Black Friday Special: Cormac Arrives!
Of all the things I had planned for the Friday after Thanksgiving, labor and delivery was not one of them. Baby McCarthy made a most unexpected appearance almost a week ahead of schedule. It was not at all what I expected and, at the same time, much more than I could have hoped for. For posterity’s sake, I want to record the experience as I remember it…. so, what follows contains some pretty graphic labor and delivery details.
Part 1: Is This Really Labor?
DH and I had decided to spend Thanksgiving in Chicago, considering how close it was to my due date of December 4. We spent the day relaxing and went to see The Hunger Games 2 in the early afternoon. We split a giant bucket of popcorn and snuck in our own candy and soda from the 7 Eleven across the street. After the movie, we spent the rest of the afternoon cooking our Thanksgiving feast: red wine braised beef short ribs, roasted acorn squash, Italian stuffing, roasted brussel sprouts and pumpkin bread pudding with vanilla ice cream! It was delicious! What is it they say about spicy foods jumpstarting labor? I had felt fine all day with no signs of labor beginning, but it must have been something in that spicy Italian stuffing that had just the right amount of kick to it…
We went to bed early (9:30pm) since DH had to work on Friday, and I had planned on spending the next day cleaning the house and preparing for the arrival of my mother the following Saturday. She would be driving up from Atlanta to hang out with me while waiting for the baby to arrive, and help out afterwards. Little did we know…
I woke up at about 11:30pm that night with mild cramps in my lower abdomen and lay awake for a little while just feeling them. Not really painful, but also not something I had felt in the last 9 months. About 11:45pm, I felt a gush of fluid and literally jumped out of bed to find my pj pants soaked. Had my water just broken? I wasn’t sure…. The fluid seemed to stop, but I was still experiencing cramps. If this was it, I thought to myself, all the classes told us I should just try to go back to sleep and stay home as long as I could. So, that’s just what I did: got back in bed and tried not to disturb DH. But I couldn’t fall back asleep. The cramping had gotten a little stronger, so I pulled out my phone and opened up a contraction timing app I had downloaded a couple days prior. I tried to start timing the cramps (I didn’t believe they were actually contractions), but they seemed irregular and sometimes extended or coupled together, and they didn’t seem to follow a “wave-like” pattern as I had been told. By this time, I could feel them in my lower back as well as abdomen and they were becoming a little more noticeable, although I was still recording them in my app as “mild”.
About an hour later (12:30am) I finally got up to go to the bathroom and noticed what must have been the mucous plug. At that point, it was slowly starting to sink in that this really might be the beginning of labor. I remember taking it very matter-of-factly, as though going into labor was a normal midnight activity for me. I was a little excited, a little nervous, but also trying to moderate my emotions, thinking that I still had several hours of work ahead and needed to conserve energy. The pain was becoming more noticeable, but I also didn’t want to underestimate what might be ahead so I kept reassuring myself that this was no worse than normal menstrual cramps and went back to bed.
Part 2: Kick It Up a Notch
By about 1:30am, I was pretty much convinced I was in labor (can you tell it took a long time for this to really sink in?) but still decided to get up out of bed and Google some details about water breaking because I still wasn’t sure if that had actually happened. Even though with every strong cramp there was still fluid leaking and I had already probably gone through about 3 pairs of pajama pants…. I just wasn’t convinced! Silly me. After perusing a few forums online, I finally stood up from my computer…. and an even larger gush of fluid poured onto the carpet. OK, I thought, that was definitely it. The cramps were strong enough at this point that I felt like I could call them real contractions and decided to call my midwife.
I called the answering service and my favorite midwife called back about 5 minutes later (I have to note it was my favorite midwife, because the practice I was going to had 7 and it could have been any of them on call when I went into labor. I am SO thankful it was the one I liked best!) I told her my water had just broken (it was about 2am) and she said to just do what I had been doing: hang home, keep timing contractions, and call again when she went off call at 8am to talk to the next midwife on shift. She predicted they would want me to come in by 2pm at the latest (12 hours from water breaking, even though it had ). At that point, the fluid was clear and I was negative for Group B Strep so there were no concerns for infection. So, I hung up and tried to get a little more geared up for later.
I called my mother next. It was 3am her time (in Georgia) but she answered right away. I was disappointed to have to tell her that I was in labor, since I had asked her to be a part of the labor and delivery as my birth coach and she had been planning to be there the very next day! Nonetheless, she sprung into action and started packing to make the trip to Chicago later that morning, as it was really beginning to look like I was going to have the baby in the next several hours. At one point, she asked me why I was breathing so heavily and I said of course I was breathing through contractions. Even at that point I was still classifying them as “mild” (trying to mentally prepare myself!), but she seemed to sense this was a tell-tale sign that things were moving more quickly than expected.
Next, I decided to wake up DH. He had woken up slightly the first couple times I got out of bed (I startled him pretty good the first time I said “I think my water just broke”), but this time he really woke up and got out of bed to join me in the living room where I was pacing through contractions. I asked him to help time, but it was still a little difficult for me to track them as they came irregularly — sometimes quickly and one after the other, sometimes a longer break. On average, they were probably lasting 45 seconds and coming 5 minutes apart at that point. All the classes we’d been to had said to follow the “411” or “511” rule (5 minutes apart, 1 minute long for 1 hour), but my midwife group had advised the “312” rule for a first labor (3 minutes apart, 1 minute long for 1-2 hours). So, that’s what I was waiting for.
The next couple hours were a bit of a blur. I got in and out of the shower several times to help soothe the pain and this did help, but only temporarily. Once out of the shower, I would be pacing through contractions, walking up and down the hallway slowly and trying to breathe deeply. I vaguely remember DH lying on the couch in the living room watching The Hobbit. I pulled out the birthing ball at one point and leaned over it, seeming to remember this pose from one of the classes we took and hoping it would get baby into the right position for delivery, but found it increasingly uncomfortable. At some point, the contractions took a noticeable shift into a more vice-like pain that required me to stand still or rock and concentrate on breathing through them. By this time, my mother had called to confirm that she bought a plane ticket to arrive by noon that day and I was relieved thinking that she would at least be present for the end of my labor/delivery.
But things took a decided shift. I remember sitting in the shower with the water pouring over me and the strength of a contraction suddenly felt like an urge to push. Up to this point, I hadn’t really been vocalizing through the pain but it suddenly seemed very natural to make noise. I got out of the shower again and tried to keep walking around, pausing with each contraction to moan, lean over or squat and trying to resist that growing urge to bear down. I wasn’t sure why it felt that way and didn’t know how long it was going to last, but I was beginning to feel as though I couldn’t stand it much longer. It was probably 4:30am at this point, and DH decided he needed some caffeine if we were really in for a full day of labor. I gave him the go-ahead to leave the house and get some energy drinks. While he was out, I called and asked him to get some Gatorade. I hadn’t really been drinking anything since I woke up at midnight and realized I was really thirsty. While he was out, however, the pain really picked up. By the time he got back, I was in the shower again, squatting and groaning through each contraction. He came into the bathroom and found me in that pose, and when I looked up to see him come in I told him in no uncertain terms that we needed to go to the hospital. NOW. I had been timing my contractions but not really paying attention to the length and frequency. Looking back at the app now, they were about 1 minute long and no more than 2.5/3 minutes apart. Things had progressed much more quickly than expected, although I don’t think I realized exactly how quickly. All I knew at the time was that I needed to get to the hospital.
It took me a little while to put on clothes and grab what I could for my hospital bag, which was only partially packed (I had expected to finish packing it the next day!). I had to ask DH to call the midwife to let her know we were coming in because I couldn’t talk through the contractions. At that point, she could hear me groaning through the phone and gave us the ok to come in (we would have gone whether she did or not, I was not staying home any longer!). It took me a little while to get into the car and I was dreading the ride. Sitting down felt excruciating as it only increased the urge to bear down through each contraction. The car ride to the hospital was only 10 minutes, but with 3 contractions to sit through it felt like forever. I was practically holding myself off the seat with my arms, worrying the whole time about the fluid that continued to leak through my pants and onto the seat. I remember thinking, if this pain gets any worse I won’t be able to keep going without an epidural. I had planned for a natural delivery all along, but at that point I was really beginning to think I wouldn’t last.
Part 3: This is IT!
When we got in the vicinity of the hospital, DH couldn’t find the entrance right away and in between contractions I had to direct him to the valet drive-up to enter triage. I could barely force myself to get out of the car and once we got to the reception desk I could barely stand up to give the receptionist my information. I remember thinking she was moving far too slowly while talking to a woman who was obviously in labor. As I feared, a contraction hit as I was standing there and I couldn’t help but groan through it. There was a man and his young daughter sitting in the waiting room outside triage — I distinctly remember the little girl giving me an odd look as I groaned through contractions. Finally a nurse came out to usher me into a triage room. Once there, it took all of my effort to disrobe and get into a hospital gown. Who knew changing clothes could be so hard! Well, we were about to find out why. As soon as they checked me, it was confirmed that I was already at 10 centimeters and the baby was at +2 station. No wonder I kept feeling that urge to push — because it was time to push!
They kept me on the gurnee and began rushing up to the delivery floor. As we were passing by another triage room, my midwife stepped out and caught my eye. She looked a little confused and asked where they were taking me — one of the nurses said something about a Dr. Starr. The midwife immediately said, “Wait, aren’t you my patient?” When I nodded in confusion, she grabbed my hand and we headed for the elevator. Turns out they hadn’t notified her I had arrived and was already “complete”. A contraction hit while we were in the elevator and she could tell I was pushing — everyone in the elevator at that point was telling me NOT to push. I think I looked at them like they were crazy.
When we got to the delivery room, the situation started to calm down a bit. The midwife and a nurse helped me get into the bed, strapped on a fetal monitor and gave me instructions for pushing through each contraction. I couldn’t believe it was happening so quickly. I had honestly expected to get to the hospital and have to wait for another several hours before this happened. But I didn’t really have time to consider it — and for that I am grateful. Everything happened so quickly, there was no question that it was going to be a 100% natural labor and delivery. There wasn’t even time/need for an IV.
And so the pushing began… at this point, my contractions were still painful but had changed pace and seemed more manageable. However, the urge to push was still strong and consistent. The midwife, nurse and even DH had to talk me through NOT pushing without a contraction. I moved from a side-lying position to squatting with a bar while DH held me under my arms. I should mention at this point that DH was an incredible support throughout the entire process, and so encouraging. He held me through the every contraction, squeezed my hand in between, reminded me to breathe, brought me water and generally provided the kind of support I needed to get through it. And this is guy who insisted his role in the birth of our child would be to sit in the waiting room with a cigar. 🙂
I don’t know exactly how much time passed (when time is counted by contractions, it could be 5 minutes or 5 hours), but at one point I remember feeling frustrated at lack of progress. I knew from our classes that the baby’s head would move slowly through the birth canal, moving slightly down with each push and then shifting up again. It felt excruciatingly slow. But the midwife was very encouraging and finally pulled over a mirror so that I could see what was going on. If you had asked me before labor whether or not I wanted to see what was going on, the answer would have been NO. But, at the time, I couldn’t have cared less what I was looking at except that I could see my baby’s head becoming more and more visible with each push. Even seeing this, it still felt too slow. I wanted him out right away! Especially with his head just sitting there, about to come out (at the stage they call the “ring of fire”) I could barely keep from pushing just to get past that point. I’m sure he was only sitting there for about a minute, but it felt like forever.
Part 4: He’s Here!
Finally, finally, finally. That’s all I could think when the midwife excitedly told me that the baby’s head was out. I vaguely remember her saying something about the cord being wrapped around his neck twice, but it took her mere seconds to remove it before she told me to reach down and grab his shoulders. With two gentle pulls, I brought his little body to my chest. He looked a little purple, but started crying almost immediately and I was in awe that this little person had been inside of me. I had expected to cry, but I think I was too dehydrated for the tears to come. All I could to was smile at him, so glad that he was finally here! I remember smiling at DH, but I don’t recall if either of us said anything. I was just so relieved that the pushing was over and we were finally meeting our son. It was a wonderful moment. He stayed on my chest for half an hour while the midwife delivered the placenta and sewed up a tear. The pressure she used on my labor abdomen to get the uterus to contract was almost more annoying than contractions themselves, but probably only because I was so absorbed with looking at my son and didn’t want to be distracted.
The nurse finally took him over to the warmer to weigh and measure him. He promptly peed on her. DH was very proud. As they cleaned up the delivery room and prepared to move me to a recovery room, I still couldn’t believe it had happened to quickly. We hadn’t even gotten our hospital bags out of the car! DH was concerned with getting the car out of valet, and so at one point I was left alone in the delivery room with my newborn son, but I didn’t really care. Just looking at him was enough. A nurse finally came in to help clean me up, and then they brought in a wheelchair to bring us up to the postpartum floor.
Looking back, the entire process of labor and delivery was a huge blessing. It happened sooner than expected, and was much, much shorter than expected and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Not once did the question of medical interventions come into play, and the pain was not what I had expected anyway. Although my mother wasn’t able to be there, it gave DH the chance to step into the role of birth coach, and I couldn’t have done it without him. I was able to deliver with my favorite midwife, and this made me feel so much more comfortable through the entire process.
We are thanking God for all of these blessings and especially for the arrival of our healthy son! He was officially nameless for 24 hours, but that’s a story for another post…