I had been awake on and off the majority of the night by the time the 9 am alarm clock chimed, announcing that it was time to end my hours long struggle with sleep. I groggily got up and begin preparations for my four-year old daughter’s (Kaylee) day. I laid out clothes, started breakfast and requested that she get out of bed several times, in increasing decibels. My head felt strangely light and the ground felt shaky underneath my feet. Suddenly, I felt a familiar rumbling in my midsection which I had grown quite accustomed to in the last couple weeks of my pregnancy.
Once out of the bathroom I emailed my professors, with bleary eyes, that I would not be in today. I felt strange, as I had all of the prior evening, as if time had slowed and I was standing on a cliff facing a certain fall. I called my husband to ask him if he could come home to pick up our daughter and take her to school, as I didn’t feel that it would be safe for me to drive. Something was simply off. He didn’t answer. I dialed again and was met with his voicemail, again. Normally it doesn’t bother me to hear the automated voice on his machine, but this morning I wanted to throw something at the wall; preferably his phone, or him.
I slapped myself mentally, assuring myself that I am not a violent person, and sent him a text that said “Hey, I might be in labor… just thought you ought to know ” I assumed that the smiley would indicate that I was joking. Satisfied that I would hear from him soon, I badgered my daughter about her breakfast, and heard my voice come out more firm and obnoxious than usual. By now my body was cramping, everywhere. I felt a harsh kind of tension in my limbs and giant round belly. I noticed that the baby growing in there wasn’t moving much, as opposed to the marathon she usually ran each morning. The hair on my arms prickled and I let out a little laugh. It was four weeks early. The mere thought that I could be in labor was laughable.
I went and started a bath. The faucet seemed uncooperative; I couldn’t get the temperature right. I sat down heavily next to the tub and stared at the ceiling. The cramping had now subsided everywhere besides my belly. I was still nauseous and lightheaded, but I felt a bit more grounded. I let the tub start to fill, and walked out to check on Kaylee. “I’m done, mom!” She had eaten roughly half a bite of everything. I inhaled sharply, peered into her sweet, proud little face and stifled the urge to bellow that she was NOT in fact done, unless she was the size of a mouse and I just didn’t realize it.
I looked at the clock. It was already past 10 AM. It seemed that there must be a glitch, as roughly two minutes ago it had been 9. I heaved another sigh, thought about how annoyed Kaylee’s teachers would be when they next saw me, and battled the urge to cry.
Kaylee followed me into the bath. I was too tired to argue, so I just dumped out the toys and warned her that the water was hot. She grinned widely and clambered in. There was a rousing game of “dump the water into various cups, repeatedly” to distract me from the contractions now coming every six minutes or so. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, thinking how silly these “Braxton Hicks contractions” were, as I kept up the mantra in my head that they were “Not Real, Not Real, Not Real.”
My husband busted in, looking frantic. He stopped cold when he reached the tub. “WHAT is going on?! I’ve been trying to reach you! Why are you taking a bubble bath?!” He said the words “bubble bath” with a sort of venom. Apparently I had worried him. Still, I felt a rush of gratitude and a feeling of safety the moment I saw him.
“I’m just having contractions. Same ones I’ve been having for weeks. I just feel a little icky is all.”
“Have you timed them?”
“Oh, don’t be silly, it’s too early.”
I felt a bubble of panic rise in my throat. They had been coming far too regularly.
“I’m timing them.” He got out his phone just as another one started. This one hurt more. It was as if a vice was wrapping around my middle, my skin and sinew tightening harshly. It lasted roughly a minute, or half of forever- depending on who you ask. Another came in 3 minutes, and another, and another. At this point I was trembling slightly, but not out of pain.
“That’s it, we’re going to the hospital.”
“What?! Oh honey, they are Not Real.”
By the time we were loaded into the car, which I noted with frustration still did not have the car seat installed. I was flustered. My face was red, my muscles tensed. I fully intended to simply hold the baby in. It wasn’t time for her to come out yet. Not time, not time, not time.
I stared at the dashboard clock. Every two minutes, for a minute. I willed it to stop. My body, or the clock, was betraying me. It had to be the clock.
It took precisely 17 minutes to get to the hospital. I was having another contraction as I got out of the car. My husband, Nick, ran to get a wheelchair. I had planned to tell him that I could walk but found that I actually could not. My daughter was rather excited by now, at both the prospect of her aunt coming (who I’m assuming Nick called on the way- I certainly didn’t hear the call) and about her baby sister potentially being born. I was not feeling quite so positive. We hustled in through the double doors. I was breathing heavily, and trying to recollect my breathing exercises from childbirth class. My mind was blank.
I rejected the wheelchair once we got to the registration desk. “I seem to be having some contrac… some contra…” I doubled over, elbows on the counter. The intake nurse smiled knowingly and I was once again met with the urge to throw a person. Hmm, perhaps I am a violent person. I expected them to take me to an exam room, an interim room where they could tell me that I was crazy, that it was all in my head and that the contractions were Not Real. Instead, a blonde nurse that I recognized from a previous visit escorted me into a labor and delivery room. I hadn’t particularly liked her before, but for some reason I found a great deal of comfort in seeing a familiar face. She set me up with a gown, had me lay in the bed, and checked me.
The words “dilated” “regular contractions” and “effaced” swam amongst the next few sentences she uttered. The only thing I really heard was, “I think this is it!”
I took a deep breath… and let go.
Somehow I felt that things were going to go quickly. I trusted in my body and I knew that if this baby wanted to come out now, she had to have a reason. I trusted her to.
But after about two hours, going from 1 cm to… 1 cm and 80% effaced, I was sent home and told to come back when the pain was unbearable. I was slightly annoyed at this prospect as everyone had told me that the second baby always comes faster, and I definitely didn’t want to give birth at home. I was having contractions every two and a half minutes, and given that I had an epidural with my first I felt like they must be as intense as it got! I was not happy.
My sister took Kaylee home with her and we headed home as well, thinking that it would be a while yet and trying to make plans. One of the nurses had said that it could still be several days, which had me in a panic. Yes, I wanted her to bake- but I had a 4 year old child and school and I could not handle contractions every two minutes for days (I know some women have, but they are by far more superhuman, let me tell you).
We got home and one hour later I called my midwife. She listened to me through a couple contractions and told me to meet her at the hospital.
Once checked in I was told that I was now two cm and almost completely effaced. I relaxed at this news somewhat as I had resigned myself to my baby being born early. I was still having regular contractions. I sent another email to my professors and updated my Facebook friends and relatives, telling them that I would keep them apprised of the situation. I was going to be one of those pregnant ladies.
My daughter, sister, and her partner came back after a bit to spend some time with us. Kaylee was her usual funny self, although I could tell she was worried about me. I had it in my birth plan that I wanted her present for as much of it as possible, so I was frustrated when my midwife repeatedly suggested that they take a walk, or get some food, or go see the statue (you get the idea). I was well aware that she was a ball of energy, but it didn’t disturb me- I derived energy from her. So each time they ushered her out I felt a sharp pang of anger, but it was usually timed perfectly with the sharp pang of the next contraction, so I didn’t say much.
I got in the bath after a few hours of walking up and down the halls. I was immediately relaxed and able to eat, so I was brought a plate of cottage cheese and fruit and set it on my belly to eat in the bath. My daughter found this quite funny. After I ate, Kaylee poured water on my belly with a cup and made an obvious effort to connect with me, it was probably my favorite part of labor. I stayed in there for about an hour until I felt a strong desire to move around.
The next few hours were spent on the birthing ball; walking up and down the halls and having my midwife scold me for not moaning correctly. I came very close to slapping her the fiftieth time she demonstrated the proper low tone. I could not make my voice do what she was doing, and I didn’t want to. I also wanted her to STOP touching me. But in my fog of pain, I didn’t realize that is why I was feeling violated.
By nighttime I was still not progressing very fast, and the doctor on call (who I really ended up liking a lot) suggested she break my waters. They said that since she was early, the bag was a lot stronger and thicker than usual. I agreed, despite having had no desire for any interventions. After 11 hours with no reprieve, I was feeling tired. She pulled out the hook and I yelped.
“What’s wrong? It’s just like a crochet hook.”
“Yeah! A crochet hook in my VAGINA!”
It didn’t hurt, although I felt plenty of pressure. The contractions were supposed to get more intense, but it didn’t feel much different. At this point it was late and my daughter was in the waiting room resting. I wanted her with me and so someone went and got her and I cuddled her, finally able to rest a little between contractions as she slept… although it was difficult to be quiet as she slept peacefully in my arms.
In the middle of the night I was checked and was still only at 6-7 cm. I was really discouraged and exhausted at this point, and despite not wanting more interventions agreed to a Pitocin drip. I felt my natural, unmedicated birth slipping away and I was devastated.
The Pitocin contractions hurt more intensely than before. Within a couple hours I was a mad woman. I remember turning to my sister and saying “I can’t do this. I just can’t.” She replied “Okay, then. Let’s go home.” Her humor and support got me through some of the hardest moments. My husband slept when he could but was there by my side, supportive as can be as well. At one point I asked my sister to put on a movie and when she asked which one my midwife barked at her that “I had to focus on labor” and waved her off. She then sat next to me, around 6 in the morning, and asked me “What are you afraid of?” as if I was willing my body to move slowly. I just wanted to be left alone, but I was so shut down at this point from the relentless pain that I couldn’t voice what I wanted. At some point I updated my Facebook again “Still no baby.”
The next couple hours are a blur. I know that there was a lot of screaming, I know that at one point I told my midwife to shut up (which to this day I am happy about- even if I apologized later in the afterglow of labor) and I vividly remember the midwife blocking my path when I shouted that I needed to use the bathroom, as she did not want me pushing the baby out on the toilet.
“I know my body, lady. I just have to pee!”
I had a beautiful, wonderful, amazing male nurse that I swear saved my entire labor experience. He did massage and rotated my hips and applied pressure on my back. I wanted to keep him and send everyone else that worked at that hospital far, far away.
At around 10 am I was crying, hysterical. After 23 hours of labor, I had HAD it. I wanted this baby out and I didn’t know if I could hold off on pain meds anymore. The midwife then told me that I didn’t have to torture myself, and that the risks of an epidural were not that bad, and that I could not keep this up. She actually said those words “You can’t keep this up.” I was livid. I had trusted that the title midwife, that all of our discussions about natural birth had meant that she would support me. And here she was cutting me down. I was hurting physically before, but now my heart was breaking as well. I managed to voice that there was no way in hell I was getting an epidural. I agreed to get a shot of Fentanyl as it only lasts for 20 minutes and I was told that it would have no effects on the baby. It was the one and only drug I hadn’t researched during pregnancy. Twenty minutes later I was ready to push. Ten minutes later I was screaming. “Get her out! Can’t you just take her out?!?!”
“You are the only one who can have this baby!” was what the nurse told me.
And he was right. Twenty minutes total of pushing and my baby girl was out. When she slipped out of my body it was the most relief I had ever felt in my life. All of the pain was gone. They laid her on my chest and I cried with joy. We laid there, cord attached and pulsating for what seemed like forever (but I later learned was only a few minutes). I birthed the placenta with a couple pushes (speaking of which, that thing is still in my freezer…) and they stitched up a tiny tear while I latched on my little nursling. She took to nursing right away. My nurse whispered in my ear “That was the gentlest birth I have ever seen.” I was moved to tears once again, knowing that I must have done something right.
My 36 week baby was born at 10:50 am and weighed 7 lbs 10 oz, she was 20 inches long. Looking back, I wish I had sent my midwife away. I wish I had refused Pitocin. I wish I had studied Hypnobirthing and the Bradley method and had a doula. And I will, for my next child. But for now, I am grateful that despite the fact that my birth experience was not how I planned it, despite the trauma that I did endure my daughter was there to witness the birth of her sister, I was surrounded by family and light and love, and I have a healthy, happy eight month old lying next to me in the family bed, milk drunk and sleeping soundly.
Proud Dad and Big Sister Kaylee