Back to the delivery room

Elissa Levy
17 min readAug 23, 2021


My two birth stories, two years apart

Photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash

March 2018

Around week 36 or 37 of pregnancy, Dr. R. said that I was not at all dilated, but I was very effaced. I had been expecting to deliver late, since I had heard that the majority of first-birth cases are late, but being effaced meant my water might break early. My due date was March 22nd.

On the morning of March 13th, I texted my friend Jessica and told her that I felt nothing happening yet, which meant I was probably not going to have a Pi Day baby. Then, at about 10AM, my water broke while I was teaching 3rd period physics. I called the doctor’s office from the staff bathroom. I told my students I was off to give birth, and they ushered me out with cheers. I texted Jessica that maybe I would have a Pi Day baby after all. Apparently the staff at school had a surprise shower planned for me (and another pregnant teacher) for that afternoon. Before I left school, they gave me Quantum Physics for Babies and Newtonian Physics for Babies. I took a cab to NY Presbyterian Hospital, and I delighted in jokingly telling my mother-in-law J. that I was taking the subway instead of a cab.

The two things that were most important to me going into this process were minimizing pain and making sure I remembered the experience accurately. For the former, I got an epidural and a spinal. For the latter, I made sure to state aloud what I was experiencing at the time so that others and I would remember it. This write-up comes from notes I took within days of giving birth.

At the hospital entrance, I politely asked the people in line whether I could go in front of them because I was in labor. They of course said yes. Security sent me up to the L&D floor. B. arrived shortly thereafter, with our hospital bags. (Note to self: the most useful thing in that hospital bag was a ponytail holder, which was my own idea. No one online was reminding moms-to-be about this essential item.) Triage took forever. At first, they were unsure my water broke, though I was sure it had. The test to detect amniotic fluid kept coming up negative. They did an ultrasound and were not sure whether they saw fluid or not in the uterus. It was difficult for me to move and use the bathroom, and I didn’t like the waiting game. The nurses consulted with the OB on duty, who concluded that my water had probably broken long enough prior that the fluid wasn’t leaking anymore. So it was time to admit me. Then it took another few hours to get me a bed, since I was not a priority because my labor had not progressed very far yet. I had bad cramps and what felt like bad constipation. The fetal monitor machine did a poor job of picking up my contractions, which was not very validating when I felt contractions but the machines didn’t agree. I kept yelling at B. to time my contractions because I somehow thought that the time between contractions would matter. It ended up not mattering. B. was hungry, so he went out and got a spicy chicken sandwich with onions. He got a milkshake for me, but by the time I was going to drink it they told me I could only have clear fluids. I had been eating Doritos before they told me about the clear fluids, so I wasn’t terribly hungry.

I got out of triage around 5PM. They wheeled me into a large delivery room with a beautiful view of lower Manhattan. I noted that this would probably be the last time I would be able to appreciate the view. They kept asking when I wanted an epidural, and I kept saying immediately, because I was already uncomfortable, and I knew that it took awhile for the anesthesia team to arrive. They kept saying I could get the epidural whenever I wanted, but why not wait? Apparently some people get annoyed after the epidural when they can’t get out of bed anymore. For me, I knew the pain relief would be worth it. I went to the bathroom one last time, and, with much effort, I succeeded in having my last pre-delivery bowel movement. (I should tell all my friends to try to take a dump before delivery; it makes things easier.)

The anesthesia team was great. The spinal needle was very, very painful; it was a deep stabbing pain in my lower back, of the sort that I had never experienced before, but they were good at telling me what to expect and when, so it wasn’t terrifying. B. left the room, and Mom held my hand. I had Hart of Dixie going on my iPad, and somehow it became unpaused during the epidural procedure. The iPad was on the sterile side of the bed, so no one could touch it to pause the show again. So we were all listening to it during the procedure. The anesthesiologist noted that I had a very small case of scoliosis, which had not mattered nor crossed my mind in 20 years. The spinal started working nearly right away, and it was magical. I also had an epidural for when the spinal would wear off. This was at 3 cm dilation. Mom went home at 8:30PM.

I was relatively comfortable for a few hours. They gave me pitocin to speed up contractions. They kept increasing the pitocin, and then the baby’s heart rate would fall, and nurses would all rush in to fix it. The first time the nurses rushed in, B. freaked out a bit, but I explained to him that if something were really the matter, they would be wheeling me out of there, because they don’t do C-sections in this room. So I was not worried. Ultimately, they put a heart monitor in the baby’s head by going through my cervix, because it was too difficult to detect his heart rate through the belly monitors. (The monitors were also bad at picking up my contractions.) I really wanted to be on my left side because of numbness with the epidural, but that side was bad for the baby’s heart rate, so I was stuck uncomfortably on my back or my right.

I decided around 11PM or 12AM that I wanted Mom in the room for the very end. B. called her and asked her to drive back into the city. He made it sound like she could come if she wanted to, but I definitively wanted her there. I am very appreciative that she came.

When I was almost fully dilated, they told me to stop pushing the button to release the epidural, so that I could feel the contractions for when I needed to push. By this time, I had on an oxygen mask because of the issues earlier finding the baby’s heart rate. I also had a barf bucket because I kept getting nauseous. (I didn’t throw up during labor, though — a nice treat after nearly daily vomits for my whole pregnancy.) At various points, the oxygen mask and the barf bucket became projectiles aimed at B.’s head. I am glad I had warned B. beforehand I would be mean to him during labor, that he would lovingly try to help me, and that no matter what he did it would be wrong. Ironically, my desire to get rid of the oxygen mask and barf bucket stemmed from the fact that they made me feel suffocated when they were near my face.

So now Mom was back, and the chief resident was around. We talked about the fun of having a Pi Day baby.

When it came time to push, Dr. R. (my own doctor, coincidentally on call that night) came into the room. Dr. R. and the resident talked me through all the breathing and pushing cycles. B., Mom, and the nurse held my legs and upper chest while I pushed. I felt like an athlete with a team of personal trainers coaching and cheering me on. I figured out relatively quickly what “pushing” was. I was proud of myself, because I’d been worried I wouldn’t be able to figure it out. It was much more difficult for me to detect the beginning of a contraction, which was necessary in order to know when to push. I don’t think I really got that down even by the end. Overall, pushing was painful and hard, but easier than I feared — likely because of all the breathing I have done in yoga over the past few years, and the fact that I was not uptight about the process. And also, everyone has a different experience, so some of it is just luck. Apparently I was in the pushing phase for only about an hour, which they said is great. From my end, it felt like only 10 or 15 minutes. The most difficult things about pushing were (a) the intense pain that materially worsened when they made me sit out a contraction to rest, and (b) not knowing how long I would be going at it.

The actual pushing / giving birth part was excruciating, but I was glad to discover that the sensations of labor (for me, at least) were all sensations I had previously experienced. I was afraid that I would feel a pain I had never felt before and couldn’t imagine. Instead, it felt like the worst period ever at the same time as really bad constipation cramps. It totally sucked, but it wasn’t as terrifying as I had feared.

I also really enjoyed that they had a mirror by my feet so I could watch what was happening down there. I remember asking for my glasses so that I could see the mirror more clearly. It was so cool. Back in 12th grade, I had missed health class on the day they showed the birthing video. I had never Googled it myself, and so the first dilated vagina I ever saw was my own. Toward the very end of my labor, they moved the mirror away because it was in the way. I was sad that I wouldn’t get to see the baby come out, but I ended up closing my eyes for the last few pushes, anyway. (I remember during the pushing that Mom asked whether I wasn’t supposed to close my eyes because they might get bloodshot, and the doctor said that’s not a thing anymore.)

As soon as H. came out, the first thing I wanted to know was whether he had hair. He did, lots! Somehow that was more important to me in the moment than whether it was a boy or girl, or whether it was breathing. I guess I assumed that the kid would be breathing, because most first world births in top-notch hospitals turn out fine, and if there were a real problem, then the mood in the room would be different. B. said later that he freaked out because the baby didn’t start crying right away. He didn’t know (and neither did I, for that matter), that it takes a few moments. Before they cleaned the baby or did anything else, they put bloody H. on my belly, and B. cut the cord. I thought at the time that the baby was lankier and skinnier than I expected, and that his texture looked like those shiny plastic dolls they use for just-born babies in movies. It was a surprise to have him plopped on me all dirty like that. I was relieved that the baby was out. I got a bit choked up, but surprisingly didn’t cry. I was told that he was a boy, which meant that my gender prediction was correct and B./Mom/J. were wrong, though baby gender guesses are all just random predictions, as silly as predicting the flip of a coin.

H. was 6 lbs 5 oz. They didn’t measure his length until the next day, supposedly so he could stretch out a bit first. He was born at 2:34AM. I was hoping for 1:59AM because of pi (3.14159…), but you can’t have it all.

I kept asking what I was supposed to do to deliver the placenta. Was I supposed to push again? They said no, and they massaged the placenta out and stitched me up. I had torn my perineal area delivering H. Mom tied Dr. R.’s surgical gown behind her. The doctor was confused because she could see everyone in the room and didn’t know who was doing it, but then she realized it was Mom. The stitches were uncomfortable, and I whimpered as they stitched, but I had recently experienced worse. I announced for the record, before oxytocin-induced amnesia could set in, that I was willing to revisit this whole escapade one more time — but only once.

August 2020

It was Saturday, August 29. My due date was in two weeks (September 12). It’d been a rough pregnancy, with near-daily vomiting the whole time, and tons of aches and pains. I slept all morning while B. played with H. It was necessary since I’d had insane insomnia for a couple weeks at that point (literally not falling asleep at all until 5–6AM most nights).

I felt worse than usual, and the pain woke me up briefly around 11AM. Then I really started feeling worse around 12–1PM. It was not periodic but rather constant, like the way it is for me when I have a bad period. I called Dr. R.’s office. She called back and said to come in and be prepared to deliver; it’s worth at least getting checked out. She didn’t seem to think this was false labor. I wasn’t sure, because last time my labor began because my water broke, and I never really figured out what’s a contraction and what isn’t.

B. was not yet fully packed. H. was napping. We called E. and C. so they could come upstairs and watch H. while he napped, before my mother could come pick H. up. B. finished packing his bag. B. and I both showered and dressed. I made sure to put my hair up, because I didn’t want sweaty hair all over me during delivery. And then we were out the door. I feared that it’d be hard to hail a cab on the street during the pandemic, but we found a taxi on Broadway pretty quickly. The worst part of the cab ride was when we were in the right lane on the West Side Highway. Every time we hit one of those sewer grates on the right side, it just made all the pain so much worse. Those sewer grates are about 20 feet apart for a good stretch of the highway, unfortunately. I ate a frosted PopTart in the taxi even though I wasn’t hungry, because I remembered last time when I really wanted to eat in triage but they only allow clear fluids once you’re inside.

When we got to the hospital, B. brought me up to the 10th floor and then went back down to get a badge from security. They did intake, and then when I got a bed in triage they called B. to come up and join me. A few months before, at the start of the pandemic, B. would not have been allowed up at all. I asked my triage nurse K. if I needed to wear a surgical mask instead of my cloth mask, and she said, “Yeah, probably.” I said, “You can never be in too much pain to think about safety.” She laughed. It turned out later that I was wrong.

I peed in a cup, and I swear it wasn’t more than 5 mL of dark urine. I knew I needed to drink water, so I made that a priority. As I sat in triage, the contractions rapidly worsened and became more periodic. They were coming every 5–10 mins. I asked B. to time them, and then I yelled at him when I found out that every time a new one started, he just restarted his stopwatch timer without actually checking how much time had elapsed — which totally defeated the point. The other thing that really sucked in triage was the Covid test (nasal swab). It was one of those cases where medical professionals tell you it’ll be “a bit uncomfortable” when they should just say “really painful.” Fortunately, the Covid test came back negative. We’re still not sure why they didn’t test B.

Dr. R. was still on duty, but was toward the end of her shift. She came by when I was in pain, and I was in no mood to be friendly. She said she was glad I came into the hospital and didn’t dally! I was already 4–5 cm dilated when they first examined me. They asked if I was going to want an epidural, and I said, “yes,” as emphatically as I possibly could. B. confirmed later that I’d made my point sufficiently clearly.

They said a delivery room was ready for me, although it took awhile to actually get wheeled there. Once there, B. and nurse S. held my hands through the contractions I endured while awaiting the epidural. Those contractions were HORRIBLE. I screamed “fuck” a lot. Really a lot. Loudly. I kind of hoped the whole hospital could hear, to increase the waves of sympathy coming my way. The contraction pains were in my hips, pelvis, and lower back. I felt like I needed to change position, but I couldn’t move. I felt like I needed to poop and couldn’t, but I’d had a bowel movement earlier that morning (which was good; I’d learned from the last baby that it’s helpful to crap before delivery). So I was pretty sure that the constipation sensation was just part of labor pains. After each contraction, I feared I could handle no more, and the prospect of more contractions made me start to cry. S. showed B. how to push on my hips during a contraction, and I told her afterward that thank you, it helped but I secretly think it didn’t help. And it probably contributed to my postpartum hip soreness.

The epidural needle hurt WAY less than last time, and the epidural worked like magic. I was comfortable for a while. The nurses kept asking if I needed anything, and I was like, “Nope, I’ll never need anything again, as long as I have this epidural.” They said when I feel pressure, when I feel like it’s time to start pushing, they’ll call the doctor. I said there was pressure, and Dr. A. came and said I was dilated 9cm. She broke my water and saw meconium. She said there’s a risk the baby will swallow it during delivery (not a risk within the uterus), so they’ll have peds in the room when I deliver, to make sure all is well. The doctor wasn’t back again for another hour or more. S. said it was because they were in surgery doing a C-section, implying with her voice that she knows you’re not supposed to tell a patient when someone else’s procedure is keeping them waiting. I said that made sense; I wasn’t a priority at the moment with my epidural and consequent relative bliss. Then I started to feel my contractions more strongly despite the epidural, though it was still much more tolerable than before the epidural. The nurse (a new one by now; S.’s shift had ended) said I can keep my epidural strength (or even ask for more, which I didn’t) as long as I could feel my contractions in order to be ready to push.

Finally, the doctor came back and said I could push. I did a “test run” to see how fast I’d be. She said I was a good pusher, so let’s get in gear. For each contraction, I pushed 3 times for 10 seconds each with my breath held. B. held my right leg, and the nurse held my left. B. kept forgetting to put my foot down between contractions, which I found annoying and also endearing. Unlike when I was giving birth to H., this time they didn’t push the mirror away when we got close to the end. I presume this is because I was in better spirits and they could tell how much I loved watching myself give birth. It was also cool to get feedback: the more I pushed, the more of the baby’s head I could see. I’d been commenting earlier about how the darkened TV screen in the room was a mirror during my pelvic exams, and the nurse had said that other patients get creeped out by it.

B. texted my mother just before 8:30PM to say that I was going to start pushing, and the baby was out (according to the doctor) at 8:37. During pushing, I had to exert myself of course, but it really wasn’t painful. In the mirror, I got to see the baby’s head (dark hair, just like H.’s), and I watched the two doctors (I think A. and A.) keep putting “hair gel” (their term) on it. Someone was blocking the mirror when the baby actually came out. I was given to more skin-to-skin than last time, and they wiped down the baby and put him under my hospital gown so that I had an actual human on my chest instead of a bloody octopus (which is what H. had felt like). I let the hospital staff know C.’s name (they’d asked), and I got to talk to C. for a bit and welcome him to the world. I cried a bit. Then they massaged the placenta out and showed it to me at my request. I even got to watch in the mirror as they stitched me up. (They were surprised I wanted to watch that.) They pointed out where my cervix was receding. B. cut the umbilical cord.

I’d been consuming a lot of fluids to make up for my dehydration earlier. The nurses needed to relieve my bladder a few times in the delivery room. Before moving to the floor, I asked the nurse to relieve my bladder again, and she seemed surprised because she’d done it about an hour before. But she did it anyway, and I filled the bag.

They took C.’s weight in grams, and then told us it was 6lb 8oz in English units. Later they said it was 6lb 8.8oz. So I decided to round that to 9oz when telling people the birth weight. We were in delivery room #9. Within an hour or two, I was moved to my room on the 5th floor, #513. The floor nurse (A., my nurse both nights) was shocked at my mobility so soon after delivery; I freaked her out with the speed that I moved over from stretcher to bed. I felt good after being so incapacitated with pain only hours before. I told A. that my #1 priority was to pee, and #2 was to eat solid food. I couldn’t wait to open that bag of Doritos. I had craved Doritos when in labor with H., and was annoyed in triage in 2018 when I found out I was on “clear fluids only” and had to stop eating them. We have pictures of both newborns next to a big bag of Cool Ranch. I still don’t know why they switched it from “Cooler.” Shouldn’t the progression have been to “Coolest Ranch”?

Because of the pandemic, B. couldn’t leave and others couldn’t come visit. B. had brought himself some Clif bars and bananas, and really didn’t eat enough when I was in the hospital. They delivered 2 sets of every meal, but most of it was not B. friendly food, and I was pretty hungry, so I just ate both meals most of the time. I couldn’t find the fruit snacks we’d packed, which made me sad. I later discovered they were in my purse the whole time. I’d blamed B. for failing to pack them, of course. So I apologized for that.

The hospital stay was uneventful compared to when we had H. I knew what to expect, and I had enough energy to do things like the birth certificate form. I watched a lot of Two and a Half Men, Golden Girls, and King of Queens on TV Land. During the day (August 30), very little happened. My nurse (N.?) was pretty MIA, and I didn’t get examined by a doctor or see the lactation consultant we asked for. They didn’t get the circumcision in, either. We did all those things on August 31 before discharge. My nurse on August 31 was C., whom I remembered from H.’s birth. She’s the one who taught us the burrito wrap for swaddling, and she’s the one who happily took H. for 3 hours my second night in 2018 when I was going crazy with his crying.

I don’t think Covid materially impacted my experience, with the exception of no visitors, and B. being unable to leave and come back. Everyone who came into my room had a face mask, and many had shields too. B. and I put on our masks whenever someone came into the room. The staff I spoke with said things are a lot less scary now that they test patients when they arrive, and they understand a lot more about Covid.

Mom drove to the hospital with a napping H. in the backseat. We knew the discharge paperwork was done but didn’t know how long it would take to actually get out of the hospital. I was packed and ready to go, and they’d called transport. And we waited. I had B. check on timing, and it turned out no one from transport picked up the call. C. brought me downstairs and got to see the H. that she’d held in her arms 2.5 years before. B., H., and C. squeezed in the backseat of Mom’s car, and we drove home to our apartment.

I’m pretty confident my family is now complete. I have no plans to re-enter that delivery ward for a third time.



Elissa Levy

I teach physics in Virginia and facilitate workshops nationally. I aim to engage.