We knew from the start of this pregnancy that we would have to go some distance to deliver the baby if we were to have any hope of avoiding a fourth c-section. After many phone calls to various providers, we finally determined that a delivery in Burlington would be our best option. This meant a good amount of nervousness on my part about how to know when we should plan to leave during labor, so when contractions started to come consistently 20 minutes apart about 6pm on May 1st, we wavered back and forth about not wanting to leave too early…especially given previous labors that extended from 24 hours to 3 days from similar contraction patterns…to not wanting to wait too long and, at best have a really uncomfortable 3 hour drive, or worse, not make it to Burlington on time. We finally decided, when contractions were 10 minutes apart while lying down, but still 20 minutes apart when moving around (somewhere around 2:30 am) that we should get ready to go. My amazing aunt came in the dead of night to stay with the kids, and by 3:30 am we were on our way to the hospital.
The 3.5 hour drive was a bit all over the map, contraction-wise. Some came close to five minutes apart, some fifteen to twenty minutes apart. I was nauseous the whole time, and ended up getting sick about a half hour from Burlington, at which point I became extra-thankful for our emergency bucket that we always have on hand for car-sickness. When we arrived at 7 am, I felt like it was too early in labor to head to the hospital, so we went for a short walk in a park, then decided to get a hotel room so that I could have a private place to labor while contractions were still somewhat spread out.
After about 3 hours at the hotel, contractions got to be pretty consistently under 5 minutes apart, so Tim called ahead to the hospital, and we made our way there. Hospitals aren’t my favorite place, and I felt a lot of nervousness about still not being certain about how “active ” my labor really was as the nurse asked all of the “required” questions, got a heplock needle put into my arm, hooked me up to the fetal monitor, and took my vitals. Around 11:30, the OB resident checked my cervix and said I was about 5cm dilated, but the baby was still fairly high. While the OB and the nurse seemed to think this was excellent progress, I was honestly discouraged to hear that I was only “halfway” to where I needed to be. But, I tried to just focus on doing the best I could in the moment and not think about how much longer things might take.
Contractions became fairly regular at this point, and very slowly, grew in intensity. After a short while, my nurse was able to procure a wireless monitor for me to wear, so I was able to make a couple short trips around the birth center as I labored. Tim faithfully encouraged me through my contractions, and offered suggestions and helped with anything he could. Sometime around 2 in the afternoon, when the contractions were maybe two minutes apart, and – I thought – fairly strong, the nurse asked if I’d like to labor in the shower for a while, to which I readily agreed, thankful that a shower was an option. While in the shower, I felt a “pop”, and knew that my water had broken – a first for me in labor, and immediately somewhat nerve-wracking since I knew that it meant the contractions would become even more intense.
Once I was out of the shower, around 3pm?, the OB checked my progress again. When I heard that I was only at 7cm, I was pretty devastated. Only 2cm in almost 4 hours of what felt like fairly hard labor?? I started to lose my resolve. Tim was helping to hold me up during contractions now, and I struggled to maintain control. Occasionally, I just half-sobbed/half-screamed my way through contractions that now only seemed to have seconds between the end of one and the start of another. I kept thinking that at any moment I would have the urge to push, but it didn’t come. Instead, this was the time that they had me sign a c-section consent form, and explained anesthesia options to me, and introduced the attending OB…for the record, all things that are NOT helpful to a woman in hard, active labor. To add to all of that, every time I leaned forward during a contraction, the monitor lost the baby’s heartbeat, so the nurse was constantly trying to adjust the monitor as I did my best to not be overwhelmed by the pain. Eventually, my nurse strongly urged me to try laboring on my side for a contraction or two. I protested, knowing that laying down ALWAYS makes my contractions a zillion times worse, but she persisted, so I figured one or two contractions on my side wouldn’t be unbearable, and I laid down.
But it was unbearable. I can’t even describe the pain other than to say it felt like my back and hips were on fire and being crushed by a thousand-pound weight all at the same time. Without even close exception, it was the worst pain I have ever felt. But I stayed laying there through a second contraction, mostly because, for whatever reason, there was a several minute gap between the two contractions and I just didn’t want to move. After the second one was over my cervix was checked again and when I heard that I was now only at 8 cm, I was convinced that I couldn’t handle any more.
Tim did his best to reassure me that I would get through it, that I was doing great, that I was getting close to the end, but I just didn’t believe it. I told him I wanted an epidural. I had asked him to discourage me from an epidural, to remind me of how bad my only other experience with one was, to reassure me that I could get through it. And he tried, and he prayed for me. But as he was trying, the nurse and the OB were pretty much arguing against him “she’s so tired”, “it’s going to take a while for her to finish dilating”, “she needs to rest so her body can do what it needs to do”…and after maybe another 20 minutes (?), Tim lost the “argument”.
So, they started prepping for the epidural. I sat on the edge of the bed, and as they scrubbed my back to sanitize it, I felt – slightly – an urge to push, and I said so. Tim asked if maybe they could check my dilation before they started the epidural, and was told no, they wanted to get the epidural in first. For my part, I was beginning to question the epidural, but had no confidence that what I felt like my body was telling me was actually true, so I stayed silent. They got the epidural catheter in and then told me I had to lay down and that it would take about 15 minutes for the anesthesia to take effect. Um…what?!?! I was not counting on having to lay down again and endure more of those horrific contractions before the epidural took effect. I was fairly annoyed, since both the nurse and the OB knew how excruciating those first two “laying-down” contractions had been for me, and never felt compelled to inform me that the epidural would require more of the same. But, it was done, so I laid down and now the OB finally checked my cervix…and the best news of the day…I was fully dilated and could begin pushing.
Thankfully, though the epidural never fully “took” on my left side (the same problem I’d had the one previous time I’d had an epidural), the worst of the contractions was done and the fact that I would meet my baby soon made the pain now seem hardly noteworthy. I pushed through, I think, three contractions. Once his head was delivered, it took a couple more pushes for his shoulders, followed by the rest of him, to deliver. Tim announced that we had a boy as the OB handed me our new, beautiful, messy bundle. 9 lbs, 5 oz., 22 inches long…nameless for days, but eventually Lucas William Ruehle…which means “bringer of light, determined protector”.
It always amazes me how, in that instant, the worst pain in the world can seem utterly insignificant compared to the joy of holding a new baby. The good and the bad, the best and worst choices, are reduced to simple gratitude that the end result of it all is a baby that is healthy and here. And we ARE so thankful for our sweet boy. He is a treasure, one more of God’s very best gifts to us.