Four days after my due date, we arrived at the hospital for an antenatal ultrasound. My doc wanted to make sure all was well in the womb as we awaited baby’s now-late arrival. After a half hour of monitoring, the nurse came over and said, “You’re having contractions. Did you feel them?” Nope. I didn’t feel anything. “That’s normal. It seems like you’re having prodromal labor. The contractions are irregular and may start and stop as the days go by. It’s like the uterus is practicing for real labor to begin.” Interesting. Since I couldn’t really feel anything, there’s no way of knowing just how long this had been going on. Everything else looked healthy and normal so The Husband and I headed out of the office, relieved to know at least something was happening, even if it was just "practice" labor.
We went about our day as usual. A stop at Target to make a return and grab a few last minute baby things, a stop at Chipotle because neither of us felt like making lunch when we got home. The Husband worked from home that day, as he had for the week before just waiting for The Moment when things started up for real, and I took advantage of the extra time to relax and catch up on a few of my fave TV shows. Later in the afternoon, my lower back started to ache a bit. Nothing too bad, just a little soreness. I thought it might’ve been because of how I was laying in bed so I asked The Husband if he wanted to take a break and go for a walk. We lapped around the park across the street and made a few circles around the block, deftly avoiding all the hills in our neighborhood. When we got home, my back was still achey so I decided to take a hot bath. There was a slight twinge of guilt as I filled the tub knowing we’re in the midst of a major drought but I was nearly 41 weeks pregnant and figured I could indulge just this once. Around 5pm, as I was enjoying the luxurious bubble-filled soak, the lower back ache suddenly radiated around to my hips and abdomen as my belly tightened up in a cramp. I knew without a doubt it was my first contraction - or at least, the first one I could feel. It didn’t last very long but about five minutes later, another one hit. Then another. Everything we were told in our child-birthing class said contractions would start out 20-30 minutes apart then gradually get closer together. These were starting out close already, much closer than I expected, so I decided to get out of the tub and ask The Husband to start timing. I had a few more before I even finished dressing, and they were strong enough to stop me in my tracks and force me to breathe through them until they passed.
Within about half an hour, the contractions were coming about 4 minutes apart and lasting for 45 seconds or more. This was all happening a lot faster than we anticipated. The Husband finished packing my bag and tried to eat a little bit, all the while keeping an eye on the timer and stopping every few minutes to rub my back or hold my hand as the contractions became stronger and stronger. After two hours, he decided it was time to call the hospital. The contractions were coming every three minutes and lasting for a minute to a minute and a half, and they were so strong and I had to close my eyes and do my best to remember the visualization and breathing techniques I’d learned to cope with the pain. I couldn’t even talk if I wanted to. We slowly made our way to the car, pausing on the steps to breath through a contraction, and pausing yet again as another one hit while I tried to get into the car. Luckily the hospital was only about a 5-minute drive from our apartment. When we arrived, the security guard immediately brought a wheel chair over since I couldn’t even walk to the elevator. Normally, I pride myself on having a pretty high threshold for pain and being able to handle almost anything with a calm, cool, collected attitude but this was much more than I expected, especially so early on in the labor process. I thought I’d be one of those pregnant women who breathed through each contraction with ease and didn’t make much noise, but that was not the case. I was much more vocal than I ever imagined I’d be, with my yoga breaths (lots of “ho's” and “om's”) being the only thing I could remember to do in my pain-induced haze.
When we got to triage, the labor & delivery nurse checked my progress. I was only 2 centimeters dilated but the contractions were now less than two minutes apart and lasting an average of a minute and a half each. I was having pretty severe back labor and, at one point, The Husband asked me what it felt like. The only way I can describe it is this: like someone is cutting your belly open with a hot knife while simultaneously breaking your back in half. Things were getting intense to say the least.
They wanted me to progress to at least 4 cm before moving to a labor & delivery room so the nurse turned off the lights, closed the door, and left me & The Husband to breathe our way through the process. The contractions felt like they were coming even closer together, and with significantly more intensity and it turns out they were now a minute or less apart. I knew I didn’t want an epidural just yet but I also knew the L&D room had nitrous oxide, which I could use to help manage the pain until I felt I needed something else. I really thought I could make it through all of labor with just the nitrous oxide but boy, was I wrong. The nitrous oxide helped for a while but the contractions were coming practically back-to-back, with no break in between. On top of that, the back labor was getting worse. One of the nurses asked me if I worked out during pregnancy and The Husband answered, “She walked a lot and went to prenatal yoga every week.” The nurse said, “I can tell. She’s handling this a lot better than most women, especially since she’s not getting any breaks in between contractions.”
After five and a half hours of contractions being nearly back-to-back, I’d only progressed to 6cm. Things were a blur at this point, and all my hopes of shifting positions or walking to help manage the pain went out the window. Just as one contraction would be winding down, the next one would start up again, with no opportunity to even pause for a sip of water. I barely muttered the word “epidural” before the anesthesiologist came in. I initially wanted to go as long as I could without it, or possibly not get it at all if I was managing the pain with other means, but I felt my body was quickly fatiguing and needed a break. A few minutes after it was administered, my water broke. And a few minutes after that, the doctor came in with some bad news. The contractions that weren’t giving me a break until the epidural were also not giving Baby a break. Baby’s heart rate was quickly dropping with each contraction, reaching critically low levels. “Imagine if you held your breath through each and every contraction you’re having. That’s what’s happening to your baby right now.” She wanted to give me a shot to slow down the contractions and give Baby a break, just as the epidural had given me a break. I agreed, since my only other option was emergency c-section to get the baby out of such harsh conditions.
Unfortunately, the shot worked even better than expected. The contractions slowed to 3 minutes apart, then 5 minutes, then became irregular with some being back-to-back again and others being as much as 7 minutes apart. The medicine in the shot was supposed to wear off after about two hours and allow things to progress at a more normal rate, but they never did. Instead, I developed an infection about two hours after my water breaking and I had a 102-degree fever. Antibiotics were added to my IV and I was given Tylenol to help bring down the fever but neither worked. Now baby’s heart rate was far too fast as the internal conditions of the womb became even more inhospitable with each feverous minute that passed. The nurses covered me in ice packs - under my arms, behind my neck and back, all over my belly - the temperature of the room was lowered, a cold compress was placed on my forehead, and I began chugging ice water like it was my job, all in an effort to bring down the fever and get the baby’s heart rate back to a normal range. The poor Husband was freezing in my 60-degree room but we had to do anything and everything to get my fever down. Once again, the C word came up. If the fever didn’t break, we’d have to go in for an emergency c-section.
The Husband was watching the fetal heart rate monitor nonstop, and kept updating me.
“Still over 200.”
“We’re down to 190!”
“It’s in the 170s now!”
Below 160 was the goal and, eventually, after a few hours, we got there. Things were back on track and the emergency c-section was off the table. At least, for now. After 15 hours of labor, my contractions were still irregular thanks to the earlier shot and I was still only 7 cm dilated.
(Part 2 continued here)