It’s not like the movies—no one ever goes into labor by having their water break spontaneously. That’s what we were told in our birth class. So I was completely shocked when I rolled over in bed and felt a gush of liquid between my legs. I jumped out of bed, raced into our bathroom and burst out laughing as I realized what was happening. My slightly groggy and very confused husband, Alex, called out to ask me if I was OK. “Um, I think my water just broke …”
I was three days past my due date and very impatient for my baby to arrive (just like every other woman that has sailed past 40 weeks). I hadn’t made any significant progress at any of my checkups—half a centimeter at 38 weeks, 1 centimeter at 39 weeks, 1 1/2 centimeters at 40 weeks—and my OB had even advised against a membrane sweep as she didn’t think I was close to going into labor. I hadn’t had a single “real” contraction and wasn’t even sure I had experienced Braxton Hicks contractions, although I had Googled and asked several friends with kids to help me figure out what they were supposed to feel like. I had started experimenting with homeopathic remedies, and I had even made my pilgrimage to the local restaurant with the eggplant dish that supposedly sends women into labor. In sum, I was anxious to have this baby but didn’t think I was anywhere close. In fact, I was sure that I was headed for an induction.
Alex brought me my phone, so I could call my OB’s answering service to figure out what to do next. I described what was happening to me—every 30 seconds or so about a quarter cup of clear, odorless liquid would gush out of me. The on-call doctor agreed that it sounded like my water had broken, and she told me to head over to the hospital. I started to get excited. I couldn’t believe I was about to meet my baby. But first I wanted to take one last really good shower.
Alex sprang into action and started packing the car while I called out instructions from the shower and made him check off every item on my packing list. We left our house around 11:15 p.m. and called our parents from the car on the way to the hospital. I thought they would want to rush to the hospital, too, and I was prepared to tell them to wait. I shouldn’t have worried as they knew better than me and said they’d call us in the morning to check in.
The hospital was calm and quiet when we arrived. I still wasn’t having any contractions, and I could tell that the hospital staff was skeptical as to whether my water really had broken. I changed into a hospital gown and they used a paper strip to verify that I was leaking amniotic fluid. Unfortunately, I was still only 1 1/2 centimeters dilated. The nurse told me that the doctor wanted to start me on Pitocin to help move things along. I was nervous because a close friend had been induced with Pitocin and had a terrible experience. However, I understood that there was a risk of infection after my water broke, and so I agreed to get the Pitocin.
Around 12:30 a.m. the nurse started an IV drip and the Pitocin. Within a few minutes I began to feel contractions. At first they were very light, and I enjoyed trying to guess if I was about to have one. I remember watching the squiggly lines rise and fall in mountains and valleys on the monitor as my contractions started to come closer together. The nurse checked my cervix again; I was making progress but very slowly.
As the contractions started to get more intense and I realized we weren’t anywhere close to delivery, I asked the nurse about getting an epidural. My contractions were uncomfortable at that point, but not painful. I was doing some yoga breathing techniques and squeezing Alex’s hand, but I wasn’t about to curse or scream. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep through the contractions, and I wanted to get some rest before I needed to start pushing. I asked the nurse if there was any reason to wait before getting the epidural. She assured me that it was fine to go ahead and get it as long as I was OK being confined to my bed and not having anything else to eat. I quickly ordered some Jell-O as my last “snack.”
Luckily there was no wait for the epidural at 4 a.m. I had always planned to get an epidural (just like Amy Poehler’s character in Baby Mama) so I didn’t have any qualms or reservations about asking for it, but I was nervous that it would be a painful procedure. The nurse asked Alex if he had a weak stomach and told him a story about another husband that passed out just hearing the description of the epidural procedure. I shouldn’t have worried as my anesthesiologist was a total pro. I didn’t feel a thing having the epidural put in, and within 30 minutes I couldn’t feel my contractions any more. Alex and I decided to try to get some sleep, but it was hard to rest when we were so excited about finally having our baby.
We napped until about 9 a.m. when we met with the on-call OB. I was a little disappointed that my doctor wasn’t on-call. But I had previously met all of the doctors in her practice, and I was comfortable with all of them. The doctor noticed that my baby’s heart rate was dropping during each contraction. She explained that because it was coming back up between contractions it wasn’t an emergency, but it was something they needed to watch. They brought me an oxygen mask and changed my position to try to make the baby more comfortable.
When they checked my cervix mid-morning I had progressed to 6 centimeters and was 80 percent effaced. We told our parents to head down around lunchtime, naively thinking that we would be having the baby soon. They offered to bring Chick-fil-A for Alex. I told him that under no circumstances would he be allowed to bring that delicious smelling sandwich and fries into the delivery room as I was ravenous with hunger and fantasizing about my first meal after labor (a large stack of Belgian waffles with butter and syrup).
At 1:30 p.m. we got good news and bad news: I was 8 centimeters dilated, but the baby was sunny side up. The doctor had me change positions again to try to get the baby to flip. I kept moving into different positions, but our baby stubbornly refused to turn over.
By 5 p.m. I was fully dilated and the doctor decided it was time to start pushing. We banished our parents to the waiting room and got ready. For the first hour I worked with Alex and the nurse. I felt like I was doing the most intense Pilates class of my life as I grabbed my thighs and curled my shoulders up off the bed while I pushed. Despite my best efforts, the baby wasn’t moving. The nurse decided to turn down my epidural so I could feel my contractions to help with the pushing. We also decided it was time to turn on some motivational music, so I had Alex put on my running playlist from my phone.
By 6:30 p.m. the doctor was in the room running the show. She counted to ten with every contraction to help guide my pushing. I could tell by the sound of her voice if it was a productive push or not: “Yep, yep, yep, come on!” or “. . . 8 . . . 9 . . . 10 (sigh).” I was starting to get frustrated that my baby wasn’t moving. I had Alex turn off the music, and I started giving baby some tough talk. I told him that I loved him, but I was very done having him inside of me and he needed to hurry up and move out.
Around 7:30 p.m. the NICU team came into the room. The doctor told me that they needed to be on standby because it looked like the baby’s cord was still wrapped around his neck. At this point, with every push I was giving it everything I had. I desperately wanted to be done and have my baby. Alex was watching, and he excitedly told me that he could see the baby’s head. After a few pushes with no movement, the doctor decided to use a vacuum to help pull the baby out. With the next push the baby’s head came out. Once Alex told me the head was out I knew I could do it. I gave a huge push and felt my baby slither out of me like a flopping fish.
Again, our expectations from birth class diverged from reality. There was no time for skin-to-skin or delayed cord clamping. Instead, the doctor quickly cut the cord and immediately handed our baby off to the NICU team. I couldn’t hear him. He wasn’t crying. I started shaking and sobbing. I kept asking if he was all right, but no one would answer me. In my mind I was considering the awful possibility that I had just gone through 22 hours of labor and three hours of pushing to deliver a stillborn baby. It was the single most horrible moment of my life—until I heard him cry. Alex and I were staring into each other’s eyes, holding hands, and reassuring each other that our son would be all right.
And then they brought him to me. My life was instantly changed. I immediately felt an overwhelming love for this tiny baby. As tears rolled down my face I stroked his cheek and told my baby “I love you so much.”
Elliott James Silverman was born at 7:53 p.m. He was 20.5” long and weighed 7 pounds, 7 ounces.
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