So when we left off, I was enjoying a brief break from the pain of contractions — epidural was in place and back labor was easing!

However, the epidural wore off slowly, at first just with some additional pressure. I continued to feel contractions the entire time I had it in place, but never having had an epidural before I didn’t know that this wasn’t exactly how it was supposed to work. Next came pain and increasing sensation on my right side with each contraction — not the terrible pain I had felt earlier, but enough to where I was breathing through each contraction and remembering everything I had ever learned in yoga. At 6 centimeters my water broke, and that was when things really got difficult. I immediately felt a strong urge to push, and a ton of pressure that did not really let up. Steve watched the contraction monitors and would help me through each one, letting me know when it was receding. It was the worst pain I had ever felt in my life — having to deal with the contractions on top of this insane urge to push was not only physically difficult, but mentally draining as well. Again, all I could think of was the pain. My whole world was the pain. I still tried to stay as calm as I could — I wasn’t freaking out, but afterwards Steve said at one point he was really, legitimately concerned that I was going to break his fingers.

A funny thing happened once my water broke and I started entering transition. I had been progressing about one centimeter an hour, and my doctor predicted we could start pushing at 10 a.m. if things continued at that pace. Normally once you get to about 7 centimeters, the last three go more quickly — but this was not so for me. Progress actually slowed a lot after I hit 7 centimeters, which was discouraging, although things were still moving along. Just not as quickly as they had been for some reason!

My nurse (a different nurse at this point, as it was now around seven in the morning) kept adjusting the amount of medication coming through my epidural, but nothing helped — I had a little numbness on my left side, and absolutely nothing on my right side. Hours passed, and I had progressed all the way to 8 centimeters and was fully in transition when my nurse suggested re-doing the epidural entirely. This sounded both like a great idea and an awful idea — great because obviously I wanted some pain relief; I meant it when I said I had no interest in enduring an unmedicated labor; but awful because I knew it would mean sitting up and sitting still through several contractions while the anesthesiologist inserted the catheter. But despite my dread of having to move, I agreed because I had hope that this time, it might work. At this point I had been in active labor for close to eighteen hours and I knew I had to get through transition and pushing before I could rest. So I hauled myself up on the edge of the bed and sat for what felt like an eternity, enduring contraction after contraction while holding myself as still as I could. I still stayed very calm through all of this and just focused on breathing deeply. After each contraction my mouth and throat would be so dry!

Steve told me later that the anesthesiologist had to re-do the catheter several times before it had been inserted to his liking. I didn’t care; time stopped while it was happening. Again, my whole world revolved around managing the contractions. A tornado could have swept through the hospital and I really don’t think I would have noticed.

Also, I have to say that I didn’t find it that difficult to sit still during the contractions. I think my way of managing them involved staying very still and breathing as deeply as I could, attempting as best I could to relax my body and ride out the wave of pain. Even when I was laboring on the bed (remember I did still have a useless epidural catheter in) that wasn’t a terrible option for me the way it seems to be for some other women. I guess that was a blessing considering everything!

Happily, joyfully, wonderfully, epidural #2 worked wonders. I lost all sensation from about the waist down and for the first time, I couldn’t feel the contractions or the unbearable pressure anymore. We turned off the music for a while (we had been listening to Pandora’s yoga station, which plays spa-like ambient music — it was perfect) and watched part of an episode of No Reservations while I dozed and Steve read more about the five S’s. However, the drama wasn’t over yet — at one point, my blood pressure dropped a lot and so did baby’s heart rate, so the nurses had to reposition me several times and do some internal monitoring (“scalp stimulation”?) on baby. They also gave me oxygen a few times. He had a few decelerations and the word “c-section” was uttered,  but as he recovered and bounced back to his usual heart rate in the 140’s, that option was off the table again. (I have to say that despite officially Not Wanting A C-Section, if my doctor had come in and said, “Amy, you’ve been in labor for a really, really long time. Let’s just do a c-section,” I would have been ALL OVER THAT. This is why I am glad I work with a family doctor; a lot of OB’s probably would have pulled the plug on my labor long before Will was born.)

And still the drama was not over! Baby was doing great, I was finally feeling good — but my progress had ground to a halt at nine centimeters. We were almost at the finish line and it was like Will decided he was having second thoughts about being born. My doctor, sensing my fatigue and knowing that I still had to actually, physically push the baby out, suggested starting a little Pitocin to speed things up. I was disappointed because I had gotten so far already without any augmentation, but didn’t hesitate to agree — anything to get him born sooner! And yes — after about an hour of Pitocin, we were ready to go. I was 10 centimeters, fully effaced, baby had dropped! It was time to push.

I had been texting with Leah earlier, and in one text I confessed that I was nervous about pushing. She encouraged me by telling me that pushing was easier than “regular” labor and that it was not as painful. So, bolstered by her confidence in me (and by the successful epidural), I gave it all I had! At first it was as Leah said — it felt good to finally feel like I was participating in the labor rather than having it just happen to me. During the breaks between contractions I rested and sipped water. But as time passed, a few things changed. First, the nurse turned down my epidural somewhat so that I could tell when to push, and accordingly the pressure of the baby descending through the birth canal increased. Soon the breaks between contractions were not the restful respite they had been — instead I felt like I was waiting an eternity for the next contraction to start, just so I could get closer to getting him out of me!

Pushing was HARD. Physically and mentally I think it was the hardest part of labor for me, and it was certainly the only time when I really started to feel defeated (around the two-hour mark). At one point I just told my doctor that I wanted him to just get the baby out of me — I didn’t care how — because I was sick of pushing and I didn’t think I could do it! While I still wasn’t panicking, I did feel really discouraged, impatient, frustrated, and exhausted. Like 90% of my labor, I kept my eyes closed so I could shut out what remained of the world and focus. I breathed deep, I pushed when I needed to, I focused everything I had on getting the baby out of me so I could have some relief.

I could tell when things started to pick up in terms of progress. The nurses were really encouraging to me and, I think, humored me when I would desperately demand how much progress we had made in the last few contractions, but as time went on I could tell things were really starting to change. First, I heard the nurse have my doctor paged. Then when he came in, he was wearing a surgical hat (or whatever those blue hats are called). I opened my eyes a few minutes later to see that they had pulled out the warmer and the bassinet. Then a few minutes after that, the table with all the delivery equipment. Then my doctor had a mask on. Then I opened my eyes and he had surgical draping (?) on and was clearly positioned to be able to catch my baby. A baby nurse was paged. The doctor got out a vacuum extractor. I had no idea how much time had passed; I was entirely focused on the task in front of me and the whole world was a series of counts to ten.

At one point, the baby’s head started to be visible and Steve encouraged me to touch it. Before labor, I never would have imagined that I would want to do such a thing, but feeling his head gave me the motivation I needed to finish the job. I stopped feeling defeated and started feeling much more determined! I redoubled my efforts, gave it my all, and soon I heard Steve say “I can see his head! I can see his whole head!” And just a few quick pushes later, I felt the greatest relief I have ever felt in my life and opened my eyes to see my little blue-purple baby draped over my doctor’s arm. The only thing I could think or say? “I DID IT! I DID IT! I DID IT!” They placed him on my stomach for a moment and I remember just being in awe. I was totally overwhelmed with emotion and just overjoyed to finally meet my baby. I remember tearfully asking the nurse to turn his head so I could see his face and then saying “Hi baby!” when I looked at him for the first time. Love at first sight!

They took him away from me pretty soon because he had been having some distress coming down the birth canal (hence the vacuum extractor). He also had some meconium (first baby poop) right when he was born and they wanted to make sure he hadn’t aspirated anything.

Under the heater being checked over by the baby nurse — see the tiny oxygen mask next to him?

While Will was being checked by the nurses, Steve was taking pictures of him and my doctor was putting me back together. I hardly noticed what was going on because I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the little bassinet.

We got his weight — 8 pounds exactly!

After they checked Will over and found him to be hale and hearty, they wrapped him up and brought him to me. I asked for him to unwrapped so he could lie with me skin-to-skin, and we spent some time together just enjoying getting to know each other. I also got the chance to nurse him for the first time, which was surreal but really wonderful.

As things began to calm down, Steve made some necessary phone calls to our families (who had been pacing the floor for nearly 24 hours wondering when this baby would be born!) and we were actually still in the delivery room when Leah and my dad came by. I was so happy for them to meet Will!

(Incidentally, I received so many bags of IV fluids during my labor that I barely recognized myself in the pictures immediately after Will’s birth. At least my hair looks good — I blow-dried that morning!)

Auntie got a chance to bond with her nephew, and then he was whisked off to the nursery for a bath.

We were eventually moved to a postpartum room and reunited with the rest of my family, who came bearing lots of flowers and gifts. I ate two or three bowls of peanut butter Cheerios (never had cereal tasted so good) and began to catch my breath. I couldn’t believe it was all over — I was exhausted, but also exhilarated. Labor was by far the most physically and mentally difficult thing I have ever done (or likely will ever do), but I made it through — and the payoff was better than I could ever have imagined.