I spent the morning before I went into labor alphabetizing my bookshelf. This was something I had done when we had moved into our home the year before, but that morning the several large boxes of books which represented the last of our unorganized library became too much to bear. Why were they not already incorporated? Why was nonfiction not sorted by subject? I set to work, stepladder and all.
I had told my boss that I wouldn't be coming into work that day because I had an appointment with my OBGYN in the early afternoon that I hoped would jump-start labor. I think I was secretly hoping that when she checked me I would somehow already be about 6 cm dilated, and that she would look up with her gloved hand and a smile and say, "So are you ready to have a baby today?"
No such luck. What actually happened was that she checked me, announced that I was still only 1.5 cm (same as the week before), but "totally effaced!" She then stripped my membranes at my request. I was 40 weeks and 5 days pregnant. I left that appointment holding a set of induction orders for the following Friday, when I would be 42 weeks.
I didn’t want to be induced. I wanted to experience the drama of going into labor naturally- feeling the first mild contractions, having my water break suddenly all over the floor, looking at my husband and saying, "It's time!" like a movie cliche. When Dalton and I got in the car to leave the doctor's office, I looked at him and said firmly, "I need to walk."
We went to Target, because walking at Target doesn’t feel like exercise, even at 40 weeks pregnant. I determinedly marched up and down every aisle. We bought a shirt for the baby, some toiletries, and a random assortment of other items because Target. We then went to Old Navy just because it was nearby, and I attempted to cram my full-term self into some dresses and tops. Needless to say, I cried in the dressing room, and we bought nothing there, but it was a great distraction!
After Old Navy, I demanded Buffalo Wild Wings with the mindset that there is nothing that delightfully unhealthy bar food can't fix, even- paradoxically- sadness induced by clothes shopping with late-term bloating. Dalton and I were seated at a booth in the restaurant. Our angel princess of a waitress informed us that it was half-price wings night. I would have gotten up to hug her, but she had just brought out our fried pickles, and I was therefore occupied.
During dinner, I started to have stomach cramps, which wasn't unusual at this point in pregnancy. These cramps were strange, coming about every ten minutes. You know that you're reading a birth story, so you can see where this is going, but at this point, I was used to living with the consequences of my poor dietary choices, and I was feeling pretty normal. Dalton and I went home, and I ran the water for a shower. Right before I stepped into the tub, I felt my first real contraction. Contractions are hard to describe, but the best I can do is to say that it felt like a pair of large hands had wrapped themselves around my abdomen and squeezed it like a toothpaste tube. I stared at myself in the mirror for a moment, and then I walked out to the living room where Dalton was sitting.
"You'd better get some sleep," I told him, " I'm pretty sure I just had a contraction."
As it happens, that's a fairly counterproductive statement to shoot at someone who really does need to sleep. Dalton went to bed around nine, and I think he got only about fifteen minutes of sleep the whole night.
Meanwhile, I paced. I couldn't believe that I was really in labor, but I also couldn't sit longer than a couple of seconds. I downloaded a contraction timer app and started watching the season finale of Pretty Little Liars. The show did nothing to hold my attention, even though the liars were finding out who A was for the fifth time, so I should have been riveted. My app was telling me that my contractions were already five minutes apart, which didn't seem possible. At around midnight, I went to the bathroom, and there was blood. I took pictures of the bloody toilet paper to show my L&D nurses, just in case. (L&D nurses everywhere are shaking their heads.) Now I was certain that we would be going to the hospital tonight.
I paced more, round and round our dining table. My goal was to arrive at the hospital with my contractions at three minutes apart and/or with my cervix dilated to at least seven centimeters, but I worried that I would be way over or under that estimate. Every time I went to the bathroom, there was more blood. I started to get nervous that something was wrong. I was feeling good fetal movement, but I was scared. My contractions were getting stronger and stronger and were now about four minutes apart. I checked our hospital bags and paced more.
At around two in the morning, I woke Dalton up from his uneasy rest. Immediately, he started doing counterpressure on my back, which he had learned in our birth class. This helped so much that I would have been happy to stay at home and continue laboring, but Dalton looked at the app and saw that my contractions were now three to four minutes apart, less than the five minutes recommended by our doctor for heading to the hospital.
"We should probably get going," he said gently.
"Nope. I'm good."
Twenty minutes later, we were in the car. It was around four now, and the hospital was ten minutes away. In between contractions, I was vaguely grateful for the lack of traffic. I called my sister at the red light entrance to the hospital, which Dalton ran.
"So I'm in labor," I huffed. Kath said some excited things to which I did not respond, since another contraction had hit. Dalton took the phone. "We'll call you when we can," he said.
(*He probably said. I'm going to be making up a lot of details going forward, because while I do remember some flashes of the day in vivid color, most of it is lost to the birth fog.)
Dalton parked at the very front of the assessment center, and we walked in together. I didn't know what to say to the receptionist. "I think I'm in labor?" I asked her.
…to be continued…