I did finally make a birth plan. I outlined a few things we wanted (hydrotherapy, freedom to move, plenty of skin-to-skin time), a few things we didn’t (analgesics, formula, unapproved visitors), and in bold at the top, I typed – in a good font, of course – Goal #1: all 3 of us make it out alive.
Everyone has lots of opinions and advice toward the end of pregnancy, but PB wins the prize for telling us to go on a date every night possible the last few weeks. Those evenings turned into some really special last moments together as a 2-family. We froyo’d with the best of them, we went to Chipotle many many times, we held hands and walked (slowly) around our neighborhood, we tried out a new pizza joint, we arranged an evening with dear friends in Lincoln.
I had been having periodic Braxton Hicks over the past couple of months, and was dilated to a 2 at my appointment on Monday; I had been at a 1 for the previous 3 weeks. Slow and steady, my OB told me. I had noticed the onset of very mild, very irregular contractions earlier that week, which meant labor was nearing. It better be, I thought. I was 39 weeks pregnant.
As we left Lincoln a little after midnight on Saturday, March 14, my belly was full of steak, and my heart was full of warm conversations with a lifelong friend. We stopped for a bathroom break at the Waverly exit – never listen to a pregnant woman if she tells you she doesn’t have to pee – and as we pulled onto I-80 heading East, I started having back contractions. After checking in with Dr. Google, we knew this was it. We had been to the relaxation classes, discussed breathing techniques and imagery with my therapist, and were mentally prepared (as much as possible) for a long night/day of labor and delivery ahead of us.
At Chad’s encouragement, I busted out the trusty Full Term app (highly recommend) and started timing my contractions as we drove down the interstate. Thirty seconds long. Every three and a half minutes.
I didn’t really know what that meant. In childbirth class, they tell you to go to the hospital when your contractions are 1 minute long, 5 minutes apart, for 1 full hour. My contractions weren’t long enough yet, I thought. It’ll barely be an hour by the time we get home, I thought. Contractions continued at that rate for the duration of the ride home. Chad held my hand and rubbed a pressure point when they came on, and I focused on timing with the app. Start. Count to 30. Stop. Breathe. Relax.
When we got home (around 1:30 AM), I called Lakeside hospital while Chad hopped in the shower. Night Nurse Jenna (who would later become my very best friend), told me to drink a lot of water, lay down on my left side, and call her back in an hour. But first, I had to deal with a crock pot roast I had going in the kitchen, and I couldn’t disturb our Airbnb guests upstairs. Of course.
Eventually, I drank my water and laid down while Chad put the carseat in the car and assembled the last minute items for the hospital bag from my checklist. He also took out the trash, started the dishwasher and finished cleaning up from the roast. BLESS HIM. During that hour, I had flu-like shakes, and my contractions increased in intensity and time, landing around 50 seconds long, every three minutes. Despite the pain, I felt calm, and focused on breathing slowly and stopping and starting the app timer. At the end of the hour, around 2:45 AM, we called Lakeside back and Jenna told us to come on in.
We loaded me up in the car, avoided a drunk driver on Dodge Street, and I started the check-in process at the ER (which was unfortunately not unlike visiting the DMV) around 3:10 AM. I have mad skills in wristband fastening thanks to my waterpark days, and I made the lady redo my hospital band. I’m not proud of the look I gave her when she put it on me wrong, but I had three contractions while I was sitting at her desk and I was over it. Jenna took me up to the room while Chad parked and unloaded the car.
I had wanted to labor in the tub, so with the bath water running, Jenna did my first cervical exam at 3:30 AM. “Oh, wow, you’re at 9, 9 Plus; bag of waters still intact, +1 station,” I heard Jenna say. Oh, sh!t.
The on-call OB was called in (my beloved Dr. Sullivan was on vacation, of course), and I skipped the tub, and got gowned up and put on the delivery table. I grasped the bed handrail and Chad applied glorious counter-pressure to my lower back during contractions for the next 45 minutes while we waited for the OB to arrive. Despite some moments of panic and undeniable pain, I felt pretty calm. I was very focused on one particular square of plastic on the handrail. I don’t know. It worked for me.
Nothing in the delivery room was actually ready for delivery, so the nurses scurried around completing preparations. My IV port was inserted and reinserted (I had an epic bruise from the initial port hitting a valve), Chad nervously wondered if my Group B Strep antibiotics would be administered in time. The hospital’s general on-call physician was called in to the room; the nurses worried that I was progressing so quickly and the on-call OB hadn’t arrived yet. I just tried to breathe.
At one point, I asked if it was too late for an epidural; even at this stage in the game, I still hadn’t quite decided whether or not I wanted drugs – I mostly thought I didn’t, but I was scared of what my body could or couldn’t handle, thanks to 28 weeks of emotionally and physically draining SI joint pain. Jenna said that if ever there was a delivery to try without pharmaceuticals, this was it. I had gotten this far already. The nurses estimated a half-hour of pushing at the rate I was progressing. She told me I could do this, and I believed her.
Dr. Besse arrived at 4:15 AM, broke my water, and I started pushing immediately. With Chad on one side of me and Jenna on the other, I ultimately pushed for an hour and fifteen minutes. I burned through ice packs every few minutes, and a back up stash had to be procured. I finally started ripping open the ice packs myself; I couldn’t get enough of the cool relief on my forehead and neck.
Pushing was exhausting. Every muscle in my body was tired, and I very badly wanted to sleep. At one point, I legitimately considered taking a nap, but ultimately decided that sleeping wouldn’t be productive to actually birthing this child. And I pushed.
I had noted on our birth plan that Chad should be given the opportunity to catch the baby. I had neglected, however, to tell Chad about this. He was caught off guard when asked if he wanted to gown up and get ready to catch the baby – I had imagined having this conversation with a nurse hours prior to actually delivering. He gowned up, moved to my feet, and Ashley took over holding my leg and popping instant ice packs. “Push-2-3-4-5-6” Jenna counted. And I pushed.
The nurses advised us that if we do this again, next time we shouldn’t bother calling ahead. Just come on in, they told us. I laughed. And I pushed.
Between sessions of pushing, I was able to catch my breath, recenter, and relax. I took a lot of breaks. I told jokes. I thanked the nurses profusely. I apologized to the doctor for waking him up. And I asked questions. Did the nurses secretly know if it was a boy or girl? No, but they thought it was a girl. Was I making progress? Chad ensured me that I was, indeed making progress. I saw love, pride and encouragement written all over his face. I could do this, his eyes said. And I pushed.
At 5:34 AM on Sunday, March 15, with a burst and a cry, L1 arrived. Dr. Besse handed the baby’s head off to Chad, and my dear husband delivered our baby from me. He tearfully and joyfully announced, “It’s a boy!” Our son was very carefully dried off (meconium was present in the amniotic fluid) and he was placed on my chest. “Does he have a name?” Jenna asked. Chad and I just looked at each other. The huge responsibility of naming this person we had just barely met gave us pause.
“He came out like an Elijah,” Chad said. Indeed.
Team Wastell became a Three-Family. Elijah Graham Wastell had been delivered from me into this world. We did it.