Sweet relief: The birth of Leah
On Friday, September 12, I woke up not feeling well. I was just over a week away from my due date, and—this being my first baby—I was sure I had at least another week to go. But I had no idea how I’d last that long.
I had been trying all the tricks to get baby to come—walking every day (which did tend to induce Braxton Hicks, so I felt it was productive), drinking pineapple juice, taking evening primrose oil and eating everything said to cause contractions from prunes to Thai curry. That day I fired up my laptop and did the bare minimum for work, just telling myself to make it to lunch and then I could take a quick nap. (I worked from home at the time.) I also had a hope that maybe this could be early labor, so I decided to just get things ready in case it was my last day working.
The next morning I woke up around 3 a.m. with what felt like period cramps. I knew that I was having real contractions and decided to start timing them, but within two hours they had faded away. I was lying there praying they would come back. My husband was on call and had to go into the hospital in the morning. We live in Iowa City, near the University of Iowa, and it was the biggest game of the season, which we knew would make our commute to the hospital (they conveniently use the hospital parking lots for game day parking) much longer. So I decided to go into the hospital with him, just in case. I sat in the conference room watching Netflix while he worked. My contractions didn’t come back that day.
Sunday morning at 3:30 a.m. I woke to contractions again. I tried to go back to sleep, but they were painful enough that I couldn’t. I started tracking them, and by 5 a.m. my husband had woken up to me crying. For the first time I was scared of how things were about to change between us. We laid in bed talking as my contractions continued until he left for the hospital. My contractions at that point were not consistent, ranging from two minutes to five minutes apart and generally lasting about 45 seconds. I spent the time he was gone cleaning bathrooms and getting my hospital bag packed.
Around 11 a.m. I was in enough pain, and contractions were only two to three minutes apart still lasting around 45 seconds each. So, we called the hospital; they sounded skeptical that I needed to come in but said I could if I wanted to—just be prepared to be sent home. I did NOT think I would be going back home; I had, after all, been in labor for seven and a half hours and was in a fair amount of pain. We left the house in good spirits, excited that we would be having our baby!
At the hospital they led me back to a triage room to check my cervix. The resident commented on my “Good Luck” St. Patrick’s Day socks, making me feel silly for having worn them, especially after they told me I was only dilated to a 3.
They said that I could either walk around the hospital for two hours and get checked again to see if I was progressing, or I could go home and come back later. I was ready for my epidural at that point, so I chose to stay and try to dilate more. We walked all over that hospital in those two hours. We toured every deep hallway, rooftop, the on-call room my husband often sleeps in and everything in between. I would try to hide in doorways as I hunched over for each contraction, hiding from concerned looking patients and nurses walking by.
After two hours, sure that so many hard contractions had helped me get to the 4 centimeters I needed to be admitted, we trekked back to the triage room. When the resident checked me and told me I was still at a 3, it was all I could do not to start crying.
They told me I could be in the very early stages of labor, and this could go away completely—or I could continue contracting for three or four days like this. I was prescribed Percocet for the pain, Ambien to try to sleep and told to go home and try the “Italian Induction” (sex). So, we went home and followed the doctors orders, I took a bath to try to relax and then went back to bed—not in any less pain but much less steady on my feet due to the drugs I was assured would not harm my baby.
For the next five hours I didn’t sleep, and my contractions only intensified far beyond what I thought I would experience before an epidural, let alone still in my own bed. Those hours are a blur from the pain and the drugs, but finally around 9:15 p.m. I got up to use the bathroom and was bleeding quite a bit, so we decided to go back to the hospital. The car ride back to the hospital was short but not fun. This time I hobbled into the labor and delivery wing, and my husband did all the talking as I stood in the hallway doubled over.
They took me back into a room, and a new resident came in to check me. As I took my underwear off and she saw the blood, she looked alarmed and said, “Did that just start?” I told her it had just before we decided to come back to the hospital. She hurried out of the room, then came back and without explaining anything checked me. I was dilated to a five, and my water had broken. HALLELUJAH! I felt a new surge of energy and was sure that, yes, I could do this.
The nurse said we could get into a room and discuss pain management, and I cut her off saying, “I want the epidural!” I groaned from another contraction. It still took another hour and a half or so while I took the IV bag of fluids, the anesthesiologist was paged and the epidural was placed. The epidural itself didn’t hurt, but it did take longer than I thought it would to place. With my contractions coming less than a minute apart and stronger then ever, we had to stop often as I focused all of my energy on staying as still as possible.
The feeling I had after getting the epidural was one of the best physical feelings I’ve ever had: simply the absence of pain. After being in labor for 19 hours I was tired, and I finally felt my tense muscles relax. My husband pointed to the monitor and told me I was having what looked like my strongest contraction yet—and I only felt a little pressure! I laid in the hospital bed for the next hour shaking uncontrollably, just from labor shakes (which didn’t bother me at all) until I felt an intense pressure of something coming out of me. I called the resident who came in and said that it was my bag of waters, which had probably ruptured at the top, so the rest of it was coming out intact. She popped it and told me I was 10 centimeters dilated. The nurse suggested that we wait a little longer for the baby to labor down as far as possible from contractions so that I would not have to push as long.
Around 1:10 a.m. I started pushing with the nurse, and 20 minutes later the resident came back and seemed surprised at my progress. She paged the attending and got ready to deliver the baby. Because it was nighttime, only the doctor, two residents, my nurse and my husband were in the dark room with me, and it was so incredibly peaceful. I pushed for just over an hour, and Leah Christine was born at 2:15 a.m. Leah weighed in at 6 pounds, 3 ounces and measured 19 ¾ inches. She was beautiful.
Thanks to the epidural I could feel the pressure of each contraction, and the baby coming out, but none of the pain from the second degree tearing I experienced.
The doctor was amazing. She offered calm encouragement and matter-of-factly kept me updated with what was going on. After Leah was cleaned up, she even took the pictures of our new family in the hospital bed.
The residents stitched me up with the doctor’s instruction, while the nurse cleaned Leah and then while I tried to nurse her afterwards. I was so tired after 23 hours of labor that all I wanted to do was get to the recovery room to sleep, and around 5:30 a.m. that was exactly what we did!
Overall I had a great experience. Our doctor had a reassuring presence. The University of Iowa hospital was amazing in every sense, and I would definitely have another baby with them.
I was provided Dermoplast, ice packs, Epiduo foam (my favorite postpartum pain reliever), access to a lactation consultant, encouraged to take whirlpool baths several times a day and also able to use the nursery to catch up on sleep.
My biggest surprise was that I expected there to be less pain in early labor, and thought that right as things got bad I’d surely be able to have the epidural. I am so glad I got the epidural when I did, although I definitely wouldn’t have minded it earlier!
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