Oh wow. Looking at my last post talking about getting a haircut the next day is so surreal.

The funny thing is I even thought I was making it to that 3:30 hair appointment on Tuesday for most of the day. I think I made Hus call at 2:30 to cancel because I couldn’t talk through the contractions easily. And the baby was born 4.5 hrs later!

Let me start at the beginning though. Hafiz’s birth story 🙂

On Monday, at 40 weeks and 4 days, I did my usual routine with a few extra trying-to-induce-labor things. I did my 4.5 mile walk around the neighborhood, I ate so much pineapple that my tongue hurt and I ate this really yummy spicy udon chicken noodle soup for dinner (adding extra sriracha for more spiciness). In fact, while I was eating dinner I was feeling these cramps that I couldn’t eat through and I’d have to put down my spoon and wait. I didn’t even tell my family though, as I was so worried about a false labor alarm. And they didn’t continue long after dinner, so I ate some ice cream and went to sleep.

Then I woke up to “cramps” in the night – which in retrospect were contractions, but I didn’t time them until later and fully realize they were the real deal. I had it in my head that labor was going to be such a long, drawn out process for me that I didn’t want to get too excited in those beginning stages. I thought these cramps/contractions would probably abate and I’d be pregnant a week longer. I woke up at 3AM feeling the pangs in my lower uterus, got up to pee, and went back to sleep. Then at 7AM I woke up to flakes of snow falling outside in the grey sky, which was very bizarre. A feeling of “this will be a weird day” washed over me in that moment, because it certainly hadn’t been cold enough recently for snow. I was 40 weeks and 5 days and the date was 11/12/13.

Since the weather was funky and I was having “cramps” every so often, I decided against taking a walk outside and decided to just eat breakfast and make lactation cookies to freeze instead. While making the cookies I started having to pause when a cramp would come and breathe through it. But they weren’t so bad. This is when I told Hus, “Something might be happening inside of me.” His eyes got big but then I told him not to get his hopes up, because who knows? He asked what he should do and I said he should keep cleaning the basement as he had been. So he did. Once in awhile I’d use the timer on my iPhone to see how far apart they were, and found they were coming regularly about 6 minutes apart.

After baking, I went upstairs and got to work on an illustration for my book. I had done the actual sketching the day before so it was the coloring part, which was a good thing, because coloring takes less focus and I could sort of zone out. By this point I had to full on stop everything when a contraction came and put my pencil down. That’s when I decided to quickly download the “Contractions Timer” app on my iPhone because I noticed they were definitely coming in a pattern and figured keeping a log of their progression, as the app does, would be helpful.

So I kept coloring, listening to a “Call Chelsea Peretti” podcast, and pressing the start/stop for contractions. Soon they were coming 3-4 minutes apart and lasting 45 sec-1 min. Even though I was definitely in that 5-1-1 arena I had learned so much about in childbirth class, since I wasn’t in excruciating pain yet, I really didn’t want to go to the hospital. My birth plan (which I never wrote down or anything, but it was fully developed in my mind and communicated to Hus) was to labor at home as much as possible to prevent getting turned away at the hospital, which is a half hour from our house, or — my bigger fear —  being given the diagnosis of “failure to progress” once there for too long. Everyone was always telling me to labor in the comfort of your home, so I took that to heart.

However, I expected to have hours of fully knowing that I was in labor to take a bath, listen to music, make Hus massage me, whatever. You know, a birth story straight out of Ina May, right? None of that happened. When I realized how close and frequent the contractions were, we called the midwives at the hospital and they said to come in. I stubbornly wanted to push back our departure even more, so I suggested both Hus and I take showers and then sit and have some last minute quality time on the couch with Poqueta.

Hus showered first and then packed up the car while I hopped in. He grabbed everything on the bottom of my hospital list, the things that couldn’t go in the suitcase ahead of time: mini-cooler for my placenta, iPod dock station, birthing ball in case all the hospital ones were in use, pillow, my slippers, toiletries we only had one of, etc.  The hot shower made the pain of the contractions much more bearable and I didn’t want to get out. I even shaved my underarms and legs to avoid leaving, which is kind of a peculiar thing to do in labor.

When I did finally get out of the shower, my mom had come home, so we told her we were heading to the hospital. She was excited since many of her friends had told her, “Get Carly to hold out ’til Tuesday so the baby can be born 11-12-13!” I told my mom to not get too excited and that the baby might not actually be born until the next day.

After drying my hair and putting on clothes (purple tie dye tank top, grey drapey sweater, black leggings) I insisted on sitting on the couch with Poqueta as planned. I sat cross-legged and had to close my eyes and breathe through each contraction. My mom was sitting with me and didn’t think I looked in very much pain at all. However, I was getting upset because Poqueta didn’t want to sit in my lap. She kept going to the opposite end of the couch. I decided she didn’t like the energy of my contractions, and that she knew something was up. And the reality was, my pain was gettin’ real, so to speak, so I told Hus, “Let’s go.”

I immediately knew that having to be in an upright sitting position with the seatbelt on was going to be horrifically uncomfortable, but Hus was all “safety first” and wouldn’t let me go seatbelt-less. I writhed through every contraction, and started to be able to anticipate when they were coming because they were so frequent. I kept saying “Oh no, here it comes…” and then trying to focus on my breathing like we had practiced in childbirth class, inhaling and exhaling to the count of 4. I wanted to squeeze that handle on the ceiling of the car and did a few times, but it was much better to just relax, as hard as it was to actually do. It was a little past 3 o’clock and rush our traffic was beginning, so once inside the city limits there was a lot of congestion and I was being more critical of Husein’s driving than ever. Poor guy.

We pulled up to the main entrance of the hospital and I literally ran out of the car into the lobby, looking around in a panic, trying to remember where to go. A security guard told Hus he could leave the car and go up with me to carry all my things (it looked like we were going to stay a month there, we had so much stuff). We pressed the button on the elevator and I remember feeling VERY impatient about how slow it was coming. When the doors opened on the 3rd floor, I pretty much ran up to the front desk of labor and delivery and she started to do my paperwork while Hus went down to put the car in the garage. I looked over at the waiting room, which I was told on my tour was normally empty because they don’t let visitors in and out of labor and delivery, to see it FULL of people. Every chair full. There were a bunch of pregnant women and lots of family members chatting excitedly, too. My first thought was, “WHAT THE FUCK?”

The lady processing my paperwork and giving me a bracelet seemed way too relaxed. I told her my contractions were 3 minutes apart. She didn’t seem very empathetic and said they were extremely busy and I had to wait in the waiting room. Full of people. In labor. Without Hus (for 10 more minutes). I wanted to cry. I think I did, a little.

So I went in there and sat down in one empty chair between lots of people, closed my eyes, and moaned through the contractions. Then Hus came and I lost some of my inhibition and dropped to the floor of the waiting room, leaning on the chair, continuing to moan. They were excruciating at this point, and I could tell the pain was being exacerbated by the fact that I felt so very unsafe. Why was I not being seen by a midwife already? I obviously needed help here! A woman next to us in the waiting room looked over at me, shook her head at Hus and said, “See, this is why I don’t want to have any more babies!” THIS IS SUCH A GREAT THING TO HEAR WHEN YOU’RE IN LABOR, let me tell you. Had I not been using all my energy to get through contractions, I would have punched her. Truly.

I heard the other pregnant women in the waiting room talk to the desk lady, each of them with contractions 10 minutes apart. Some of them were going into triage before me. I was terrified and at once point decided I couldn’t hold back from making a scene. I went into the bathroom off of the waiting room and screamed through a contraction. I went to pee but instead of pee it was just lots of blood and mucus. Couldn’t actually get urine out. That must have been my mucus plug and bloody show.

After about 45 minutes of this torture, a nurse came to get me into triage. I walked into the room and threw off my shoes and pants, kept my shirt on, and put the hospital gown on top. The nurse started hooking me up to the fetal monitor and taking my blood pressure while the triage midwife came in. I kept on having to warn them when a contraction was coming so I could focus, breath and often moan/scream.

The midwife sat down on the bed and said she was going to do the pelvic examination. She put her hand up inside of me after one of the contractions and said, “You’re 9 centimeters.”

I looked at Hus. “Wait, what number?”

They both said “Nine.”

I felt a mixture of fear and relief in that moment. Relief because clearly I wasn’t going to get turned away, and now all the pain of the waiting room made sense. I knew I wasn’t just being a baby, that transition is supposed to hurt like a motherfucker. However, I also still felt scared from those first 45 minutes of limbo — it’s like the cortisol in my body was firing and couldn’t now stop. My blood pressure of course was high. This was not what I had envisioned. I thought I would get to chill in a birthing suite, listen to music while my cervix dilated, sit on a birthing ball, walk the halls, whatever. That was how most birth stories went, right?! I thought I would have time to process the fact that I was giving birth.

My nurse for labor, Sophi AKA angel of my life, came in and introduced herself. We somehow immediately realized we had the same birthday, June 28th! I loved her immediately. She put me in a wheelchair in between contractions and rolled me to a room I hadn’t seen on the tour but looked kind of like a mix between a birthing suite and a traditional room. It’s funny because a few weeks prior, getting a birthing suite (a special room in the labor & delivery wing just for natural labor and deliver that has extra amenities like a jacuzzi tub, living room type decor, less medical stuff around, etc.) was important to me. But in that moment I wanted a room, ANY room that at least was private with walls and no strangers. That seemed like luxury enough for now. I had no idea what this room was technically designated as but I didn’t care. It had a birthing ball (we had left ours in the car, figuring most rooms had one) and I asked for it to stay, but of course didn’t end up using it. Rather, as soon as I got out of the wheelchair, I threw myself on the floor, on my knees, leaning on the bed. Sophi was scurrying around the room preparing things. I think there was even a janitor still cleaning the room when we got in there. I had my eyes closed for most of the contractions so I missed a lot of what was going on. I remember Sophi asking if we wanted the lights turned down low (YES to that, made the room much less hospital-y) and Hus whipped out the iPod docking station to play my labor playlist.

It was probably close to 5PM at this time, and this is when things get very blurry for me. The contractions were coming with such frightening intensity and frequency that I wasn’t able to relax in between them at all. I had remembered from childbirth class being told that it was easier to keep calm with eyes open, but I could NOT open my eyes through the pain for the life of me. In fact, the way I coped with the pain was far far FAR less graceful than I had prepared for and makes me laugh at all my practice breathing. I pretty much said “Oh no here it comes, here it comes..” to warn everyone in the room not to mess with me (except for Hus who was supposed to put pressure on my back, though sometimes I yelled at him to back off) and then glued my eyes shut and moaned/screamed/sobbed through the contraction. I remember a lot of wailing/sobbing, and knowing that it probably wasn’t helping me to feel relaxed but honestly it seemed uncontrollable. I would say for 99% of these contractions I was on all fours on the bed, facing backwards, with the bed reclined upwards so I was leaning on my arms or draping my head over the top. I liked this because even if I did open my eyes I just saw a wall. The midwife from triage and Sophi kept predicting that my water would break with one of my contractions, but the contractions kept coming like waves and I was wondering why the hell it wasn’t breaking. This went on for an hour I think.

The only person consistently in the room with Hus and I was Sophi, who was totally amazing. She was incredibly encouraging and said all the right things. When I apologized for being such a screaming mess she told me I was doing amazing and that every contraction was bringing me closer to meeting my baby. The midwives were spread extremely thin because of the overcrowded labor and delivery floor. Sandra, who I had met before at prenatal appointments, didn’t even come in to see me until right before pushing since she was delivering another baby. However, the midwife from triage had been in and out and around 6PM told me I was fully dilated but that my water hadn’t broken yet. Did I want her to break it? I enthusiastically said “YES!”

Or maybe Sandra the midwife actually did the water breaking? Oh man I forget. Again, my eyes were closed A LOT. But someone broke my water and commented, “Whoa, it’s like another Katrina down here!” because I apparently had an extreme amount of amniotic fluid. It was a physical relief and a mental relief for me knowing that now that the water was broken, I could start pushing as the urge had been there for awhile now.

Shortly after breaking my water, Hafiz’s head was low enough and they told me to push. I was still on my back/leaning to the side from having the water broken, so Hus and I held one of my legs up bent to push a few times. I think we did this on both sides but I really wasn’t feeling it. So I went back to my laboring position of all fours, draped over the top of the reclined bed. This was much more comfortable and the midwife (It was definitely Sandra at this point!) told me my pushes were much more effective like this. The pushing definitely felt good and made the contractions more bearable, but they were also so much work that I felt scared I wouldn’t be able to keep them up. And the pain was still excruciating. This is when too much knowledge can really haunt you, because I thought of birth stories of friends or from books where pushing wasn’t effective and still ended in C-section. I couldn’t imagine coming that far and not getting to push a baby out at the end of it. I think this fear and adrenalin enabled me to push extremely hard.

I gave my all to every single push, and the noises I was making to survive them were definitely intense. I was sobbing and screaming a lot, crying especially between the contractions, telling everyone how scared I was. I also told Hus I loved him a lot because he was doing everything right this whole time. Just being really calm and relaxed, putting pressure on my back but responding when I barked other orders at him to stop or do something else. I just remember repeating, “I’m just so scared, I’m just so scared…” and my nurse Sophi telling me that was normal but I was doing so great, etc. Hus had put on my labor playlist, but I didn’t actually process that music was playing throughout the labor until around the time when the song “Brave” came on and Hus told me to listen to the song. I think I said really melodramatically between sniffles, “I have to be brave!” and believing it.

The pushing felt like it went on a long time, but in reality it was 45 minutes. I remember at one point screaming “WHEN WILL THIS END?!!” and begging the midwife to tell me where the baby was. There was a certain moment when the vibe in the room changed, I think the midwife suited up in her full on delivery gear which covered her head to toe, and there was this “it’s game time” attitude among her, the nurse and Hus. I felt then that they must be able to see a good amount of the baby and that he was now coming out. The push that got him out came soon after, and I remember doing the three usual pushes and then adding one more to feel him come out entirely.

Since I delivered on all fours and the midwife knew I wanted to do skin-to-skin and to let the cord pulse, there was some gymnastics type coordination involved in those first few seconds that she had verbally prepped me for ahead of time, but of course I had no control over my body in the moment so they had to assist me. Basically, though, I had to stand up on my knees, they passed the baby to me under my legs, I held him to my chest, and then had to turn around to lay back on the bed with him on my chest and still connected by the umbilical cord.

When I put him on my chest is when I noticed I was still wearing my purple tie-dyed tank top and the midwife goes, “That is the nicest shirt I’ve ever seen someone give birth in!” Pretty sure I just put Hafiz right there on top of it since my chest was still exposed and we got skin-to-skin contact. He was crying loud and so pink and perfect looking. I remember telling him, “I know I know baby, that was scary, I’m crying too…” I was still shaking and crying so much and still felt pain. It’s like it was just coursing through me and wouldn’t relent. I remember worrying that I was squeezing Hafiz too tight because of the pain. I delivered the placenta and felt pangs of pain with this but it wasn’t so bad, obviously, after pushing a big baby out.

After a good amount of time on my chest (couldn’t even put an estimate on time at this point), Hus cut the umbilical cord and they took Hafiz over to the scale to weigh him. 7 lbs 10 oz! Pretty big for my small self. The midwife had me open my legs as wide as possible and put my feet into stirrups at that point to stitch me up. I thought she would throw in a few stitches and we’d be good to go, but apparently I tore far more than the average woman. I think it’s because I pushed too hard, fueled by adrenalin/fear. The stitching went on for an hour and the midwife bluntly told me that it was hard to do because “things were pretty shredded” down there. She was injecting me with lidocaine but this part still actually hurt A LOT. I mean, nothing compared to labor pain maybe, but now my adrenalin was coming down and that whole area was so incredibly sensitive that having her stitch into it, even with the numbing medicine, hurt. At one point I had to tell Hus to take Hafiz from my arms because I was afraid I was going to squeeze him too hard again. Both my perineum and inner labia were torn. I didn’t know an inner labia could tear in labor but there you have it!

The nurse and midwife left us three alone after the stitching was done and we finally called our families and some friends, over an hour after the birth. My mom was still asking on the phone if they had admitted me or not, so she was pretty shocked when we said the baby had been born an hour ago!

Then Sophi came in and told me her shift was ending, and I asked if we could all take a picture together before she left. Then the midwife came to say bye and actually asked us if we could all have a picture together and Hus texted it to her right there. Someone came in to take Hafiz to the nursery for an hour to do some tests and give him his first bath. Prior to the birth, I thought I didn’t want to be separated at this time, but in that moment I couldn’t have cared less. I knew my transition to the recovery floor would be easier without him anyway. I felt so shaky and unstable that I kind of felt I couldn’t be trusted with a newborn, anyway. Then a new nurse came in to accompany me to the bathroom for the first time. My legs were wobbling so much I could barely stand up and blood was still pouring from between my legs. She hooked me up with two huge maxi pads and a cold pack that all fit inside these awesome stretchy mesh granny panties. Then she asked if I wanted painkillers. At first I said no, as I had just programmed myself to turn down all medication during the labor (not that they were offering epidurals or anything, the nurse and midwives knew my birth plan, but whenever they wanted to give me an IV or something I pushed back). She gave me this look like “Uhhh…” and then I realized, wait a minute, I don’t have a baby inside of me anymore to consider! Hell yeah I’ll take the pain meds! Give me the hard shit! Percocet and ibrupfen cocktail, it was. When it kicked in a half hour later I was incredibly grateful.

A wheelchair arrived to take me to my recovery room, where Hus and I made a few more phone calls and waited for Hafiz to come back from the nursery. Unfortunately, due to the overcrowded nature of the hospital that day, I had a roommate which meant Hus couldn’t stay the night. One of the nurses told me that there was an extreme number of women having babies that day because many of them scheduled inductions and C-sections for that particular date, 11-12-13. She said 12-12-12 the year before had been just as crazy. I felt bummed that Hus had to leave, but I was so grateful and relieved that Hafiz and I were healthy that I couldn’t actually get too down about it.

I didn’t sleep at all, though, because I just stared at Hafiz  or cuddled him the entire night. I’d breastfeed him when he would cry (somewhat pathetically since I barely knew what I was doing) and then I’d just hold him on my chest, kissing his face and head, literally all night. I also changed my first meconium-full diaper in the middle of the night and it was terrifying. I had to flag down my roommate’s nurse to help me, since I couldn’t stand up out of bed and grab the much-needed extra wipes.

I couldn’t have been happier when Hus returned the next day and our family was complete.