“I just began my 36th week, and had no idea that my journey had come to an unexpected end.”
It was just three days before my first baby shower party, and we were all elated with excitement as well as under a bit of stress for the upcoming celebration. I confidently joined my mother in law and sister in law to go shopping for groceries. I strolled the aisles, huffing and puffing, obviously underestimating the size of the infamous Costco. My tight belly felt heavy and extremely low, but I knew these were just signs of entering the “full term” realm of this long pregnancy. I just began my 36th week of pregnancy, and had no idea that my journey had come to an unexpected end.
Later that evening, I had lost my mucus plug and naturally became a bit panicked. After a conversation with my OBGYN’s office, reassuring me that it is still too early and though this was a sign that labor is near, it didn’t indicate that it would happen that very day. So I went about my business, and like any other day, I casually moved about the kitchen, cooked some pasta, tossed a simple salad together and prepared for dinner. I went to bed that night, sure that everything is on track, and planning out what to do about my hair and make up for Saturday’s baby shower soiree. The theme was too cute, it was supposed to be a Winter Wonderland with lots of soft pink and snow flakes to welcome our winter baby girl.
Then something happened. At about 4:00 am, I woke to the very familiar dull urge to use the bathroom, and like clockwork I got up, did my business and headed back to bed. (I was very familiar with frequent bathroom trips in the middle of the night) After some time, maybe an hour or so, I woke up to a very different sensation: sharp aches in my abdomen. It felt like an alarm went off in my entire being, and all I could do was helplessly grab on to the sheets, my husband’s shoulder, anything that I could get my hands on. My husband was peacefully sleeping through all of this of course. I didn’t wake him just yet, I wanted to see if this pain would continue or maybe it was just a cramp…
Beginning of Labor
It was not just a cramp. These pains did not go away. They became fierce and angry, and cut through my abdomen every few minutes like a hurricane and I screamed. The noises and writhing of the bed woke my husband and he made the phone call to the physician’s office. “Can you talk through the pain?” My husband repeated the question that the physician was asking him. “Yes” I answered. “Ok you have to wait till the contractions are consistent 2-3 minutes apart, and you can no longer talk through them.” These were the on-call physician’s words of advice for us, and so we listened like obedient children and waited. But the wait was incredibly short, and those pains came and went at 1-2 minutes, consistent, wild and unbelievably painful. I could no longer talk, all I could do was scream. My labor began and I didn’t understand that this was it.
No one can describe these things to you exactly how they feel, the feeling of a contraction and the time it takes to enter labor. I had heard from several women what it feels like, how it starts, how it happens, but absolutely nothing could prepare me for this. Maybe I couldn’t recall their words at the time I needed to. Or perhaps my labor just felt different than everyone else’s. Maybe all women experience it differently, I’m not sure. All I can say is, I was a complete first-timer in that I didn’t know I was in labor until we were at the hospital and it was time to push.
We reached the hospital in what felt like a century (it had taken around 11 minutes). I was pushing and heaving in the car, feeling exhausted already, eyes staying shut more than open. When we reached Labor and Delivery, I told the nurses in an urgent and shaky voice that “I want to push”. They looked panicked. One nurse who was changing me into a hospital gown asked me not to push just yet, please just hang on and wait for the doctor. Thankfully, right at that moment, in walked the on-call physician, a man who I have never met, though he belonged to my OB group practice. (I had seen one female OB through my entire pregnancy) He walked in and the room felt different, he was in command, captain of the ship and his calmness cooled everyone else who was in a deep panic. “If she wants to push, let her push”, he says with such unconcern. And so it began…
Again, to my surprise, labor was nothing like I had imagined it to be. It was a very strange system of actions, like learning to ride a bike for the very first time, except I was learning to push a baby out. The contraction would begin, as an indication for me to push, and then I would give one, two heavy pushes with all my might, teeth gritted, eyes sewn shut, knees up, and then release my breath, relax my body, and cue husband: gives me a sip of water. And then it was a waiting game. The minutes felt long, and it felt like the entire room was just waiting on my gesture to begin this process all over again. The nurses would casually chat with the doctor about their weekend plans or other mundane topics. They would log my vitals, rub my arms, walk about the room with normalcy. But for me, it was the opposite. I felt like the odd one out, exposed and raw, and frankly a misfit in a sea of synchronized swimmers.
Finally, feeling fatigued I asked the doctor how much longer this would take? Mind you, I was not given any IV or medication because my labor had moved into active labor too quick, there just wasn’t any time. He was sitting on the edge of my bed looking like he had all the time in the world, and he said to me, “If you want this to be your last push, it’ll be your last push. It’s what you want.” Talk about pressure. So It was up to me, the ball was in my court and I had to make the decisions. I had decided, this would be the last one. It wasn’t really the pain that bothered me, it was the anticipation and longing to see her that did it for me. I gave it all, everything in me and pushed with all my might and in one swooping action, she arrived. My doctor asked me to look at her, I opened my eyes for a mili-second and saw her, then shut them again.
All of this took about one hour from checking in at the hospital at around 7:20 am and delivering my healthy baby girl at 8:42am. Afterwards, the two days that I remained at the hospital, the nurses would meet me with joy and say the sweetest things about my brave delivery. And I missed out on my baby shower. I cancelled all the arrangements from my hospital bed. But none of that mattered anymore.
It is hard to describe the feeling of when you first lay eyes on your child. I remember this immense feeling of protectiveness, instinctual concern for her health. While watching the nurses hovering over her, I watched from the sidelines, burying my own longing for her because I knew she needed to be cared for. She comes before me, before anything else. And I guess that’s when I truly felt like a mother.
Ridha Zaynab Hassan
Born January 29, 2015. Weighing 6.8lb and 18″ long.