Oral Hygiene Queen

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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Too Friendly

I don’t want to be at Blockbuster in the first place. I feel guilty, like I’m cheating on my real video store, a wholesome, funky little independent store where you can get the most little-known arthouse titles and the clerk has an intimate knowledge of subgenres of anime and knows the filmography of John Sayles back and forth. But that store is across town, down multiple one-way streets in a neighborhood full of campus bars, where it’s nearly impossible to find parking on a frigid Friday evening in January. If you wind your way there and do manage to find parking, you are sure to find the movie you want, as long as it’s relatively obscure. But if you’re looking for a popular title – say, Little Miss Sunshine – you will be shit out of luck because sorority girls who live just down the street will have snapped up the measly two copies my sweet independent video store has in stock.

And tonight I am trying to rent Little Miss Sunshine.

I’ve been wanting to see this movie since we caught the preview before Wordplay last summer, but its one-week stay in our local arthouse coincided with the Great Babysitter Drought, and somehow we haven’t gotten around to renting it yet. But its buzz has been steadily growing among our friends and acquaintances, and now it’s even gotten several Oscar nods. It’s time to see this movie.

So now I’m at my local Blockbuster, staring down a wall of not ten, not twenty, but a hundred copies of Little Miss Sunshine. For some reason I find this mildly depressing. I grab a copy and head to the register.

All I want to do is give the clerk my $2.50 and hie on home. But she is friendly and wants to bond over my choice of movie.

“This is such a great movie!” yeah that’s what I’ve heard. “Everyone I’ve talked to about it likes it, except one person.” yeah, well. (for lack of anything else to say) there’s always that one person. “I know! And they ruin it for the rest of us.” silence (thinking: no they don’t. I’m perfectly comfortable liking something most other people don’t like, much less one other person.) “Well, you have this ‘til Monday, and with the bad weather coming, I recommend that you stay in and watch it over and over.” (silent.) “It’s that kind of movie! I’ve seen it five times!” (oh my fucking god. now I don’t even want to see the damn thing…)

There was a lot I liked about Little Miss Sunshine. Steve Carrell gave his best performance since Forty Year Old Virgin. The character Olive was impossible not to love, and I found her silent, angsty brother endearing (and, disturbingly, a little hot). The push-starting-the-VW-van gag never got old, and the all-family dance sequence toward the end was pure pleasure. But overall I was disappointed. The whole movie had sort of a bad flavor for me.

Damn you, hyperfriendly Blockbuster clerk.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Big Decision

Ever since the early days of our courtship, my Old Man and I have seen eye to eye on the question of having a family. We agreed that we wanted a child, and we agreed that we might be open to more, but that we’d have to have one before we could make that call. Before I met my man, I thought it was likely that I’d end up wanting two kids, but I couldn’t be sure before I knew what having one was like. I was glad he had a similar attitude. “We’ll have one, then we’ll see.” Very sensible.

We had no idea how hard that “we’ll see” would end up being. I think we both assumed that a decision would emerge: we’d either definitely want another child, or we’d definitely decide one was enough. It hasn’t worked out that way. The conversation about whether to have another child has been ongoing ever since O. was a baby. Every time it comes up, we discover that we are both still ambivalent. Ambivalent is a word that often seems to have a negative connotation, but I mean it in the true sense of the word: ambi – from the Latin for “both,” and valent – from the Latin for “strong.” Feeling both ways, strongly, at once. In many ways, we’d really like to have another child. And in other, equally compelling ways, we want to just stick with O. and enjoy our life as-is.

We travel to the Jersey Shore by car each summer, and every summer since O. was six months old, we’ve had a “big conversation” about the 2nd child question. There’s nothing like a 15-hour car ride to give you the chance to chew at length on tough topics you treat only in passing in your busy daily life. The first summer, I was ambivalent, but felt like I was probably on my way to a yes; my Old Man was just ambivalent. The second summer, my Old Man was feeling more inclined toward yes, though still ambivalent; I wasn’t sure, but no was seeming more likely. The third summer, we agreed that “if you really wanted to, I could probably be persuaded,” but neither of us felt certain enough to do the persuading. Last summer we were both completely undecided. We discussed the possibility of leaving it up to fate. It took us about eight months to conceive O. What about six months of unprotected sex, and let the swimmers decide? We have always agreed that if we ever got pregnant accidentally, we would embrace it wholeheartedly. But neither of us felt ready to choose to give up that control, the idea that it’s a decision to be made, by us.

In having O, my Old Man and I have learned that we love having a child, that we dig being parents, and that a kid is a hell of a lot of work. O. has brought us much joy, and he’s made many aspects of our life more fun. He has also made it more challenging to spend time doing some of the things we most enjoy – reading, playing music, going out to shows and movies. As he gets older, however, he’s more able to play in a focused way while we read or cook, he can play his drums while we play guitar, and he loves spending time with his grandparents or with one of his cool teenage babysitters while we go off on our own. While we both really enjoyed O’s newborn and baby days, it’s kind of hard to imagine going back to the level of constant care that a baby requires, especially since we’d be doing it with the added responsibility of our current little kid in the picture.

For a long time, the only child issue ate at me. I myself am an only child, and though I don’t think my lack of siblings has warped me in any way, I am very familiar with the stereotype of the only child as “selfish,” “spoiled,” etc. When asked how many siblings I had as a child, I always braced myself for the response to my answer: “Oh, you must be so spoiled.” (Growing up poor and with divorced parents, this was always an especially grating assumption.) As an adult, I’ve often been told “You don’t seem like an only child” (i.e. I’m grounded and gracious and, essentially, not an asshole.) The only child thing was a concrete issue, one I could research, and research I did. I got every book I could lay my hands on that addressed the emotional and psychological effects of siblings vs. none. What little has been written on the subject tends to be in the form of scholarly books by psychologists, fairly dull stuff with copious charts and graphs. But the results of the research are consistent: only children are not markedly different than other children. Much like firstborns, they tend to be more verbally adept and more confident, but only slightly so. The parenting habits of the mom and/or dad and the innate personality of the kid have a much greater affect on the traits that kid exhibits than the presence or absence of siblings.

The most useful (and far and away the most readable) book I found on this subject was Bill McKibben’s Maybe One: A Personal and Environmental Argument for Single-Child Families. In it, McKibben traces most of the myths that still circulate about only children to one very unscientific and poorly conducted (yet influential) study done in the nineteenth century. He also goes into the more recent research, coming up with the same conclusions I’d already arrived at. The book is thought-provoking and very worthwhile reading, whether or not family size is a pressing issue in your life. It’s worth a post in itself.

So I decided that my Old Man and I could choose not to have another child without harming our son, that having a sibling would offer him certain experiences and advantages, but that not having siblings would offer him other experiences and advantages, and neither would be inherently more valuable than the other. Still, that didn’t settle the question of whether I wanted another child. O. brings me great happiness and satisfaction, and so I have an impulse to have another child, who might bring me similar joys. But O. also demands a great deal of me, limits my freedom, requires a baseline non-negotiable investment of time, energy, and material resources. Despite my only-child status, I grew up in a large extended family; a houseful of people with shared connections and history seems like a wonderful thing to me. At the same time, I not only value but need a certain amount of time alone. One child makes that time hard to come by. I worry that two would make it nearly impossible.

There are so many other complexities my old man and I have grappled with in this decision. Will our second kid be as charming and delightful as our first, and if not, will we be disappointed? Will we be able to fully embrace whatever sex our second child ends up being, as we did with O, or will we secretly hope for a girl? (And will that affect our relationship with our boy, if we have a boy?) Will O. get along with this child, will they be close? Will his relationship with him/her be like my Old Man’s amiable connection with his sweet, outgoing sister, or more like his tense connection with his high-strung, narcissistic sister? Will he feel like his sibling is the best thing that ever happened to him, or will he claim (like one older sister I know) that his sibling “ruined his life”? Can we really afford to have another child, or will having two kids introduce financial stresses into our life that O. by himself would not? Will we be able to travel overseas with two kids?

On the other hand, will we someday regret not having a second child? Will O. regret not having a sibling? Will not having a brother or sister place undue strain on him when we’re old and need his help? Will it make it harder for him to cope with our deaths? The questions go on and on.

Clearly, we think way too much. I envy the people who just know. I also think it would be much less of a pressing issue for me if I were thirty. I know a lot of happy families w/ two kids who are seven or eight or nine years apart, and I can imagine having kids that far apart. It’s a very common family make-up in our super-educated university community (and according to a friend who recently traveled to Italy, also the most common spacing for the rare two-child family in the country with the lowest birth rate in Europe). If I were a bit younger, I would be willing to keep riding the ambivalence and see if a clearer answer emerges. But I’m thirty-eight. A slew of celebrities who can afford a team of child-care professionals (not to mention access to high-tech fertility assistance) are having babies in their mid-forties and beyond. But I am just an average citizen, with limited energy and a modest budget, and in my own mind being a mama to a baby (even an adopted baby) won’t be an option for too much longer.

Sometimes it seems like fate will decide this issue for us, whether we like it or not. Either we’ll choose “no” through simple inaction, or we’ll choose “yes” by getting knocked up accidentally (a venerable tradition in my family, and the way the majority of this world’s people come into being). I try imagining getting pregnant accidentally, to see if that clarifies the issue at all. I imagine my period eight or nine days late, and try to envision my feelings as I peer down at a pee-soaked pregnancy test. In this invented scenario, I still can’t make the ambivalence dissipate. I can see myself looking down at a positive result and being excited, and apprehensive. Or seeing a negative result and being relieved, and disappointed.

In my most zen moments, I think to myself, “whatever ends up happening, it will be good.” We are so blessed, and I think my Old Man and O. and I could make a wonderful life, just the three of us, traveling and reading and eating out and rocking out together. But I also think another addition to our family could enrich our lives and add to the fun, as well as inevitably adding to the chaos. After bringing a child I adore as much as O. into the world, I can’t really imagine my second kid being a lame person, and can’t imagine myself not loving that kid to bits.

I guess … we’ll see.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Guest Postscript

One last post in honor of O's recently-celebrated natal day, a guest post culled from the internet archives: my Old Man's birth announcement email. I love his description of newborn O, and his breathless, head-over-heels excitement. (I also love that even when he's breathless and wide-eyed, my man is funny.) This email warmed my heart when I first read it four years ago, and it still does today.

From: M.
To: Friends
CC: E.
Subject: Progeny
Date: Mon, 6 Jan 2003 23:03:59 -0600 (CST)

E. and I have made good on our threat to reproduce.

After a grueling and unbelievably intense and prolonged labor (a little over three days, from start to finish), E. gave birth to our son, *O*, at 5:42 am, Saturday, January 4. If you have an hour or two and the capacity for belief in the truly miraculous, I'll be glad to sometime share with you the epic tale in its entirety. But I will say this: E. did the whole thing without the aid of any kind of pain killers or other medical interventions; one hundred percent natural from beginning to end. She was utterly astounding to behold. This was by far the most psychotic act of human will and love I've ever witnessed, and she pulled it off with confidence, concentration, a superhuman strength, and a fearsome grace. This shit is *no joke*.

Kristi -----, CNM, was our midwife, and Rae -------- was our Doula, and we were lucky to have E's mom, J, there, too. Everyone played a key role, and E. labored with a lot of love and support. Kristi preformed miracles before our eyes with her hands.

O. rules. He was *enormous* when he was born: eight pounds and eight fucking ounces! He has two-inch long brown hair, but it's kinda thin in the front, so it looks like a receding hairline with a slight mullet at the back. His face is hilarious--he's got this pugnacious, Irish street-tough, Edward G. Robinson look, his eyes squinted, brow wrinkled, pug nose. Kind of old-mannish? He looks pissed off and impatient, but in an unbearably endearing way. His hands were colossal when he first came out, but they've shrunk a bit in the last two days (I'm not kidding -- babies actually *lose* weight after they're born, once the swelling goes down -- so O. looked especially cartoonish and exaggerated on his first day; the Edward G. Robinson thing is less pronounced now, but he still looks funny as hell). He's a totally chill little dude -- he just hangs out and blinks a lot, he tries to stick his whole hand in his mouth, and he's really been getting into breastfeeding lately. Today he's started puking a lot, too. He's unbelievably beautiful.

I'm sorry I didn't send this sooner; time has been pretty warped lately. There are some decent photos of the young fella on the ------- Hospital web page. I have some much better digital pictures, so let me know if you'd like me to send a few to you. We have the technology to do this, which is pretty amazing, too.

E's doing wonderfully -- she's recovering from a massive trauma, but you'd never know it to look at her and talk to her. She glows beatifically, and the boy loves her intensely. We're all having a blast, and life is looking pretty damn good. I can't wait for you to meet this kid; give us a call any time you're in the neighborhood.

I hope your holidays, etc., have been pleasant, and that your new year blesses you as much as it has us.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Birth story, part II

So, I’ve been in labor for twenty hours, and despite the fact that I have been having extremely intense contractions (sans drugs), breathing deep and slow, floating around in warm water, and trying my damnedest to relax, my cervix is not budging past six and a half centimeters dilation. My midwife says she has a trick, which may not work and will hurt like hell.

Before I continue on to describe this painful trick and reveal whether or not I chose to endure it, let me give you a few general notes on my labor, things that have been in the background this whole time, but have not come up:

1. My Old Man and I had no idea whether our baby was a girl or a boy, having decided to keep it a surprise. Though I had wondered at various points in my pregnancy (never having any intuition or suspicion in either direction), during labor this issue was not remotely on my mind. I was focused on the mental and physical task before me with an intensity I imagine marathon runners must feel. I only thought about the baby insofar as it was doing well, which by all indications it was. Otherwise, it was me and the contractions. And that stubborn cervix.

2. We had no idea that my labor would last so long, nor were we hoping that it would. But now that it was past midnight and January 3rd had turned into January 4th, there was one big reason to be psyched that things had gone on this long: it was clear that our baby would share a birthday with our dear friend Feral Mom. (Happy birthday, Feral Mom!)

3. At this point in my labor, I had been feeling for several hours like I had to take a massive dump. I would say “I need to … shit,” and my midwife Kristy would say, “No, that’s just the baby putting pressure on your lower intestines.” Okay, I thought, you’re the expert. But it really feels like I need to take a shit. As time went on, the urge got stronger and I brought it up again. And again. “No,” Kristy would say, “the sensation is getting stronger because you’re feeling the urge to push.” But I was not dilated enough to push. So I just had to deal with it.

4. Apparently, many women worry about squeezing out a turd during delivery. This was not a major concern of mine (especially since that was starting to seem like it would be a huge relief). On the other end of the digestive spectrum, I had a fear far back in a corner of my mind during my whole labor that at some point I was going to puke. In my first trimester, I had endured ten weeks of full-time morning sickness including near-daily puking, and when it was over I was gratefully joyous. But then some sick fuck told me that women who experience morning sickness sometimes find that it returns during labor. The thought was a nightmare to me (puking between contractions? or worse, during contractions? the fiery bowels of hell could be no worse), and I diligently nibbled ginger snaps every hour or so in hopes of staving off a potential return of the dreaded pukes. Luckily, at this point, my stomach was quiet.

Okay, to continue. Q: What will hurt like hell, but may not work? A: During a contraction, my midwife will insert the tips of all her fingers into my cervix and I will push hard against her fingers while she tries to manually stretch my cervix around the baby’s head.

Sound fun? In contemplated it, quickly reasoning that since I was already experiencing more pain than I ever had in my life, I might as well experience a bit more. And anyway, what choice did we have? It seemed to me that our other options would lead me right down the path to a cesarean section. So I pushed hard while Kristy inserted and stretched. And it did hurt like hell, like fireworks going off within, a sharp blast of white-hot pain.

And it worked. Here’s the point where, as far as I’m concerned, my midwife performed a miracle. I went from being a little over 6 centimeters dilated and in despair to 10 centimeters dilated and ready to push the baby out. When I thanked her profusely after O. was born, Kristy said she really didn’t do much, that the baby’s head was in just the right place and that my cervix was very suggestible. But in my view, she performed a miracle. I don’t really want to contemplate how my labor and delivery would have gone without the help and support of doula Rae and the ingenuity and resolve of midwife Kristy. It makes all the difference in the world who attends your labor.

So suddenly it was time to push. The birthing tub was emptied and moved aside. All the OB nurses on duty came back into our room, this time not as observers but as a parade of intently focused professionals wheeling silver medical carts covered in blue drapes. Still buck naked since my time in the tub, I squatted on a stainless steel birthing chair and began pushing. It felt incredibly satisfying to finally do what I’d been having the urge to do, to bear down, curling around my big belly.

And, yes, I produced a little turd. Such a tiny one, though, that it confirmed Kristy’s insistence that I what I’d been feeling wasn’t a load trying to make its way out. Okay, then!

Rae and Kristy conferred and decided I’d be better off lying on my side on the bed. Once I had waddled my way painfully over to the bed, Kristy directed everyone to grab a limb so that I could brace myself against their resistance; my mom took one leg, Rae took the other, and my Old Man cradled my upper body. I had been fairly solitary physically during most of my labor so far. Between contractions, my mom and my Old Man had given me supportive hugs, but once a contraction began, the rule was do not touch me (unless I happen to want to hang from your neck). Now I was being grabbed on all sides, and that was fine. I needed that bracing.

Pushing was the hardest, most intense, most physically and psychically difficult thing I’ve ever done, and the most rewarding. I worked my ass off during contractions and rested between, my eyes shut and my focus completely turned inward the whole time. It was the closest thing to an out-of-body experience I’ve ever had. (Though it was actually an extreme-in-body experience, the effect was similar.) For me, managing contractions, even the hardest ones, was a cakewalk compared to the sheer physical exertion and, toward the end, the searing pain of pushing the baby’s head out. And yet, in a very real sense, it was easier because pushing was exactly what I wanted to do, the strongest urge I’ve ever felt. And it was also something I had to learn to do, a super-fast on-the-job training. I quickly realized that what I thought pushing would be, how hard I’d need to push, was only about half of it, if that. I had to go much further, to push past what I thought a push was ’til it felt like I was turning myself inside out. When I did this, everyone (Kristy, Rae, Mom, my Old Man, and the three labor and delivery nurses who were now crowded around watching) went wild with cheering – “Yes! That’s it! That’s it!” I never would’ve predicted I’d want a bunch of people huddled around me, eyes focused on my holiest of holies, shouting at the top of their lungs during the most intense part of my labor, but that crowd of cheering people really helped me know what I needed to do.

It took a long time to push the baby’s head out, much longer than I anticipated. Everyone kept yelling that they saw the head, that they saw hair, and it felt like I had pushed the baby's head way out. But when I reached down to touch it, the little hairy top of the baby’s head was just flush with the opening of my body. The pain was so intense and the work was so hard, and it felt like I wasn’t getting very far. But this was the point where there was really no turning back. Kristy said she could give me an episiotomy if I wanted, and this would help get the baby out faster, though she said it was not medically necessary. I contemplated it for about a second and said no – I had already decided that episiotomy was one thing I wanted to avoid if at all possible. But her mentioning episiotomy increased my resolve and my effort. I just had to push harder, and somehow, thought it felt like I couldn’t possibly push any harder, I did.

The baby’s head was born about 4 contractions later. The second time I reached down to feel the head it was sticking about halfway out, and that was extremely encouraging. Though with the baby’s head actually passing through my vagina (a human head! in your vagina! who came up with this system?), the pain was so insane I was crying for the first time in my labor. “It hurts so much!” was one thing I remember yelling out, and “I can’t do this anymore!” This was the part that my mom and my Old Man later said they could hardly stand, to witness me suffering like that. But it was over quickly.

Once the head was born (“It looks like a boy’s face,” Kristy commented), I had to stop pushing so they could suction the mouth and nose. Then I squeezed the rest of the baby out in one hard push. I couldn’t believe how quickly the body was born, like ketchup squirting out of a bottle. My Old Man said “It’s a boy!” and I looked down to see O, purple and wet and squirming (and, after a moment, crying lustily). I felt so much relief and such a sense of accomplishment now that the labor was over, and I lay there basking in that for a few minutes while a nurse took O. over to a medical station to suction him more thoroughly. I was feeling absolutely no pain at that point, just laying there blissfully in a pool of my own blood. A got a shot of pictocin in the leg (to stop my uterine bleeding – I’d been told that redheaded women tend bleed a lot after labor, and apparently it’s true), which was like a gentle breeze to me at that point, as was the shot of whatever Kristy gave to numb my nether regions. She stitched up my one small tear (only 3 stitches, thanks in large part to her skill with mineral oil and her hands during the birth).

And after about 4 minutes they brought O. over to me, all clean, warm, and swaddled. The rush of love and joy I felt when they put him in my arms was the most intense thing I’ve ever felt. I immediately began kissing his face all over and telling him what a sweet boy he was and how happy I was to meet him. My Old Man leaned his face down to us and we spent a few lovely minutes marveling at our brand new son.

Roll 7 - 12

Although my labor was very long and very hard, and there were some bumps in the road, it was a beautiful and really positive experience overall. And truly, I wouldn’t change a thing about O's birth. It was so intense and empowering, definitely a life-changing experience. I was grateful that I was able to do it essentially the way I’d hoped – without drugs, without an episiotomy, and (thankfully) without puking. I was amazed at how wasted I felt afterward. A friend of mine said after her labor she felt like she’d been hit by a car. I felt like I’d done an ironman triathalon (every muscle in my body ached profoundly), then after crossing the finish line, had had my ass soundly whupped, then gone in for a little surgery on my most delicate parts. But it was all well worth it.


Happy birthday, sweet O!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Birth Story, part I

Ever since my research for a paper on Midwifery my sophomore year in college, I had been interested in natural childbirth. When I got pregnant, I decided to brush up on the subject, and by the time my due date rolled around on December 27th, I had read a variety of newer books, from the sensible (Henci Goer’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, which provided ample research and a balanced perspective) to the far-out (Birthing from Within, which suggested I draw pictures to exorcise my fears about giving birth, walk a labyrinth to envision the journey of my labor, and howl like a wolf when the time came). I had my birth plan all laid out. I was also trying to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for the possibility that interventions might become necessary, and that my baby might end up being born by c-section. I knew there was no way to predict or fully control what would happen with my labor, and I wanted to stay focused on my baby’s birth, not fixate too much on how we got there. Still, my research had convinced me that, if possible, a vaginal birth without drugs would be the best for me and for my baby.

Though my contractions began on New Year’s Eve, I didn’t go into full-on labor until Friday January 3rd. But even though those early days and nights of contractions weren’t actually “active labor,” they felt pretty damned active to me. By the evening of January 1st, the contractions had gotten stronger and were coming more regularly. I spent a nearly sleepless night that night, having contractions every 15 or 20 minutes, contractions that were most painful when I was lying down. When I woke up on the morning of the 2nd, I was pretty sure I was in labor, so I called my doula, Rae, and had her come over. My Old Man was with me already, of course, and so was my mom, who had come a week or so before my due date and had been keeping me company and helping me clean out my bathroom closet and engage in other obsessive nesting. Shortly after Rae arrived, though, my contractions stalled. So the doula, the prego, the husband, and the grandma-to-be sat around, making nervous chat like freshmen at the high school dance, waiting for the contractions to show up and break the tension. After a couple of hours, Rae went home.

I continued to have very irregular contractions throughout the day. During one of my many, many pees, I glanced down and found what looked like a raspberry-marled blanc mange in my drawers - my mucus plug! Very exciting, since it suggested that my cervix was dilating. That night, my contractions got stronger and more regular. So I had my second night in a row of shitty sleep, though slightly less shitty; I was figuring out how to nap between contractions, catching ten or twelve minutes here and there.

Friday morning when I woke up, my contractions stayed strong and regular, coming every 10 minutes or so. Rae came over in the late morning, and this time she stayed, helping me manage my contractions. My Old Man and I had taken a prepared-childbirth class that we found helpful, but when my contractions really began to be painful, the “visualization exercises” we had practiced became nigh unto useless. For practice, we had lain spoon-wise in bed, him holding an ice cube to my inner wrist (which does get painful after a bit), while I breathed and envisioned myself snorkeling among the pretty fish in the Gulf of Mexico. But an ouchy ice cube held too long to a tender wrist is nothing compared to a real, full-on contraction, which turns the entire core of the pregnant body into a band of writhing, clamping pain, and chases out all happy visions of blue water. Luckily, I had Rae, who served as a crash refresher course in the essentials of contraction-management. She repeatedly reminded me to breathe deep and slow and to relax my shoulders (which mysteriously kept bunching upward with the stress of labor), and she helped me find positions that were less rather than more agonizing. Laying down was totally out of the question by this point, and sitting was little better. Squatting was nearly bearable, but the very best position was hanging, with my arms wrapped around Rae’s neck or my Old Man’s, my body dangling limp. It seemed like taking any strain off the muscles in my core eased the pain to a manageable level. Lucky for my Old Man our doula was a strapping woman, six feet tall, and I could alternate hanging off him and her. My mom was wonderful as moral support, but she was just too little to use as a hanging post.

Laboring at home was a strange mix of sober work and exuberant socializing. During my contractions, everyone would get quietly serious and allow me to concentrate, and then between contractions we’d all hang out and chat and laugh. It was wonderful having a doula who was not only excellent in terms of labor support, but who clicked with me, my Old Man, and my mom, and who was great fun to hang out with. (It was a good thing, because we all ended up spending nearly 24 hours together.) Although I hadn’t slept well the previous nights, and though my contractions were getting painful and pretty long, I felt in very good spirits and excited to be in labor.

I had received my prenatal care from the midwife practice at our hospital, a team of six nurse-midwives, one of whom would deliver my baby. That afternoon I had an appointment with the midwife on call, Kristy. She gave me a manual exam, checking my cervix. I was completely effaced, but only 2 centimeters dilated. Kristy said my cervix seemed very pliable and offered to manually stretch it, which she said could open it up another couple of centimeters. I said sure, so she stretched my cervix (painful!) and got me to 4 centimeters. Then we went home and labored at home for a while longer. By about 6 PM, I felt ready to go to the hospital, so Rae called labor and delivery to let them know we’d be over soon and that we wanted to use the water birth tub. I couldn’t use the birthing tub right away, so after Kristy the midwife got us settled in our room, Mom, my Old Man, and Rae followed me to the Jacuzzi room and I labored in the hot water for a couple of hours. That was wonderful. It was so much easier to handle contractions floating in the hot water. It was a couple of hours of reprieve.

When we went back to our room, Rae suggested I lay propped up on my side in bed for a half hour or so before I got in the birthing tub, so that I could rest and conserve energy to get ready to push. Based on how long I’d been in labor and how long and strong my contractions had been, we all assumed I’d be pushing soon. So I rested on my side on the bed. This sucked, because my contractions were so much more painful in that position, but it was nice to rest in between. After about 30 minutes, it was time for Kristy to check my cervix again to see if I was close enough to being fully dilated to get in the water birth tub. She found that I was only 5 centimeters dilated, which was surprising to everyone and very, very disappointing. I was only one centimeter further along than I had been almost ten hours earlier at my afternoon appointment. It made no sense.

Kristy said we could do a couple of things to try to help my cervix dilate more, and the first thing she wanted to try was breaking my bag of waters. She said there was about a 50% chance that this would do the trick and help me dilate fully. So she pulled out what looked like a knitting needle and used it to break my water there on the bed, in the process discovering meconium in my amniotic fluid. Although this can be a sign of fetal distress, Kristy wasn’t worried because the baby’s heart rate was strong (and I guess it’s more common once babies are overdue – meconium is basically prenatal baby shit, so when they’re overdue they’re more likely to have their first shit in utero). But she was disappointed because that meant I couldn’t deliver in the tub (since they’d need to suction the baby’s mouth and nose as soon as the head was born). I asked if I could still labor in the tub, she said yes, and I was satisfied. I really wanted to get back into warm water.

So they filled the big tub with hot water and I got in. I labored for about two more hours. It happened that I was the only woman giving birth on the labor and delivery floor that night, and all the nurses on duty kept coming in to observe the proceedings. Apparently, it was a fairly unusual thing to see a totally natural birth in this hospital, which surprised me, given the strong midwife practice. Of course, it remained to be seen whether I would actually realize my goal of a drug-free vaginal birth. My contractions were even stronger and much more painful since my water had been broken, and I did many of them on all fours in the water, trying to imagine my cervix dilating and basically willing it to do so. The contractions were starting to feel like more than I could bear, and I was trying to keep my good attitude, but I knew that if I didn’t dilate now we’d be in trouble. I worked as hard as I could to help that happen.

After a couple of hours in the tub, Kristy checked me again and found that I was only about six and a half centimeters dilated, nowhere near the ten centimeters I needed to be to start pushing. This was such a dark moment. Kristy explained what I pretty much already knew: that we had to do something to intervene at this point. I’d already been in active labor for twenty hours and we were running the risk of my becoming exhausted and the baby going into distress. She mentioned pictocin (the drug they use to induce labor and strengthen contractions), but didn’t seem too excited to try that. Neither was I, since my contractions were already very strong and I didn’t see how that would help my cervix dilate. It was starting to feel like this labor might be a long road toward a c-section.

Kristy got a tentative, thoughtful look on her face and said there was one other thing we could try, but she couldn’t guarantee that it would work and she had to warn me that it would be very painful (I think her exact words were “it will hurt like hell.”) Her tone seemed a bit ominous, but I definitely wanted to hear about it, whatever it was…