My Labor Story

Sorry this has taken me so long to post. I haven’t had a lot of time for long-format writing.

Right. So. Labor! Not nearly so crappy as I expected, y’all. Turns out that all the anxiety, stress, and panic I lovingly tended beforehand were a huge waste of time and energy. I could have learned French with that time! I could have become a violinist! I could have embroidered dozens and dozens of onesies!

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve always had an overwhelming fear of being pregnant and giving birth. For years, I got tunnel hearing whenever I thought about labor. The idea of an epidural was enough to make me put my head between my knees, and even the smell of a hospital made me faint.

I’ve come to realize that labors are as individual as fingerprints, no two stories are ever the same. My story is a happy one, so I’ve come out of this experience with a lot of sympathy for women who have a tough time. I want to bake for them, and leave them casseroles, and pet their hair. Just as soon as I can figure out how to shower regularly, that is.

As you may already know, I took the drugs. I took every kind of drug they would give me, and these drugs killed my pain just as they were designed. It was magical.

I was in labor for about ten hours and gave birth around noon. There was pain, but for the most part it was manageable (see aforementioned painkillers), and it was definitely overshadowed by the joy. The anxiety, the discomforts of pregnancy, the labor–for me, all of it was a fair trade. Babies are awesome. Especially my baby. I mean he is a hum-dinger, people.

Anyway, if baby havin’ grosses you out, that’s probably all you need to know. The rest is for those of you who are curious, pregnant, or fascinated by the surgery channel. Still with me? Right then, here we go:

My Labor Story

A strange trickling sensation wakes me around 2 a.m. I’m startled, and I blink a few times. There it is again. This time it feels like a small glug from a water bottle. Whoa. OK. I head to the bathroom, sit down on the toilet, and my water breaks.

I put on a pad, walk into the bedroom and lay my hand on Bryan’s shoulder. “Wake up, Papa.” I say. “We’re having the baby.”

Bryan startles out of a deep sleep, calls the hospital, and they tell us to come in. He pulls together the last few items for our already-packed bags while I wait on the toilet. Every few minutes, I get another gush of water, and I’m starting to have mild contractions that feel like the achy, bloated feeling I get just before my period. I can’t believe I’m finally having this baby!

Fifteen minutes later, I’m still on the toilet and I hear water running in the kitchen.

The water is still running.

Still running.

“Bryan?” I call.
Are you doing the dishes?”
Bryan pauses.
“Uh… yeah.” he replies.
“Dude,” I say. “I’m in labor.”
Bryan turns off the sink.

We leave for hospital, and my contractions are about five minutes apart. They feel like intense period cramps, but are mild enough that I can just give in to the pain and let them wash over me.

At the hospital, they do a speculum examination (ow), and show us to the birthing room where the tub has some sort of strange sand coming out of the pipes. The nurse won’t let me get in. This concerns me, as I had hoped to spend most of my labor in the tub.

Bryan attempts to negotiate the tub issue as my contractions strengthen. I’m breathing through them and picturing my happy place, which happens to be a bathtub.

The nurse tapes large, uncomfortable discs to my belly to measure contractions and the baby’s heart rate. They keep falling off. I find this irritating. I begin to find it so irritating that I consider throwing these monitors across the room. I decide against it. They probably have more.

After about five hours of labor, I come to a decision: Screw this. This shit is starting to hurt. Contractions go from “washing over me” to “hanging around for a cigarette and a cocktail.” I don’t particularly care whether the tub has some sand in it, people. In a few minutes, I won’t care whether there’s goat’s blood flowing from the tap. Let me in the damn tub.

The nurse says “no” just as a new nurse, Lorena, comes on shift. All right, I say. Then I want painkillers, please. The nurses exchange a look that says “she is requesting pain killers awfully soon.” They are wrong about this. I have pain, and the pain needs killing, please and thank you. Lorena says, “I’ll figure out what we can do about the tub.”

She returns about fifteen minutes later to say that no one knows what’s wrong with the tub. No one has measured how dilated I am because my water has broken and they fear introducing infection. I wonder aloud how far along I am.

Lorena explains that I’m probably not in transition yet. Transition is when everything starts to stretch out and the baby drops into position for pushing. Most women will throw up and begin to howl a bit during transition, Lorena says. I tell her I’m not really a howler. She smiles.

“I’m hungry,” I say. “Bryan, will you get me some nuts?” “You want to eat?” Lorena is incredulous. “People don’t usually want to eat,” she says. Bryan brings me some nuts.

Gerard, the Asian anesthesiologist, comes in to explain my pain reduction options. I decide to start with the least invasive option (laughing gas) and work up as necessary.

Gerard wheels in the gas, and I hold the mask up to my face and breathe deeply. I am immediately high. Because I haven’t been so much as tipsy in a year, I hate it. My pain is eased, but I feel stupid, confused, and unconnected to what’s happening. This sucks because my baby is coming, and I’m interested in being around for the process.

I hate this, I say. Bryan nods sympathetically. A few of our friends are in the room, and one of them begins to look green around the gills. I don’t think I’m in too much pain, but his face indicates that I’m wrong. I’ve begun to hum a single note to help me through the contractions, and everyone in the room is avoiding eye contact. I suggest that they head out, as I’m fairly sure things only get more uncomfortable from here.

I breathe through a few contractions on the laughing gas. It works, but I still don’t like it. I don’t want this anymore, I tell Lorena. Bryan fills the tub and wipes out the sand. He tells Lorena that the problem seems to have cleared up, and she agrees.

In the tub, all my muscles relax and I immediately feel much better. Bryan squeezes a washcloth over my neck and tummy, and the sensation of the trickling water is pleasantly distracting.

An hour and a half later, the pain hits a new plateau. I decide to get out of the tub, as I would like more convenient access to the drugs. The spacious birthing room is suddenly the size of an airplane hanger. There must be some way to teleport across to the bed. I have two contractions as I try to cross the room. I’m uninterested in having more.

Our friends are waiting at a nearby coffee shop for the news. They call to ask if I want a smoothie. Yes! I tell Bryan. “You want a smoothie?” Lorena asks. She’s baffled. Yes, I say. An Orange-A-Peel with Femme Boost, please. I am starving.

I try the gas again when I get to the bed, but the contractions are much stronger now, and the gas is powerless against them. I ask for an IV drip.

Oddly, the drip doesn’t take away the pain, just makes me disinterested. I’m alert, and present, and I could care less about this intense pain.

“This really hurts,” I think impartially. “Ow.”

Bryan asks when I think I’ll want the epidural. I say I’ll ask for it when having a needle inserted in my spine sounds more appealing than the next contraction. “Fair enough,” Bryan says. An hour or so passes.

I want the epidural.

Contractions are starting to blot me out, and there’s very little break between them. I’m officially keening, and suddenly the idea of a needle in my spine sounds like an all-expenses-paid vacation to Valhalla. I want the epidural, I say. Can I have three?

Gerard is in the room in no time getting everything prepped. It’s now that we realize Gerard is a resident, as there’s a doctor observing him. I moan nervously and confer with Bryan. Bryan grows stern. “How many of these have you done?” he asks Gerard. “About 300,” Gerard says. Bryan nods. “Fine by me,” I say, and Gerard continues prepping.

Getting everything ready for the epidural takes about forty-five minutes, but to me it feels like ten minutes or so. I’m too deep in the pain to track the passage of time. I don’t realize it yet, but during this time I’m off of painkillers and am going through transition. It hurts about as much as you’d expect, and it hurts a lot less if you have the epidural hooked up before it sets in.

As everyone buzzes around me, I’ve decided that it may not be possible to exist through these next few contractions. It turns out I am right about not being a howler, but Bryan’s troubled face indicates that howling would be a genteel alternative to the sounds I’m making. I’m pissed off to be in this much pain, so pissed that I’m using every ounce of energy I have to growl from deep in my belly.

The epidural insertion hurts about as much as getting my blood drawn. Why was I so freaked about this? I am an idiot. The pain is gone in what seems like minutes. If I could move my legs freely, I could run a marathon. No pain is glorious! I want to kiss you, pain-free labor! I want to take you in my arms and polka with you into the night!

“It’s a good thing we’re married,” I say to Bryan, “because I’d take either of the anesthesiologists right now.”

I’m a little numb below the waist, but can still feel the pressure of each contraction and most of my legs. Now that I’m not hurting, I can also feel where the baby’s head has settled.

“I think he’s coming out,” I say to the nurse.
“No. Right now, I’m pretty sure he’s coming out.”
“Like, he’s right there.”
“Ready to come out. I mean, I think so.”
“Huh,” she says. “We’ll get someone in to check how dilated you are.”

A resident enters and does my first dilation check. She gives a short barking laugh. “Well!” she says, “You’re fully dilated and +3 effaced.”
“What does that mean?” Bryan asks.
“It’s time to start pushing.”
“Yep. Just lay on your side while we get the team in here.”

Bryan and I stare at each other and then start to laugh. It’s time! Time for the baby to come out! Bryan reaches for my hand.

There’s a huge rush of activity. My midwife, Sharon, enters and explains that no one expected me to have this kid for about ten more hours. I’ve fooled them by eating, drinking, and continuing to say please and thank you while requesting meds. In addition to Lorena and Sharon, two more nurses, a doctor who’s never observed a birth, and the resident who will deliver Hank pile into the room.

They detach the end of the bed, attach a garbage bag for birth-related goo, and we’re good to go.

Bryan holds one of my legs, Lorena holds the other, and I start pushing when I feel the first contraction. (For those of you who are pregnant, pushing equals pretending to poop. I read this on Andrea’s site, and it works like a charm. Also, it may cause you to poop. Please trust me when I say that you will neither notice nor care if this happens.)

I’m in no pain at all, and I’m so excited about the baby that I start to laugh with each push. I’m having a baby! My body made a freakin’ baby! This is a unique experience.

The team sees Hank’s head almost immediately, and I ask if it’s fuzzy. They’re understandably distracted, so no one answers. “Is he fuzzy!?” I ask again. All the babies in my family are born with hair.

“Do you want to see?” Sharon asks. “I can get you a mirror.”
“No!” I say. “No, no, it’s OK. … Is he fuzzy?”
“Reach down and feel his head,” she says.

I’m tentative about this, but the curiosity is killing me. I reach down, and touch Hank’s furry, emerging head. This is the strangest sensation I will ever have in my life, using my fingertips to feel another human being coming out of my body. I’m crying and laughing at my furry little baby. Suddenly, I want to hold him so much that my lungs hurt a little.

“Do you want to see?” Sharon asks again.
“No! No,” I say. “It’s OK.”
“Oh, for goodness sakes,” she says. “I’m telling you, you’re going to want to see this.”

Sharon retrieves a large mirror from the bathroom. It has a Rococo gilt frame, which seems incongruously decorative in the hospital room. It takes a moment for me to realize that I’m supposed to be watching Hank in the mirror. I look at the image, and his head is almost halfway out. I gasp, grin at Bryan, and squeeze his hand; both of us are crying.

I push for about 30 minutes and make progress with each push. I get cuts in two places, which feels like a very slight burning sensation. The team tells me to push into that feeling.

Suddenly Hank is here! He’s completely and utterly outside my body. He gives one small cry, and I respond with my own sob. Bryan looks surprised and overjoyed.

We watch as they unwind the cord that has wrapped loosely around Hank’s neck. Sharon puts him on my chest. He is tiny, pink, and perfectly calm.

His eyes are alert and peaceful, and he is not crying. This concerns the team, and they begin to poke at him and flick the bottoms of his feet to irritate him. “Beh,” he says. “Neh.” And then he sighs.

When he still doesn’t cry after a bit, they pull Hank away across the room. Bryan is holding my hand and looking anxiously after the baby. “Go with the baby!” I say. “You can go.” I watch from the bed as they harass Hank, trying to get him to cry. This goes on for a few minutes, until Sharon says, “There is nothing wrong with this baby. Why are we bothering him?”

They bring him back, and set him on my chest where he blinks at me and yawns.

Downtown, Sharon begins talking with the resident about the best way to sew me up. I feel a few tugs and decide it’s best to ignore their conversation in favor of gazing at the baby with Bryan.

To my surprise, no Jesus rays break through the clouds to illuminate our little family, and I don’t feel a wave of intense emotion sweep over me. I feel calm, and content, and fascinated by this little guy snuggled up against me. I wonder who he’ll be.

Now and then, in the weeks to come, I begin to have those moments of overpowering love — moments when it seems impossible that my body could have created something so precious, moments when his delicate fingers are enough to bring on tears.

Soon enough, those moments are so intense that they almost blot me out, and there’s very little break between them.

114 thoughts on “My Labor Story

  1. Maggie, I loved reading this. It made me laugh and cry!

    “It turns out I am right about not being a howler, but Bryan’s troubled face indicates that howling would be a genteel alternative to the sounds I’m making. I’m pissed off to be in this much pain, so pissed that I’m using every ounce of energy I have to growl from deep in my belly.”

    I witnessed a birth once where the doctor was pulling so hard to get a baby out of a woman’s belly (C-Section) that SHE was growling. It was extremely bizarre and hilarious all at the same time.


  2. Lovely story, and perfect timing! (At least, for me.) I’m officially two days overdue and am now impatiently playing the waiting game… thanks for giving me something enjoyable to read, and something reassuring to think about.

    And I laughed aloud at the part about the dishes, I can totally picture that happening at my house too…


  3. Great story – four kids and I still can’t get enough of women’s labor stories. You’re so right; no two are ever the same. Just as an aside, I have done the epidural thing twice and natural childbirth twice and my fondest memories all involve me being numb from the waist down. Congratulations!


  4. Wonderful timing. I’m two months pregnant (shhh, don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret), and needed a reminder that my first easy pregnancy and labour weren’t a unique fluke. Now I’m looking forward to labour #2!

    I hear you on (1) the laughing gas not working, (2) being hungry during labour (my doctor thought I was crazy), and (3) the fact that epidurals rock.


  5. Thanks, now I’m bawling at work. Labor stories always do that to me. Congrats to you and your family. So much fun! 🙂


  6. This was probably the most amazing entry I have ever read. I, too, experience the same emotions you had in the past about childbirth. I’m not pregnant, nor expect to be soon, but being of those years, I naturally think about it. How good it is to hear start to finish what to expect. No one tells you that the way you wish they would, but you did. Your story is beautiful. Thank you so, so much for this!


  7. My wife could go at any moment. She’s an OB/gyn, but I’m not sure she’s prepared to be on the other end. Your fantastic account will get her there, I’m sure.

    Note to self: no household chores after she says “It’s time.”


  8. Yay babies! You have beautifully and well described the love. Mine are 4 and 5 years old now so let me tell ya: eat up every single moment of what you’ve got right now. Even when you’re 4 blocks past total exhaustion and half your brain is atrophying from lack of intellectual stimulation (and you’re dying for a shower…), soak up every molecule of the babyness. It goes fast. Thanks for sharing your story and best wishes as your sweet, adorable little boy continues to grow!


  9. that was the best birthing story i have ever heard. i smiled (and teared up) through the entire thing.

    i have to say, my favorite part was when you talked about starting to laugh with each push. your joy was contagious.

    kisses to the fuzzy hank….he’s already a total ladykiller.


  10. lovely story…but what was the deal with your husband going the dishes? Nervous impulse? Wanting to get the house officially squared away…?


  11. Glad you shared. I’m expecting in August and it’s nice to hear a first hand account that wasn’t intended to freak me out.


  12. I know some people who think hospital-intervention births can’t be beautiful and peaceful. You just proved them wrong. Thanks for sharing your story. “This is a unique experience,” indeed! Almost a year after I gave birth I still try to relive those amazing blurry moments where being in labor was the only thing that mattered in the world.


  13. Thank you for posting this story. I have seven weeks left to go, and we got to see three labour stories in our prenatal class last week that were all very similar and seemed to drag on forever and ever (although I know that could be a reality!) Sounds much better the way you put it!


  14. Thanks for sharing Hank’s birth story with us. Congrats again (Oh and I was just looking at my oldest’s birth pictures and was endlessly amused by the black trash bag attached to the end of the bed. I wondered if they were Hefty’s. That is one mess you reaaaaally don’t want to break out of the bag.)


  15. Wow. This is such a great story. I felt the same way about my second birth (the first was a c-section and lots of complications). Despite the pain, it was magical. I can’t believe you were allowed to eat since there is always a risk of a c-section.

    Oh, and I so cared about the pooping.


  16. Thank you for posting this. I just found out I was pregnant again and this helped calm my fears. I had a great first labor, but was not sure I was up for another one.



  17. Wow! I had a c-section with my baby 9 months ago, and I was kind of glad I didn’t have to go through labor until I read your post. It was beautiful! I hope I get the opportunity to have that experience someday.


  18. Glad that you had a happy labor. I did, too. I wish I had more than one child. I only experienced it once. Too bad, now my age is not young enough to have another baby. Even if I get pregnant again, it will be too risky.

    😀 Well, reading your story at least can make me feel like experiencing it myself. You’re a great writer.


  19. Excellent story! And well done you for coping with so much pain without pain killers, if you were so scared beforehand. I just had my 3rd child, a baby boy, on the 4th of April, and I can relate to that whole “do not want” feeling re: the pain. He was a big baby, biggest yet, and there was sobbing and crying. My waters broke and contractions started at 3 am and he was out by a quarter to six, so too quick for much pain relief, sadly.

    Laughing gas sucks, I agree. Who wants to be drunk?


  20. Wonderful story. Every birth is so unique, it always amuses me how medical staff try to treat all births as textbook and wonder why they never turn out as expected.

    A friend of mine gave birth late last year. The nurse said she wouldn’t be ready for hours (to which my friend made a joke about being a turkey roasting) and proceeded to take a lunch break, ten minutes later my friend gave birth under the blankets, she gave the nurses a smug “told you so” upon her return.


  21. aaaaaaw, brought tears of my eyes. and not the ones of disgust but joy;) lovely story, we dont hear enough gory details about birth, and we should! it shouldnt be a mistery. thank you!


  22. What a beautiful story. Even the gross part is endearing… 🙂

    It makes me almost (almost) want to have a child.
    And I swear to God, the part with Brian doing the dishes is SO something my fiancee would be doing. TOTALLY distracted to the fact that I’M in LABOR!!

    Belated Congratulations to the two of you!


  23. This is wonderful. I’m due in 9 weeks with my first, and only now am I beginning to feel a little apprehensive about the whole BIRTH thing. I’ve never been afraid of it before. I love reading birth stories. They really ease my mind. Yours is especially nice. Thank you for sharing it.


  24. Oh, Maggie. I know you sometimes hesitate to put up personal content, but I’m just in awe of this post. A great story well told. I’m just all choked up.


  25. So what was up with the sand?
    Also enjoyed your story. Our babies are just days apart, so I had fun reliving my own labor while reading about yours.


  26. I have literally cried tears of happiness everytime I have read your story(4 times). It’s funny and touching and makes me want to yelp out loud in excitment for you, and I don’t even know you!!


  27. I have literally cried tears of happiness everytime I have read your story(4 times). It’s funny and touching and makes me want to yelp out loud in excitment for you, and I don’t even know you!!


  28. I’ve never heard a detailed account of giving birth, not even from my mother or many friends who are new moms. (I’m going to tell them I’m mad at them for not sharing their story with me!) Anyway, I digress… This is beautiful. I was close to tears in reading through the end. Congratulations, Maggie and Bryan!


  29. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this story. I am 28 weeks pregnant (my first son was a c-section) and I am trying to a VBAC supported by an epideral. Your story was honest and real and inspiring. Thank you for sharing it. I will be braver for it.


  30. Great birth story! I remember one nurse telling me that no one was going to shout my name from the rooftop if I decided against drugs during labor. Your story reminded me of my birth stories – my kids are 4 and 3 (both boys) – and the amazing love I have for both of them. Even when they are maniacs running around the house teasing the dog (and each other) nothing can take away that first moment that I had with each of them. By the way, your boy is beautiful!


  31. See! Isn’t the epidural so worthy of a Nobel Prize in medicine? I tell people this all the time, but until you actually feel the alternative, ya can’t really appreciate it.

    And you have far more nerve than me to have used the mirror! That’s just not something I could stomach with any quantity of meds.

    Rock on Mom Maggie. Excellent work all around.


  32. You know, that was REALLY nice (and entertaining!) for me to read. I had Declan 8 weeks early via emergency c-section and even though we all ended well, I still somewhat mourn a good birth experience. Thanks for sharing yours with us.


  33. Congrats Maggie and Bryan-this is a beautiful story – the birth of a baby is magical…somewhat of a miracle and therefore special to each an every one of us. Also, I am Nadia’s mom #91 comment. I thought I shared with her her birthing experience. But let me breifly say that Nadia’s birthing experience started out similar to Maggie’s….my water broke slowly from 6am to 6pm. I was feeling no pain and went to the hospital with her father arriving about 3pm. I was monitored from about 4pm on and my doctor called me several times from his office telling me that there was plenty of time in my situation and he would be at the hospital with me shortly after 6pm. From 6-9pm
    I was still feeling not pain and my doctor told me that it will probably take all night. At about 10pm I was developing strong menstral cramps, but still not very uncomfortable… husband at my side every step of the way. By approximately 10:30pm I was feeling uncontrollable pushes and the doctor examined me..saying I was fully dialated. They barely got me into the birthing room – it took three pushes over the course of the next 10 minutes and Nadia was born. It was the most wonderful feeling I had ever had in my life…simple a miracle. On a scale of 1 to 10, the doctors told me she was a 10….so the experience couldn’t be more perfect for Nadia, myself and her father. Again Congrats to Maggie and Bryan – you have a lot of wonderful experiences with Hank ahead of you.


  34. Wow! Thank you for sharing! That was fan-tastic. Congratulations and I wish you all the best!!


  35. You’ve described it all so perfectly. Wonderful!
    I had the same feelings about my lovely epidural man. They make life worth living, don’t they?

    ANd that sensation of feeling the baby’s head when it is coming out is soo weird, and amazing!

    COngrats on your calm, bored, perfect little guy.



  36. Oh Maggie… I’ve always enjoyed your stories (the engagement story has always been a favorite) and this (dare I say) Masterpiece is no execption.
    I too am terrified of the whole pregnancy kit-and-kaboolde but after reading your account…
    Seems that perhaps not every labor is a horrific, scaring, what-the-hell-was-I-thinking-letting-you-stick-that-in-me experience.

    Thank you for fantastic writing and your willingness to share one of life’s most intimate experiences.


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