I'd been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for about 2 months on and off, but in the week prior to birth they were coming about every ten minutes unless I took a shower or a walk. On January 18th, I woke up at about 8:30am with some contractions that felt stronger and more painful than the Braxton-Hicks that I'd been having. I tolerated them for a while, then decided I'd had enough and got in the shower so they'd go away. Only they didn't go away. Brian timed some of them and they were about 7 minutes apart. By noon, I had an idea that I was starting labor and so we started getting ready. We went to the grocery store for a few last-minute items, we finished packing the hospital bag, we baked some pumpkin bread for munching at the hospital and cooked some tortilla soup for dinner (from scratch! yummm). (I was trying to keep my mind off the contractions by staying busy.) At some point in all that hubub I had some bloody show and contractions increased to about 3 minutes apart, so after we ate dinner we decided to call the OB. Being a Sunday, we called the doctor on call. She told me to go to the hospital after listening to me talk through a contraction (or try to, anyway). While Brian loaded the car, I took a bath.
We arrived at the hospital at about 8:30pm on the 18th. My contractions were starting to get quite painful by that point. They got me checked in quickly and a nurse came and did a pelvic exam. I was surprised and disheartened to hear that I was only 1cm dialated after 12 hours of labor! She strapped me down to the bed with fetal monitors and a blood pressure cuff and then went off to talk to the doctor. (That stupid blood pressure cuff, how I came to despise it! It always seemed to know when I was having a contraction, and it'd wait till then to squeeze the crud out of my arm until my hand swelled and turned purple. It kept reading my BP high... well I was in the middle of a contraction so no surprise there! Also I think that just having to wear the stupid thing was raising my BP! I was terribly obstinate cuz every time the nurse wasn't looking, I would tear that cursed thing off. By the end of my hospital stay, I hated it so much that I wanted to throw it on the ground and stomp on it.) Being stuck laying down made everything about 20 times worse. Finally I threw all the straps off of me and went back to laboring standing up. So since the blood pressure machine was getting some high readings (insert curses here), they wanted to keep me in the hospital for a while. They were threatening to put me on constant monitoring and force an IV because of the high BP. Eventually the stupid machine managed to catch my BP between contractions and found me to be normal, so luckily we didn't have to go down that avenue.
At 10pm I got another pelvic exam. Even the nurse was surprised to find that I'd dialated to 6cm in about an hour and a half. That was great progress, so I was releaved. But by then I knew that I couldn't take much more. The contractions were still about 3 minutes apart, lasting about 1 to 2 minutes, and they were AGONY. The most intense pain I've ever felt. I couldn't relax through them and I was worried that I was impeding my own progress by tensing up. Poor Brian was doing everything he possibly could and everything I asked him to do, and still nothing was working to relax me. So I asked for an epidural.
By the time I got the epidural, I was 7cm dialated. That was around midnight. After that, labor slowed a bit, but that was ok since up to that point it had been seriously high-speed and intense. I finished dialating over the next 5 hours. Having the epidural was like a night and day difference. Before the epidural the pain was consuming, the labor tedious, the work nearly unbearable. After the epidural everything got so easy. I even took a nap. It almost felt cheap.
After a while I started feeling rectal pressure. The nurse examined me and said that I was fully dialated and that she'd go get the doctor so we could start pushing. Well the doctor on call was still in an emergency C-section and my doctor didn't make rounds for another half hour. Dilemma! So I'm laying there... having contractions... waiting for a doctor... and I thought, "Screw it. I'm at a hospital; if something happens they'll get someone in here. I'm gonna do what feels right with or without a doctor." So I turned on my side, put up one leg, and at my next contraction I gave a little gentle assistance. Ahh that felt better! This went on for a while (maybe twenty minutes) and I was feeling pretty good. The nurse came back in and asked how I was doing. I admitted to her that I'd been giving "little cheaty pushes" with the contractions. She smiled and said, "I know. I've been watching on the monitors, but I wasn't going to say anything." So then she got down to check my progress. When she stood up, she told me to put my legs together while she got the doctor. (Later she confessed to me that the reason she told me to put my legs together was because she could see the head crowning and she didn't want me to have the baby without a doctor in the room.)
So then the doctor bustled in, they threw my legs into the stirrups, and told me to pull my knees back and push with the next contraction. When it came, I gave two gentle pushes and then felt the strangest emptying sensation. I think I even said, "that feels weird" as she slipped out of me. It was all so easy and calm and kind of surreal.
They put her on my chest and she was so slippery. She looked right at me and my heart just melted. I remember kissing Brian and telling him thank you and being so happy. It was wonderful.
For that time that we stayed in the hospital, it sort of felt like she wasn't really ours; like she was on loan or something. It wasn't until we got in the car with her to go home that it finally started feeling real to me.
We've been home for three days now. It's hard work, but every now and then she does something that is so mind-numbingly adorable that you think "I could never sleep again if she'd just look at me like that one more time."