My mom and I were chatting as we pulled into the Chick-fil-a drive-thru the evening of Friday, October 16.
It had been a long, frustrating, painful week since our baby girl's due date the previous Saturday, October 10.
My doctor had been on-call all the previous weekend and had expressed that if I wanted to have the baby then, I could go into the hospital and she would break my water and get me started.
I struggled through the weekend with inconsistent contractions, knowing I could get this labor show on the road, but opting in the end to give the baby and my body time to make things happen on their own.
Since then, I'd had plenty of fairly strong contractions, but nothing hard enough or consistent enough to send us to the hospital. I told Sam I felt like a car that was trying (but failing) to start!
At my doctor's appointment on Thursday the 15th, I was dilated to 4-5 cm and having all the signs of early labor. Unfortunately, my doctor (who I absolutely love and supported me in all of my birth desires) was headed out of town that evening and would not be returning until Sunday evening. She guessed I would go into labor on my own within 24-48 hours.
My mom arrived in Memphis Thursday evening, and the past 24 hours had been filled with anticipation...lots of inconsistent but strong contractions, a trip to the park, lots of bouncing on the yoga ball, and unending conversations about births and babies.
That Friday evening, my mom offered to treat us all to Chick-fil-a, so she and I headed out to pick up dinner for the family.
And just as we arrived at the drive-thru, I had two rather strong contractions in a row.
"If Chick-fil-a puts me into labor, I will praise them for the rest of my life!" I joked to my mom.
We picked up the food, drove home, and ate dinner.
Sam went outside to play soccer with the older boys while my mom read stories to Maxwell and Benson and I began my typical evening tidying up of the house.
I was cleaning up in the playroom when I had a strong contraction...and a few minutes later, another...and then another.
I hardly dared get my hopes up, but hesitantly told Sam that I was having hard contractions a few minutes apart and we may need to head to the hospital soon so we could start antibiotics for Group B Strep, as we expected this to be a fairly fast delivery.
Sam was instantly jittery. I wanted to wait until I'd been having consistent contractions for at least 30 minutes, but he replied, "How about 15?" I really wanted to wait until I knew for sure real, active labor had started at last, but he wasn't keen on the idea of having a baby in the car! We began making preparations to leave, monitoring contractions as we put the last few things into our hospital bag.
I was standing in the bathroom when I had a hard contraction with a very distinct downward movement. I breathed through it and then told Sam, "Okay, I think we can go now."
He immediately loaded up the car, we hugged 5 incredibly excited boys good-bye, and we walked out into the cool Fall evening, Sam joking that this was the best date night ever.
It was about 7:00 pm.
Sam called the hospital and told them we were on our way. They asked about contractions and what number baby it was--when he said #6 they replied, "Drive fast!"
But I was still a little uncertain as we made the 25 minute drive to the hospital.
While sitting down, my contractions dropped off and I only had a few small contractions through the entire drive. We parked in the parking garage and as we began walking into the hospital I had another good contraction and a lot of downward pressure that did not stop.
As we checked in, the hospital employees didn't seem to have any sense of urgency. There was paperwork to fill out, wristbands to print, forms to sign, COVID screening...and all the while I was rocking back and forth, trying to calmly breathe through contractions and the intense pressure I was feeling.
To my surprise, they sent us to a Labor & Delivery waiting room where we stood mostly in silence, somewhat baffled by the leisurely pace everything was moving at. Where was the urgency they had expressed on the phone? We had intentionally come early so we could get the antibiotics in (ideally they like to give them at least 4 hours before delivery), and now we were shut alone in a silent waiting room where I breathed through contractions (still spaced fairly far apart) and the constant strong downward pressure.
We were eventually moved to Triage, where I was told to change into a gown and preliminary questions began. The nurse asked about the due date and when I told her, her demeanor visibly changed.
"You're 41 weeks with baby #6??? She said 31 weeks! We need to get you over to Labor & Delivery!"
Apparently the admissions employee had misunderstood me (easy to do with masks and plexiglass muffling everything we said) and told the nurses I was 31 weeks along. That explained the lack of urgency!
She did a quick check and found that I was 6 cm dilated and then wheeled me over to Labor & Delivery.
She also explained that I would need to take a COVID test and told me with great frustration that unfortunately, if I tested positive, Sam would be sent home and I would have to deliver alone. "I know...it doesn't make sense...we're trying to change it, but that's the way it is right now," she said with exasperation.
Needless to say, 15 minutes later when the test results came back negative, a huge weight was lifted!
I needed Sam to be there and I felt that if they sent him home, I may just go home with him and deliver our baby there!
That negative test was also my ticket to not having to wear a mask through the remainder of our time in the hospital. I was so grateful I would not have to deliver a baby while wearing a mask.
We went through all the initial check-in questions, the IV was placed, and antibiotics were finally started around 8:30 pm.
I lay on the bed with my eyes closed, focused on relaxing, but our nurse was very chatty and kept trying to make conversation. When she finally exclaimed, "Y'all are so quiet!!" I abandoned my attempt to relax in silence and began making conversation with her.
Everything felt a little surreal at this point.
I was hardly having any contractions, but the ones I was having were pretty substantial.
Since my doctor was not there to clear the way for me to have a labor with less intervention, I was told that since I was in the second half of labor, I couldn't go walk the halls and could only move as far as the monitor cords could reach, which allowed me about 5 feet of space to walk.
I decided that I would at least stand up in hopes of getting contractions going more frequently.
While standing, contractions were coming pretty consistently about every 5 minutes.
Before long, I needed to use the restroom. I told the nurse and she looked at me with suspicion and concern. "I'm not ready to have the baby, I promise!" I said. But nonetheless, she turned up the IV all the way to rush in the antibiotics and unhooked me from the monitors so I could go into the bathroom.
The rush of antibiotics made my arm burn like crazy and it wasn't long before I started shaking violently. IV fluids often tend to do weird things like that to me, so I lay down in the bed with blankets piled on top of me to try to get the shaking to stop. And eventually, the shaking did stop...but the contractions stopped, too.
After things had calmed down, I decided to stand by the bed again to get contractions going.
Things were pretty boring between contractions. We were both starting to feel pretty exhausted and it was looking like we may have a long road ahead of us. We fell into a rhythm. A hard contraction would come and Sam would rub my shoulders vigorously through it. It would last about a minute, and then we would have 4 or 5 minutes with nothing happening. We even tried watching the BYU football game for a while, but it was kind of annoying during contractions and Sam decided he didn't want the birth of our baby to be dampened by a possible BYU loss (they won!) so we turned it off. I even tried jumping up and down to make contractions come faster!
The nurse kept coming in to check on baby girl's heartbeat and my contractions. The monitor wasn't picking up my contractions and her heart rate was elevated up around 180 beats per minute (they like the base line to be no higher than 160 beats per minute). She started another bag of fluids to try to get her heart rate down, but to no avail. I decided I had better lay down again to see if that would help, and thankfully the contractions didn't completely stop this time.
When the nurse came in around 10:00 and said that she wanted to check my dilation soon, I wasn't too enthusiastic. I knew how discouraging and misleading dilation could be, and if I hadn't progressed at all Sam and I were both going to feel really exhausted about the prospect of the night continuing like it had. But she wanted to give the on-call doctor notice of where I was at before she went to bed, so around 10:30 she came in to check me again.
"I'm only having a contraction about every 5 minutes, but they're really hard," I told her.
"That doesn't mean anything!" she said. "Your body knows what to do! You could be about to deliver!" I was skeptical about that, so I was totally surprised when she said, "Yep, you're at 8 cm! I'll go call the doctor and I think she can just break your water and you can have a baby!"
She walked out of the room and Sam and I looked at each other, totally surprised by the sudden turn of events.
It wasn't long before the violent shaking started again, though, and this time we couldn't make it stop.
I felt completely calm mentally and was managing the labor pain really well, but for some odd reason my body was shaking so hard. The nurse told me it was really common and that it was just a normal part of labor, but I had never experienced it before. It made it difficult to breathe steadily through the contractions because my entire body, head to toe, was trembling so hard.
By the time the doctor arrived, I was hanging onto the side of the hospital bed and Sam was rubbing my back as we fought to gain some control over the shaking.
She broke my water and after a couple of contractions she said I was completely dilated except for a tiny bit of anterior lip remaining, so she said she would try to stretch it out of the way manually.
In hindsight, I think I should have refused and let my body finish the process on its own, but I didn't know any better in the moment. I started to feel out-of-control between the shaking, the contractions, the intense upward internal pushing the doctor was doing, and the movement of the baby downward.
Meanwhile the nurse and doctor were ignoring me, chatting about supplies in the room and such. I wasn't feeling the urge to push yet but I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be. After a couple of contractions with me feeling very frantic, I asked, "Should I push?" I started pushing but it felt forced--nothing like the overwhelming, uncontrollable need to push I'd had in the past. Contractions still weren't back-to-back like they had been at the time of delivery with my other babies, so I was uncertain what to do in the lag period in between. I could tell the pushing wasn't effective through a contraction, so I asked for some coaching. They had me push to the count of 10 on the next contraction, and that did the trick--her head came and it wasn't long before the rest of her body followed!
They lay her on my stomach and Sam cut the cord, but I was still shaking violently from head to toe and my hands had gone completely numb for some reason. I tried to hold her, but my hands would not cooperate. I frantically told the doctor that my hands were completely numb and to not let go of the baby. She assured me that she wouldn't, but as she continued working on me, it looked to me like she had let go. I looked up at Sam, who also had a hand on her, and exclaimed, "I can't feel my hands at all! Don't let go of her!" I was having awful thoughts of her sliding right off my stomach onto the floor.
When the doctor and nurse saw my concern, they had Sam take the baby over to get cleaned up while they stitched me up and the placenta was delivered.
She had passed a little bit of meconium into the amniotic fluid, but they just stuck a tube down into her stomach and quickly sucked it out. They weighed her and diapered her and examined her and by the time the doctor had finished up with me, she was ready to come back over to me.
Thankfully, I could feel my hands once again and my shaking had mostly subsided so I was able to hold our beautiful little girl.
Everyone cleared out of the room and left Sam and I to enjoy those precious post-birth moments. I stared down at her perfect, tiny features and her head of feathery, dark hair and felt so much relief, joy, and awe at her presence.
We had done it.
We had made it through 9 very long months,
countless hours of insomnia,
months of constant pain,
poor circulation and varicose veins,
exacerbated ulcerative colitis,
anemia and thrombocytopenia,
and all the other discomforts and fatigue that come with pregnancy,
not to mention the actual labor, delivery, and post-delivery repairs.
And as I stared at her perfection I thought,
"That's it? That's all I had to do to get this remarkable gift?"
10 days later, I'm still totally in awe.
Welcome to the family, Elsie June.