I decided on pizza before I checked into the hospital to deliver my baby. I was scheduled to be at the hospital at 7pm on a stormy evening in late October. After pizza, my husband, mom, and I headed to the delivery ward. The hospital smell reminded me of all of the afternoons I had spent there the last couple of months. My husband and I posed for a picture in front of the “labor and delivery” sign, smiles on our faces.

During my 3rd trimester, I suffered from a rare condition called cholestasis of pregnancy. If you know what that is, you are probably starting to itch in empathy. The way my doctor explained it, it was caused by the way my liver responded to pregnancy hormones. My liver was releasing bile salts into my blood. Surprisingly, this was not much of a health risk for me. It just made me itch ALL THE TIME, mostly when I stopped moving. I had to take children’s Benadryl to sleep every night and slather my body in lotion. Baths helped too, but that was all I could do. I also had to visit the hospital twice a week for nonstress tests and ultrasounds. The scariest part was that this condition could affect my baby. Research shows that if babies go past 37 weeks, there is a high risk for stillbirth.

So here I was checking in at exactly 37 weeks. I was not ready to have a baby, but I would have to be. I was full on greasy pizza, silly pictures were taken, and I was ready to go.

The first 24 hours of my time at the hospital were uneventful. I was given a vaginal suppository to soften my cervix and hopefully get it started dilating. I walked the halls, waving to the nurses on each pass, thinking it would help move things along. I took baths just for fun in the huge spa tub in my room. My husband watched football. It wasn’t working. At some point, they started to give me pitocin. It turned out I was already having small contractions and they couldn’t safely up my dose. I was connected to machines that monitored mine and my baby’s heartbeat.

That evening, my doctor came in ready for action. She hoped I had progressed quicker, but said that I was ready to break my water anyway. The warm release felt calming in contrast to the pain that followed. I had been warned that labor pains can be worse when you’re induced, but I was not ready for this. Contractions came one after another. They made me feel like my lower back would split open. The best way I can describe it is like the worst possible period cramps you could imagine times 100, but they hurt everywhere from my legs to my eyes. They kept knocking me down, just to go away for less than a minute and come back again like a powerful wave. The nurse kept checking my cervix for dilation… it took 3 hours to get almost to a 4–which was the minimum goal before an epidural. Although I had not made up my mind about the epidural beforehand, I was completely ready when the doctor said it was finally an option.

I bent over and gladly welcomed the needle in my back as I clenched through another contraction, trying not to move. Instant relief! Thinking that the night was still young, my husband drank an energy drink. I think it was about 1am, but I had lost track of time. I was so relaxed that I fell asleep! For a couple hours! My mom got comfortable in the recliner and fell asleep, too. The energy drink had been a poor choice for my husband, who tried to get some rest as well. My diligent nurse stayed next to me, monitoring me and the baby and occasionally checking my cervix. By then, I knew that the nurses worked 7-7, and so I fully expected this nurse to be the one to help deliver my baby. I knew my doctor was in the hospital on call. I was ready.

At about 4am, another nurse came in. My current nurse explained that she had to go pick someone up at the airport and that the new nurse was taking over for her. WHAT?! That was not how I had come to peace with the plan. Panic set in for a moment. The new nurse checked my cervix once more and exclaimed, “You’re ready!” I had no control over this.

Despite my hesitation to switch nurses, the replacement nurse ended up being amazing. She asked me if I had taken any birthing classes. I had not. I told her I had taken prenatal yoga and she went with it, having me do yoga breathing between pushes and helping me find the right place to push from. She asked who wanted to hold my leg and my husband gave my mom a look that said, “You?” He took his position near my head and my mom jumped in, being more experienced in this arena.

“How did you meet?” she asked me and my husband between pushes.

“Online!” I replied.

“Really?!?” she exclaimed. Sensing the need to push from the pressure of a painless contraction, I reminded her that it was time to push. I pushed. “I’ve always wanted to do online dating but I’m too scared,” she continued.

This turned into full online dating advice between pushes, including failed date stories and lots of laughter. It must have been close to an hour of pushing before she realized she needed the doctor. “Hold it there!” she said. “He’s coming quickly. No more pushing until the doctor is here.”

My doctor came in soon after and took her position. “You look like you’re doing great!” she said. I really was. She asked me to slow it down a little so I wouldn’t tear, but there was no slowing this baby down. With just a couple more pushes, he was on his way out.

“Do you want to pull him out?” she asked. I had never heard of this.

“Sure,” I said surprising myself.

“Ok, reach down now,” she said, guiding my hands under his little arms, which had just emerged. I literally pulled the rest of his little body out and straight onto my chest. The rest of this story has been told before. The pure joy and amazement of seeing your child for the first time. The realization that this little guy has really been growing inside me. The moment he reached for my husband’s finger, as if he already knew him.

My story was not like I expected. From the itching disease, to the scheduled induction, to the pain wrenching contractions, to the most peaceful, calm, and painless birth I’ve ever heard of, to pulling my baby out myself, I never could have predicted any of it. This experience, along with my life since, have taught me that life as a mom is just plain unexpected. Even if you are the best planner around, these little guys and girls will constantly surprise you and life will change in amazing ways.

– Erin Kinsella