I would apologize profusely for not posting lately, but frankly I feel I have a good excuse. And I actually did start working on this particular post on Tuesday, but things just have a way of … I dunno, happening around here the last few weeks.
So instead I’ll apologize profusely for how looooong this birth story is. Some people expressed an interest in reading it, though, and I am just too tired to write a more succinct version when I have this written out for Butterfly’s journal already.
I also apologize for the rather bi-polar shifts in tone. This was written in bits and pieces and at different stages of exhaustion.
Without further ado: The Birth.
It was Thursday, February 10th, and I had been having contractions on and off since the Friday before. Nothing very intense, mind you, but enough to be continually keeping DB home from work for fear that if he drove the hour away he might not be able to get home to me in a timely manner. I had a regular check-up scheduled with my OB’s partner Dr. Kidder that day since, of course, my own doctor was out of town. I remember with surprising clarity when the first contraction came: It was one o’clock, we were in the process of dropping the older kids off at my folks’ house, and my mother had just asked if I had had any contractions that day. I answered, probably with clear disappointment, “Nope. Not really,” then had to immediately change it to, “Oh, well, there’s one now, anyway.”
It was the same sort of contraction that had been coming around to visit all week long, though, so I welcomed it warmly and then promptly ignored it and any succeeding contractions.
My appointment being around 2:30, we got to see the doctor around four. This OB seemed nice enough; younger than my doctor. But he laughed with good humor when I referred to myself as a birthing Jedi, so I was willing to give him a chance. He worked his way further into my good graces when I asked him about the possibility of getting a heplock if he were supervising my labor instead of an open IV and he replied with a shrug, “I don’t see why not. Women have been doing this for thousands of years and as long as nothing’s going wrong I see no reason to interfere.”
Ah, I though contentedly. A man after my own heart. Thank goodness. After all the time and effort I had put into picking an OB who wouldn’t fight me about being drug free, I would have been rather put out at having to throw down the gauntlet with some random guy who thought he was in charge of my body all the sudden.
Not that it mattered, I reminded myself, since labor still seemed a long way off. Which was why, as Dr. Kidder prepared to do a check, I requested that he go ahead and sweep my membranes.
“Well,” he replied evenly, “sure, if your body is ready for it. But you’ll have to be dilated a bit before we can go there.”
Since I hadn’t been dilated at all the last time I had been checked (Sunday), I prepared myself to hear that I was maybe a fingertip and sweeping the membranes was off the table. What I heard instead was, “Hm. You’re a 4 already.” There was an odd shuffling sensation and then, “I swept your membranes, but I doubt you needed it.”
DB and I exchanged looks. I have a history of extremely fast labors upon reaching a four or a five–fast as in, the baby arrives within the hour. Ozark (where we live) and Springfield (where the hospital lives) are only 20 minutes from each other, but that suddenly sounded like a long way to travel. And as it happened, and against all likelihood, we had left the girls’ overnight bag with them and brought the hospital bag with us, mostly because we knew that if we didn’t bring it we would end up wanting it.
Given the evidence, we decided that hanging out in Springfield for a couple of hours wouldn’t do us any harm. We would go and get some dinner, walk the mall for a little while, and see where that put us.
First, though, we had to arrange a drop-off with my dad since, despite our planning, we had forgotten to leave the kids’ car seats with my parents. It was while we sat in a parking lot full of hardened chunks of road-blackened snow, waiting for my dad to show, that the contractions… well, I would say returned, except I’m not sure if they ever went away. It’s more like they started bouncing up and down a bit, maybe tentatively waving a hand in the air to try and get some more attention.
“Huh,” I told DB. “Maybe this membrane thing really does work.” He asked me what I wanted to do at this point, and I replied that I was starving and the idea of nothing but ice chips and water for the next who-knew-how-long if I DID end up at the hospital was not appealing. Car seats duly handed over, we headed to Panera bread (complex carbs=helpful for labor; besides, who doesn’t love a bread bowl of cheesy broccoli soup?) and by the time Dev brought our food to the table, I was timing contractions with my cell phone.
We enjoyed our food, however, with minimum interruptions and, after texting with Beth, our doula, a few times, decided to head over to the hospital. We settled into triage around six, found I hadn’t progressed any, then sat back to wait. Beth joined us shortly after, and by the time 8 o’clock rolled around, the nurse announced that the doctor wanted to keep me despite the fact that I was still a four and around 70% effaced. She also added that the doctor would be in in about an hour to break my water. The look on her face when I replied that thanks all the same, I didn’t feel I was ready to have my water broken, I would much rather just walk around for awhile was priceless. Bless her heart. I was, frankly, a bit startled myself–I wasn’t quite sure that when it came down to it, I would be able to stand up for what I wanted. Who knew I could be so self-possessed?
Within half an hour, we had the doctor’s approval for walking, showering, the heplock, and he had apparently taken my decision about the water breaking with good grace and simply sent the message that if I changed my mind to just let him know.
By 9 o’clock, after the baby had been monitored for a bit and the heplock installed, we found I was dilated to a 6 but hadn’t effaced any further. We had a darling nurse named Annie now that we were actually on the L&D floor; this was a nurse who actually wants to train as a doula. This was great news, since people who think a doula is a grand sort of thing are generally on board with a drug-free labor. Annie was very helpful, sweet, informative, patient, and very excited to participate in something that apparently isn’t seen very often, according to her.
The next several hours were quite pleasant. DB, Beth, and I spent time walking the halls and chatting, or else I sat on the yoga ball while one or the other of them gave me a massage. There was a never-ending flow of ice chips to be had, and Annie and Dr. Kidder pretty much left us to our own devices aside from the mandatory 20 minutes of monitoring per hour.
Around midnight, I decided to lie down for a few minutes and try to catch some sleep. Within moments of settling in comfortably, a new sensation set in: nausea, followed closely by the shakes.
“Transition,” said Beth with a knowing smile.
I smiled back from my new position on the yoga ball (does anyone else find it impossible to drop off when the threat of puke hangs over their head?), figuring that the nap could wait another six months or so; I was ready.
Despite, however, the renewed intensity of the contractions and the nausea (something brought swiftly under control by Beth with her lavender oils and massage), by one o’clock I still hadn’t effaced anymore and had been at a seven for a couple of hours. I was getting tired–not worn out from labor tired, but I-haven’t-been-up-this-late-in-ages tired–and Dr. Kidder wanted to see me.
While we were waiting for him, Annie explained that he was probably going to ask about breaking my water again and I ought to think about what I wanted to do. She told me that, in her opinion, the reason I hadn’t effaced anymore was because my bag of waters was still intact and that having my water broken at this point would probably do little but speed the process along by applying more pressure to my cervix. Dr. Kidder appeared, cheerful despite the hour, and made similar comments, then asked what I thought. He, the nurse, and Beth all volunteered to step out into the hallway while Dev and I made a decision. (So nice that everyone was so courteous! Usually my experience has been that the doctor tries to stare you down until you have an answer.) I told DB that I felt my body was ready for this particular move, and that I was worried that if we didn’t get things moving along, I would be too sleepless to push when the time came. Since DB’s philosophy is basically “her body=her decision,” we agreed quickly and brought everyone back in to let them know.
Shortly after Dr. Kidder broke my water, the tenor of my contractions changed again. They moved from politely requesting that I pay attention to jumping up and down, shouting, screaming, waving their arms, and otherwise generally making a nuisance of themselves.
It didn’t take long for this to become entirely unpleasant.
DB swears I never raised my voice above a conversational tone–news to me! My body reflects my personality: When it gets excited about something, it throws itself in headfirst. It was so excited about these new, intense contractions that it came up with a new plan without even consulting me. Forget one contraction at a time, it decided. We’re is as tough as woodpecker lips. Carolynn would be insulted if she wasn’t throw multiple contractions at a time. As it is, the 30 second break we’re getting after the three or four contractions is probably pushing it.
Next time, I think I’ll get my body’s plan in writing ahead of time.
Sometime around two, my body got bored with the contraction thing and decided it was time to push. No no!exclaimed Nurse Annie and Dr. Kidder in chorus. You’re only 9. DON’T push!
I thought that was the silliest thing I had ever heard. Despite Dr. Kidder’s assurances that pushing now would lead to tears in my cervix, I was determined that I was going to push right then and nothing was going to stop me.
So, without telling anyone, I tried an experimental push. …I had never known exactly where my cervix was before that moment, but the pain made a great little marker for me. I doubt I will ever forget again. I stopped pushing. I hadn’t done any damage (fortunately), but I also hadn’t finished dilating (which had, after all, been my goal).
My bored body kept insisting on pushing. I kept holding back. Dr. Kidder kept checking for that last little bit of cervix to get outta the way. I threw up a few times. Beth told me I was amazing. DB risked life and limb to remind me to breathe, helping me stay calm and manage what I was experiencing.
Life was good.
Finally, just before 2:30 a.m., Dr. Kidder pronounced my cervix officially fully dilated.
So I pushed. And I pushed with a very clear purpose: Get the kid out. This had become my all-consuming purpose.
Oddly, what I remember most at that moment was the look on Beth’s face after the first push. I realized later that the giddy, awed look on her face was apparently there because I had gotten the baby almost all the way down with that first push.
No one told me when to push, or for how long. There was no counting. I just pushed when I felt like it, as long as I felt like it, and breathed like there was no tomorrow.
After six pushes, out she came.
She was so, so beautiful.
Covered in white vernix, already sucking on her fingers. They placed her on my chest and I realized I had done it.
She is perfect.
My body is She-Ra.
It was an intense, overwhelming, all-consuming, at times frightening, incredibly powerful experience.
Which, of course, begs the question: Will I do it again?
Frankly, I don’t know. But this is what I do know–everyone who told me that recovery is a zillion times faster with a drug-free birth was right. I was up and walking around pretty much as soon as everything was cleaned up. Aside from after-birth pains (monstrous menstrual cramps, essentially), my hospital stay and the days following were wonderfully uneventful in the pain department. So that was fantastic.
I also know that, so far, I’m not fighting PPD. I have in the past, and am so grateful that it seems I’m not going there again.
Most importantly, I know that this has forever changed my view of my body. When I got a good look at it for the first time after giving birth, I waited to feel the usual disgust with my post-baby belly hanging all over the place, with my face swollen with water retention. I waited for the urge to track down every last stretch mark and threaten it to go away. I waited, essentially, for my mind to start telling my body that while the baby thing was all well and good, it was time to start getting it together.
But you know what? I’ve given up waiting. It’s not coming. All I feel when I see my body is awe. I’ve tried for years to cultivate that attitude within myself, and it turns out that all I needed was 8.5 hours of drug-free labor to teach me to love my body.
I may have given Mary a gift by bringing her here, but she gave me a gift I can only hope to pass back to her as she grows.
So, was it worth it?