From the beginning of my second trimester, my pregnancy with Joanie was significantly more difficult than my pregnancy with Jackson. By the time I hit 34 weeks, I was so ready for it to be over and, as soon as I hit the magic 37-week milestone (generally safe for a baby to be born), I started willing labor to begin and obsessively looking for any early signs that Joanie was on her way. I was especially anxious to recognize labor as early as possible and get to the hospital as quickly as I could since my labor with Jackson was 3 hours from first contraction to holding him in my arms and I’d heard subsequent labors are often much faster. I did not want to have a baby on our living room floor with no medical people around or, worse yet, in a cab stuck in traffic.
On Thursday, July 2, I had some significant labor signs and decided to go to Labor and Delivery (per my doctor’s urging) to get checked out. Alas, despite fairly regular contractions, I was only 1.5 cm dilated and contractions didn’t progress over the three hours I was monitored. I was sent home. We sweated out most of the Fourth of July as regular (but painless) contractions continued throughout the day, knowing the bridge we needed to take to get to the hospital was closed for fireworks. We established a few back-up plans, none of them ideal, and breathed a sigh of relief when the night came to a close and I wasn’t yet in labor. But when we woke up the next morning, I was ready again.
“Come on, Baby,” I said. “Today’s a good day to be born!” It was my cousin’s birthday as well as my aunt’s, and I thought it would be kind of cool to say that my grandmother had a daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter all born on July 5th. Alas, that day also came to a close with no baby. And, still, the contractions continued.
Jackson’s babysitter took the next day, July 6th, off and, since I knew it would be one of my last days with Jackson as an only child, I wanted to make it special. I summoned all my energy and took him on an adventure, riding the bus (where I literally had to shame someone into offering up his seat — to a 9-month pregnant woman and her young child, imagine!) to the awesome sprinkler park that opened in Brooklyn last summer. We hung out and played for a couple of hours, then stopped for ice cream on the way home, and then hit the playground later in the afternoon. It was super hot that day and I surprised myself by being as active as I was, though I was happy to have that time, just Jackson and me.
By the end of the evening I was paying for all that activity though, and by bedtime I was in so much discomfort — with heartburn, indigestion, contractions, leg cramps, and general anxiety — that I was awake all night long. By 7 AM, with no sleep and seemingly no end in sight to this miserable last trimester, I burst into tears and said to Drew, “I can’t take it anymore! I can’t take it.”
At 10 AM, I made my way into Manhattan for my 38-week check-up. There, my doctor informed me that I had high blood pressure, and, after three checks, it wasn’t going down. I’d never, ever had high blood pressure before, but now it was a concern for pre-eclampsia or other risks to the baby. “You need to go to Labor and Delivery right now and get monitored for two hours. If your blood pressure doesn’t come down, you’ll need to be induced.”
I’d been thinking about an elective induction when I hit 39 weeks, the earliest my doctor would schedule it, but I was feeling a little guilty about it. While I knew it was in the baby’s best interest that I deliver her in the safety of the hospital (instead of in a cab en route) — and an induction would all but guarantee that — I wondered if I was being selfish not letting her come out on her own. But, if an induction were truly medically necessary, that would eliminate my guilt while easing a lot of my anxiety over the timing of labor. I walked to the hospital from my doctor’s office feeling at once hopeful that I might have the baby that day and fearful that the high blood pressure would create complications I wasn’t prepared for.
At the hospital, my blood pressure came down a bit and a PA told me I was going to be sent home. I started getting dressed when the doctor on call came into the triage room and informed me that, actually, they were going to induce me after all.
“Because of your age,” she said, “and your history with precipitous labor, and given that, out of 10 checks in the last several hours, your blood pressure has been high seven of those times, the high-risk doctor I spoke with advised an induction, so you’re going to have a baby in a few hours!”
Drew was already with me — he rushed to the hospital the second I uttered the words “might be induced.” I quickly called Jackson’s babysitter and asked if she could watch him the rest of the day and probably overnight, too, and then I called my family. “I’m having a baby today!” I said.
For the next couple of hours, I hung out in bed with a pile of magazines and the internet, trying to stay calm and relaxed. Drew ran home to get our hospital bag while we waited for everything to get set up and for my doctor to arrive for her call shift that evening. At 4 PM, I got an epidural and was so happy and relieved to be getting it after going med-free the last time, I practically kissed the anesthesiologist. She told me there was no reason I needed to feel much pain and that when the contractions began to hurt, I could push a button for more medication. Within minutes, I felt like I was floating — it was fantastic — and a few minutes after that, the nurse started my pitocin drip to induce labor.
For the next couple of hours, I felt zero pain. I could feel when I was having contractions — and they were coming faster — but they didn’t hurt at all. In fact, I felt pretty comfortable and cozy, if not a little nervous about the big event ahead. I made sure I knew where that little button was in case I needed to push it. At 7, the contractions started getting uncomfortable. My OB checked me and I was only 2 cm dilated. By 7:30, I was in a lot of pain. The contractions were coming fast and strong and I started worrying about whether I was up for all this. What if it hurt as much as before? My doctor checked me again and I’d progressed to 7 cm in the past thirty minutes. “That was really fast,” she said, “But you’re still not quite ready. I’ll come check you again in about a half hour, but let me know as soon as you feel the urge to push.”
“I have to push!” I said immediately.
“What? No, don’t push!” she said, “You’re only 7 cm. You’re not ready!”
“I have to push!” I yelled again. “I have to push!”
Quickly, she checked me and I was suddenly fully dilated and the baby’s head was coming out. Everything began moving in super fast motion. Nurses rushed in and broke down the bed and grabbed my legs, someone else squeezed my hand, the doctor told me to hold my chin to my chest and push as hard as I could the next time I felt a contraction. The pain was almost unbearable — almost as bad as I remembered it being with Jackson, and, to make matters worse, there was no air conditioning! it was a million degrees outside and the air conditioning in the labor room was out — but it was all blessedly brief. After fifteen minutes of pushing, Joanie was on my chest.
“You’re here!” I said to her. “You’re here. I’m your mama, Joanie. I’m your mom and I love you.” And she looked at me with wide-open eyes and smiled. And that moment was worth all the months of discomfort and all the months before that of uncertainty.
That night, Drew had to go home because there weren’t any private rooms left on the floor, so it was just Joanie and I, and I couldn’t sleep. I stayed awake all night holding her and nursing her and looking at her and taking her in. My daughter.
And now it’s nine days later and I want to freeze time. So far, I’m enjoying this newborn experience immensely and I’m all too aware of how quickly it will end. I’m sure that’s one of the reasons why I’m enjoying it as much as I am. And it helps that I’m more experienced this time and gentler on myself and breastfeeding is going easier (and I’m also not stressing out about it like before) and Joanie is an easy, easy baby. (Seriously, she sleeps like 22 hours a day! Even when she does cry, which isn’t often, it’s the sweetest little cry). It’s only nine days in and it’s already nine days in, and my heart has never felt fuller.