My due date was Sunday, April 5th, 2015 and nine days later, Benjamin was born on Tuesday, April 14th at 2:31pm after about 22.5 hours of labor. The day before was my husband Andrew’s birthday. Andrew had taken the day off for his birthday and also so he could accompany me to the “Non-Stress Test” my doctor had scheduled for us. Since I was over a week late at this point, they wanted to start monitoring the baby a bit more closely to make sure he wasn’t in any distress as he grew bigger. So, after a wonderful birthday lunch with Andrew, we headed to our 1:50pm appointment on the 7th floor of our clinic in San Francisco. Our sweet nurse got us settled in and hooked me up to the monitor and measured the baby’s heartbeat for about 20 minutes. Everything checked out great, healthy, and strong. While I was on the monitor, she also saw that I was having contractions about five minutes apart, which surprised me because I couldn’t feel a thing. We left the appointment feeling happy to hear that the baby was doing well and giddy knowing any day now.
On the way home, Andrew asked if I minded if we headed to Tiburon, which is just over the Golden Gate Bridge about 25 minutes outside the city, to meet a business partner for coffee who was in town from overseas. At eight days past due, I remember feeling a bit nervous about being that far from the hospital, but it was his birthday and I wanted to support him, so I said, “Sure honey, but let’s make it a quick meeting so we can be back in the city in case anything happens.”
As we drove to Tiburon I started to feel the faintest ache in my lower back, but not enough for anything to really register. By the time we arrived and parked the car at 4pm, however, in my gut I knew something was starting. I remember mentioning it to Andrew in passing but I don’t think he even heard me. We headed to a charming Italian bistro on the waterfront overlooking the Tiburon harbor and met with Andrew’s colleague. As we were sitting there enjoying some appetizers and tea, the lower backache began to get stronger and also come in noticeable waves. I remember hoping that the visit would wrap up quickly so I could stand up and get comfortable. The three of us took a little walk around town afterwards and I shared with them what was going on and we all knew then and there that I was in the early stages of labor. At that point, Andrew and I excitedly headed back to the city and I called my mom to let her know what was happening. It all felt so exciting for me and I had a huge smile on my face knowing that the time had finally come. Andrew stopped to fill up our already half full gas tank on the way home, which I thought was sweet, because I could tell it was his way of feeling fully prepared for whatever was to happen that night. While he pumped gas, I whipped out my iPhone and opened the “Notes” so I could start recording how often I was feeling the “waves.” They were frequent – just 1-3 minutes apart – but not painful.
We arrived home around 6pm and put our hospital bags by the door. We took a few minutes to get organized and ready for when the time came to leave for the hospital. As we were doing that, I started to suspect that my water was leaking so Andrew and I decided to call our hospital to let them know. The nurse we spoke to on the phone told us to come in. As we headed out the door, I snapped a quick selfie in our entrance not knowing if it would be the last photo of me pregnant with baby B. I remember practically skipping into the hospital, all smiles and full of excitement. We checked in at the main entrance around 7pm and headed up to Labor & Delivery on the 3rd floor. They told us to hang tight in the waiting room and that someone would show us to our room shortly. That’s when the waves began to get a bit painful. At a certain point, maybe about 10 minutes into waiting, I had to stand up and start pacing the halls because it became too uncomfortable to sit through them. Not long after, a nurse came for us and showed us into our room – room 6, which had a beautiful view overlooking the city – and got us settled in. The doctor on call came in to check my water and after running a test, said that my water actually wasn’t leaking. She also checked my progress and I was only dilated to a one. Only a one, I thought! If the pain felt like this so early on, what would I feel like at a 10, I wondered. At that point, we heard the most horrific scream of our lives coming from another room and the doctor rushed out to see what was happening. Andrew and I looked at each other in shock – is that what natural childbirth sounds like?!
Since I was only dilated to a one, the doctor ultimately said we had to go back home to labor since they typically don’t admit people this early on unless I wanted to have them help speed things along, which I did not. When it comes to labor, I prefer not to tamper with nature unless there is a medically indicated reason to do so. Since the baby and I were both doing fine, we decided to just trust nature’s timing. So I had to change back out of the hospital gown and we gathered our stuff and went home at about 8:30pm. As we left the Labor & Delivery floor the pain was literally building. I remember saying to Andrew, why are they sending me home now? I’m just going to need to come right back as soon as we get there! I just knew the baby was on the way sooner rather than later.
Knowing that we probably had a long night ahead, Andrew wanted to make sure we were both well-fed so we had the energy to get through it all. He placed an order for pick-up at the Thai restaurant around the corner from our building on the ride home. We got home around 9pm and the pain had really started to kick in. We prepped for a long night, dimmed the lights, and I began laboring in our dark living room. For my entire labor, the contractions were always right on top of each other and never more than 5 minutes apart. Andrew ran down the block to pick up our food and by the time he got back the contractions were getting intense. The thought of food also made me nauseated so I didn’t eat.
We spent the next hour laboring in our living room. It was a very special pocket of time for both of us, even a bit romantic. It was peaceful and it was surreal. The contractions were painful but oddly wonderful to experience, like a right of passage. I had to stand through them as sitting made them doubly painful. I tried to rest between contractions to conserve my energy. As I felt a wave coming, I’d get back up on my feet, lean forward, and brace myself into Andrew’s body. I recited the “Our Father Prayer” through each one of them. It served as a mantra for me, something to keep my mind focused on, and a way to pace myself. I knew that by the time I got through the prayer once, the contraction would be over or just about over. I also remember saying, “I can do this. I can do this,” to myself repeatedly as I wanted to send positive messaging to my body. Throughout my entire labor, I had only back labor (which, I’ve heard is the most painful type of labor). And if you’re wondering what contractions feel like, I can only describe what they felt like for me – like having my pelvis crowbarred open. I’m sure that sounds painful and scary, but as I mentioned before, the pain was a beautiful type of pain if you can possibly wrap your head around that.
Andrew later told me he hadn’t realized how much pain I was actually in, because rather than screaming through the contractions as he had anticipated (and as the movies show), I turned inward with my pain. I found that focusing silently made things easiest on my body. I also found it fascinating that my body just knew what to do instinctively. I didn’t have to remember anything they taught us in our labor classes. My body instantly went into the breathing, instantly knew that standing relieved pressure for me, and instantly knew that swaying back and forth through the contractions kept my hips loose and felt best. Our bodies and our babies know exactly what to do during birth…we just need to trust and follow.
At about 9:45pm I started to tell Andrew I needed to go back to the hospital because the pain was becoming too much. He urged me to try for 15 minutes longer, then 15 minutes again after that. Finally, at around 10:30pm I told him we needed to go because I was afraid of wanting an epidural and it being too late. So we loaded back into the car and made the 12-minute drive to the hospital for the second time that night. Contractions in the car were tough because I was forced to work through them sitting down, which made them extra painful. I held onto the hand rail above me and braced as they came. Thankfully we found a parking spot on the first floor of the hospital parking garage as I was adamant about not wanting to be in an elevator in the parking garage while in labor (the thought of potentially getting stuck in an elevator at a time like that terrified me to no end).
I remember we had to stop three times for contractions from the parking garage before making it to the hospital entrance. Yes, one time even in the middle of the road! I was that cliché pregnant woman hurled over in an intersection, bracing onto her husband in the dark as she powered through a contraction – a much different scene then when I was skipping into the hospital just a few hours earlier. We made our way to the ER entrance as the main entrance was now closed for the night and checked in. I labored more in the ER waiting room as we checked in, saying the “Our Father Prayer” to myself, swaying back and forth, hanging on to Andrew for dear life, and grimacing my way through them. What a sight I must have been for the other patients in the waiting room. A doctor who happened to walk by offered me a wheelchair but again, standing felt best. Soon after, someone from Labor & Delivery came down to get us and brought us back up to the 3rd floor. We got all checked in by around 11pm and coincidently put back into Room 6 with the beautiful view. We had a big picture window overlooking the rolling hills of San Francisco, all lit up on that beautiful, clear April night. It felt so romantic and magical to me. This was an unforgettable experience that my husband and I were going through together as a team and nothing felt more bonding that.
We were assigned Amy as our nurse, who we quickly grew close to and loved. She was about our age and made both of us feel safe and instantly comfortable. Not long after being admitted, settled in, and checked by the nurses and doctors (I was dilated to a 3 when we arrived to the hospital for the second time), I started to talk about wanting an epidural. I knew I wanted to get the conversation going early knowing that it could take some time before actually getting it and I didn’t want to find myself in a position of excruciating pain without it. I was still having back labor and contractions right on top of each other, about every 3 minutes at this point.
As the daughter of a surgeon, I knew that as a patient I had the right to ask for the attending anesthesiologist (chief doctor on call) instead of a resident to do my epidural. So when they sent the resident in, we asked her how many epidurals she had done. She said about 30 over the course of a month. Both Andrew and I were uncomfortable with those numbers, so I asked to see the attending instead. Thankfully our hospital was very accommodating. But next the chief resident came in. I said (between contractions, of course), “I’m sure you are incredibly good at what you do but I’m a little nervous and would feel most comfortable if the attending did my epidural.” I was polite but firm and persistent. At that point, the attending chief anesthesiologist walked in and we were in business! The chief resident and the chief anesthesiologist worked together to prep me and the room for the epidural. I began to cry for the first time at this point – the nerves started to hit me and my body went into the shakes, which I was told was very common due to the laboring hormones being released by my body. They had me sit up on the hospital bed, Andrew holding my hand to my right, and Amy the nurse, in front of me. Amy lovingly instructed me to curl my back and lean forward into her. She held me tight and still, reassuring me, as the anesthesiologist did his thing. It ticked more than hurt and they all had to remind me to stay still through the tickle. It was pretty painless and done before I knew it. I gave a heartfelt thanks to the attending, then he left. The resident stayed with me and monitored everything for about 10 minutes. My body took well to the epidural and when all my vitals checked out as good, he left as well. It was about 2:30am and I was dilated to a five when I got the epidural.
And oh my goodness did it feel good! All my pain vanished within minutes and it was such a relief. At this point, Amy turned off the lights in our room and told us to get some rest. Andrew and I looked out over San Francisco from our window, turned on some relaxing music, and I dozed in and out through the rest of the night.
At 7am there was a shift change and we had to say goodbye to Amy who we had grown very close to at this point – thankfully we remembered to snap a picture with her first (actually, we got pictures with all of our nurses and doctors throughout our stay and highly recommend remembering to do this if you can!). She introduced us to our next nurse, Morgan, who we grew equally fond of over the next few hours. There were eight other women in labor at the same time as me and Morgan kept telling us off the record that our baby was tracking as the “happiest” on the monitors. I appreciated that extra nugget of good news.
The doctor on call came in to check on me about every two hours. In between, Andrew and I would just rest, talk, and sleep. And I ate Jell-O when I got hungry. Andrew kept our families informed on our progress, as I had decided early on that I wouldn’t be on my phone for my entire hospital stay so I could stay present to the entire experience. At about 1pm the doctor came in to check my progress and I was a bit discouraged to hear that I hadn’t progressed from a 7 in the last four hours. She also said that according to the monitor my contractions were about 13 minutes apart now, also discouraging as they had always been right on top of each other, which had kept me Pitocin free. (Thankfullly, I never did have to get Pitocin.) She offered to do a membrane sweep to see if that would speed things along and I said yes because I didn’t want to have to get Pitocin if I stopped progressing – it only took a second. The doctor said she’d check on me in two more hours and then left. At that point, I decided to keep track of my own contractions because 13 minutes apart just didn’t seem right to me. While I couldn’t feel any pain, I could tell I was having them because I’d feel a faint sensation of pressure. There was a big clock in the room and I timed them at 1-3 minutes apart and figured the monitor wasn’t picking up on all of them. As I was doing that and not more than 10 minutes after the doctor had left, I started to feel this strange sensation – could this be the urge to push everyone talks about? I decided to call for the nurse to let her know that something just felt different. Morgan was on her lunch break so another nurse came in, listened to what I had to say, and then called the doctor in to check me out. Much to everyone’s surprise, in just those 10 minutes since last being checked and the membrane sweep, I had progressed from a 7 to a 10 and was ready to push. In fact, the baby was already crowning! At that moment a flurry of activity began and two doctors and three nurses energetically came to our room, including Morgan who was just back from lunch, to prep for delivery. The doctor told me the baby would be out within an hour. It was time! For the second time, I started to cry and my body went into the shakes – again they reminded me that this happens when the labor hormones kick in to prep your body to deliver. I had thought I still had hours and hours to prepare mentally for pushing and the suddenness of it all felt very overwhelming. But everyone was so great at reassuring me and keeping me calm. I gathered myself mentally and knew I could get through this with courage and grace. I remember thinking how surreal it was knowing that I’d meet our son for the first time in just moments.
I started to push at 1:40pm. My team of doctors, nurses and Andrew coached me through each contraction, which were just a minute or two apart, and counted to 10 as I pushed with all my might. There was no feeling of pain whatsoever, just pressure. We all talked and even laughed between pushing – the atmosphere was one of comradery, excitement, and trust. And after just 51 minutes of pushing, Benjamin was born!
The very first memory I have of him was the sound of his cry – I heard him before I could him. And oh my goodnees! Never had I ever heard such a breathtakingly beautiful sound in my life. It was the most stunning sensation my ears had ever had. It was truly something magical for me that words could never describe. When they brought him to my chest, my life instantly changed forever and my whole heart became his for my whole life. There truly is no love like a mother’s love and I’m forever grateful that God chose me to be his mama – the greatest privilege and honor there is.
Photography: Delbarr Moradi