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James Nolan’s Birth Story

In this series we share birth stories of all kinds from mothers around the globe — with the hope that they inspire, educate and inform expecting mothers. Interested in sharing your birth story? Email us at info@themamanotes.com  Read more birth stories here.  

Mama’s name: Danielle
Baby’s name: James Nolan
Baby’s birthdate: April 6th
Birth size: 8 pounds, 9 oz. 21 inches long
Birth Location: Greenwich, Connecticut

Around 37 weeks, I started to feel like our baby could come early. I had heard that first babies came late – and I feel like every birth story I read featured a woman who was five days late, six days late, seven days late. The sensible voice in my head told me that it was more likely for our babe to come after his due date than before, but I couldn’t shake that little voice in my head that said he was ready to meet us.

Right around that time, and it may have been wishful thinking, but I swear I thought that my water could have maybe gently broken. I called my OB and gave her that wishy washy description – and she sent me straight to get checked at the hospital. While I was there, I was checked by this super-cool, strong, athletic OB. She had triplets at home and had an amazing can-do attitude – I liked her immediately. I thought to myself: “If she’s the one to deliver James, we’ll be in excellent hands.” She told me that my water was still intact, but I was starting to dilate. She sent me home and jokingly told me she’d be on call the following Wednesday.  Neither of us knew how right she’d be!

A few days later, I had my first weekly appointment. I was 2 cm dilated and my doctor thought I may not make our next appointment. We took that with a grain of salt, since no one can predict when babies come! She recommended castor oil, sex and lots of spicy foods – and she reminded me she’d be on call the following Friday. So now we had two doctors on call…and a baby due in a few weeks. I couldn’t let myself think that he’d be coming early – I was so, so eager to be his mom at that point that it was easier just to plan for a late delivery than get my hopes up. 

Cut to Wednesday morning. I had planned on working from home until my due date nine days later. I took a long walk that morning and felt different. Maybe it was that he was really low, but the miles felt longer than they had in my nine months walking with him – each step felt harder. I chalked it up to being INCREDIBLY pregnant and went about my work day.

I took a barre class that night and got home around 7:30 p.m. My husband had made spicy burrito bowls – I still remember that as one of the best meals in my whole life. I hadn’t been hungry at all in my third trimester, but I wolfed this down. I think my body knew this could be my last meal for a while and I was gearing up.

As I cleaned up the kitchen, I started to feel gentle cramping. I was on the phone with my mom and downloaded a contraction timer while we spoke. Not wanting to get her hopes up, I quietly monitored the contractions and continued our conversation. By the time we hung up a half an hour later, I noticed that my contractions were solidly 3-4 minutes apart and lasting for thirty seconds. I went into our living room, sat on the birthing ball, and let my husband know that I was having Braxton Hicks and I was tracking them on my phone. He took one look at me, knew I was in labor, and settled in for a long night. He put on The Office – the episodes where Jim and Pam have their baby! – and I walked, bounced, and timed. I was positive that each contraction was the last and we’d resume our normal night without a baby.

After three hours of contractions three minutes apart lasting for a minute each, I called my doctor’s office at my husband’s urging. I was still not sure I was in labor – which in retrospect was CRAZY. The doctor on call was the OB who had checked me for fluid the week before – she was on call, like she said she would be – she told me that if the contractions continued for another hour, to call back because I’d likely be coming in.

I waited another hour and a half and labored upstairs in our bed. The contractions weren’t painful yet – just like menstrual cramps – and I was sure they would stop at any time! When I called the hospital back to see if we should come in, it was a little after 1 am. They paged my doctor, but we didn’t hear back for another 45 minutes – and we decided to get in the car. Four hours of contractions 3-4 minutes apart justified a hospital visit! It wasn’t how I imagined or saw in the movies; we were crazy calm and there was a lot of “Should we go? Should we not go?” I didn’t even pack our birthing ball – I was in such denial and was positive this was a false alarm. My husband packed the car with my clothes and bags of food, having the perspective to know that we were indeed going to meet our son that day. That entire car ride, I thought “Well, that’s the last contraction. Going to be such a bummer to turn around when the next one doesn’t come!” 

They kept coming, of course. We got to the hospital and the person admitting at the ER was pretty sure I wasn’t in labor, based on how I was presenting. I still wasn’t in a lot of pain and could talk through the contractions. When the nurse checked me, I was at 4 cm and almost fully effaced. It was then confirmed, at 2 a.m., that I was in active labor (duh!) and we weren’t leaving without a baby! They told me that since I was handling the pain well, I may be a candidate for natural birth. I said nope, no thank you, I’d like that epidural before I push. Please and thank you.

We called our families in Miami and asked them to start to think about getting on the 6 am flight to LGA. Chris and I walked the floors of the hospital for the next seven hours. We took breaks to monitor the baby for a half hour at a time, but I declined getting checked until the morning. By then, I was six cm dilated and they wanted to break my water. I still wasn’t in a crazy amount of pain and could manage each contraction by breathing through them. But breaking my water sounded scary and painful – and I really wanted an epidural for that. 

I got the epidural at 9 am and this was the scariest part so far. My husband held my eye contact the entire time and our rockstar nurse steadied my shoulders. It was over quickly, and then I was on my back, water broken, and waiting to progress. My contractions started to slow during this time, so they asked if I’d be cool with getting a little Pitocin to regulate things for when I started pushing. I was fine with that.

At first, the epidural was great. I could move my legs but didn’t feel any of the water breaking. I let them know when I felt pressure and my OB confirmed that I was at 10 cm. They wanted me to hang out a bit at 10 to let the baby drop. During that time, things started to get really painful. I asked the nurse why that would be, since I had an epidural, and they told me it was just pressure.

It was not just pressure. 

The nurse let me know it was time to start “practicing pushing.” That, my friends, is just pushing. There only difference was that at our hospital, we didn’t have a doctor in the room. It was just my husband, the nurse and I. I started to feel the contractions coming HARD – a sensation I didn’t plan to experience with an epidural. The pain was incredibly intense, and I was feeling every single contraction. I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t sign up for a medication-free birth, and here I was, practically vomiting from the pain. I remember telling my husband that I thought I was going to die and that if I did not die, I would like a really nice gift.

Since I was feeling EVERYTHING, things started to move a bit more quickly since I could really feel what a “good” push was. I had planned on having my husband up by my head (this is a romance! You can’t unsee that!) but as things started to move quickly, he grabbed a leg and was pretty intimately involved. We thought we had more time, but after about 30 minutes, it was clear that this baby was coming momentarily. The nurse ran into the hallway to page our doctor, who was in a c-section. In fact, every single OB on the floor was in a c-section, and our baby was coming hard and fast.

The contractions were getting pretty close together and I could feel the baby’s head start to come out. The nurse came back and said, “We need to wait at least 15 minutes until a doctor is available. Can you stop pushing?”

I told her that between her and my husband, I was confident one of them could deliver this child. 

She asked me to stop pushing anyway.

I couldn’t really stop. When the baby’s head is that low and the contractions are that close, your body just takes over. I felt like I was convulsing – the baby was coming whether I liked it or not. I laid back during three or four of these “not pushing” contractions, and then it became clear that this kid was going to fly out of me pretty soon. They pulled a doctor out of surgery – a very tiny man whose surgical garb was almost comically too large. He didn’t say anything to me, but just stood in the back of the room as we waited for the next contraction. I was not thrilled with the prospect of this man delivering my child.

Like a gust of wind, just as the next contraction was starting, my amazing hero of an OB flew into the room and grabbed one of my legs. I pushed through one contraction, she told me not to stop and to push straight through to the next one, and I felt like I was being turned inside out. At the end of that second round of pushing, I felt my whole body empty and out came our baby. He wasn’t crying at first – they took him to a table to clean his airways and then he started with the sweetest, most sheep-like little cry I’ve ever heard. He still has that exact same cry – it’s almost POLITE.

I had second degree tearing and they went to stitch me up – only I felt EVERYTHING. We asked for a local anesthetic, which didn’t work. We did three more rounds of local before my husband looked at me and said, “I think they are just going to need to do this without medication.” It was FIVE MINUTES of stitching and I felt every stitch. That was almost worse than the labor.

We found out later that the catheter had shifted and my epidural was basically useless. In my experience, I would not chose to do a “semi” natural birth again – I wish I could have experienced everything more clearly but I can’t complain since we had a perfect, healthy, incredible baby boy. James Nolan was eight pounds, nine ounces and 21 inches long.

I think it’s worth mentioning that as soon as James was born, it wasn’t as if I forgot about what I had just been through and was only filled with love for that sweet tiny human. I read a lot of birth stories where it seemed as if the trauma of birth was erased the second a child was in their mama’s arms – that wasn’t the case for me. I needed some time to recover, to really meet James and to process what happened with my husband. That’s totally normal and okay too! I felt like my husband and I had been through war together, and it fused us together in a way I hadn’t expected.

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