The Most Amazing Thing
Walking home from the diner reinforced the notion that something must be going on. The crampy feelings still didn’t match my mental image of contractions, but they were noticeable enough sensations that I didn’t want to walk too fast. When we called in, the midwife wanted us to come to the birth center so she could check to see if it was truly amniotic fluid. With a little laughing and grumbling about the fact that we intended to have a home birth but still had to get in the car and go to the birth center, we grabbed the carseat and went.
About halfway there, I realized I was very quiet and had pulled within myself to a degree. I observed to Cait that if these were contractions I really did look like all the women on the Hypnobirthing videos: really, really quiet and boring! While it turned out over the course of labor that they Hypnobirthing claim of painless labor was absurd (at least in my case) – and we’d never expected it to be true, by the way, just hoped to get some really good relaxation tecniques to cope with labor – the classes and meditations had helped me achieve an astonishing degree of calmness that never left me.
The swab test and an examination under the microscope showed that I was indeed leaking amniotic fluid, so we left with more tips on inducing labor, plus the suggestion to get in a nap where we could. The midwife still didn’t seem to think anything was tremendously imminent, but we planned to check in by phone every few hours. On the way home, we grabbed some “lunch”: milkshakes, the only thing either of us could handle at that point.
We tried napping when we got home, but at that point the contractions, which I finally admitted must be contractions (I had expected a sharper, more definite feeling, instead of waves), were strong and frequent enough to keep me from sleeping. It was around 3 pm that we started timing them, and they were already 4 minutes apart and lasting 45 seconds to a minute each. I remember distinctly thinking, “These are much more manageable than I expected.” We eventually gave up on napping and headed downstairs for a change of scenery. I was hit by a bit of nesting frenzy (leave it to me to nest at the ABSOLUTE last minute) but soon discovered that the contractions were picking up in intensity and my ability to tidy up or even to make suggestions to Cait on what needed to be done was pretty lacking!
Cait called Erin, the midwife, to check in and report on the contractions. Even though they were getting more frequent they were still tolerable, so she suggested we continue to focus on staying hydrated, eat something if possible, and get in the shower if the pain started getting worse. Cait heated up some soup for me and I forced down a couple of bites, but I started feeling like if I ate much more I would throw up. And I did NOT want to throw up if I could avoid it.
The contractions were starting to be more uncomfortable, and I was really feeling them in my back. I worried that the baby must be posterior and I was doomed to agonizing back labor, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Breathing and leaning on the birth ball were working pretty well in coping with the contraction pain, but the positions that felt best for contractions put a lot of stress on my back. Cait was staying with me, rubbing my back, and being supportive and encouraging, which also helped a lot. After a while of moving around with the birth ball, I decided to try the shower. The hot water felt pretty good, but my back was still really tight. I ended up leaning on the wall in the shower for a while, just letting the water run down my back.
I got out of the shower just about the time that Erin arrived, and was very glad to see her. She suggested putting the birth ball on the bed so I could lie down between contractions, and she also began massaging the backs of my legs with each contraction, reminding me not to let my leg muscles get tense. Her hands were AMAZING, and the gentle touch really helped me get through the next stretch of labor. With Cait rubbing my back and Erin working on my legs, I was able to cope for another hour or so (my sense of time had gone completely out the window, so that’s a guesstimate). Somewhere in here our birth assistant, Lori, arrived. She was there to work as a doula and as a medical assistant to the midwife, and quickly established her role as Chief Hydrator, bringing water to each of us and making sure we drank. She also worked on getting Cait to eat periodically, but I was adamant that I didn’t want food, so she didn’t harass me about it.
We had a birth pool that I was very anxious to use. I had read a lot about the value of water in labor pain management, and the more the contractions and my back hurt, the more I fantasized about immersing myself in the deep, warm, Nirvana of the pool. Erin and Lori did not want me to get in the pool too soon for fear that the water would be too relaxing and stall out my labor. Finally, however, Erin agreed that it seemed clear that I was in active labor and Cait could start getting the pool ready.
Now, we did NOT get a fancy official birthing pool. Those run at least $250-300 and they are pretty unwieldy because they are hard-sided and pretty big. But I’d done a lot of poking around online and found that a kiddie pool could be used just as well. We’d ordered one and set it up in advance. We’d tested how long it took to fill to a certain depth. But the one thing we had not tested was how long it took to get to the right temperature. This was a big mistake.
Cait went downstairs to get the pool filled and hot. She was gone for a very long time, and the contractions were getting worse. At some point she came up and reported that the pool was a dismal 80 degrees. Lori headed down to help her, and they started boiling water on the stove to boost the temperature (Lori and Erin later commented that they’d never taken the “boil water” stereotype so literally at any birth before). They had pots of water boiling on every burner of the stove plus some boiling in the microwave, but the temperature in the pool was barely rising. The three of them took turns working at getting the pool hot enough while one person stayed with me. I was getting pretty frustrated – all I wanted was that pool, but I couldn’t have it. Eventually I got in the shower again and ran through the remaining hot water in the tank. When I got out they finally said the pool was probably hot enough. I headed down and got into the pool.
To my great relief, the warm water really did help. The best part of it was the buoyancy taking the weight off my back so I could truly, truly relax between contractions. The warmth was soothing too, making the contractions themselves slightly more tolerable. However, by this point even in the water the contractions themselves were very intense, and I would roll to my side with each wave of pain and just concentrate on making it through to the next break. In between the contractions, though, I could just lay my head back on the edge of the pool and relax. Cait sat by the pool rubbing my shoulders and encouraging me. I think I was even able to doze some of the time between contractions.
I stayed in the pool for an hour or two (again I don’t really know time) and the longer I stayed in, the less helpful the water and the warmth were, though Lori kept bringing boiling water to keep the temperature up. At some point while in the water, I started to wonder if I could really do this. I had no idea how much longer it was going to go on or how much worse it was going to get, and the idea of some kind of pain relief started to sound awfully tempting. I tried to remind myself that we wanted natural childbirth because it was best for the baby, that the hospital we could go to was far away, and that if I was miserable in the water, I would probably be suicidal in the car. But I did spend a lot of that time thinking about the hospital. I never said anything of what I was thinking to the birth team, and they were later surprised to learn that I’d been thinking about transferring. Up until this point I had stayed pretty quiet, just breathing deeply during contractions, but in the pool I started to get a little louder—moaning and groaning and occasionally muttering “Oh God,” or “Jesus Christ.” (No swearing, though, which impressed Cait and the rest of the birth team)
Eventually I had to go to the bathroom, and the contractions felt pretty miserable even in the water. I got out and went to the bathroom. I’d heard from several friends and various birth stories I’d read that many people like laboring on the toilet. NOT ME! It was even more painful and uncomfortable, so when I could, I got up and walked back into the hall. We spent the next stretch of labor in the tiny little hallway. Erin sat at my feet rubbing my legs. Cait held me or stood by me rubbing my back and shoulders. Lori checked the baby’s heartrate periodically, and continued making us drink water. At this point when the contractions hit, I basically wanted to crawl out of my skin, but all I could realistically do was writhe and grab onto the doorjambs, walls, or Cait as the mood struck me. Now the moaning was punctuated by the very occasional curse word.
After some time like this, Erin suggested that we go upstairs so that I could lie down, as I was looking tired. I agreed, though the thought of climbing the stairs was distressing. We slowly made our way up the stairs and into the bedroom. It’s harder for me to remember things from this point forward, because I really had sunk into myself. We hadn’t been up there that long when things started to get interesting. Seemingly out of nowhere, Erin and Lori, who had been very, very calm and relaxed, switched into high gear and started very quickly pulling on rubber gloves and getting out supplies, though they didn’t say a word. Cait and I didn’t say anything either, but we had the same thought: “Aha. We must be getting close.” This was the best thing that had happened to me in a long time. I had pretty continuously been stuck in a rut of thinking that this was horrible and I didn’t know if I could do it, but the fact that the birth of the baby finally seemed within reach energized me, and made me think, “OK. I can do this.”
I reached down, and indeed felt a hard spot between my legs. I started pushing, and within a few contractions, we were all startled by a huge gush, as what was left of the bag of waters exploded. While technically this was progress, I was actually somewhat disheartened by it, since I thought it was the head. Alas, it was not, and the pushing continued for quite some time after that. (It was another 45 minutes, though I had no way of knowing that). Erin and Lori were soon able to see the head (Cait was by my head, so could not), and began saying after most contractions, “Good. That was a little bit further,” to which my internal reaction was, “Dammit, I don’t want a little bit. I want the baby!” Then, all of a sudden, with a push that didn’t really feel that different from all the others, there was the baby, who came out all at once. It was so fast that I didn’t realize what had happened. Erin had to tell me to reach down and get the baby. I put my hands down and pulled a slippery, squirmy, wonderful little creature onto my belly. I was sort of in shock, but also ecstatic, and full of wonderment.
Her cord was short, not dangerously so, but frustratingly so for her, as she couldn’t get high enough on me to nurse. The short cord also prevented us from knowing that she was a she for several minutes, because she was agitated (read: screaming furiously and doing everything within her power to propel herself upwards toward the breast) and wrapped up in warm blankets, making it impossible for Cait to get in there and find out the vital information. We stared at her face for a while in amazement, not really caring what the answer was.
Finally Cait was able to peek under the blankets and get a glimpse, and said, “Unless I missed something, it’s a girl.” Since we had debated a couple of names, I asked, “Is she Natalie?” And Cait said, “I think so.” And we said hello to our beautiful, sweet daughter Natalie Claire.