When I started the third trimester of my pregnancy, my doctor gave me a terrifying 10-page packet entitled, “Getting Ready for Labor.” After hiding it under the magazines on our coffee table for a couple days (denial at its finest), I finally clenched my teeth and read it cover to cover and then gave it to Tim to read.
It was filled with all sorts of wonderful anecdotes about pregnancy’s final days, labor and delivery. After reading it, I pretty much wanted to climb into bed and hide under the covers. But, there was one part of the packet that read, “Remember, it’s called labor because it is ‘hard work.’ It’s kind of like running a marathon – just in bed.”
OK – this was something I could wrap my head around and that didn’t gross me out or scare me. Having run a marathon, I could understand and appreciate the analogy. Labor would require extreme mental and physical endurance. It might seem overwhelming and never ending at times, but I would just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, so to speak, and focus on one contraction at a time. Once I crossed the finish line, I would be in awe of what my body had accomplished and the pain would be worth it.
Of course, I was expecting my labor and delivery to last much longer than the average marathon. After all, that lovely informational packet also noted that first time mothers who went into labor spontaneously (no induction) would be in labor, on average, for 12 to 18 hours. Good times.
So at 3:15 a.m. on April 28th, when I woke up to a sharp pain in my belly, I figured I had lots of time. I woke Tim 10 minutes later when I realized my water had broken – we would need to leave for the hospital right away. After throwing our last minute things into our hospital bags and taking care of our cat, we were in the car by 4 a.m.
So the beginning of the marathon was off to a good start. My contractions were painful and pretty close together, but manageable. That all changed by the end of the less than 10 minute drive to the hospital. Suddenly they were two to three minutes apart and taking my breath away. By the time we made our way through lobby security, check-in on the labor and delivery floor and finally to a triage room (which I now refer to as “the room I never, ever, ever want to see again. Ever.”), my contractions were right on top of each other and excruciating.
This was not how it was supposed to be. When we learned about early labor in our childbirth class, it seemed like I would have hours of mild contractions. I would rest at home. Make a sandwich. Take a shower. Practice yoga breathing. Maybe go for a nice walk, holding hands with Tim and talking about how excited we were to meet our baby. This is what the nice parents in the educational videos we watched in our childbirth class did. It all seemed very peaceful, this early labor.
Well, I guess our baby just decided to skip that part. When the triage nurse (who I now refer to as “the woman I never, ever, ever want to see again. Ever.”) came in, I immediately blurted, “Are you going to check me?” I wanted validation that things were progressing really fast and that I wasn’t just being a big baby, because good lord, this HURT.
She said – without any sense of urgency whatsoever, which infuriated me – that the midwife would be in soon to check me and that in the meantime, she needed to gather some information. She then proceeded to ask a million inane questions, including: “Are you having your baby circumcised?,” when we had already told her we were having a girl. Seriously – that happened.
I was shooting this woman eye daggers like you wouldn’t believe. Later Tim said he was almost grateful for her, because I channeled all of my fury toward her instead of him. He was justifiably worried after watching some of the other couples we had seen in the educational videos, like the woman who snapped, “Get off the bed please,” in a tone that clearly implied she wished an imminent and painful death upon her husband, because he had the audacity to sit down next to her and try to comfort her while she was in active labor.
Eventually, the midwife breezed into the room and – hallelujah – checked my progress. I was five centimeters dilated, so I immediately informed her that I wanted an epidural. The nurse told me that it would take a while – they would need to page the anesthesiologist, pump me with fluids, etc., etc. I icily told her, “I know that, that’s why I’m telling you now.” So instead of getting the ball rolling immediately, she logically sent the only sane person in the room – my husband – downstairs to the lobby to exchange his triage badge for a labor and delivery badge, and then I think she started to ask me even more questions. I’m not really sure. I think at that point I had tuned her out and was consumed with what didn’t feel like contractions (plural), but rather, one long, continuous contraction that I was pretty sure was going to last for the rest of my life.
FINALLY, they prepped me for an IV and moved me to a labor and delivery room. Once they had me set up, the resident physician checked me again and then exchanged a glance and a few words with my new nurse – who thankfully did not have the same question-asking habit as her colleague down the hall. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I need to tell you something, and I don’t want you to freak out…You’re probably not going to be able to have the epidural. The baby is coming.”
At this point, my contractions had spaced back out a bit so I could breathe, and maybe it was because I could see the finish line, but this news did not disturb me as much as you would think. I just said, “Okay, but could someone please go get my husband?” Poor Tim had only been gone a few minutes, but our baby was in a hurry to finish this marathon NOW.
Tim returned and held my hand and about 25 minutes later at exactly 6:30 a.m., our daughter emerged and breathed her first breath in this great big world. When the doctor pulled her out and placed her on my chest, I thought my heart would explode with relief, amazement and love. It was the most perfect, wondrous moment of my life.
So was labor like a marathon? Yes and no. Honestly, while labor was more intensely painful, to me, running a marathon was actually more physically challenging. But, it took me an hour and 25 minutes longer to run a marathon than it did to give birth to my daughter. If I ever run a 3:15 marathon – ha! – I will reassess.
What I can say is that in both experiences, I had painful lows and dazzling highs. I felt raw, gutted, exhilarated and blazingly alive. I hope to be blessed enough to experience both again. But the end reward? The marathon medal or this beautiful, perfect baby in my arms? No contest.