(Skip if you don't want all the gorey details! This is really a play-by-play, so probably won't be of much interest to the guys.)
My mother-in-law is holding the baby for me, so I'm getting a chance to write down the story of his birth before I forget it. (Though I expect it will take more than one sitting to get it all done!) (P.S. It took several days.)
On Sunday, of course, we were at the hospital. On Monday, I had strong contractions, but not close enough together. On Tuesday -- the latest day the people in triage thought I would have the baby -- I had hardly any contractions at all. On Wednesday, I had a few strong ones first thing in the morning, so John decided to call out of work for the second time that week. I was glad to have him around, but it seemed certain to me it would come to nothing, and that he'd have wasted another sick day on false alarms.
During the course of the day, the contractions stayed fairly stable, not too strong, not too close together. I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for 2:50 that afternoon, so we decided to go for a walk beforehand. It was a beautiful day, and John had some place picked out he wanted to get to.
Around two o'clock, after a bit of driving, we arrived at Rita's. "I thought we were going on a walk," I protested. "This is ice cream!" But I didn't object too strenuously. John said we'd have the ice cream first, and then find the park. But I had a strong contraction as we were arriving, and two more while we were waiting in line. I guess they were about four minutes apart. So when we got back to the car with our ice cream, we started keeping track of the time as we looked for the park.
Well, we never found the park, and pretty soon it was time to go back or we'd be late for the doctor's appointment. The contractions were staying between 3 and 5 minutes apart -- very promising! And they were every bit as strong as they had been on Easter. "Even if it doesn't come to anything," I said, "at least maybe I'll have made some progress by the doctor appointment."
At the appointment, the nurse asked how I'd been since the last one. I told her about our adventure in triage on Easter, and she looked at me a little bug-eyed. "Why did they send you home?!" she asked, shocked. "I certainly wouldn't have." Another nurse was looking up our records and called out, "Oh my gosh, they were in the hospital three days ago at five centimeters!" "I know!" called the first nurse. They were really getting a kick out of us.
Dr. S came in the room. "Hey, heard about your adventure on Sunday," he said. "Let's see how you're doing." I haven't much cared for Dr. S, although he's the one I've seen the most often, because he seems hurried all the time. But I didn't mind him this time. After the check, he looked at me in some amazement. "You're at six," he said. "Are you having any contractions?" I told him and he said, "I'm not sure why you bothered to come in here," he said. "Go to the hospital right now; I don't want to deliver the baby here!" Then he shook our hands. "Go have a baby!"
At that point I finally believed that it would be today. We headed home to pick up a few things -- I had forgotten my cellphone, and we wanted to feed the cat -- and then went to the hospital. "Watch the contractions die down as soon as we get there," I said. But they didn't.
It felt like a long, long way down the hall to the labor and delivery ward. Then the receptionist at triage wandered off and left us to wait for a long time. I leaned on the counter through the contractions and made small talk with the two middle-aged guys behind us in line, who were waiting to visit someone. Finally the receptionist came back. "Why are you here?" she asked, a little grumpily. (We later learned they were having a very crowded day.)
"My obstetrician sent me," I said cheerfully. "He said I was at six!"
I got the bug-eyed look yet again, and she picked up a phone. "Get me a room!" she said. Then, "I've got a lady here who's at six; I need a ROOM!" Hanging up the phone, she buzzed us through the doors. "You're going to skip triage, we're keeping you."
Quite a relief to hear! I remarked to John that it was like having an EZ-Pass, skipping all the lines.
We had a very nice room with a view of the tower on the oldest hospital building. The L & D nurse later told us it was the biggest room on the floor. She was an extremely nice nurse. When I told her I wanted to go natural, she was very impressed. "We never get anyone going natural around here," she said. "But I want to go natural when I have mine." She told us that she was getting married in June, and that she wanted to be a midwife someday. Her cheerful attitude really got me through -- periodically she'd tell me how great I was coping, and how awesome a team John and I were.
There was a lot of checking-in time after that. The nurse buckled the monitors on me -- a contraction monitor, a heart rate monitor, and a heart rate monitor for baby. I hated those monitors. At first they weren't so bad, but during the contractions they felt way too tight, and they kept me from moving around. I had to stay on the bed, or else right next to it. And every time I wanted to go to the bathroom, I had to unplug all three from the machine and bring all the trailing wires with me. The nurse also ran me through a questionnaire, getting all of my history. She even asked about my dental work. At this point I didn't mind all the questions. She offered to stop talking during contractions, but I appreciated the distraction.
After a long time, the doctor came in. I had not met this one before, and was put off almost right away by her businesslike, hurried attitude. Almost right away she was coming at me with some kind of skewer. "I'm going to break your water," she announced. I was annoyed that she was telling me rather than asking me, although I don't have a particular opinion on artificial rupture of membranes. (It's one of the few things about childbirth I don't have an opinion of!) So I asked why. "Well, we don't want you in labor for another three days, do we?" was her answer. I shrugged and let her break my water. (Later we found that she hadn't actually broken it, although she had meant to -- she had broken an outer sac of some kind.)
At 4:30 I told John he'd better go get something to eat. He was starving, and I knew things were going to pick up soon and I would want him there. He promised to be back in half an hour. While I was alone in the room I tried different positions to see if they would help with the contractions, but nothing really made any difference so I settled back in the bed, cranked up almost all the way so I was sitting up. A little before John came back I had the first "real" contraction. All the rest had been intensely uncomfortable, but this one was really seriously painful.
I was so thankful when John came back! We went right into trying different coping techniques. However, I hadn't taken a class and didn't have any notes with me on any of the suggestions my mother and others had had ... so I had very few techniques to use. I really hadn't imagined how hard the pain would be to get through. But we managed all right for about an hour.
Then the doctor came back and said I was still at six centimeters. That was what totally blew it for me. I had been coping okay, though not great, and just hearing that news both magnified the pain and threw me into a state of near-despair. On her way out, the doctor called that she would be back in an hour, and if I hadn't progressed she'd be giving me Pitocin.
I was near tears. So much for my natural birth! And I have heard from others that Pitocin makes the contractions much, much stronger. I was barely coping as it was. Interiorly I decided that if she gave me Pitocin, I would get an epidural. I simply could not face the possibility of things getting worse than they were. I was in agony already, the contractions were very strong and close together, and I was tired of bearing it.
That hour was the worst. The contractions continued to intensify, and whatever focus I had had before to cope with the pain completely abandoned me. John led the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which was a huge comfort -- in fact, when we finished the chaplet, I begged him to start over again, but in the middle, because I wasn't sure I remembered the Our Father. A little after that, I couldn't even manage the chaplet. It occurred to me after awhile that I didn't actually have to do anything in particular to be "coping." I had been quite proud to be outwardly calm in the face of the pain, and I had felt that I had to be in complete control. At this point I abandoned that notion and told John that I was going to go ahead and and make noise if I wanted to. This did help a bit -- it released all the tension I had from trying so hard to manage the pain. Instead I gave into it and didn't do anything particular to cope.
Between contractions the pain would almost completely recede, so I was able to converse calmly with John, the nurse, and whoever else was coming in and out of the room. But the breaks were short. Before every contraction, the fetal heart monitor would lose the signal for some reason, and the machine would beep. I dreaded that beep. I remember wailing to John, "I'm not ready for it to come back! I wanted a longer break!"
For the first part of labor, all the pain was focused in my back. I knew this wasn't good, so I turned on my left side to try to shift the baby off my back. It did work, but now the pain was focused in the front. It was all I could do not to yank all the monitors off my belly -- it felt like they were squeezing me and causing the pain. The nurse suggested all sorts of things -- standing up, kneeling, and so forth -- but I didn't feel I could move at all. Even trying to turn on the other side was such agony I abandoned the effort. Besides, these would progress things, which meant making the contractions worse. I remembered having said that I just wanted the baby out soon, no matter how much it hurt. "No way," I thought. "I change my mind, I want to go home. Being pregnant forever sounds like an excellent option." I longed for an epidural, but was still too terrified of the needle -- not to mention that even asking for an epidural meant a fuss and people trying to talk to me, and I dreaded that as well.
Around the same time, the contractions let up a tiny bit, and the doctor came back. "You're at eight," she said, and I felt a light at the end of the tunnel. I remember being told that the worst of the pain was at seven, and I do believe this is true, or almost. I was never in despair again after that, either, and I never wished for the epidural. The doctor also said she would "remove some more membranes," and this actually broke my water, as we could see as soon as she'd done it. At this point the pain moved from my belly to my hips. It felt like my pelvis was going to split in half. I was very restless, trying to relieve the pain, but nothing worked. I tried to roll to my back, but I think the baby was wedged in the way he was -- I almost screamed, trying it, and went back to my side.
The nurse kept reminding me every time she came in to tell her if I had the urge to push. I wasn't quite sure what it would feel like, but I thought at one point I felt some pressure so I let her know. A resident checked me because my doctor was elsewhere. He said I was at nine, and there was just a little bit left to go. I sat up on the bed cross-legged or kneeling, trying to keep making progress and help the baby down. The contractions got more intense again now, with very little break. There was a horrible pressure, which I realized after three contractions was the urge to push. In fact, I was completely unable to stop myself from pushing a little bit. We called the doctor back, and found I was at ten -- complete and ready to push.
This was at 11:12 pm. My nurse's shift had ended at 11, but she had been hanging around because, as she said, she never got out the door before 11:30 anyway, and she wanted to see if the baby would come in time for her. Another nurse was in the room, too. The doctor set up a stool and pulled over the table with all her tools. It felt like we were preparing for something important. The doctor explained to me that, since there had been meconium in the waters, they wouldn't be able to hand over the baby to me right away. He was going to have to have his lungs suctioned and be checked by a neonatologist. At the back of the room, I could see the neonatologist and three more people setting up the baby's warming table.
The nurses put me in the stirrups and explained what I was going to have to do. When a contraction came, I was supposed to hold my breath and push as hard as I could to a count of eight, take a breath, and push again. (This is called directed pushing, and my opinion about it is definitely against -- I think it is better for the mother to push spontaneously, provided she isn't numbed up [this is one of my main reasons for NOT being numbed up]. Directed pushing can make the baby come out too fast and increases the chances of injury to the mother ... which is, of course, what happened to me.) However, at this point I didn't feel like arguing and I was willing to do whatever they asked. They were letting me push, after all! That was all I wanted ... by the time we were all ready, I was absolutely dying to push.
The new nurse held one of my legs and John held the other, and I pushed with all my might. At first the doctor said I was "holding back" and gave me a lot of instruction about what exactly I was supposed to be doing. I found this annoying but followed her instructions -- I wanted to prove to her that I was just as eager to get this baby out as she was. Between contractions I sat back and relaxed. The breaks seemed quite long and the contractions seemed short. They weren't painful in the least anymore, or at any rate I didn't notice any pain. What I noticed was that I wanted to push, and I got to push. Pushing was wonderful and between contractions I wanted them to come back so I could push more.
They told me my goal was three good pushes per contraction, but I managed four in each. During one break the neonatologist came over to introduce himself. He reached over me to shake John's hand. I was annoyed; I wanted to say, "We're pushing out a baby right now, could you come back later?!" But everyone at this hospital is used to all the women having epidurals; it never seemed to occur to anyone that I was actually feeling everything.
In three contractions, they started telling me the baby's head was out. "Does he have hair?" I asked. "Yes," John told me. He had been insisting for months that the baby would have hair. I didn't mind his being right ... I just was trying to make it real that they could actually see the baby. (They had asked me if I wanted a mirror so I could see what was going on ... but I didn't particularly want to.) "One more good push," they said, and I pushed as hard and as long as I could. There was a distinct "pop" and suddenly the doctor was holding a wriggly baby! He was crying vigorously, so the doctor said right away that he was fine, but they did pass him off to the neonatologist anyway.
That was right at 11:30. The rest of the story can be glossed over -- the very vigorous smooshing of my belly by the doctor, which I guess she had to do, but at the time I kept trying to push her away; the Russian guy who came into the room and started hosing me down with a spray bottle (I wanted to say, "I can shower later, thanks!"); the cold pizza I devoured an hour later like it was the food of the gods; the sleepless night we passed, not because of the baby, who slept like a charm, but because of the endless procession of nurses, technicians, housekeeping people, and lactation consultants who came in and woke us up. Instead I'll end with the time, around midnight or a little earlier, when they finally gave me my baby and I got to hold him for the first time. I loved him at once ... though not as much as I love him now.
I must say, though, that my most intense emotion wasn't love for the baby, but relief that the pain was finally over. Labor was much worse than I had imagined, and I was not as well prepared for it as I had thought. Even as late as the next day, as I suffered from exhaustion and a great deal of pain, I would periodically think, "I'm not in labor anymore!" and feel very happy.
Considering it later, I am left with a lot of thoughts. First is an overwhelming gratitude to John. He was so calm and helpful. Every time the panic started to rise up, I would hold onto him and instantly feel much calmer. I simply could not make it through a single contraction without holding tightly to him. As soon as the contraction was gone, I would be telling him again how much I loved him and how grateful I was. When I think that, if the baby had been born two weeks later, I would have had to go through all that without him ... it doesn't bear thinking of.
The second is shame. I think I've mostly gotten over this now, but in the day or so after the birth, I was tremendously ashamed that I did not handle it better. I had intended to be so much more serene, not the screaming, crying, stereotypical woman in labor that I ended up being. I had wanted to live up to my mother, who always described her births in such a positive way that it always seemed it wouldn't be so bad. Instead I felt that I had failed. I did not come out of the delivery room feeling strong and empowered, as all the natural birth stories I had read ended up. I came out realizing that I was much weaker than I had thought, that I had been overconfident and proud about my ability to cope and had been wrong about it all.
The third is doubt about wanting to do this again. I loved the baby so much that I knew I would want more children -- when the nurses asked, "You think you want to do this again?" I said yes. But when I thought about the pain -- I wondered if I could face it, knowing how bad it was going to get. For the first day or so afterward I decided I would get the earliest epidural they would give me, and not feel the least bit bad about it. Later it occurred to me it might not be so bad if only I had a better environment, were better prepared, had more supportive attendants. 90% of the time it was John and me alone in the hospital room with the monitors and the rules, with the threat of intervention hanging over our heads. Would it have been different outside of a hospital? I am going to have to think about this for next time ... the only sure thing is that a natural birth inside a hospital is my very last choice. It's the worst of both worlds, as far as I can see.
So ... who knows what I will do next time, if I'm lucky enough to get a next time. Meanwhile, I do feel better about my choice. I didn't do the natural birth just to feel strong -- it was because I honestly believed it was best for my baby and for me. And everything did go well: we did not require any intervention, and our 10-hour labor is below average for a first-time mom. Whether I handled the pain in a brave or a cowardly manner is really irrelevant when I am holding my baby. I'll just be thankful that I did get through it, and with few enough complications that a week later I'm feeling pretty close to back to normal.
I hope I don't scare anyone with my story. I have no regrets. Baby is here and depriving me of sleep in the usual fashion, but paying me back with blue eyes and soft brown baby hair. He's causing me all kinds of grief -- as he has been doing since he first started making me sick nine months ago -- but I'm not sorry for having him.
To make up for all the agony of the story, here's a picture of the baby!