There are some things in life you just cannot know in advance. Estate planning lawyers talk about some of them regularly in the context of when you die: how old you’ll be and when, whom and what you’ll be leaving behind, and what the taxes will be like (at both the state and federal levels). Allow me to add another to the list of things you just cannot know in advance: what labor and delivery will be like when your baby is ready to be born.
I find whenever I think I have some things figured out, life throws me a curve ball, to humble me a little more perhaps. So when I got all cocky, talking about how “I don’t have those kinds of dramatic, fast labors” and insisted that this time would probably be much like the last two, I guess I was kind of tempting fate. You see, my first two experiences with labor and delivery were highly anticlimactic and lasted hours and hours.
This time was a whole different kind of story! Monday, August 31st, 2 days past my due date with daughter #3, I dropped off my older daughters at school then pretty much blew off work and spent the day just relaxing and doing whatever I felt like doing for a big change. Around 5pm my husband called to check on me (again) and asked whether I was still feeling the baby moving. Suddenly it occurred to me that she had been far less squirmy than usual. After trying to rouse her and paying careful attention for a couple hours, I called the midwife who suggested I come in for a nonstress test.
Not wanting to trouble anyone or call in a favor earlier than necessary, I left my husband home with the big girls around 10:30pm and drove myself to Mass General. The nurse immediately found and I heard the baby’s heartbeat (relief!) and almost as soon as I was hooked up to the monitors, she started to squirm a little. I had some irregular contractions, but that had been going on for weeks and didn’t seem like anything new. Assuring the midwife and nurse that I felt fine and expected a long, drawn-out labor as with the last two, I bid them so long, and drove myself home. The plan was to do early labor at home, and go back to the hospital (this time with my husband and our hospital bag, leaving a friend to take care of our older daughters) once the contractions were 5 minutes apart lasting an hour or so. So I got home safely and crawled into bed around 1am.
At 1:23am I awoke and thought “this is it – game on.” I told my husband I was going to take a shower but that he should get dressed and get our stuff together. While I was in the shower the contractions grew much stronger and by the time I got out, it was very much time to go. Between contractions I called a very dear friend who answered out of her sleep on the first ring at 2:43am saying “do you need help? I’ll be there in 20 minutes,” and she was. By the time she got there, I was in seriously active labor and she and my husband were debating whether we could manage to drive to the hospital in time. We didn’t make it out of the driveway before it was apparent that we would never make it and my friend was calling an ambulance.
From here it gets a little fuzzy for me as I was not entirely of this earth for awhile. The Hingham Fire Department and paramedic crews arrived. It took some effort to get me from inside the house (where I was afraid I might be about to deliver the baby!) to a gurney outside on my driveway (where I was fairly certain I was about to deliver, howling myself like the coyotes I hear out there!). My husband tells me it was about this point when I began channeling Al Swearengen (Deadwood anyone? Great series if you missed it – definitely get the box set, but I digress…). Between contractions I recall apologizing for my, as my friend called it, “colorful language” to the wonderful paramedics and firefighters who assured me they’d heard worse, though my husband says I may have invented a word or two! My friend says it was about this point when the paramedics were asking my husband about my first two labors and he answered that I’d had epidurals with both of them but that I didn’t want to this time, and the paramedics replied, “good because it doesn’t look likely she’ll get one,” while I simultaneously replied “[Fire truck] that, epidural!”
They managed to get me in the ambulance for the ride to South Shore Hospital; there was no way we would make it to Mass General. My water broke with force in the ambulance and it took all the pleas of the paramedic crew and all I had left to restrain from pushing the baby out right there and then. The paramedics called ahead and the hospital staff snapped into immediate action. We arrived and they rushed me past a sea of waiting faces. One woman in blue scrubs smiled at me as I passed by telling me “you’re doing great, hang in there, good luck” and man did that help – thank you kind stranger! We went up in some special emergency elevator and they rushed me through the delivery floor. My most sincere apologies to all the other laboring mothers there whom I may have scared half to death with my primal screaming – I really do feel badly about that and wish you could have seen my overjoyed face just a few minutes later.
The next thing I knew they had the gurney right up to the side of the delivery bed and were asking me to move over. After that contraction I somehow did, practically jumping up on the bed and losing any shred of modesty I may have had left. There was no time for any prep or changing of clothes, they asked me to lie back and get ready to push. I remember one nurse on my left who looked me right in the eyes and told me I was doing great – that made a huge difference – thank you! I took a deep breath, tried to get mentally ready, and then it was time. I pushed twice and my 8 lb. 1 oz. 20.5 in. baby girl was born looking right at me with beautiful, alert eyes. I was elated.
I believe the paramedics were either still there, as we were only out of the ambulance and in the hospital about five minutes before I delivered, or they came back to deliver the overnight bag my husband forgot in the ambulance amidst all the drama. I remember thanking them, as well as all the wonderful nurses and the doctor in the delivery room and apologizing again for my “colorful language” which apparently peaked in the ambulance and gave way to mostly primal yelling by the delivery room. They were all wonderful and I am so grateful for all their support and assistance, as is my very relieved husband who is also grateful I didn’t ruin his car or make him deliver on the side of 93 North!
Now my third daughter is three days old, we’ve been home for two days, and we’re both doing great. I’m still not sure I’m “sold” on the whole unmedicated birth thing (I mean seriously, at least a handful of Extra Strength Tylenol and a handful of Motrin would have been good!), but the recovery does seem to be a lot faster with a lot fewer additional aches and pains. I never would have expected a “precipitous labor” and rapid delivery like that and would have lost money had I bet on it. I am so glad that I had finished reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and had asked friends a lot of specific questions about their unmedicated labors and deliveries. I called upon the lessons I learned from their stories and advice to get through my own unexpected experience.
Incidentally, one of the first things a nurse asked me right after delivering was whether I had a health care proxy. I assured her it was all on file with Mass General along with the rest of my file they were about to call to have sent over. I had recently updated my own and my husband’s medical directives and related estate planning legal instruments in preparation for this. We cannot ever know some things in life, but we can always prepare as best as possible.