You’re busily wrapping up your final week of work before your planned 3-week, preparing-for-baby extravaganza.
What you don’t know is that you won’t get those 3 weeks of resting, organizing, and eager anticipation.
At 36 weeks + 6 days, you’ll get up at 4:30 am for a routine “wee hour” pee, and hear a “pop.” Your mind will start racing, and since I know you’re wondering, I’ll go ahead and tell you: that was, in fact, your water breaking.
By the time you call your midwife at 6:00 am, those contractions will already be just a few minutes apart. You’ll tell her that they’re “right on top of each other,” and she’ll tell you to get packed and start the 45-minute drive to the hospital. Your husband will hastily set up the crib in the bedroom and install the carseat, things are currently putting off because you’re sure that you have more time.
You’ll unceremoniously leave the house for the last time as a family of two.
I know this part worries you, but the drive really won’t be that bad. You’ll watch the sun come up through a hazy, dreary fog, and you’ll be able to close your eyes and breathe through each contraction. Though they are double-peaking and only 1-2 minutes apart, the pain is not unfamiliar. At this stage, contractions will feel like really severe cramps.
You’ll arrive at the hospital at 7:30 am, and opt for a wheelchair so you can get to the room as quickly as possible. You’ll manage to hold your composure in front of the reception-desk lady and the nurse who gets you set up in the L&D room, but that control won’t last long. I can’t sugar-coat this: you’re in for a wild ride.
I know you feel prepared for the pain, since you’ve taken a lot of time to prepare yourself for natural childbirth. But you’re headed straight for the deep end of the pool, and you’ll quickly question your ability to see it through.
Between 8:00 and 9:00 you’ll be 4cm dilated, and you’ll believe that you can’t do it – that you’re not strong enough – because this is only the beginning of labor and it’s already unbearable.
Listen to me: these thoughts don’t mean you are weak. Remember your birth class? Those thoughts are a very good sign. Forget the dilation, and forget the clock. You’re in transition – yes, already – and what takes most women 8+ hours, your body will do in an hour and a half. You’re not weak…you’re just sprinting toward the finish line.
It will be intense. Your best coping mechanism will be yelling (but don’t worry, you’re the only patient there).
You’ll know in your heart that everything is okay, but your baby is borderline premature, so prepare for a little more interference than expected. You’ll want to cry when the nurse repeatedly interrupts the only slight comfort you have – sitting on a stool in a hot shower – to be hooked up to monitors on that dreaded bed. But you won’t be alone.
Your husband will be strong when you feel weak. He’ll see your agony and hear your pleas of “I can’t do this,” and he’ll keep you on course for a medication-free birth, even though he wants nothing more than to take your pain away. He’ll tell you not to listen to that little voice saying “I can’t do it”…and you’ll snap back that it’s not a little voice, it’s a giant throbbing uterus! All the benefits of a natural birth won’t seem worth it at this point, but stick it out just a little bit longer, and you’ll be so glad you did.
Because between 10:30 and 11:00am, you’ll already feel the urge to push. And no, the nurses won’t believe that you’re ready, but the urge will be so overwhelming that you can’t stop it. A quick check will confirm that you’re fully dilated, and you’ll be so grateful to see that big blue tub filling up with warm water. Your midwife won’t even wait until it’s done filling up before telling you you can get in. You’ll collapse over the edge and feel relief as the warm water surrounds you. The contractions will keep coming, but you can finally be able to relax in between.
The most beautiful thing about natural labor is that you can listen to your body and know exactly what position to get in to help the baby move down. You’ll be most comfortable in a squatting/kneeling position, so gravity will work in your favor.
What follows will be an inner tug-of-war. Your body (and midwife) urge you to push, and it feels good figuratively to be able to do something productive, but pushing…well, it hurts. It’s like your body is telling you to do it to stop doing it all at once. A few times, you’ll even contemplate not pushing at all and staying pregnant forever.
But only a few pushes in, and your midwife will have you reaching down to feel your baby’s head. Up until this point, it hasn’t completely registered that a baby will result from all of this. One minute, you were busy closing one chapter of your life, thinking you had a few more weeks to mentally prepare for the next one. The next minute, you’re surrounded by nurses, grasping your husband’s legs for dear life as said baby is threatening to split you in two.
“But it hurts!” You’ll whine, as if the midwife will say “Oh! Okay! Well in that case, don’t push.” Instead, she (along with a chorus of nurses) will say “Yep, it does!” And after 20 minutes of pushing, when you feel that baby’s head crowning, I really wish you would take your time. Yes, there are a lot of voices encouraging you along, but you don’t have to rush this.
Instead, you’ll take your midwife seriously when she says “one more push,” and give it everything you’ve got. Meanwhile, you’ll arch your back to try and escape the pain – please don’t. Your midwife will push you back into place, and that baby will shoot out of you like a torpedo, literally splitting you in two. It’s the most intense pain you’ll ever feel, followed by the most intense relief.
Here’s the part you’ve been wondering the most about. I can’t prepare you for this, it’s simply too surreal. You’ll look down, and through the dancing surface of the water, a tiny little body will take shape. As if it’s materializing right before your eyes. Up, into your arms, comes a baby…your baby.
You won’t even think to check…somehow, you already know. But your husband will laugh in disbelief as he announces it:
It’s a boy.
I dearly wish you could just hold him against you and enjoy him. But instead, you immediately stand up and pass him off to the waiting arms of a nurse to be evaluated. I can tell you now that your baby is as healthy as can be, despite his early arrival, but you won’t know that, and they won’t know that.
Thinking back on this day makes me emotional, 3 months later. But you won’t feel that emotion right away. It takes a bit of time for you to process what just happened and bond with that precious little boy. When you lay down in a heap of exhaustion one night, at 36 weeks + 5 days pregnant, you’ll have no idea that you will be holding your baby before noon the next day.
But then it will happen. In the early hours of your first misty sunrise together, you’ll fall asleep with him on your chest, and everything will be right in the world. He’ll be yours, and you’ll be his. And nothing will ever be the same.