“Sunday night, baby! You can come Sunday night!” My due date wasn’t until the following Thursday, but Sunday afternoon held the last thing on the calendar we hoped to make it through before I went into labor: Benjamin returning home. He was gone at Camp Ripley for a mandatory guard drill. My friend (and Ben’s cousin), Hannah, was staying with me while he was away, and she kept reminding my soon-to-be-born child that coming before she had to head back to South Dakota would make her very happy. So began the promptings, “Sunday night, Cedric! We can’t wait to see you.”
Ben had forbidden me from any form of strenuous exercise while he was away, so Hannah and I took things pretty easy that weekend — going shopping, eating at Panera, attending a cousin’s wedding, catching up with long talks on the couch . . . I usually love to cook, but by this point in my pregnancy I felt just as excited about making supper as I would if you asked me to scrub all the walls in the house and then wash the toilet, so Hannah went around doing everything from cleaning my dishes to painting my now unreachable toes. (Funny the things you take for granted when you’re able to see the ground past your belly or bend over without going blue in the face.)
On Sunday morning, I felt great! In fact, I was able to sit through church for the first time in probably a couple of months without debating whether or not to briefly excuse myself and walk outside to get some fresh air, or even lie down for a few minutes in the backseat of our car. After church, Ben texted me and said he was released a couple hours earlier than we expected and would be home before we got back. I was thrilled! There are always challenges when he has to leave for this or that military commitment, but particularly since I was pregnant, I found it harder to see him go. Once arriving home, we all scrounged the fridge for leftovers before Ben asked if I’d like to go on a walk with him. It was gorgeous outside for being mid-October in northern Minnesota, and I was more than happy to get moving after being forbidden from that exercise.
We were gone around an hour and a half before I started to feel very sick. It’s hard to describe exactly how I felt, I just knew I felt bad. I found it hard to walk at a normal pace or really even stand for very long — my muscles everywhere from my legs to my hands felt fatigued and achy. When we walked back through our apartment door around 3:30 PM, I looked at Hannah, said something like, “I feel terrible,” and proceeded down the hallway to collapse in bed. After a few minutes, I called Ben over to ask if he would mind taking care of supper for me, and in true Ben-fashion, he immediately put me at ease and happily obliged. Since I hadn’t gone grocery shopping in a little while (told you my homemaking skills were starting to get abandoned by the end), about the only thing we had around was what he needed to make some pancakes.
The smell of warm butter and bubbling blueberry syrup wafted over to our bedroom and I could hear the clanging of pans and dishes in the sink as Ben and Hannah quietly talked away in the kitchen. I tried to rest. I knew it was so important to rest if I was just on the verge of going into labor, but I just couldn’t get comfortable. I cleared my mind as much as possible from considering all the possibilities of what could be before me, praying the Lord would help me get even a little sleep. I probably got 45 minutes in before Ben knocked on the door and told me the food was ready. I was soooo tired, but even more hungry than I was tired, so he helped me up and I joined them in the kitchen. As hungry as I was, I found eating difficult. I had to act as though I was just about to go into labor, knowing that by the time I really knew if I was, it would be too late to go back in time and sleep and eat as much as I needed. So I tried to eat. I got maybe one pancake down, and then spent the rest of my time staring covetously at the stack of pancakes left on the platter, wishing I could say the word and they would suddenly appear in my stomach. I finished by drinking a glass of grape juice, but that was about all I could manage.
For the next hour or so, we all were talking around the table and I started to feel small cramps every so often. After a while, I mentioned it in our conversation and they started to be able to tell when another “cramp” would come. “Do you think they’re Braxton Hicks?” I was really hesitant to say, because being as I’d never had a baby before, I didn’t even know what a real contraction felt like. We decided distracting me would be a good idea, so I sat on a birthing ball in front of the couch (sitting on the couch was almost undoable by this point — sitting on the ball seemed to line things up in my back and was by far the most comfortable way to sit) and Ben rubbed my back while we all cashed out for an episode or two of a cooking competition.
I looked at the clock several times and realized the cramps I was feeling were pretty consistently 15 minutes apart, but once a half hour or more went by without me feeling anything, I thought maybe things would calm down and go back to normal. By now it was around 7:30 PM and the “cramps” had returned. Hannah convinced me that whether these were contractions or not, we would just mark down when I felt whatever I was feeling and see if there was any more consistency to them. Ben mentioned to his parents online a little of how I was feeling while in a chat with them and I piped in, “Oh, make sure to play it down! I don’t want them getting all excited just to have it be nothing . . .” I was pretty quiet by now, and would just nod at Hannah when I felt another contraction, and then again when it was over. I left the room for a bit and called out from across the apartment when the next one came — she instantly replied, “Oh, I know. Already writing it down.” Apparently my contractions (which I was just daring to call them by now) were almost like clock work by this point, coming every six minutes.
I decided to call my mom and let her know how I was doing, but when Dad answered the phone, I had a hard time saying anything for almost 30 seconds while another contraction came. Once I could talk normally again, he put Mom on the phone and she said, “Your contractions are six minutes apart and you’re not on the way to the hospital?” She suggested I talk with a nurse and see what they said as far as whether or not I should come in, so I waited until I had another contraction and then quickly dialed the hospital, hoping I could get a nurse, explain how I was doing and get her advice before the next contraction came. The nurse suggested I wait a little longer, rest and see if things seemed to progress or heighten in intensity. When I called Mom back, she was already packed and on the road with my sister. I was still a little hesitant, not wanting them to make the six hour trek up north if it wasn’t real . . . but Ben and Hannah just looked at each other and shook their heads, amused I was still in denial. “While you’re still thinking straight,” Ben said, “Is there anything else you want in your hospital bag so we can be ready to go?”
By now it was around 8:00 PM, and after Hannah whipped up a maraschino cherry and vanilla ice cream shake, nothing sounded better to me than sleep, and lots of it. Ben and I called it a night, but only one of us slept. I tried sleeping on my left, sleeping on my right, sleeping on my back (ha! No…couldn’t breathe), and sleeping propped up. I could hardly even bend my body, and turning around in bed was an experience all on its own. Around 1:30 AM, I was feeling very hot on top of being uncomfortable, so I grabbed my robe and stood outside on the sidewalk to get some cool, fresh air.
Hannah came out to check on me and shivered to the bone while I basked in how comfortable the temperature finally felt. I was cooling down some, but the contractions were getting harder and emotionally I was feeling exhausted from trying everything to get sleep. I even moved to the living room where Ben slept on the floor to be with me, and I sat on the carpet with my back against the couch, just barely bending to rest my head on the arm rest, but that didn’t work either. I sat there while small contractions wavered in consistency, praying about whatever the Lord would bring to mind concerning what was ahead of me, and letting Ben sleep, knowing I would need him to be rested for later.
By 2 AM, Mom and Jewel arrived, and it was clear it was just a matter of time before we went to the hospital. I sent them right to our bedroom to try and get a couple hours of sleep before I felt it was time to drive in, but Hannah would come out every so often to see how I was doing, eventually staying with me after 3:30 AM, giving me water and apple slices. I was starving, but couldn’t eat more than half an apple slice between contractions, not because they were that short of a distance apart, but because I was having a hard time eating. I finally fell asleep for a blissful 20 minutes — the first time that night I’d been able to catch any significant rest at all. However, I woke up to a new level of discomfort and my contractions started to stop me in my tracks, taking my breath away. They were no longer the “cramps” I was feeling the evening before; they felt different — stronger, unstoppable and all-encompassing. I knew it was time.
After waking Ben and Mom up, we called the hospital to let them know we were on our way. Ben rushed to get what we needed in the car while I got dressed. I was cold now, so I wrapped myself in a soft, cozy fleece blanket and started to make my way to the car when another contraction came and took me off guard. I gripped the stair railing to my right, closed my eyes tightly and felt this foreign wave of pain seize my whole body, taking it over with an incredible sweep of strength and locking my feet to the ground. Mom, watching from afar, suddenly worried we wouldn’t be able to make it to the hospital in time. When the contraction left me, I looked up at her smiling, pulled my blanket more tightly around my shoulders and said, “I’m going to have a baby!”
Click here to read part 2.