I probably should’ve known something was up when I found myself scrubbing the bathroom floor with my go-to “Grace means business” bathroom cleaner (baby wipes) at 4:30 in the morning on Sunday, December 30. I was 37 weeks and one day along, and I don’t want to gross anyone out (so I won’t mention the fact that I had lost my mucus plug two days prior). This had been a sure sign that labor was impending with the other two kids, but I had read enough “Am I in labor?” and “When will I go into labor?” forums with the other two kids to know that plugs can easily reform themselves—so losing it could mean absolutely nothing. I won’t get too graphic, but my OB had checked me (code for “checked my cervix”) on Wednesday, and I was barely 1 cm dilated and 50 percent effaced (I think?).
Anyway, back to the floor scrubbing. I had been sort of nesting—buying enough groceries to feed a family of 90, taking lots of bump pictures for preservation and posterity, putting up a pack-and-play in the guest room—for the majority of the pregnancy; while I’m no seasoned veteran of a mother, my memory is sharp enough to know that newborns are life-bombs and that they leave no time to be deep cleaning any bathrooms or buying any food or anything at all for many, many moons after their arrival. I finished cleaning, ignored several strong Braxton Hicks because I always have strong Braxton Hicks from about 20 weeks onward, and scheduled a blog post because my priorities are my priorities.
Normal Sunday activities commenced: Mass and cafeteria doughnuts with a splash of spontaneity … a stop at the mall to walk and see if maybe the contractions would pick up? Not really. We came home and put our other two kids down for their naps.
I went upstairs to lie down, and right as my head hit the pillow—BOOM—a gush of too much fluid to be one of those unfortunate “whoops, that sneeze/laugh/cough/vomit was too violent, and I may have urinated myself just a little bit” occurrences. Anyway, could it be? A broken water of my very own? My husband Simon was at the foot of the bed, and he confirmed my suspicion … totally broken. It was mostly clear with a tinge of pink and no meconium, which is all very good.
We didn’t freak, but the result of my strep B test wasn’t back yet. Simon didn’t want to dilly dally in case I did need a dose of antibiotics before I delivered, so I started texting sitters while packing my bag. We lucked out and found one that could come for an indefinite period of time. This was probably my biggest worry regarding the arrival of baby No. 3, so I was really grateful and relieved to find someone who the kids loved. We left around 3 p.m. while the kids were still sleeping—but not before taking some pictures of course!
My contractions were picking up, and I continued to leak fluid. But I wasn’t in any real pain, and I most definitely wasn’t in any sort of active labor. We debated going back to the mall to do more walking but then remembered that we were paying a sitter and decided to go straight to the hospital. I got all gowned up and checked in and checked by a nice nurse who declared me to be an exciting 2 cm. I think my uterus got performance anxiety because the contractions tapered off and all but disappeared. A different nurse came and put in my IV, which wasn’t awful. She likened my veins to “thick ropes” (vomit, shudder, look away) and had no trouble getting it in and cautioned that I not look at my arm for a few due to all the blood. No problem.
There was a lot of confusion as to what doctor to call for orders, so after an eternity of popsicle eating and texting the sitter because I was a really annoying Nervous Nell about the kids, I finally got started on Pitocin around 6 p.m.
Simon left around 7 p.m. to help put the kids down for bed. (I was super emotional and concerned about their wellbeing and insisted.) Simon asked that I hold off on the epidural till he got back, so that he didn’t look like a deadbeat.
Well just as soon as the Pitocin got kicked up to a four (what this means, I know not), I began sweating and heavy breathing through the contractions and went ahead and waved my white flag and put myself on the list for the juice. I was at a very impressive 4 cm. I texted Simon that I had done so, and he said to try and wait.
My new (young and very sweet) nurse said the anesthesiologist was ready and waiting. But I explained that Simon wanted to be there, so she held her off for a few because she is the nicest human ever. Simon zoomed in, and they made him sit during the procedure. My feet were sopping wet with sweat at this point because the contractions were painful and close together, and feet sweating is my coping mechanism. You ladies that go all-natty (i.e., all natural) with your births, you are amazing and heroic and out of your damn minds. Never will I ever. No shame in my cowardly and comfortable game.
My epidural placements were virtually painless with the other kids, and this one was no different. Painless with just a little pressure, started working almost immediately and came complete with a button to push if I felt like I needed more of the magic.
Simon got some food, I ate more popsicles, and we watched “The Office.”
Finally around 10 p.m., I was declared to “have no cervix left!” Yee haw. The same doctor that had delivered my son Sebastian was on call again (and I really like her), so she got there around 10:45 p.m. and the pushing began.
B-b-b-back up for a warm minute real quick. Everyone kept saying that I was just going to “sneeze that baby out” and that there was “no way” I would deliver the baby on December 31st. The nurse was even worried about a possible precipitous delivery (which I was not looking forward to because the residents on call that cover precips were male, and I know them and … no). I didn’t even do any practice pushing because, well, third babies just slide right out, right? Right.
I was getting ready to push, and everyone was talking about just how fast that baby was going to slip out, and I was fake laughing and begging people not to jinx me—because he/she wasn’t out yet. So we started pushing. I say “we” because it feels like a team effort with all those eyes on the prize and someone doing basic counting for you, someone else cheering you on and at least one person helping hold a leg. It became pretty apparent that this wasn’t going to be a Sebastian—push two times and out he slides—situation because the good doctor kept fiddling around with Theo’s (not-yet-even-kind-of-emerged) head with great concentration.
More pushing, counting, cheering. No baby. The doctor was still in her graphic tee and showed no signs of gowning up for any sort of delivery, so I was getting slightly discouraged and started profusely apologizing. Was I a bad pusher? They exist! Had the third baby thrown me into “bad pusher” camp? Simon assured me that I wasn’t but that maybe I should focus more of my energy on pushing and less of my energy scrunching my face while pushing.
More pushing sans face scrunching, counting, cheering and apologizing on my part. No baby. More fiddling with the head that was very much sunny side up and would not flip around. I was getting really, really tired because I was pushing really, really hard. I asked for water because I was starting to feel like I might die of Parched Mouth Disease. One year I ran four marathons, and I remember thinking that birthing a baby had to be way easier than running a ‘thon. Snort. My current self was cursing my former self at this point because what did she know?
There was never any mention of using forceps or a vacuum … or going back to “get sectioned,” as they say, but I didn’t know how much longer I could push with all my popsicle-fueled strength. I was also starting to feel about as self-conscious as one does when she has her legs super splayed in front of almost perfect strangers. Simon was being really encouraging and said I was doing great (lie). I kept asking him if I was getting close, but he said he really couldn’t see (possible lie, still not sure). It was nearing midnight, and there was a lot of nervous laughter and talk that the baby “sure was stubborn” and that maybe the baby would hold off till December 31st. (I was thinking we passed “stubborn” 87 pushes ago—I’d moved onto “head shaped like a hammer” and was about to throw this into “maybe the baby has antlers?” territory.) I couldn’t even muster a fake laugh as I had to reserve all of my energy to continue to inefficiently push hammerhead out.
Finally, one of the nurses went over to the baby warmer and started folding blankets, so I pushed as hard as I possibly could. The doctor said to stop. She covered up her street clothes and had me push one more time, and out he came face up! Miracle. Less than 10 percent of babies that are flipped actually come out sunny-side up, so I guess you could say I’m a rare form of beast.
I don’t want to play favorites, but I was never so happy to see a baby emerge from my person. She held him up, and I saw that he was most definitely a boy. I was stunned. I had to ask Simon because I didn’t remember if they put him on my chest right away but they didn’t because his face was black and blue.
It was ugly. I was pretty convinced there was something very wrong with him because he looked terrible. A nice lady came and looked him over and said he was fine, and I started crying the ugly, happy kind of tears that I’ve never ever cried before.
The doctor said I wouldn’t need any repairs, which super shocked me after the pushing decathlon from hell, but I wasn’t about to beg for stitches. On a scale of 1 to Terrible Mother, how awful would it be to jest, “a face only a mother could love”?
His right eye was swollen completely shut, and the ride side of his tongue was really bruised. But he didn’t cry 1/100th as much as my daughter did when she made her earthly debut. Everyone that came into my hospital room over the next few days kept saying how handsome he was, which I’d say was a bit of an embellishment.
But everyone also said it would get better—and it did (just not here, quite yet).
Find more Patton family stories at Grace’s blog: camppatton.com.
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