I’m not really sure where to begin this “narrative”. I mean, there was definitely a beginning to the story … we were pregnant, it was August, I was miserable. But no one wants to hear that at the beginning of a happy story, right? Well it’s the truth. Misery from the August heat, combined with anxiety about the uncertain future, excitement about finally putting a face to the name we’d chosen for our daughter. All the emotions you’d expect during a late-term pregnancy, magnified by the fact that you have no control over the events you desire to see come with all your heart … well at least most of your heart, as it marks the end of a very special phase in your life and in your marriage/family, and the beginning of a lot of uncertainty.
And that being said … I’ll pick up on Wednesday afternoon.
At this point, I’d been battling a summer cold for about a week and I’d mostly beaten it except for the occasional coughing and sneezing fit. Lots of sleep and several doses of Tylenol Cold helped with that, but … this plays into the story a little later, so I just wanted to put this out at the forefront.
My midwives had told me that eating lunch at my desk was no longer an option. I must go home at lunch, prop up my feet, and enjoy an hour-long lunch break. After having this kind of a night on Tuesday night, I went home at lunch and fell asleep quickly. Back at work following my break, I was not well-rested by any means, but finished out the day and quickly returned to bed after work.
I got home right after 4:30 and at 5:30, I woke up to a steady pressure-like pain in my abdomen – different from the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d been having for the past couple of weeks. I was full term, so of course my brain automatically thought, “CONTRACTION!!” but I so had myself convinced that she was not coming out until Induction Day that I talked myself out of it quickly. Around 10 minutes later, out of bed at this point, another one hit. I remembered the words of our birthing class instructor: “If it’s true labor, walking around will increase your discomfort. If it’s false labor, walking around will cause it to stop.” So rather than choosing our dinner from the plethora of leftover options in our refrigerator, I chose to cook. As I prepared dinner (brinner, if you must know), the pressure didn’t let up, so I pulled out my phone and started timing what I had begun to admit were contractions. (I’d downloaded an app onto my phone that not only timed contractions, but also allowed you to enter a rating of the contraction’s intensity and then analyzed the input over the course of an hour to let you know what phase of labor you were in … if you were at all.)
Kyle and I ate dinner with me reaching for the phone every few minutes to start and stop the timer. At this point, they were coming around every 8 minutes and lasting 45-50 seconds, and I rated them 1-2 on an intensity scale.
Our friend Ben had come over for dinner and we talked with him for a while afterwards. I was still convinced that what was happening was “false” and what we were doing was just “practice” for what would be coming in a couple of weeks, if it ever came at all without some assistance. After the first hour of timing, I hit the “analyze” button on the app.
At 7:20 PM, I sent my sister a text that contained its analysis: “Contraction pattern is most consistent with Phase One: Early Labor”.
And I still thought, “Nah. It’ll stop.” But then quickly remembered the MAJOR things we hadn’t completed yet … like installing the car seat and finishing packing Kyle’s personal items for the hospital bag. And I thought, “Well we might as well use this practice run to go ahead and get those things finished up. Won’t hurt to be ahead of the game when it really is time.”
I took a shower while my dad came over to help Kyle install the carseat. It wasn’t that hard to do, but it was getting dark out already and, since Kyle was already running on adrenaline and anxiety, we felt like the assistance wouldn’t be a bad idea. Kyle and I waited on the rain outside to stop and started walking around the block. We’d been doing this a few nights a week for the past couple of weeks, trying to speed things along as much as we could.
We walked halfway around the block until we got to my parents’ house. As had become my custom, I stopped to use the bathroom (bladders are small and squished at nine months into a pregnancy, you know!). Uh oh. There’s some … well, without going into too much detail it seemed like I had either peed my pants or SOMETHING was happening.
And I was STILL in denial. I refused to let myself get too excited. After all, I still had two weeks to go! No way this was the real deal.
I called my doctor’s office. They paged the midwife on call. And I was SO RELIEVED when TONYA CALLED! She was the midwife on call that night! We had a short little celebration on the phone before I described what was going on. She said, “It sounds like your water is leaking, but there’s only one way to know. Come on down to Trident. They’ll do a little test to see if it’s really amniotic fluid that you’re leaking. Come prepared to stay.”
So Kyle and I finished packing up his stuff and headed down. My parents insisted on following us down, even though I assured them that they needn’t drive down only to turn around and drive back. This, after all, was not The Real Thing.
We arrived at Trident Medical Center at around 10PM. I now romanticize the memory of Kyle helping me to walk in through the Emergency Room entrance, neither of us knowing where to go from there. We got directions to the Labor and Delivery Unit from the ER check-in attendant. We were waved past by the security guard who told Kyle, “You’ll need to come back for a visitor’s sticker, but go … go get her settled first.” And we shuffled on down the hallway.
To skim over the next few hours, after the test to determine if indeed my water had broken, I was admitted. And in a rush, it hit me. This IS The Real Thing!! I’m in a hospital. In a hospital gown. Strange sensations hitting me at odd intervals and with slightly increasing intensity. And we were not leaving that place until they wheeled me out to the car with a baby in my arms.
Wow. That’s a big moment. Huge, really.
They moved me into a larger L&D room where I was instructed to get as much rest as possible. And they hooked up an external fetal monitor and a monitor that would measure my contractions. The contractions seemed to stall out at around 6.5 minutes apart and never really increased in intensity overnight. So despite nerves, an uncomfortable bed, nerves, the noise of a hospital, and the pacing of my husband I was able to get a few hours of sleep.
Somewhere around 6 AM, they started the pitocin drip. Tonya came in for a visit. She looked absolutely exhausted. She’d delivered four babies during the night and, at 8 AM, she was going off rotation. She wouldn’t be there to deliver my baby. I was slightly disappointed, but there wasn’t a whole lot we could do about that. Bridgit, another midwife with the team at Lowcountry, would be attending my delivery. She came in shortly after and introduced herself. I liked her immediately. Young and friendly and confident, I felt at ease with her being in charge.
I guess it was around 10 AM … Kyle had eaten breakfast, Will had shown up with two different kinds of cough drops to soothe my cough away, the pitocin had been bumped up several times, and I got to the point where, when a contraction would hit, I needed Kyle’s hand. This is important to note because I have to say this here: I do not know how single mothers do it. I needed Kyle’s hand in mine to make it through every contraction. As they absolutely consumed my brain and my body, the wave of pain would hit and the only thing that I wanted to feel was the warmth of his hand in mine.
Shortly after 10:30 or so, the contractions started gaining in frequency and intensity. I still hadn’t made up my mind about the pain management I would choose to employ. Kyle was 100% supportive of whatever I wanted and my nurses were not pushy and answered all my questions along the way – never pressuring me to do anything at any point. During my pregnancy, I’d toyed with the idea of training myself to “go natural”, but pitocin contractions were definitely not involved in that plan. And these things were hitting back-to-back with hardly any room to breathe between them when I finally said, “Drugs. Epidural. Please.”
Not one hour later, a very patient and informative anethesiologist was hooking me up with some of his best stuff. The relief wasn’t immediate, but it was fast enough. The next couple of hours, I could still feel the pressure of my mounting contractions, but the pain was virtually GONE! It worked!!
Since my water had broken, I wasn’t being checked very often for progression. (When your water breaks, there is a higher risk of infection getting in to the baby, so they weren’t checking me often.) They checked when I was at 7 cm and 100% effaced and I wasn’t checked again after that.
Shortly after the epidural was put in, we could no longer hear the baby’s heartbreat on the fetal monitor, so they tried adjusting the monitor on my belly to find her heartbeat again. They couldn’t pick it up, but didn’t react in panic, so I just assumed this was something normal. Bridgit, who was in the room nearly full-time at this point, said, “We’re probably going to want to do an internal monitor, so let’s get your feet up and see what’s happening … ”
“… nevermind it’s time to start pushing. You ready?”
Talk about surreal. The Moment you’ve been dreaming about and dreading for 9-10 months is here. This is huge. I look at Kyle and we reassure one another that we can do this. Bridgit and the nurses (Anna Clair and another tech whose name escapes me) ready themselves. Bridgit sits on the bottom of my bed very casually and watches the monitors, waiting for my next contraction to begin mounting. And then the pushing begins.
I have no clue how many times I pushed (in sets of 3 … sometimes 4) to get her out. But I remember that Bridgit, Anna Claire and Kyle all repeated choruses of “You’re doing great! Keep it up!” and other positivity around me. And I remember that Kyle was pushing through the contractions as hard as I was, his head so very near mine that I could hear him straining right along with me, breathing the same sighs of relief at the end of each set of three pushes.
And then I remember The Cough that overcame me. The kind of cough that you feel down in your belly, that wracks your lungs and your entire body. The kind that you can’t imagine being comfortable during labor (epidural-numbed body excluded!). I got that. Bridgit gave a look to Anna Claire that said, “Did you see what just happened?” Then she said to me, “Can you do that again? The Cough?”
So I coughed. I was faking it, so it wasn’t as consuming as The Cough. But it was enough. Bridgit and Anna Claire jumped into action. Like a well-trained team, they dropped the end of my bed off, Bridgit suited up for baby-catching, and Anna Claire checked the baby’s bassinet for the final time to be assured it was ready for baby-cleaning and cord-cutting following The Grand Exit/Entrance.
One more set of pushes and Iva’s head was out. One more set of pushes and she was on my belly. It was just that fast. 55 minutes of pushing and a hot, wiggly, beautiful baby was laid on my belly. The spitting image of her Daddy. I looked back and forth between Iva and Kyle – Kyle and Iva, not wanting to miss a single expression on his face, not wanting to take my eyes off of what had just happened. This was HER! She’d just come out of me.
And my husband’s eyes were as big as saucers. And there were near-tears in them. And complete astonishment. And concern for me. And somewhere in those minutes, a switch was thrown in him and he became Lord of the Polk House, defender of The Polk Ladies, and no longer just my partner and friend … but a Daddy. I think I literally watched his heart grow about 10 sizes, and his heart was already pretty big.
The next hour or so is bit of a blur, but our families and friends were all able to come in after I was stitched-up and cleaned up and after Iva was fed. It was pandemonium for a few minutes — happy, celebratory, picture-taking, happy tear-shedding chaos!
I was in the hospital for two more nights after she was born. And on Saturday evening around 5:30 PM, I was being rolled down the same hallway Kyle and I had walked into just a few nights earlier. And the emotions just kind of rolled over me. We had stumbled down the hallway together going the other direction: our arms were empty, but our hands were in each others’. And on Saturday as we were escorted out of the building, we weren’t just Kyle and Rita. Inside that hospital, we’d become The Polk Family. We were already falling in love with this little THING that changed our lives within mere moments of her entrance into the world.
And every day, we get to hold her. We get to feed her and keep her clean. We get to smell her after her baths and listen to the little noises that only a newborn can make. We get to cuddle her in her blankets and hug her for as long as we want. And at the end of the day, we get to hold each other and be grateful together that God put us together. That we are a family together. And that we get to learn exactly what that means together.