Like many things about having a baby, I spent a lot of my pregnancy being extremely worried about labor. At first, I didn’t let myself think about it. Then, after a while, I freaked out about not thinking about it. My fear and anxiety made me completely unable to write a birth plan — the options seemed so overwhelming, and I felt like it would be out of my control, no matter how much I planned.
But now, being on the other side of it… I know this is going to sound crazy, but giving birth was actually kind of an amazing experience. I wouldn’t want to do it every day, but in the end, I loved my birth experience and seriously feel like it couldn’t have gone better.
So, here’s what happened.
As I wrote about before, by Friday morning my due date had come and gone, and I was still pregnant, which is basically a form of slow psychological torture. I went to the doctor’s office that day, and by 12:30 p.m., my doctor had confirmed that I had made zero progress towards labor from the week before and wasn’t even close. I asked whether she thought the baby might come on his own over the weekend, and she told me no.
So I wrapped my mind around it: no baby this weekend. On one hand, I figured, that gave me and Chad one more weekend to sleep in and chill out. I called my parents and Chad’s parents, and told them they could relax: No baby in the immediate future.
Late Friday afternoon, I had to run an errand in our neighborhood, so I went for a long walk with Rambo. When I got home, around 7 p.m., I started feeling contractions. I figured they were just because I’d overdone it walking and would go away on their own — I kept telling Chad, “don’t worry, I’m definitely not in labor” — but I got out my contraction timer app and started tracking them.
Within about half an hour, they were about five minutes apart and lasting about 30 seconds. My doctor told me that I didn’t have to go to the hospital until they were five minutes apart, one minute long, and had been consistent for an hour, so I figured we had a little time.
So… we ordered pizza.
Yup, seriously. I was super nervous about not being able to eat anything during labor, so I wanted to make sure I had a hearty meal beforehand.
Maybe the dumbest decision I could have made.
But I didn’t know that at the time, so while we waited an hour for the pizza to be delivered, I got into our bathtub, put on some music and took a bubble bath.
And a word to the wise: If you’re ever in labor, get into the bathtub, pronto.
It. Is. Amazing. It seriously made my contractions about half as painful and was so relaxing and wonderful. My plan was to have dinner, go to the hospital, and immediately get into the labor tub, and hope that that would be enough for me to avoid (or at least delay) the epidural.
So I ate four slices of pizza, and then we called my doctor, who told us to head to the hospital.
At this point, it was about 9 p.m. and I’d been in labor for almost two hours with contractions that were less than five minutes apart. I kept telling Chad that we had plenty of time, that labor takes hours and hours, and that we weren’t in any rush. So I walked around our house for another half hour, taping up a box for UPS to pick up, paying a couple of bills, charging my cell phone, and generally not really progressing in the whole “going to the hospital” plan.
And some of my delay was rational — we live five minutes away from the hospital, so I wanted to spend as much time as possible at home before heading in. On the other hand, I can see in hindsight that a lot of my delay was also nerves — if I wasn’t at the hospital, I couldn’t possibly be having a baby tonight.
Finally, Chad put his foot down and got me into the car. As we checked in, the security person at the labor and delivery unit commented on how calm we were — I’d always imagined myself being rolled into the delivery room in a wheelchair, screaming and gasping for air, but the reality was more like: I’d smile, joke around for a few minutes, and then wince in pain and pace the hallway for a minute or so, and then go back to normal when the contraction ended.
Once we were checked in, we moved to an assessment room, and found out that I was 3 centimeters dilated and 90% effaced, and my contractions were three minutes apart. As of 12:30 p.m. that day, I’d been 1 cm dilated and 50% effaced, so at this point it was clear to everyone that I was actually in labor. I got admitted to the hospital and we started calling our parents to tell them this was really happening!
Since I was clearly in labor, my doctor approved me for getting an epidural as soon as we were admitted, but I wanted to hold out as long as I could in the hopes of having as natural a birth experience as possible. By the time we got to the delivery room, an hour had passed since we arrived at the hospital and I was 4 cm dilated, so we knew that things were moving pretty quickly. The resident who checked me offered to break my water to see if we could speed things up, but I said that I wanted to wait a while to see if it would happen on its own.
I asked if I could get into the tub, but we had to wait for approval from my doctor first. Unfortunately, my doctor was performing an emergency c-section on another patient, so this took quite a while. At that point, my contractions were pretty bad but not awful — I thought that if I could just get into the tub, I could probably handle them.
We had an awesome labor and delivery nurse who suggested different positions for me to try, and then got out a birth ball for me while we waited for the ok to get in the tub. Only… the second I sat down on it, my water broke. Good news, but also bad news: I was happy that it happened naturally, but it meant that the tub was off limits for the rest of labor and that my contractions got much, much stronger.
At this point, the whole experience becomes a blur from my perspective. Before my water broke, I was pacing around the room and having semi-normal conversations, but afterwards all I could do was lie in the bed and sort of clutch the railing.
Also: the puking. Remember how I ate four slices of pizza before heading to the hospital?
Oh. My. God. That was the worst idea ever.
In the history of the world, there may be no dumber idea than eating half a pizza immediately before going into labor. Because as my body started feeling like it was being ripped in half, my stomach had a perfectly natural response: Epic puking.
Basically every time I had a really bad contraction, my stomach turned. It was awful. Honestly, I think it may have been worse than the contractions, and after an hour or so, I just couldn’t take it anymore and asked for the epidural. If it had just been pain, I think I could have held out longer, but throwing up every five minutes was just too much.
However, if there’s one thing I learned during labor, it’s that anything that happens in a hospital takes a long time. I had to have fluids before I could get the epidural, and then it took a while for the anesthesiologist to get to the room, so more than a full hour passed between when I asked for the epidural and when it actually happened.
And that hour was maybe the most excruciating of my life. Our nurse gave me an anti-nausea drug, which helped a lot, but my contractions were almost constant and brutally painful. I just lay in the fetal position while Chad rubbed my shoulders and I tried to focus on keeping my body as calm as I could so the baby would be safe.
By the time the anesthesiologist arrived, I was 7 cm dilated. Now, if you’ve never been in labor, let me tell you: that is bananas far to go without an epidural. It’s all the way through “early labor” and “active labor” and into the beginning of a period called “transition,” for which I’ll spare you the details, but an acceptable description for “transition” would be “the part of labor where you wish for your own death.” In hindsight, I wish I’d asked for the epidural an hour earlier, but I’m also sort of proud that I held out as long as I did.
And, oh my gosh. The epidural is probably the single best invention of modern medicine.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I thought that my legs would be completely numb after I got it. But they weren’t — I could feel everything that happened, but the pain was probably 75% gone. I could still feel contractions, particularly on one side, but they were completely manageable.
But… about ten minutes after I got the epidural, Chad was looking at the baby’s heart rate monitor and suddenly looked worried.
I asked what was wrong, and the nurse was looking at me with the same expression. A minute later, the resident came into the room. Chad told me the baby’s heart rate had dropped, but he seemed to be recovering, and the doctor confirmed that I’d had five contractions that were almost back-to-back and the baby had gone into distress.
I was terrified, and also suddenly felt insanely guilty for getting the pain relief. I hated the idea that I’d taken medicine that relieved the pain of the contractions for me, but that they were still hurting the baby. But I did the only thing I could really do — I focused on relaxing my body as much as possible, so that he would stabilize.
And it worked. Within a minute, his heart rate was back to normal, and it didn’t dip dangerously for the rest of labor. I was so incredibly relieved — I kept asking Chad if his heart rate was ok every ten minutes from then on, and thankfully, the answer was always yes.
Everything went pretty fast after that, and an hour after getting the epidural, it was about 4 a.m. and I was dilated to 10 cm and ready to push.
Only… I didn’t have a doctor.
My doctor was still working on the emergency c-section, and the doctor who was scheduled to relieve her hadn’t arrived yet. I had our awesome nurse and the resident who’d checked on me throughout labor, but I knew that a lot could go wrong during this last stage, and I wanted my doctor, or at least one of her partners, to be there.
Our nurse started calling and trying to get someone to come down to our room, but it took two more hours to get a doctor there, in the room, ready to catch the baby.
Thanks to the epidural, I wasn’t in massive pain, and the baby was stable, so unfortunately, we were at the bottom of the priority list for the night.
On one hand, I do understand that my uncomplicated delivery was way less pressing than an emergency c-section…
On the other hand — two hours. Of trying to keep a baby in place who was ready to be born.
By six a.m., I was starting to freak out. I was worried that it wasn’t good for the baby to be in the birth canal for so long, even if his heart rate was stable. I was also getting more and more uncomfortable and feeling like my body was very ready to push him out. Chad says this is the moment where my mother instincts snapped into play, as in, find me a doctor NOW.
Fortunately, finally, the c-section ended, and my doctor’s partner, who’d taken over for her, came in to deliver the baby. She had me do one practice push, and told me that the baby was ten minutes away from being born.
And she was right: just a few pushes later, Dylan Bear Atlas came into the world at 7:01 a.m., perfectly safe and sound.
And my life will never be the same again.
Seeing his face for the first time was beyond incredible — after feeling him inside me for so long, I couldn’t believe that he was finally in my arms. I kept saying to Chad, “he’s perfect, he’s so perfect.” It was all I could think — that this amazing little creature in my arms was ours, that I loved him so much, and that he was so, so, so very perfect.
In the end, his birth was just about perfect too. Sure, there were some hiccups and some scary moments, but it went as well as I could have possibly hoped for. I’m very lucky that there were no complications and I was able to have a healthy, very nearly natural delivery, but the thing that mattered most to me was that he come into the world safely, and he did. Anything beyond that was just icing on the cake.
All in all, it was an amazing experience that I will never, ever forget.
So, welcome to the world, Baby Bear. We’re so happy you’re finally here.