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Best day ever: The birth of Claire James Epidural

Best day ever: The birth of Claire James

"When in doubt, call your mother."

On Monday, August 22, 2016, I was excited that my 40-week doctor visit was the next morning. (I should mention that August 23 was my estimated due date.) I had no expectations she would actually come on time. The week before, I was 1 centimeter dilated, which didn’t indicate much other than I was getting close. But that could mean hours, days or even a few more weeks. Uggh. The unknown was killing me! I trusted all the info I had in front of me, but I was still searching for what I would experience.

Doctors said that pain would be my telltale sign for knowing when I was going into labor. That is NOT what I wanted to hear, so I sought out online articles and stories of friends who had different experiences. I was in search of anything other than pain. I did not want pain.

For years, I’ve dreaded the effects pregnancy would have on my body. My sister went through two terrible pregnancies but produced two healthy babies. I just didn’t want to hate nine months of my life and then have to go through the pain of pushing a human out of my body. Talk about fear! Every woman responds differently—and maybe I would be an exception—but there was no telling until it was my turn. I just had to take the leap and let the rest take its course.

static1-squarespaceSo, back to that Monday before my due date. I can recall it all so crystal clear. I woke up super early that day. Around 6 a.m. (I don’t wake up that early to do anything productive … ever.) But I had a few things to knock out for work that I didn’t want to linger nor did I want to have to mess with it postbirth. So I logged on for about 45 min to finish up my last to-do and just checked in throughout the rest of the day. That’s when I felt a sense of relief. I was ready to have this baby without having work stress weigh on me, especially if she planned to come anytime soon.

My mom and I ran errands to pick up and return some things I knew needed to be done before baby arrived. In hindsight, it was probably that burst of energy they all say you get right before birth. I didn’t actually need my afternoon nap that day. I just kept going and going. Once my mom and I got back, I made a trip to our friend’s house who showed me how to install the car seat. Then, I went with a friend on a long walk—the longest I had been able to handle that late in my pregnancy. Then, that night, as my husband and I sat in bed, we just excitedly awaited the next day’s doctor appointment and what they would say.

Instead, this happened …

As my husband was prepping for his online fantasy football draft at 10 p.m., I sat up in bed and felt a pop or tear happen. It wasn’t painful, and it wasn’t my water breaking. It was just something I noticed, and that’s almost immediately when the contractions started. Now, I had experienced some the week prior, but they subsided. I was guessing these might do the same. Or hoped they would. I let them ride out for about an hour while my husband and I timed them. They were uncomfortable, close together (about five minutes apart) and lasted for about a minute. It was textbook for active labor contractions from what I recall the doctors telling me. But I also remembered them telling me that true contractions would leave me breathless and to the point of not being able to talk. I could talk, but they seemed to be something I should consider calling the on-call doctor about. So I did, but not without hesitation.

I didn’t want to burden anyone with a false alarm. I know it sounds weird, but I actually didn’t want to make that call when I wasn’t sure if they were real. The week prior, my contractions were happening at 2 a.m. but ended after about 45 min, so I didn’t bother making a call. And, thank goodness. Another fear of mine is that this would all go down in the middle of the night. I just wanted to be in control, and it was driving me crazy that it was not up to me. So, after about an hour of semi pain, my husband convinced me to call. It was only 11 p.m. that night, so I didn’t feel too bad. When the doctor called me back, he gave me the option to come in to get checked out or let it continue and see if it got worse or better. He was really supportive, but I had to make this call on my own.

When in doubt, call your mother.

My mom has had four kids, so I leaned on her for a lot of ‘what to expect’ throughout my pregnancy. I knew I could count on her to be there for me at any moment. I called her and she suggested we let another 30 minutes go by before I made a final decision. So, I got in the shower to see if it would help cool me down, and almost the minute I got out and changed my contractions went into high gear. Over those next 30 minutes, I couldn’t breathe through them when they came on. I told my husband that we needed to go in. I called my mom, and they were going to meet us there. My husband called his mom and she was right behind us, too. I called the on-call doctor back and left a message that we were coming in. Then the pain really started coming on strong.

As my husband packed up the car, I was in the house alone and had an emotional breakdown before we walked out the door. I was scared and the moment was overwhelming. We were walking out that door and potentially bringing home a baby girl. Our moments in that house would be very different after that night.

Contractions continued in the car. Sitting down was much better than standing up. I was almost worried they would stop on the way, and we’d have to call off the troops. I wasn’t sure if putting it off would ease my anxiety any more, but I would have been OK with it at that point. But they didn’t wear off. My husband dropped me off at the front of the hospital while he parked the car and the registration desk buzzed me in. As I walked through the door, a contraction hit; I had to stand still and let the pain take it’s course. As that was happening, it was like a scene out of a movie. They offered me a wheelchair. I sat in it for the elevator ride but soon got out. My stubbornness didn’t want to be helped if I could manage it.

static1-squarespace-1They put us in triage, but first I had to leave a urine sample. That took me about 10 minutes because about four contractions came while I was in the bathroom. Those were pretty painful. In triage, they finally got to the point where they were ready to check me for dilation. I dreaded that part. We timed it perfectly though, did it in between contractions and quickly. One hit just before and immediately after. In between, they found I was dilated about 3 to 4 centimeters. They called the doctor to see what he wanted to do. When they came back in they said I wasn’t going home. We were going to have a baby soon.

At that point, I was ready for the drugs. It was about four hours after my first contractions started that I was finally able to get the epidural. Once they told us we were staying, they took us into the room where I would deliver. That’s where our parents met us. They watched me go through my contractions. My dad was more on it than any of us. He was timing them and at one point told me how close they were. I told him I didn’t really want to know when they were coming, but looking back on that moment I loved how in tune he was. I’m sure watching your child go through that kind of pain is not easy. The moms talked about how they didn’t have epidurals when they gave birth. I just kept saying how crazy I thought anyone would be to NOT get one, but to each her own. I give huge props to any mom who has delivered naturally, drug-free. I couldn’t imagine that experience for myself. I wanted to experience this my way. My way was pain free.

The anesthesiologist came in and our parents left the room. The nurse caring for me stayed and was my savior. She held me up right in bed while the doctor put the needle in my back. I jerked forward once I felt it pinch, but it was pretty smooth thereafter. I had about one or two more contractions—then two minutes later I couldn’t feel them anymore. I was so grateful. My legs went numb. My nurse helped me move around in bed. She was such a blessing to have by my side.

As I was going through labor pains, I had moments of my life flash before my eyes. It wasn’t like a life and death type of flash—more of an “all that has lead me to this place of purpose” flash. While I’ve lived quite a blessed life, most of the worries I’ve endured wouldn’t matter much anymore beyond that day. I knew I was getting ready to meet the one person who would change my life forever in just a matter of hours, and that made me reflect a bit. Our daughter brought new meaning to our lives already, and we hadn’t even met face-to-face yet.

As the hours went by, we nodded off for some rest, chatted with our parents, and texted with our friends and family as the next morning crept up on us. I started to feel physical pressure of the contractions coming back—but not pain. I didn’t know if it would turn into pain. The nurse assured me that if I was feeling pain they would re-administer the epidural. I asked probably four or five times if it was normal what I was feeling. I almost wanted them to give me more of a dose, so it would take all feeling away. But they said pressure was good. I had to let it go. It was inevitable I would feel something. I just didn’t want to feel pain.

By 8:30 a.m. the next morning, August 23, they were prepping me to push. OMG … it was time. The only people left in the room were the doctor, two nurses and my husband. Before we got started with pushing, I asked the team how long I should expect it to take. They all looked at each other as if they wanted the other to answer. I asked again and just threw out some numbers: 30 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour? The nurse told me it could take anywhere from an hour to two hours for my first. So what did I do? … I asked to take some bets. The doctor said 8 minutes. I said 15 minutes. My husband said 24 minutes.

They had me push for counts of 10, per contraction. The breathing was the hardest part. I say that loosely because other than the contractions, I felt no pain. The moment I started to hold my breath I already wanted to exhale. I couldn’t hold my breath that long. Plus, I didn’t know if any of the pushing was making any progress. But the doctor reassured me I was doing just fine. The baby’s head started to crown.

That’s when I semi-jokingly asked if they had a mirror I could use to watch. And, they did. Actually, it was sitting at the end of the bed the whole time. The nurse encouraged me to try it out, so I did. It was the best thing I could have done. I witnessed every moment of her birth.

But first, we had a scare. Her head and shoulder came out but the other shoulder was lodged. The doctor called for help. And he called for it twice, pretty quickly. I didn’t stop pushing though. The nurse next to me got on the table and pushed on my abdomen which helped get her unstuck. Then she was completely out. That’s when the emotion took over me.

I was a sobbing mess. I instantly started to cry out of pure happiness and love. I can’t believe this human lived inside me for nine months and is now here. I couldn’t wait to hold her. My husband was by her side immediately as the recovery doctors cared for her. That’s my favorite moment right there. She had him wrapped around her finger already.

Let me introduce Claire James Grant, born August 23, 2016 (on her due date, and the day before our wedding anniversary), weighing 7 pounds, 7 ounces and measuring 21 inches long. We couldn’t be happier, and our lives are forever changed.

Send us your birth story! Whether you had a home birth, hospital birth, 37-hour labor or emergency C-section, we’d love to read the tale of your little one’s grand entrance. Write up your birth story (click here for tips on getting started) and email it, along with a few photos, to birthstory@pnmag.com. We’ll share it on our Birth Day blog and may even print it in an upcoming issue!