I never took a childbirth class and I never read any books on birth. How big are your judgy eyes right now? I knew the basics and didn't want to pay for someone to tell me how to breathe during contractions. I never wrote a birth plan. There was no birth playlist aside from the string of swear words running through my head with each contraction. I worked really hard during my pregnancy to prepare myself for whatever kind of birth I might have. Complications happen, emergency c-sections happen, and I was more focused on mentally preparing myself for the unknowns than reading about birth positions. I refused to be disappointed by how she was born. My only goal was to give birth to a healthy baby, no matter the method. I spent the week before she was born listening to hymns and praying through anxiety and fear. I wanted to go into labor and delivery fully trusting God and knowing that He wrote her birth story, and nothing I could do would change it.
At every OB appointment, my doctor would shake her head and tell me my body still wasn't doing anything. She prepared me for the fact that I would probably need to be induced at 41 weeks, and I was fine with that. At my 40 week appointment, I laid on the exam table as my doctor argued on the phone with a medical assistant over the date of my induction. The hospital was completely booked, and that had never happened before. I was eventually scheduled for an April 2nd induction, 8 days past my due date, but I was on the wait list for March 30th. I was waitlisted to have my baby. The whole week before I was on pins and needles, waiting either for labor to start or a call that my induction had been moved up.
On Friday, I woke up with the irresistible urge to finish the last few cleaning projects on my list. I went Monica Geller-style crazy. I put new dining room curtains up. I vacuumed TWICE. I washed the master bedroom curtains. I cleaned the bathroom. I stood on my tippy toes on the bed (safe!) to dust the ceiling fan blades. I put a duvet cover on the bed. And that's not even the half of it. I was so hungry afterwards that I downed 5 pieces of pizza in one Blue Bloods episode. James was convinced all my cleaning was going to put me into labor. I scoffed. He promised. I went to bed with a sore back but feeling totally normal.
I woke up at 8:00 on a sunny, cold, Saturday morning from a pain that made it feel like someone was twisting my back with a wrench. At first I thought maybe I just really overdid it on the cleaning. The pain came back sporadically through the morning, and my stomach started to cramp. I texted my mom around 11am to tell her that maybe, MAYBE, I was in very early labor. But as everyone loved to remind me, I was a first time mom, and I didn't expect anything to really happen for at least another 24 hours. And maybe I just ate too much pizza last night? I still wasn't totally convinced I was in labor. James just smirked because he knew. He just knew. After a few hours, we figured the horrendous, back-twisting pain was the start of something, so we instinctively started preparing. James ran some last minute errands while I put the finishing touches on the hospital bag. He walked back inside with a box that had just been delivered, and when I opened it I found an amazing crocheted doll of Chummy from Call The Midwife that a good friend had made for me. I thought it was hilarious that a midwife showed up on my doorstep the day I went into labor.
I always thought the women who got themselves primped and primed during labor were crazy, but I started having the same urge. I showered and did my hair, and I had the most irresistible yearning to paint my nails lavender. I was not about to show up to the hospital without purple toes. The contractions were picking up and I was starting to howl through them. By mid-afternoon I knew I was in labor, and it wasn't even because of the contractions, which, by the way, WERE ALL IN MY BACK. The dreaded back labor I've heard so much about. The contractions never started off mild like normal contractions; I could hardly breathe through the very first one I felt. My abdomen felt like it was on vacation while my back was assaulted with chisels. But it wasn't the oh-God-why-have-you-forsaken-me-pain that let me know I was in labor; it was my calmness. I had an otherworldly calm and acceptance and just felt ready to go, whereas every string of Braxton Hicks had terrified me. I had been so scared of going into labor, but once it happened God gave me the grace and ability to get through it, which is still so cool to me.
I started timing the contractions mid-afternoon to get an idea, and they were still irregular but approximately 8 minutes apart. I was starving, and the only thing I wanted to eat was meatloaf and donuts. Naturally. I had an intense craving for both, so James grabbed the food, we turned on Friends, and we spent the next couple hours laying on the couch while I shoveled food in as fast as I could between contractions. Despite my screams every 5-10 minutes, it was almost a relaxing afternoon. We savored it as much as we could, because we figured we would be at the hospital at some point that night.
A couple hours later I was clawing the couch like a cat and screaming like a dying cow during each contraction. Each one made me feel like I was going to simultaneously throw up and pass out from the pain. Within an hour, they went from 7-8 minutes apart to 4-5 minutes apart. I finally called my doctor, and she said I would definitely be having a baby that night. I got the "but you're a first time mom" speech again, and she said to head to the hospital soon, but they may have me walk the halls before admitting me. I didn't tell her that there would be no walking, only me screaming on the floor.
We got to the hospital around 9pm. I was put in a wheelchair, and James pushed me to triage while I screamed the whole way with my childhood Mickey Mouse blanket wrapped around me. By the time we got there, my contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and lasting nearly two minutes. I was terrified I wouldn't be dilated enough, but I was already at a 5 so they admitted me immediately. At one point, they had a person from registration confirming my information, a nurse asking me questions about my pregnancy, and another nurse trying to start my IV all at once. I started crying when they would all ask me questions at once while I was in the middle of a contraction. I made no attempt to answer questions until I heard the most important one: "Are you wanting an epidural?" "YES. FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING, YES." They took me to a labor & delivery room and started pumping me full of fluids so I could get an epidural. And then the trembling started. I trembled and convulsed like I was being electrocuted.
An hour later, I was crouched on the side of the bed, clawing into a pillow while a needle went into my spine. Within minutes, the roaring pain in my back started to subside and my feet started to tingle. The more the pain went away, the happier I felt. Whatever batch of epidural drugs they gave me contained mad levels of endorphins, because I loved everyone and everything. Had my legs worked, I would've stood up to hug everyone who walked in the room. I felt like I was at a spa. I giggled and told my family that this is so fun! I want to do it again! I wrote love letters in my head to whoever invented the epidural. John T. Epidural? I don't know, but I love him. Or her. For about two hours, I had the time of my life. I cracked jokes and teased the midwife who broke my water that I could've just brought my own crochet hook to use. The midwife said she could tell the baby had a full head of hair, and I was so excited to get her out and see for myself. So many people told me that if I got an epidural, it would slow down my labor. The nurses told me I would be in labor for many more hours because, SAY IT WITH ME, I'm a "first time mom." But darn if I wasn't fully dilated not long after getting the epidural. The pressure started slowly increasing and I started to lose my sense of joy and wonder, so I called the nurse in. I was at a 10! It's go time, right? Ha!
I always thought that once you're fully dilated, you start pushing, but apparently not. She wanted me to hang out another hour or two so the baby would get even lower and my time pushing would be shorter. I mentally cursed her as she put the bed in the most awkward and uncomfortable position to "aid gravity." I made it about 30 minutes before I felt like all my insides were about to fall out of me, and nothing I could do would stop it. She reluctantly came back in and told me I should hang out a little while longer, because some first time moms push for 3 hours. I started screaming that the baby was falling out and LADY. LISTEN TO ME SHE IS COMING OUT RIGHT NOW. She continued to ignore me while she checked the monitors and I started getting hysterical because THIS BABY IS SERIOUSLY COMING RIGHT NOW YOU NEED TO LISTEN TO ME. She came back with some "first time mom yadda yadda yadda," and then checked me and said "well, maybe it is time to push."
I knew labor would be painful, but no one warned me about pushing. I had a good epidural that numbed most everything, but for me the indescribable pressure of getting a baby out was excruciating. I made noises I didn't know I was capable of. Think of an entire dying barnyard. My dad said he could hear me screaming all the way down the hall. I remember fixating on the design of my hospital gown during each push and finding a weird comfort in my purple nails. There were handles on the sides of the bed for me to pull during each push, and I yanked on them so hard that I couldn't use my arms for two days. Every 30 seconds I begged someone to tell me how much longer it would take, but all anyone would say is that it was up to me. I wanted to strangle the nurses with my IV and glared at two of them just like the gem that I am. James and my mom took turns putting cold compresses on my forehead and giving me sips of water between pushes.
My doctor finally came in, and I was so relieved that she happened to be the one on-call. She asked me if I wanted to reach down and feel how far the baby had come, and I stunned the room into silence with my vehement "UM, NO." However, the bad news is that I could see everything in the fluorescent light cover right above the bed. They might as well have strapped a mirror up there. One accidental glance full of blood and guts and I vowed to never look up again, no matter where I am or what's happening. After an hour, I told everyone that I'm sorry but I can no longer do this. I just can't. 19 hours of labor had worn me out, the powers of the meatloaf and donuts were fading, and I felt like I had run 20 marathons from the pushing. The doctor told me the baby would be out in two more contractions, but after one more push the doctor pulled her out, right at 3:32 am on Sunday, March 29th, 4 days late but perfectly on time. The doctor immediately said "she's so much smaller than I thought she would be! You had such a big belly!" (EYE ROLLS.) The baby was extremely awake and alert and calm. Gracie weighed in at 7.7 pounds, measured 21.5 inches long, and was completely healthy and perfect and gorgeous. Seriously, so gorgeous. I can't believe she came from me.
The moments after her birth are a complete blur, but I remember a few specific things. They immediately laid her on my chest, and as they were setting her down she looked right into my eyes and grabbed my finger, like she knew exactly who I was. I looked up to my right to see James crying and the nurse helping him cut the umbilical cord. I remember saying "I did it! I gave birth! I actually did it!" over and over. I was in so much shock that I had actually given birth to a baby.
Everyone says you forget about the pain once you hold your baby. Gracie laid on my chest for about 20 minutes while I kept asking WHY DOES IT STILL HURT SO MUCH SHE'S OUT. The doctor tried to gently tell me that there had been some extensive tearing and she had to sew me up. One epidural and several shots of lidocaine later, and there was one spot that still would not go numb. While she was stitching me up, I remember feeling dizzy and woozy; everything was surreal and weird. The doctor finally told me that she was concerned about my bleeding. I heard her mention a possible hemorrhage, and one nurse told another to keep my IV in because I may need a blood transfusion. I was so preoccupied with the baby on me that I don't remember even worrying about the bleeding. They finally got it to stop, and I asked the doctor every 5 seconds ARE WE DONE YET like a kid on a road trip. After 30 minutes of stitching, she responded with everyone's favorite sentence: "I just need to finish putting this muscle back together." She said it verbatim, and that sentence will haunt me forever. It also explains the searing pain I felt while pushing and also why I was unable to sit up for three weeks. The nurses tried to distract me by helping me nurse the baby. The bleeding started again, and I told my mom I felt like I couldn't stay conscious. I kept dozing on and off for about an hour until a saint from heaven brought me apple juice and graham crackers.
Since I started labor with a crocheted midwife on my doorstep, it was only fitting that the new season of Call The Midwife premiered the night of Gracie's birthday. I turned it on in the hospital room and watched until the nurse came in and decided it was the perfect time for another breastfeeding lesson. I couldn't sleep for two nights because every time I closed my eyes, all the pain of delivery came flooding back to me and I could feel everything again. I felt phantom baby kicks in my abdomen for the first 24 hours after she was born, and the trembling from labor lasted another 48 hours. They kept us an extra day to help me recover, and my parents brought us food and coffee and I held my baby girl and cried hysterically over nothing and everything. James went on midnight runs for cheeseburgers and milkshakes and we almost felt like we were on vacation since we had cable tv to watch. I was dying to get out of the hospital, but the moment we were discharged and started to drive away, I sobbed like a maniac and wanted to run back inside. James had to take me back a few days later due to extreme pain, and he commented that it was our first little home together, and now I'll forever want to hug that hospital whenever I drive past it.
In 6th grade, we sang the hymn Grace Greater Than Our Sin one morning in school, and my teacher said she would sing that song to her niece Grace. For some reason, that moment has forever stuck with me. Even at age 11, I loved the thought of having a baby Grace. James wanted a Gracie (which is her actual name), so we had no arguments over her name and agreed on it before I was even pregnant. We knew any baby we had would be further proof of the grace of God in our lives, and that's exactly what she's been. Her name could not be more fitting. Grace covered me through the entire pregnancy and through her birth. It was so hard, but it's such a precious memory I will cherish forever, and I can't think about it without wanting to sob with joy. She came on Palm Sunday, and I can think of no better way to have started the week of Easter. Just as Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, she made her triumphant entry into our lives, and we're so glad she's here.