Roo's Birth Story, Part II
I started having contractions at midnight on Saturday, and by about 2:30 AM, they were regular and getting strong. I tried to rest for awhile, but as I felt my contractions get strong and regular, I got out of bed to labor in a less painful position, and also to get some things done before labor really got intense.
I labored alone in the mostly-dark house for much of the night. I lay down next to my Old Man for brief spells to try to rest up a bit, but I knew I wouldn’t be going back to sleep. My contractions were already too painful, and I was much too excited. I decided not to wake my Old Man to tell him I was in labor because I knew once he knew, he wouldn’t be able to sleep, and I figured it would be better for him to be somewhat well rested. Some time in the wee hours, however, I accidentally woke him up trying to unjam the printer while printing up our “people to call” list. (Given that I was almost a week past my due date, you might think I’d’ve had all of these little things done already. But no.) He called to me, asking if everything was OK, and I came in and told him that I was in labor, but encouraged him to stay in bed and try to get some more sleep. I said I’d let him know if things started getting intense. Soon after that I called Rae (the amazing doula who shepherded me through O’s birth) on her cell and got her voice mail. I left her a message. Then I sat down at my computer and wrote a very quick blog post, during which I had to pause to have a contraction.
Laboring on my own in a dim and sleeping house was surprisingly lovely. It was quiet and peaceful, and I felt a contented excitement, savoring this bit of solitary time before the impending rush of crucial teamwork I knew was coming. My contractions were manageable, and I rode them out in various positions – bending over table-pose-style, on all fours on a yoga mat, or squat-sitting on a big therapy ball. Catface was my only company; she followed me closely wherever I went, clearly aware that there was something momentous in the works.
After an hour or two of laboring and puttering between contractions, I went back to bed to get some rest. My contractions were 8-10 minutes apart and getting stronger. I had been a little bit bummed by the midnight start time, partly because of the no-sleep issue but mostly because it seemed to preclude Kristy being our midwife. She’d given me her cell number and her home number, and all but said “call me when you go into labor,” but I certainly wasn’t going to call her before 8 AM on her day off. But as I lay there in bed, dozing lightly between contractions, and the hour neared 4 AM, it began to seem like calling her at 8:00 might turn out to be an option.
I called Rae the doula’s cell again at about 4:30 AM and she picked up. We talked about my contractions, and she suggested I go back to bed and try to rest as much as possible until they got closer together. So I went back to bed and rested, sometimes sleeping lightly for five or ten minutes between contractions. O. came from his bed to ours during this time, and my Old Man told him that I was starting to have the baby. “Does that mean the baby will be born today?” O. asked, and I said “Yes, probably. What do you think of that?” and he said “Good.”
Around 7:00 AM, we all got out of bed and the day began. I ate oatmeal between contractions. My Old Man and O. got breakfast, and O. began playing on the floor. It was a bright, beautiful day and everything felt positive and charged with happy anticipation. At one point O. came up to me as I was eating and, between contractions, we talked about labor, what was happening and why it hurt. I explained that the contractions squeeze the baby downward so she can come out, and I mentioned that before long she would come out through my vagina. O then made this observation: “It would be really hurting if men could have babies,” (thoughtful pause) “through their butts.”
I called Rae around 8 AM. She was taking her kids to Hebrew school at 9:00 and said she’d be over right after. Mom called and said she’d be over to take charge of O. after she and my stepdad looked at some furniture at a yard sale on the east side of town. That was fine with me, since nothing seemed urgent at that point. I also called Kristy the miracle midwife to let her know I was in labor. She asked about the timing of my contractions and said she was taking her sons to church and would be back around 11 AM. I took a shower at 8:45, not so much for theraputic purposes, but because I was due for one and god knew when I’d get to take one again.
Rae came over some time between 9:30 and 10:00 AM. I labored in various positions with Rae’s coaching. My Old Man puttered around and read the newspaper (or tried – later he said he’d been too nervous to actually concentrate). My mom came by and got O to bring him over to the playground for a bit. At about 10:30 Rae needed to go home briefly (she had gotten her period – it was a festival of womanly events), and my Old Man hung out with me while I labored. This was a nice chance for him to step into a central role for awhile, which he would do again later when I was pushing the baby out. It was then he admitted how nervous he felt. I was still mainly excited, not really nervous. Rae had been writing down the timing of my contractions, and my Old Man took this over for a bit and generally soothed and encouraged me during contractions.
When Rae returned, she and I went out for a walk, which was one of the highlights of my labor. The day was superb, and it felt wonderful to be out. I found that walking through my contractions was a good thing. It hurt less than standing still, and felt more productive to be moving (which Rae averred was the case). It was hard the first couple of walking contractions, but I quickly got the hang of taking slow steps while breathing deeply through a contraction. I learned, though, that it’s dangerous to walk around my neighborhood with Rae the doula while you’re in labor because she knows everyone and stops to chat. In addition to various passing conversations, she had a lengthy talk with a friend of hers working in his yard, Rae asking him in great detail what he was planting and making general conversation. Finally I just began to walk on because standing around listening to other peoples’ small talk is not something I do when I’m in labor! But, thankfully, Rae took my cue and moved on with me.
When we got back from our walk, a bit after noon, my contractions stalled, though I’d been having good, strong ones the whole time we were out. Rae and I were both concerned (I remember thinking “This is too familiar” – that had been an issue during my labor with O, and I didn’t want to repeat the marathonesque aspect of that labor). We called Kristy and she said “just keep me posted.” Luckily around 1:00 PM my contractions kicked back in, coming evenly every 4-6 minutes, and strong. We called Kristy again and Rae joked that my uterus heard her talking about its slack performance and stepped up to show us all. Kristy offered to do a manual exam at her house (two blocks from our house) to give us more information about whether/when to go to the hospital.
So Rae, my Old Man, and I walked over to Kristy’s (and found her in the process of washing the exterior of her house, a project she abandoned to join the progress of my labor). My Old Man played with Kristy’s two sons in the living room, while we went into the guest room, where I got naked and Kristy got her gloves on. She checked my cervix, which was 6 cm dilated and “very mushy,” and she said that if she broke my bag of waters, she imagined I’d be fully dilated and ready to push within two hours. Was I ready to go to the hospital? I said yes, very psyched that Kristy would be attending the birth of our second baby.
So, while my Old Man and I drove to the hospital, our midwife dropped her kids off at a neighbor’s and rode her bike there. Our doula rode her bike there and met us outside the parking garage. (Where I had a mild contraction on the bumpy car ride up to the top and a gnarly long one walking to the elevator.) Rae led us up to our room on the 10th floor, where we had an amazing view of the nearby lake and surrounding park. Kristy was already prepping the water birth tub in our room. The mood was warm, comfortable, and altogether positive, with the sun lighting up the room.
Kristy fitted me up with EKG-type thingies and various monitoring devices. I sat on a therapy ball and rocked through my contractions, and in between my Old Man got me my “energy drink” to sip from and gave me some pita chips. I got up on the bed so that Kristy could break my water. She snagged the bag with the knitting-hook device, and out it rushed. The amniotic fluid was clear – good news. (It meant that the baby was not showing signs of distress.) The tub was ready by then, so I got in, and as I labored in the water, the labor and delivery nurse, Sharon, asked me a bunch of questions to get my paperwork out of the way.
I had really loved laboring in the Jacuzzi when I was having O, but I was finding the birthing tub harder to manage because it was so big and I was so floaty; I was having trouble finding a good position where I didn’t feel like I was bobbing around. I needed to feel anchored to be able to really manage my contractions, which had gotten stronger since Kristy broke my water. Before long, I landed on a position that worked: kneeling with my feet together and my forearms on the seat of the tub, sometimes switching to sitting “criss-cross applesauce” style on the floor of the tub. Rae, Matt, and Kristy were all gathered around the sides of the tub.
Kristy asked me if we had music. I had actually put together a labor mix that my Old Man burned for me entitled “This Woman’s Work,” after the first and last songs (the first Maxwell’s cover and the last Kate Bush’s original). As the CD was nearing the last song, I opened my eyes and my mom was right there, having left a napping O. with his grandpa.
Kristy said pushing time was near and asked if I wanted to be checked internally before I began pushing. That would have required me getting out of the water, but at that point I still thought I might want to push sidelying on the bed, since that was how I birthed O. I said, yes, I wanted to be checked. But as my contractions continued, I began to feel this strong pressure on my rectum. I’m not sure how I phrased it, but I basically told Kristy I felt like I needed to push out a turd, and she told me to go ahead and try to push it out, that it was no problem.
Well, that of course was my urge to push out my baby. Amazing how similar it feels to needing to take a big and urgent dump. But much more intense, of course, and with the waves of urgency traveling throughout my laboring core. So, I just did what felt right, and pushed into that rectal itch, and soon Kristy was saying “I can see the baby’s head crowning!” So, forget about the exam, it was time to have the baby, and I was going to push in the water. Decision made.
Here, for the first and only time during my labor with my baby girl, I felt trepidation. Until this point, there was no anxiety or fear, and I felt completely on top of my labor. When I had O, I was able – with great effort and focus – to remain relaxed through most of my contractions, but toward the end (and especially after my water broke), I felt like the pain was slipping beyond my grasp. Rather than me riding my contractions, I felt like my contractions were riding me, and I was out of control. In this second labor, no contraction ever really got the best of me, even though they got progressively more painful. Partly this was because I was more experienced and confident, and as a result I was more willing to try different positions rather than clinging to the one that worked best for me. Also, there was this moment while I was still at home, as my contractions were getting more intense, that I had a serious talk with myself, consciously adjusting my attitude toward this pain, willing myself for this one day to approach pain in a more distanced, philosophical way. I still had to work through each contraction, but there was never a question of losing my grip.
But now, facing the prospect of pushing this baby out – the idea of pain being philosophical and trying to experience it from a distance, I knew none of that applied. I had done this once before, and I knew that the pain of pushing was a whole other animal than the pain of contractions. Contractions are essentially a very intense ache, extremely painful, yes, but still a form of aching. Pushing is fire, cutting, a searing, sharp sort of pain. I remembered how painful it was during O’s birth, and I was openly afraid to go through it again. When I began pushing with O, I had no idea what I was getting into, and it required so much effort to push that big egg-shaped head out of my profoundly unstretched vagina, I had to lock into an inward focus so tight, there was no room for fear. Now, I knew exactly what I was getting into, and my focus was much more diffuse, in part because I was floating rather than on a solid bed, as I had been with O, braced on all sides by my support team. I spoke my fear out loud, saying “I’m afraid to push.” And I truly was afraid. In fact, for a moment I really felt like No, I can't do this. It's too hard. It's too scary. There I was, naked and scrabbling around in a big tub of warm water, looking for something to grab onto.
Next time: I find something to grab onto, Roo is born, all's blissful for five minutes, then a crisis that ends with a scary woman punching me in the stomach.