Zelda was due on Thanksgiving, November 28, 2013. As the date got closer, I was starting to hope that she’d make a late appearance so that Jeff and I could enjoy the day with family at Jeff’s Nana’s house. Thanksgiving arrived with no signs of a baby, so Jeff and I packed up and headed to Nana’s, where we spent the day goofing off with family, eating an amazing meal and talking excitedly about Zelda’s upcoming arrival.
All week, I had been feeling really good, but I was getting a bit frustrated that I wasn’t feeling any signs of an impending labor—I wasn’t having any contractions, and it didn’t look like she was dropping much. After her due date came and went, I immediately added eight days to my expectations—I had heard that the average first time mom goes eight days overdue.
On Friday morning at 1:00 AM, I woke up to what felt like my water leaking, but it wasn’t the huge “gush” that everyone always describes it as, so I went back to sleep without thinking too much of it.
Jeff and I woke up on Friday morning to a relaxed holiday. After Thanksgiving, we hadn’t made many plans as we entered the waiting game. We sat at the kitchen table in our pajamas and played board games while we watched reports about all of the Black Friday chaos on TV. Jeff sipped coffee, and I sipped egg nog. I remember telling Jeff that I knew everything would seem so different in hindsight, but in the moment, not knowing when Zelda would arrive, the waiting was beginning to torture me. I was starting to convince myself that I would be pregnant for a full 42 weeks.
I decided that I needed a distraction, so I drove over to buy fabric to sew some more cover sheets for Zelda’s crib. I didn’t realize at the time that this might be my pre-labor nesting phase.
I brought the fabric home and went right into sewing mode. I laid everything out in the nursery, set up ‘Game of Thrones’ on the iPad and got to work. As I was sewing, I started to notice tiny contractions, but I still didn’t think much of it. I had been reading birth stories on various blogs and forums, and it seemed like most women just knew when they had their first labor contractions. Mine weren’t painful at all at this point (hindsight really does change everything).
At 4:34 PM, my sister, Adriane, sent me a text.
“Are you guys around? Abby, Tim, Jim and Elena are here if you want to join. Pub cheese and games.”
If you know me, you know that I love an evening of board games and pub cheese. Nothing will keep me away from this combination. By this point, I was starting to notice a little more pain, but it wasn’t effecting me enough to start timing contractions (I still wasn’t sure that I could call them contractions at this point). Still, I remember thinking, “I might be in early labor, but board games and pub cheese await!”
I arrived at my sister’s house around 5:30 PM. By this point, she had been calling and texting daily for about three weeks to find out if her new niece might be on her way, so it was only natural that she would answer the door and ask again.
“Yeah, there’s a chance that I might actually be in labor,” I told her, “But don’t get too excited yet.”
I spent the next hour and a half hanging out at Adriane’s house, enjoying the company and a homemade mac and cheese dinner (despite jokes that this may not be the best pre-labor meal if I was in fact in labor). At this point, contractions were starting to get strong enough that I allowed myself to label them “contractions,” but I tried to sit quietly through them at the dinner table without making them obvious. I was still in denial—convinced that this baby would make me wait another week. Of course, Adriane noticed me pause with every single contraction, and she started timing them at about ten minutes apart.
After dinner, I was still completely convinced that I was in for an evening of board games, but Adriane called Jeff at home (he didn’t come with me because his version of nesting apparently involved cooking an 18 pound turkey and mashed potatoes while grading papers). She told me that she was driving me home, and off we went. I kept telling her that she was being overdramatic—that this didn’t feel like what I thought real labor should feel like.
Once I was back at home, I jumped right back into my sewing project, but this time, I decided that it might make sense to start timing things. I used an app that Jeff had downloaded to his phone weeks before in preparation, and I spent the next few hours sewing, sewing, sewing, then leaning over in just a little more pain each time. The contractions moved from ten minutes to eight minutes, but they were only about 30 seconds each. Around 9:00 PM, they reached the the five minute mark, so I gave up on sewing, left everything all over the floor and called Jeff up to start coaching me through them.
We had taken Bradley Method classes to prepare for “husband-coached” natural childbirth, and Jeff called our course instructor, Jocelyn, to fill her in on what was going on and to get a pro opinion. She told Jeff to have me sleep if I could—it was going to be a long night. I tried to sleep for approximately three minutes, but the contractions were coming on too strong at this point, so sleep was absolutely out of the question.
At 11:00 PM, Jeff texted Jocelyn, “Allie update: 50 sec average contraction, every 4 min. Does not appear she will be able to sleep.” Jocelyn kept sending her words of wisdom and encouragement.
The next few hours flew by. Around 1:00 AM, the contractions were closer to three minutes apart, and I was starting to shake. Jeff tried to get me to walk to move things along, but the pain from walking down the hall was enough to put me on the floor. By this point, I was starting to tell him that I wanted to move toward the hospital. He kept me calm and helped me get through another hour or so before we decided that it was time to get going.
We had learned that a lot of people get an adrenaline rush on the way to the hospital that slows down labor, and that’s exactly what happened to me. Halfway there, I told Jeff that things had slowed down enough that I thought we might want to turn around and go back home, but then another big contraction started, and I told him that I had immediately changed my mind. Get. me. there. now.
Still, when we arrived at the hospital about ten minutes later, the contractions had started to slow down significantly. We sat in the parking lot for a few minutes before committing ourselves to going in. I had a Gatorade natural energy chew, knowing that this would likely be the last “food” I would have all night. It felt a bit like kicking off a marathon.
I think I walked most of the way into the hospital without any major contractions—a complete change from earlier when I could hardly walk down our hallway. I was afraid that I wouldn’t look like I was actually in labor when we went to check in.
They sent us back to a room to have a resident check me out before sending me to a labor room. I was only at three centimeters at this point, which was a bit of a disappointment, but because they decided my water had at least partially broken, they sent me on my way to the labor room.
Jeff and I had written a birth plan as a part of our Bradley Method class, and the hospital staff was amazing about reading and following it. We had requested that they not ask about any pain medication and that they do intermittent fetal monitoring so that I could move around the room during labor. We got to the room and set up a portable diffuser with essential oils (we chose the “Valor” scent because—well, what better time to have a little extra courage and strength?) and my “Sleep Music” on a portable Jawbone player (I had a massage during the third trimester, and as I was listening to the spa music during the massage, I knew that I wanted to find a spa-like soundtrack to play during labor—though I hardly remember it playing that night). I also changed back into my own sleep tee after about ten minutes in a hospital gown, which was much more comfortable.
Throughout the night, Jeff had been texting updates to family. Around 4:00 in the morning, my mom texted back, “**** Dr. Bradley. He obviously didn’t have a daughter.” Jeff read me the message, and I laughed back, “Sounds like she wants to be here. Go ahead and invite her.” I hadn’t planned to have anyone else in the room during labor, but at this point, modesty was out, and I would take extra any support that I could get. Jeff invited her to come, and she texted back, “Like the wind.” It probably took her 45 minutes to get there, but in labor time, I felt like I blinked and she was walking in.
Around 7:00 AM, the resident came in to check me out. He told me I was at five centimeters, and that the average labor progresses at a rate of about one centimeter per hour (keep in mind that it took me about five hours to get from three to five).
“You should have this baby by early afternoon,” he told me. I looked over at the clock and did the math. Five or more hours of this? I was beginning to get discouraged.
Soon after, the doctor came back in to check me again. She’d had a long night herself, and she wanted to see if she might have time to get a shower in before I started pushing. I was at seven centimeters by this point. I have no idea whether she decided to shower—I assume that if she’d told me that she was going to, I would have been completely discouraged.
Somewhere around this time, Jeff and my mom asked me if I felt comfortable letting Jeff run out for 20 minutes to grab some food. I told him I was comfortable since my mom was there, so he ran out while I sat in a rocking chair and my mom rubbed my feet.
As soon as Jeff left, my contractions picked up to an unbearable intensity. Up until now, I had been able to breathe through them quietly. I’d told myself that I would be a nice quiet laborer, since I’m clearly so good at tolerating pain (note to self and others: you will not be the one to decide whether or not you are a quiet laborer). As I moved into transition, I was shaking, saying “No! No! Make it stop!” and I generally making sure that everyone was aware of my misery.
The nurse allowed me to move into the whirlpool to help with the pain. It helped a bit, but I still felt like I was being torn apart, and I started to feel ill. Jeff came back to swap out with my mom just in time to grab me a trash can.
This was by far the most tortured moment of my life. I knew it would hurt—I had spent countless hours thinking about it and preparing for it—but nothing could have prepared me for how difficult labor would actually be. I was throwing up with tears running down my cheeks, and the contractions just kept coming on strong. I remember thinking, “One day, I’ll look back on this day with so much joy, but of all the high and low moments of my entire life, why do I have to be experiencing this moment right now?” I was sure that labor would never actually come to and end, and I was having a hard time visualizing the baby through the pain.
I moved back into the room and tried every position I could to try to get comfortable. I sat on an exercise ball and had my shoulders rubbed. I hunched over the bed. I got into some variation on child’s pose. I rocked in the rocking chair.
I must have moved from seven or eight centimeters to ten within about an hour. I was finally able to start pushing right before 10:00 AM. Now, if labor sets the new pain scale for what a “ten” feels like, pushing was more like a “five,” although it came with new difficulties as I moved from letting labor happen to me to taking a more active role in it. Contractions slowed down a bit to give me a rest, but the work was far from over. Fortunately, I had plenty of cheerleaders to encourage me.
At some point during pushing, it appeared that Zelda’s heart rate had dropped a bit, so they put me on oxygen. Looking back, I think we were just having a hard time keeping the monitor in the right place.
I remember looking up at my mom and Jeff and seeing tears in both their eyes. They asked me to reach down and touch her head. I was shocked—there was a lot more baby than I’d expected, and I caught a glimpse of the side of her face. A few pushes later, she was on out, and they put her on me at 10:39 AM. I had pictured this moment so many times, and I’d often teared up thinking of it. I thought I’d be a blubbery mess, but I was just in quiet awe of this tiny, wide-eyed human. My world zeroed in on her, and I lost all sense of what else was going on in the room during those moments.
Despite the extreme pain throughout labor, I was grateful that I was allowed to move around the room throughout. I’m convinced that it helped to move labor along more quickly, and the doctor later told me that things happened quickly enough at the end that if I’d had an epidural, Zelda likely would have come out a bit more drowsy versus the wide-eyed energetic baby that she was.
We waited about an hour to bathe and weigh her so that I could hold her close and warm her up. She measured 19.5 inches long and seven pounds 0.4 ounces—quite a surprise, given that Jeff was more than nine pounds, and I weighed more than her when I was born at 36 weeks.
After her bath, Jeff finally had his turn holding her while I ate. I took a few photos of him holding her for the first time—I already know that these will be some of my most cherished photos. His expression is absolutely priceless.
Jeff’s family came in to meet Zelda soon after. I’ll never forget the energy and excitement in the room. This little girl is so loved.
After a sleepless night of labor, I was full of energy after Zelda was born, and I didn’t fall asleep until 7:00 that night (granted, I tried to sleep around 5:00 PM, but my dinner was delivered to me 15 minutes after I fell asleep). Zelda has been kind to her new parents—she’s not a fussy baby, and she gives us good stretches of sleep for a newborn.
We spent the weekend at the hospital. I had a good time getting to know each nurse and having each meal brought to me (though I was getting a bit tired of garden burgers—there weren’t many vegetarian options). I started to get a bit stir crazy in that little room by day two, and when Monday morning rolled around, I was more than ready to get my little lady home.
What an amazing, surreal, whirlwind week it’s been.
We’ve set up a website for friends and family who want to see ongoing Zelda photos at dailyz.siarto.com.