My sister read my initial birth story and labeled me crude. Having been there, she couldn’t deny the analogies to brains or hot dog buns or volcano craters or filet mignon that were made. But, to spare you the gory details, I’ll keep what each of these analogies are in reference to a secret. I mean do you want to hear what THREE hours of pushing does to your body? Do you want the play-by-play from Willy’s perspective? Do you want to hear about gross things only fellow nurses can joke about (yes, hospital nurses were involved)?
Maybe you’d rather hear the closest-I-can-get to a censored version, from the beginning.
Twas the night before labor, and all through the house… okay, scratch that. I believe that belongs to a well known Christmas story, but Christmas was exactly what those first contractions felt like. A true gift. A gift of pain. A gift of pain I was eager to unwrap further. A gift of pain I had waited so long to open that the pain was actually welcomed; practically begged for, in fact.
They started Sunday evening and they were ever-so faint. Just a twinge of added cramping that made my eyebrows raise and grow closer together. We were watching The Dark Knight Rises in the theatre (I know, we’re brave) and when I told Willy, we started timing them briefly. They were every eleven minutes, on the button. Willy’s Aunt and cousin were in town. We all went to dinner after the movie and the contractions seemed to disappear. I went to bed that night with new found hope and an inkling that my body was getting closer. It had to be. The contractions returned, awakening me around 4:30am. I found myself having to breath through these. I contemplated waking Willy, but figured they could peter out and decided that if it were indeed early labor it’d probably be better if he got some rest anyway. Believe it or not, I got out of bed and posted my 41 week post. Then I got the camera ready, making sure the battery was charged and the memory card empty.
I’m not a fan of timing contractions. I timed so many episodes of what appeared to be regular braxton hick contractions with Hooper, each time playing with my emotions, that the idea of inviting that anxiety and false hope back into my life wasn’t appealing. As I sat at the computer putting the final touches on my 41 week post, I downloaded the contraction timer app on my phone and tracked a few, just to see where I was at. Over the course of an hour, they progressed from every ten minutes to every three minutes. I called my midwife. We sent some texts back and forth and I knew I was in trouble when she told me to lay down and avoid standing, confessing she wanted to be there when I gave birth. I kind of laughed it off in my head, not ready to tease myself into believing it would be that fast.
But it was.
I showered, ignoring my midwife’s instructions. I woke up Willy, saying, “I think Van is going to join us today. And it’s going to be Okay”. It was about 7am. When my midwife (Catherine) and her assistant (Michelle) got here, I was still able to move about. I laid through a few contractions in bed and then got up, stripped the bed, threw the sheets in the wash, and started to make the bed for labor. When my midwife asked where the other set of sheets were, I told her I threw them in the wash. I could tell by the look on her face that they wouldn’t be ready in time.
My dad and Willy were busy setting up and filling the tub in the office and I moved to the kitchen to set out some snacks and drinks for the midwives. I had a few contractions there that required Michelle to come over and rub my back. I moved then to a chair in the family room and watched as Willy tried to figure out the tub. It was a great distraction for him, but as I sat there I started to wonder if even the tub would be set up in time. I felt myself entering what I call “laborland”… You know, that other dimension where you become a slave to your body. The dimension in labor where the pain starts to wrap around you and engulf you and chew you up and spit you out and humble you. The dimension in labor where you are forced to come to grips with the fact you are on a train with no breaks. I was moaning heavily. Catherine came over and asked if I felt like pushing. I remember thinking to myself, “Is this lady crazy?!”. It was only 8:30am. But, I looked at her and replied, “You know, I think my body is pushing involuntarily already”. And just like that, it was time to push.
I couldn’t believe we were already in the home stretch, or so I thought. When they told me it was time to push with Hooper, he was out 20 minutes later. You have to remember, however, that getting him out was a top priority as highlighted by the fact that I birthed him on the operating room table. What I’m saying is that it was a group effort. Not only did I push, but others also pushed, the doctor pulled, and eventually a vacuum was used and out came Hooper.
So I started to push. And push. And push. And push. And then I started feeling a bit defeated. I had dilated so quickly that I didn’t really plan on pushing longer than I had labored. But boy did I push a long, long, time. I moved to the tub. And pushed. And pushed. Michelle brought out a towel and instructed me to play tug-o-war with her to help me bear down. I used every muscle in my body. I could feel the muscles in the front of my neck straining. My forearms trembled. I pushed with every ounce of grit and determination. Catherine asked me to move back to the bed. And then I pushed more. And more. And more. Then I moved to the floor. And pushed. I tried squatting. And pushed. Back to my back. And pushed.
I kept asking, “How much longer?” and never got the crystal ball answer I wanted. Some pushes went by without any confirmation of progress. It was incredibly draining and I started to lose hope. Catherine said we needed to have a conversation. I could sense she was going to suggest a transfer to the hospital. She seemed to think he was getting stuck on something. Seems that every time I pushed, he would descend and as soon as I stopped pushing, he’d retract. I couldn’t push much longer, I was beginning to reach the point of exhaustion.
Next thing you know, Willy is on the phone with 911. We all agreed that the baby needed help coming out. A few minutes later and our house was supposedly flooded with firemen and EMTs. I say supposedly because I truthfully had my eyes closed for the entire transfer. I felt like Hooper reaching his hand into the cookie jar with the you can’t see me if my eyes are closed assumption. Reality, of course, was that they could all see me, in all my trying-to-push-a-baby-out glory. I’m sure it was quite the site and just the kind of excitement they wanted when they suited up that morning.
Think laboring on your back sucks? Try being fully dilated, in full blown labor having pushed for three hours, and asked to slide onto a gurney. I had my legs pulled back during the contractions and was still trying to push when one of the EMTs asked me to straighten my arm so they could take my blood pressure. I wanted to tell him to suck a dick. Didn’t he know I was in laborland? Didn’t he know I had no control over my body? What’s that you say? His penis knows nothing of labor? Oh yes, you’re right. With any luck, his prostate will fail sooner than others. I digress and I joke, but the transfer sucked.
They wheeled me on the gurney out my very own front door. I could feel the warmth of the July sun beam down on my face. It was the last moment of peace because moments later things started happening very fast. It was 12pm at the time of the transfer.
We arrived at West Hills Hospital and I was quickly taken up to labor and delivery where two nurses, an anesthesiologist, and team of other personal waited for me. One of the nurses kept yelling at me to look at her. Truthfully, I didn’t want to open my eyes. I didn’t want to confront where I was. I didn’t want to follow instructions. I missed the control and peace I had at home instantly.
But, alas, I opened my eyes and decided that this woman was a bitch and that I hated her. She told me not to push. I figured she wanted me to hold out until the doc got there, but what I wanted to say was, “Look you bitchy drill Sergent, I’ve been pushing for three hours to no avail, this baby isn’t going to come out. Relax.”
The OB got there moments later and I heard the bitchy nurse say she was going to “get the pit”, meaning start me on pitocin. The doctor responded saying, “There’s no time. This baby is coming now”. What happened next must have been quite the scene. I had an anesthesiologist trying to put an IV in my left arm and some other dude literally thumping down on my lower abdomen as if giving my belly button CPR. They should have just had a dwarf jump up and down on my belly like it was a trampoline, that’s how hard they pushed. I felt his head pop out. Instant relief. The OB used a cork screw technique to get his shoulders out (due to shoulder dystocia) and instantly we were parents to two boys. It was 12:26pm, a mere twenty six minutes after leaving the house. He was 9lbs, 8oz and 21 inches long.
Relief flooded my veins. Not because I was worried about the transfer to the hospital but rather because I was so physically exhausted. Your mind goes to a lot of funny places during labor and, I’m not going to lie, at one point I fantasized about the professional massage I would treat myself to in the coming days. I have yet to give myself such a treat, but the soreness experienced has kept my fantasy at the forefront of my mind.
After I got cleaned up, they handed me Van. Willy came over, tears filling his eyes and I experienced the euphoria that only birth can create. The gift of life. The gift of family. The gift of the greatest responsibility of your life. A responsibility I welcome with love and gratitude.
So, it wasn’t the birth I planned. Neither was my birth with Hooper. Technically speaking, I’m zero for two. I’m hardly crying myself a river. Despite the transfer to the hospital during Van’s birth, I’m left with a happy memory and an absence of any fear. I worried from the beginning with Hooper’s birth. As soon as I left the back-up OB’s office, on my way to the hospital, I worried for Hooper’s well-being. I worried how he would handle the impending birth. I worried about the deceleration his heart showed on the non-stress test. I cried. I grieved. Nothing seemed to be in my control.
Van’s birth started much differently. I had all the control. The contractions started on their own, re-instilling faith and trust in my body that was otherwise beginning to waiver. I felt proud. Like I said, I welcomed the pain. I decided when to call the midwives. I decided when to wake Willy. I felt strong and in control. And I was so comfortable in my own home with my family there to support me. After a few short hours of dilating to 10 centimeters and then another three hours of relentless pushing, Van and I were fine. His heart rate was stable, showing normal decelerations that quickly rebounded back to a normal rate. It definitely wasn’t in my plan to be transferred to the hospital, but to be transferred under stable conditions was the best I could ask for. Neither of us were in danger and despite the chaos that surrounded me, I felt very at peace. I never worried about Van. I got to the hospital in time for one thing and one thing only: to birth my baby. There was no time for un-necessary interventions, no time to prepare me for a surgical birth, no time other than to do what I had intended to do: birth my baby naturally, on my own. And that’s just what happened. Just not where I expected it to happen. But such is life. The Rolling Stones nailed it when they said,
You can’t always get what you want,
but if you try sometime,
you just might find,
you get what you need.