Note: This post contains clinical language describing childbirth and, like the rest of this blog, should only be read by semi-mature audiences with a sense of humor and a grain of salt.
It’s been one week since the longest 42 hours of my life, and I figured I had better record my impressions of that time for posterity before my evolutionary drive conspires to shut off those memories so that I will be foolhardy enough to produce offspring again.
Our labor story actually begins on Monday, May 2, 66 hours prior to Fire Monkey’s birth when I was awoken by the first recognizable contractions. I’d been feeling tired and meh for most of the day or two prior, and I was soooooo ready to have that baby! (HAH.) So I dutifully timed my contractions for an hour and lo and behold, they were about five minutes apart and 30-45 seconds. I excitedly woke Science Guy and we decided to call our doula, Kelly. As we waited for her to arrive, Science Guy packed up the car and I did what I always do before important events: brushed my teeth.
By the time Kelly arrived an hour later, however, my contractions had slowed to about once every fifteen minutes. Wired with excitement, I bounced on my exercise ball and inhaled clary sage oil for about half an hour before Kelly gently suggested that the best thing we could probably do given the slowed pace of labor was to rest while we could. So we went back to sleep for a few hours and woke up to contractions every twenty minutes. Not hospital time yet, after all.
In retrospect, Monday and Tuesday were the last two “normal” days of my life, which I utterly failed to appreciate at the time. In between naps, Science Guy and I went to World Market, Petco, and Griggs Reservoir in an attempt to walk Fire Monkey out of his cozy home. Besides having to stop for contractions every 20 minutes and bathroom breaks every 2, our efforts at eviction were fruitless.
Tuesday night around 11pm was when things started going downhill. (Or uphill, I suppose might be a better metaphor.) The contractions became painful enough that it became hard to sleep through them. Again we timed, and again around 2am Wednesday they had become frequent enough to meet the 5-1-1 rule prescribed by my doctor (5 minutes apart, 1 minute long, for 1 hour, though we waited about 3 hours before heading to the hospital just to make sure it wasn’t another false alarm.)
An exam at the hospital revealed that I was only 1 cm dilated, so we were
sentenced instructed to walk the 3rd floor for 2 hours to see if I would progress. I’m sure it doesn’t seem this way to a nurse racing to respond to a code, but the labor & delivery floor is realllllly small when it’s the only place you can lumber around slowly for two hours. We walked and walked and walked and made fun of the institutional artwork hanging on the walls and walked and walked and walked and contemplated stealing either a bag of Pitocin or some of the nurses’ pizza (we did neither, I promise) and walked and walked and walked some more. After two hours, I was still only at 1 cm, so we went home with instructions to come back when contractions became too painful to walk and talk through or if my water broke.
This was extremely discouraging and I felt kind of like a failure, just because I’m used to being able to achieve what I want based on my own efforts. (You’d think that teaching and pregnancy would have cured me of this notion, but no.) Cursing my stubborn cervix, I settled in for another day of contractions, but there were no trips to World Market that day as these were much more uncomfortable and we were already exhausted from getting no sleep the night before.
The problem with telling someone like me to come back “when contractions are too painful to walk and talk through” is that my obstinate inner child kicks on and decides to see just how damn long I can keep talking. There was also a pretty big part of me that really didn’t want to get sent home again.
To say it was a long night would be an understatement. We were already running on low sleep, I was anxious that this still wasn’t the real thing (and also afraid that it was), and kind of disappointed that I wasn’t going to have a Star Wars baby. I was finally exhausted enough to sleep, only to be woken up every six minutes by increasingly strong contractions.
I honestly think that the female body/mind blocks out the pain of labor to ensure the survival of the species. Looking back now, I don’t really remember much about the physical sensation of the contractions except that the pain started in my lower back. I mostly remember my reaction to the pain. Which, for most of that last night before Fire Monkey was born, consisted of counting angrily to ten (because I CAN STILL WALK AND TALK I JUST DON’T WANT TO), groaning in despair, and occasionally flailing my arms around to keep from doing either of the first two things.
Around 1am we asked Kelly to come back. Science Guy crashed on the couch while Kelly helped me through six hours of six-minute intervals between contractions. Like I said, I literally don’t have any memory of this time besides what everyone told me later.(Notice how we stopped taking photos at this point.)
In the morning our doula told us that it was probably time to go to the hospital. (“BUT. I. CAN. STILL. TALK!”) This time there was no brushing of teeth or braiding of hair. This was go time. The car ride there during morning rush hour was not fun but ultimately achieved without incident. In triage I was checked and told that I was 3cm dilated and ready to be admitted. LITERALLY the third best piece of news I would ultimately receive that day. I don’t remember if I walked or was wheeled into the delivery room, but I remember passing the same institutional art we had walked past the previous morning and realizing that I had known nothing of pain that first time we came to the hospital.
I labored without medication for about six hours, and I don’t really remember what I did during that time either. I know I used the birthing ball (based on photographic evidence) and I remember hobbling and moaning about ten feet down the hall before heading back to my room and I remember our doula instructing me to keep the various noises escaping from my throat low in pitch. Whether that was a physiological mechanism or just to keep me from screaming my way off the deep end I can’t say.
On our birth plan, I had wanted to go as long as possible without medication because I thought I’d prefer not to be hooked up to a bunch of machines if I could help it. Which was and is true. By the time I got to the hospital, though, I wasn’t so sure. (I think if I’d only been 1 cm dilated I might have asked for an induction.) We stuck to the plan, though, and requested that the nursing staff not offer medication until I asked for it. Again, I think I made it as long as I did more out of sheer stubbornness and fixation on following plans than any real dedication to the principles of natural childbirth.
I finally asked for an epidural when I felt the pain was at a 9.5 out of 10. Had I slept the two previous nights and not been contracting painfully for two days straight, perhaps I would have gone longer. But by that point I was so tired that I was afraid I wouldn’t have the strength to push when the time came. Of course the time between deciding I wanted the epidural and actually getting it was quite ghastly. During the last contraction before it kicked in, I almost didn’t bother not screaming. But I am nothing if not good at following directions, so I forced it into a strange contralto wail.
After the epidural was administered, the anesthesiologist asked how I was feeling and remarked, “Oh, I see you’re having a contraction right now.” And I felt gloriously nothing. It is difficult to remember and describe pain that occupies one’s entire consciousness, but I do remember the overwhelming relief I felt when I finally got a break.
I still wasn’t fully dilated so I spent the next three or four hours sleeping, watching Star Wars, dozing, eating popsicles, and napping. I won’t go so far as to say it was fun, but it was probably the least unpleasant part of the whole process. Looking back, I’m glad I got the epidural so that I wasn’t completely destroyed by the time it came to push. I was never really attached to the idea of going all-natural but I do feel just a slight bit of “I am woman, hear me roar!” for having gone as long as I did.
And then…transition. I started shaking uncontrollably. I wasn’t cold, I just couldn’t stop shaking. I was fully dilated on one side but had a stubborn “lip” remaining on the other so I was
sentenced instructed to lie on my right side with my left leg thrown over my body and resting on a stirrup. This was not a fun hour. I wasn’t in pain but I kind of thought I was going to die.
Around 7:30pm (or so) I was finally fully dilated and ready to push. My OB was on her way in to do a C-section at 8:00pm but the nurses thought I might progress fast enough to be first in line. They instructed me to do a few practice pushes, and then my doctor arrived for the real deal.
By this point, I was exhausted even with the epidural from not having really slept in two days. I was still shaking a little, I couldn’t find my legs and my brain had basically stopped functioning hours ago, and I honestly think I was closest to giving up right there at the end. Probably the only thing that allowed our son to be born was my slavish dedication to following directions. They said push, so I pushed. They said hold your breath while pushing, so I held my breath while pushing.
At 8:20pm, our son was born. And everything changed.
The End….and the Beginning