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.
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!