[Three days old.]
[One week with wide-open eyes.]
My mom arrived on Thursday and we all spent the next couple days hanging around staring at my belly and waiting for me to go off. Saturday night, I finally did. Except I sort of didn’t realize it. Read on (if you dare–and I’m serious here) for a lengthy tale of denial, bodily fluids, unmedicated birth, the word “unpleasant,” and did I mention denial?
My eyes popped open around 1am when I got a weird Braxton-Hicks contraction (these are bizarre non-productive, non-painful uterine contractions that usually occur throughout a pregnancy; I had been feeling them since 24 weeks or so). This one was weird in that it was the first I’d had that was actually painful. This made me thoughtful; I had heard talk of “painful Braxton-Hicks” being possible signs of early labor. I got another contraction; this made me grimace. I decided that I’d be proactive and practice my pain-management techniques by breathing calmly and counting seconds through the contractions (I had not read about counting seconds in the books but I was feeling inventive; also, we don’t have a clock in the bedroom so I couldn’t time anything). For everyone’s information (and because this was all I thought about the next several hours), my contractions lasted 45-65 seconds with pain crescendoing from 5-10 seconds, full bore strength until 35 seconds, then decreasing until the end. Between them I was mostly pain free aside from much lumping around of the baby, which was mildly uncomfortable but I was happy to have such strong movement to keep me company.
In addition to counting off contractions, I passed the time by lurching my way back and forth to the bathroom to pee. This was a labor governed by what I had read in books and online labor stories–an embarrassingly large amount–and what the stories had told me over and over again was that often a women’s body takes charge during pre-labor and rapidly and thoroughly voids the bowels. Probably this is an attempt to save the woman the embarrassment and drama of pooping during delivery (in front of all those people oh god!); really a thoughtful gesture, I think. I scrutinized my time on the toilet for any sign of this happening to me but sadly, no. I gave it a valiant effort, making easily fifty trips that night. I chalked it up to not being in “real” labor, or not yet at least.
Another chalk mark against “real labor” was this: the pain was not what I expected labor to feel like. I imagined a deadly thrashing pain centered right around my cervix as the baby’s head battered its way through. In addition to this, there would be an excruciating and radiating back pain (I did have back pain toward early morning, but it wasn’t so bad) and “cramps times a million” which I wasn’t sure what that would feel like but it smacked of an unpleasantness I didn’t feel I was experiencing. What I did feel was akin to a horrifying stomach ache, like what you might feel if you ate rancid chicken. Off the street. Perhaps a Jakarta street, or rather gutter, during monsoon season… I knew for a fact that my actual stomach had taken refuge somewhere up under my armpit during the previous months yet this pain was centered right in the middle of my belly. Every once and a while I would get a stabbing feeling in my cervix and would think, “Uh oh, THAT THERE is IT.. This is going to get BAD.” Then I would go single-mindedly back to counting and breathing because that’s the one thing they all tell you to do: breathe. People’s whacked-out breathing theories range from “butterfly breaths” to deep hypnotic breathing to normal breathing to panting like a goat (that from my mom, folks). Personally, from all the books I read, my impression on the whole breathing strategy is that intake of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide is the part that matters; however you can accomplish this is pretty much up to you. I just breathed as normally as possible (in two seconds, out two seconds; what, that’s not normal? I was on a very rigid schedule with my whole counting routine). In general, I think my anticipation and great fear of The Much Worse Pain kept what I was actually feeling in check. I hurt, but I knew for a fact it was going to get so much worse and I had better learn to deal with what I had.
I kept this up all night, contracting and not sleeping; at around 6am, I got up for my millionth bathroom lurch and found I couldn’t pee. Huh; yet, nothing. I went back to bed and thought about this new development. I had never read anything at all about something like this before. I was really thirsty though since I hadn’t had anything to drink since before going to bed, I decided I was dehydrated. Contractions seemed to be quite frequent too and I mentally erased one of my “not in labor” chalk-marks. Maybe I was actually in early labor after all! Finally I got up and went to the kitchen for water. My mom greeted me and asked how I was doing, I said something about not having slept and that I felt kind of bad. She said brightly, “Well, maybe something is starting!” Funny, I had just been thinking exactly that for the past eight hours.
I gulped down 20oz of water between one contraction, hung from the door jamb in the kitchen and then drank another 10oz before the next could hit. My brilliant strategy was that I would FORCE my bladder to empty goddamnit, even if it meant another twenty bathroom trips before it was over. My mom at this point was giving me a curious look; “You don’t look so good,” she said. I closed myself back into the dark bedroom before she could tell me about the goats again and tried to distract myself with sitting upright and the internet. I also started to write down the time at each contraction beginning; they were consistently three minutes, start to start. Everything I had read said that consistent five-minute contractions is a sign of active labor, to say nothing of three-minute contractions. My bedraggled brain reasoned that this could not be right and I decided that my full bladder was irritating the uterus, causing abnormally frequent contractions. To my increasing chagrin, the water-drinking theory was not panning out. I simply had to pee worse and still nothing was coming out. In addition, the mere act of sitting on the toilet brought on a strong unscheduled contraction and instead of being able to relax and pee, I felt like I had to push badly and this was NOT a pleasant feeling. I worried that 1) my bladder would pop, and 2) if my cervix was dilating at all, pushing would cause it to swell and labor would take 30 hours and I’d end up with a C-section so I tried not to push. And folks, not pushing when you have to push is really hard. I basically inhaled until my lungs couldn’t take any more and then requisitioned my spleen and possibly one of my kidneys as a spare air reserve and inhaled some more. As the contraction subsided, I coughed all the air out. Horrible. So much for peeing.
By maybe 10am, I was questioning my sanity with regard to the 30oz of water; what a dumbass idea THAT was. I was really in pain (but probably, you know, not real labor pain). My mom had been dressed for over an hour and was pacing back and forth outside the bedroom door. Both she and Joshua kept suggesting that maybe I should call the doctor or the hospital or, who knows, maybe even we could GO to the hospital… I resisted because I knew they would send me home or else I would only be 3cm dilated and they would keep me there. I’d go into real labor and wouldn’t progress properly and I’d end up with a C-section. I went to the kitchen and scarfed down some yogurt; I had suddenly gotten hit with a low blood sugar fit. I dumped on extra maple syrup in an attempt to make myself feel better but instead only succeeded in making myself feel nauseas. I got in the shower thinking maybe this would help; it didn’t. All those books LIED. Happily, I managed not to barf in the shower, got out, and dressed myself.
Finally I cracked and couldn’t stand it anymore. I allowed Joshua to call the L&D ward to ask for advise; maybe they had some brilliant wisdom and insight on how to pee that I had somehow not stumbled upon in my 34 years. Joshua handed me the phone and a nice voice said something like, “Honey, why don’t you just come on in?”
Mom put my socks on between contractions and tied my shoes; Joshua ran around gathering stuff we might need at the hospital in case they admitted us. 39 weeks and 6 days pregnant and I still hadn’t really packed my hospital bag. By the time we got out to the car we had three bags of miscellaneous crap.
The drive, although maybe an eight-minute one, was supremely unpleasant. I hover-lifted my body with my head on the seatrest so I didn’t have to put any pressure anywhere between neck and ankles. Finally we made it and headed for the parking garage elevator. I was worried they’d whisk me off and give me a C-section if I let Joshua drop me off by myself at the main entrance so I chose to walk from the parking garage instead. We sneaked by the greeting desk in case they thought I was in labor and forced me to ride in a wheelchair and stop-goed our way to the Maternity Ward.
The nurse I talked to on the phone was waiting for me, “Hi! You are Cheyenne, right?”
“Yes, I might be in labor and I need a catheter,” was my response.
She right-this-wayed me down to room 15, gave me one of those lame hospital gowns to put on, and left us for a minute while she went to get what she needed. By the time she returned I hopped sprightly on the bed (the way only a full-term laboring woman can) for what surely would have horrified me to no end in any other situation. The urinary catheter was a very uncomfortable experience, I must say. In the end, the nurse announced that 900ccs came out; this was a shocking amount as I doubt my bladder has held more than 25ccs at a time for over four months. Curiously, the contractions didn’t stop as I thought they would, nor did they decrease in intensity. The nurse said that while she had me prone, she’d just do a quick feel to check the state of my cervix.
Her eyes bugged out: “OH! You are fully dilated! The head is RIGHT THERE!” I felt a little scrubbing-around feeling, like she was sweeping her fingers all around the inside of my pelvis and then my water popped and flooded the bed. I couldn’t even believe it. Neither could she. I asked her a couple of times if she was absolutely sure and then I asked if the water was clear (i.e., no blood or meconium) because, you know, the books all said you were supposed to check such things if your water broke. Trust in the books! Water was fine. Baby was still squirming. I got up off the table to deal with the coming contractions.
The nurse amped up into high gear vroom vroom, attached the fetal monitors, and left me to hang off the side of the bedrail. She told me I could actually start pushing a little at any time if I felt like it, and then she squeaked off to rally the troops.
Being fully dilated meant I wasn’t going home. Oh my god! Being given the green light to push meant I was almost done and I had been in real labor this whole time after all. OH MY GOD!! I gave a tentative push to test things out (I was determined to NOT push until I felt the “overwhelming urge” like all the books said; push too early and you run the risk of cervical swelling and a world of hurt). I didn’t have any overwhelming urge to push but once I tried, I felt it. Not the urge, but a large round thing, possibly a softball, shifting fretfully inside my pelvis. And I decided in that moment that I did not like pushing at all. How many times had I read birth stories where women gushed on about how the “pushing was the best part” “what a relief!” “pushing felt fantastic!” LIARS. Pushing SUCKED. I started to feel a little despair at my predicament.
“The biggest shit of your life,” is a most eloquent way many women describe the sensation of pushing a baby’s head through your birth canal and with this, I must agree. I hoped fervently it was indeed a head and not a large poop. The nurse was also right–the head really was RIGHT THERE. Sadly, it was also clear that it was not going to be easy getting it out.
The nurse came back and I was still hanging from the bedrail; she suggested I might be more comfortable up on the bed but I was having none of it. I feared the bed. They would make me lie on my back and then my pelvis would compress and I’d be working against gravity and then I’d have to have a C-section. FUCK THAT! I was happy to stay put, my ass inches from the towel thoughtfully placed on the floor to catch all the amniotic fluid still dripping out of me.
Room 15 began to get busy. The on-call doctor arrived (there was no way my doctor would make it in time so Dr. Maxine Bauer attended). The nurse continued to zing around checking monitors and such. Things were wheeled in (bassinet/warming table, etc.) and soon there were probably 6 or 7 people rushing around. Finally they coaxed me up onto the bed and I sort of reclined onto my side. I had two people holding my legs, Joshua at my head, the doctor at the end, and a couple of random younger nurses standing around. Everyone was staring at my crotch. And strangely, I really didn’t care. The doctor gave me instructions on the best way to push, the nurse at one leg gave me her opinion on the matter, my mom at the other leg added her two cents, the cheerleader nurse-girls (seriously, I don’t know who they were but they just stood at the foot of the bed bubbling with excitement) cheered me on, and Joshua kept the sanity by giving me progress reports as to what was happening really.
I started to push, sort of. I was still fearful and gave it only maybe 75% of my strength; basically I was procrastinating and ignoring all the advice and directions. I was freaking a little and having a really hard time forcing myself to really commit to the pushing. It still felt like Impending Doom and the feeling of dread was not improving as the head moved. The overwhelming urge thing wasn’t happening either; seriously, I think sitting on the toilet trying to pee at home was more intense. I was worried something was wrong possibly but really it was clear nothing was; the baby’s heartrate was “great” they all told me and contractions were still three minutes apart–this means one minute duration and two minutes rest, repeat. The only problem was I was getting tired. So I started to really push.
This is when I began to feel the burning (this means the head was forcing open the perineum and actually emerging from my body–I had, ahem, read about this) and while this was definitely unpleasant, the far more uncomfortable sensation was the feeling of something incredibly large really moving through the inside of my pelvis. The feeling was intensely creepy actually. By now I was getting irritable and the nurse was annoying the shit out of me with her helpful suggestions–she was one of those matronly nurses who spoke to me in that patronizingly sweet way that you would use to try to reason with a five-year-old. I pretty much ignored her. The doctor kept mostly to herself but it was clear that everyone (except Joshua) wanted me on my back; the side-lying thing was not working for them. I was still highly resistant but just so tired of listening to them trying to reason with me that I shifted a little bit over.
I don’t know if being on my back made it more difficult or not. There was no other obvious alternative, position-wise and I didn’t think I could move very much anyway without feeling like my body would totally freak out and suck the entire baby right back into my uterus. I was pretty pissed about the whole back-lying thing and Joshua was too but every time I tried to figure out a better strategy, another contraction would come and I’d have to push.
In all I pushed through maybe 13 contractions once I acquiesced to lying on the bed, so she was out in ~45 minutes. The pushing continued to be super unpleasant, compounded by the fact that it felt like nothing was happening for so long. I would push, feel progress, then she would get sucked back inside during the rest period. It would take the first push of the next round to get back to where I ended last time. The contractions also felt different now, they peaked faster and it seemed I had barely time only for two to three pushes per cycle. It seemed to be taking forever and I think I said something like, “I’m sorry, I’m a terrible pusher.” Everyone laughed.
Toward the end I began getting insanely tired and felt like I could almost sleep during the rest periods. Somehow I managed to summon some neurotic energy and grill the doctor on her third-stage labor management techniques. I didn’t want any shots to help me drop the placenta and I didn’t want any tugging on the cord; I made her assure me she’d let it detach on its own. Then I took a short nap.
The atmosphere in the room morphed from exciting and anticipatory to downright “party.” Everyone began placing bets on size and the exact time she would emerge, the words “full head of hair” was bandied around with enthusiasm, and there was a lot of crotch gazing on everyone’s part but of course my own. The doctor asked if I wanted to touch the head as it was emerging from my body (I was mildly hesitant) and it felt not unlike a slimy water balloon. With every contraction the cheerleaders would jump up and down, “OK this is the one! OMG she is almost out!! You can do it this time!” and I would push and the contraction would end and then I would have to endure the two-year rest with a softball-sized head wedged right in the middle of everything. Not a pretty experience. It seemed like I was hitting a wall at the second push and by the third, I hardly had any energy for any more. At this point, the doctor said that she could do a “tiny episiotomy” (HELL NO!), try a little vacuum suction to help the head through (YOU ARE SHITTING ME RIGHT??), or we could continue as we were (ASK A STUPID QUESTION!). She also said that she felt I was doing fine and there was no need for the other things unless I wanted them. Obviously I opted for not having my vagina cut open with scissors or the baby’s brain vacuumed out her skull thank you very much. What a stupid question.
After about a million years the head crowned (this means the widest part of the head passes through the opening), and the crowd went wild; the cheerleaders jumped up and down, everyone started shouting, Joshua kept telling me, “the head is OUT! the head is OUT!” and the doctor told me to push a couple times more to get the shoulders and body through.
So, everything I read told me that the head is the biggest part, and over and over I read that once the head emerges, one more half-hearted push pretty much takes care of the shoulders and body, which is said to just “slither right out.” What they didn’t mention is that this is the most painful part. At least it was for me. Possibly because the doctor probably stuck her hand in to help guide the shoulder around but suddenly all the force of the baby coming through moved from aft/center to up front, as if she blasted through my urethra instead. And she was a bag of hard lumps, a sack of slimy metal balls and razor blades. It did only take a couple more pushes for the shoulders and body and then she was out. And she began screaming promptly. I kept asking “is she out? is she out?” and she was placed on my now weirdly flaccid and disembodied-feeling belly.
Weirdly I don’t remember so much here except being super paranoid about what would happen next. I was really dizzy and worried and trying to check out this baby I suddenly had in my arms. She screamed and screamed; I didn’t realize they could scream so loud so soon. I took it as a good sign her lungs were in working order. I felt like the doctor and nurses assumed I was in la-la-land gazing into my baby’s eyes and bonding and all the stuff the books say is supposed to happen and could get down to other business without me noticing, so I was afraid they would do something without telling me.
The placenta detached and I gave a half-hearted push and it slithered out. Then things got very busy. The nurses were rushing all around getting IVs set up and another was preparing a shot of Pitocin (synthetic oxytocin–it makes your uterus contract); the doctor told me I was “bleeding a bit” and they were going to try to stop it with an injection. I remember asking where the injection went (in my leg, thankfully). I had an idea they would jam it in my belly all Pulp Fiction style. She was massaging my uterus from the outside and then she told me she was going to apply direct pressure to the uterus and “this will be very uncomfortable.” Then I swear I watched her entire arm disappear inside me and she used her other hand on the outside to shove my uterus over it. It was very uncomfortable. The nurses were also trying to start an IV in my hand in case I didn’t respond to the Pitocin injection soon enough but they seemed unable to find the vein or something. Finally the doctor said I was slowing and they would give me five minutes before trying again with the IV. Happily the shot and fisting worked and I was spared the IV.
I had two tears but the doctor thought I could get by without any stitches if I preferred (you may be able to guess what I preferred). The doctor spent some time going over the placenta and showed it to me; she said it was all there and the only notable thing is it had two smallish sections separate from the main part, each with its own blood supply. She didn’t have any explanation for this, it was just a curiosity. The placenta was also a lot larger and flatter than I thought it would be–like a large dinner plate.
Then it was over. The cheerleaders turned out to be in-training nurses possibly–at least they were low enough on the totem pole to be assigned the glamorous task of cleaning the blood off my ass–and everyone pretty much left us alone. Right before she left, the nurse said, “Well then! I guess I’ll go and start the paperwork to get you admitted!”
And Joshua responded, “Right! Would you like to see our birth plan?”