At 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 17, 2015, I threw up in our bathroom—our all white, pristine, newly-renovated bathroom. “OK, now it’s time to go to the hospital,” my husband said. And I thought, “Finally!”
You see, we had a plan. As my due date approached, we had taken many birth and labor classes, and decided we would stay home for most of my labor. I would be comfortable in my home, my comfy clothes, with my husband. I also really didn’t want to get to the hospital too soon and be sent home.
So I had instructed my husband, “No matter what I tell you, remind me of our plan. Help me calm down and insist that we stay home a little longer.” He did his part very well. Since this was my first pregnancy, there was no way I could anticipate how contractions would feel. They were very intense; at moments, I thought I was just losing it. Finally, what I couldn’t put into words, my body put into actions and gave us a sign that, yes, now was the time.
I had a wonderful pregnancy, and worked until I gave birth. Literally. I started with contractions on a Tuesday night. They were exciting and made me feel fully alive, with a level of adrenaline I had never before experienced. I knew each contraction meant that my son would soon be in our arms. A contraction would come, and I would get on all fours in bed with a pillow under my belly, breathing deeply and smiling a big smile once it was over.
Things slowed down the next morning so I went to work. There was a funeral at Temple Sinai, and I sang some of the traditional prayers and psalms. I did not have any contractions while singing, as if my baby knew he needed to wait just a little longer because something else important was happening. We were there, he and I together like never before, to console and bring our voices and presence to this family. (And I say “our voices” because when you are a singer and your baby is sitting right on your musical instrument, well, that means you are making the music together.) The funeral was at 11:00 a.m. By 3:00 p.m., my co-worker Lin was driving me home.
As I said, my husband and I had a plan: natural birth. No epidural, no medication, no C-section (unless necessary). We had watched videos, attended classes, heard birth stories from our friends, read books. It was possible! So many women before me had done it, and I thought, “I can do it as well!”
Wednesday night was a long night. The contractions were now much more intense and constant, and by 4:00 a.m. I felt ready to go to the hospital. We gathered our things and took our dog, Freddy, for a walk. But the walk made things slow down, again. So, no driving to the hospital.
I had an appointment with my doctor Thursday morning, and told myself he would take a look at things, and I would be dilated enough to get things going! Well, he did take a look, and said to me with excitement, “Looks like you’ve been doing some good work! You are three centimeters dilated.”
What??!! All that work, and sleepless nights (yes, remember? Tuesday AND Wednesday) for only three centimeters? He saw my disappointment and my exhaustion and offered to schedule a Friday morning induction. “That should help things move faster. It should work nicely since you have started the process naturally anyway. There is no need to feel miserable. Labor can sometimes be long.”
At that time, all I could think was, first, we had a plan, no medication or artificial anything. Second, what about all those videos and classes that claimed labor lasted anywhere from 8 to 24 hours? I was going on at least 30 hours! I nodded at his offer for an induction on Friday.
We left our house around 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 17, and I was admitted to the hospital with 5 centimeters.
About seven hours before he was born (of course, I didn’t know how much longer I had at the time), I felt physically and emotionally drained. It had been almost three days since contractions had started. I was so tired and had such tension in my lower back, I could barely stand up. I felt weak, and felt I was a disappointment. Suddenly, in the intensity of the moment, I thought about my mom. She had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer a little over two years ago. For my mom, everything started with her feeling something funny in her stomach. She could listen to her body so well that she knew it was a feeling she had never had before.
At that moment I had a revelation. I knew that without a few hours of sleep and recovery, I wouldn’t have the strength to push and be fully present in the wonderful moment when I would see my baby’s face for the first time. And then, I remembered my plan, my original plan before videos and classes: You go in with a baby in your belly, and you go out with a baby in your arms. That’s all. For me, getting the epidural was the best decision I could have made.
Solomon was born Friday, December 18, at 11:00 a.m.
This is what I’ve learned: First, make sure to have a plan, and make sure you are prepared to change it along the way. Second, listen to your body (in health and in sickness). What I realize now is that preparing to give birth was not really about deciding against or in favor of medication or procedures. Rather, it was learning to listen to my body closely to be able to make the best decisions for my baby and myself.