Going Into Labor
“What an insane experience.”–These were my husband’s words as we pulled out of Honor Health Shea Medical Center on Saturday afternoon, July 18th, about 60 hours after the birth of our first son, James. It truly was an insane experience in so many ways; insane in terms of both its contextual oddity and personal profundity. 60 hours in the middle of a global pandemic changed our lives forever.
Even though I just went through it, I’m not much more confident in my understanding of labor than I was before last week. I went into what I’d call “early labor” (though I don’t know if that’s technically correct) at around 6:30 pm on July 15th. My mom had flown into town five days prior and had been self-isolating at a friend’s empty home since. She’d just gotten to our house that morning, and although I’d been having fairly regular contractions all day, they were still painless and I wasn’t sure if labor was on the way or not. At around 6:30 pm the contractions started getting stronger and I started feeling mild to moderate pain, so my mom and I started timing them.
By 10ish, we were pretty sure labor had started, but we knew it definitely wasn’t time to leave yet, so after a shower, I went to bed. At 11:45 pm, I woke up having painful contractions coming about every 4-5 minutes. They were painful enough that they took my breath away and I couldn’t walk through them, which is when all the websites say to go to the hospital, so I woke up my husband, Brad, and told him I was pretty sure it was time. We left for the hospital at around 12:30 am.
We hadn’t had a chance to do a hospital tour before the baby’s birth because our tour had been scheduled the week that Covid hit the U.S. back in March and everything started locking down. However, I had been to the hospital before when my dad had had prostate surgery, so I knew roughly where different entrances and parking lots were located. Knowing that once we were in, we weren’t getting back out until we were headed home, I had Brad park in the back parking garage so the car would be out of the sun. I wasn’t sure if the covered spaces in front of the hospital were being used for short-term parking only and didn’t want Brad to have to come back and move the car.
We parked, got all of our bags out of the car, and I painfully hobbled behind him across the hospital’s North bridge towards one of the entrances. As we got there, two nurses saw us and let us know that we couldn’t go in that way because the hospital staff needed to screen everyone coming into the hospital, but suggested that there was another entrance close by across the South Bridge entrance. The hobbling continued. When we got to this entrance, we didn’t see anyone on staff manning the temperature monitoring station and as we approached the sliding glass doors, they didn’t open. “Great, what next?” We were a little stuck, to say the least.
Finally, we decided to huff it on foot around to the other side of the hospital to the main entrance. We’d walked far enough that it was about as far to get all the way there as it would have been to walk back to the car and drive to the main entrance. Finally, after walking about a quarter of a mile through the dark carrying three big duffle bags and stopping every fifty feet to wait out a contraction, we made it in!
That was when the front entrance staff reminded us that we would also need the car seat because we wouldn’t be allowed to leave at all until after we’d checked out. So, poor Brad had to run all the way back to the opposite end of the hospital and back to get the car seat out of the car.
After Brad made it back–a little out of breath–with the car seat, we were taken up to labor and delivery triage, which is basically an extended waiting room where you are put until there is space available for you in a labor and delivery room. We were quickly ushered into a tiny, dark room with a bed and a chair shoved into the small space beside the door to a shared bathroom. The night shift nurse hooked me up to a monitor and asked me many questions I now don’t remember, and left us there to see where labor was headed.
Over the next hour, the labor pains continued to worsen, to the point that they were becoming pretty unbearable, and I hadn’t been given any pain medicine. But when the nurse checked me to see how dilated I was, I was still only around 2cm, too little to be admitted on a busy night like they were having, even though I was past my due date. She told me to walk around for an hour and then we’d re-check. Because of Covid, “walking around” meant pacing back and forth across the diagonal of our room, which was the longest path of movement at around 10 ft. We paced and paced.
After an hour, I was in so much pain I was loudly vocalizing through each contraction and breathing very heavily. When the nurse came back to check me again, I was practically screaming through each contraction, but I was still at only 2.5cm, so the nurse said I could either try walking for another hour or head home. She said I was still in very early labor and could be that way for anywhere from another day to two more weeks. Two weeks?! I asked how I could possibly be in this much pain and not be close to active labor, and since I had already passed the traditional cues of “when you should head to the hospital,” how would I know when it was time for me to come back? Her answer: “Oh, it’ll get worse. You’ll just know.”… I screamed and cried through another painful contraction wondering how it could possibly get worse.
Brad asked to take 5 mins to discuss it together and we decided to go to my dad and stepmom’s house which was five minutes away from the hospital. If I was going to be in this much pain indefinitely, we’d at least like to do it somewhere where we were comfortable and I could get in a bathtub to ease the pain.
When the nurse came back, we told her we had decided we’d like to go home. She said, “Okay, but before you do we actually need to hook you back up to the machine for another 20 mins. or so because we need your baby to be a little ‘happier’ before you leave.” I wasn’t sure what “happier” meant in this context but was pretty sure it had to do with his heart rate, so I settled back in for 20 more minutes of contractions.
After 20 mins., the nurse came back to check me again and I was finally at the 3cm threshold for admittance, and the baby still wasn’t quite as “happy” as they’d like, so I was in! (Someday when he’s older and my son does something that is truly heinous to me, I will try to remember this moment, because he truly saved me. I don’t know how I could have survived if I’d had to leave and come back.)
I heaved a sigh of relief with the good news. The nurse then told me the bad news, which was that there wasn’t a labor and delivery room available yet, so we were stuck in triage for a little while longer. By this time, it was 4:00 am, and we wouldn’t be able to get into a room until 7:00 am, but in the meantime, she could give me something to take the edge off the pain so I could hopefully “get a nap in.” I was so happy I didn’t even care that we were stuck there for a while.
The next three hours were slightly better, but not much. I was hooked up to an IV with a fentanyl drip that by no means enabled me to take a nap, as it didn’t really take away very much pain from the contractions, but it at least enabled me to survive until 7:00 am when we could get a room and an epidural.
Labor and Delivery
Finally, at 7:09 am, we made it to a labor and delivery room. From the second we entered the room, it was clear we had entered a different realm of the hospital. If hospital rooms were cars, labor and delivery was a Bentley where triage had been a used Dodge Neon. The lonely, dark, closet we’d been in for the past seven hours gave way to a spacious, bright, open room with windows, a private bathroom, and a nurse who I could have sworn had an actual halo. If I’d known how much of a difference there were between the two ahead of time, I would probably have been more upset about being stuck in triage for so long.
Within 10 mins., the anesthesiologist was in my room to get me an epidural. Our labor nurse, Lynn, congratulated me on making it to 3cm. without an epidural–with all three of her kids, she needed the epidural by 2-2.5cm. 2cm?! And at 2 cm. I wasn’t even in “real labor”?! I felt cheated by my night nurse but was so relieved to be getting actual pain relief I didn’t really care much.
I applaud every woman who has ever given birth without pain relief because there is simply no way I could have done it. Once the epidural kicked in, labor was a completely different experience. In fact, I wouldn’t even really call it labor, I’d just call it waiting. As long as the pain medicine was flowing, I was actually pretty comfortable. Brad and I both took naps, relaxed, and waited for me to fully dilate. Lynn came in and cheerily offered me ice chips and checked my cervix periodically and congratulated me on my progress as I slowly made it from 3cm. to 10. There were a few times throughout where I needed more medicine and was uncomfortable while I waited for more relief, but Brad helped coach me through the contractions by watching the monitors until the pain relief kicked in.
Finally, at 6:30 pm, it was time to push. I was lucky enough that my own OB was on call that day, so I got to deliver with the doctor who had seen me through my whole pregnancy. Lynn got me started on pushing and then introduced me to the night labor nurse, Ashley. Lynn had been such an angel I was afraid for her to leave. Whoever this “Ashley” was, she couldn’t be as amazing as Lynn had been all day. I was wrong. She was equally awesome and together, she, Brad, and Dr. Carter helped me bring James into the world. They were funny, calm, encouraging, and supportive the whole way through and I can’t imagine having a better team around me.
About an hour and a half later, at 7:59 pm on July 16th, I had a baby in my arms, and he was perfect.
Postpartum and Recovery
One of the more frustrating experiences for me about our hospital was how long it took for me to be allowed to start trying to initiate breastfeeding. I had hoped to begin that process immediately after birth, but that wasn’t what happened. I don’t know what happened to my birth plan when I went into labor and delivery or who read it, but there were definitely a few things on there that I was adamant about that people either hadn’t read or hadn’t made a priority. One of those things was breastfeeding.
Although James was placed on my chest right after birth, it wasn’t immediate skin to skin contact with an encouragement to breastfeed the way I had expected it was going to be. He was wiped off before being placed directly on my skin, which I don’t know if was necessary, and the nurses pretty much left us alone to talk to him while the doctor delivered the placenta and sewed me up. I wasn’t given any instructions on what to do while he was there with me, I’m not sure if I was supposed to. I was pretty out of it.
Ashley was kind enough to offer to take pictures of us together and I’m so glad she did or I would have forgotten. I was so overwhelmed. After about 30 mins, I started asking when we could start trying to breastfeed. At first, I believe I was told they needed to do some of the basic after-birth procedures and the doctor needed to finish sewing me up, but after that, I was supposed to be able to. I kept asking as more time passed than I wanted to. I don’t know if I was expecting someone to help me start breastfeeding or not, but either way, I know I asked about it several times and for whatever reason, it was put off for a couple of hours.
Finally, Ashley helped me get started while they were waiting for my recovery room to be ready. I’m so glad she did; I would have been really upset if I’d had to wait for the room transfer. For not really having anyone there to coach me and mainly relying on what I remembered from a video I’d seen posted on a La Leche League Facebook Page, it went pretty well, which was awesome. Not too long after, we were ready for our room transfer. It was sometime between 10 and 11 pm.
Ashley helped us get settled in the new room because our postpartum nurse hadn’t made it around yet. Pretty soon, Lorraine joined the team and we started getting ready for bed/rest. Lorraine taught me how to use the peri bottle and Dermoplast to clean myself after going to the bathroom and got me set up with an ice pack for my apparently very swollen hoo-ha. (Brad said something about a sea anemone, which is as descriptive as I ever want to hear about my private areas). I don’t remember much of the rest of the first night beyond that. Nurses came and went, I attempted to breastfeed periodically, and Lorraine made sure both we and the baby had everything we needed.
Between the two of us, Brad and I started lovingly referring to Lorraine as our Jewish mother. I’m not sure if she actually was Jewish or not, so I hope that’s not offensive, but we meant it to describe how she at first seemed a little gruff and unsympathetic, but we quickly realized how incredibly loving, kind, and generous she was beneath her tough exterior. She was a Godsend throughout both our nights in the hospital.
We had hoped to leave the hospital 24 hours after the baby was born because although the postpartum room was pretty comfortable for James and me, Brad had only a flat bench with a 2in. mattress on it to sleep/sit on and I knew it was going to be pretty uncomfortable for him. Our other rooms had had much comfier recliner chairs, but not our postpartum room. Unfortunately, though, some of the tests that needed to be done on James had to be done at the 24-hour mark and took two hours to come back, so if we wanted to leave after 24 hours, we probably wouldn’t get back to our apartment till at least 2 or 3 in the morning. On top of that, the hospital was so busy that we wouldn’t be able to see the lactation consultant until Saturday (at least 36 hours after we’d given birth), so we decided to stay an extra day so we could see her. This was another thing I had to ask about several times before being certain it was going to happen.
A Luxurious Prison Stay
Brad and I likened our hospital stay to that of a luxury prison. The food was undeniably better. In fact, we would go so far as to say the food was nearing restaurant quality. We were so impressed. And people were much nicer to us than I’m sure people are to prisoners.
However, it was certainly a lonely, confining experience. Because of the pandemic, Brad and I only saw the four walls of our three rooms during the course of our 60-hour stay and the various blue-faced (masked) people who moved in and out of them. We weren’t allowed to walk the halls and we weren’t allowed any visitors. Instead, my dad and my step-mom made signs and rode their bikes to the hospital and stood outside our recovery room window to welcome Baby James into the world. It was the sweetest thing I’d ever seen. We had to wear masks any time anyone was in our rooms–though I have to say, thankfully, a few of the nurses kind of let that rule slide at times.
Finally, 60 hours, three rooms, five nurses, three doctors, and a lactation consultant later, we were on our way home with a whole new person. In a separate post, I want to talk more about what initiating breastfeeding was really like in a hospital, but for the most part, this was what happened during our Covid birth. For the most part, things went according to plan, we were blessed that none of us were positive for Covid so we got to stay together the entire time, and we were all healthy and safe from start to finish. We had an incredible team of kind people helping us every step of the way, and we had each other, the new all-stars. Insane though it was, it was an experience I know neither Brad nor I will ever forget (we don’t expect James to remember, he’s still new here). And on top of it all, we have this incredible new part of our family who we get to love and cherish forever. What an amazing blessing.