It was hot, as only July in Florida can be, the baby was late, and I was not having much fun anymore. I had even ceased my daily swims because I was too large and swollen to haul myself into the car, let alone wedge myself into the hammock-sized lycra tube I called a maternity bathing suit. I spent my days sitting in the air conditioned house, eating chocolate ice cream, and watching TLC's A Baby Story. Overall, a bad combination at 41 weeks pregnant.
I was worried about many things; having no family in town to visit me in the hospital, our upcoming move in two weeks, whether my doctor would be in town, pooping during labor, all the important little things like that. Everything sat around me in boxes, except for the bassinet and a little dresser with the baby's clothes, and I was sick to death of everything. Especially the people who saw me and said, "Oh, are you still here? I thought you would have had that baby by now." Well, me too, but since I am here and roughly two times your width, the answer is yes, I am still here. Now stand still while I ram you with my huge belly.
A friend had jokingly told us that she went into labor with both of her children after eating a cheeseburger from Mc*Donald's. For her second child, her water broke right after she had gone to the drive-thru, so there was some kind of powerful labor mojo happening at the local fast food place. On the afternoon of the 15th, now a full week late and miserable, I told Rob to bring me a cheeseburger for lunch. We laughed about going into labor, but I was half hoping there was something to my friend's theory. We ate, I made Rob suffer through A Baby Story, and then I felt it. It! The first contraction I had ever had, and I was so excited that I proclaimed, "They don't really hurt too much!" Oh, so young and foolish, so oblivious of what was to come.
The contractions starting coming regularly at 2 pm, and many of our friends seasoned with parenthood told us to stay at home as long as possible before heading in to the hospital. Pre-labor, I had decided that that is exactly what I would do. Stay home and then just pop around the corner to the hospital in time for the baby to effortlessly glide into the world. The heat had obviously rendered me delusional. By 2:15, I was ready to go in just from the sheer excitement that the show was finally on the road. Rob managed to talk me down, and so I paced around the house, stopping to breath every few minutes. I showered, I shaved, I made sure my toe-nail polish was in prime condition. By the time I finished all of my ablutions, it was 3:15. I had had my bag packed for four weeks, so there was officially nothing left to do but wait. I'm not so great at the waiting.
By 9 pm, I was a different person. A person who was being split in half by contractions that were coming one on top of the other. Forget the staying-home-til-the-baby's-crowning-plan; I told Rob to head it up and move it out because I was going to the hospital where they had drugs for this kind of thing.
We hauled ourselves up to labor and delivery, where they checked me and proceeded to kick me in the teeth by telling me that I was only three centimeters dilated and they wouldn't admit me until I was at least four centimeters. Just heartless, I'm telling you. I told them that I was a week overdue and I was not leaving the hospital without a baby - whether or not it was the one inside me remained to be seen. They suggested I walk around for an hour, because there is nothing more thrilling than seeing every single hallway of the Naval Hospital after nine. Plus, if I managed to make it just one more centimeter, they couldn't kick me out.
Rob and I walked up and down every flight of stairs in the hospital for an hour, because I wasn't taking any chances with insufficient dilation. I thought about doing some lunges or deep knee bends, but I figured I wanted to give birth in an actual bed and not in the hospital stairwell, so I stuck to the original routine. I waddled back to L&D exactly one hour later and practically threw myself at the first person wearing a pair of latex gloves. The hospital walking tour had done its job, because the doctor on call announced that I had just squeaked up to four centimeters and that I could stay. Just to be sure, I lashed myself to the monitors next to the bed and settled in for the duration.
The contractions kept up the relentless pace, and I continued the breathing that was doing absolutely nothing but making my mouth dry. I did all of this with the conviction that I was at least halfway down the path to delivery, so you can imagine my reaction when, after three hours of breathing and expectation, my cervix had not changed. No more dilation, no effacement, nothing. Disappointed does not begin to cover how I felt, because when the nurse came in to find me huddled up on the bed, crying and mumbling something about all this freaking pain for nothing!, she asked if I might be interested in some medication.
I had not committed myself to a natural labor; I had not even drawn up a birth plan. It's not because I was unprepared, but more because I didn't want to pin all my hopes on having a birth precisely the way I planned it, only to be crushed to have it all be thrown aside for an emergency c-section or something. Little Miss Optimism, that's me, all right. I had heard enough labor stories to know that things rarely went exactly the way you expected, so I purposely kept my expectations pretty low. Rob and I had decided that as long as we ended up with a healthy baby at the end, we weren't going to be as concerned about the method of arrival. I thought that I would go without drugs as long as I felt I could, but if I chose to get on board the Anesthesia Train, then so be it. It looked like the train was about to pull into the station, and I went directly to the epidural car.
Once the contractions were numbed, I managed to rest fitfully through the night. The room was small and Rob, who managed to curl himself onto a fold-out chair, alternated between sleeping and sneaking out into the hallway to drink chocolate milk from the nurses refrigerator. I contented myself with ice chips, if by contented you mean imagining the ice chips were a big plate of fettucine alfredo. Other than that, there was mostly a lot of waiting, and, as you may recall, I'm not so great at the waiting.
By 7:45 the next morning, it seemed like the waiting was over. I was "complete, complete" and scared out of my mind, because the pushing is what puts the labor into Labor. I thought that pushing was a pretty straightforward concept, but I quickly found out that you can do it improperly. Or, at the very least, ineffectively. I think I managed to do both for about an hour, until the epidural wore off enough that I could feel what I was doing. Then I had two more hours of pushing to look forward to, only I didn't know that. I think the exhaustion must have dulled my natural inclinations toward pessimism, because it took me two and a half hours of pushing before thinking that the baby might never come out. It might just decide to sit forever wedged against my pelvic bones, flouting gravity and natural law. At that point, I was almost all right with that, as long as someone would get me a chocolate milkshake and a short stack.
But a dangling baby was not in my future after all. Right before eleven in the morning, she made her move towards the light and never looked back. After three hours of pushing, Older Girl burst onto the scene, pink and crying. She was crying as she was coming out, and that should have tipped us off to the histrionics in our future. She was a noisy baby, intense and alert, but not unpleasant or overly fussy. She was the most familiar stranger I had ever known; I'd had nine months to prepare for her and I had never felt more ill-prepared for anything.
Eight years have passed, and sometimes I still feel like I hardly know her. She's imaginative and playful; immensely talented and easily frustrated. She's solicitous, bossy, dynamic, charismatic, tender-hearted, and she's my first baby. She was the first one to ever call me Mom, the first to ever seek comfort in my embrace, and I'll always look back on that with love.
Happy Birthday, Older Girl. We love you!