For the most part, I had a beautiful pregnancy! After the first 14-or-so weeks of nausea I was happy, healthy, and full of excited energy in anticipation of meeting our baby boy. I stayed fit and active by briskly walking at least 5km a day, ate a gorgeous diet of fresh and nutritious foods (plus the not-so-occasional treat I was inevitably craving…), and felt like a magical unicorn goddess, growing a human life in my core! I figured if my breezy pregnancy was any indication of how my labour and delivery would go, it was bound to be a piece of cake. YEAH, NO… Was I ever wrong!
The days leading up to my due date were a busy and blissful blur. I transferred all of my therapy clients with just a few days to spare, put the finishing touches on the nursery, prepared enough freezer meals to feed a small army of ravenous breastfeeding mothers, and finished a major paper just in the nick of time! I was so ready for this little man to make his grand entrance and, just like clockwork, the first contractions started on the very day he was due.
They began as a niggling kind of pinch in my low abdomen (“No, I don’t think those are contractions. I probably just need to poop.”) Within an hour they were starting to radiate up and squeeze through my back (“Eeeek! I think these ARE contractions! Today could be the day!”) and by that evening they were full blown, double-you-over spasms that made my toes curl (“MOTHER F*#@! LET’S GO NOW”). So we loaded up our pre-packed bags and smiled nervous/excited smiles all the way to the hospital.
“You’re only one centimeter dilated”
“No problem, nurse. I got this.”
It had only been 8 hours or so since the first contractions started, and I was sure things would start to progress much more quickly soon. We put our bags back in the car and headed home, expecting to return some time in the night to have our sweet baby! HA.
Sleeping through contractions every 3 minutes is not easy, let me tell you! So when I finally did fall asleep that should have been my clue that things weren’t going to be moving along as quickly as I’d hoped. I woke up the next morning feeling great! Wait, what? Where are my contractions? Was that false labour? Shit.
It turns out all I had to do to restart my labour was stand up. I’m one of those weirdo people whose contractions seriously slow down when I lie down or rest, which is inconvenient if you’re trying to actually have a baby in a reasonable amount of time. We had a doctor’s appointment that morning, so we tootled off to the office in hopes of hearing that I was farther along than the last time.
“You’re only two centimeters dilated”
“No problem, doctor. I got this.”
She swept my membranes to try to kick things into gear a little more and sent us home again. I spent the morning and early afternoon breathing through long, strong contractions, envisioning each one as bringing me closer to my little boy. “Imagine you’re like a blossoming flower, opening up with each wave!” my friend half-jokingly told me. I tried. But when we turned up at the hospital again 6 hours later…
“You’re still only two centimeters dilated.”
NOT OK, NURSE. I DO NOT GOT THIS AND MY BODY IS NO FLOWER.
So back home we went, AGAIN. My contractions were still three minutes apart and about a minute long and it had been nearly 30 hours. I was already done and, technically speaking, things had barely even started! As I was dejectedly staring at a piece of pizza that I couldn’t stomach the idea of eating, I got another text from the “blossoming flower” friend, this time with a link to a website. Her thoughts were that since my contractions were so close together but my labour wasn’t progressing, the baby might be in a poor position and was thus remaining high in the pelvis. She thought this Abdominal Lift and Tuck move might help. UMMM…THANK YOU BEAUTIFUL, BRILLIANT GRANOLA FRIEND WITH WEIRDO HIPPY-DIPPY ADVICE!! It worked like a freaking charm! 10 rounds of the Abdominal Lift and Tuck and my contractions exploded! This time I could tell. This was it. We loaded our bags into the car one last time.
“You’re five centimeters dilated!”
I half-sobbed-half-laughed with exhaustion and relief as they showed us to our labour and delivery suite! I joyfully accepted the epidural with zero hesitation and enjoyed one blissful hour of pain-free sleep. After that the anesthetic migrated up too high and wore off, but I will remember my friend, the epidural, fondly for that tiny chunk of peace! Unfortunately, since I’d laid down and slept, the contractions petered out again. To get things moving, a very nervous medical resident with shaky hands broke my water and I was hooked up to an oxytocin drip. This combo worked a little too well: I went from 5 to 10 centimeters in less than an hour, and it was BRUTAL! But the agonizing speed at which my dilation occurred was completely worth it when I looked down and saw the nurse’s smiling face.
“You’re 10 centimeters dilated. It’s time to start pushing.”
After nine months of pregnancy and 36 hours of labour, this was it. It’s hard to describe what I felt in that moment, knowing that I would see my baby boy’s face so soon. I think it was some bizarre combination of excitement, fear, relief, and maybe even a tiny shred of peace amidst the chaos and pain. This was it.
Dave called my family. I knew I wanted them all there to help me through the delivery: Mom, Dad, and my two sisters. I’m one of those people who thrives with support, and it’s a good thing because that room was packed! I suppose it’s also a good thing that I’m not particularly shy! With Mom holding my left leg, my sister holding my right leg, and my husband holding my hand, it was time to push. I took a deep breath, clamped my eyes shut tight, and didn’t open them again until the very end.
As with the rest of my labour, this stage was long and gruelling. The oxytocin had made my contractions too frequent, so there was very little pause between each set of pushes. As wave after wave hit my body I bore down with a force I didn’t know I could exert, each time hoping desperately that it would be my last push. I was so physically and mentally exhausted and there came a point where (I’m ashamed to admit it) I really didn’t think I could do it anymore. “I can’t do this,” I gasped between sets, which was promptly met with a chorus of “Yes you can, you have to do this, and you CAN do this” from my team. What if my body really couldn’t do it, though? What if I had actually hit my limit? That was the only point throughout the whole process when I felt truly afraid, but then something amazing happened.
“Jen,” my sister said softly into my ear, “reach down and feel your son’s head.” And so with a shaking hand I reached around my belly and fumbled around, fingers searching desperately for something that would anchor my soul and give me the strength to continue. And there he was. Just the top of his little bowling ball head, warm and hard and a bit sticky. He was right there and I was touching his precious life with my fingertips.
Something in me changed in that moment. This wasn’t just about me and what I was feeling anymore. There was my son, and he needed his mama to buck up and bring him safely into the world. My exhaustion was no longer a barrier but a motivator, and the pain was no longer my enemy but my ally. I have never felt stronger and more capable than I did in that moment. The next rush began to build, fiercer than all the ones before, and I knew that we were about to meet our baby boy face to face.
After 38 hours of labour and 2 hours of pushing, our little Walter Ryan came into the world. As they pulled him gently from his home of the last 9 months, someone told me to reach down and grab my baby. I finally opened my eyes, looked down to see my son, and wrapped my trembling fingers around his tiny body for the first time. As I clutched him tightly to my chest I felt a love like no other explode in me – the love that only a mother (however she becomes one) can feel and understand. But I became more than a mother that day. I became whole.