I awoke on the morning of Thursday, April 19, 2012, wondering if it would be “the day.” Actually, I had been waking up every morning with that exact thought for at least a couple weeks. Given that I was six days past my due date, I was definitely ready for Baby Girl Henry to make her arrival.
In addition, I had an appointment at 11 a.m. that morning with Gail, one of the midwives at the practice where I was receiving care. I had seen Gail for my two previous appointments, and at the one a week prior, she had mentioned that if I returned on the 19th, she would ask me about performing a cervical check and possibly a membrane sweep. I had refused both of these procedures at my other appointments.
At the appointment on April 19, Gail did, in fact, ask if she could check my cervix. I consented and also asked about the membrane sweep, a short procedure during which the midwife separates the amniotic sac from the cervix. I was surprised to learn that I was already four centimeters dilated and 80 percent effaced. I told Gail, however, that I wasn’t feeling any contractions. She explained that the baby’s head was still high (-1 station) and that my cervix was posterior – neither of which is considered favorable for labor to begin. If the baby were to start putting some pressure on my cervix, labor would be imminent.
During the cervical check, Gail did strip my membranes. Before I left the office, she said she would probably be seeing me at the hospital sometime over the weekend. I felt satisfied with the appointment, so I grabbed some lunch and went back to work.
By early afternoon, I was having contractions.
They were irregular, however, so I figured they were Braxton Hicks and tried to forget about them. The contractions were barely painful, but I thought maybe I should try and time them, just in case. Twenty minutes, eight minutes, fifteen minutes, five minutes. There was no pattern at all, so, again, I tried to ignore them. This went on all afternoon until I left work at 4:45.
I drove to Elliot’s preschool and picked him up. During the drive home, Mike called from work. I told him I was having irregular contractions and that I didn’t think it was real labor. He seemed concerned and offered to leave work. I insisted that he stay and said I would call if anything changed.
Once Elliot and I arrived home, I fixed him dinner (the worst dinner ever, I might add). While I was making his Ritz cracker jelly sandwiches, the contractions started becoming more intense. Having to brace myself on the kitchen counter should have been a good indicator that this was really labor.
I told Elliot it was time to eat and sat down at the table with him. I was in too much pain to eat, so I drank of glass of orange juice. Elliot asked if we could play outside after dinner. I agreed to that plan. By 6:30, I was finally convinced that I really was in labor, so I called Mike and told him to come home. I knew he would be home in a half hour, at which point he could help me time the contractions. I called Lenore, my doula, but got her voicemail. Mike called back and informed me that he had called my parents, who had been tapped to stay with Elliot during labor and delivery, and told them to start making their way to our house. “You called my parents already?” I snapped.
“Yes, April,” he said calmly. “They are an hour and a half away, and I want to make sure they have enough time to get here.”
When Mike arrived home about 7 p.m., Elliot and I were on the deck. He was playing nicely, and I was bracing myself on the railing every few minutes. “Why are you doing that, Mama?” he kept asking. I don’t remember how I answered him. As Mike approached us, he commented on the fact that we were outside. “You don’t seem like you’re in labor,” he said. I ignored him and went inside to sit on the couch.
Mike took Elliot upstairs with him so they could take a shower. I stayed on the couch for a few minutes before I forced myself to finish packing my hospital bag. I already had most of the necessary clothes packed, but I still needed my toiletries and some other items.
With my bag ready to go, I decided to try lying down in bed with my body pillow. This was a turning point. I started shaking uncontrollably. And moaning. When Mike was done with the shower, he took Elliot back downstairs and put a movie in for him to watch. He returned and lay down with me. “Your contractions are three minutes apart. You need to call the midwife right now.”
I didn’t believe him. How could my contractions possibly be that close together already?
At 7:22 p.m., I called the after-hours answering service and waited for one of the midwives to get back to me. Jan called me back right away. When I said, “Jan, it’s April Henry,” she immediately replied, “Oh, Gail told me I might be hearing from you tonight. What’s going on, missy?”
I explained that my contractions were coming quickly and intensely but that we were waiting for my parents to arrive so we didn’t have to take Elliot to the hospital with us. She calmly told me to come to the hospital whenever I was ready; they would have a room available.
At 7:27, Lenore called back. I told her what was going on, and she offered to come to our house. I knew she would help us determine when it was time to go to the hospital, which, thankfully, is only a few minutes from our house.
After I hung up with Lenore, I got out of bed, grabbed the iPod and started pacing the hallway. Listening to my labor playlist, I walked between contractions. Like when I was in the kitchen and on the deck, the most comfortable position was to brace myself on the wall or banister and bend at the waist during contractions.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Mike was worried – really worried – that I was going to have the baby at home or in the car. He called my parents a couple times, asking for updates on their progress. He told me we could go to the hospital and meet Lenore and my parents there. “No,” I kept telling him, “we need to wait at home.”
When Lenore arrived, she watched me through a couple contractions, massaging my back. I will never forget the words I said to her: “I can’t tell when one contraction ends and another one starts.” Her eyebrows raised, and she calmly suggested, “We should probably go to the hospital now.”
Inside, I panicked. What about Elliot?
Mike reiterated that my parents could easily meet us there. I finally agreed. Mike had already carried everything we needed to the car. As we walked downstairs to the garage, I told Lenore about how I had been shaking earlier. “I read that means something, but I can’t remember what.” She replied, “It usually means you’re in transition.” Oh, boy.
We arrived at the hospital at about 8:30, which, in case you were wondering, is Elliot’s bedtime. Appropriately, he was dressed in his pajamas. I had a few contractions in the parking lot, lobby, elevator and hallways of the hospital. I think at one point Elliot said, “Hurry up, Mama!”
As we approached what would become my hospital room for the next two days, Jan and a couple nurses were waiting right outside it in the hallway. After we entered the room, I had a contraction. Listening to my moaning, Jan said, “That sounds promising.” When it was over, Lenore suggested that I put on my gown. I made a point to express my satisfaction with my gown to Lenore, Jan and the nurses because it was hot pink, and it came with a matching headband. I was surprisingly myself in between contractions; I thought I would be much less coherent.
Jan then asked if I wanted her to check me. I said, “OK.” Not surprising to me or Lenore, she pronounced me 8-9 centimeters dilated.
The absolute worst part about my birth experience was the nurses’ insistence that I have a Hep-Lock in my arm. The purpose of a Hep-Lock is for hospital staff to gain easy access to a vein should the patient need an IV. I had written in my birth plan that I did not want an IV. The nurses knew this; they actually told me they read my plan before I arrived. They explained that if I were to hemorrhage after the birth, it would be much more difficult for them to find a vein. I already knew all this. I had been waffling back and forth for weeks about whether I was going to allow the Hep-Lock. Because I knew I was going to have the natural birth I wanted, I decided to give in to this one concession and let them put in the Hep-Lock.
They assured me it would be quick – quick enough to be done between contractions. Now, I have excellent veins. I have been donating blood at the Red Cross for years, and the employees always comment on how great my veins are. The hospital nurses said the same thing, but the one who first tried to administer the Hep-Lock messed up. She “blew the vein,” so the other nurse tried and was successful. It took them FOUR contractions to get that stupid thing in place. In retrospect, I know consenting to the Hep-Lock was a mistake.
While that ordeal was occurring, Mike was still in contact with my parents, tracking their progress and hoping they would arrive before the baby did! I kept asking, “Are my parents here yet?” Lenore told me she thought I was determined to keep Baby Girl in utero until my parents got to the hospital. A little while later, Mike announced, “April, they’re here. I’m taking Elliot to the waiting room.”
When he said that, I climbed onto the bed and got in a hands-and-knees position. After delivering Elliot on my back, I knew I wanted to try a different pushing position for this baby. I had a few incredibly painful contractions. I was screaming during the contractions and crying between them. Lenore was on my left, and Mike was on my right. I looked at Lenore and said, “I know it’s getting close because I feel like I’m going to die.” The pain was so intense that, with every contraction, I wondered how I could possibly live through it.
Lenore asked if I felt the urge to push. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but I tried.
At first, it didn’t feel right. I’m not sure if my body truly wasn’t ready, or if I was just scared. After a couple more contractions, though, I decided to really give it a go. Instead of screaming, I held my breath and pushed with all my might.
For some reason, I completely forgot that my water had not broken yet. It never occurred to me that that would happen soon. Soon after I started pushing, at 9:27 p.m., my water broke. I mistakenly thought I was peeing.
Pushing with this baby hurt more than I remember with Elliot. In fact, it felt like she was crowning with every contraction. The burning sensation was unbearable. I kept saying to Mike, “I want her out!” After each contraction ended, I could feel the baby move back up, and that was terribly discouraging. I told Jan and Lenore that I could feel the baby “going right back in.” They did their best to encourage me. “The baby is just rocking back and forth,” Jan said.
I pushed for about 25 minutes.
Cecilia Renee Henry was born at 9:48 p.m.
Jan caught her, let Mike take a picture and passed her through my legs onto the bed so I could see her. I was completely overwhelmed. I just looked at her for a few seconds before I picked her up. She was still attached, so I carefully rolled over to my back and held her.
Jan commented on how long the cord was, saying it was possibly the longest one she’d ever seen. Cecilia latched on and nursed right away.
I held her for a little while longer before Mike brought Elliot in to meet his new baby sister. I will never forget what he said when he saw her: “Ah, she’s so beautiful.” It was a perfect moment that I will forever treasure.
I am so thankful to the midwives – especially Jan for catching her – and the nurses, despite the Hep-Lock ordeal. They read and respected my birth plan and my wishes for a natural birth; they never asked me to rate my pain, and they never mentioned pain medication of any sort.
Lenore and Mike were my advocates and cheerleaders, helping me to welcome our sweet baby girl to the world. I agree with Elliot; she is beautiful, and so is he. They are two healthy blessings from God.