Depending on weather and traffic, it can take us over an hour to get to downtown Chicago, so our “plan” for going into labor went something like this: (1) drop the dogs off at daycare when contractions are very far apart; (2) drive downtown when contractions are very far apart; (3) hang out in a hotel room near the hospital until contractions are 5 minutes apart; and then (4) walk across the street to the hospital.
I thought it was a great plan and I was a little surprised when IT DIDN’T WORK AT ALL.
I started having cramps five days after my due date, on a Sunday morning. They felt like normal cramps. I didn’t need to grab the door jamb and huff. I didn’t think they were lasting very long–maybe 10 seconds, not 60–and they didn’t seem to fall into a pattern.
So I ignored them.
In retrospect, this was not an appropriate course of action. A less hormonal, more caffeinated woman would have put the proverbial two and two together and hoofed it over to the hospital.
But I had convinced myself that I was, shall we say, closed like a bank on Sunday and the baby was never going to arrive of his own accord. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but something happened to me when I went past my due date. The excitement had been building and building, and when the day came and nothing happened, I found myself at a “celebratory” due date dinner with Scott, whimpering into my spaghetti and meatballs because I was so wound up with anticipation. When I didn’t go into labor the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that, the suspense was just too much to bear and large parts of my brain, including the part that does basic math, simply shut down.
Which brings me to the part where we discovered that my estimation of the duration and frequency of the cramps was wildly off-base.
Scott got back from a Starbucks run around one. I told him I was “a little crampy” and we had the following exchange:
SCOTT: I think we should call the doctor.
ME: Nah, that’s silly. They feel like normal cramps.
SCOTT: What do you mean, “normal cramps?”‘
ME: I mean the kind of cramp you get when you’ve had a bad enchilada.
SCOTT [looking around for food wrappers or take-out]: Well. . . did you have a bad enchilada?
ME [also looking around]: Come to think of it, I can’t say that I did.
That’s when Scott realized he was dealing with someone who, at least temporarily, had the mental capacity of a piece of lawn furniture and that he would need to play a significantly larger role in the proceedings if his son was to be born at a hospital. He insisted that we time the cramps.
There are apps for this, and I had already downloaded one.
I timed a few of the cramps. AND LO, they were neither “10 seconds long” nor “infrequent.”
Now, I may have been a little slow on the uptake but I am not a total moron. I took one look at the screen and was like “holy shit! I’m going to have a baby!” And Scott put his palm to his forehead with a smack that could be heard by people at outdoor barbecues in the Florida Keys.
There were a couple of things we had to deal with before heading downtown, though. The first was that I was starving. I wanted to eat before going to the hospital because I wouldn’t be allowed to eat once I got there and ROHRBAUGHS DO NOT GO INTO BATTLE ON AN EMPTY STOMACH. If we had a family crest, that’s what it would say.
The second was these bozos:
There was only one thing to do under the circumstances: we got in the car.
We ALL got in the car: one woman in labor, one stressed-out husband, one shepherd mix who was like ARE WE GOING TO THE PARK? THE PARK?? and one bulldog who likes to sit on the driver’s lap and roll the windows down with her feet.
Domino’s Pizza. I’m not kidding. We picked up a pan pizza with pepperoni. Then we drove to the doggie daycare place, and then we headed downtown.
At some point between slice of pizza #1 and slice of pizza #2, my water broke. We hit Lakeshore Drive and Lake Michigan stretched white and frozen out into the distance and I was relieved because we were almost there.
It’s a good thing, too, because by that point my contractions were only four minutes apart.
Things went alright for the first thirty minutes we were at the hospital. I was only two centimeters dilated and not in so much pain that I couldn’t watch the nurses as they hooked me up to an IV and wrapped the fetal monitors around my belly. They asked if I was planning to have an epidural and in COMPLETE, ADORABLE IGNORANCE of what was about to happen I chirped “we’re keeping our options open, but we’re hoping to avoid one, thanks!”
Then I hit a wall of heat, like I’d opened the door to a sauna. My memories get a little jangled up after that, from the pain. I know the nurse handed me a tiny, kidney-shaped bowl for puking in and Scott took one look at it and moved the trashcan over to the bed. I know I cried, and Scott teared up because I was crying, and the nurse kept pushing the monitors into my belly in order to find the baby’s heartbeat.
That was the worst part: Because of the way the baby was positioned, the nurses were constantly “losing him” and pressing the monitors into me during contractions to get him back. Every time they pressed, I wanted to scream. Or I did scream–I’m not sure. At some point the contractions started coming on top of each other, lasting 90-120 seconds rather than 60.
Sitting here today, I honestly can’t tell you what the contractions felt like. I can’t describe the pain–not because it was indescribable, but because it’s exactly as people say: I have no memory of it. But at the time? At the time I was like STICK AN EPIDURAL IN ME I AM DONE.
The anesthesiologist came in and during a break in contractions I asked him how many epidurals he’d done in his career–which, from the youthful looks of him, had been about two weeks long. I have no idea what his answer was because right then another contraction hit and WOWEE WHO WAS I KIDDING. If he had graduated the previous Friday with a degree in agricultural science, I would have been all STEP ON UP, DOCTOR. IT’S AN HONOR TO BE YOUR FIRST HUMAN PATIENT.
In the first two hours that I was at the hospital, I went from two to seven centimeters. Then I got the epidural, and an hour after that I was at ten centimeters. I pushed for six contractions and all of a sudden there was a little human HEAD where there hadn’t been one before and Scott and I opened our mouths like HOLY SHIT THIS IS AWESOME and the baby was born.
We named him Christopher Hunt Rohrbaugh. “Hunt” is for “Huntsville” because exactly one year earlier, Scott had proposed in the backyard of our house in Alabama.
Let me pause for a second and say something about the epidural. You know how some people get worked up about epidurals? How some people say that if you get one, you lose out on the joy and empowerment and pride of a totally natural childbirth experience? Well, this was my face right after Christopher was born. This was my face.
I’ve signed a lot of documents in my life, and as a lawyer I’ve reviewed tens of thousands of them. But until the nurse handed me my discharge paper to sign, I’d never seen a document that took my breath away.
It says I have examined the child, and I have determined that the child is mine, and I am taking the child home.