M started her journey to the other side of the womb around 6 p.m. on March 15th. My cousin K, on spring break, had come down for the afternoon. We stopped at Starbucks (tall peppermint hot chocolate- yum!), wandered around Kroger, and hung out at the house watching Fight Club and eating pizza. As soon as K left, I regretted the pizza. I had gas pains. Every five minutes. For about 30 seconds. Uh-oh.
I was 41 weeks, 4 days pregnant, so this was no surprise. I had spent the past few weeks reading birth stories and hanging out in the birth tub. I knew how early labor for a first-time mom should be. It would progress slowly, be easy. I was going to watch a movie and hang out in the tub.
Just to be sure these were real contractions, I got in the tub and had my husband, B, time contractions with my iPhone app (yes, they have an app for that!) for about 30 minutes. It was about 9:30, and I suggested we call our midwife to give her a heads up. I knew we wouldn't need her 'til morning, but maybe she should try to get to sleep early.
Our midwife (I'll call her L) suggested I try to get some rest, so I got a little nest assembled on the couch. I went to lay down, and my water broke. It was only 9:45. B called L again to report, and I got in the birth tub. Contractions were still about 5 minutes apart, so I couldn't rest. I suggested we watch something funny on t.v. to distract me. We got about 20 minutes into Tosh.0 before I had B turn it off. This was getting hard! Already?
By 11, I had to vocalize through contractions, and they were about 2 minutes in length. B called L and had her come over. Time is a bit fuzzy through all this. I know I was 2 centimeters at midnight and the next few hours were pure hell. I screamed through every contraction. It was very painful, and the hypnobabies practice didn't do a thing except help me breathe.
Between midnight and 4 a.m., I labored in the tub, leaning on a bar stool, and on my hands and knees. It was intense and painful. I know some women experience labor as 'pressure' or 'hard work.' I felt sharp pain, like knives stabbing me from inside, on the underside of my belly. Contractions were very close together for a while, and I remember wishing for a break.
At one point, I remember leaning on the edge of the tub and thinking that I'd rather die than continue with the pain. Later, B said my pupils were very dilated, and he knew I was on another planet. It reminded him of this scene from Family Guy:
That's also about the time L swooped in with rescue remedy and offered to check me again. I was 9 centimeters! Just a small lip on the cervix to go, and I could start to push!
That news, combined with slowing contractions, made the next stage of labor more tolerable. I had been in transition when I was in that dark place, but given how quicly I had progressed, I knew we'd have a baby by 7 or 8 a.m.! Throughout labor, B stood by me, holding my hands and offering encouragement.
L had another client in labor and saw that my contractions were coming further apart (I was falling asleep between them now). She decided to have a back-up midwife come over, and she headed to her other client's house.
By 5 or 6 a.m., the other midwife gave me permission to start pushing with contractions. She and the birth assistant had to coach me on how to push and how to relax. I was fighting the contractions instead of pushing through the pain. I thought pushing would be a relief, but it hurt more!
Note: I spent months talking about 'pressure waves' and 'hypnotic anesthesia.' I read all of the lovely birth stories from Ina May Gaskin. For me, it hurt like hell! Intense, mind-numbing, loss-of-control pain. If I had been in a hospital and strapped to a bed, I'd have been screaming for an epidural at midnight (2 centimeters).
Once I figured out how to push, we tried in every position. In the tub, on the birth stool, on the toilet, on hands and knees, on my back (with the midwife's hands inside me, trying to turn the baby's head). M's head was turned to the side. While we made progress during a contraction, as soon as it passed, she slipped right back up with her head turned to the side.
At about 10:30 a.m., I declared I was done. We had pushed for so long. I was tired of the pain and getting scared. The backup called L who confirmed we had tried everything. L coordinated our transfer to the baby-friendly hospital. We left for the hospital at 11:30. It was a shock to see what a sunny and warm spring day it was. We had kept the blinds closed and lights dim in the house. I realized what a beautiful day it was to be born!
One of the funniest memories of that day is riding down to the hospital and getting stuck at traffic lights. I kept wondering what the people in the car next to us thought as I was screaming and hanging from the panic bar. I couldn't sit because M's head was so low.
L called ahead at the hospital and coordinated the transfer. We skipped triage and went straight to L & D. The nurses were very patient while it took 2 or 3 contractions for me to do what was asked. The OB took a quick look and decided a c-section was necessary. B, my sweet advocate, asked the questions I didn't have the presence of mind to ask: Is there an alternative? Could we try a bit longer? I heard her say something about concern the baby could be in distress. (To be clear, M never actually was in distress) I felt at that moment that I didn't have a choice. As soon as that word 'distress' popped up, I agreed to whatever was necessary. There was an emergency c-section ahead of me, and then we'd be next.
The anesthesiologist came in and gave me an epidural since they thought it would be some time before the surgery. It took effect immediately. I felt nothing. No pain, no pressure. Sweet, sweet relief. They got us in with another OB very quickly, so the epi ultimately wasn't necessary.
I was so tired during the surgery that I slept through most of it. It did occur to me at one point to give Barry instructions about what shots and procedures we would/would not allow. I put him in charge of making sure they didn't do anything we didn't approve. The anesthesiologist talked and joked with my husband. He was curious about the homebirth and asked a lot of questions about it. I was amazed by how cool all of the medical professionals were about the whole thing. They treated us with kindness and respect, despite choices they might not have made for themselves.
When they pulled the baby out, it took a few seconds to hear cries. Longest few seconds of my life. But there they were. I was certain we were having a boy, and when they said girl, B and I both started crying. M pooped all over the table where they were cleaning her (hee-hee). She was 9 lbs, 8 oz and 20 1/2 inches long. Born at 1:36 p.m. on March 16th. There was meconium in the womb, so they whisked her away for observation. I tried to get a good look at her, but I was vomiting and couldn't really see her.
When the OB stitched me up, she promised me a VBAC and confirmed she was stitching me up for the best possible outcome next time.
M and I were separated for 2 hours while we were each under observation. I still don't understand why we couldn't be observed together, but that's a different topic for another day. M was perfectly healthy, and although I did get an infection while in the hospital, I healed just fine.
Sometimes, I look back and feel like I failed because I gave up. Maybe if I had just tried a little longer or a little harder. Or maybe I'm just a big whimp. Then I remember: I recovered from the c-section by alternating Tylenol and Naproxen for three days. That's it. Over-the-counter medicine for three days, then absolutely nothing. Definitely not a whimp. And it took M 3 1/2 weeks to latch, but I never gave up. In baby time, that felt like an eternity. Definitely not a quitter, either. ;)