Birth Day

[I originally wrote this shortly after Eve’s birth on August 17, 2009. Enjoy!]

My daughter is here. After 39 weeks of waiting, wondering, and worrying, she has finally arrived to meet us, and I could not be more happy with her.

The night that my water broke, I told our friends C and J that Marcus and I were going to try to “get this baby outta me,” which is code for “We’re gonna bone and hope that helps somehow.” The last time we’d had sex, I’d started having contractions about 30 minutes later, which lasted all night before petering out at 6:30am. Since it was several days later and my body was presumably a little more ready, I was hoping to have even better results.

The sex was fun, silly (as usual), and – as far as I could tell – not helping at all. An hour afterwards, I was only having very weak and sporadic contractions, nothing that felt like it was doing any good. I decided to go to bed, in the hopes of maybe waking up in labor. Marcus wasn’t ready for bed and so he stayed in the living room.

I’d only been lying in bed for about ten minutes when I realized that something felt strange. I felt full somehow. I shifted my weight and suddenly a rush of fluid came out of me and totally soaked the bed! I was powerless to stop the flow and after an awkward WTF moment, I called Marcus into the bedroom. He turned on the lights, saw the mess on the bed, and then things suddenly became very, very real. We were going to have a baby – and not in a month, a couple weeks, or a few days. We were going to have a baby SOON as in TODAY.

It was 2am when all this went down. I paged the midwife on call, which happened to be KT, and she assured me that we didn’t have to go to the hospital immediately if we didn’t want to. We could still follow the original rule of thumb – staying at home until my contractions came at 5 minute intervals and lasted at least 60 seconds each. The fact that my water had broken meant that we couldn’t stay home indefinitely – if I didn’t begin active labor within 12 hours, I would need to come in and there would be the possibility of induction to get the party started.

We elected to stay home. After all, if we were going to play the waiting game, why not do it in the comfort of our own place? Marcus finished packing our hospital bag while I lay on the bed with a towel between my legs, another towel under me, and a large trash bag under that towel. We then tried to go to sleep; Marcus actually managed it, but there was no way in hell I could sleep. I was still having puny sporadic contractions which I could have easily slept through, if not for the fact that I couldn’t turn my brain off. I wanted to go to the hospital, even though nothing much was going on. I just felt like I really had no idea what the fuck I was doing, and I wanted to be in a place where people DID know what they were doing.

Marcus didn’t really want to go to the hospital any earlier than necessary, but he could see that I was anxious and sometime after 5am we called my parents to have them come get us. We got the hospital bag and diaper bag, filled the cats’ food bowls, and bid them farewell for the day. We were both pretty sure that I’d be having that baby later that day and returning home from the hospital on Monday. Pfft!

We arrived to check in at the hospital around 6am. My midwife checked me and I was disappointed to learn that I was 3 cm dilated and 80% effaced – there had been no progress since my last prenatal appointment despite all the excitement. By then my contractions were still entirely sporadic in their length and frequency, but they were strong enough to make it difficult for me to speak through them. We were taken to our room, where I snacked on granola, fruit, and juice to keep my energy up for the coming ordeal. Mom and Dad just hung out for about an hour before going back home.

Throughout the morning and afternoon, my contractions began to get stronger, last longer, and come more regularly. Marcus was an incredible birth coach; he supported me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Since I wasn’t getting any drugs to help with the pain, I was not confined to the bed or catheterized, so I took advantage of the ability to change positions, walk around, bounce on the birthing ball, and shower. I probably got in the shower about 20 times, desperate for the bit of relief that the hot water gave me. Marcus was, again, a fantastic support; he allowed me to hold onto him or squeeze the crap out of his arm or even punch him if I needed to (it wasn’t angry punching, it was holy-shit-this-hurts-so-much-I-can’t-even-help-myself punching) while breathing through each contraction. He breathed with me. He sat behind me on the bed and held me, or he sat in front of me and let me hang onto him – whatever I needed. He helped walk me to the bathroom to pee and helped change the pads that I had to wear to absorb all the amniotic fluid I was losing throughout the day. He was there.

At around 4pm, I began to lose my resolve. I had been awake for 24 hours at that point (and more like 32 hours if you didn’t count the 40 minute nap I’d taken Saturday afternoon) and in labor for 14 hours. The contractions were frequently coming in clusters, meaning that I would have 2 or 3 in a row with absolutely no break in between. I was tired, I was in pain, and I started to cry. Marcus, of course, talked me through it by telling me how proud he was of me and by reassuring me that every contraction was a step closer to meeting our child. I just cried. I never did say that I wanted to give up, that I wanted to ask for the drugs – but I was thinking it and he could see that.

At 6pm my midwife KS (KT’s shift had ended only a couple hours after we arrived at the hospital) came in to check me again. I was so disappointed when she told me that I was 100% effaced and 4cm dilated – just one centimeter more than I’d been 12 hours ago! She reassured me that my body was doing exactly what it needed to be doing, but I couldn’t really hear her. I was in too much pain and I wondered again if I should just give it up. But the thought of quitting made me angry, since I’d already spent 7 hours in prelabor and another 9 hours in early labor; the thought of all that time and pain spent just going out the window didn’t appeal to me at all. I asked KS when I could get in the birthing tub and her answer disappointed me: generally not before 7cm, or else we risked slowing or stalling my labor entirely. Fucking GREAT. It took me 12 hours to dilate one centimeter, and I still had 3 more to go before I could even get in the tub???

Still I labored on. At 10pm I broke down crying again. I felt like I couldn’t do this. It hurt so badly, it was taking so long, and I was just SO TIRED. I’d only managed about ten minutes total of sleep in the time since we arrived at the hospital, in tiny micronaps between contractions. All I could think about was getting into that fucking tub, about having some RELIEF. The birthing ball only made things more intense (and it kind of was supposed to, it helps open you up and dilate even more), the showers could only do so much, and walking from just the bed to the bathroom necessitated two or three stops in which a strong contraction would wash over me. The tub was the only thing I hadn’t tried yet (besides the drugs, of course), and I was convinced that it would be amazing once I was in it.

Soon after my last crying jag I started to feel a lot of pressure, as if I really had to take a shit. I felt and knew that such an attempt would be a bad idea, so I ignored it for as long as I could. After another hour of contractions, the pressure only increased and soon I was calling the nurse and asking to see my midwife again. I told her what I was feeling, and as I expected, she told me to hold it and not attempt to poop. She paged my midwife and it seemed to take forever before we heard back from her again: KS knew what was up with me, but could not come see me yet, as she was about to deliver another baby.

I was devastated, but what could I do? I didn’t know how long this other woman would take to birth her child. I didn’t know how long I could hold on and not give into the pressure to bear down. Each contraction brought with it a breath-stopping wave of pain that ended with an unrelenting urge to start pushing. It was excruciating.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, KS came back and checked me again. I was only dilated to 6cm (FUCK! I thought), but that was apparently good enough to start filling the tub. Time again seemed to crawl by as the tub took FOREVER to fill up (the water pressure was pretty low): at least an entire twenty minutes, which in throes-of-labor time feels more like a fucking year. And even after the tub was filled, I had to wait while they checked the temperature and adjusted accordingly.

When the water was finally ready, I took off my t-shirt and panties (I’d chosen to labor in my own clothes rather than a hospital gown), and KS and Marcus helped my naked self into the water. It was warm, and comforting (although not as comforting as I’d hoped), and it was around this point that I realized – REALLY realized – that this baby was going to come out of me and that there was only one way for it to do that.

I asked KS if she was going to stay with us, and to my relief the answer was yes – she would be with us until the baby came. I continued my labor in the water, at first with the jets on, but eventually I turned them off as I found the noise irritating. I continued to claw at my poor husband’s arm as I breathed through each contraction, and KS coached me from the side, reminding me to relax, to untense, and to let the contractions do their job – to open me up, to widen me out. Now was not the time to tense, to close up.

I practically begged KS to let me start pushing – the need to bear down had only increased in the past hour. She said that I could start pushing – a LITTLE – and after a few useless and fruitless attempts on my own I realized that I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. At one point, in between yelling “Shit!” and “Oh fuck!”, I cried out, “I don’t know how to have a baby!” KS told me, “Of course you do” and guided me, told me to pull my legs towards my body with my hands and not to try to push as if I were trying to poop, but as if I were trying to pee. After a couple tries I did pee, which is how we all knew that I was doing the right thing.

Things accelerated very quickly. I went from 6cm to 8cm to 9cm in almost no time at all. Eventually I was just short of 10cm, except for a little lip in my cervix that was in the way of the baby’s head. KS kept a finger inside of my cervix, holding that lip down, while I pushed. And after several attempts she said the magic words to the nurse: “She’s at ten centimeters.”

Instead of waiting and letting my body do the work for me, I suddenly had work to do. Realizing at that moment exactly what I had to do – that I had to push this baby OUT – was fucking terrifying. I was way, way, WAY past the point of no return. I felt like very little was in my control at this point, and for a person like me, that is scary. The only thing I could do was to push or to not push – and to not push would only postpone the inevitable. It wouldn’t change a damn thing in the end.

There was a full-length mirror on the ceiling above the birthing tub. I watched myself in it as I dilated, and I watched myself as I pushed. I don’t really have the words to describe what it was like to witness my labor from that point of view, except to say that I hope fervently to be able to do the same with the rest of my children. Towards the end of my pregnancy, as my belly grew, I’d developed a habit of just looking at myself in the mirror several times a day. It was so strange to see how my body had warped and changed, it was fascinating to look at myself and see almost a stranger. Watching myself give birth was like that, only magnified a thousand times. It was like watching a stranger, and it was a struggle to reconcile the fact that the body in the mirror was actually, really mine. The person screaming and writhing in the tub was really me. What I saw in the mirror remains the most vivid memory of my labor, and it’s the one I recall most frequently.

At ten centimeters, we were down to business. Whenever a contraction came over me, it was my cue to start pushing. When they stopped, I could stop. After each push, I asked Marcus and KS what they’d seen, what had just happened. “I can see the top of your baby’s head,” KS told me. I asked her if there was any hair, and she said yes, lots of it. I smiled at Marcus and said, “Told you so.”

KS then told me, “You can reach down and feel it.” And so I did. It was a beyond strange, to feel soft, thin, silky hair where normally there was, well, my vagina. I gently touched the top of my child’s head while she was still inside of me – touched her for the first time! – and it was soon afterward that KS called the nurse into the birthing room to tell her that in a few more pushes, the baby would be here.

The last pushes were difficult. Even with KS massaging my perineum and doing what she could to stretch me open even further, it was difficult. It hurt. It burned. I could feel her head stretching me open with every push and I SCREAMED with the pain. And finally, her head was out! I looked down and could see it between my legs. KS yelled at me “Push again! NOW!” and I looked up above me, into the mirror at myself and my child, and I pushed one last time. And then she was out.

I looked down again and there was a BABY in the water with me! KS placed her in my hands while she messed with her equipment. I stared at her, shocked, as if I’d forgotten exactly what this whole pregnancy and childbirth thing had been about. The water which had only moments before been clear was full of blood and there was a dark mass on the bottom of the tub that I later found out was the baby’s first stool – she’d passed it during her birth. Marcus got to cut the cord, which spattered blood all over my neck and shoulder, but I was too flabbergasted to care.

Just minutes later, Eve was whisked away by the nurse and Marcus went with her. Her Apgar scores at one and five minutes were both 9 – almost perfect! She screamed like a banshee while the nurses weighed her and did whatever else they had to do, but she calmed down when she heard Marcus’ voice. KS helped me out of the tub and back to the bed, where she helped me deliver the placenta. I asked to see it, and got to feel the amniotic sack and poke at my placenta, which basically just felt like a big hunk of raw liver. KS then stitched me up; birthing Eve had resulted in a second-degree tear through my perineum that reached almost to my asshole. I was grateful, then, that I had forgone an episiotomy, which would have cut through my perineal muscle instead of just my skin.

Eve Marie was born underwater on August 17th at 1:47am, almost 24 hours after my water broke. With my husband’s support, I was able to have the birth that I have always wanted. Now that I’ve done it once, and know what I can expect out of the experience, I feel certain that I can do it again. One of my anxieties over the past nine months has been worrying over whether or not my birth experience would end up traumatic or even just not something I would be happy with. I feel really goddamn lucky to be able to say that the entire experience, and the end result (who is currently in her father’s arms, crying for my milk), is absolutely, undeniably, unbelievably perfect.

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