Editor’s note: Tina and Blythe have been friends for 16 years, and over those years their lives have shared many happy coincidences. After graduating from the same college with the same major and starting careers in the same field, each of them got married and bought houses in the same neighborhood at about the same time. So it was no big surprise when they got pregnant within a couple weeks of each other and delivered baby girls at the same hospital in October 2005. They had so much fun being pregnant together that they decided to share this space to tell their birth stories and to invite another friend, Sarah, to do the same.

During our pregnancies, one thing that amazed and horrified us all (as well as our husbands) was the cervical dilation chart. This rather innocuous chart, consisting of a series of 10 circles ranging in diameter from 1cm to 10cm, showed up in the doctors’ offices we visited, the books we read, and the birth education classes we took. It reminded us again and again that 10 was the magic number, because the first stage of labor occurs from the time true labor begins until the cervix is completely dilated, or 10cm. Here’s how each of us got to 10.

0cm to 3cm: Early Labor

Sarah: With my first child, Maxine, I was nine-and-a-half months pregnant, and they wanted to induce. I couldn’t wait.

They hooked me to a pitocin drip. After I had wandered the gift shop for nine hours, contraction-free, they tried breaking my water. Within seconds, searing, chemically induced mega-contractions were coming every minute-and-a-half and lasting as long. The part of me that wasn’t busy groaning in agony was deeply relieved when they said I was progressing.

Every pregnancy and birth is truly different. Expecting only the best after Maxine, I lost a baby four days short of my second trimester. Two months later, I was pregnant with my second, Miranda. Waking up one morning in a pool of blood, I thought I had lost her, too, but magically, there was her heartbeat on the monitor. The ultrasound tech said the placenta had slightly abrupted, nothing to worry about, just sit on the couch for a couple days.

But I knew something was wrong. I looked it up on the internet, and here is what I found:

Expectations (prognosis): Maternal death rates in various parts of the world range from 0.5-5%. Fetal death rates range from 20-35%. The infants who live have a 40-50% chance of complications, which range from mild to severe. Excessive loss of blood may lead to shock and possible fetal and/or maternal death. If the site of placental attachment starts to hemorrhage after the delivery and loss of blood cannot be controlled by other means, a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) may become necessary.

The midwife reassured me again, so I ignored my fears and went about life as usual. But as the months wore on, they started taking my blood pressure twice at my appointments. I became so very tired all the time. I was having too many contractions.

I complained. The midwife told me again I was just perfectly, terrifically fine, don’t worry about a thing, dear. Then, on impulse, she checked me. Ready to go, two months early. Still fine, no need to see the doctor, she said, but with her back to me. Two days later, my water broke. At the hospital, the ultrasound tech wasn’t smiling, and she wasn’t sharing either. I still have nightmares about the look on her face.

I lay flat on my back in the hospital for four days, getting pumped with antibiotics and steroids. Every time I moved, I leaked, so I stayed very still. Nurses kept asking, casually, “How much are you bleeding, honey?” I wasn’t, at least outwardly. That tipped me off to the diagnosisanother abruption. I willed myself not to go into laborI knew that if I waited until 7:00 a.m. Christmas Eve, the steroids would have full effect and baby might be able to breathe at birth. At 7:30 a.m. Christmas Eve, I relaxed.

Tina: I went from 0cm to 3cm rather unceremoniously over the course of my last few weekly visits to the doctor. I didn’t start to panic until the final visit two days before my due date, when she told me I’d reached 3cm and joked that I could be calling her to deliver the baby that night. That night? But my husband Carter and I were taking some friends to our favorite Italian restaurant that night. And Carter and his band had a gig the following night. And I still had errands to run, thank-you notes to write, things to buy for the baby’s room. Of course, I had known all along that the due date was almost never the actual date, but I had never fully accepted that I had no control over the actual date. I’d been assuming it would be after the due date, because everyone had been telling me that first babies are always late.

For the next two days I stayed near home and paid closer attention to the mild, irregular contractions I’d been feeling. On my due date I began writing down the start time for each contraction, more to pass the time than to document any real progress. After noting that the contractions had remained eight or more minutes apart all day, I stopped recording and tried to get some sleep. After a restless night, Carter decided to stay home with me and I began recording contractions again at 11:15 a.m. As the day passed, the contractions got more intense and more frequent, and about 12 hours later I decided to go to the hospital. But I still wasn’t convinced I was in “real” labor, and I was worried that my decision was based on my fatigue and the pain in my lower back rather than the instinct that was supposed to tell me “it’s time.”

Blythe: It started half an hour after midnight. I was half asleep when I experienced a strange, uncomfortable, just slightly painful feeling in my abdomen accompanied by a thought that zinged through my whole body with a tangible electrifying sensation: Maybe the baby is coming!

The thought immediately following was something like: Oh, shut up, you. It’s just gas… again.

Despite the fact that I was half an hour past my due date and it was quite logical to think that the baby might, indeed, be coming, it also wasn’t crazy on my part to think it might just be gas. That first contraction really did feel like a bad case of flatulence. And I had been having that same sequence of sensations and thoughts for at least a week: an uncomfortable, bloated, crampy feeling accompanied by the notion (and fear) that the baby might be coming. After a (usually prodigious) belch or fart, the feeling would pass.

Looking back, that first contraction was definitely different, mainly because of that electric feeling that something was about to happen. But having convinced myself that this certainly wasn’t the beginning of labor, I didn’t even consider waking my husband, Patrick. Instead, after coming to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to sleep, I spent an hour or so lying on the bathroom floor (it felt nice and cool down there) combined with sitting on the toilet trying to go to the bathroom.

When that didn’t work, I went downstairs and tried to sleep on the couch for a while. I know that was five minutes after 2:00 because that’s when I stopped the cuckoo clock (which always thwarts my attempts to nap on the couch, even when I’m not in labor). When that also failed I found a strange, half -sitting, half-lying-down position that was oddly comfortable and tried to watch TV. I must have fallen asleep for a bit because I only remember seeing a few moments of the Leno rebroadcast. I was having intermittent pains throughout all of this, but nothing bad enough to make me wake up my husband.

4cm to 7cm: Active Labor

Tina: The car ride to the hospital wasn’t as nerve-wracking as I’d imagined. This probably had a lot to do with the fact that there was no traffic, but it only made me more worried that I had decided to go to the hospital too soon. I told the nurse that my anxiety might be the reason she found my pulse and the baby’s pulse to be a little high. This seemed to make sense, because after the resident examined me and told me I was at 5cm and I moved to the labor and delivery ward, my pulse and the baby’s pulse had returned to normal.

I realized right away that the nurse and I did not see eye to eye. Even though I’d told her I wanted to try to deliver the baby without pain medication, she continued to offer it to me, warning me that I probably wouldn’t be at 10cm for at least another five hours and might be too tired to push by then. She also insisted that I wear the external fetal monitor at all times and discouraged me from leaving the bed, which was what I really wanted to do. The pain in my lower back was getting worse and I knew that I’d find some relief by changing positions. I convinced her to let me try sitting in the glider chair, but she couldn’t get a good reading on the monitor so I had to move back to the bed.

As the contractions got more frequent and more intense, Carter helped a lot by applying heat to my back, playing the CDs we’d brought from home, and adjusting the room temperature (which he claims I asked him to do every five minutes). Between contractions, we were both having a hard time staying awake. We were hoping I’d be close to 10cm when the resident came to examine me again at around 5:00 am, five hours after we’d checked in. But I was only at 7cm.

By this time the pain in my back was unbearable. My water hadn’t broken so I asked the nurse and the resident if I could sit in the bathtub. They seemed puzzled by this request and said they’d have to call my doctor, who was waiting to come to the hospital until I was ready to deliver. My doctor gave her consent and I moved to the tub. The warm water felt great and took some of the pressure off my back. Carter sat in the doorway of the bathroom and tried to keep my spirits up. At one point he brought out a photo of our cat Oye, which I had brought to use as a “focal point” during labor, and I laughed for the first time all night.

I stayed in the tub for about an hour and a half. When I got out, I was greeted by Maureen, the new nurse on duty. Her arrival marked a huge turning point in my labor. She had a very calm, gentle demeanor and she treated me with a lot of respect. The previous nurse had made me feel silly and stubborn for refusing the pain medication, but Maureen told me how strong I was for trying to do without it, adding that she had delivered both her children without medication. When my doctor called and said she needed a better reading of the baby’s heart rate, Maureen held the external fetal monitor in place so she wouldn’t have to hook me up to an internal monitor, which involves attaching an electrode to the baby’s scalp.

I don’t know what I would have done without Maureen’s support when the resident examined me again and told me I was still only at 7cm. I was crushed, assuming that it was my idea to get in the tub that had stalled my progress. But Maureen assured me, “Baby will come when baby is ready.” The resident called my doctor and she advised him to break my bag of waters in order to jump-start my labor. If that didn’t work, she advised him to give me pitocin, a drug used to induce labor. I was terrified of pitocin because I had heard that it results in a more painful labor and a greater chance of a Cesarean birth. I was determined to get past 7cm without it.

Blythe: Finally, around 3:00 a.m., I had a contraction strong enough to make me jump up from the couch and dance around the living room chanting “owie owie owie,” my preferred verbal response to what I consider to be mild-to-moderate pain (although I had to say it quietly, since my seven-year-old daughter, Nico, was sleeping in the next room). I decided it was time to wake up Patrick.

There was a part of me that still thought (and probably hoped) that this might just be gas, so I didn’t want to say the actual words “the baby is coming” for fear of looking like an idiot. When I tapped on my slumbering, snoring husband’s shoulder, I just said, “I think you need to wake up.”

His response: “What? Huh? Was I snoring?”

“No. I think you need to wake up.”“What’s going on? What? Why?” He was still pretty much asleep.

Finally, I had to say it: “You need to wake up. I think the baby’s coming.”

Well, that did it. He was out of bed like a shot. I explained my symptoms to him; by this time, in addition to the contractions, my legs were trembling and I was having hot and cold flashes. In retrospect it was pretty obvious that this was more than gas; only the fear of looking like a moron, probably coupled with the vain hope that I was not about to be in excruciating pain, had me still thinking there was the slightest possibility I was wrong. We timed a few contractions, which were ranging from two to eight minutes apart, and decided to call our doula, Natalie, to let her know what was going on. She ended any doubts I was still clinging to when she said what I was experiencing definitely sounded like early labor.

(Author’s note: Since the birth, several people have asked us what a doula is. There are several different kinds of doulas, including those who just come and help you out with the baby and around the house after the baby is born. However, in our case she was a labor attendant, moral support, and helper, or, as it’s defined in one book, “A woman experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother before, during, and just after childbirth.”)

Since we wanted a natural childbirth without drugs or other interventions, our plan was to labor at home for as long as possible with the help of Natalie in the hopes of minimizing the interference we might encounter at the hospital. So, rather than rush off now that we were sure about what was happening, we told Natalie we’d call her when we felt we needed her and I continued to labor at home. We called the hospital to let them know we’d be in later that day. They said we could always come in now to “have me checked,” but we had no intention of altering our plan.

I settled into a pattern of leaning on the top of my chest of drawers (which is about five feet tall) during contractions and lying down to rest on our bed in between. The chest seemed to be the perfect height for me, since I was able to rest my forehead on the top of it without straining my neck or back too much. After sending off e-mails to his boss and coworkers to let them know that “things were happening” (and being yelled at for taking too long about it), my husband did his best to keep me company. I think he really wanted to rub my back, hold me, or try some of the other things we had learned in our birth class, but I really, really didn’t want to be touched. So he cleared off all the junk on top of my bureau so I could lean on it without knocking all my jewelry on the floor, fixed my hair into some lop-sided pigtails, and generally did what he could to make me more comfortable (which honestly wasn’t much“comfort measures” can only go so far to alleviate contractions, which for me felt like a combination of menstrual cramps and bad gas, magnified about a thousand percent).

Around 5:30 we called my brother and sister-in-law, who were coming to pick up my older daughter and take her to school, and a few minutes later we called Natalie to let her know we thought it was time for her to join us. At this point I was less and less tuned in to what was happening around me; my focus was turning more and more exclusively to my body. My moaning, which my husband says was more like howling, got louder as the pain intensified. I honestly believe that throughout labor I sounded worse than I felt; pushing the air out of my body with these loud noises seemed somehow to push the pain out and away from me and also took my attention away from what I felt. I also started kicking the floor and/or stretching a leg out behind me with each contraction.

Around 6:30 my husband had to go downstairs to wake up Nico and get her ready for school. Even through the haze of my pain, I felt pretty sorry for him: He was trying to deal with a seven-year-old who is infamously recalcitrant in the morning while simultaneously running back upstairs every few minutes to be with a woman in laborhe could tell when my contractions were starting because my howls and pounding on the floor were clearly audible all the way downstairs. The record of my contractions shows that things slowed down a little bit around this point, and I wonder now if it was because I was worried about Nico getting ready on time and about her hearing me (still, those fears weren’t enough to quiet me down by any means). I might also have been uncomfortable with being alone, even momentarily, and I was also worried that my brother and sister-in-law might be late. I think all these worries slowed things down for a little while.

A few days after the baby was born, Nico asked me why I was “crying” upstairs that morning; it’s still hard for her to understand that the baby doesn’t just come out all in one painful momentthat the pain lasts for hours. I’ve asked her what she remembers about it, and she says she remembers me crying and yelling, but I think most of her memories of that day will be more what people told her rather than her own thoughts about it.

Natalie arrived sometime between 6:30 and 7:00. I was glad she was there so I didn’t have to be alone while Patrick was with Nico; it was really scary to be alone, even for a moment. She encouraged me to eat and drink to keep up my strength (as Patrick had been doing for hours) and to try some different positions to rest and alleviate the pain, all without much success: In what would, for better or worse, become a recurring theme throughout my labor, I had decided on what felt like the right way to do things for me, and nothing else I tried was at all appealing. Several different positions were rejected as I returned again and again to the dresser.

One very odd thing that happened throughout our time at home was that one of our cats, Chloe, a very shy and timid Siamese, became quite distressed by what was going on. She paced nearby me for quite a lot of my labor, yowling at my husband as if to say, “Aren’t you going to do anything about this?” and once even came up and batted at my ankle with her paws. At the time I took this as aggression and told my husband to “get her away from me, for christ’s sake,” but both Patrick and Natalie later confirmed that her behavior clearly showed that she was worried about me and upset by my pain. In fact, Natalie often had to keep Chloe off the bed when I was resting there.

Probably my clearest (and proudest) memory from throughout this period of active labor at home is a small, quiet voice I heard in the back of my heada voice I heard quite clearly over my own yowlingsaying, “Well, if this is what it’s going to be like, I can do it.” That quiet voice was a big part of what got me through labor without any drugs.

Our most important motivation for hiring a doula was to help us decide when to go to the hospital; a little after 9:00, Natalie confirmed that it definitely seemed like that time had finally come. I wasn’t getting much relief between contractions (I remember shedding a few tears about the unfairness of that) and, since my labor was so clearly established, it seemed unlikely that I would “stall” once we reached the hospital. This was important, since we really wanted to avoid pitocin or any other interventions meant to speed up or jump-start a slow or “stalled” labor. However, the idea of leaving my bedroomand my established patternsnot to mention going down two flights of stairs, getting into the car, and surviving the drive to the hospital seemed pretty impossible to me at that point. I remember asking Natalie and Patrick how in the world I was going to get down the stairs; I had a little while to brood over it while they brought my suitcase and a giant pile of pillows down to the car. Finally Patrick wrapped me up in my huge, fuzzy, leopard print robe and said it was time to go. In my eagerness to get this horrible step over with, I made a break for the stairs while he was still looking around to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything. He told me in no uncertain terms to stop, and that I wasn’t going anywhere without him. We slowly made our way down the stairs, me behind him with my hands on his shoulders.

I’m pretty sure I had a contraction going down the second set of stairs I had to navigate, those coming down from our back porch into our backyard. I remember thinking “what must the neighbors be thinking?” as I howled. Still, despite my pain, I recall noticing the bright orange and purple colors of my fall garden as we walked from the house to the garage. It was a strange, quiet moment in the midst of the pain.

The car ride turned out not to be as bad as I thought it would be. I stayed on my hands and knees in the backseat with a whole menagerie of pillows surrounding me. At first Patrick didn’t want to tell me how far we still had to go, but once I was able to convince him that it made me feel better to be able to picture where we were (since I wasn’t looking up and had my eyes closed most of the time, anyway), he filled me in on our progress from time to time. The only thing that really distressed me was the rolling stops and starts we sometimes made in traffic; I didn’t have the energy to hold myself upright, so I would knock into the seats and the backrest each time that happened, and it wasn’t pleasant. I also remember looking up once and making eye contact with someone in a truck next to us who was probably pretty startled by my appearance as I kneeled, screaming, in the back seat. Patrick also mentioned that someone motioned to get in front of him at a light and he frantically tried to motion back, “No! BABY!” while pointing at me in the back, and they backed off.

We pulled up to the front of the hospital and got out of the car. Although I didn’t care even a tiny little bit at that point, I was acutely aware of how I must have looked in my big robe, my hair a wild mess. I have another one of those quiet, still memories from this point: resting my head on Patrick’s shoulder while we waited for the elevator and other, “normal” people in regular clothes went about their business all around us as if nothing unusual was happening.

Once we got up to the labor and delivery unit, I got a little upset because I realized I didn’t have my glasses on. This really made me feel vulnerable, as I couldn’t make out my surroundings that well or clearly see the faces of the nurses. But it couldn’t be helped: they were in my purse, in the car, and I wouldn’t have them on again until after the baby came.

After we were buzzed in to the secure unit, no one greeted us at the entrance; we walked all the way in to the desk, in the middle of the unit, before the nurses approached us. I was told that I needed to take off all my clothes and put on a hospital gown. However, I had purposely chosen a comfortable nightgown that I didn’t mind ruining to labor in so I wouldn’t have to wear a hospital gown; I firmly (and, apparently, quite rudely) told the nurse my clothes would be just fine as I pushed past her into the room. Another contraction was coming, and I needed to figure out how I was going to labor without my dresser to lean on. There was nothing in the room at the right height, so I settled into a kneeling position on the bed while Patrick smoothed things over with the nurse (he definitely wanted her on our side). I must have impressed her with my determination to leave my own clothes on, since her next requestthat I at least take off my underwearwas made a lot more hesitantly. Sheepishly, I said “of course”; it’s pretty difficult to give birth with your panties still on!

The bed turned out to be a pretty uncomfortable place to labor because my knees consistently wound up in a crack where the two parts of the hospital mattress came together. This probably could have been fixed easily by just putting a towel under my knees, but by that point I wasn’t articulate enough to explain what the problem was. All I could say was, “This bed is awful!”, which I remember saying a lot, over and over again. By the end of the day my knees were pretty sore as a result (not that I noticed or cared). I spent almost all the rest of my labor on my knees in the bed, rotating my hips back and forth.

We were offered an epidural pretty soon after arriving. I have to admit it sounded tempting, but the fact that you have to keep perfectly still while it’s administered scared me more than the pain I knew I was in for. We declined.

Our nurse began asking us a long list of questions, including such irrelevancies as my level of education and my occupation. Did they really need to ask this stuff, and did they really need to ask it now? As stupid as it seemed, apparently they did: even though I had already given all this information to both my doctor and the hospital’s billing department, their computers don’t “talk” to each other, so I had to fill them in again on my college degree while my uterus felt like it was turning inside out. (Despite my pain, however, I was clear-headed enough to be irritated by Patrick giving my occupation as “homemaker,” even though it’s true that I’m taking time off from working to be with the baby full time.)

My mom arrived at the hospital around this time. I had been concerned about having her with us during labor and delivery; my mom and I are very close, so I was worried that I wouldn’t want her to see me in pain and that therefore I wouldn’t be able to “let go” with her there. This turned out to be a non-issue; she spent most of the labor and delivery sitting in a chair off to one side, quietly watching and praying, and she was barely on the radar screen of my consciousness. She did come over at one point to try to say, “I love you,” and I said (probably not very nicely), “This is too much talking!” She stayed away from me after that (except for holding my leg for one contraction while the doula used the bathroom). Talking in general was a real irritant to me during labor, and I remember telling the nurses (who were discussing evening plans or something equally unimportant) to please be quiet. They complied, although they kind of laughed, too.

One thing that made me utterly miserable throughout this period was the external fetal monitor. Although I had been prepared for the fact that I would have to have it on whenever I was in bed, I wasn’t prepared for how utterly painful having what amounts to a giant rubber band pressing up against your belly will make you when you’re in labor. Since I was moving around so much, the nurses had a really difficult time keeping the monitor in place and weren’t getting a consistent reading. Although the baby had not shown the slightest sign of distress (and, indeed, never would), they threatened to insert an internal monitor (which is attached to the baby’s skull) if they couldn’t get an accurate reading for at least 15 minutes. That might not sound like much, but at the time the idea of having that thing pressed up against me for that long left me near tears. My husband volunteered to hold it in place so we could get a reading; it was quite brave of him, to be honest, since I kept yelling at him to get the damn thing off me and stop pressing so hard on my stomach. After five minutes confirmed what we already knew (that the baby was just fine), they told us we could take the monitor off. When my husband asked what happened to 15 minutes, they said they had only told us that so we’d settle down for at least five and let the monitor get a reading. Pretty sneaky, huh? But it worked.

8cm to 10cm: Transition

Tina: After my bag of waters was broken, my contractions got longer and stronger and started coming one right after another. Maureen helped me through the pain by telling me to “breathe over it.” Carter breathed with me and reminded me to “make a C” with my back, curving into the contractions. I was making some very loud, scary noises. Afterward, Carter joked that we should have recorded them and broadcasted them from our house on Halloween to scare off trick-or-treaters. (By the way, if you can, avoid coming home from the hospital with a newborn on Halloween, like we did.)

When the resident examined me, I was at 9cm and I felt like I was ready to push. But I wanted to wait until my doctor arrived at the hospital, even though she was a half hour away. I loved my doctor. I’d been seeing her for six years, and I’d followed her to this hospital, where she had joined a group of four other doctors about halfway through my pregnancy. She had asked the hospital to make an exception and call her, instead of the doctor in the group who was on site, for my delivery.

But as much as I loved my doctor, I was ready to strangle her when she didn’t arrive after that half hour. The resident told me she was 10 minutes away. The urge to push was overwhelming, and the resident brought in the doctor on site and told me I could start pushing. But Maureen kept reminding me, “Baby will come when baby is ready,” so I held out for 10 more minutes. When my doctor finally did arrive, all she needed was a quick look to see that baby and I were ready!

Blythe: When the nurse checked my dilation, I was thrilled to find out that I was already at 8cm! The exam itself was pretty unpleasant: since lying on my back was excruciating at that point, they ended up conducting it with me on my side, which was still relatively uncomfortable. But hearing the news about my dilation left me overjoyed, since it meant I had made great progress and didn’t have much further to go. The nurse seemed perplexed by my excitement; had I expected to be just three or four, she asked? I honestly had been steeling myself for the possibility that I might still have hours to go. Natalie told me being that dilated meant it wouldn’t get any worse; this turned out to be the only thing she ever told us that didn’t turn out to be true for me.

At this point someone (I’m sure it was the doctor, but I have no recollection of it) suggested that we have my water broken to help speed things along. I asked if it would hurt and was told no. We discussed it with Natalie, who said that with me that far along, it might help things move more quickly. Patrick was concerned because we had learned in class and through our reading that once your water is broken, you’re on “their” clockthe hospital can only let you labor for so long after that due to the risk of infection, so it increases the chance that you’ll have a C-section. However it seemed unlikely that my labor would slow down with things so far advanced, and to a woman having contractions, hearing that something will make things go “faster” is sweet, sweet music. We decided to go for it. They weren’t kidding when they said it wouldn’t hurtI didn’t feel a thing. I was, however, amazed by the amount of fluid that came out; I felt like an upside down geyser! I probably lost about 10 pounds right there.

Toward the end of transition we had a new nurse (Joan), who told me I needed to try to be quiet because I was using up all my energy. I told her that screaming was helping me get through the contractions, but she told me that I needed to save my energy for pushing. I ended the conversation by telling her as bitchily as I could, “I have PLENTY of energy!” She finally gave up.

Beyond 10cm: Time to Push!

Sarah: Maxine (my first) arrived five hours later at 8lb 6oz with the help of a birthing chair, shower, squatting, and crouching on hands and knees. I started pushing earlyjust try and stop me! After almost fainting, my husband, Steve, cheered me on by telling me that I was one toughie. I had second-degree tears, but no episiotomy and no pain meds.

The doctor kept telling his intern, “Boy, this is something you rarely get to see!” It made me feel great, at least emotionally. I spent the night shivering uncontrollably and gazing at baby.

With Miranda labor took only six hours. The back labor permanently rearranged my tailbone, but it still didn’t hurt like pitocin contractions had. Right before she was born, the OB/GYN said, “Stop pushing for a bit or the kid will shoot out and hit the wall.” If I weren’t so busy I would have decked him. She came in at 4lb 8 oz, facing up to the sky.

Neonatal ICU doctors and nurses and the entire staff of my OB/GYN practice clustered around, poised for the birth as if Miranda and I were batons in a relay race. After some brutal post-partum uterine kneading, I stopped bleeding. As they rushed Miranda off to the ICU, Mom said, “Well, she criedthat takes breathing.” We were going to be fine.

Miranda spent 11 days in the ICU. Once home, still under 5lb, she was too weak to nurse for long, so day and night, every hour and a half, for three months, I fed her in my own extended version of the ICU. She is now a perfectly dandy toddler.

Tina: Pushing was a lot harder than I expected. It might have been easier if I hadn’t been in labor for 24 hours. I was so tired I couldn’t think of being in any other position than on my back. Maureen held my left leg and Carter held my right leg while the doctor applied warm compresses and tried to ease the baby out. The contractions were only a minute or two apart, and with each one I’d push three times. By the third in each set, I was losing my energy and my focus and starting to dread the next contraction. But my doctor and Maureen were great coaches and kept encouraging me and promising me the next set of pushes would be the last. (Carter later confided he was having a hard time believing them and was wondering why my bullshit meter wasn’t working.)

At some point while I was pushing, Maureen complimented me on my pedicured toenails and asked if Carter had painted them. I think that was the second time I laughed, not only at the thought of Carter painting my toenails but also at the notion that Blythe had told Maureen to comment on my toenails. Of course, Blythe had done no such thing, but I imagined she had because I had teased her about delivering her baby before her pedicure appointment.

At another point, my doctor asked me if I wanted to feel the baby’s head. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, but I did and it freaked me out. I was expecting it to feel warm and fuzzy but it felt cold and gelatinous. So when she later asked me if I wanted to look at the baby’s head in a mirror, my rapid-fire response was no!

I pushed for about an hour. The only good thing about the slow delivery was that my perineum didn’t tear, although I did end up with broken blood vessels around my eyes and bruises on my head and arms. Carter was surprised at how much strength it took to support me as I thrashed about. But once the baby’s head was out, it seemed like the shoulders and the rest of the body followed right away.

Holding the baby in my arms was beyond surreal. It felt like a dream, but I knew it wasn’t by looking at Carter, because I never could have imagined the love and joy I saw in his face. The photos he took during that time are my favorites, because they remind me how deliriously happy both of us were. And they mark the point at which I forgot about 10 centimeters and learned some new magic numbers:

Tallula Rae O’Brien
Born 10/29/05
6lb 11oz
21in long

Blythe: I don’t remember all that much about going from transition to pushing; it’s all kind of a blur. I remember shouting out that I needed to push at one point and being told that it wasn’t quite time yet. When the moment finally did arrive, my bed was changed into a nearly upright sitting position. Patrick took one leg and Natalie took the other, while Joan sat between my legs. I was amazed that my legs could get that far apart and that high; my knees seemed to be just about next to my ears. From time to time the doctor came in to see how things were going and would take Joan’s place, but she wasn’t there most of the time; she was going back and forth between me and another woman who was at just about the same point as I was.

The contractions during pushing weren’t any more painful than during labor itself. In fact, they might have been slightly less so, since I was “pushing through” the pain. However, I had a searing, burning, unbelievably awful pain at the end of each contraction that was by far the worst part of my whole labor. It hurt so much that I tried to push and scramble backward at the end of each contraction in a futile attempt to escape my own body. Joan dished out quite a lot of tough love at this stage; she told me to get myself together and not to let my emotions take control in these moments of panic. While I hated her at the time, it was exactly what I needed to hear. I had to focus and concentrate, which I couldn’t do if I was freaking out, and I wouldn’t have been able to rest between contractions without those stern directions from her. Once I got myself under control, she would always say, “Is it over? If it’s over, let it be over.” That helped me to relax and let go in between. I didn’t think about the next one; I just rested my head on Patrick’s chest and closed my eyes.

After maybe an hour of pushing it became clear that we weren’t making any progress and that the baby was stuck on my left side. (Later, after she was born, it would be obvious where she had been stuck; there was a big blister and a scrape on her head all on one spot. Poor baby!) We were again offered an epidural at this point because, as the doctor put it, it would “relax my pelvic floor and help things open up.” When we turned that down, the doctor suggested we try vacuum extraction. I have to admit I was tempted; the idea of the baby shooting out quickly with a quick suck from a Hoover definitely sounded appealing at that point. But the doctor told us that after three unsuccessful attempts with the vacuum, I would automatically be given a C-section. I definitely didn’t want that, so it was back to pushing.

I realized I was just going to have to push harder. I didn’t understand how that could be possible; I thought I was already pushing as hard as I could. But I was amazed to find that I still had reserves of strengththat I could, in fact, push harder. Now I was bound and determined to squeeze the baby out, come hell or high water. At this point Joan had an idea that, in my mind, kind of saved my life. She took a sheet from the linen closet, twisted it into a rope, and told me to pull as hard as I could when the contraction came and it was time to push, and she would pull on the other end, like a tug of war. At first, I didn’t like the ideaas always throughout my labor, I stubbornly wanted to stick to what I was doing, which at that point was using my hands as leverage on the bed when I pushed. But everyone said to just try, so I didand I think that’s what finally pushed the baby out.

Patrick has other opinions about this stage; he felt that he wasn’t holding my leg up high enough and that, once he found a more comfortable way of positioning his arm and gripping me, that’s what helped the baby finally push past that sticking point. Whatever it was, she finally got past the point where she had been stuck and began to move down the birth canal again.

With every push Patrick could see her head getting closer and closer. He tried to get me to feel her head coming downthis is supposed to motivate moms at a time when it’s hard to keep going. But I wanted nothing to do with it. I was having a very hard time concentrating enough to follow the simple steps I had to go through with each contraction: 1) take a deep breath as it started; 2) hold the breath; 3) push like hell with my chin down (and silently, since making noise was a waste of that pushing energy); and 4) let it all go and relax when each contraction ended. Sounds simple enough, but when you’re exhausted and in pain, it’s hard to keep it all straight. All of my energy and focus were going inward, and I really couldn’t think about anything else at that point.

Finally the baby was about to push through! I tried to stop as the contraction ended, but Patrick and Joan both said, “No, keep pushing! There’s no stopping now!” I struggled with one last big push and the baby seemed to shoot out. I was utterly amazed by her size and her flailing arms and legs; how could she possibly be so big, so long, and so gangly? It didn’t seem possible! I truly felt like the queen of the universe; I have never felt so powerful and proud of myself in my whole life. It was truly an amazing feeling.

I heard Patrick saying, “Come on, baby, cry!” and at that moment she let out a yell. They put her up on my chest for a moment, but quickly took her away, I believe because she had excess mucous that they needed to clear (although it was all kind of a blur). I suddenly felt very alone at that moment with Patrick and Natalie and all the nurses hovering over the baby off to the side. It was obvious that I was no longer the center of attention! At that moment I was so glad that my mother was there; she came and stood with me then and held my hand through the painful process of delivering the placenta and being stitched up (I had third degree tearsnot fun). Patrick tried to hold my hand while staying with the baby as well; he was stretched as far as he could be between my bed and that bassinet!

Finally, after what seemed like quite a while, the babyall 8lb 7oz of herwas back in my arms. She latched onto my breast and suckled right away. I was in a state of utter bliss and ecstasy; despite all the pain I was feeling and the trauma of what I had just been through, I have never been that happy in my entire life. Hormones and endorphins are apparently a pretty powerful cocktail; I was in bad shape physically, but nothing could stop the enormous, goofy smile I was sporting. We spent the next few hours listening to some beautiful music and looking in awe at our new beautiful daughter. Welcome to the world, Amelie!

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