SIDE NOTE: Before I launch into recounting my experience with water birth, I just want to mention in passing that having a new baby right before Halloween and the beginning of the holiday season, aka Pumpkin Flavored Everything season, is a terrible idea. Unless of course you're actually LOOKING for an inner tube of fat to cart around above your jeans. (I have to say though, if I could afford to go out and buy a whole new pants wardrobe, I wouldn't really even care right now. But I currently have only one pair of pants that fits me and that aren't maternity, and it's beginning to be embarrassing that I'm still wearing elastic waists. Or maybe not! If you can remember by the end of this sure to be lengthy post, comment and tell me how long it took you to get out of your maternity pants post baby!)
Ok, with that said, let us commence story telling while both boys are still magically sleeping! So if you recall- and you probably don't since even I barely recall it after six weeks- Sunday, September twenty sixth, which made me thirty seven weeks and one day pregnant, I had a lot of symptoms (some grosser than others, and I will leave it to your imagination and any standard pregnancy book to suggest them) that made me think I was going into labor. I laid down on the couch and tried to sleep, though, instead of rushing to the phone and then the hospital, since I'd had enough frustrating experience with false labor in my previous birth that I was determined not to jump the gun this time.
I kept thinking that the level of discomfort was such that if I just went to the hospital, I was sure they'd declare me in labor and let me stay. Keep in mind I was already four centimeters at this point. But I did, after a few hours and a lot of moaning and back pain, manage to go to sleep, and when I woke up there was no baby and no regular contractions. I did have a huge burst of nesting instinct that day, though, and got a ton accomplished from my Do Before Baby list.
Finally, on Tuesday afternoon I had my official thirty seven week check up, which revealed that the weekend's excitement had left me eighty percent effaced and five centimeters dilated. Or in other words, HALF WAY THROUGH LABOR by textbook standards. My doctor sat back, snapped off her glove and regarded me thoughtfully, then said, "So, what are you doing today?" And I looked at her face and said, "Uh... having a baby, I think?"
Then I back pedalled a little, freaking out at the idea that this was it, and also freaking out because I knew I couldn't have a water birth if I had to be on Pitocin, and going to the hospital before I was in an active contraction pattern made me much more likely to end up on Pit. However, I also knew that Addy's fifth birthday party was scheduled for that Saturday, and that I had all but promised her I would not go and have a baby on HER personal birthday. The fact was that if I dug in my heels and insisted on waiting for "real" labor, I was risking: a) going into labor during my daughter's party and/or having the baby on her actual birthday and b) never actually getting into a regular contraction pattern, having my water break suddenly, and then giving birth in my own bathroom while frantically trying to pack for the hospital.
On principle, though, I did weakly ask if I couldn't just wait another day or two and see what happened. My doctor basically said that yes, of course she couldn't DRAG me to the hospital or anything, but then said, "When you come in here five centimeters, I don't willingly send you back home, you know? You're having this baby SOON, one way or another. And if I strip your membranes, I think that should be enough to trigger more progress." I nervously started in with my concerns about Pitocin and still having a water birth, and she looked at me very seriously and said, "I promise there will be no Pitocin. We're not going to need it."
Well, that was good enough for me. I let her strip my membranes (which was a new experience for me! whee!) and then she sent me home to finish packing my bag, get the kids settled in with someone, and then return to the hospital within two hours. I couldn't believe how jittery I was as I got dressed and left the office on shaky legs. The nurse even gave me a hug and said reassuringly, "It's going to be great!" That drive home was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I couldn't believe it was actually happening, after all these weeks of lying around trying to keep this baby IN. Now he was coming OUT, and I still wasn't sure I was ready for labor or for the reality of three kids. I spent that ten minute drive alternately calling everyone who needed to know and taking deep cleansing breaths, muttering, "Here we go!"
When I got home, my brother in law, who had been watching the kids during my doctor's appointment and had agreed to stay with them until the baby came, took off to run a few errands while I packed and got my head on straight. I totally wandered around the house in a daze, loading random cups into the dishwasher, beginning and then abandoning little chores, and slowly packing the last of my things. I remember Addy basically packed my toiletries bag for me. If it hadn't been for her, I would have forgotten my glasses. Through all this, I was having mild contractions here and there, but still nothing different than the last few weeks.
When I had finished doing every last thing, including sterilizing the breast pump parts and packing the clearance-three-dollar-wearing-in-the-birthing-tub-and-then-throwing-away dress, Jim arrived home to drive me to the hospital and Brett got back to watch the kids. I had no excuse to not get in the car, so I kissed the kids goodbye and heaved my pregnant self into the passenger seat for the last time. I was still in a total daze.
At this point we were running a little late, but I hadn't had dinner yet and I knew I wanted to eat before we checked in. So we stopped at our family's coffee house on the way downtown, where I promptly had several humongous contractions that led me to call our doula and ask her to hurry. This was unfortunate, since she hurried so fast that she ended up beating us to the maternity ward. Whoops. But I partly blame the tripping of the fire alarm in the hospital lobby right when we got there to check in, which seriously slowed down the process. In hindsight it was kind of funny, but at the time, I was just nervous and annoyed and beginning to go deaf from the blaring alarm.
Anyhoo, so I got wheeled up to the birthing suite, hooked up to the monitors for the routine twenty minute strip, asked a bunch of questions, and checked. Five to six centimeters, is what the nurse said, so it seemed I had made some progress already. I was having only irregular contractions on the monitor, but they were happening, so I was officially in labor by hospital standards. I still felt no different than I had the last few weeks, though, and was talking and smiling. We spent lots of hours just walking around the halls and talking with our various visitors, including my mom and dad, sister, and Jess. By the next check I was still five to six centimeters, but the nurse said his head was lower.