At last, both my hands are free for a moment... here is the story of how Auden came into the world:
Contractions began 2:30am Friday morning. I sat in bed timing them by my alarm clock and just counting the seconds in my head to see how long they were -- roughly 30 seconds, anywhere from 5 to 7 minutes apart. I counted for an hour before I woke J to tell him I was finally in labor.
I really should have gone back to sleep at that point, but I was too excited. J got up and made me some oatmeal; I woke my mom around 4am, and then we were all up, drinking tea and marking the time of the contractions. They were mild enough that I could talk through them, and was still quite comfortable. More than anything, I was relieved to know it was really underway. I called the midwife half an hour later -- much too early, I realize now -- and she told me to let her know when the contractions were really close together or when my water broke.
The morning passed quickly, with contractions coming closer together and lasting longer. I had settled into a seated position with a hot water bottle at my back, and was able to ride out the contractions by moaning through them -- they were intense but manageable. I was sure I was making good progress, and so when I got really emotional and shaky around 2pm we figured I was nearing transition. We decided to pack up and head down to the birth center.
When we got there, there was another birth in progress and the reception area was empty. An assistant came out while I was moaning through another contraction, and got us set up in the upstairs birthing room. J helped me walk around a bit, but it made the contractions more intense and it was getting harder to cope with them. I hadn't eaten since the oatmeal at 3am, but I was nauseous from the pain, and threw up whatever liquid I'd managed to drink. We waited for about an hour, and finally the midwife came in to check on me.
I was only 1cm dilated.
I couldn't help but feel totally discouraged, even though I didn't want to be overly preoccupied with the numbers in that way. I just couldn't believe I'd already done so much and still had such a long way to go. We had to go home; we couldn't stay at the birth center. The midwife told me to take a bath, try to keep hydrated, and that I was doing beautifully. I didn't feel so beautiful.
The drive home was horrible -- both because of the contractions, and because this was not the way it was supposed to happen.
I took a bath when we got home again, which helped ease the pain somewhat, but I didn't stay in long. J was really good about encouraging me to get into different positions. We went outside at one point, to walk around a bit. Every ten steps I would drag him down into a squat with me and practically scream through the contraction. By the second or third one in such a fashion, I was puking in the grass along the path, vaguely embarassed that our neighbors in the student housing complex would see me... it was too hard to keep walking, too hard to squat, all of it was too hard. I was exhausted by that point, and was starting to get panicky. Despite all I'd read about visualizing and opening up and seeing the pain as a powerful force that would bring my baby out, all I wanted was to get away from it. All the coping techniques from our childbirth class? Right out the window. Not that I'd really expected to use them...
I usually fancy myself as someone with a high pain threshold -- all the tattoos, y'know -- but I found myself against the proverbial wall several times, absolutely sure I couldn't go on. I was practically begging for a break... although who could grant such a wish I have no idea. I can't do it, it's too hard, I said, over and over. My mom kept reassuring me, "you are doing it." But I still felt desperate and scared and totally out of control.
Finally, at about 11pm, we called the midwife again, and headed back to the birth center. She checked me again, I had made it to 3cm. I couldn't disguise my disappointment. Is that it? What the f*ck am I going to do when this REALLY gets hard? The midwife offered to break my water, which she said was bulging quite a bit through my cervix with the contractions. She speculated that there was so much fluid that the baby's head couldn't press properly against the cervix to help me dilate more quickly. Yes, yes, do it, I said.
Immediately I felt a whoosh of relief along with the gush of water that came out of me. She checked me again and I had gone right away to 4cm. Halelluia!
I was in the bed at that point, and she told me to alternate from side to side every three contractions or so. I was still moaning (read, screaming) through the contractions, and the midwife suggested that I do "horse lips" instead -- keep my lips loose to keep my cervix loose. My mouth was so dry that it was impossible at first (go ahead, try to do horse lips with a dry mouth), but she insisted. My mom jumped in and did them with me, god bless her. I figured it out by watching her. It really was a better way to get through the pain, and quieter, too.
A little while after midnight, the midwife offered me an analgesic to take the edge off the pain. "You'll still feel the contractions, but they won't be as hard, and you'll be able to get some rest in between." That sounds perfect, I said. I made a mental note to no longer have judgements of women who opt for painkillers during labor. J and my mom were finally able to get some rest, too -- they'd been up with me for the past 24 hours.
The midwife came in periodically to check on me and on the baby's heart rate. At one point I tried to tell her that I was involuntarily bearing down and was that okay? As soon as I said it, though, I was sure the words had come out all wrong. But she understood me, and said it was fine. I feel loopy, I said.
(Later we looked up the drugs that were in the shot she gave me: Stadol, a synthetic opiod, and Phenergan, a sedative & hypnotic that also goes by the street name "zazz," which is an entirely accurate onomatopoeic description of how I was feeling)
So I would fall asleep in the scant minutes between contractions and wake up at their peak. They were still pretty hard, but no longer mind-bogglingly so. I stared at the lights on the ceiling and clenched my hands into fists and flapped my lips furiously to get through each one. I don't know how J slept through it, but I'm glad he did.
Soon enough, the midwife came in to check on me again, and announced she was drawing me a bath. I was still feeling a little out of it from the drugs, but the bath was lovely -- spacious and deep and warm. I continued to doze off, and was even having bizarre little lucid dreams. I would wake up saying something that made perfect sense in the dream, only to realize no one had any idea what I was talking about. Once I said something about having to do horse lips 8 times a day, another time I said something like, "don't have anything better to do..." I tried to explain that I was talking about someone else, not me. Funny.
The next time the midwife checked my cervix, I was dilated to 8cm. I could hardly believe it -- this was the part I thought would be so hard, and here I was floating through it in a warm bath and nonsensical dreams. I was still bearing down periodically, and after a little while the midwife suggested that I try a few pushes in the tub. J got his bathing suit on and joined me in the water, where I tried bearing down purposefully a few times. I wasn't quite getting the hang of it, so the midwife suggested I try some pushes on the toilet. I did that, too, but after a couple we moved over to the bed. That was really where I envisioned pushing the baby out, rather than in the tub.
I was fully dilated, but had a little lip of cervix still in the way. The midwife pushed it back during the next couple of contractions as I pushed through them. By the third one, the lip was back and I could really go for it. My contractions were not coming as often as they had been, but I was still trying to breath through them -- and therefore breathe through the pushing -- as I had been. The midwife told me to hold my breath and push, to really force all my energy down and out. It was pretty scary, actually: this was really it, no turning back. Maybe I wanted to ease into it a little bit, not go too fast, but the midwife coached me to give it all I had with each contraction. "It's going to feel really wrong," she said, getting the baby into the birth canal.
With contractions spaced out a little more, and being beyond exhausted, I kept falling asleep between them, and then I'd wake up and see the midwife and her assistant and my mom all there in front of me, quiet and patiently waiting... I felt a little guilty somewhere in the back of my mind, like, Oh! Dozing on the job! J somehow materialized at my side with a bowl of honey and fed me a few spoonfuls, just to give me a little energy.
I was sort of incredulous that the midwife wanted four or five good pushes with every contraction, but I realized I had to make each one really count. She told me to push into the "ring of fire," which was also scary, but I was so grateful for her guidance. I had no concept of time by then, so it all seemed improbably fast... soon she was saying the next push would be the widest part of the baby's head. Is he crowning? I asked, amazed. Yes! said J. How did I not know?
During the next contraction, I pushed out his entire head, and the midwife encouraged me to keep going -- "one more for the top shoulder, now one more for the bottom shoulder" -- and suddenly he was out, and on my belly, and squalling and sticky with blood and vernix. I put my hands on him and held him immediately, and made a raspy attempt to laugh or cry or moan... but my voice was completely shot from all that had come before. I was glad he was crying so mightily, his little lungs opening up and his skin turning pink -- I was astounded, really, to see him outside of me at last.
He had dark hair, just like I knew he would. He latched on to my breast right away, just like I knew he would. I was ecstatic. I did it.