The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Hello again! The continuation of Lena's birth story...
On the way to the hospital, my contractions got more intense. We stopped at a cafe on the way there for my "farmer's breakfast" on the orders of Michelle (my doula), and I had to stop and lean against the wall next to the organic juice. I wanted to believe this was all a great sign of progress! Dilation! Closer to the baby actually being born! But I was so boy-who-cried-wolf at that point that I didn't trust it.
But lo and behold! We got to the hospital--and yes! Room 308, the Cadillac of birthing rooms, strictly first-come, first-served--and Deb the midwife checked my cervix. ("Still 2," I thought to myself. "Or maybe less! Maybe it's actually retreated.") "So it's at five," she said, matter-of-factly, but with a glimmer of glee. Aron and Michelle let out happy exclamations. Tears immediately came to my eyes. "What did you say?" I asked, sure I'd heard wrong. "Five," said Deb, smiling. "You're doing great."
Five? By the time I got to 5 with Sylvia, I was about 18 hours into labor. "Psyched" doesn't even begin to describe how I felt.
So to break my waters or not? I was at 42 weeks; the baby's heartrate was fine; breaking my waters would probably jumpstart a more intense labor--but it was an intervention, and maybe unnecessary. We all agreed to let nature take its course for a few hours. Aron, Michelle and I walked the quiet halls. At 1:30, when Deb checked again, I was 6 cm. But my contractions--which I squatted during, to encourage them to do their thing--were still 7 minutes apart. I had a sense of how long it might take to go from that to pushing--a long time. And I knew I wanted to avoid the exhaustion I felt during my first, 24 hour labor. With Deb and Michelle's blessing--at 6 cm, they weren't concerned that I might need pitocin or anything else after breaking the waters--we decided to go for it.
Getting down to business
My one concern about any sort of induction is that it could bring on crazy, out-of-the-realm-of-my-current-experience contractions. But maybe since I was already so far along, that never came to pass. The procedure itself was so quick and harmless, I almost didn't even notice it--a little gush of fluid, but not a lot. Then we sat around a little, waiting to see what would happen. I was sitting on the birth ball near the foot of the bed when they started coming, and honestly, I was just so relieved, so grateful, so ... moved, really, by the sensation of true and strong contractions, that I just gave myself over to them. Within 15 minutes of Deb nicking the bag, contractions were between 2 and 3 minutes apart.
I was actually crying happy tears with some of the contractions, bent over on the bed, my knees gripping the bed railing so I'd keep them open, open, to remind myself to be open, open to each contraction, Aron holding my hand, Michelle doing a light massage--I just couldn't believe how beautiful the experience was, how beautiful Aron was, how beautiful the whole process was turning out to be. My friend Katherine, a L&D nurse at the hospital, arrived between some of these contractions, and I was laughing at something Aron had said. "Giggling?" she said, wide-eyed. "This is going to be good!" (That's me with Michelle, and the stuffed animals Sylvia gave us to bring to the hospital.)
Soon after, I got into the birth tub. I kind of knew it was too early--I could tell I wasn't about to start pushing--but I really liked the idea of feeling the warm water. At first, and between contractions, it was awesome. But then the contractions started becoming much more intense. (Transition, anyone?) I'd go from reclined back in the tub, relaxing, to out-of-my-way, sort of swimming in the water on my hands and knees. Then, as the pain reached its peak, I'd hold on to the edge of the tub and try to not crawl out of my skin. All with a varied moaning throughout. This picture is a much prettier version of what I was feeling.
I was not quite ready to push, but getting there, when I insisted on getting out of the tub. I was h-o-t, and cold compresses and Katherine's putting my hair up could only help so much. I was fantasizing about getting into bed and wrapping myself in the sheets, but then realized that I had one little thing to take care of before that moment could arrive.
I was sort of frantic when I first got in the bed again, not sure what to do with myself as the contractions started turning towards pushing ones. What do women do who are on their own in this situation? I can't imagine. Because at this point I needed every piece of advice and direction I could get. Michelle was on one side of me, Deb, Katherine, and nurse Patti were by my feet. I couldn't figure out where to go, quite literally. "Tell me what to do," I think I said, and while in a normal situation hearing "Do whatever your body is telling you to" might sound reasonable, in this one it meant nothing to me. "Help," I think I said to Michelle, and she was right there: "Try getting on your hands and knees again." I didn't think I could do it; I couldn't even make sense of the directive. But I liked being told what to do, so I decided to work with it. She (and Aron?) hoisted me up and over in time for my next contraction. And it was only a few more before I started to push.
For all of the beauty of Lena's birth, and for how much easier it was than Sylvia's--30 minutes of pushing, as opposed to three hours--there were moments when I hated it. In fact, that is something I said: "I hate this." I just wanted everyone to know that at that particular moment, I wasn't feeling enriched or inspired by the process. I just wanted it to freaking end.
At another point, with all of the ladies and Aron cheering me on--"You're doing so great, it's such hard work and you're doing it"--I was totally exasperated, having no idea how near or far I was from actually delivering. "But am I doing anything?!?" I practically hollered at them. Even in my ferocious, pissed off, "I'm going to kick the ass of this labor" state, I heard their laughter for what it was: reassurance. "Oh, you're doing something, all right," I think Katherine said. I also kept hearing Aron laugh in response to how hard I was working--a sort of baffled, delighted, proud laugh. Another good sign, and something I like to remember now, though in the moment if he had been in my face with that laugh, I might have glared at him.
End it did--with me, trying to follow Deb's instructions very carefully in order to prevent tearing (yay!), sort of panting the baby out at the very last few pushes. And then! God, that feeling of the baby actually leaving my body--it's not something I can compare to any other thing. I looked over to my right at Michelle, the nearest face, and shook my head in amazement, as if to say, "That was labor?"
Meanwhile, Deb helped ease Lena's head and shoulders out, motioning to Aron to help her catch the baby. He scooped her body up in his arms, and someone helped me turn onto my back. Deb, Katherine and Patti all hugged, and later they told me they were all wiping their eyes. Aron put Lena in my arms, and that feeling of warm, wet, slightly grainy skin against my own--I had forgotten it--and her mewly cries, her wrinkled, old man's grumpy face... I fell in love, absolutely and completely.
Join writer Emily Bloch each week as she chronicles her pregnancy--and now, life with a new baby.