I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finally get around to writing this, but at this point, I fear I will begin to forget things if I don’t get it done now.
As many of you know, the wait for Jackson’s arrival was long and excruciating. But my labor and delivery with him was anything but.
I finished up work on April 29, knowing that May was going to be an emotional month in many ways: Mother’s Day, the anniversary, Jackson’s birth. And since Hudson had arrived nine days early and Jackson was measuring several weeks big, I was convinced that he would be born early, too. So much so that my dad and I agreed that when he came up for the memorial at the Arboretum for the one-year anniversary of Hudson’s death, he should just stay until Jackson was born. Little did we know this would be another week and a half.
At my 36-week OB appointment, the doctor checked me and said I was about 1 cm dilated and 50% effaced and that she thought I would deliver within two weeks. I tried, unsuccessfully, not to get too excited about that, but by the next week when I was full-term, I hadn’t progressed at all, so I began to wonder how long the wait would actually be. At 39 weeks, I was about 2-3 cm, but still not thinning out anymore. The OB told me that he’d stripped my membranes a bit when he checked me to see if that would help get things going, but nothing happened in the next day or two except some spotting. On the third day, I started to lose my mucus plug, which really got me excited, but still nothing happened.
In the middle of all of this, I was going for non-stress tests twice a week—once a week from 36 weeks on is standard for women over 35, but I asked if I could go starting at 33 weeks, and by 35 weeks, I asked if I could go twice weekly. The tests basically involved monitoring the baby’s heart rate for 20 minutes and then checking my amniotic fluid levels. While they were very reassuring in the beginning, as we got closer to the end, we started to have a few blips here and there, where Jackson’s heart rate wouldn’t accelerate enough after movements, so that started to freak me out (as if I weren’t freaked out enough already).
On the Sunday before Jackson was born, I finally tackled organizing the nursery. I’d run out of every other possible nesting thing I could do, and all of those boxes of clothes were sitting on the floor, making it hard to walk from the door to the changing table, and books and toys were piled up on the edge of the crib. After I finished with the room, I told Ed that maybe Jackson would think we were now ready for him to come. Then I started crying and said that maybe I was the one who felt that way.
The next morning, I had another blip on the NST. I knew that if I went overdue, my anxiety was going to skyrocket, so I called an acupuncturist and made an appointment for the next day, which was my due date. I told her that if I didn’t show up, it meant that I had gone into labor, and she said that had happened to them before. Later that day, I sat down to write about the experience of having finally readied the nursery for Jackson. My contractions started about a half hour later, at around 4:30PM.
At first, I was skeptical about whether this was really labor, just as I had been with Hudson (you can read Hudson’s birth story here). The contractions began very mildly, just like menstrual cramps. This time, they started in the front, in my belly, whereas with Hudson, they had started in the back. This was a good sign, as I had been terrified of having back labor with Jackson, since he had been turned posterior for quite a while and I’d been having some really sharp back pains whenever he moved.
I was still sitting at the dining room table on the computer when the contractions began, and I decided to start timing them. They were coming anywhere from 6-10 minutes apart, but were not getting stronger yet. Dad came into the room and I told him that I thought I was having contractions, and he got all excited. I called our doula, Michele Peterson (who was amazing, in case you are looking for someone in the DC area), just to let her know that I thought labor might be starting—she has a one-year-old, so I knew she’d need to make arrangements for child care, etc. I decided to wait for an hour before trying to call Ed, just in case this was not the real thing, but when they were still coming pretty regularly by 5:30, I called him at the office. He was out for a run, of course. I tried him again and again over the next half hour or so and finally got him and told him I thought I was in labor. He was about to head home anyway. In the meantime, Dad and I took a walk, again just to make sure this was the real thing—Michele had suggested that sometimes walking can make the contractions go away, but they didn’t, so I was pretty sure this was it.
Ed got home and we all ate dinner. I had nothing but a bowl of chicken noodle soup and some saltines—I was thinking I was headed toward a long night with contractions and would need the energy to get through it and eventually to push Jackson out. I ate light, but as it turned out, I would probably have been better off not eating at all.
After we ate, we settled in to watch the second Lord of the Rings movie. Dad had never seen the trilogy (Ed and I have watched it about a dozen times), and we had watched the first movie on Sunday night. All during this time, the contractions had been getting worse—stronger and closer together. I was sitting on top of the exercise ball for most of the movie, rocking back and forth and breathing through the contractions, which were about two to three minutes apart at this point. At around 10PM, I called Michele to touch base and see what we should do. Things were going WAY faster than they had with Hudson—with her, I was having contractions for about 15 hours before they started to get bad. With Jackson, they started to get bad after about 4-5 hours. The last thing I wanted was to get caught at home or in the car ready to push him out. Even though we live only five minutes from the hospital, I decided I thought it was probably time to go in, just in case, and she said she would just meet us there. Good decision, as it turns out. I could probably have labored at home for another hour or so, but if I had, it would have been a great big rush to get admitted and deliver Jackson at the end. When I told Dad we were going to the hospital, he said, “Wait, we don’t get to finish the movie?!” He was joking, of course, but it was pretty funny given how long he’d been sitting around waiting for Jackson to come, asking me every day if I thought anything was happening.
By the time we got to the hospital, it was about 11PM. I’d planned better this time than last time and packed two separate bags—one for labor and one for postpartum. When we had Hudson, we walked into labor and delivery at 2AM carrying huge amounts of stuff, including two trash bags full of pillows and blankets. The nurses looked at us like we were nuts. This time, we had one suitcase, one pillow, a backpack, and the exercise ball—much more reasonable. My contractions were pretty intense by this point, so I was doubled over at the check-in counter, trying to breathe through them with one arm out so they could put an ID band on me. My OB walked up and remarked that I looked pretty uncomfortable. Hmm, ya think? There was some debate about where they were going to put me, because their four assessment rooms were full. I was under the impression they were just going to take me to a delivery room to get assessed, but instead, they took us into a triage room with three or four beds divided by a curtain. I looked at Ed and said, “I really hope we’re not having a baby in here.” He told me not to worry about that right then. Fortunately, though, my OB came in fairly quickly after I’d changed into a gown. She checked me and said I was at 5 cm. I said, “Wow, that’s not bad!” (Compare this to last time, when I checked in at the hospital after 19 hours of contractions and the resident told me I was 5 cm, and I curled into fetal position and cried, “No!” because I couldn’t believe I hadn’t progressed any farther than that). They admitted me and moved me into a labor and delivery room, and I sat down on the birthing ball with my arms resting on the bed while Ed set about putting Hudson’s pictures in strategic places around the room. I was so grateful to have her there with us.
The nurses hooked me up to a heart rate monitor. I was OK with this, because I had already decided that the more information we had, the better. When I wrote our birth plan, I explained up front what had happened to Hudson and that I needed all the staff who worked with us to constantly reassure me that Jackson was OK. I did ask them to turn the volume down, though, because I knew I would panic if I heard it slow down (which would be totally natural during labor, but I knew it would make it much harder for me to relax if I was listening for that all the time). Ed started massaging my lower back during the contractions. At some point, Michele called up and said that the security guard wouldn’t let her and my dad in. Apparently, I was supposed to have made some kind of list of folks who could come up. We resolved that quickly and they both came into the room. Dad saw immediately that things had progressed significantly, so he kissed me and said he would just wait in the waiting room. (As it turns out, he’d brought the LOTR DVDs we’d been watching with him, so he had something to keep him occupied).
The contractions were extremely painful by this point. The position I was sitting in (kind of folded over the edge of the bed) made it tricky to keep track of Jackson’s heart rate the whole time, but at some point, I stopped caring, because I was deep into the hard work of labor. Michele and Ed took turns massaging my lower back, because I wanted them to bear down hard to provide counterpressure to the pain I was feeling, and their hands got tired easily (as it turns out, they were rubbing so hard that they rubbed a blister on the left side of my back, which popped later that morning—I still have a little battle scar there). Michele had also brought a rice bag that one of the nurses was kind enough to heat up for me, and I tried to keep that folded between my legs and my belly for some pain relief there. I was terrified that I was going to be sick. I had not meant to have so much food on my stomach at this point. Luckily, I never threw up, but I did have awful reflux through the whole labor at the hospital.
This went on for a little while—I’m not exactly sure how long, because I don’t know what time we actually ended up in the delivery room. I was doing pretty well with my deep breathing, and I remember that I was moaning a fair amount and talking to myself (mostly saying, “Relax” and “It will all be over soon.”) At some point, a resident came in to check on my progress. This was not pleasant at all, because it required me to change positions, getting up on the bed and laying down on my back, none of which I was happy about. The contractions were extremely close together at this point, so I was only getting a little bit of a break between each one, and it was not nice to have to spend that break getting checked. The resident said I was about 7cm, and I said, “Oh, shit.” This was the first time that I felt a bit panicky. Seven centimeters is pretty far along, but it also meant I wasn’t in transition yet. I probably knew that I wasn’t in transition yet, anyway, because I was still pretty with it at that point, whereas transition kind of transports you to an excruciatingly painful la-la land. I was feeling pretty tired and a little faint at that point (because I was breathing so deeply for such a long time), and I began to wonder whether I would have enough energy to make it through and push Jackson out. I had no idea how close I was to that happening.
Our fabulous labor nurse, Ann, got really bossy at this point and said, “OK, Amanda, we’re going to the bathroom.” (They didn’t know my nickname—we hadn’t been there long enough for me to even tell them). I remember thinking she wanted me to go to the bathroom because sometimes that can help things along, but she had something else in mind. She said, “OK, I want you to straddle the toilet backwards, facing the wall, and do a few contractions there. We’re going to get this baby to rotate and come down.” I thought she was insane, but I was in no position to argue and was really glad that she was bossing me around. They brought me a pillow to prop my head on against the plumbing above the toilet. I was incredibly uncomfortable, but sure enough, about two contractions later, I felt my water break. I later learned that my water broke at 1:05AM, a mere eight and a half hours after my first contraction. I never felt my water break with Hudson, because it didn’t break on its own. With her, I was already fully dilated and pushing before they finally broke my water so that she could descend the rest of the way. This time, it was the craziest feeling. It felt exactly like a water balloon popping inside me, and I felt the water gush out. I said, “I think that was my water!” and Ann said, “Good! That’s what we wanted!” Somewhere in there, I remember saying, “Wow, Ann, you’re my hero.” But then everything went off the rails. Well, not really—everything went exactly like it should have, but I felt like I was going off the rails. Which meant I was in transition. The contractions immediately got worse and I started to feel that rising sense of panic like I couldn’t handle them. I started to cry while I was still straddling the toilet backwards—crying is a sure sign that a laboring woman has hit transition.
Again, Ann took charge and told me to come out of the bathroom and do some contractions standing and swaying side to side next to the bed. They raised the bed as high as it would go so I could prop my upper body and head on it as I swayed, but it still wasn’t quite enough. I was so exhausted at this point that it was hard to hold myself up and still breathe through the contractions, but I kept hanging on. Michele was working hard to get me to focus—she kept telling me to look at her, at which point she would try to get me to breathe with her. This worked fairly well for a little bit, but it’s difficult to describe how out of control I started to feel. At one point, Ann told me to try to stand and lean on Ed and sway some more, and I did that, but I still couldn’t get comfortable and relaxed enough. Finally, they lowered the bed and Ann told me to get on top of it, on my knees and facing backwards toward the elevated head of the bed and do some contractions there. I was really panicky at this point and was having a hard time staying in control of myself. She kept telling me how close I was to meeting my little boy and that we needed to get him to come down some more. I kept saying, “Come down, little boy, come down,” as I cried through the contractions. Michele told me to look at Ed, who was standing just behind the head of the bed, so I kept trying to look at him and concentrate on his face in order to regain control of myself. I remember a few times (that we laughed about later) where I looked at him with my eyes open as wide as I could get them, as if by opening them wider, I could somehow see him better or concentrate harder. I remember thinking how crazy I must look and later when we talked about it, he said he’d had to stifle a laugh once or twice because I did, indeed, look totally nuts.
I started feeling the urge to push, but it felt different than with Hudson. With her, the urge to push was obvious and I knew exactly what it was. But this time, it was all so commingled with the pain of the contractions that I wasn’t really sure how much pressure I was feeling. Ann asked if I wanted the doctor to come in and check me, and I guess I said yes, because I remember her paging the doctor, “probably for delivery.” When the doctor came in, I said, “I guess you want me to lay down, don’t you?” I really didn’t want to lay down on my back (again, in sharp contrast to my labor with Hudson where I started on my back and was terrified to change positions), but I did. I was flat on the table and the OB checked me and said I had just a tiny lip of cervix still there. I asked if I could push to remove it (which I had done with Hudson) and she said yes. So I pushed that one time, expecting to feel relief upon pushing, like I had with Hudson, but I didn’t, which made me panic again. I said, “I thought it would feel good to push, but it doesn’t! Maybe I’m not ready to push yet!” What I didn’t realize is that Jackson was already ready to come out. My chanting of “Come down, little boy” had apparently worked better than I’d realized. I was still laying flat on my back, and I remember asking if this was how I was going to push and wondering aloud if I shouldn’t change positions, but all of a sudden, I couldn’t do anything but push. The urge was overwhelming and my body wouldn’t do anything else. I was really panicking now, because I had no idea what was going on. I was pushing and screaming (like, a LOT), and the doctor said, “Amanda, calm down. Let me get my gloves on.” I have no idea why she didn’t already have gloves on—she had just checked me, but she must have taken them off after that, not realizing that I was literally going to deliver a minute or two later. I looked at her like she was crazy, because I had absolutely no control over what was happening at that point. My body had totally taken over and I was just along for the ride. I remember saying to no one in particular that I was scared, but again, it was only because things had gone so much faster than with Hudson and I really didn’t realize that he was about to come out.
The rest of it is just a blur. All I really remember is pushing, screaming at the top of my lungs, and staring in wide-eyed terror at the doctor. Then, what seemed like seconds later (I’m told it was about 5 minutes from that first push until he was out), the OB told me to reach down and grab my baby. And I did. And all of a sudden, the moment I had been imagining in my head for months and months and months, the one image I pictured over and over again to calm myself whenever my anxiety got overwhelming—all of a sudden, that moment had arrived and I was living in it. My beautiful little boy, covered in blood and gook, with a big mess of dark hair, was sitting on my chest. My water had broken at 1:05 AM, and he was born 40 minutes later. I felt such immense relief, both that the delivery was over and that Jackson was alive and safe on the outside. He sat with me for about 15 minutes while the OB gave me one small stitch for a tiny periurethral tear, and then the nurses took him a few feet away to weigh him quickly and get him into the hospital’s system. They brought him right back and as soon as I put him to the breast, he latched on and started nursing immediately (and he can thank his big sister for giving me such good experience with this—it made all the difference because I knew exactly what to do). Ed came and snuggled in the bed with us and once again, we were beginning a new journey in our family, this time with our precious Jackson, who brought light into some of the darkest corners of our lives.
I wrote before that it took a bit after he was born for the euphoria to wear off enough for our new reality to sink in. I looked over the foot of the bed at the picture of Hudson in the Arboretum and began to cry. Certainly I was crying for all that would never be, for our family of four with only three, but I was also crying for joy for all that I had right there in the room with me: a family of four with a beautiful new little boy, an amazing husband, and precious memories of the little girl who will always be the big sister. It will never be enough, but I was, and remain, immensely grateful for all that it is.