It was early July, and I’d had a fairly easy pregnancy thus far. A few gross symptoms had cropped up around 35 weeks, specifically swollen ankles and feeling uncomfortably huge. I figured that feeling that way for the last month of my pregnancy was adequate payment for how smooth things had gone up until then, so I was ready for those last few weeks!
On the morning of Fri, June 8, I went to my routine 37-week doctor’s appointment — this would be the first of my weekly appointments, as well as the first one that would feature a cervical check. At this point, I had ZERO expectations that I wouldn’t go the full 40 weeks — or more, actually! My “female intuition” had told me that I was going to go late, which is typical for first-time mothers.
What a complete and utter shock awaited me that morning: my doctor proclaimed to me that 1) my baby had dropped, 2) her head was very low (which we had already seen the week before at my 36 week ultrasound), and 3) surprise, surprise, I was 3 cm dilated and 70% effaced. I had NO idea, and while my doctor claimed that making it to this stage without knowing it was a good thing, I couldn’t help but be shocked, worried, and panicked. Regarding timing, my doctor proclaimed that she would be surprised if I made it another week and could almost guarantee that I would not be making it to my due date — July 27, 19 days away.
That afternoon, as the shock wore down to just a dull panic, I began having light contractions while I tried to wrap up all loose ends at work to prepare for possibly not being there for the next week. The contractions continued throughout the evening, semi-regular but still moderate. After some discussion, Evan and I decided to go to our already-scheduled dinner with friends that evening. I stopped noticing the contractions so much during dinner but they became apparent again on the drive home.
Saturday morning, I woke up at 5:30am with contractions that were still just moderate in intensity, but coming more regularly — about every 8 minutes — rendering me basically unable to sleep consistently, so I got up at 6am. I walked around downstairs, read email, took a shower, and just hung out while trying to reconcile myself with what was happening. Around 8:30am, Evan woke up and we started officially timing contractions for the next four or five hours.
Throughout the morning, the contractions got stronger, but still very manageable, and started coming consistently about 3-7 min apart, but most frequently 4-5 min apart. Evan and I started realizing this was really going to happen today, and we ran around doing the to do list — washing baby clothes, putting together hospital bags, etc. By about 1pm we decided to call my doctor, and she said we should go to the hospital in the next hour.
We got our stuff together and headed to the hospital around 2pm, and was checked in and examined. I had progressed to 4.5 cm and 90% effaced… so we got to stay!
Staying meant that we got to move to the Labor and Delivery room, where I was monitored throughout my ensuing contractions. They continued to get stronger, but were still manageable. The contractions almost felt familiar by now, and this was what ended up being a fairly restful time — Evan popped out to grab a quick dinner and I had a delicious (seriously!) hospital-provided popsicle.
Around 6:30pm, they checked me, and lo and behold, I was at 6 cm and full effaced! However, the nurse said they were concerned that I was getting too comfortable with the steady and moderate intensity of the contractions — yes, they figured it was a problem that I wasn’t hurting enough, ha!
So to make the contractions a bit stronger, so they broke my water for me at that time. For some reason, I decided this was a good time to empty my bladder before the stronger contractions began, but I underestimated how quickly they would start, and the first of the stronger contractions happened on the toilet — awkward! That one and the contraction directly afterwards were really intense but manageable, especially due to the strong flush of rest and relief that I got between them. But the third started waaaay too strong for me and took so long to pass that I realized that I wouldn’t get much of a break before the next one would begin.
The nurse asked me how I was doing, and I decided to go for the epidural then. It ended up being good timing because with the contraction-stream that started then (they definitely stopped feeling like discrete occurrences), I barely got through the wait for the anesthesiologist and the epidural administration, which happened over the next half hour or so. The contractions were so very strong and had so little time in between them that I was starting to forget what I was supposed to be doing. Evan stepped up big time here, staying with me face-to-face and leading me through breathing with long, deep, controlled breaths. I tried to stay with him, but there were times I totally couldn’t stay with him, but Evan kept at it, and eventually, I’d come back to reality. At one point I realized it was a bit easier to breathing with sound, so we moaned, panted, and made funny noises (Evan, obviously — never me!). It was hard to focus on what the anesthesiologist wanted from me. Once I realized he wanted me to arch my back, when my body so intensely wanted to lean back and lay down, I panicked, but the encouragement from Evan, the doctor, and the nurse helped me finally get it done. After the epidural was administered, I was left laying on my side with the contractions still coming but with less strength each time. They became manageable again, and then not long after that, I was feeling pressure only. I’ve heard women describe this before and I figured they meant they felt like something was pushing out strongly from inside of them. That wasn’t my experience at all! Instead, it felt like a strong, sharp (but not painful) pulling, and it wasn’t in the “general area,” but was super localized. Thanks to the pain relief, I could talk again, and I decided to declare to the whole room where I specifically felt the pulling: in the right side of my vagina — I’m sure they were charmed!
The doctor checked me and confirmed that I was complete — 10 cm dilated, the baby’s head very low… basically it was time to push! It was about 7pm. I laid down on my side, and when a contraction was coming (I’d feel that pull in the vagina), we’d do three big pushes. On the first pushes, Evan could see her head — he told me she had HAIR, which was a big thing we had debated. I was getting so excited to see this person that we had anticipated for so long! After a few cycles of pushing, it became evident that though the pushing itself was going well, the baby’s heartbeat would drop a bit afterwards. To keep this from happening, we moved to pushing at every other contraction, and I was given an oxygen mask. All in all, it took about an hour and a half of pushing, with resting in between. Then the point arrived: I was being prepped to come down to the end of the bed, and get my feet into stirrups for The Final Push! It took three pushes, and then OUT SHE CAME! They placed her briefly on my stomach and I couldn’t stop laughing and crying, because HOLY SHIT. We made a baby, an actual human life!!!
And that human? Healthy and absolutely perfect in her parents’ eyes. Welcome to the world, Zoe Natalia Phoenix! 6 pounds 5 ounces, 20 inches long, born at 8:27pm on July 9, 2011.