I meant to write a blog post earlier last week about how terrible the last few weeks of pregnancy are. It seems to be universal -- every time I would say I was 38 or 39 weeks pregnant, all the mothers around would nod sagely and be extra nice to me. They know.
It's this awful combination of discomfort, impatience, and fear. The certain knowledge that things aren't going to get any better until they first get much worse, combined with the uncertainty of not knowing at what moment anything is going to happen. You make no plans, because you don't want to cancel them, and then you sit around bored because you have no plans. You get the house spotless in preparation for the birth, and then it gets messed up again and still no baby.
I missed out on this whole stage last time, because I really wasn't expecting Michael as soon as he came. And though it really is a miserable time, I think it was a disadvantage to miss out on it -- I hadn't had a chance to really want him yet! This time, I was afraid to be that emotionally unprepared, so I started at 37 weeks trying to feel ready, visualizing the birth, visualizing having a new baby, and sure enough, I did start to feel ready! And then the baby didn't show up for weeks more and I felt over-ready.
Then the baby dropped down and wedged into my pelvis so I couldn't walk without pain, so I got to spend a miserable week or so unable to do any more preparations or any of the things I enjoy, yet without a baby to enjoy either. I got pretty whiny. If I could at least have known when the birth would happen, I wouldn't have minded so much. As it was, I felt like I was being expected to go calmly about my business while at any moment a guy might jump from under my bed or over the hedge, beat the stuffing out of me, and hand me a baby. I didn't sleep very well.
I finished the sock yarn I wanted to finish, got over the cold I wanted to get over, and passed the date of John's campaign event I didn't want him to have to miss. Still nothing. On Saturday I had a lot of contractions. On Tuesday I had a lot more. That made me feel better -- at last something was happening, even if it wasn't labor itself.
But on Tuesday, something else happened -- Marko got a fever of 104. He slept all day and wasn't looking so good. I wasn't really worried -- high fever showing up fast suggests a virus -- but I was glad I hadn't had the baby yet. I hoped we'd have everyone well before I went into labor. Then that night Michael was up for a long time in the middle of the night, so I was exhausted in the morning.
So, Wednesday, the 20th, my mom's birthday. She wanted me to have the baby that day, but between my exhaustion and Marko still not being well, I decided certainly it would not be a good day. Marko got out of bed, tried to eat breakfast, and puked all over instead. John said, "You want me to stay home?" I said, "Nah, I can handle some vomit." I put Marko back to bed and made some granola.
John had been gone for about half an hour when, about 8:30, I had a huge, painful contraction. The kind that I have never had except when in active labor. But I didn't want to have the baby that day, so I thought, "Maybe it's just an upset stomach from too much granola." So I went to the bathroom and then went on with my morning. Let the dog out, let the dog in, let the chickens out. Michael was having fun playing and being goofy. I browsed Facebook.
Then maybe 20 minutes later, I had another one. Dangit. I think by that point I pretty much knew this was it. But because I wanted it not to be it, I sent John a message saying I was having contractions, but far apart. Somehow I expected him to leap in the car and zoom home, but instead he said "keep me posted." I called the midwife and she said more or less the same thing. Apparently both of them would have come if I had said "this is it," but for some reason I really wanted someone else to make the call about whether I was in labor or not. I laid on the couch for awhile hoping I could make the contractions go away by sheer strength of will, but no luck -- they came back around every 10 minutes! But it was such a bad time, and I didn't want to have the baby that day, so I was trying anyway. Maybe I could at least slow it down, right?
In retrospect it seems kind of stupid to try to slow it down -- Marko wasn't going to magically get better in a few hours. My big worry was what to do with the kids. I couldn't send a puking kid to a friend's house, and that had been my only plan! I gave it some thought, and decided we were just going to have to leave Marko where he was, and try to find a place for Michael. But I was still worried about this -- was it fair to ask a friend with kids to watch Michael, when surely he was a carrier for this bug? And would any friends agree to it? I should have started calling around at this point, but I didn't. I called John again, updated him, and said I was giving this an hour to go away or get stronger, and then I got into the tub.
My main reason for getting into the tub was that the contractions were already getting too hard to bear, lying on the couch. Michael wasn't helping by climbing all over me. I figured the tub would keep Michael entertained and help me relax so the contractions would hurt less. But it didn't do a thing for the pain. From the beginning I hadn't been able to talk through them, but by this point I was moaning and yelling. (Michael found this hilarious.) They also sped up to every five minutes. I made up my mind to call John again, but he called me. When he heard how it was going, he said he'd be home as fast as he could. This was at 10:15. I made the decision at last -- this was real labor, and I'd better get things ready.
But I'd waited too long -- now I didn't have time between contractions to do anything! I tried calling the first name on our childcare list, told her the situation, and was trying to follow her answer when another contraction hit and I basically had to hang up on her. Michael was running around naked and wet after the bath and needed a lot of attention, which I couldn't give because I couldn't think of anything else between contractions. At last I managed to get clothes on Michael and me, call my friend back, and get things arranged. Because she is a living saint, she agreed to take Michael. I called the midwife and told her to please come now.
Then there was nothing to do but wait for help to arrive. I was near tears from agony in every contraction, and started to get the feeling that I was in the wrong position. There's this part of labor that I remember where you are convinced that it's the position you're in that's making you hurt so bad, and if you could just find the right one, it wouldn't hurt. I finally remembered to try kneeling down, leaning forward, and sure enough it did help a lot. But I was still extremely upset. I wanted someone with me -- someone who wasn't two years old. I wanted my back rubbed, but it's kind of hard to rub your own back. (I did try.) My one goal for this labor had been to be less upset and anxious, and that was a big fat FAIL. I knew calm might help the pain, but it's hard to be calm when there's a toddler running around and pestering you, and you are counting the minutes for help to arrive.
John showed up a bit before 11, which was faster than I'd expected, and tromped in with his noisy shoes. (I was so annoyed by the shoes; I can't explain why.) He said, "What's the priority? Clean up the living room or clean up in here?" I was dumbfounded. Clean up? But I was about to have another contraction and couldn't discuss this, so I said "clean up out there please" (because I thought I would die if I had to go through a contraction with him tromping around cleaning up around me!) and he went away. After that was over I had a last call confirming stuff with my friend for childcare, and then I called John over to go take Michael over there. "Shouldn't I wait for the midwife to get here so you don't have to be alone?" he asked. "No," I said, finally getting decisive because I could see clearly where we were heading, "I can't relax until he is safely over there and the sooner you go, the sooner you can be back."
While I was alone, I started to feel a little bit like pushing. "NO NOT YET!" I screamed and the pushy feeling went away. Talk about mind over matter! 15 minutes later, John was back and the midwife arrived a minute later. I let them prepare the room with the spare sheet on the bed and the birth kit unpacked, and then I said to leave everything else and just pay attention to me. I had waited a LONG TIME to have someone to rub my back, and by golly I wasn't waiting any longer. The midwife laid down a blanket and a chux pad on the floor at the end of the bed and I knelt down there. I had every expectation that I would probably stay there till the birth -- I felt strongly it was close.
For about ten minutes everything was lovely. I felt calm and that made the pain decrease a great deal. It made me happy that I hadn't thought, like last time "oh no, if it's this bad now, it will get much worse." I had focused on the present, and sure enough pain in labor is not linear. It doesn't just get worse and worse. I was joking and laughing with John and the midwife between contractions, even though they were only about three minutes apart. But they quickly got worse again. I moaned at one point, "I don't want any more of these!" John said, "There won't be many more." I thought about arguing with him, but I was pretty sure he was right, so I said, "That's relative." Because by "any more," I really meant, "this next one." I could not see beyond the next one, the pain was so great. I needed John to be touching me, because I needed the emotional support, but it felt like his hands were hurting me no matter what he did.
Then I had this contraction where I felt like I had to run away. It's like the "can't get comfortable" feeling, but so much more intense. It's a restless feeling. I remembered it from Michael's birth, and remembered that I had started pushing soon after that, so I thought "what the heck? may as well" and started pushing. Both John and the midwife could tell I was bearing down and told me so (um, I know!) and I said, "Is it okay that I'm pushing?" The midwife, God love her, said, "You are listening to your body, so you're doing the right thing." I stopped looking to her to tell me what to do (something I had been sort of doing from the beginning, and absolutely did for my previous births) and just went ahead with pushing. The next contraction my water broke, and the one after I felt this massive head come barreling down.
In the past I have told people "pushing isn't the hard part." I remembered pushing with Marko being euphoric and pushing with Michael as not particularly painful, but this time, it was just awful. It wasn't any better than those horrid contractions had been without the pushing, only now there was this huge head coming down and that hurt too. This time, as well, I remembered to slow down during the "ring of fire," and BOY HOWDY is that a difficult thing to do! At last the midwife said "her head is out" (which I could tell anyway) and so I just pushed as hard as I could and SHLOOP! Out it came.
I say "it" because I really wasn't thinking "baby" at this point. It was more this massive obstruction that I needed to get out. The midwife handed me the baby and I just kind of knelt there dumbfounded for a moment. I wanted to hand it back, because after all, I was IN LABOR and couldn't be holding a baby right now, but the midwife said, "You are all done now, no more labor." That was exactly the right thing for her to say -- I was so relieved! John took a peek and said, "It's a little girl!" And then I remembered to be happy.
They helped me lie down on the bed -- which was very difficult; I suddenly was very weak and my abdominal muscles seemed not to be functioning at all -- and the placenta pretty much popped right out, thank goodness. I took a look at the baby, at last, and felt better and better. I was so glad it was a girl. I had wanted a girl so badly -- really, I can't even explain why -- and had tried and tried not to care, but there it was! A girl!
And then I thought, "I didn't have to ask for this. I didn't even have to want this. God is so good, he gives out babies -- ACTUAL BABIES -- and doesn't make us ask for them or want them. He didn't revoke this gift just because I cried when I found out, or because I whined so much this whole pregnancy, or because this whole labor I have been wishing I didn't have to go through this. He doesn't punish me just because I've been ungrateful."
Then I felt guilty for being so ungrateful, especially when I know plenty of people who would have been so happy to be pregnant. But it wasn't a bad kind of guilt -- more a resolution to see the gift in life a bit more often, and stop looking a gift universe in the mouth. Because Miriam is pure gift, unasked for, unexpected, out of the blue. I spent too long worrying and agonizing over whether we had room in our lives for a gift like this. Sure, it's possible that we actually don't! But she is here now, we will make room, and I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the perfect little person that she is.
Now, I'm not going to lie. Miriam is the ONLY good thing about the whole process. It was a miserable labor, much more painful than Michael's, even though it wasn't any longer. I know when I say "three-hour labor" everyone thinks "you lucky thing," but the midwife says the quick labors are the hardest because everything's so intense and you have no chance to cope. I don't know if this is true, but I do know it was absolutely impossible, between the speed and the circumstances, for me to do any of those clever coping techniques or to relax or whatever. It was more like "scream through the contractions and then spend four minutes rushing around madly." You can't relax, breathe deeply, make whale noises, or whatever, because you can't even think. It was rough. Days later I was having flashbacks of it.
But on the other hand, having a baby by lunchtime is nice, and I certainly wouldn't have wanted another minute of that, so I'm not going to complain that it was fast. Just kind of kicking myself that I didn't call everyone sooner and spare myself some of the misery of going through it alone.
Once the small tear I had was stitched up, John went and got Michael. He was happy to see me but didn't seem interested in his sister. Marko was awake (perhaps from all the hollering) and John went in to tell him he had a sister, and he started to cry, "I didn't want a sister!" Ah well.
The rest of this week has been similarly crazy, but I will have to post about that separately because this is much too long and my arms are sore from typing this while also nursing. Miriam is a good eater and fine sleeper, but terrible about being put down. She prefers to do her eating and sleeping in Mama's arms -- who wouldn't? But other than this little detail she is practically perfect in every way.