In a way, labor began for Sarah on Friday afternoon. Not true labor as in contractions, thank goodness, because though each staff member at her office was aptly prepared with a printed instruction sheet should anything commence during the 40 hour work week, Sarah was less than excited about that prospect. She had every confidence that her coworkers would do just fine to tend to her and handle things, but labor was a very personal experience that Sarah had been fervently excited about for a long time and much preferred the story begin somewhere with Pete. What happened Friday afternoon was not recognized in the moment, but in hindsight might be considered a hunch, gut feeling, or even maternal instinct. At about 4:30 PM Sarah began frantically pulling together the final details for her “Baby Time” doc – a list of things that would need attention in the next couple weeks should she be unavailable – and then hurried into Helen and David’s office to grab Michael (Gallery Assistant) for a lightning round review of said doc. At this point it was 5 PM and the week would be over in 30 min. Somehow, Sarah knew she wouldn’t be back. Even as she locked the door to head home for the weekend she said “Good-bye office, I may not see you again for 5 weeks.” Half joking, but then again, half not.
Saturday morning Sarah awoke just before 7 AM feeling pretty good and super well rested, but also noticing that she had what felt like minor menstrual cramps. She had had these sporadically over the last month or so and though then they seemed a wee bit stronger, she did her best to keep her expectations in check and pay them little mind. One of the biggest challenges in her final weeks of pregnancy was remaining calm and patient as she and Pete awaited the big day, and though she really, REALLY was ready to go ahead and have her baby, she didn’t want to get all worked up if it wasn’t the real thing. Shortly thereafter, Pete got up as well and they decided to go for a walk downtown to hit up the Mebane Farmers’ Market. The walk was lovely (it wasn’t quite sweltering out yet). They scored some eggs and tomatoes at market and then swung by Mebane Espress to say hello to the running club gang. All the while, there were those lingering cramps…
Once home, Sarah called neighbor and good buddy Rebecca to laugh about their inability to successfully communicate about a morning walk through blackberry messenger, and decided to mention, in her most nonchalant way, the presence of the cramps. From the background, Rebecca’s husband Kevin made mention of Sarah’s prediction that Norah was coming this week and being that it was Saturday, it was her last chance to be right. Sarah laughed nervously, still suppressing the hope that it may indeed be happening for she really didn’t want to be disappointed. But at that point, now about 8 AM, those subtle little cramps were suddenly not so subtle and perhaps even beginning what one might call a pattern.
Time passed. Cramps got stronger. Sarah decided it was time to time. 5-7 minutes apart and really not painful, just clear and present. Enter google search “what does a contraction feel like?” Lots of woman mentioned menstrual cramps. Mhm. Of course lots of other women said lots of other things and so it is with pregnancy and labor and all things baby, everyone is different. Kept an eye on it for a couple hours. Same deal. Pattern. Through all the readings and talks and appointments, one thing had been consistent when it came to labor. False labor is erratic. Real labor follows a pattern. Time to page the midwives!
The phone rang a few minutes later and to our delight it was Meg, our favorite midwife (there were five at our practice). Well if hopes weren’t already high enough, this was surely the tipping point. All was explained to Meg, and her assessment was that we were still in the gray area so assuming we were comfortable doing so, we should stay home. Ok, sure. Nothing crazy was happening and the cramps were still about 5 min apart. Note, they were still what Sarah would describe as cramps at this point. Enough to make her take some deep breaths, but certainly nothing debilitating and she was conversing with ease right through them. Time to call Rebecca again. Because, well, of course we trust Meg, but there’s nothing wrong with a second opinion.
Rebecca shared her story and basically encouraged us to do what we thought was right i.e. if we were ready to go, we should go. We decided to wait and continue timing the cramps that were now surely contractions. Pete decided to go to the auto parts store to have Penny’s (our Vanagon) battery charged. Sarah thought this was a fine idea. What better way to move things along than to purposely delay the trip to the hospital. Sure enough. Three minutes apart.
One more call to the Midwives and we were off. During the leisurely 30 minute drive to UNC, things progressed right on out of the gray area into yeah baby, this is it! The contractions had reached a level that deemed talking through them less than ideal though we still were barely at a 4 on the pain scale. Once at UNC, our first visit was to the labor and delivery triage where we learned that Sarah was 2-3 cm. In hospital land that means maybe we should go home or walk around Chapel Hill a bit. This was around 2 PM and we honestly considered leaving. For about a minute. And then the real fun started. The minor discomfort of those early morning cramps was a fading memory as we lapped the halls stopping every 2 – 3 min so Sarah could hang all her pain on Pete with the tightest of hugs. That barely 4 on the pain scale had seemed to sneak right past 5 and 6, and settle around 7 in the blink of an eye. Good-bye triage. Hello labor and delivery.
We moved into a lovely, spacious room with floor to ceiling windows that looked out over the UNC medical campus. Per our request, the room had a tub and we decided to try some hydrotherapy in the hopes of easing, or at the very least distracting from, the increasing pain. A hot bath was drawn and within minutes of settling into the water, Sarah felt some relief. Pete never left her side and sat there next to the tub talking her through it, pouring cups of water on her skin, playing music on the laptop, holding her hand and reminding her to breathe. The tub worked for awhile, but soon the pain got worse and Sarah got pruny and that was the end of that.
Let’s pause here to make a note of the fact that part of Sarah’s birth plan was to experience natural child birth. She knew that anything she put in her plan was not set in stone and was very into just going with the flow and making decisions as needed. Post tub, and teetering toward 8 on the pain scale, the little thought of a well known shot began to enter her mind. She decided to ask the nurse who assured her that it was not too late and that she wouldn’t be a failure if she decided to go that route. But first, let’s try a little morphine…OK!
Three IV attempts and several bandages later, Sarah was on the dope drip and officially confined to bed. This was super fine with her as the speedy progression of her labor had exhausted her and all she wanted to do was lie down. The morphine effect was to settle Sarah into a dopey state that basically put her to sleep in between contractions thereby letting her rest and relax. For about a minute at a time. The contractions were still felt fully and often came back to back. Sarah’s mom and grandma had come to the room and everyone was doing an amazing job supporting her. Hands were squeezed, water was supplied, soothing words were spoken. Even through the glaze of the morphine, Sarah was mindful enough to know how wonderfully lucky she was to have all this love in the room.
Eventually the morphine began to wear off. We were at 6 cm at this point and it was time once again to consider an epidural. The delivery team offered that we could do one more round of drip and we accepted. The pain was beyond description then and though the drip continued to have somewhat of a relaxing effect between contractions, the between was no longer long enough to be enough. Time floated by, Sarah suffered through and then the moment came. Through screams and groans she threw in the towel and looked at Pete and said “I’m sorry, I just can’t take it anymore, I want the shot.” She was saddened but it was unbearable and knowing not when the end would come, she accepted defeat. Pete was brilliantly reassuring telling her never to be sorry, it was absolutely fine, and she had done amazingly well. The nurse and midwife were on board with whatever decision we made, but a few comments were thrown out that clearly expressed their hope that Sarah would muster on. They only wanted what we wanted and knew what our hopes were and did nothing more than try to be encouraging.
The anesthesiologist was called in, Grams and Ma left the room, the shot was prepared, Sarah rolled over to one side and now it was only a matter of finding a brief break in the body wrenching pain when Sarah would be still enough to accept the needle into her spine. And then, swish. “I think my water just broke.” Another check of her cervix showed that indeed all systems were a go and so Meg asked Sarah if she felt she needed to push. The answer was a firm no, but then, in a matter of seconds something snapped and she exclaimed “yes! yes! I need to push!” Shot be gone! It’s go time.
Sans epidural (whew that was close!), Sarah proceeded to push through excruciating contractions (let’s call it a 12) doing all she could to listen to everything Pete and the labor team said and focus on breathing, pushing, and positioning. Pete was a better birth partner than Sarah could ever imagine. He was strong, kind, loving; he said all the right things, he held Sarah every step of the way, he gave her all she needed and nothing she didn’t.
About 15 minutes later, Sarah could feel how close they were to the finish line, and during one of her final pain free moments she looked at Pete and said “I love you.” Then, she gathered all her remaining strength and pushed harder and longer than any previous effort and there it was. Instant relief. The pain was horrendous and indescribable, but as soon as that baby came out and they placed her on Sarah’s belly, it was all forgotten. Just after 9 PM on Saturday July 10th, when we sat together on that hospital bed and held our baby girl for the first time, we became a family. And that made it all worth it.
Welcome Norah! We’re so very happy to finally meet you.