This post is part 1 of a 2 part series chronicling my first birth experience.
When I was 38 and a half weeks pregnant with my first child, I woke up to some light cramping around 4am. The pressure in my body had been intensifying with each passing day, and that morning it felt especially obvious. My pregnant belly would tense up and get super hard, then would go back to being a little softer. I laid on my side in my bed feeling these changes with my eyes still closed, so tired I didn’t want to move, but also so stubbornly aware of my discomfort that I knew I had to start my day. I tried repositioning, but along with the cramping, I had pain in my lower back that was a dull, constant ache, and it didn’t matter what position I wormed my way into, the throbbing didn’t ease.
I maneuvered slowly out of bed and made my way to the bathroom. Maybe I just have to use the bathroom and this pressure will subside, I thought. But I didn’t need to use the bathroom, despite feeling like I might. I poured a bath, not too hot to elevate my temperature too much, but warm enough to hopefully soothe my aches and pains. As I carefully stepped into the tub and slowly laid back, I experienced the feeling of relief, of weightlessness, that only being in the water can bring.
I laid there for a long time staring straight ahead at the tap, just thinking. I laid there long enough that I had to add more water to warm myself up. I laid there, tracing my belly with my fingers in synchronized movements, letting my baby know I was right there with them, as I attempted to relax myself. I watched as my belly again grew very hard. Is the baby shifting positions? Is this Braxton Hicks? Is this…. labour?
I didn’t know. I started to time this firmness that I noticed happening more regularly, and recognized there was a pattern; it was happening in a rhythmic, seemingly intentional way.
But it was 10 days before my due date.. surely this wasn’t labour?
But what if it was?
I laid there, in a cloud of uncertainty, relishing – as much as I could – in the state of being pregnant. I could feel the baby moving around, I watched my belly shape contort with their movements. It was the last moments I truly remember savouring being pregnant. Feeling like we were in sync, that we were together. The baby was trying to communicate with me… to let me know they were ready to come meet us. And I was slowly saying goodbye to our first meeting place.
Around 6am I heard my husband stirring in the bedroom. He was substitute teaching at the time and I knew he didn’t have a job lined up for that day. I yelled to him to not pick up a job, because it felt like something might be happening – and I sure didn’t want to be stranded alone if it was.
As the hardening continued to ebb and flow, I came to terms with the realization that this could be the day my child was born. Nothing was packed, I hadn’t read as much as I wanted to. Mentally – I just wasn’t there. I wasn’t ready – as if there is such a thing.
When we were deciding whether or not to have children or when, I remember feeling even then that I wasn’t ready. I was 31 and felt I had lots of time. But I also knew that pregnancy doesn’t happen for everyone, and I just felt that it would take us a while to conceive. I didn’t feel ready, but I also knew I may not ever feel ready. And I think it turns out, you can’t really be prepared for motherhood – you just do it, one day at a time.
But we were lucky. Extremely lucky. I found out I was pregnant the next month. It was surreal. I couldn’t believe it. I stared at the test with a mixture of shock, elation, and fear. I hadn’t even told my husband I was taking a test. He wasn’t even home. But here was my proof, and another test confirmed it. Ready or not, I was pregnant.
And nine months later in a similar vein, ready or not – I was in labour.
I got out of the tub and started haphazardly packing a bag, while mostly in denial. This is just in case. A precaution. I got so tired I laid down. As I did, I noticed the contractions slowed. Okay, just Braxton Hicks. We’re good. I’ve got another week at least I bet. But, then they picked back up again, and shocker – they hurt. Well, maybe hurt isn’t the right word, but they were very uncomfortable. Just SO MUCH PRESSURE.
We headed to the hospital where they set me up with a fetal monitor – a couple small circular machines strapped to my belly. Okay, yes there were some contractions… but they weren’t happening quickly enough to indicate labour. As a first timer, I know I probably had a lot of questions. I was in a lot of pain, and I wanted to know why. A month before, I’d been in the same room, complaining of unbearable pain and yet I was sent home with the words, “It’s probably just something mechanical.”
“Umm what does that mean? I’m not… a machine?”
“Like, how the baby is laying… positioned”.
“What about the blood in my urine?”
“Yeah,… um, could just be some irritation.”
I left quietly sobbing and feeling scared. The next morning I was vomiting from the pain and unable to keep food or water down. A trip to my OB led to a quick diagnosis. Yes, I was 8 months pregnant, but I also had kidney stones and was admitted to the hospital later that day.
So you can forgive me for pressing when I was told I wasn’t in labour.
“We can check your cervix and see if you’re dilated at all.”
“Okay, yeah sure, whatever you need to do, whatever lets me know what’s going on here.”
I remember looking at my husband while I scooted down at their direction. I wonder what this entails? I thought, I wonder if I’m starting to dilate. I wond- HELLO!!
WHAT. THE HELL. WAS THAT!!?
I don’t know what was more painful, the cervix check or the contractions. Actually I do, it was the cervix check. 100%.
The nurse said, “Yeah see, you’re not dilated at all.” It felt like she was a little annoyed, they had ‘real’ labours to deal with I’m sure. But there are few things as powerful as being validated, and on the opposite end, few things that can leave you feeling worse than your concerns being diminished, your pain not being recognized, and feeling, quite simply, unheard.
“So I could be hours away from this? Days?”
“So I could go on like this for two more weeks?”
I left feeling defeated, disappointed, frustrated, and most notably – still feeling intense pain!
We went home and I tried another bath. I had gone unmedicated my whole pregnancy except for the stones experience, but I caved and took a Tylenol, at their suggestion. It didn’t touch the pain – might as well have been a Skittle. And this time the bath didn’t help at all and so I slowly made my way back to bed. Every time my husband checked on me I asked him to rub my lower back, it was throbbing continuously and the only thing that brought any relief was hard massage. At one point he said, “Listen, I’m gonna have to go have a nap, cause if this is happening and we’re going to be up all night, I need some sleep.”
For any of you that grew up watching Home Improvement, there is an episode where the men on the show talk about ‘THE LOOK.” They were referring to the penetrating glare from a significant other – a look that was so powerful, it could make you do anything, and it’s message was clear – WHAT did you just say? How dare you?
Well, I was crouching on our bed in child’s pose, feeling so much pain I could barely acknowledge his statement. But if I could have, be sure that if there was ever a time for THE LOOK, that was it. I mean, yes, he needed a nap and he deserved one – but there is one thing you must NEVER do when a woman is in labour and that is COMPLAIN to that woman in labour. About anything. Any. Thing. Of course, to be fair, neither of us knew I was in labour. But still.
Anywho, in my state, I knew he had nodded off and I continued rocking back and forth on my knees and knew I needed a distraction, a comfort movie. So I put on The Notebook. Not exactly a feel good movie, as I can remember drowning a breakup in repeated viewings in my early 20s, but one I really loved and in my vulnerable state, wanted. I tried laying on my side but couldn’t. I tried my back, nope. I absolutely could not get comfortable. My fatigue started to creep in and I managed to doze for a few minutes at a time in odd positions cuddling my massive pregnancy pillow. A few times the need to move was so great that I got up and went to our spare room where our large exercise ball was and bounced up and down on it – reveling in the brief relief it seemed to bring.
A couple hours went by like this… me never being able to be comfortable, not able to sleep, not able to focus on watching a movie but the dialogue sneaking into my subconsciousness here and there. When Travis woke up he found me rocking back and forth on my hands and knees, quietly moaning a little. I was near tears at the thought I could be in this much pain for the next two weeks. It didn’t seem normal. He kept asking me what I wanted to do but I could barely process a sentence… Finally he said he was taking me back to hospital where at the very least maybe they could give me something for my pain. It had been 3 or 4 hours since we had left the hospital and the last thing I wanted to do was go back, only to be sent home again. But the pain was so intense that I didn’t object. I am so, so grateful that I didn’t.
One of the funniest things to me is the way the trek to the hospital is always portrayed in movies and television. There’s a woman with her hair beautifully styled, make up perfect, wearing a lovely dress that shows off the size of her bump, and she calmly waddles to the vehicle, while her partner rushes around frantically all around her. Think – Annie in Father of the Bride. Or, there is the opposite, a drama filled, over the top, screaming, cursing, red faced, sweat drenched woman who makes her way loudly and dramatically. Both of these versions of ‘Woman In Labour’ are perfectly acceptable by the way. However I was neither of these things, except the waddling part.
I was wearing maternity Pajama bottoms, and an oversized hockey t-shirt of my husbands, my hair in an actual messy bun (not a cute, styled messy bun), with my hair line stuck to my head, still damp from the multiple baths. And I was moving verrrry slowly. If you can picture someone walking with a large balloon between their knees – that was me. I made my way very gingerly to the car, and when it came to getting into the seat, I honestly didn’t think I could bend that way. But somehow I eased myself down and crouched low. I could feel Travis’s eyes on me several times, studying me, watching my movements and likely realizing I was generally beyond help at that point.
We only lived a five minute drive from the hospital but I remember him going down the 2 km hill from our house and stopping at the stop sign at the bottom. The dreaded T intersection that didn’t have a left turning lane, and that of course at that moment, had endless traffic going both ways. I was gripping the door handle and breathing hard, squinting my eyes and feeling every ounce of pain that was going through me. It felt like time was standing still. I was ready to scream, “JUST GO!! Risk it!!” Not caring if we had to lay on the horn and pull out into traffic and just hope that the other drivers would slam on their brakes. But just as I was about to do so, I felt the car lurch forward and quickly dart between traffic.
I also felt every pothole, every sharp movement of the steering wheel, every line in the road on the way up there. Come on County, repave your roads!! Pregnant and full bladdered people everywhere will thank you!!
“Take me to the door!!!!” I managed to breathlessly squeeze out and when he did, despite the frantic energy building inside me, I got out in that same slow way, just with a tad more urgency. I made my way through the doors and sat in the first chair I saw, promptly bent over, and started moaning. I couldn’t control it. I often think back to how that must have looked to people going by, this pregnant lady just groaning in the foyer. Do… we… help this lady? Leave her be? Someone did approach me and I waved them off, saying, “I’m just waiting for someone, I’m ok.” Trav rushed in a moment later and we made our way back to Labour and Delivery.
I remember walking in sheepishly,… even apologetically, telling them I needed to be checked again. They quickly set me up and said they would have a listen. They were quieter this time, more focused on the monitors. I couldn’t help the moaning and didn’t try to stop it. I was in an assessment room for two patients, with a curtain divider for privacy. At one point a nurse came over to my side after checking the other patient.
“Okay honey you need to breathe.” She said as she checked the data on the monitor. I couldn’t help it, the pain was taking over and all those slow breathing exercises were going out the window. The nurse said she would check my cervix again to see what was happening and I geared up for the coming discomfort. Except this time, it wasn’t nearly as painful. She said, “Hmm,… you know… I’m not feeling anything…”
“What does that mean?!?”
“Hang on” she said. She quickly went to get another nurse. The other nurse actually ended up being a cousin of my fathers. Women have been through pelvic exams since their teens, but it’s still awkward and vulnerable being so exposed and at this point I was still ensuring the sheet covered up as much of me as possible. I mean, even in labour, I do enjoy the illusion of privacy from time to time.
Again, I geared up for the possible pain of the check, but the pain I was already in made it practically unnoticeable. After a pause, she confirmed what the other nurse said… “Yeah, I think you’re fully dilated Elaine!”
I remember looking to Trav, trying to sort out in my mind what this meant, when suddenly I felt a massive gush, heard liquid hitting the floor, and felt a HUGE release of pain and pressure. Oh my god, the release of pressure. It was incredible.
What just happened? Oh lord… my water just broke – all over my dad’s cousin.
I. Was. Mortified. I thought I peed myself. “I’m so sorry!! Oh my god!! Was that my water?!”
“This is happening!” is what I remember hearing in response, along with being quickly wheeled out of the assessment room. I was in a state of shock… on one hand I felt so much relief to have my pain validated. I had just laboured at home by myself, going from 0 – 10cm in about three hours on one regular strength Tylenol. I was in disbelief and felt the emotion – all the emotions – but the pain was always at the forefront.
Some hospitals have posters with a pain scale of 1 – 10 up on the wall. The corresponding faces to go with them are almost comical, a 1 being a very happy, relaxed face, and a 10 being a swearing, red faced emoji or someone with an extreme grimace. Each stage of labour definitely progresses up that pain scale and there I was, being wheeled down to the delivery room, thinking my pain up to that point had been pretty darn close to a 10.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
And I was about to bring to life not only our baby, but also the embodiment of the swearing, red faced emoji from the pain chart.
4 thoughts on “Labour”
I feel like I am watching the last episode of my favourite show and it’s a cliff hanger! The mental anguish!
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“Might as well of been a skittle” ! Hahaha I hear ya sista!!
“The look” . How do men fiind it so easy to sleep next to a woman in pain? ..you’re killing me…hahahahh
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You are providing insight and a rich experience for many, including someone who was never able to have children. Someone like me. Thank you 🙏
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Thank you for sharing your story! It’s so important that all women are able to be open and honest about their delivery and labour to show how much it varies from person to person. I’ll be heading over to read the next part now!
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