(The Birth Story)
A couple of weeks have passed, and I begin to have the requisite distance to make some sense out of the insanity that is childbirth. Here’s how it went down.
We had tidied up our lives and work so that we’d be ready to go with parenthood as soon as Annie was full-term, in mid-March at 38 weeks. Probably because it’s what we’d been cautiously planning around, I rather expected her to arrive early. Disappointment when she didn’t was compounded by 4-5 bouts of prodromal labor, early pains that for a few hours look and feel just like actual early labor, but that don’t accomplish much and that peter out, leaving you with quite the hangover of frustrated anticipation. When I was still a mere 2 cm dilated/60% effaced at my 41-week check-up, we scheduled an induction for 5 days later. It would begin with an overnight dose of Cervadil to soften the cervix while we slept, and then Pitocin would be administered early the next morning to start labor. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but good lord, that baby needed to GTFO.
At about 3 in the afternoon before the induction, I started having contractions. My reaction after all the false alarms: yeah, right. A nurse at my OB practice had told me that if we showed up at the hospital for the Cervadil and I was 3cm dilated and in active labor, they’d just send me home to labor naturally for a while, so we went ahead with our plans. Take-out dinner from a favorite nearby restaurant, the bags we’d packed a month before at ready, Sous away with her regular sitter, and one eye on the contraction timer. By the time we left for the hospital at 7:30, they were coming regularly and getting uncomfortable enough to convince me that it was probably the real thing. We made the drive thinking they would very likely send us home to labor there, that it wasn’t the real drive to the hospital.
But when we were admitted and the nurse checked me out, she said I was still at 2 cm despite the hours of contractions (are you kidding me?!) so they went ahead with the Cervadil. We called our doula. I was required to stay in bed for a couple of hours, so I asked that she come at 11:30 pm, when I’d be able to get up and move around, maybe try all those postures and techniques and whatnot whatnot that we’d learned in our childbirth class. In the meantime, we’d sit tight, maybe grab some sleep. My mom and sister were en route from Dallas, but we told them just to go sleep at our house—we weren’t having this baby until tomorrow.
Things escalated. Contractions got harder and faster. I was stuck on the bed thanks to the suppository next to my cervix, so the best I could do was work on breathing through them. I vomited my dinner into the trash can. I vomited my lunch into a nice sturdy bag labeled “Patient Belongings.” I remember that Bryan was wonderful but not how.
By the time our doula arrived, I was in quite a state. She immediately dimmed the lights, made everything smell good with essential oil diffusers, and took some edge off the pain with athletic hip squeezes. I wanted to get up and move around, but I puked every time I shifted, into every Patient Belongings bag in the room. My contractions were now clustering in threes and fours, and we watched on the monitor as they just rolled into each other, and I hurt, hurt, hurt.
That’s all I remember. Somehow two hours passed. Fog of war.
At 1:30am, we were visited by the very competent and reassuring head nurse, who checked my cervix and found it dilated 5 cm. The Cervadil came out. “Tell me about pain management options,” I said. “Wait. Just give me an epidural.”
Quickly, the anesthesiologist was there, and I was leaning forward, rounding my back, and trying with every fiber to stay still while he threaded a catheter into my spine and my uterus knifed me in the gut.
Then blessed, blessed relief. I was human again, or maybe super-human. By 3:30, we were all tucked into bed in the dark room, Bryan and Nikki the doula on the fold-out couch, me in the hospital bed, hooked up to tubes, watching my contractions on the monitor and being so, so grateful to feel them as pressure rather than pain.
We probably slept for a couple of hours, interrupted by vitals checks and the strange anticipation of the main event still to come, even though the hard part seemed over. My family had arrived just after the epidural was placed, and made the best of the waiting room chairs to try catching some sleep of their own.
I woke up thinking, gosh, what was that crazy thing that happened last night? Oh… The nurse checked me again around 7 and reported, hallelujah!, I was fully dilated and ready to start pushing whenever I felt like it. If I gave it a little more time, though, the contractions would do some work for me to get the baby closer to the exit, plus my regular OB would start her work day and be there for the action. So, feeling a little odd about scheduling such a thing, we decided that we’d start the pushing at 8:30. In the meantime, Bryan and my mom went to grab some breakfast, Nikki the doula and sister Cameron hung out with me and tidied up the room. We chatted. I tried to move around a bit to regain more feeling in my legs, which had become increasingly numb from the epidural as the hours passed.
Right on schedule, and with the help of a new day nurse we liked a lot, I started the pushing. Three pushes, each for a count of ten, while Bryan and Nikki each held up a leg. The second was always my best. Contractions had settled down to about every 5 minutes, so I was able to rest between them. I pictured myself like a doodlebug on its back, curling up with every push. Offered the mirror and a chance to keep an eye on the baby’s head, I looked once and then requested a damp cloth to lay over my eyes, and never looked again. At some point I delighted everyone with facts about Queen Victoria (she had nine children!). I felt rather queenly myself, the center of attention, remorselessly inconveniencing everyone around me.
When the finale neared, my OB was summoned, and she began dousing my bits with olive oil and rubbing it all around the baby’s head during each push. Offered the chance to now touch the baby’s head, I did, found it alarmingly spongy, said, I believe, “ew,” and returned focus to pushing.
We’d been listening to a classic-rock marathon-training playlist of Bryan’s. To the tune of AC/DC’s “TNT” (“Cuz I’m T-N-T, I’m dynamite, T-N-T, and I’ll win the fight.”), little Annie entered the world, first her head with a popping feeling of perineal tears, then shoulders and the rest of her in a second gush. Boom. A huge, gooey baby on my chest, big-eyed and blinking. It was 10:33.
Bryan cut the cord. We goggled at her while a nurse rough-toweled the fluids off and she squirmed her way towards a nipple. Minds were blown. Sweet nothings were murmured.
Meanwhile, things weren’t going so well at the foot of the bed. Words like “hemorrhage” and “transfusion” were thrown around. Medical personnel multiplied. Things were injected into my legs and pushed through my IV. At some point (sooner? later?) glimpses of thick red thread and a powerful tugging sensation indicated I was being sewn up in places I didn’t want to think about. I focused on the baby. Things stabilized. The room quieted. Someone came in and mopped my blood off the floor.
The baby! She was still there. She splayed on my chest, nursing, for more than an hour.