Well before this labor began, I had been telling and re-telling myself the story of Auden's birth in a hundred different ways -- with all my hope and expectation and fear and and pride. I knew it would be different, and yet my poor rational brain struggled to gain footing by casting about in past experiences. It makes sense, right? But now that it's over, I am struck by how very different Isla's story is.
Here we go:
I woke up to contractions at 4:00 on Sunday morning. They came and went sporadically until 7:00, then stopped entirely. I was a bit miffed about the false start, but more annoyed that I hadn't been able to sleep at all. We got up and went about the day, though: brunch with some lovely friends (made possible by the fact that my mom was also there and could entertain Auden so that Jason and I could finish our sentences), a walk with Auden down to the river where it was sunny enough to stay a while and throw chunks of ice into the river, and home again for an attempt at napping.
As soon as I lay down, the contractions returned. They got regular by about 1pm, coming every ten minutes and lasting 45 seconds. Early stage. I was heartened to find that rhythm, though, and remembered to enjoy the part where you're excited for things to get going but not so tired and out of your mind with pain that it still can be enjoyable.
We brought Auden over to a friend's house by 3pm, and spent the rest of the afternoon reading the paper and watching movies. Aside from being just a tiny bit incredulous that it was taking so long -- like, where's my super short six-hour second labor? -- I thought it was a perfect way to spend the day. During this stage, Jason and my mom dutifully kept track of the intervals and duration of the contractions, which, after 12 hours or so, not only takes up several pages of legal pad but also starts to seem kind of beside the point. I called my awesome midwife to let her know it would probably still be a while.
Things picked up a bit by 1am, meaning the contractions were about five minutes apart and lasting a little longer. I didn't get any sleep that night, either; I think I took a bath at some point. Jason and my mom were right there with me all the while, same as when I was in labor with Auden. We employed the "horse lips" technique much earlier this time, THANK GOD, because it not only spared me my vocal cords, but it actually really helped. The contractions were becoming intense, but not crazy, and I felt strong and completely capable. Just make it through three breaths, and then it'll be over, I was telling myself every time, and instead of trying to get away from the pain, I stayed very focused on getting that much closer to meeting my baby.
We settled into a routine: when a contraction started, I'd reach for Jason's hands and clamp down while we locked eyes and horse-lipped at each other through the length of it. At first it felt kind of silly, like I was a spoof on every lamaze class and hee-hee-hoooooo-ing laboring lady in the movies, but it worked so well that it became necessary to do it the exact same way every time. I was surprised at how calm I felt, and how relaxed I stayed in the rest of my body.
I was starting to get antsy by 7am, though. I was pissed that I was taking so long, AGAIN, and that nothing had changed since the day before. I decided that walking around would surely ramp things up, so I paced furiously throughout the house. Which made the contractions stop. I lost my cool and went full-bore into whining IT'S NOT FAAAAAIRRRRR before I realized I needed a pep-talk from my midwife. I called her and kept whining about how discouraged I felt, and how tired and unhappy. As I was voicing my self-pity, I felt another contraction coming on, so I held the phone away and moaned through it. Afterward she said, "You've been having contractions like that since 1am? I'm coming over."
I was instantly relieved, and by the time she showed up and started getting everything ready my contractions were regular again and I was getting a second wind from the flurry of activity. We kept going in our hand-clench-eye-lock-horse-lip pattern for the next few hours, until I decided I wanted the midwife to check my dilation. I was worried that I hadn't made any progress and that I'd be looking at another 24 hours of THIS: AAAHHHRRGH. But she checked and announced that I'd made it to 5cm, at which I whooped and said THANK GOD. I rallied, and elected to take another bath.
Not much later, though, I started to hit the wall. The bath was good, but the contractions were getting harder and my energy was flagging. I'd made it to 7cm by the time I got out of the tub, and when I got settled again on the bed, I hit transition.
So, with Auden's birth, I'm not sure what magical force allowed me to coast through transition and pushing WITH NO PAIN WHATSOEVER, maybe it was a merciful god deciding I'd already worked hard enough. But this time? No such magical force.
When we decided to do a home birth, Jason and I joked about how we'd make a shirt for him that said, in a Barry White voice, "I'm Your Epidural, Baby." And I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but I think that ended up being true. Not in the way that his mere presence was a nerve-block obliterating all unpleasantness, but in the way that looking at his face, in his eyes, I saw the reflection of all the calm and encouragement and determination I'd been feeling up to that point. I saw I AM DOING THIS and I felt powerful. That confidence made it possible to ride out all the contractions with grace and focus. Until transition.
Let me just say it again: TRANSITION.
I was lying on my side and the contractions were one right after the other and the horse lips just weren't cutting it anymore. There was a new and raw and searing edge to those last contractions, and it was like I needed to convey to everyone just how painful they were, so my nice quiet calming horse lips unraveled into screaming. My perfect routine with Jason was coming undone and wasn't helping any more -- I started to pull away from him. Not physically but mentally. It was like I was pulling back into myself, into a dark tunnel.
My midwife and my mom were telling me how close I was, and that I would be able to start pushing soon. I would've thought at the outset that this would be great news, like with Auden, AT LONG LAST it's time to push! But as soon as I started involuntarily bearing down I thought, OH NO, no way, I'm not pushing. HELL NO. And suddenly it felt very wrong to be on my side like that, so I struggled to get upright into a semi-reclined position. Jason got behind me and supported me, which felt better, but really, there was no "feeling better." I felt panicked.
The steady rhythm we'd built was broken into jagged pieces and I felt unmoored and lost and I didn't know what to do. Was I supposed to push? Hold back? What did I do before? Shouldn't someone be telling me what to do? I think I remember the midwife saying something like, "Let her show you," meaning Isla, and meaning Easy Does It, Mama. But I was in this dark tunnel, this chasm, that I hadn't planned on, and couldn't fathom.
Then something huge took over -- a surge of animalistic power -- and suddenly I snapped out of that dark confusion and decided to charge like a bull at my target. I roared and screamed and spat fire; I thrashed like a frantic beast; I pushed into a burning pain so intense it felt like my legs were going through a shredder.
I was so oblivious of the outside world and so totally inside myself and inside the tunnel and inside the fire that I wasn't paying attention to what the midwife was saying. Then my mom was saying it too, and then Jason, and all their words were like a blur until Jason said it over and over in my ear: "Don't push, just wait. Don't push. Don't push. Just wait right there, and let her ease out."
I thought, you have got to be kidding me.
Actually, my first thought when he said that was, I thought you were on my side! I could not reconcile his instructions with the momentum of the train barreling through me at that moment, it seemed utterly ludicrous. Why and how would I STOP? I WAS CHARGING AT MY TARGET LIKE A BULL AND BULLS DO NOT STOP.
Somehow, though, I figured out how not to push, and the midwife pried my hands loose from where I was clutching at my thighs to bring my hand to the top of my daughter's head, which was crowning. It was soft and wet, pulpy and strange. It reminded me what was happening. And before I knew it that head was sliding all the way out, into my hand, and then the rest of her in a slippery gush.
Instantly all the pressure was gone. All the pain and the fire and the hours and the clenching and the counting -- in one delirious second she came rushing out, and my whole body went slack.
They lifted her to my chest and wrapped us in blankets, with me crying and Jason laughing and Isla, scrunched and tiny and perfect, finally born.