Last Thursday I found myself at the red light on the corner of South Carrollton and Palmetto. As I glanced around, I saw the new wholesale complex being completed whose doors open in mid September: Costco. As I drove off, I began to recall that chilly Chicago Saturday.
I was excited to visit Costco for the first time as I waddled alongside my husband and member friend at 39-1/2 weeks pregnant. As we turned the corner into the electronic section, past the caskets (yes, you can purchase yours there), my husband began convincing me of our need to purchase a financial program. Not one minute into his sales pitch, I stopped him mid-sentence and calmly said with bright eyes, “My water broke.” It was an instant wet sensation. I looked down imagining I would be standing in a pool of water, like in the movies, but that was not the case. A quick trip to the ladies’ room confirmed my theory, and I waddled to the front entrance, my husband holding my hand, as my friend raced for the car. It hit me at that moment, “I’m going to be a mom.”
I had defied statistics. Less than 10% of expectant mothers have their water break; most occur in the morning when pregnancy hormones surge, and it’s more likely to occur if it happened to your mother. I frantically assessed these details in my head, as I had not planned for such a scenario. I climbed into the backseat, sat on the recycled bags that I never imagined I would use for such a purpose, and we drove back to our place ten miles south. Before we pulled out of the lot, I “felt” a little pressure in my groin muscle. There was no pain or discomfort, and I probably would have ignored it were it not for the fact that my water had just broken. Perhaps out of denial, every time I mentioned I “felt” something I reiterated it could not be contractions because “they usually start around twenty minutes” and “you feel contractions in your lower back.” I felt fine, but I was getting concerned, especially as my friend took the on ramp onto the interstate at peak traffic time on a Saturday afternoon.
The contractions were approximately two to three minutes apart during the ride. Forty-five minutes later, we were at the front door of our building. My husband ran upstairs to get my bag, and we did a car switch after I hugged and wept in excitement with my friend. I recall my first moment of discomfort when the pressure I felt, aka a contraction, occurred right as he drove over a pothole on the off ramp of Lakeshore Drive. A few minutes later I was being dropped off at the lobby; my husband found me fifteen minutes later squirming in my seat, unassisted by a staff member. Past the security doors we went where a very slow nurse greeted us. I walked to triage, dressed in my sexy gown and was checked by a resident who exclaimed, “You are 8cm and your baby has a head full of hair!” I giggled. Among praying for the obvious, a healthy and happy baby, I also secretly prayed for a baby with dark, thick hair. Of course, I am the complete opposite of most labor stories, so please do not judge me for responding as such to an epidural, “Is it going to get worse than this?” As Elia’s delivery date approached, I accepted that labor was going to be the most physical and mentally challenging experience of my life. I was flexible with my birth plan and kept thinking, “Women have been doing this for thousands of years. So can I.”
The resident was right, the pressure intensified, and my husband was even sweet enough to announce when a “big” one was coming. All humor aside, if it was not for him, I would not have been able to do what I did that following hour. He kept me calm, looked me straight in the eyes, and told me to breathe in and out without missing a beat. I shut my mouth with each contraction to avoid saying something I would regret, grabbed my husband’s hand and perhaps grabbed his sweater a little too tight at times. I recall thinking, I cannot see what is going on below because I would lose my concentration and become overwhelmed with the less than glamorous aspects of birth.
The doctor arrived; it was show time. I was beyond excited, and the staff encouraged me as if I was Garrett Hartley being sent onto the field to kick the field goal during the NFC Championship game that sent the Saints to the Superbowl. The thought of holding my baby melted any pain at that very moment. At the third push, I recalled a clip from the show “One Born Every Minute.” The nurse responded to a mother in labor when asked, “What does it feel like when the baby is born?” Her response, “The Ring of Fire.” During that final push, before I heard my first born’s cry, I wanted to belt out Johnny Cash like you would not imagine. On the pain chart, The Ring of Fire is a 10.
Each pregnancy, labor and delivery is as unique as each of us. Thankfully, my second’s labor did not start with my water breaking in a public place. Extremely erratic, mild contractions, starting at twenty minutes apart, plagued our morning as we swiftly cleaned the house. Again, the contractions were at my groin muscle and my biggest fear was not arriving on time. Considering my previous experience, the physicians continually asked about our planned route and emphasized to leave immediately once the contractions were five minutes apart. By one, we dropped off Elia at a friend and zipped to the hospital. Once dressed in triage, my husband surprised me with a bottle of Perrier, the preferred drink during pregnancy for my child with an apparently expensive palette. We felt like pros, cracking jokes at our serious seven month pregnant nurse, convinced that we would hold our baby shortly. We were surprised when she said, “You are 3 cm. I’ll give you an hour” and walked out the room. We paced the halls and finalized our names. The next check revealed I had progressed only a centimeter, and she wanted to send me home. I was horrified and shared my previous experience. She would not budge, and we pleaded that she speak to my doctor who luckily sided with us and would stop after her clinicals. The next hour and a half we paced the halls and talked. As we made it back to the room, the contractions had intensified and it all happened so quickly from this point. We called the nurse and she said bright eyed, “8 cms!” The walkie-talkies came out, and I was quickly pushed away. I felt the same as I did that hour before Elia’s birth.
I reached my final destination where I was prodded many, many times by a nurse trying to start an IV. The doctor arrived and just as I suspected, he was crowning, but I had to wait for the IV and for the doctor to get dressed. Patience, deep breaths and humor got me through those minutes. Thanks again to my partner, I conquered the contractions with deep breaths. My fans were louder than before and once again, I felt like a professional athlete. Tomás entered the world within the second push, but this time without experiencing The Ring of Fire. The moral of this story is that no one knows your body better than you. Stand up for yourself. If I had not, Tomás probably would have been delivered in the back seat of our sedan.