Then, over Mother's Day weekend, the back pain came on strong. I chalked it up to some unfortunate fetal positioning, but told Blake I wasn't sure I could handle any more drives into the city or out to our parents' houses. On Monday, things got worse, and I ended up taking work calls on my knees in the living room, muting the phone when I needed to take a deep breath. Blake came home that evening to find me sitting on the floor, using the couch as a desk and sighing deeply through back spasms.
I made a call to my doctor around midday on Tuesday, after both my mother and my manager at work flagged that severe back pain was often a sign of early labor. A friendly nurse encouraged us to come into the office, so we headed over within the hour to get checked out. "Oh, you're at 3 centimeters," the doctor said. "You're in early labor." The sweetest words. We drove to the hospital.
At the hospital, I was monitored for contractions (still inconsistent and about 10 minutes apart), told to walk around the halls for a while, and monitored again. When it looked like I hadn't made any progress over the course of a couple of hours, we were sent home to time contractions. And eat Chipotle in the bathtub. Hours went by, and the contractions were still irregular, varying in intensity and 10-15 minutes apart. Madness, thy name is prodromal labor.
This went on for 36 hours. I walked, ate pineapple, drank red raspberry leaf tea, and had a good cry.
On Thursday, I woke up around midnight with fierce back pain and contractions that seemed to double over on each other. I got back in the tub and tried timing how the pain was progressing, but between the back spasms and contractions, it was hard to tell what was what. I woke Blake and told him something was different this time, but we still felt that we should wait to call the doctor. Two hours in without any consistency, I tried to get some rest on the sofa. That's when my water broke.
We called the doctor and the maternity unit, and since we live just around the corner from the hospital, we were still told to wait until contractions were 3-5 minutes apart before coming in. Within thirty minutes, it was clear that the baby was coming fast, so we stopped timing, threw our things together and got in the car. Every bump on that short drive is seared into my memory for all of eternity.
From this point (3:30am) forward, everything happened in a blur. I was admitted by a sleepy nurse who took her time inputting my vitals in the computer while I started to writhe in pain and yell through every strong contraction. Transition is real, and it is not messing around. At 8-9 centimeters dilated and fully effaced, the only thing on my mind was that bright beacon of pain relief - the epidural. I wanted it ASAP, and it arrived via an equally sleepy anesthesiologist, who got my sloppy signature on a form no woman ever takes the time to read. A spinal tap preceded the epidural, since we weren't yet sure if baby would come before the epidural kicked in. I was catheterized (the worst, since the epidural had somehow missed my bladder) and the nurses watched the baby's heart rate come up and down in preparation for pushing.
Around 7am, the staff turned over, and we were introduced to two incredible nurses who ended up being the ultimate labor cheerleaders. My obstetrician said she'd be performing an emergency C-section down the hall, but she'd likely be back to deliver the baby. If labor progressed more quickly than anticipated (it did), a hospital midwife would step in. And, of course, I had Blake, who was everything I'd imagined him being in this situation. He was the most supportive coach and partner, and we were bringing this baby into the world together.
The pushing was quick - it was just 20 to 30 minutes before one of my nurse-cheerleaders said we had one more push to go. Just like that, I had a squirming, beautiful little life thrown on my belly. 7 pounds, 5 ounces of perfection, with long fingers and a tiny button nose.
We named him after a great concept and a great man. "Hugo" for Victor Hugo, who championed the power of justice and mercy in his writing, and "Henry" for my father (Edward Henry), who embodies strength of character, love of family and entrepreneurial spirit.
"Making the decision to have a child - it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."
- Elizabeth Stone