Charlie turns two this week. I'm revisiting her birth story that I wrote down when she was a few weeks old to celebrate and remember.
I woke up at 4:00 am, abdomen aching. This wasn’t unusual. After a week of practice labor and a false alarm trip to the hospital, I wasn’t thrilled to be awake with contractions again.
These ones hurt, but I didn't pull up my timing app and obsessively record them like before. I’d done it so many times—and they had hurt before, too. Instead, I rolled my swollen body out of bed and into a warm bath. I dropped a liberal amount of lavender bubble bath in and rested my head on the cool shower wall.
The contractions were hard; I began to notice my stomach contorting into bizarre shapes at regular intervals. I willed my rising hopes back down: I've never done this before. I don't know what labor feels like. This may not be it. By 4:30, I broke down and started timing the rhythmic tightening. Any minute contractions would stop, I thought.
1:34 long, 4-5 minutes apart.
1:45 long, 3-4 minutes apart.
I promised myself that if I was in more pain at 5:00, I’d wake Jason. I wanted to wait longer, but the sharp abdominal jabs were nudging me out of the tub and toward believing that this could be it.
I shaved, pausing frequently at the enormous effort it took to lift my legs and work around my belly. By 5:00, it was all I could do to breathe evenly through every contraction.
Shifting back into my nightgown, I woke Jason. “I think I might be in labor.” Just to be safe I added, “I don’t know, though.”
“Oh, wow, okay. How can I help you?” It was his typical kind question throughout this entire pregnancy. I had a good answer for him now.
“Do the dishes.”
I wasn’t going to spend a night in the hospital with dirty dishes in my sink.
Jason loaded the dishwasher while I put on my neatly folded “going to the hospital” outfit—the one I’d already put on once before on False Alarm Monday. I had to take breaks between accomplished tasks to lean on the bed and groan. Standing became too much, and I collapsed into my exercise ball and breathed deeply.
Jason asked me for the upteenth time, “Can I do anything for you?”—which is sweet except when you’re in labor—and I told him again to clean the house and get himself ready to “maybe go.”
By 6:00, I wasn’t fooling around anymore with the “maybe.”
I ground my teeth around every corner on the short drive to the hospital. Jason, looking dazed and slightly pleased, recorded a few silent minutes of me laboring with his iPhone. I wanted to mark the occasion, to feel some excitement, to take it all in—but my brain and my body didn't let me. I could only focus on labor. Looking over the edge in the moment, on the brink of parenthood, was too surreal to process.
We were admitted at about 6:30, and I parted violently with the contents of my stomach. The nurse laughed. “You must be in pain!” In my less-than-charitable state, I wondered how many years she’d gone to school to diagnose a groaning, swaying woman with “pain.”
The next few hours were a blur of agony and throwing up. They monitored my increasingly strong contractions and attempted no less than five times to insert an IV to administer antibiotics (I had tested positive for Group B Strep). Jason held my hand and my puke bags for me, gently intoning, “You’re doing so well, baby.”
I tried to keep the panic out of my voice as I asked, “How long until I could have an epidural—if I wanted?” I tacked the last part on to make it seem more nonchalant. At this point I had been laboring on my back in bed for hours, waiting for a successful IV insertion—knowing that after they finally succeeded, I would have to wait at least another 45 minutes in this excruciating labor position before moving around and distracting myself. The nurse assured me they'd let the anesthetist know to "stop by."
I tried some mental games with myself. “Thanks, contraction,” I told myself, “for bringing my sweet baby closer to me.”
“Breathe, breathe, breath into the tension. It’s not pain, it’s tension.”
“Don’t fight them. The birth coach said she can tell when women are fighting contractions because they don’t breathe and they move their legs. BREATHE AND KEEP THOSE LEGS STILL.”
My legs moved by themselves.
When the anesthetist finally came—the gloriously talented man and the only person in the maternity wing with the skill to puncture my tiny veins—I had made it clear that I wanted an epidural. “You know, as soon as I can have one.”
I had to keep my eyes away from the monitor screen so I wouldn’t tense in anticipation as my contractions stayed at 100% strength for 1.2 million years before sliding slowly down the other side of the peak.
Meghan, our new nurse after the shift change, introduced herself during my internal positive self-talk (which wasn’t going well). “Hi, Emily.” I tried to smile. She chuckled. “You don’t have to smile at me now—we’ll get you an epidural and then you can smile away.” I liked her.
As the epidural set in, the room came back into focus. Oh, the relief.
For the first time, the reality of my impending parenthood began to set in. I felt pleasantly calm, happily expectant. This is it. My family visited, and I rested happily.
A few hours later, I was ready. I requested that they check my progress, because somehow I knew—it was time.
Amy, the midwife, told me it may be up to three hours of pushing with a first baby, and gave me some brief coaching. “Don’t try not to poop,” she warned seriously. “You won’t have a baby if you try not to poop.” After smiling immaturely at the word "poop," I nodded gravely. At that point, I had no fear of embarrassment and wanted that baby in my arms more than anything. I gave it all I had. (For the record: they claim I didn't poop. Either they were kind or I'm lucky.)
The most satisfying physical work I’ve ever done was pushing during labor. I felt my contractions through the epidural—pressure and pain but blessedly dulled—and willingly worked with them to bring my baby into the world.
About thirty minutes later, Charlotte Anne was born.
Jason and I caught her together and plopped her onto my chest.
“Hi there! Hello!” In my surprised, bewildered, happy state, I could only greet her ecstatically.
When Charlotte was a few weeks old, I asked Jason what his most vivid memories of her birth were. His answer wasn't romantic.
“You puking.” He followed it up quickly as I snorted. “All the big parts, like seeing her for the first time, I remember now like they’re a movie—from the third person perspective. They’re surreal memories, not vivid.”
I relate to him. That's why I'm revisiting Charlie's birth story today, during the week of her second birthday. There's something about these moments—the ones you think you'd experience with waves of emotions—something that takes days, months, and years to process.
I keep realizing that this is the year she's a kid, not a baby. She knows the way to the park with no directions from us. She puts on her own shoes. She has preferences and personality and spunk. And it's still a little surreal that she's mine.