Our first child, Thomas James, was born on Monday, October 12th at 2:02am at Long Beach Memorial Hospital in Long Beach, California after approximately 11 hours of labor.

At my 37 1/2 week OB appointment Friday morning I learned that the baby was positioned perfectly and I was 2cm dilated and 50% effaced. I knew I could remain 2cm for another few weeks, or I could go into labor immediately, I was still excited to know I only had 8 more centimeters to go. I had been fighting a cold all week and wondered if my cough could cause me to go into labor a little early. My OB said it was a small possibility and made sure I had a copy of my medical records, just in case.

I woke up Sunday morning with some very light menstrual-type cramps. They were very weak but something I hadn’t felt at all during the course of my pregnancy. I did my best to ignore them for the morning and most of the afternoon.

Around lunchtime I was starting to take the cramps a little more seriously as I had a couple that made me take notice. There was no rhythm to them, so I was still thinking that it was probably false labor. Either way, as my husband Bill and our friend Eugene were building a pedestal for the soon-to-be-delivered washer and dryer, I installed the infant car seat in my car. While doing that I had three contractions that caused me to stop what I was doing and force myself to relax.

It was at that moment that I realized that this could be it. I chilled in our patio for a little while watching Bill and Eugene work with power tools, had a couple of contractions and decided I needed to test to see if this was real labor or not. We had been taught to try five things, and if the contractions stopped, then it was false labor. Those five are drink water, eat a meal, take a walk, take a nap, and take a shower. After I ate, drank and walked, I tried to lay down and take a nap. I couldn’t sleep, as I had a few contractions that were centered in my lower back. Laying down made them worse. At that point, around 3pm, I began timing them. When I was having a contraction every ten minutes or so, I finally let Bill know what was going on.

The contractions I had at home felt like all of the muscles in my hips and lower back were cramping at once, and then relaxing very slowly. It was a bit bizarre. For a long while the intensity was inconsistent too. One moment I’d have a contraction that was about 20 seconds long and not painful at all. The next one would last for over a minute and require me to practice my deep abdominal breathing to get through it. I found that laying in bed was the most uncomfortable place to be. Sitting on an exercise ball and leaning on my bed or sitting up straight was great. Chilling in the shower with the hot water running down my back was great too, but I couldn’t stay in there for too long.

At about 4:30 I called my mom to chat and get some sort of confirmation from her that I was actually in labor. Even though the contractions were inconsistent in length and intensity, it was still labor. By this time, they were coming every five minutes. I relocated to the living room as Bill made sure that both our bags were packed and in the car. He made me a light snack and made sure I kept myself hydrated.

We called my sister, Jackie to have her come over. It was really helpful to have the extra person around. She also helped me time my contractions with an iPhone app. We called my photographer friend, Krista to give her the heads up with plans to let her know when we were going to head to the hospital. We had arranged for her to be present at our son’s birth to take some photos. She lives about a hour away and we wanted to make sure she didn’t arrive too early and have to wait around… or arrive too late.

By 11pm the contractions had finally maintained a consistent level of intensity for over an hour and were about 2.5 to 3 minutes apart. So we headed to the hospital. The 20 minute drive wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, but it wasn’t fun either. We arrived and got checked in. The first stop was labor & delivery triage where our triage nurse, Shirley, was there to monitor the baby for a bit and to check how far along I was progressing.

While I was changing into my gown, I finally started having some bloody show. I was very happy to learn I was dilated to 6cm and 100% effaced. Shirley was awesome with her exam because my bag of water was apparently bulging a bit and she didn’t want to break it. She had read our birth plan thoroughly and was really wonderful about following it.

After Shirley was able to get about 15 minutes worth of info on the baby (he was doing great), I walked down the hall to my labor and delivery room. It was really spacious with a couple of couches and the Inspector Gadget delivery bed. I was able to walk around the room and do pretty much whatever I wanted to to make myself comfortable. Of course, the most comfortable position was standing up and leaning on the bed with Bill rubbing my back. I never really moved from that spot and just swayed my hips during a contraction.

I could tell when I was in the transition phase of labor when I started feeling really warm and was starting to sweat. It was interesting going through all of this as the labor nurse, Maria, asked me a bunch of questions about my health history. After about thirty minutes of this, I felt a contraction that was noticeably different, my body started pushing a bit, without any help from me. I seriously thought I had just emptied my bladder all over the floor when it was just my water breaking. Definitely an odd sensation… Bill said he only got a little bit on his shoes. I think he was being nice.

Because my water had finally broken, the nurse wanted to check me to make sure the baby’s head was in the right position and that there was no umbilical cord trying to come out first. I crawled into bed and was put back on the fetal monitor. Everything was great and I was complete at 10cm!  The on-call obstetrician was called… my OB was on vacation. I was able to adjust the bed so I was in a sitting upright/squat position that was much more comfortable than laying flat.

My body was ready for the baby to come out, at each contraction my body was trying to push with or without my participation. Trying not to push through these contractions was, by far, the most difficult part of my labor. Also during this time, the nurse was trying to get an IV into my arm. I had mentioned before that I was a hard stick, so our nurse, Maria, called a LVN to start my IV. After the LVN blew two veins in my left arm, reinforcements were called in and a phlebotomist got one going on my right hand. I know it took them a while because they would stop their work whenever I had a contraction. But I honestly didn’t feel any of the pain they were supposedly causing me. The ugly bruises I have on my left arm say otherwise, but they were merely a minor distraction.

Krista arrived right around this time and was able to start taking photos. I’m so happy she was there as I know Bill didn’t want to have to focus on me and remember to take pictures. I highly recommend it!

Finally, after what seemed like hours, (it was probably only ten minutes) the on-call OB arrived and I could start pushing. It was an amazing feeling to be able to push. I finally got to participate in what my body was doing instead of just breathing/moaning through each contraction. Bill was amazing, reminding me to breathe through each contraction and to keep my face as relaxed as possible. I actually started to panic if he wasn’t holding my hand, rubbing my knee or my back. His touch kept me focused and calm, best coach ever!

I pushed my way through half a dozen contractions with the OB perched on at the foot of my bed monitoring my progress. She was just sitting there wearing only one glove and was very chill about the whole thing. Bill was starting to wonder if she was going to catch this baby one-handed. She finally said something like, “two more contractions…” and then suddenly the room got moving. She got all gowned up and the bottom half of the bed was detached. Bill said it was pretty amazing to watch as they got everything ready for the baby to arrive. All of this took only two or three minutes too because I only had one contraction during all of this. I was incredibly thankful that I had about thirty seconds of rest in between each contraction.

After about three or four pushes, I finally started feeling the baby crowning. Man that was intense! I had a few moments of sheer panic thinking, “there’s no way my body can stretch that far!!” (my mom warned me I’d have that feeling) Then, suddenly, he was out and placed on my chest in one fluid movement. I opened my eyes and saw this beautiful baby screaming his head off as a nurse rubbed his skin and cleaned him off.

I developed tunnel-vision and had no idea what was happening beyond him. All I could see was his squishy face, full head of hair and incredibly long fingernails. I immediately saw Bill’s eyes and nose with my mouth and ears. It was an utterly amazing feeling.

The nurses left the baby on my chest, skin-to-skin, while my bottom half was tended to. No major injuries thankfully. He stayed with me while my post-pardum room was arranged and they got stuff ready to transport us. He was only taken from me for a few minutes to be weighed and measured and to have footprints taken, and  they did it right next to my bed. 6lbs, 8oz and 19.5 inches long. Apgar scores of 9 and 9.

Since he was born after midnight, the hospital policy had us staying at least 24 hours after birth. So we were discharged on Tuesday afternoon, so ready to go home. I really feel like the delivery couldn’t have gone better. At no point was I contemplating the need for pain medications or too exhausted to continue. Bill kept feeding me cranberry juice and his encouraging words and touch kept me strong.

Krista took some really beautiful photos and I’m so grateful that she was able to make it in time. You can see the best of her photos here.

Alexandra