 3 hours of sleep, watching the machines and nervously waking Jared every time the baby’s heart rate stopped showing, I ate protein bars all the way though the night.
At about 7am the next morning the visits from nurses started. Through the night my body had stopped having contractions and they let us know that there was a time limit on having a water broken but no baby. 2pm was my cutoff for a birth without antibiotics, and 12pm was their ideal time to start Pitocin. In my head, Pitocin was evil. From every story I’ve heard, it’s the fast route to an epidural and that was far from my dream labour. We asked how far we could push it back, and what we could do naturally but there wasn’t much flexibility, they would give us until 2pm. I ate another protein bar and we went for a walk around the limited confines of the hospital. A small outside space offered us some very welcome fresh air and we had a little quiet moment, soaked up the sunshine and took stock. By lunch time I was emotionally ready for some real progress. Relieved that I could still eat, I downed some kale chips, and another protein bar.
Our friend Leah (who also took these photographs) was kindly coming down to help coach me through, so we prepped her that we were moving forward. We went for a final walk around the hospital before I got hooked up, soaked up another round of fresh air and then it was time for Pitocin and antibiotics. Everything moved slowly. Nurses, checks, timing, it was all slower than promised, which was fine, but by 2pm I was hooked up and on a low dose of Pitocin. I hated having the IV put in. That was something I had so wanted to avoid, and I hopefully asked when it would be taken out but when they told me, ‘A few hours after delivery’ I was ready to cry. It felt so constricting, so unnatural, like I couldn’t move without a little sting, I wasn’t free anymore. My heart sank. I had a monitor for my heart balanced in a big white band over my tummy, a monitor for baby’s heart even more precariously trying to keep a reading, and now a needle in my arm attached to a giant pole with boxes, antibiotics, and nasty pitocin. I had to get over it, this was where I was, and it didn’t take long before the Pitocin caught up to where my body was and took over my contractions. Being 19 hours in, and emotionally ready helped me move past the annoyance, and we tried to look forward. Leah arrived and that was a happy distraction for a while. We chatted, ate more kale chips, and tried to watch a movie while the nurses, hour by hour, cranked up the Pitocin. Every time I needed the bathroom it took the effort of the whole room: Everyone move to clear the path, make sure I’m turned the right way to not wrap me in cables, unhook the heart rate monitors and loop the cords over my neck, move everything on the floor so that I could wheel the drip, someone hold the door with drip tubes sneaking through into the bathroom while I used the toilet, then everything again in reverse to get me back to the bed…
To pass the time we started to watch a film. We picked the Preacher’s Wife for a seasonal, easy to watch classic the I’ve (not surprisingly) never seen. Wifi code sorted, laptop balanced on the bed pillow while we all squished at the other side of the room to watch, we got about 10 minutes in and the contractions ramped up. ‘Are you sure you want to watch?’ I can remember Jared and Leah asking me. I was grateful for something to pass the time so I said yes, and then right with the next contraction I changed my mind. Having been mellow until that point, the contractions were now at the place where they took my concentration. So part way through the movie, labour moved from quiet and gentle, happy conversation and hand-me-another-kale-chip, to ok this is real, let’s do this. And from there it was intense until it was done.
Somewhere around this point they checked me again, I was at 4cm. Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to the dilation. Not on purpose but it just didn’t really become the marker for me that I expected. That was the only centimeter mark that I really heard. I began to need help through the contractions. I remembered back to the birthing classes, tried a few things and then threw it all out. The ball was painful to sit on, I never breathed in the way they taught us, and I only went through one contraction in a position they suggested. After wanting a room with a bathtub so badly, I didn’t even get in a hot shower, and I sat on a ball for a few seconds before throwing it out in favour of the toilet.
For most of those earlier contractions Jared stood in front of me, with Leah behind. I found that pushing my hips forward and shoulders back was the easiest. Leah pressed into my back so hard and Jared held my shoulders to stop me falling over backwards. Jared would watch the screen and reassure me by telling me the rise and fall of the contractions, which helped me mentally. Knowing the pain is on it’s way down makes the same pain level so much more bearable. They told me that when I reached 8cm I’d be moved into the delivery room. At some point between the 4cm check and moving I realized I really didn’t know what was coming. Were the contractions going to stay like this? When does pushing happen? What does the rest of labour look like? For having taken classes, I suddenly felt ignorant and looked at Leah, ‘What happens now?’ I asked her. I wasn’t sure how I could be at this point and not know, and I don’t even remember what she said but it calmed me and I felt in control again.
From here, as the Pitocin, intensity, and focus increased, the clarity of what I can remember definitely decreases, or all blurs into one with a few isolated moments. When I looked up at the clock after delivering I was shocked that 5 hours had passed since I last checked the time. I was certain that it had been around an hour. I had been locked in and focused for the 2.5 hours of pushing, and before that, just slightly delirious.
After 4cm I don’t really remember the progression, until I was at 8cm and they said they could move me. I thought it would be a grand moment being moved into the delivery room but it wasn’t at all. I thought it would be a victory but it just kind of happened. I walked down the empty hall and into a new room between contractions. By that point the contractions were intense. It was taking a lot to get through each one, but I was still sane. From 2pm they had been cranking up the Pitocin.. 6….8….10….12… 12 was too much for me. Any time they went close to the machine after that I protested. And they brought it back down. The breaks in contractions were all that got me through. I couldn’t have taken it if the intensity didn’t let up for short bursts. Somewhere between contractions, in that 4cm to 8cm time period, I felt how tired I was. Not tired from laboring, not worn out, just tired from lack of sleep. The evening after a long day, after 3 hours sleep, after a day we started rising early for a 7am walk. We’d brought Starbuck’s Double shots for Jared but I knew I needed one. I googled, I asked at the front desk, and they let me drink one. I downed it. Sweet, thick, sugary coffee, it actually tasted so good to me. I went back for half of another one after calculating my caffeine allowance and how much coffee it would ‘buy’ me.
In the new room I started on the bed and quickly moved to the toilet, I remember throwing up there, I’d already thrown up once in the other room and this time I said, ‘Can I just throw up between each contraction?’ It brought so much relief. But that was the last time it happened. The intensity was rising and I was feeling pressure in my hips.
Thoughts of not being able to do this began to appear. I moved to the toilet. I’d tried that in the previous room and it took away so much pressure. The pressure was exploding like something you want to run away from but you can’t because it’s coming from inside you. Sitting on the toilet, with too many people in the tiny room with me, I hit rock bottom. I’ve heard too many times about ‘transition’. “The moment when you think you can’t do it anymore and you question it.” The idea that that’s what everyone else was thinking I was in was the most frustrating thing to me. I felt like there was no possible way that I could keep going. I needed something to happen so I could have an emergency C section, that’s what I was thinking. I don’t remember exactly what I asked but I remember asking a question and then hearing a total silence which pushed me down even further. I wanted to know if I was making progress, or if I was getting anywhere or something – because I didn’t think I was. So I asked saying, ‘I don’t think I’m getting anywhere, am I?’… and there was silence. Leah, nothing. Jared, no word. Nurses, silent. Not even the midwife offered anything. Just the worst silence. It told me I was right. ‘See, you’re all silent so I know I’m not getting anywhere.’ And then the worst came and I said weakly, ‘Guys I know you think it’s what everyone thinks, but I actually can’t do this.’ I looked around the circle of faces and told them all, trying to convince them:
‘I actually can’t. It’s too much, I can’t do this any more.’
The next thing I remember was seeing, in my peripheral from the bathroom, people attaching a metal bar to the end of the bed. From the prenatal classes I knew that I was meant to hold onto it to push. In the classes it had looked like a great idea – not lying down, a more natural position, letting gravity help.. but now? Worst. Thing. Ever. Use my legs? No thanks.
I told them all again, ‘I can’t do this’. Pam (our heroine midwife) took charge and grabbed my arm. ‘Let’s do one more contraction and then we’ll talk about options.’ Her arm moved me over to the scary bar as my heart sunk even further and my mind raced. I could NOT take another contraction. Had I stopped to think, I might have realized that there were no options. This baby was coming out, and I was too late for an epidural, but in the moment it fooled me so I grabbed the bar. Even in my delirium I was fooling them, I knew I couldn’t do the bar. I tried and again my legs gave way, I just had zero strength left in them. Someone suggested I used the bar from the other side on the bed, I clambered onto the bed between contractions but I don’t think I got as far as even holding the bar. It was a relief to be sitting down. Ironically, one of the reasons I had wanted to avoid an epidural was to avoid being confined to the bed, yet now it was a relief to climb on and stop using the legs I had so wanted to keep control of through it all.
I didn’t get off the bed again until after Clayton was born. I grabbed the side of the bed. Pam checked me again and told me I could push but then found my cervix was swollen around one side. They moved me, uncomfortably onto one side to stop the swelling. I was at 10cm dilated but because of the cervix, I couldn’t push. It was demoralising but I was at an all time low anyway, without much willpower so I just did what I was told. Exhaustedly. As I grabbed the side of the bed, with my eyes closed I remember thinking, ‘I’m supposed to be locking eyes with my husband and letting his focus fuel me through contractions,’ Even that was somewhat beyond me but I looked up at him and he moved round to the side of the bed I was facing. That was about the last time I opened my eyes until my son was born. Only maybe two more times in what turned out to be the next 3 hours did I open my eyes. Once, I remember looking down and seeing sheets, blood, apparatus, I don’t even remember what else, but it looked ‘hospital-ly’ and totally unfocused me so I locked my eyes shut again and went back to zoning everything out apart from a few voices, the intensity and my planning and visualizing pushes.
I don’t remember being told to push, or feeling the first urge, but I won’t ever forget the first push. I gave it everything and let out a howl that resounded around the hospital – less out of pain, and more out of effort. (I later discovered, along with so many other things, that the nurses had quickly moved to close all the doors and contain my wails. I pity any first time mum pre labour who had to hear those noises and wonder what she was in for, I’m glad they sealed them in.)
After my first wail Pam said, ‘I need that’, she pointed her finger in a circular motion at my mouth, ‘to come out of there.’ and she looked down, giving me a firm and encouraging look. Pam is the reason I was able to give birth. Neither Jared or I knew what it would be like to have a midwife and I don’t know what other midwives are like but I didn’t want to let her go!
At some point, Pam started explaining the contractions and pushing to me and that changed a lot for me. She had been trying to tell me how to push by describing where I should be pushing and it didn’t work for me. I couldn’t translate words into a certain kind of push so I just pushed. There weren’t different feelings or directions to me, there was just intensity, and an urge. After a while she explained to me, ‘the first push is to make up what slipped back since the last push, the second one is to make some progress, and the third is to hold the progress.’ I don’t know that it helped me push differently but it gave me focus and soon after I was hearing, ‘YES that kind of push. Give me that kind of push.’ Once I knew what I was trying to do I focused in to another degree. He started to move. Finally.
From there it was all the same to the end for me. People talk about the ring of fire, and Pam told me when we were there but if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known it was a ‘thing’.
Exhausted and sleep deprived, I was actually sleeping on and off between contractions. It was probably only a split second sleep but it saved me. I could also tell I was stopping breathing, not in an abnormal (for me) way but I knew I was doing it. After a while knowing it was happening and them telling me to breathe deeply, they put a mask on me. It didn’t fit well and kept coming off or sitting annoyingly, I didn’t think much as to why it was on but I was focused in on pushing with my eyes closed and didn’t really care. As his head appeared, the encouragement from Pam and the others increased. I opened my eyes for a moment but realized how much concentration I lost and kept them closed till the end. It was round and round in cycles of first push, second push, third push… first push, second push, third push…
When we got close I couldn’t even tell when the contractions were there and I remember being flustered and trying to get the words out, ‘Am I having a contraction? Tell me! I can’t tell, am I having a contraction?’
The last few moments were a blur and the room got more active. They prepared things for the baby, they told me it was close, people started moving around. I pushed. I drank cranberry juice. I fought with my oxygen mask. I tried not to be scared. They started encouraging me more, I remember Leah joining in, ‘he’s coming’, ‘push push’, ‘one more contraction’ I don’t remember everything but even though it all felt the same to me, the same inescapable pressure, they told me it was about to happen. Then with a rush, his head was out, then they told me not to push. Then Pam and another nurse were pushing on my belly, they told me they were going to push him out. It was all a daze, but not pushing was easy. By all means ladies, do the work for me. Please.
They pushed. He was out. Everything was frantic. I was relieved. I was scared. Someone pulled out a walkie talkie, ‘Can we get… to room 218 please.’ Why? Why do we need anyone? I looked at Jared in panic, ‘Is he ok? Is he ok? What’s going on?’ I’d thought he’d be straight on my chest but he was on a little table with a crowd of nurses around him. I thought something was wrong but Jared reassured me.‘He’s perfect. Babe, he’s perfect.’ He had tears in his eyes and was tender in a way I’d never seen him before.
‘Do we have a name?’ One of the nurses looked over as they checked him. I looked at Jared and he said tell them.
I saw him coming towards me and I didn’t feel anything, no rush of emotion, no tears, nothing bad, just nothing. Then he was on me and in an instant he was drinking. I breathed, I looked at Jared, this was our son. The emotions slowly began to come, or at least the reality started to sink in. My baby was on my chest. Then after just a short moment the next stage, and repair work, started.
I had torn and then had two cuts. While I don’t really remember pain from the birth, somehow the memory of the pain of everything after delivery has not faded. After delivering the baby they told me one more push for the placenta, after a baby, the push was nothing but an incredible sensation of relief followed like once it was gone you know that’s absolutely what needed to happen and it felt so good, but you didn’t know it was even there or needed to go. Once it was delivered they inspected it and made noises. They told me it was (a) huge and (b) healthy. I knew nothing about placentas, I didn’t know they could look unhealthy but I was grateful I had a healthy one! They held it up and showed me my son’s little home, and the ‘tree of life’, the network of blood vessels. A friend who’d had her baby in the same hospital told me that after her birth, Pam had kneaded her stomach to stop the bleeding, which was apparently wincingly painful. They told me they were going to do the same thing to me and their hands plunged towards me. Correct. Painful. After one round they came back for another and I clenched up as her hands came towards me. Even after birth, these small-in-comparison pains almost seemed more extreme. (In reality, this was the one part for which I actually had pain meds, it really could not have hurt that much, but with the adrenaline and focus gone, I was very dramatic about everything!)
Clayton Oak Neusch . 10lbs . 21.5 inches
Clayton stayed on my chest for an hour as our skilled midwife Pam stitched me up. There were no poker faces and she, along with every other nurse that came past, let me know just how much of a mess I was. But it didn’t matter. I stared at Clayton, eyes tight shut he drank from my right side, then the left, lying belly to belly. After an hour of shock, and drinking, and stitches, I was done.
Everyone left the room apart from one nurse. She took Clayton to bath him and I made Jared hover over him like a hawk. I didn’t even want anyone else to touch him. She laid him in a little clear plastic box lined with an elephant blanket and his little naked red body screamed with his eyes tightly shut. She measured him and then they bathed him together, wrapped him in a swaddle and a little hat and handed him this time to Jared. It was my turn to shower. Shower? Get off the bed and stand? Move? Are you kidding me? No one was kidding, I was supposed to jump in a shower and wash myself. It sounded like a joke and getting off the bed confirmed, it was a joke. But I shuffled in one inch steps and into the shower. It hurt, I felt dizzy. I’d had two saltines with some pain pills but the nurse made me promise I’d eat back in the room. My lungs felt tiny and my heart raced just standing up. It was a strange feeling. Getting clean felt good though. I managed to wash my hair and body and was then greeted out of the shower with the largest pads ever lining giant hospital issue mesh underwear. I blinked but happily stepped in, registering just how much I must be about to keep bleeding if that’s how they had prepped my underwear. Wow. Back in the room Jared and Clayton were having a moment. Clayton swaddled and laying in his Dad’s lap.
They made me get in a wheel chair to go back to the room and unlike being wheeled in two nights before I was more than happy to oblige this time. Walking was not on my agenda. I sat, just, and with Clayton in my arms we rolled down the corridor to a fresh new room. On the way past the reception area the nurse wheeled me past a button. ’You can push that and it rings out over the hospital that a baby’s been born.’
After pressing the button, we settled into our little room. When we first saw the hospital I had cried but now I adored everything about it, it was our little home. Clayton was born about 4.20am and after all the stitches and baths we were back in our room at about time for the 7am breakfast rounds. The next 24 hours was a glorious blur of doctors in and out, blood pressure and temperature every 4 hours, nursing in between, little bits of sleep, another blood pressure round. It was a dream.
After the first round of hospital staff visitors for tests and checks, Jared took Clayton and I fell asleep. It felt so good. I’d had three hours sleep in 48 and I was exhausted. Then skyping parents and falling in love, feed by feed, snuggle by snuggle.
The doctors told us that we might need to stay another night, but the next morning we were happy to hear we’d be sent home later in the day. I couldn’t wait, and at the same time I didn’t want to leave. It’s strange the attachment you can form to a place when something happens there like birthing your child. Part of me didn’t want the moment to be over, I didn’t want to leave the people or the place but we nervously loaded our precious cargo into his car seat then my awkward, stitched up body into the car to head home as a family of three for the next stage of our adventure.