Confession: I’ve obsessively read every blogger’s birth story for, like, the past 3 years. Even before I got pregnant with Charlie, I was just so curious what the birth experience is actually like. I’ve quizzed countless good-humored friends, but there’s something about reading the no-holds-barred accounts we bloggers like to share that really became my guidebook during those last few weeks of pregnancy. So now it’s my turn! Here’s the full account of the day we welcomed Charlie into the world.
Charles Walker Hughes was born Monday, September 2nd at 3:19pm weighing 9 lbs 7 oz and measuring 22.5 inches long, but my actual labor started well before his Labor Day arrival. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen a sudden influx of stories questioning the reality of labor, contractions, baby size, etc. right as I hit the 36-week mark. I had always assumed labor followed a pretty routine progression- water breaks, contractions start, contractions get worse, and then you push out a baby or have a C-section. (Okay, I knew a few more details, but that seemed to be the general gist.) My own mother was cursed with labors that started a few days after her due date and took many, many hours (which she’ll never let me forget). Both my husband and I were C-section babies so, realistically, I was expecting a long labor and high likelihood of a C-section.
I ended up going to my 36-week doctors appointment alone because Denny was finishing up some work, and, as I said to him, “It’s going to be boring.” I knew my doctor’s office did cervical checks as the due date approached, but I admittedly didn’t know exactly what that entailed or why it mattered. It was pretty uncomfortable, and I remember thinking “Uh, can she not find it?” Immediately after that thought crossed my mind, my doctor informed me I was 2 cm dilated and 80% effaced. In simpler terms, the process of labor had already started. Um, what? I suspected I’d been having Braxton-Hicks contractions at work, but it never even crossed my mind that there could be actual physical changes happening. My doctor said it didn’t necessarily mean I’d deliver before my September 9 due date, but she also advised getting to the hospital in a timely manner once contractions did start if I wanted the epidural.
Suddenly, my mind was spinning with all these possibilities I had never considered- would I know if I was having contractions? Would I get to the hospital in time for the epidural? It totally threw me, and I started to consider that the birth scenario I had in my head might not be the reality after all. However, my doctor also noted that he was “measuring on the big side.” An ultrasound the following week revealed he was already about 8 lbs during my 37th week with his head in the 97th percentile. Great. Thanks Charlie. The positive news was that his head was bigger than his shoulders and stomach. AKA if I could push the head out, the rest of the body would follow, and I wouldn’t get stuck in a nightmarish, well, stuck baby situation.
I did my best to go about my days as usual, but work can be a little stressful when you know your body is already prepping for labor. At my 38-week appointment, my doctor discovered I was 4cm dilated and 90% effaced. Are you kidding me?? Is this baby just going to fall out? (Spoiler alert- he did not.) We left the appointment with a plan to induce at 39 weeks if the hospital could accommodate it, or, as my doctor said, “Your water could break as you walk out of this office.” It was a super cool thing to hear for someone who hates uncertainty and the inability to plan.
I was absolutely convinced I’d go into labor that weekend, but Monday came and went with no baby. I continued to work throughout my 38th week and just focused on making sure all my assignments were done and my caseload was ready to transition to the next therapist. I mean, what else could I do? We also found out Northwestern couldn’t accommodate the 39 week induction so it was really just a waiting game at that point. Sitting at home waiting for labor to start didn’t even sound relaxing so I distracted myself as best I could. Labor Day Weekend arrived, and I hadn’t made any real plans. I spent Saturday running errands, and I spent most of Sunday on our rooftop actually writing a different blog post about something non-pregnancy related. (Will it ever get finished and published? We’ll see.) I had friends text asking for updates since I had told some of them about my current quasi-labor state. My response was something along the lines of “Any progress I felt seems to have stopped and I’m pretty sure this baby will never be born.” Did I mention I was tired of being pregnant?
I stayed up later than usual Sunday night after getting myself hooked on The Sinner (so good) and headed to bed around 12:30am. I woke up around 6:15am for one of my routine bathroom trips before returning to bed, but I had trouble falling back asleep. “Great, I won’t even be able to sleep in on this extra day off,” I thought to myself. I scrolled my phone for a bit, including The Bump app, which informed me I was officially 39 weeks and full term today. Then, around 6:45, I felt it. It wasn’t necessarily a pop or a gush, but I had a definite feeling of “I need to get out of bed now.” Then, as soon as I stood up, the gush happened and there was no question- my water had broken. I remember just kind of standing there smiling. I had hoped so badly that I would get a clear sign when labor was imminent, and this was it. I was going to have a baby today. (Or, at least I hoped it would be today.)
Now, for the first installment of my TMI account (oh, you thought we’d already gotten there?), let’s talk about water breaking. I knew it could be different for everyone, but I did not realize it could be like an actual waterfall. For the next 3 hours, every time I stood up or changed positions, there was another huge gush. How was there that much fluid in there? We only live 5 blocks from the hospital so we were Uber-ing it there, and I had to carry extra towels with me to sit on. (Fortunately, the guy had a good sense of humor about it, and we tipped him well.) Now, I laugh about the fact I had put one maxi pad in my workbag “in case my water broke.” It would not have sufficed.
I realized after getting myself to the bathroom that Denny wasn’t actually in our apartment. I figured he was running an errand or getting some work done in our lobby so I called him and did my best to sound calm. “What are you up to? Okay, no rush, but- my water broke.” I knew he’d try to play it cool on the phone, but, sure enough, he showed up about 20 minutes later with a bag of completely unnecessary items from Foxtrot that were purchased in a pre-baby haze. (This is why I love him.) I know it sounds cliché, but I actually felt a bit of calm come over me during that next hour. The waiting game was over, but I wasn’t having active contractions yet (or so I thought) so I took a shower, ate some cereal, and put a call into our doctor’s office. They were pretty nonchalant when I told them my water broke, but their tone changed when I said I was 4cm dilated and positive for GBS (a common, harmless infection some mothers carry but requires 2 doses of antibiotics prior to delivery for baby’s health). In the words of the doctor who would go on to deliver Charlie, “Get in here, girl!”
The Uber ride to the hospital was kind of surreal. It was 8am on Labor Day so everything was really quiet, including Michigan Avenue, and Denny and I were just talking to the Uber driver about his sister who almost had her baby on the side of a highway. (Fun!) Even as we walked into the hospital, it hadn’t really hit me that we wouldn’t be leaving here without a baby. We checked in at triage, which was a weird experience in and of itself. “Hi, uh, I’m here to give birth?” Luckily, they were pros and offered me some quality hospital draping to sit on as my water continued to leak. We waited about 10 minutes before a nurse came out and called us in. Now, the only bad things I had heard about delivering at Chicago’s Prentice hospital revolved around triage. I had talked with some other bloggers who were sent home when they shouldn’t have been, been forced to labor unmedicated until an L & D room upstairs opened up, or had to walk the hallways in an attempt to dilate before getting an L & D room. I braced myself for the same fate, but, as soon as the nurse heard I was 4cm dilated the previous week, she made it clear I’d be headed upstairs pretty soon. Add another point for dilating before active labor!
At this point, and, yeah, you’re totally going to hate me, I still wasn’t feeling any pain or active contractions. In fact, getting my IV placed was the most painful part of labor up until that point. I think we were in triage for about 30-45 minutes while they monitored the baby’s heartbeat and measured my contractions on a monitor. The nurse asked a few times what my pain level was, and I had to answer that I wasn’t feeling anything that I’d attribute to labor. The only thing bothering me at that point was my hip as I’d developed sciatica in my last week of pregnancy. I didn’t realize it until later, but the jolts of pain I felt through my hip while lying there were actually the result of contractions.
Around 10am, an L & D nurse came down to bring me upstairs to the room where I’d deliver our baby. So weird. She was closer to my mom’s age and made me feel immediately at ease. We talked about her kids and raising them in the city, and she kept my mind off the enormity of what was happening. (During big moments, I do a little better when I’m distracted.) A few minutes later, the doctor who would be delivering Charlie arrived, and I immediately recognized her as the doctor who delivered my best friend and a fellow blogging friend’s baby. (I had a primary OB/GYN throughout my pregnancy, but the practice is so large and delivers so many babies that you’re not guaranteed your doctor will be on call.) She was super relaxed and funny, and I appreciated how low key but straightforward she was about everything.
I knew going into labor that I had only one birth plan- get the drugs. I had absolutely no intention of laboring without an epidural, and my doctor had advised me to ask for it as soon as possible. There was no guarantee labor would go quickly, but I have scoliosis which would make the administration more challenging. I had mentioned to my nurse that I didn’t want to wait too long for the epidural, but, as soon as I told our doctor, she was like “Okay, get them in here.” I love someone pro-active. I briefly felt silly for asking so early when I wasn’t in pain yet, but I am so glad I did. If there’s one piece of advice I’d give to anyone prepping for labor, it’s to trust your gut. You know your body best, and you’ve likely done enough research to know what you need. Both my doctor and nurse later commented that I was smart to get the epidural when I did because it’s much harder to stay still as contractions progress, and my epidural took awhile to place.
I found the process of getting an epidural to be pretty rough. You have to position yourself hunched over your giant bump, and I already had severe rib pain in that position during the last trimester of my pregnancy. And remember that hip pain I mentioned earlier? It was magnified in this position, and it flared up each time I had a contraction. At this point, I found out I was actually contracting every 2-3 minutes, and it was hard to remain in the position the doctors needed. Plus, it took a resident and head anesthesiologist about 30 minutes to correctly place everything. I won’t complain though because the dang thing took and my greatest fear was erased. I had gotten an epidural, and it was working.
My parents arrived shortly afterwards, and they were allowed to come into the room to spend some time with us. We had decided beforehand that only Denny would be present for the actual delivery process, but I’m insanely close to my parents and appreciated getting to spend some time with them before baby. Let’s just say their excitement level was off the charts, but my dad did a much better job of hiding it. My doctor came in for a cervical check shortly before they arrived, and it turned out I was still only 4cm dilated. Active labor but no noticeable changes? Bummer. It sounded like we’d be settling in for your typical labor marathon so my parents left around 12:30pm to grab lunch.
That’s when shit started to get real. Since it was my first baby, the doctors had given me a dose of pitocin after my epidural to make sure things continued progressing. Your risk for infection rises after your water breaks so the baby needs to be delivered within 24 hours, preferably less. Plus, I had noticed a greenish tint to the fluid that came out when my water broke. Our doctor was pretty sure Charlie had a bowel movement in the womb, which exposed him to meconium. I briefly panicked because my only knowledge of babies pooping while still in the womb was that they could aspirate it and get a lung infection. However, our doctor assured us it’s actually really common, and most babies are fine. They just had to have a pediatrician in the delivery room so they could check him ASAP when he came out. I was glad they warned me about this ahead of time because it meant they’d have to take him before we got to do skin-to-skin, and I’m sure I would have freaked out and thought something was definitely wrong if I hadn’t known what to expect.
Remember how earlier I questioned whether or not I would know if I was having contractions? Well, once that pitocin kicked in there was no doubt. I went from laughing and joking around to gripping the guardrail of the bed and writhing in pain. The time between the contractions was painfully short so I’d barely catch my breath before another one had started. Once the epidural is placed, they give you a button in order to self-dose, but it requires you to wait a certain amount of time between each dose. The second the little light went green I couldn’t hit that button fast enough, but it didn’t seem to be making much of a difference. At that point, our doctor came in and saw how miserable I was. She contacted anesthesiology to come give another dose of the epidural, and I’ve never been so happy in my entire life. I don’t even think I saw the anesthesiologist because I had my eyes closed due to the pain, but he will forever be my hero.
As we were waiting for the anesthesiologist to arrive, my doctor decided to perform another cervical check since I was finally having obvious contractions. After a second or two, she declared “Uh, where’d it go?” Turns out, that one dose of pitocin had taken me from 4cm to 9.5cm in about an hour. Suddenly, the excruciating pain wasn’t such a mystery. This baby wanted out! The only problem was that I still needed to finish my second dose of antibiotics for the GBS so I had to hold off on pushing for a little while longer. Luckily, it finished up right around the time I hit 10cm, and my doctor looked at me and said, “Okay. Wanna push?” Uh, you tell me!
Leading up to delivery, I was actually the most anxious about the process of pushing. It just seemed like such a weirdly vulnerable thing, and, of course, the eternal pooping-on-the-table fear. (Denny later reported this did not occur. Whether he is telling the truth or just protecting my ego, we’ll never know.) However, I can say that once you’re in the moment all of that goes out the window, and you’re just focused on getting baby out. The doctor and nurse instructed me on how to push (wait for a contraction, push three times for 10 seconds each while holding your breath, and push like you’re trying to have a bowel movement), and pushing actually brought some relief. The epidural was also working again (thank god) so I could feel the pressure of a contraction but no pain.
When it came time for my first push, I followed the doctor’s instructions and was met with a chorus of “Damn girl! This kid might be here in no time!” Apparently, I was pretty good at the whole pushing thing, and I have to think Pure Barre deserves all the credit there. I could tell from their reactions that my best pushes were when I engaged my deep abs, and I was grateful I’d maintained some muscle control despite my failure to stick with Pure Barre during my last trimester. (Work took too much out of me.) I’m sure I got a bit cocky here because I remember thinking “Cool, I’ll be like one of those girls who pushes three times, and he’s out.”
The pushing phase ended up being more like an hour- which I know is still really good. It’s definitely a workout though! I was pretty sweaty by the end, and I questioned the doctor more than once if progress was actually happening. I knew babies slowly make their way down the birth canal, but I didn’t realize that it could literally be bit-by-bit over the course of an hour (or more). At one point, the doctor asked if I wanted to feel the baby. I reached down and, sure enough, felt something round and slimy. No thanks! I kept my hands up the rest of the time and did not deliver him Kourtney Kardashian style. (Sorry, Charlie.)
As the hour mark approached, there was suddenly a lot more activity in the delivery room. For most of the pushing process, it had just been Denny on one side, a nurse on the other, and the doctor chilling at the foot of the bed. Now, a group of nurses had come in along with a pediatrician, and they turned on a giant spotlight in the ceiling. Cool? I remember having my eyes closed throughout the final contractions and pushes, but Denny’s reaction as Charlie finally came out will be with me forever. Our baby boy was here about 8.5 hours after my water first broke.
Like I mentioned above, the pediatrician had to take him right away to check for any meconium in his lungs. Luckily, they had all the equipment in the room so I was able to hear his cries and the chatter of the nurses. Two things were clear right away- he had a lot of hair, and he was big. When I finally had my bearings, I remember asking “How big is he?” and hearing “9 pounds, 7 ounces!” and started laughing. I was born at 9 lbs 6 oz, and my mom never let me forget it. I’m glad Charlie held the new title of biggest baby.
Once Charlie was cleared, they finally placed him on my chest. It was probably the most surreal moment of my life. Months of worry, curiosity, and anticipation were over, and our baby was finally here. I looked at his tiny features, counted all his fingers and toes, and tried to process this is my baby. The weirdest part was feeling like I already kind of knew him, and he seemed to feel the same about me. He was already so calm and easy going, and that’s been his little personality from day one. Denny and I spent about an hour with him- just our new family of three- before inviting my parents in, and we got to experience the joy and excitement all over again. He was finally here, and he looked good. I mean, I know I’m biased, but his appearance didn’t give any hints of the journey he’d just been on.
Once Charlie was out, I really didn’t pay much attention to the follow up care (my doctor did all the work of delivering the placenta and stitching up my second degree tear). It had been almost an hour since delivery when I noticed something wasn’t right. Before I go any further, the next part is a little graphic so just a heads up if you get queasy. There’s a lot of blood that continues to pass following delivery, and most of it is totally normal. My main L&D nurse had been checking down there pretty frequently, and she soon informed me they’d be performing a fundal massage. A fundal massage essentially means pressing down on the abdomen in an effort to make the uterus contract due to excess blood loss following childbirth. Now, I hadn’t so much as laid on my stomach in 9 months let alone had someone press down on it as hard as they could. It was miserable and almost as painful as my contractions. At this point, my nurse was expelling large clots, and more staff started to enter the room which is never a good sign.
This was the only time during labor or delivery that I ever felt scared. I had (as usual) done too much research before giving birth, and I knew that most life-threatening complications for mothers were due to blood loss. I later learned that I had experienced post partum hemorrhaging, which is a terrifying term. However, as I started to panic internally, a doctor entered the room who reassured me this was likely due to Charlie’s size, and she believed the medications they were about to administer would take care of it. After a few more minutes of miserable fundal massage and a uterine exam, the doctor determined that my uterus was finally contracting. Fortunately, I had no further issues, and the blood loss during my post partum recovery period has been less than I expected (probably because of those dang massages!).
Once everyone was given the green light, we were finally able to go upstairs into a recovery room. We spent the next two days learning from the nurses, trying to get a bit of sleep, and savoring every minute with our new baby Charlie. I remember thinking multiple times how lucky I was to be feeling so good and still have energy thanks to a relatively short labor. Moms who have labored for 24+ hours- you’re heroes. I still feel incredibly grateful that my birth experience was so positive and, honestly, empowering. It’s something I’d been pretty terrified of the entire time, and I did not have high expectations for a good experience. But, it turns out that modern medicine is a wonderful thing, and I would do it over again in a second to have Charlie here.
Now that I’m on maternity leave, I’m hoping to share a bit more on here about the whole being-a-mom thing, but that will honestly be up to Charlie and whether he continues to require me holding him throughout his daytime naps. If you made it this far, thank you for reading! Hopefully, my story makes you feel a little less anxious about the birthing process or answers any questions you may have!