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The Great Labor Adventure, part 1: Learning firsthand about contractions

Written by: Christopher January 18 2012 I hope you’re strapped in tight, because for the next few columns I’m taking you on a roller coaster ride. At the end of it, we’ve got ourselves a wondrous and beautiful baby, but it’ll be a bit of an adventure before the arrival. I awoke Christmas morning to...

Written by: Christopher

I hope you’re strapped in tight, because for the next few columns I’m taking you on a roller coaster ride. At the end of it, we’ve got ourselves a wondrous and beautiful baby, but it’ll be a bit of an adventure before the arrival.

I awoke Christmas morning to find Emily frantically flipping through a book that appeared to be about pregnancy. And the very first thought that jumped into my head was, “Oh no! My kid is going to have to share his day with baby Jesus!”

I asked Emily if she felt she was having contractions, but secretly hoped she had just decided to do some early morning speed reading. Emily admitted to having some cramping and feelings that were slightly different than what she’d been blessed with for the last several months. We remembered our prenatal class teacher guaranteeing us that we would know when it was the real thing, and so we were able to convince ourselves that this might just be the start of those “fake contractions” (and so we clung to the hope we’d have a New Year’s baby).

I know you’re all extremely smart readers, and you’re thinking, “Aha, those probably aren’t ‘fake contractions’ and it is time to be getting ready for a baby.” But we unfortunately didn’t have the advantage of a giant title at the start of an article announcing this was our labor story.

We enjoyed a wonderful Christmas at my parents, even though Emily had been experiencing some serious “cramps” throughout the day. She was exhausted and ready to head home, especially since we still had another Christmas party to host the next day (oh how little we knew). We said goodbye to our family and talked about doing a night of games later in the week (not knowing Emily would get all the activity she could ask for in a few hours). We arrived home with the goal of getting several hours of refreshing sleep and be prepared for another great day of partying.

Except when midnight rolled around, Emily couldn’t sleep because the “cramps” were getting much worse. These apparent cramps would spike in pain for a minute or so, then leave for a few minutes—you know, sort of like what we were told contractions would do. By the time 2:30 a.m. rolled around, we had not gotten any sleep and were starting to think we may have been wrong about that whole “fake contractions” thing. I found myself desperately scouring through all our prenatal class notes trying to remind myself of the stages and signs of real labor. I also found myself really wishing I didn’t keep on allowing Stephen King to win against The Birth Partner Handbook every evening before bed (but I was supposed to have nine more days to finish that book!).

After reading all the pamphlets and notes we could find, we decided Emily wasn’t fitting the description of any the stages perfectly and maybe this wasn’t real labour (maybe she just ate too much turkey?). At this point, Emily didn’t really care if it was real or fake, because either way, it hurt, so she was going to sit on the toilet and practice her breathing methods. I was going to keep track of the length of these (maybe fake but seemingly pretty real) contractions and the amount of time there was between each one. My recordings showed that they were all over the place with some contractions lasting for 30 seconds while one decided to stick around for 2 minutes (Emily got to practice lots of good breathing during that one), and the time between them was just as varied, ranging from 3 minutes to 7 minutes apart. The whole time I was thinking, “These can’t be it, because they’re too sporadic. Or if they are it, this is just the very beginning, but if these are just the beginning then how is my wife going to have enough air to get through the real contractions?”

The magic “4-1-1” had still not arrived (contractions 4 minutes or less apart; contractions lasting a minute; this going on for an hour), but by 4:00 a.m. Emily decided it was time to call our midwife. It was the expression on my wife’s face and the tone in her voice that let me know that this had to be the real thing. My wife is one tough cookie and would rather faint than ever let anyone get any indication she was in pain. I could tell this was hurting her, and I knew this meant she was experiencing something unbearable (likely the type of pain that would have sent me cowering in the corner and non-stop sobbing for my mommy). Even though we were supposed to make the call at “4-1-1”, I knew the time was now.

Our midwife was marvelous, but she also was waiting for the magical “4-1-1”. She assured me that we should be able to set our watch to the contractions, and since they were so inconsistent that this meant either it was false labor or the early stages. She recommended Emily sit in a full bathtub and hopefully it would ease things enough so that she could finally get some sleep. I then started doubting myself and thinking this whole night may have just been one giant and tiring dress rehearsal (or in Emily’s case, an undressed rehearsal). We followed her advice, and started dreading what the “real thing” would be like if the “fake contractions” were such an ordeal.

The contractions eased in the tub, but they never fully disappeared. Emily decided she might be able to get some sleep if they remained at their current level, and so sleep is what we did. Well, it is what I did. I was conked out after several hours of telling my wife to breath and jotting down times in a notebook. My wife felt a massive increase of pain when she laid down, and decided to resume the comfort position of sitting on the toilet. She let out moans of agony, while I accompanied her with snores of deep sleep. Yeah, I owe my wife big.

Emily finally decided I’d napped enough, and it was time to get me to call the midwife again. This time the midwife got to hear Emily let out moans that would scare a ghost. This was enough to convince her that “4-1-1” may not apply this time around and she needed to get to our home right now. I was left thinking, “So much for those ‘fake contractions.’”

Tune in Friday to read what happened next!

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