Sorry this has taken me so long to post. I haven’t had a lot of time for long-format writing.
Right. So. Labor! Not nearly so crappy as I expected, y’all. Turns out that all the anxiety, stress, and panic I lovingly tended beforehand were a huge waste of time and energy. I could have learned French with that time! I could have become a violinist! I could have embroidered dozens and dozens of onesies!
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve always had an overwhelming fear of being pregnant and giving birth. For years, I got tunnel hearing whenever I thought about labor. The idea of an epidural was enough to make me put my head between my knees, and even the smell of a hospital made me faint.
I’ve come to realize that labors are as individual as fingerprints, no two stories are ever the same. My story is a happy one, so I’ve come out of this experience with a lot of sympathy for women who have a tough time. I want to bake for them, and leave them casseroles, and pet their hair. Just as soon as I can figure out how to shower regularly, that is.
As you may already know, I took the drugs. I took every kind of drug they would give me, and these drugs killed my pain just as they were designed. It was magical.
I was in labor for about ten hours and gave birth around noon. There was pain, but for the most part it was manageable (see aforementioned painkillers), and it was definitely overshadowed by the joy. The anxiety, the discomforts of pregnancy, the labor–for me, all of it was a fair trade. Babies are awesome. Especially my baby. I mean he is a hum-dinger, people.
Anyway, if baby havin’ grosses you out, that’s probably all you need to know. The rest is for those of you who are curious, pregnant, or fascinated by the surgery channel. Still with me? Right then, here we go:
My Labor Story
A strange trickling sensation wakes me around 2 a.m. I’m startled, and I blink a few times. There it is again. This time it feels like a small glug from a water bottle. Whoa. OK. I head to the bathroom, sit down on the toilet, and my water breaks.
I put on a pad, walk into the bedroom and lay my hand on Bryan’s shoulder. “Wake up, Papa.” I say. “We’re having the baby.”
Bryan startles out of a deep sleep, calls the hospital, and they tell us to come in. He pulls together the last few items for our already-packed bags while I wait on the toilet. Every few minutes, I get another gush of water, and I’m starting to have mild contractions that feel like the achy, bloated feeling I get just before my period. I can’t believe I’m finally having this baby!
Fifteen minutes later, I’m still on the toilet and I hear water running in the kitchen.
The water is still running.
“Bryan?” I call.
“Are you doing the dishes?”
“Uhâ€¦ yeah.” he replies.
“Dude,” I say. “I’m in labor.”
Bryan turns off the sink.
We leave for hospital, and my contractions are about five minutes apart. They feel like intense period cramps, but are mild enough that I can just give in to the pain and let them wash over me.
At the hospital, they do a speculum examination (ow), and show us to the birthing room where the tub has some sort of strange sand coming out of the pipes. The nurse won’t let me get in. This concerns me, as I had hoped to spend most of my labor in the tub.
Bryan attempts to negotiate the tub issue as my contractions strengthen. I’m breathing through them and picturing my happy place, which happens to be a bathtub.
The nurse tapes large, uncomfortable discs to my belly to measure contractions and the baby’s heart rate. They keep falling off. I find this irritating. I begin to find it so irritating that I consider throwing these monitors across the room. I decide against it. They probably have more.
After about five hours of labor, I come to a decision: Screw this. This shit is starting to hurt. Contractions go from “washing over me” to “hanging around for a cigarette and a cocktail.” I don’t particularly care whether the tub has some sand in it, people. In a few minutes, I won’t care whether there’s goat’s blood flowing from the tap. Let me in the damn tub.
The nurse says “no” just as a new nurse, Lorena, comes on shift. All right, I say. Then I want painkillers, please. The nurses exchange a look that says “she is requesting pain killers awfully soon.” They are wrong about this. I have pain, and the pain needs killing, please and thank you. Lorena says, “I’ll figure out what we can do about the tub.”
She returns about fifteen minutes later to say that no one knows what’s wrong with the tub. No one has measured how dilated I am because my water has broken and they fear introducing infection. I wonder aloud how far along I am.
Lorena explains that I’m probably not in transition yet. Transition is when everything starts to stretch out and the baby drops into position for pushing. Most women will throw up and begin to howl a bit during transition, Lorena says. I tell her I’m not really a howler. She smiles.
“I’m hungry,” I say. “Bryan, will you get me some nuts?” “You want to eat?” Lorena is incredulous. “People don’t usually want to eat,” she says. Bryan brings me some nuts.
Gerard, the Asian anesthesiologist, comes in to explain my pain reduction options. I decide to start with the least invasive option (laughing gas) and work up as necessary.
Gerard wheels in the gas, and I hold the mask up to my face and breathe deeply. I am immediately high. Because I haven’t been so much as tipsy in a year, I hate it. My pain is eased, but I feel stupid, confused, and unconnected to what’s happening. This sucks because my baby is coming, and I’m interested in being around for the process.
I hate this, I say. Bryan nods sympathetically. A few of our friends are in the room, and one of them begins to look green around the gills. I don’t think I’m in too much pain, but his face indicates that I’m wrong. I’ve begun to hum a single note to help me through the contractions, and everyone in the room is avoiding eye contact. I suggest that they head out, as I’m fairly sure things only get more uncomfortable from here.
I breathe through a few contractions on the laughing gas. It works, but I still don’t like it. I don’t want this anymore, I tell Lorena. Bryan fills the tub and wipes out the sand. He tells Lorena that the problem seems to have cleared up, and she agrees.
In the tub, all my muscles relax and I immediately feel much better. Bryan squeezes a washcloth over my neck and tummy, and the sensation of the trickling water is pleasantly distracting.
An hour and a half later, the pain hits a new plateau. I decide to get out of the tub, as I would like more convenient access to the drugs. The spacious birthing room is suddenly the size of an airplane hanger. There must be some way to teleport across to the bed. I have two contractions as I try to cross the room. I’m uninterested in having more.
Our friends are waiting at a nearby coffee shop for the news. They call to ask if I want a smoothie. Yes! I tell Bryan. “You want a smoothie?” Lorena asks. She’s baffled. Yes, I say. An Orange-A-Peel with Femme Boost, please. I am starving.
I try the gas again when I get to the bed, but the contractions are much stronger now, and the gas is powerless against them. I ask for an IV drip.
Oddly, the drip doesn’t take away the pain, just makes me disinterested. I’m alert, and present, and I could care less about this intense pain.
“This really hurts,” I think impartially. “Ow.”
Bryan asks when I think I’ll want the epidural. I say I’ll ask for it when having a needle inserted in my spine sounds more appealing than the next contraction. “Fair enough,” Bryan says. An hour or so passes.
I want the epidural.
Contractions are starting to blot me out, and there’s very little break between them. I’m officially keening, and suddenly the idea of a needle in my spine sounds like an all-expenses-paid vacation to Valhalla. I want the epidural, I say. Can I have three?
Gerard is in the room in no time getting everything prepped. It’s now that we realize Gerard is a resident, as there’s a doctor observing him. I moan nervously and confer with Bryan. Bryan grows stern. “How many of these have you done?” he asks Gerard. “About 300,” Gerard says. Bryan nods. “Fine by me,” I say, and Gerard continues prepping.
Getting everything ready for the epidural takes about forty-five minutes, but to me it feels like ten minutes or so. I’m too deep in the pain to track the passage of time. I don’t realize it yet, but during this time I’m off of painkillers and am going through transition. It hurts about as much as you’d expect, and it hurts a lot less if you have the epidural hooked up before it sets in.
As everyone buzzes around me, I’ve decided that it may not be possible to exist through these next few contractions. It turns out I am right about not being a howler, but Bryan’s troubled face indicates that howling would be a genteel alternative to the sounds I’m making. I’m pissed off to be in this much pain, so pissed that I’m using every ounce of energy I have to growl from deep in my belly.
The epidural insertion hurts about as much as getting my blood drawn. Why was I so freaked about this? I am an idiot. The pain is gone in what seems like minutes. If I could move my legs freely, I could run a marathon. No pain is glorious! I want to kiss you, pain-free labor! I want to take you in my arms and polka with you into the night!
“It’s a good thing we’re married,” I say to Bryan, “because I’d take either of the anesthesiologists right now.”
I’m a little numb below the waist, but can still feel the pressure of each contraction and most of my legs. Now that I’m not hurting, I can also feel where the baby’s head has settled.
“I think he’s coming out,” I say to the nurse.
“No. Right now, I’m pretty sure he’s coming out.”
“Like, he’s right there.”
“Ready to come out. I mean, I think so.”
“Huh,” she says. “We’ll get someone in to check how dilated you are.”
A resident enters and does my first dilation check. She gives a short barking laugh. “Well!” she says, “You’re fully dilated and +3 effaced.”
“What does that mean?” Bryan asks.
“It’s time to start pushing.”
“Yep. Just lay on your side while we get the team in here.”
Bryan and I stare at each other and then start to laugh. It’s time! Time for the baby to come out! Bryan reaches for my hand.
There’s a huge rush of activity. My midwife, Sharon, enters and explains that no one expected me to have this kid for about ten more hours. I’ve fooled them by eating, drinking, and continuing to say please and thank you while requesting meds. In addition to Lorena and Sharon, two more nurses, a doctor who’s never observed a birth, and the resident who will deliver Hank pile into the room.
They detach the end of the bed, attach a garbage bag for birth-related goo, and we’re good to go.
Bryan holds one of my legs, Lorena holds the other, and I start pushing when I feel the first contraction. (For those of you who are pregnant, pushing equals pretending to poop. I read this on Andrea’s site, and it works like a charm. Also, it may cause you to poop. Please trust me when I say that you will neither notice nor care if this happens.)
I’m in no pain at all, and I’m so excited about the baby that I start to laugh with each push. I’m having a baby! My body made a freakin’ baby! This is a unique experience.
The team sees Hank’s head almost immediately, and I ask if it’s fuzzy. They’re understandably distracted, so no one answers. “Is he fuzzy!?” I ask again. All the babies in my family are born with hair.
“Do you want to see?” Sharon asks. “I can get you a mirror.”
“No!” I say. “No, no, it’s OK. â€¦ Is he fuzzy?”
“Reach down and feel his head,” she says.
I’m tentative about this, but the curiosity is killing me. I reach down, and touch Hank’s furry, emerging head. This is the strangest sensation I will ever have in my life, using my fingertips to feel another human being coming out of my body. I’m crying and laughing at my furry little baby. Suddenly, I want to hold him so much that my lungs hurt a little.
“Do you want to see?” Sharon asks again.
“No! No,” I say. “It’s OK.”
“Oh, for goodness sakes,” she says. “I’m telling you, you’re going to want to see this.”
Sharon retrieves a large mirror from the bathroom. It has a Rococo gilt frame, which seems incongruously decorative in the hospital room. It takes a moment for me to realize that I’m supposed to be watching Hank in the mirror. I look at the image, and his head is almost halfway out. I gasp, grin at Bryan, and squeeze his hand; both of us are crying.
I push for about 30 minutes and make progress with each push. I get cuts in two places, which feels like a very slight burning sensation. The team tells me to push into that feeling.
Suddenly Hank is here! He’s completely and utterly outside my body. He gives one small cry, and I respond with my own sob. Bryan looks surprised and overjoyed.
We watch as they unwind the cord that has wrapped loosely around Hank’s neck. Sharon puts him on my chest. He is tiny, pink, and perfectly calm.
His eyes are alert and peaceful, and he is not crying. This concerns the team, and they begin to poke at him and flick the bottoms of his feet to irritate him. “Beh,” he says. “Neh.” And then he sighs.
When he still doesn’t cry after a bit, they pull Hank away across the room. Bryan is holding my hand and looking anxiously after the baby. “Go with the baby!” I say. “You can go.” I watch from the bed as they harass Hank, trying to get him to cry. This goes on for a few minutes, until Sharon says, “There is nothing wrong with this baby. Why are we bothering him?”
They bring him back, and set him on my chest where he blinks at me and yawns.
Downtown, Sharon begins talking with the resident about the best way to sew me up. I feel a few tugs and decide it’s best to ignore their conversation in favor of gazing at the baby with Bryan.
To my surprise, no Jesus rays break through the clouds to illuminate our little family, and I don’t feel a wave of intense emotion sweep over me. I feel calm, and content, and fascinated by this little guy snuggled up against me. I wonder who he’ll be.
Now and then, in the weeks to come, I begin to have those moments of overpowering love — moments when it seems impossible that my body could have created something so precious, moments when his delicate fingers are enough to bring on tears.
Soon enough, those moments are so intense that they almost blot me out, and there’s very little break between them.