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(Just a heads up, this story involves long labor and an intended natural birth that ended with interventions and an epidural. Feel free to stop reading if this isn’t a helpful story for you.)

I was late in my 39th week of pregnancy and very ready to be in labor. On Tuesday, I started having the very first things I could call contractions that weren’t Braxton Hicks—they had a thin kind of pain and I would sometimes need to stop talking to concentrate. I went to bed that night ready and impatient.

On Wednesday morning, I woke up around 2AM with contractions that really hurt. They were spaced far apart, but were strong enough that they would wake me up when they came. I tried to sleep a bit more, but found without time to prepare it was easy to start panicking in the middle of the contraction. I ended up getting myself up and sitting on the exercise ball or chair to work through them. My spouse woke up a bit later, and made me some breakfast, and we tried to figure out how to plan the day (Was there enough time for a load of laundry? We decided yes.)

Around 9AM contractions were coming about 7 minutes apart, and I called my parents who are out of town to let them know that today might be the day. The rest of the day continued in a blur—moving between the ball, chair, walking, having spouse rub my back while I leaned over something—I think I took a shower in there? The contractions would get closer together and then slow down. In late afternoon, my parents arrived. They tried to get out of the way by taking the dogs for a walk and getting some food options for dinner.

It was late afternoon and the contractions were becoming more painful, if not closer together. They were still six minutes apart, but it was getting harder to deal with them without someone rubbing my back—it took all of my work to keep breathing, keep relaxing my shoulders, keep telling myself I could do this. At some point there was a call to the OB who said we were doing all the right things and could go by the hospital if we wanted. Sometime around 6PM, with contractions still around 6 minutes apart, I decided it was time.

At labor and delivery, it was a blur, but I couldn’t believe how many questions they were asking me. Really—how many times do I need to tell you my date of birth, and isn’t this what preregistration is for? They kept saying things like “if you are admitted,” until it finally came time for me to be checked. I was 5-6 centimeters dilated. I found out later that based on how I was handling the contractions, they didn’t think I was really in labor. I am not sure what they are used to labor looking like, but apparently it wasn’t what I was doing!

We got into a labor and delivery room and I got in the jetted tub, which was wonderful. At first, it was like the pain had just gone away. Over time, things progressed and even in the tub my contractions were enough I needed to make some noise through them. The doctor needed to check me at one point, and I was at 7.

The rest of the night is a blur. At one point in the late night, I decide to take a narcotic pain medication to get some rest—I was able to sleep for about an hour. They check me afterwards and I am at 8. I get up to get through contractions on the ball, with spouse rubbing my back. I am hopeful that transition is around the corner—and that we are nearing the end. At some point, we decide to have them break my waters to move things along. I labor in a rocking chair for a time, with a towel pushing on my back.

As the evening wears on, we have a number of nurses who care for us (one in particular was just wonderful). Everytime they enter the room they comment on how quiet it is. I just keep breathing and trying to keep muscles relaxed. My spouse is fabulous, staying with me through one thing and the next, rubbing my back, and keeping watch with me as one hour leads to the next. I alternate between mantras, of course none of the ones I thought I would—but “I can do this,” “It’s ok,” “Let it go” and “I am a woman of the present”. The last one we tried to say when it seemed overwhelming or endless—just try to stay in the present.

It’s finally sometime around 4-6AM (my spouse and I can’t remember the time), something like 26 hours after I had woken up with labor pains. A new shift nurse comes on and she offers to check where I am at. I first am hesitant, worrying I will get discouraged, and then agree with her that facts can be helpful sometimes. She checks and I am still at 8cms, where I was hours earlier. As I try to picture several more centimeters dilation ahead, and needing to have energy to push at the end, I don’t think I have it in me. I ask for an epidural. After coming so far and for so long, this is my low point.

Thankfully the epidural comes relatively quickly, as every contraction after the decision becomes mentally harder to deal with. With the epidural, it is such a relief to have some time off from the pain and the energy needed to go through one contraction after the next. I am able to sleep and they pull in a cot to allow spouse to sleep a bit too.

A few hours later, I feel more rested and they start me on pitocin. I can see the contractions on all the monitors now hooked up, but they feel for me at a distance—I am so relieved. They check me throughout the morning to see how dilation has continued, and around 12:30PM I am given the go-ahead to start pushing. It feels so good to be making progress, and I can feel through each contraction my baby moving through. It feels so good that the end is almost here.

The nurse tells me that she can see that the baby has brown hair, and I start to cry. Things are moving and the nurse calls for the doctor to come. Then she calls for more nurses, with a certain sense of urgency. But I can feel the baby is almost here—and no one has arrived in the room! They tell me not to push, and I ask if there is anyone in the building that can deliver the baby. My doctor arrives, starts to say “don’t worry about tying that thing, just get it on me” and jokes that she was held up at the one stoplight between her office and here! One push later and the baby is born.

They put her up to my chest and I start crying, I am so overwhelmed that she is here. I am so overwhelmed that they have to keep reminding me to have my legs in certain places as they are stitching me. I can’t believe that she is here and real—those kinds of tears you get with something too beautiful to be true.

She was born just before 2pm on Thursday—her due date.

I intended an unmedicated birth, and on paper it looks like I got just the opposite. I ended up having narcotics, my water broken, an epidural, pitocin—and lots of monitors and things hooked up to me while giving birth. But I am grateful that at each step along the way, I felt at peace with the choice. The medical staff was supportive and helped to give options, and at several points, we decided “not yet.” Perhaps with a doula, or someone to help me into positions that would help progress more quickly, things would have continued differently. But each choice was the best for us at the time, and in the end I was profoundly grateful for the relief and the rest of pain relief, that allowed me to welcome my daughter with a sense of peace.

One of my pregnancy books recommends repeating those memories from labor that you want to remember in your mind—that the repetition will help them last over time. Here is what I want to remember and hold onto from labor:

  • I was able to work through labor for more than 24 hours, including hours of back labor at 8 centimeters before deciding to have an epidural—I am trying to remind myself that’s pretty bad ass. I don’t need to be afraid of pain.
  • When being admitted to the hospital, they didn’t believe I was in labor. This is particular to me, but in my life folks often have trouble telling my emotions—I can be a bit stoic and often need to use words to let folks know what I’m feeling. And if I can be working through contractions like that and have folks not know it—well it’s a reminder to me that sometimes it’s ok to show some vulnerability.
  • My husband who was with me, hour after hour—we went through this together as a team, and I am so grateful for him. He supported me through the long journey and with every step along the way. I am grateful to have him as a partner as we begin this journey of parenting.
  • The moment that they put her on my chest and I couldn’t help but cry. I feel so grateful to be a part of this miracle. I look at her now and can’t believe that she was inside me. I look at her now and can’t believe that I get to be her mother.
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As you might have guessed from the radio silence: Baby Cakepie has arrived! She was born on her due date, timely lady, at 6 lbs 15 oz.

It’s now a week later, and I am now slowly getting enough basic needs (like sleeping, feeding this adorable ravenous creature, and being able to get up from chairs without making noises), to consider extras like “communicating with the outside world.” I should have some updates in the next few days about birth and reflections on my exhausting, traumatic, beautiful, and profound first week of parenting. I am so grateful and still wrapping my mind around how much my life has changed.