My first pregnancy was a roller coaster of unplanned, fast-paced, busyness. We found out we were expecting our first baby just two months after our wedding – a discovery that was not planned or anticipated and did not come at our idea of ‘perfect timing.’ But, God’s ideas are always so.much.better and I rested in that as I read my first and only pregnancy test. We were excited none the less and we took every opportunity to create the most financially stable, loving, safe home to bring our new baby into we could within the next 9 months. I worked three jobs, often 6-7 days/week, while maintaining an active lifestyle and settling in to the newness of married life, living together, etc. Together, we paid off our wedding, honeymoon, and built up a (albeit small) savings.
Being prone to anxiety and over-analyzing, I approached labor and delivery very differently than I ever anticipated I would. More time was spent researching car seats, strollers, sleep sacks, bath tubs, packing hospital bags, # of receiving, best diapers/wipes, etc., than was ever spent researching labor and delivery. We did not attend a birthing class (initially because of scheduling conflicts) but also because I knew if I were presented with TOO much information on the topic, I would over-analyze and anticipate. I would develop preconceived expectations for how labor and delivery would/should go. I would allow myself fear and anxiety, and possibly disappointment, WHEN labor and delivery presented differently than I imagined. I firmly believe God uses a beautiful myriad of ways to bring precious babies into the world safely. I planned to trust God and trust doctors if/when the time came to make difficult decisions regarding how our baby would enter the world; none of them making me less a mother or less a woman. A sweet friend who delivered a few months before me, gave me her birth class workbook to read. I skimmed and developed a few questions for my doctor(s). I decided I would plan for a natural child birth and I would nurse following delivery. I detached myself from any other details and left the rest up to God.
All of the pregnant women surrounding me and much of the talk surrounding due dates with first time labor led me to firmly believe I would be delivering my baby after, if not well past my due date. I refused to allow myself to get super excited over a dubious date, only to be crushed with overwhelming disappointment when we would fail to meet our baby for days if not weeks later. So, despite having a perfectly handwritten hospital bag checklist, I refrained from actually packing my bag. I planned lunch dates w/ coworkers/friends and scheduled work days and meetings well past my due date. A night of hour long braxton-hicks contractions about 2 weeks prior to our due date had my husband dressed with his hospital bag packed…while I sat on the couch watching tv, scrolling through FB :D.
On June 23rd, 2016, I woke up feeling like any other day, did 8 mi on my elliptical, ate breakfast, got ready for work, and had a very busy workday where I felt per usual. At 5:10 pm I sat down at my desk to finish the day’s worth of charts when I felt a huge gush of fluid exit my body onto the chair. Everyone else in the office had left for the day. I sat there for a moment completely still, alone, feeling my heart begin to race. I slowly opened my legs to see enough fluid to coat the chair, but surely this could not be my water breaking, right?! It was not as significant as what it seems in movies/shows. It was not preceded with any particular ‘feeling.’ It was less than dramatic on appearance. I walked out onto the nursing floor and used the restroom before grabbing one of the nurses and asking her to come with me. I showed her the chair and asked her if she thought my water had just broken. She felt pretty confident it had, hugged me, and waited as I called my doctor (after calling my husband of course). The doctor on call advised me to come in. I let my husband know and proceeded to finish charting followed by heading across the street to complete some work at an acute care hospital in the area. If I was indeed in labor, I could not go on maternity leave for 3 months without completing my work, right!? Contractions had begun around 5:40 pm but were merely pulses/tightening in my abdomen. I was at a hospital and believed I was safe. I finished all my work and made the 40 min drive home.
Opening the door to our house, I was met by a very eager, very anxious husband, bag at the ready, crying out”Lets go! I cannot believe you stayed at work!” I on the other hand, felt we had time and proceeded to shower and grab my things. We prayed, took a few ‘on the way to the hospital’ pictures, and kept smiling and giggling giddily to each other. I had never felt so utterly excited in my life. We arrived at the hospital, contractions steady but very bearable, and were admitted to a room to be examined. One of the sweetest, most Godly women I have had the pleasure of knowing happened to be my midwife for the evening – everything felt ‘right.’ After examination and waiting on results we discovered my water did not in fact break, I was 2 cm dilated, contracting regularly…and had to be sent home. I felt my high slowly fading. The contractions were not painful and I reverted back into my belief that we would not meet our baby until after our due date. We went home, had dinner, watched a favorite show, and went to bed. Looking back, I find our brains and our ability to convince ourselves otherwise against facts, incredible. I convinced myself I was not in labor. I did not want to believe I was in labor, only to be let down. I did not want to go to the hospital, only to be sent home again. I did not want to allow myself the overwhelming excitement at getting to meet our baby, only to discover I would have to wait longer. So, when the contractions intensified at 10:45 pm, I gripped the side of the bed and breathed silently, for fear of waking my sleeping husband who had to wake up early for work the next morning…:D 😀 :D. Our brains are miraculous, right?
The night progressed on as I seemed to doze in and out between contractions. I continued to leak fluid to the point of laying a towel down in our bed and changing my clothes twice. The hospital had given me a checklist to review. It advised if you were experiencing =/>3 of the items on the checklist, you should return. By 5:30 am, I woke Ryan to tell him my contractions were less than 4 minutes apart, longer in duration and intensity, and I had been progressively leaking tons of fluid all night long. I qualified for three items on the checklist however could not be sure my water had broken with all of the fluid I continued to lose. I knew risk of infection once your water does break is greater, so I called the midwife to get her advice. She advised me to return. Back to the hospital we went. Contractions were painful but not unbearable. This time they placed us in a small exam room, monitored contractions, cm dilated, and assessed for amniotic sac rupture. Unfortunately I was 4.5 cm dilated with an intact amniotic sac. I could walk around the hospital to “hang out” waiting for labor to progress enough to be admitted, or I could go home and wait there. We were living about 5 min from the hospital at the time, so we got back in our car, again, and went home…after stopping at McDonald’s so Ryan could get some pre-labor fuel :D.
At home, we set ourselves up on the couch, Ryan blended me a large cup of shaved ice, and we settled into cuddles and a movie. I remember wondering how some women eat during labor as I felt no sensation of hunger. With every contraction, I would ask Ryan to squeeze my leg as hard as he could. The pressure of his hand mentally relieved some of the pressure in my abdomen and cervix. Without taking any birthing classes or doing much research, we did not learn any cool/helpful partnering tips/tricks for assisting with labor. So in pure Cathryn and Ryan fashion, we made up our own and it worked for us. By 11:45 the contractions were so intense, I could no longer focus on a movie. I had developed an intense, sharp pain in my bladder that persisted between contractions. It made moving or attempting to use the bathroom more painful than any of the contractions. I stopped taking fluids and attempted to use my exercise ball to bounce on. The nurse had said “come back when you do not feel you can walk any more.” As supremely helpful as this recommendation was, I could not help but laugh sarcastically at the image of my husband attempting to piggy back my 39 week pregnant self out to the car and through the hospital parking lot. By 12:45 pm, the further intensified contractions and pain in my bladder felt as though they may double me over. We headed back to the hospital. The 5-min car ride felt like an eternity. I have often made the same drive since and remember how every stretch of road and every turn seemed as though they would never end. We walked from the parking garage to the entrance of labor and delivery, with me gripping guard rails/poles/trash cans thru each contraction along the way. I had previously worked in this same hospital and knew there were windows on some floors that overlooked the parking lot we were navigating through. I laughed to myself thinking how some physician or employee was likely looking out on my current reality, on their way to assess a patient or get lunch before the cafeteria closed.
We arrived in Labor and Delivery and they began my intake; assessing weight, vitals. I remember tears welling in my eyes as I stepped off the scale on the cusp of another contraction. The nurse asked me if I was alright and I tearfully looked up at her and said, “please don’t send me home again.” They assured me this was the real deal and I felt a sense of relief and newness of energy. We got comfortable in our hospital room, me in bed and Ryan in reclining chair. They found I was dehydrated and encouraged fluids. I told them of the knife-like pain in my bladder that had caused me to defer fluids for hours prior. They hooked me up to IV fluids and listened encouragingly as I told them of my natural birth plan, declining epidural. We answered questions and told them we did not yet know the sex of our baby but had names for each gender decided. Staff was nearly giddy with excitement exclaiming, “we never get to experience birth with moms this way! this is so fun!” Their excitement was a contagious breath of fresh air from the defeat I had felt after two prior hospital trips and a long morning of waiting to get here; to this point where I felt meeting my baby was coming to fruition. The following ~9 hours were a blur. Family, friends, and coworkers texted back and forth – most of which I realized days later I barely responded to. I continued to leak fluid without amniotic sac rupture, soaking the bed and attempting to change the bed pads myself. I welcomed the pina colada flavored shaved ice only to find that within those 9 hours I had consumed maybe 1 ounce. I had to encourage Ryan around 6 pm to allow his mom to bring him food. He felt guilty for eating while I labored but I wanted him to feel happy and energized. Food was of no interest to me anyway. Ryan watched the Orioles game, squeezing my legs during contractions, and I squeezed the rail of the bed, breathing deeply w/ closed eyes. When I feel pain or sadness or struggle, my tendency is to revert inward. Labor was no different. I welcomed the silence of Ryan watching the game and staff keeping their distance. I remember being surprised at my lack of desire or inability to be one of the laboring pregnant women who moves into multiple positions, walks the halls, does squats. The persistent knife like pain in my bladder between contractions disallowed relief. The doctor came in to assess me around 9:30 pm. My amniotic sac remained intact and I was 8 cm dilated. I allowed her to break the sac. The pain in my bladder was relieved instantly and I felt amazing; as though I could conquer another 10 hrs of labor as long as that pain did not return. No one has given me a scientific explanation for this pain but my unprofessional reasoning after labor and being told I was “incredibly full of fluid,” is: the pressure of my incredibly fluid filled amniotic sac was impinging upon my bladder, causing persistent knife like pain. Once the sac was ruptured and fluid was dispersed, the pain was relieved. They gave me a peanut ball and instructed me to lay on my right side, ball between my legs, and squeeze the ball as tight as I could during contractions to further efface on the right side, advancing me the last 2 cm. They instructed me to stop and call the nurse as soon as I felt the urge to push. Up to that moment, pre-peanut ball, the mere idea of pushing sounded horrible, as though all the organs in my abdomen would burst if I were to push.
At 10:30, on the cusp of my next contraction, the urge to push was incredible, like if I did not push, the pressure would explode within me. I quickly asked Ryan to call the nurse. I vaguely remember him dashing out of the room calling for someone. He was so nervous, he forgot I had a call bell :D. Within moments they were each at my bedside; the also pregnant nurse donning gloves and instructing me to raise my legs, instructing Ryan to grab my left leg while she grabbed my right. My split second thoughts were: “Ryan was supposed to stay near my head!,” “Oh gosh, I did not shave my legs!,” “I am going to kick this nurse in her pregnant belly, this is not a good idea!” The following contraction quickly silenced these thoughts as I began pushing, bearing down through my legs and listening to the encouragement of my husband and this nice stranger. We completed two more contractions this way before the doctor arrived. The next contraction came with nearly unbearable pain as the well-meaning doctor/nurse swept their hand around the circumference of my cervix, revealing baby’s head while I pushed. That was the first moment since finding out I was pregnant that negative thoughts told me, “I cannot do this.” I set my head down and let those words slide out of my mouth, almost believing them. They all shouted “YES you can!!!” with encouragement. I lifted my head to meet 6 eyes staring at me, holding my legs, ready to catch the baby that was attached to the head they all had view of. With prayer, reliance, and every ounce of strength and courage I possess, my 6th push was met with a cold but hot searing pain of ripping flesh, a blood curdling scream, and my baby’s limbs shooting out of my body. I have been asked “what does it feel like” multiple times and my honest, best answer is, it felt like squirming intestines exploding out of my vagina (to be frank).
I do not recall laying my head back or closing my eyes. The next image I remember, is Ryan with glossy eyes leaning into my face, kissing me, saying “we have a baby boy!” Within moments, this tiny body was laying on my chest, lifting his head with bird like chirps, inches from my face. I remember rubbing his back, saying “oh my precious boy” over and over. I know the doctor delivered my placenta but I do not remember feeling it. I heard her tell the nurse she needed to stitch 3rd degree bilateral tears, but I can barely recall her doing it. I remember apologizing to the staff for not bringing them ear plugs and I remember embarrassing my husband as I reported to the room while loving on my son, “you were a lot more fun going in than coming out!”
Jeffrey Colin was born at 11:15 pm on 6/24/18 after ~11 hours of active labor, ~30 hours of total labor. Prior to even being married, Ryan and I had said in one conversation, if we were to have a baby and they were to be a boy, their first name would be Jeffrey, in memory of and after Ryan’s dearly missed, respected, and greatly loved father. Their middle name would be Colin, after my deeply respected and greatly loved father. We couldn’t imagine two better men to honor with our first son’s life and are eternally grateful for the example they have set for us in becoming parents ourselves.
Every detail of the moments that came after those initial post-labor moments remain vivid to me. I remember being amazed at human instinct as I nursed our son within 30 minutes of labor, feeling pretty odd but also oddly comfortable. I remember sitting up in the hospital bed after being stitched and robed, watching as the staff cleaned and assessed our baby. As Ryan held our son for the first time. As my mother in law and a great family friend joined us. I felt removed from myself as my brain tried to make connections with what had just happened to my body and as I tried to grasp the fact that I was now, officially the mother of this precious, beautiful, perfect human life. I remember trying to clean the bathroom (akin to a murder scene) for the nurse and trying to walk to the mother-baby unit versus ride in the wheelchair. My body felt amazing and I was on cloud nine. I did not feel pain but instead an indescribable high of energy. We were provided a room and Jeffrey was wheeled next to my bed in his crib, already sound asleep. The room was dark and staff talked quietly. The doors were shut and Ryan was quickly asleep on the cushioned bench opposite of the bed. I sat there staring at my husband and sleeping baby. I do not even remember having thoughts – just peacefully content to sit, look, and listen to my two humans, who had provided me with this insurmountable love. A love that has profoundly fulfilled me, frightened me, at times debilitated, energized me, and most frequently provides immeasurable joy. I am eternally grateful for the gift of this baby and his birth story. The story of how God brought our first baby, my deepest human love, into this world. Into my world.