The hospital decision made, the three of us loaded into the car, confirmed which hospital FOR SURE, and headed to Santa Clara (this is now about 4pm.) We started on a major city street, and after a few red lights, Jon detoured us out of that awful traffic. The hard turn helped my contractions a lot, oddly. I was really hungry, having had nothing to eat but a donut around 11am, but nothing really sounded good. Kind of like when you’re working out – even if you’re hungry, it’s not like you feel like you could eat right then. Mom brought some fresh apricots and cherries, and I brought a cup of ice. I had 4-5 apricot halves, which were good because they gave me a little energy and they were cold and good but without a too-strong flavor.
At this point, I wasn’t really handling contractions very well. Most people say they feel like menstrual cramps but worse, and I can see that, but I felt like a better description for my experience was like a charlie horse in my abdomen. Less like the dull (if strong sometimes) ache I get all over, more like a hard twist of all my abdominal muscles. The pain, the fact that my breaks in between contractions were very short, and the quickly increasing intensity of the pain was scaring me, and also cars aren’t really set up for handling contractions. (Strapped into one position with no mobility and no drugs isn’t the best.) Plus, it was kind of dead time with nothing going on except driving … it made the contractions themselves the highlight of the drive, which made them seem more intense.
(I was worrying the whole time about getting to the hospital, and thinking, “What if my water breaks, I need to not spill this cup of ice, don’t make eye contact with the people in the other cars…” etc. Whereas, once I got to the hospital, handling contractions and having a baby was what I was there to do. I wasn’t wearing constricting clothing, I was lying in bed, I could adjust my bed, I could grip onto the bed, I could hold people’s hands, and for crying out loud, I didn’t have to worry about how I looked to the passengers in the cars next to us! We considered an “IN LABOR” sign for next time so everyone would get out of our way and also not wonder why my facial expressions were so exciting.)
In the car, I started trying to really breathe through contractions. We got tons of options in our birth class, but they had us practice them by burning our hands off with ice cubes, so for me, it was more annoying than helpful.
(An icy burning in my hand seemed so far removed from anything labor-related. The diaphragm is right next to the uterus, so all those muscles are close to each other [unlike your hand muscles] – I knew that during labor, my pain and my anti-pain breathing muscles would all be in the same vicinity, so I was pretty sure that my breathing techniques would need to be adaptable to the pain I was feeling in those nearby uterine muscles. I assumed that I would just do whatever felt best in the moment [probably long, deep breaths – my normal pain management technique], which was true, but I did end up using another technique from the class.)
I ended up instinctively using my voice while I breathed out during contractions, which seemed to help. I wasn’t thinking about the class at all, but when Jon heard my voice going up in pitch, he remembered that a deep voice is supposed to be better. (A high voice means you’re tensed up, a low voice helps you relax through the contraction.) So he thought, let’s try it out, and said, “OK, Brooke, deep voice, try to relax and do it that way.” It totally helped my muscles relax more, even though for awhile Jon had to remind me a lot. The interesting thing about it was that before labor, I really never thought I would use the whole ‘moaning’ technique. I thought it would make me feel stupid and I couldn’t see how it could help. Surprise! Adding my voice to it helped a LOT. I thought I would feel self-conscious, but in the car and when I was being wheeled through the hospital later, with tons of people everywhere, I didn’t even care. It helped, and I thought, it is obvious that I am in labor, so let people think what they want. I can do whatever I want and it doesn’t matter. I stuck with that technique the whole time and it served me well.
At 4:30pm, we arrived at the hospital. My contractions were two minutes apart. Jon pulled up to the ER, and my mom went to scrounge up a wheelchair while Jon parked the car and brought in our bags.
Mom wheeled me in the ER door and, as she walked, she called out to the guys at the ER desk, “Her contractions are two minutes apart.” They jumped into action and called a woman over to come help us and said, “Get her upstairs.” It was all very urgent and TV-ish. The woman took over and rushed me down the hall while Mom followed. I was focused and moaning for all I was worth to get through a contraction when we came up on some people walking the opposite direction toward us in the long hall, and the contraction ended right before we passed them, so I suddenly felt a littttttle crazy. They looked at me like, “Whoa, we are looking at somebody who is having a baby right now,” and I thought, heyyyy, I’ve never seen anybody actually being rushed through a hospital having a baby, so that would be COOL if I were them, to be able to go home today and say, “Guess what we saw!” Suddenly I felt like a celebrity, which was hilarious to me, but I was making eye contact with these people and grinning at them would have been suuuuper awkward. I tamped down my grin to a smaller smile; no awkwardness, but also they would know that the pain was real and the moaning wasn’t just for fun! Apparently, I retained my 'overthinking' ability in between contractions.
For all the rush through the emergency room, the initial Labor and Delivery experience was pretty anticlimactic. We sped up to the L&D desk and then hung out for awhile getting registered. With how long they took to do that, my mom was pretty sure I was going to have the baby right there on the floor, but I was so consumed with focusing on the contractions that my sense of time was pretty much gone.
Finally, they got me into a triage room, and then Jon found us. I was dilated to a 4. There was never any mention of whether I would stay or go home – they just handed me a hospital gown. I declined it because I had brought my own clothes (a very loose skirt, sports bra, and loose maternity tank top), so I went into the bathroom to change. (I wanted to know that I had soft, comfortable clothes that I was mentally prepared to wear. I knew that a lot of things would be unfamiliar, so I wanted to control for what I could.) While I was in there, they realized I wanted an epidural and said that no, I actually had to wear the hospital gown because of the access to my back.
Mom and Jon opened the bathroom door to find me on my hands and knees on the floor having a contraction (graceful!), and waited until it was over to inform me that the staff said I had to change. I had planned my clothes with back access in mind, and I obviously wasn’t really in the mood for pushback. They said I couldn’t wear the tank top because it would rub against the epidural and maybe pull it out, so I compromised and said I would just wear the sports bra and skirt, no tank top. They agreed.
Then we gathered up my stuff and walked down the hall to my delivery room. They only let one person in the room at a time with the person getting an epidural, so Mom headed to the lobby. They gave me an IV in the back of my hand. I heard those hurt, so I requested an arm one instead, which they tried, but it didn’t work, probably because I wasn’t hydrated enough. It did hurt – kind of a deep jab that was easy to aggravate if I wasn’t careful as I moved around – but whatever.
Then I got a narcotic pain reliever, which was AWESOME. It dulled everything and made me a little dizzy, really warm (like an imaginary blanket) and, and really sleepy. It was great to go from the pain and tiredness of contractions and late pregnancy, to that cozy feeling of “I’m so comfy I’m almost asleep.” Meanwhile, Jon was signing forms. The anesthesiologist came in and went over the epidural risks and we signed those forms – this part is all a little fuzzy – and then I got the epidural at 5:30pm. The numbing shot surprised me (They warned me it was coming, but I was so out of it that I didn’t prepare myself at all – plus all my other pain was dull and that was sharp) and they informed me YOU CANNOT JUMP LIKE THAT, which made me focus better for the epidural shot. Jon was pretty nervous that I was going to flinch or something, but things worked out and everything was done pretty quickly. It felt like it kicked in immediately, and by 6pm, everything was done and Mom was back in the room.
They helped me settle back onto the bed and I didn’t realize how quickly the epidural had worked, so I tried to adjust myself and my leg fell off the bed. Ha! The nurse freaked out and told me not to ever move without help again. Sorry, nurse!
Epidurals feel so weird. I couldn’t even feel my legs enough to pick them up and move them. They kept testing to make sure the medicine was going to the right places by using a little alcohol swab and asking me if I could feel it. (Apparently when my mom was having kids, they did that by jabbing her with a PIN. Really??) Jon and Mom would occasionally pat my leg later on to say ‘good job,’ and I was like, guys, can’t feel that! I could feel a little pressure sometimes, but it was as if they had touched my leg through ten blankets – so far away. Sometimes the nurse would try to move me and would ask me to help, and it was a herculean effort just to shift a few inches! Weird.
At this point, they checked my dilation (5), and they talked me into losing the skirt. I bought it planning to ruin it with birth gunk, but I also bought it because I wanted to have something comfy to wear when I was walking the halls trying to get labor to progress. Since we sort of skipped that part, I didn’t really need it, and I had blankets over my lap, so that was that.