So after taking a wonderful birthing class, reading a number of different birth books, and talking to a lot of people about birth, Aviva and I thought that we knew what was going to happen. I read the Birth Partner, my dad read the birth partner, we got the contraction timer apps for the iPhone, packed our go bag, got a bunch of movies for early labor .... we were ready, but things do not always go the way you think they will.
So Aviva's labor probably began about a week ago during a rainstorm, when Aviva started to have cramping that was likely Braxton-Hicks contractions. A few days later, during the day on the 23rd, we went for a long walk (about 4 miles) down to Scarsdale with our friend Ilana, and towards the end of the walk Aviva started having minor contractions - she is super tough and just walked through it, saying it was probably just gas.
The contractions kind of ramped during the night of December 24th, but they were still (in retrospect), relatively light and Aviva was able to deal with them easily, just breathing through them. I woke up for some of them and timed them, but when it was clear that they were very irregular and light, we decided they were still Braxton-Hicks contractions and just tried to get back to sleep - but they still kept us up most of the night.
On the 25th, we spent a wonderful afternoon up at the Many's in Peekskill, and then came home around 7, and puttered for a while before going to bed. That night Aviva had contractions again, but this time they were much stronger and she said that they felt distinctly different. So we started timing them, and while they were never consistent - they ranged from 3 to 12 minutes apart - they were getting a bit closer together and averaged about 6 - 7 minutes apart over the next 3 hours. So we were pretty sure this was it, woke up my dad - who was staying with us to come to the hospital and witness the birth - around 3 am and started to get things together. However, the contractions never became regular and slowly faded out around 6 am, so we all went back to sleep. My poor father had drunk a full cup of coffee in preparation for going to the hospital, so he did not get back to sleep as easily as Aviva and I, who passed out until around 10 am.
Although we were prepared to go to the hospital at any point that day, Aviva had a grand total of 1 contraction, during a long walk around Scarsdale. At around 430 pm it started to snow, and I went out to pick up some spicy Chinese, thinking that it might help with her contractions. When I got back, Aviva had started having contractions again, and said they were stronger, but she was still able to sit and eat dinner through most of them - although a few required the yoga ball. We moaned through some of them, and flapped our lips for others, but none were so strong that the pain coping techniques we learned in class could not deal with them. They were also still inconsistent in both frequency and strength, so after dinner we called the midwife to ask her opinion, as this had been going on for 2 days already.
Michelle, the midwife on call, didn't think Aviva was in active labor and suggested she take a bath and drink some wine to relax. She did, and almost as soon as she got into the bath the contractions slowed to about 25 minutes apart and got much less intense. After the bath, we called Michelle again and decided that Aviva needed to sleep, so she took some Tylenol PM and then lay down for the night around 10. I went to sleep in the living room, because I also wanted to get to some sleep.
At about 1230, Aviva woke me up from a dead sleep, crying and moaning and begging to go to the hospital. I stayed pretty calm, but inside I was freaked out because I have never seen her in more pain or distress. It is a completely humbling feeling to see the woman you love in such agony and not be able to do anything ... turns out the contractions had ramped up around 1030, and she had been quietly laboring in our bedroom for about 2 hours alone. By the time she came out to wake me up, the contractions had gotten extraordinarily painful, much more so than earlier in the day. They were still inconsistent in both frequency and strength, but on average were closer together and very strong. Because she had only slept about 8 hours in the last 72, the pain and uncertainty of what was happening had really taken Aviva to the end of her rope. She was thinking that if these were the levels of contraction that were involved in pre-labor, that labor would be so much worse - she did not know if she would get through it.
We immediately called Michelle, who initially thought that we should not come to the hospital, but when she heard Aviva in the background she changed her mind and decided to meet us at the hospital that night. Although it had been snowing a lot earlier, the snow had changed to rain and that made the roads a lot easier. We got to the hospital in about 30 minutes, the only issues being the contraction that Aviva was having which were so loud that I thought she was going to shatter the car windows. Of course right after that contraction, she had two contractions which were barely noticeable.
We got to the hospital at 130 am, and checked in and went to the monitoring room while my Dad parked the car. Both Aviva and I were really nervous that Michelle would come and check her and that she would only be 1 cm dilated, or that she would need to go back home - Aviva was particularly worried because she was so tired and in such pain, and she could not imagine have to deal with another night of this.
But when Michelle came in and checked her, it turned out she was already 8 cm dilated. Aviva was so happy, she started to kind of laugh-cry for a couple of minutes, punctuated by some serious contractions. We were moved into a birthing suite and Aviva moved through transition really quickly, dilating to 10 cm in about 30 minutes. She was in tabletop position for most of transition, with my father and I giving her water and patting her down with cold compresses. After 30 minutes she moved to the toilet, where she had one or two more contractions and then her water broke (very convenient to have your water break on the toilet). At that point, she told Michelle she had the urge to bear down, so we moved back to the bed and she began pushing.
Surprisingly, the pushing was the longest part of the labor in the hospital, last about 3 hours. Aviva was so exhausted that during the initial stage of pushing she was only able to push once or twice per contraction, but as the birth went on she seemed to get stronger, pushing 3, 4 or 5 times per contraction. During this whole time my father and I gave her water and patted her down, and at one point she had a little GU (a runners energy snack) - but mostly the energy just came from inside her, her own self-talk and focus. I was really amazed, she was so strong. Her pushes were so forceful that she burst dozens of blood vessels in her face, neck and back - she said to me later than when she first saw herself after the birth she looked like she had been in a bar fight.
Aviva pushed a few different positions, table top using the angled up hospital bed, on a birthing stool leaning again my dad with me sitting in front of her, squatting on one side of the bed while holding my hands as I squatted on the other side, and laying on her side in the bed, pushing against me with one foot while bracing the other foot against my knee. We went through each of these positions 2 or 3 times, before Aviva was able to reach down and touch our sons head while she was on the birthing stool. That touch completely energized her, she immediately began to push much harder and more frequently. We moved back onto the bed, in the side laying position, to slow the process and reduce any potential tearing, and they positioned a mirror so she could look at herself to see what was happening.
Pretty soon after that we could see the vernix, and then the top of the head moving in and out. This was super exciting and Aviva began to push even harder, until about 20 minutes later the head started to come out. It was incredible - both Aviva and I started smiling hugely as Michelle kind of levered the head up and down and our son just kind of slid out. Amazing ... absolutely remarkable. Probably the most amazing thing I will ever see. It left us both breathless but talking rapidly, staring at each other and our son and crying. Just incredible.