It’s hard to know when or where to begin baby Thomas’s birth story.
Does it start it when I felt my first, painful contraction? Or a month before that, when I packed my hospital bag and asked several close family and friends to please keep their phones on in the middle of the night just in case.
Here’s where I think it begins: When, mentally, I started to prepare for a baby. When I started going to bed every night thinking, “it could be tonight.”
There were some things I wanted to get to before the baby came. My due date was May 13, but we had tickets for a Sufjan Stevens show on May 6; Mother’s Day was May 10, and we planned an overnight visit from my niece. I was even glad that David got to enjoy his last day of school, even though it was two days after my due date.
But I was also ready. Very, very ready.
Late pregnancy is like having a crush in middle school; you analyze and worry and roll details and contingencies over and over in your head. Every night at bedtime, if the kids were wild I’d think, “They must somehow know the baby is coming so they’re being wild.” And if they were sweet I’d think, “Oh, they must somehow know the baby is coming so they’re being sweet.”
My mind was constantly spinning with what I needed to orchestrate before the baby came — childcare, groceries, making sure my mom knew what David meant if he asked her to cut his hotdog “small big.” Then there were the hundreds of daily tasks I needed to keep up with if the baby didn’t come. It is exhausting and it is life on the edge; the edge of crazy.
At 37 weeks, my obstetrician examined me and told me there were subtle changes — my body was preparing to deliver. At 38 weeks, I was 3cm dilated and 50% effaced. By 39 weeks, I was 4cm and “very, very effaced”. By comparison, when I had David, after my water broke and eight hours of labor, I was 4cm.
I was ready, my body was ready.
Then my due date came, and it was just another day.
I took David to school, went to the library with Mary Virginia, and stopped at the grocery store.
At 40 weeks and 2 days, my doctor told me that the baby was still very high. Both of my other labors started with my water breaking, and she said that once the baby dropped he would come very, very fast. If my water broke at home, she said I should “get my kids situated and come to the hospital as soon as possible.”
And here’s where I use foreshadowing, so take note of this and remember it so when you read part two of the story you can shake your head at what a fool I am…
Then I specifically asked her, if my other labors started with my water breaking, and my sister’s four labors started with her water breaking, and my mom’s three labors started with her water breaking, does that mean it’ll happen that way for me again? Without hesitating, she said no. Nope, your previous labors or your mom’s labor aren’t indicators of how subsequent labors will go. This one could be totally different. And then I nodded, as if I agreed with her.
She also didn’t make any promises. So many of my friends have stories of their doctors saying things like, “the baby will probably come tonight.” Or stripping membranes and then promising, “you’ll be back within 24 hours.” And you trust them because they’ve gone to medical school, and because you’re desperate. But my doctor actually said, “No OB can accurately predict when a baby will be born.” Baby prediction, I guess, is more the wheelhouse of the witch doctor-type.
My doctor encouraged me to let my baby come on his own time and said, “Statistically, your baby will come by 41 weeks.”
I told everyone her comment as the days ticked by. STATISTICS! I said. THANKS A LOT! HOW COMFORTING!
But I actually do cling to statistics and research when it comes to, ahem, medical information. I don’t want to hear anecdotes, I want to hear data. Don’t tell me that Mexican food caused your labor. You happened to have Mexican food the day your baby was born, but they are not related. If powdered donuts or jumping jacks caused labor, they would serve powdered donuts in labor and delivery. And then bill your insurance company $100 a bite.
On my due date, I randomly picked up this Diet Coke at the grocery store. That has to be a sign, right? I texted the picture to a few of my girlfriends to let them know that I had received a message from Diet Coke and God: THE BABY IS COMING! And they all replied with fist bump and clapping emojis because they all totally agreed.
Because finding a #shareacoke with your unborn child’s name on it ON YOUR DUE DATE means that the baby is coming. Statistically.
Statistically, most women deliver before 41 weeks. But could I make it 41 weeks? Could I survive that long? I was two days late, but I’d just seen my sister-in-law go five days past her due date. That seemed unmanageable. Another friend had just her baby 11 days late. Both of these babies were third babies. So, no, lady at the grocery store, third babies don’t come earlier you don’t know what you’re talking about.
On my due date (a Wednesday), my mom and dad drove to Richmond with their dog and excitement and energy that I’d been lacking since my third trimester started. They planned to stay until the baby arrived, but my mom made a comment about needing to go back to work Tuesday — six days later — and I blew it off. Tuesday? That must be a joke. This baby is coming soon; you guys are just lucky you got here in time.
While they were here, I got a pedicure, ate Mexican food twice, long took walks in the Richmond humidity, went out for donuts, and vacuumed my entire house. And we waited.
The days ticked by. One, two, three, four. It’s hard to explain the mental state of a woman past her due date. Maybe some women are zen, but I’m not one of them. Even though I try really hard to not focus on my due date, it happens, and that date becomes a beacon of light. Then after that date? After one day past that date, you can’t possibly think of what’s coming. Two? Two is impossible. Three! FOUR? And that’s where I lose the ability to count. Because five is surreal. Six is cruel. Seven doesn’t exist.
Several nights in a row I laid in bed at night and thought of a “this is what it feels like to go past 40 weeks” blog post. But I never started typing, because everything I came up with was dramatic, emotional, and…apocalyptic.
Then, every day, morning would come.
How can I explain it in more….logical terms? In pregnancy, you have milestones — this happens at 12 weeks and that happens at 20 weeks. By 30 weeks the baby is about the size of a cabbage, and by forty weeks the baby arrives! CONGRATULATIONS!
When it doesn’t go that way there’s a deep sense of loss of control. What will happen now? Is something wrong? I have very specific plans about how I want this to go (a drug-free labor that starts on its own and ends with the masses wondering how in the world I look so good). And what if it doesn’t go my way? (Induction, long labor, no progress, epidural, c-section, and all my followers on Instagram say my hair looks ugly.)
One night, maybe after five days, I was passing my pregnancy insomnia by praying for my baby. Tom and I had been consistently praying for safety and health for me and the baby, and we prayed that they baby would come. Soon. I prayed and rubbed my belly and felt kicks and rolling. Then the Holy Spirit prompted me to pray for patience and joy. I was fixating and worrying, and totally losing sight of the blessing and benefits of a healthy, full-term pregnancy. The baby would come; God has a plan.
Patience and joy. Patience and joy.
The following Monday, after nearly a week of waiting, my parents packed up because, well, my mom had to get back to work Tuesday. Before they left, my sister arrived with her youngest daughter. She brought new energy, encouragement, and she did my dishes without being asked.
That night Tom had to work late, and as I wrestled my kids into bed I thought, “well, this is appropriate, since Tom was gone all day before I had Mary Virginia, too. Maybe tonight.” Then I dismissed it. Your husband having a 5 o’clock meeting does not induce labor.
After the kids were in bed, my sister and I plopped on the couch and stayed up too late chatting. Together, we have seven kids, so it’s been a while since we’ve had a long, uninterrupted, sister conversation. She sipped a glass of wine and I jealously stared at her glass of wine, and we talked about our kids and our husbands and our parents and our childhoods. And we talked about my unborn baby. Like a whiny younger sister, I told her how I was going to be pregnant forever, and I could not possibly tolerate this pregnancy for even another second. And like a mature older sister, she rolled her eyes and told me to pull it together.
Just after midnight we headed to bed, and I told her that for a while I’d go to bed thinking, “MAYBE TONIGHT!” But I’d stopped thinking that, and it’d helped my sanity. Instead, I thought, “No, not tonight.”
“No, it won’t be tonight. See you in the morning.”
Patience and joy.
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If you liked this story, you might enjoy Mary Virginia’s birth story as well: