Even though I was over a week away from our due date (4/28), I started to feel a change after Pascha. On Bright Monday, I felt my first contraction. It came suddenly, around noon, and though I’d never felt anything like it before, I was convinced things were getting underway, but nothing happened until the following night. They began to come about every half an hour, but they were mild enough that I could work through them quietly.
At about 3 in the morning on Wednesday, I felt a sudden gush during a strong one, which soaked my pajamas and the sheets below me. I ran for the bathroom, yelling, “Pete! My water just broke!” He leapt out of bed and we considered calling the birthing center, but decided to just wait to see what would happen.
The irregular contractions continued, so the following morning I called. The nurse was skeptical that my water had actually broken, because that one gush was all I had felt. She told me I would have been leaking amniotic fluid with each contraction if it had really broken. Just to be on the safe side, she told me to lie down for an hour, then get up and walk for half an hour, then call her back. I did, but still no leaking. She told me it was probably nothing, which I still refused to believe. I decided it wasn’t worth insisting upon, as I wanted to put off going to the birthing center for as long as possible anyway.
My sisters Anna and Juliana, both nurses, were on their way, and Emily was calling from Delaware every now and then to check my progress. I spent the day sewing and watching Anne of Green Gables, and even proclaimed glibly that contractions weren’t that bad. Joanna came for a visit, and I whipped up a tablecloth for her. I knew I was in the very early stages, but I felt convinced that things would get moving and we’d have our baby before too long.
It was not the best timing, because that evening, Pete had to be in traffic court over two hours away. He had already missed the first court date for that speeding ticket. If he didn’t show up at this one, his license would be suspended. All day long, we debated whether or not he should go.
We had been using an app to track my contractions, and it was frustrating that they were so irregular. Though things continued to get more intense, they still weren’t getting much closer together than 15-20 minutes. Pete came home from work and we decided he could make it to court and back without missing much.
While he was gone, things got more intense, perhaps because I was worried he wouldn’t make it back in time. I finally called the birthing center again, thinking that if my water had really broken, we were fast approaching the 24-hour mark. They told us to come in, though they were still doubtful that it had in fact broken. As soon as Pete returned, we packed up the car, and with Anna and Juliana following us, raced the half an hour to Cooperstown. We sang the Paschal Hours through a couple of contractions on the way there.
Not long after we arrived at the birthing center, the doctor examined me and explained that I was still 0 cm dilated and not effaced at all. Basically, I hadn’t even begun the process. I was utterly discouraged. How could nearly 24 hours of contractions get me nowhere? He administered a test that could detect whether or not my water had broken. While we waited for the results, the doctor explained that if it turned out my water really had broken that long ago, he would have to induce labor, which would really beat both the baby and me up, which would raise my chances of ending up with a c-section. I was torn between believing it really had broken and praying it hadn’t.
The test came back—my water had not yet broken. My relief mixed with utter exhaustion and sheer frustration, but I somehow managed to keep the tears in check until we left the birthing center, in spite of the doctor’s long-winded lecture. I was furious, mortified, and completely hopeless. I knew I couldn’t endure another day of useless contractions, let alone another week or more! As soon as we got in the car, I started sobbing, and didn’t stop until I was in bed next to Pete, who ignored my protestations that I was too tired to eat and kept spooning mac and cheese into my whimpering mouth. Obviously he is a genius.
I slept for a little while, waking for contractions that were worse than before, closer than before, and yet felt pointless because I knew I was shut up tight. I woke often, ran for the bathroom—the only place that felt comfortable at that point, and then would collapse into bed until the next one came. The night somehow passed.
I unwillingly endured each contraction, which my sisters continued to clock, though I refused to look at the data. We spent the day similarly, though this time the sewing machine lay untouched, and the movies slipped by unwatched. I rested when I could, ate when I could, all the while complaining about the futility of it all. That afternoon, Pete and I went for a walk, and I hung onto him with each contraction. They had slowly begun creeping closer together, but stubbornly remained at about 10 minutes apart. At around 5 PM, my sisters, who had cleaned the whole place from top to bottom, stocked the fridge, and done all the laundry, decided to go home, because nothing was changing.
Emily continued to call and check up on us. She was the only one who inexplicably still believed we were getting closer. At about 8 PM, she tried talking me into calling the birthing center. I stubbornly refused, not wanting to be the girl who heads in there every night, only to be sent home. She asked to talk to Pete and made him promise to call the birthing center. He called, and explained to them that though the contractions were mostly 4-6 minutes apart, there were a couple of outliers that were 8 or 9 minutes apart that made us think we weren’t quite there yet. They told us to come right in anyway.
I dragged my feet to the car, still not quite believing it was time. That half-an-hour drive was much the same—Paschal Hours, punctuated with much more frequent contractions. I had to pause in the parking lot and in the elevator on the way to the birthing center for particularly bad contractions. Once in the room, I didn’t take my knitting out this time, and we didn’t bother turning on the television. Thankfully, the doctor—a different one from the night before--didn’t make us wait long.
Dr. G. checked me, proclaimed me 5 cm dilated, then considered a moment and amended it to 7 cm. I immediately started crying out of sheer relief. He added that my cervix was paper-thin and melting away like warm jello. At the time, his mixed metaphors didn’t bother me, but I remember Emily said, “Um, ew!” when I quoted that back to her.
We sent texts to our family, telling them that it was for real this time. Anna, who had just gotten home to New Jersey, sat down on her bed, cried, then got back in the car and turned right back around. Juliana, being only an hour and a half away, made it back much faster. Emily graciously refrained from saying, “I told you so!”
It was about 10 PM at this point, and my lovely nurse Michelle asked us if we would consider allowing a nursing student to observe the birth. I remembered my mother’s story of a very shy med student she allowed to observe one of our births, who nearly fainted at the sight. Of course I said yes. Enter Bobby. He had just gotten off his 12-hour shift, but was eager to stay as long as necessary. He immediately ran off to get me some ice water.
The birthing center has these incredible tubs with jets in every delivery room. I had been excited to try one out ever since I learned that fact, so after I got hooked up to my strep B antibiotics, we began there. Unfortunately, in my eagerness to get into the tub, I got my dress tangled up with the IV cart. Michelle sorted it out when she returned. I popped on my bikini top and hopped into the waiting water.
At first it was lovely. It made the contractions much easier to bear. I made the mistake of leaving the jets on, and the ones aimed at my hips proved to be overwhelming. Pete had to fumble them off each time a contraction struck. After just 20 minutes, I declared that I couldn’t take the water touching me everywhere, and emerged, now at 9 cm.
That final centimeter took a long time. I labored on my knees, leaning over the back of the bed. Juliana arrived a little after 11 PM. About half an hour later, I began to have a faint urge to push, but Dr. G. checked and said I was still at 9 cm, with a rim of cervix left. Finally, to move things along, he broke my water with what looked like a crochet hook. After that, things really intensified. Michelle explained to Pete that up until then, the amniotic fluid was working as a buffer. Without it, the contractions grind away at the baby and the mother mercilessly. As hard as it was, I was grateful things were finally moving again.
Before too long, I felt the strong urge to push roll through me. I absolutely had to bear down. Yet the pressure I felt made me terrified to do so, because I was confusing it with an urge to poop. Dr. G. cut right to the chase. He told me nothing was happening down below when I pushed. He said, “Something is scaring you. What is it?” Embarrassed, I lied and told him I was afraid I’d tear. He promised I wouldn’t, then gave me the single most useful piece of information of the night. He said, “It’s going to feel like the baby is coming out the wrong hole.” It suddenly became clear to me that I should give into what I was feeling and just bear down. I did, and we began to get somewhere. I never did poop, either—thankfully.
At 1:30 AM or so, Anna breathlessly arrived, in the midst of some serious pushing. She made it just in time! Michelle remarked that she wondered if I had been holding back, hoping Anna would make it. I was so impressed that Michelle and the rest of the staff included my sisters in procedures, trusting them on a professional level. That showed a confidence that really put me at ease.
I was on the bed, but when the urge to push came, Juliana and Michelle would grab me under my arms and sweep me up into a squatting position at the foot of the bed, then lay me back down to rest in between. I remember the sea of people around me, but in the midst of pushing, the only face I could see was Bobby the nursing student’s. He kept nodding excitedly as the baby’s head became visible. Seeing his encouraging face really kept me going. I’ll always be grateful that he stayed.
The final couple of pushes were the hardest work I’ve ever done, but I remember thinking that in just a few more moments, it would all be over. I summoned up the strength from somewhere deep, ground my teeth together, and just did not let up.
At 2:26 AM on Friday, April 20th, the baby finally emerged. My sisters yelled out in unison, “It’s a girl!” The doctor suctioned her, lay her on my chest, and she stayed there for a whole hour. Michelle rubbed her down and gave her a little oxygen, and she went from deep purple to pink and finally cried. Pete and I just stared at her and wondered what we would call her. I kept saying, “Look what we did!” Pete got to cut the cord.
The closest thing to a complication was that the cord came out with her instead of remaining attached to the placenta like it was supposed to. The doctor had to do some finagling to get the placenta out. After that, he got down to the business of repairing what he called my “three minor lacerations” with twenty stitches. I have no complaints about tearing, though, because he really did an excellent job of putting me back together.
We finally settled on her name before our hour of skin-to-skin drew to a close. We decided on Lucy Anastasia for our Bright Friday baby, because Lucy means light and Anastasia means resurrection. And then her father sang her the most fitting lullabies--“Christ is Risen” and “The Angel Cried.”