My son was born on New Year’s Day, six weeks before his due date.
How did this happen? Why did it happen? I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I’m finally ready to share our story.
On New Year’s Eve around 7:00 p.m., my husband, Joe, and I were hanging out, goofing around, flirting, burping at each other — I burped a lot during pregnancy — and just lounging around before we needed to get ready to go to a New Year’s party at my sister’s house.
When I finally pulled myself up off the couch to get dressed and made up, my water broke. But I didn’t know that my water broke because, like I said, we were still six weeks out from our due date. All I knew was that about a cup’s worth of clear, odorless fluid flushed out of me when I got up off the couch. Pants soaked, I looked at Joe, made some scared noises, and ran to the bathroom to examine myself. I sat on the toilet with the door open (the first time I’ve done this with my husband) and started to cry.
It definitely seemed like my water broke, but could it be? We didn’t know. We didn’t know anything.
So, we did some googling, and at first, we concluded that it could either be that my water broke or that I ruptured my amniotic sac. Then after more googling, we realized that those are the same thing. Per the Internet’s advice, I laid down on my back for ten minutes with a towel underneath my butt to see if more fluid came out when I got up. It did.
Could this be happening? We had a party to get to.
We called the hospital to get their expert opinion — just to be safe, you know? The doctor on the phone asked me a few questions: Do you think you may have peed? (No.) Did the water have any odor? (No.) Did more come out when you got up again? (Yes.) Then she calmly told us that we should probably head into the hospital to get everything checked out. So, I asked if we should sleep on it and go in in the morning, because, you know, it was New Year’s Eve. Still calm, she said that no, we should probably come in that night. So I asked if we should pack a hospital bag, and she said, “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Just come in and we’ll check you out.”
And, wearing my ugliest maternity clothes (it was laundry day) with nothing but my purse, we left for the hospital. At this point, we didn’t know what to expect. Part of me was relieved that I didn’t need to do my hair and makeup for the party that night — grooming myself had become notably hard toward the end of my pregnancy. Little did I know how hard the night would end up being.
Joe and I are pretty non-dramatic people. We aren’t the type of folks who go into the hospital on a holiday just to get something checked. But we did as we were told and drove up to OHSU. In the car, we were chatting about the possibility that my water had broke and of the baby coming early. The nursery wasn’t set up. We hadn’t built the crib. We hadn’t packed a hospital bag. We hadn’t installed the car seat yet. These were all things we were going to do four weeks before our due date, but that was still a couple of weeks away. “That would be crazy!” we mused. We didn’t have a name for him.
As instructed, we pulled into the emergency driveway and valeted the car. And as instructed, we checked in and told them that I was pregnant. Someone came down to escort us up to the labor and delivery ward. She asked if I was pregnant, and I said yes. Then she asked if I was in labor, and I said I didn’t know. She offered me a wheelchair which I declined. Could this really be happening? I’m walking around, aren’t I?
We went upstairs, and they did all the tests. They told me that yes, my water had broke. They told me that I was in active labor. They asked me if I could feel the contractions that were showing up on the monitor. (I couldn’t, yet.) And then they told me that I would be staying at the hospital until the baby arrived. I started to cry again.
The whole thing was obviously scary for a lot of reasons. But a big part of why it seemed so scary and wrong is that my sister was due to have her baby on January 3. Our babies were supposed to be born six weeks apart — mine was supposed to be younger. We made bets on how many days apart the babies would be. We guessed 30 days, 45 days … no one bet on what was happening. You can’t bet on a preemie — that’s a fucked up bet. We were all joking about her going into labor on New Year’s Eve. Not me. I wasn’t supposed to be there.
At our baby shower just two days before, in reference to my sister’s and my pregnancies, one of Joe’s uncles said, “It’s a race to the finish!” I joked back that I hoped she wins. Foreshadowing, I guess.
They said it could be two days, or five days, or even seven days until the baby was born. But luckily, they said that since I was 34 weeks pregnant, I was far enough along that they wouldn’t do anything to stop my labor. They said that the baby would be fine, but that he would need to stay in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for a little while. They said he might need help breathing at first, and that he would almost definitely need a feeding tube until he learned to eat by mouth.
I hated hearing this — about how my baby would be anything but perfect when he entered the world. It seemed wrong. It seemed scary. My pregnancy had been completely normal the whole way through. How could this have happened?
The monitor that showed my contractions also showed the baby’s movement. They said he was doing great. He was moving around and having a great time. They asked me again if I could feel my contractions. I wasn’t sure. So far, there was no indication as to why the baby would be early. All my tests came back normal. The baby was doing fine. I was completely healthy.
They moved us up to our delivery room and hooked me up to all the things. Various people come in and out of the room to talk to us about various things. The anesthesiologist came in and told me how the epidural would go. He thought I might not need it for a couple of days, or even a week. One of the NICU doctors came in and talked to us about how the baby would need to stay there for a while. She told us it could be a couple of days, or a couple of weeks, or even a couple of months. Some preterm babies go home before their due dates. Some don’t.
I hated this. I had had a healthy, uneventful pregnancy. My mom had three [mostly] uncomplicated home births. My oldest sister had healthy pregnancies and uncomplicated births with her kids. Our baby would need to stay in intensive care? We’d have to go home without him and be without him for a few weeks? How? Why? It didn’t seem real.
It sounds cheesy, but the whole thing felt like a dream. Like I’d had a dream that I went into labor before my sister. That I’d wake up and tell her about it.
An hour or so before midnight, I still wasn’t really feeling any contractions yet, and I was only dilated one centimeter. So, Joe drove home to pack a bag for us and pick up some food. Ever stoic, he texted our families to let them know my that my water broke and that we wouldn’t be able to make it to the party, but to please not worry.
I’d be alone in my hospital room at midnight. Celebrating the new year was the least of my worries, but I was scared and overwhelmed, so I texted a couple of friends a selfie and told them what was going on. I heard people yelling, “Happy New Year!” in the other rooms and whispered, “Happy New Year” to my belly.
Joe returned with Taco Bell and a couple days’ worth of clothes. They checked my dilation again — still only one centimeter, but now (suddenly, it seemed) I was having some scary-painful contractions.
The nurse went over my pain-relief options. I planned to do an epidural when it was time, but since it might be a couple of days until I needed to push, I opted for laughing gas and some pain meds to help me get some sleep. They told me I should wait and get the epidural when I was dilated a bit more, so I held off.
Then everything hurt. I was scared. The pain was so intense — it was kind of freaking me out — but Joe and I finally fell asleep for about an hour. By the time we woke up, I was dilated a full ten centimeters, and it was time to push.
This part was very confusing. Why did I dilate so quickly? How did this happen within just an hour? They had said it could be a few days or a week until that happened. The only thing that made sense was that my weirdly quick dilation explained all the pain.
Then a team of six or so people rushed in and basically tackled me. “It’s time,” they told me, firmly.
“What?” I said.
“You’re fully dilated. You need to start pushing.”
“What about the epidural?” I said.
“It’s too late. It’s time to push.”
“No, I don’t want to,” I pleaded.
“You have to do it. Now.”
Why was this happening so fast? No epidural? My entire pregnancy, I had planned to get an epidural. I have no pride associated with a drug-free birth. All-natural? Nah, not for me. I don’t have anything to prove to myself. And by the way, all births are natural — even if you’re on drugs.
Anyway, so it was time to deliver the baby, and the pain meds I got before our nap had worn off. Admittedly, I didn’t do enough research on what labor would be like. We went to a newborn care class but didn’t take a labor and delivery one. Had my pregnancy gone on longer, I would have finished What To Expect When You’re Expecting, but it didn’t, so I didn’t.
So, there I was: hot, sweaty, sober, and in bonkers-level pain. And I had to push.
When you don’t have an epidural, they tell you to push when you feel a contraction coming on. Also, the baby was face-up which makes delivery harder and more painful, but I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. Completely naked with a cold, wet towel on my face, I pushed some more. I thought my eyes were closed the whole time because I don’t remember seeing anything, but Joe later told me that they were wide open.
They asked me if I wanted to use a mirror to see the baby crowning. No, I was busy. I couldn’t do anything but push and cry and yell.
My mom always said that women don’t yell during labor like they do in the movies. “That’s an exaggeration,” she’d say. “Women are not that hysterical. They don’t yell like that.” She was wrong. I yelled and screamed at the top of my lungs. That was my body’s reaction to the pain. But I wouldn’t call it hysterics. It wasn’t about uncontrolled emotion — it was about pain. My mom was right about one thing, though: we should veer from calling women hysterical.
Oh my god, it hurt so much.
Childbirth is weird because you have to inflict pain upon yourself and let go of controlling all your bodily functions in order to get the job done. This doesn’t come naturally. The other weird thing is that although the hospital staff is there to guide you and encourage you, you have to get the baby out yourself; no one but you can do it. I resisted this fact for a while, but came to the realization about halfway through pushing. So, I went inside myself, gave myself a little pep talk, turned into a demon, and pushed the baby out.
And out he came. When he finally slid out on that last push, it felt like a heavy, slippery, slimy, waterfall. I don’t know how else to describe it. It felt like my butt fell off. Relief and utter exhaustion are also things that I felt. At 34 weeks gestation, he was five and a half pounds, born at 9:55 a.m. on New Year’s Day — the first baby of the year at OHSU.
Then they whisked him away to the NICU where he’d stay for the next 27 days.
To be continued with Parts II and III.