Friday, February 26, 2016


I've never run a marathon. I am not a runner. So it's amusing to me that that's the go-to comparison for the physical and mental demands of labor: It's like running a marathon.

I suppose the metaphor is intended for people who have no way of conceptualizing the stamina and perseverance required to give birth, but who could, at least poetically, relate to running a marathon. Without actually being able to compare, I'd say it may be like running a marathon, except you have no idea how long it will take, there is no predictable route, and you haven't trained for it. 

Everyone was telling me, as my due date approached, that the third time around would go so much faster and be so much easier. I'd nod and humor them, but I just knew it wasn't going to be true for me... My body doesn't do fast labor.

(OK, technically speaking, at 22 hours, this labor was the shortest of the three, but that just sounds like I'm bragging, doesn't it?)

I had a couple of false starts two nights in a row, which got my hopes (and my nerves) up, but didn't go anywhere. When contractions started again the following afternoon, I was a little skeptical, but more than anything I was eager to go. And even though I knew I was facing another whole day of utterly unpredictable marathoning, I was still surprised that it took me ages to reach 'active' labor. 

It took AGES to reach active labor. I timed contractions obsessively, trying to will myself into some kind of productive rhythm, but they were all over the map. Unfortunately, they were formidable enough to keep me from sleeping, so from 1pm on Sunday until 7am on Monday, I paced and puffed and counted and cried. The time went bogglingly slow. The true challenge wasn't the physical pain, it was in psyching myself up for the real race, which I realized I wasn't anywhere close to starting each time I called the midwife for a pep talk and she assured me she'd come when I was in 'active' labor. I went through two midwives' 8-hour shifts this way. 

After pulling an all-nighter without having made any significant progress, I felt disheartened and desperate. The next midwife came on shift at 8am, and bless her, she called me at 7:45 to check in. Still nothing to report... The kids were up, the sun was up, and I was still on the couch moaning in pain and disbelief every 7 to 30 minutes. Not long after that, though, I lost the mucous plug, and instead of feeling completely dejected that it meant I'd gone through ALL THOSE HOURS to dilate one measly centimeter, I was thrilled and relieved that something new was happening. 

I caught a second wind composed entirely of anger, and determined to ramp up the labor by pacing the living room (our living room is not big enough to pace in). I forced myself to walk through the contractions, swatting away the kids' attempts to help me sit on the yoga ball, swatting away Jason's attempt to hold me and help me breathe. JUST FUCKING GO, went my mind, GO GO GO. 

The next time I called the midwife, she offered to come over and examine me and see how things were going. Yes, I told her, come now. Is time. 

She arrived and I was still pacing, at 9:30am. We moved upstairs where she checked my dilation, and reported that I'd made it to 7cm. This was heartening. Better than heartening: I felt like a total bad-ass. I'd gone from 0 to 60 in an hour and a half. Active labor, you are MINE.

Next I took a bath, both to take the edge off the contractions, and also just to have something to do. Afterwards, things slowed down again slightly, but I was grateful for the respite, and the midwife told me that it was OK to rest a little and take this part easy. 

My water still hadn't broken, so even though I knew I was close, the waiting, coupled with the sheer exhaustion, was almost intolerable. I was practically begging the midwife to just break the water for me -- but their guidelines are that they don't interfere unless absolutely necessary, so I leaned back against Jason and fantasized about quitting entirely. After a few more contractions, the midwife suggested getting up and letting gravity help a little more, so I struggled onto all fours on the bed. The very next contraction broke the water in a heaving gush, and brought with it a terrible and involuntary push which crescendoed in a wild animalistic growl.

There is this moment of reckoning; a crazed focus and a breathless and pointed understanding: there is no way around this volcano. You have to go through it.

On my hands and knees there, I faced this moment and then let it be known I really felt:


The volcano was going to rip me in half if I stayed in that position.

I struggled again to get back to reclining, supported against Jason.

The midwife was encouraging me to push with the contractions, but I was caught up entertaining the notion that I'd do this one without any pushing... That's possible? Surely?

Finally I confessed: I'm afraid to push, I wailed.

Why? asked the midwife.

Which struck me as completely incomprehensible. Because it feels SO WRONG, I answered, since right at that moment it seemed nicer than saying BECAUSE IT FUCKING HURTS ARE YOU CRAZY.

I was so physically spent that I didn't even know how to muster the coordination to push -- to translate the concept of pushing into a muscular action with sufficient momentum to bring forth a baby. I made some attempts, against all better judgment, matter over mind; each time it felt weak and haphazard, but earned hearty praise from the midwives. 

I remained stubborn. I CAAAAANNNN'T, I cried with each brutal wave. Who wants to climb toward that excriciating summit?

And then: the pinching, searing, stinging burn, somehow high-pitched and sharp; the rim of the volcano, the molten earth.

That moment probably only lasted a minute, but had the acuity of a shard of glass, and it eclipsed everything and became The Only Moment, the only thing, the entire experience cleaved to this precipice of pain. 

But this is the deception of labor -- THE moment is actually the penultimate moment, because the next thing I knew, I could feel the head and could feel exactly how much more it was going to take to get it out. That was all I needed, to know I was just that close, and only had to manage one more massive push and then I could be done... this thought alone manifested the strength to bear it out, and, with a surging clenching screaming force, out she came, slippery and crying and whole, and I, wholly spent, holy made, gasping.

The pain and pressure vanished, and in their wake came overwhelming relief and gratitude, palpable as  gravity... everything else fell away and there she was, wriggling and human and A GIRL! Such a marvelous reward, such a terrible honor to be this doorway. 

Loïe, my new daughter, may you be as strong and determined as the labor that brought you.