I can't believe it's been five weeks since Charlotte came into this world. Time is both flying and creeping by, and it honestly feels like she's been with us forever. She's asleep in my lap just now, so I thought I should tell her birth story before it's memory has become so blurred by time that I've forgotten how it happened. Here goes...
Sunday, March 21st, was just another 9-months-pregnant day. I hadn't slept particularly well the night before, so it was kind of a relief to send C on his merry way to watch his nephews' dirt bike races. I was free to nap and lounge the day away, although I was a little eager to get a few things done and errands run because we couldn't really know when the baby would decide to arrive. My greatest worry at the time was that she wouldn't come out on her own in time and we'd be talked into an induction. One of the OBs in the practice had explained that my risk of stillbirth at 40 weeks' gestation would be comparable to a 27-year-old's at 42 weeks. I feared that an induction would lead to the cascade of interventions that would ultimately end with the most invasive of births, a c-section, and the full acoutrement of drugs. I didn't care about taking drugs for my own sake, but did not want my baby entering the world under the influence of anything but her natural hormones.
C returned home, and we went out to the local warehouse store to pick up some provisions- I didn't want to be lifting to 35-pound cartons of cat litter, so I insisted he go with me. As soon as we got home, I started making dinner- pasta with meat sauce, our last meal sans child. At 8:05 pm, I dropped an uncooked noodle on the floor and, when I bent to pick it up, felt a gush of fluid between my legs. As I scurried to the nearest bathroom, I hollered to C, "We're having a baby tonight, and the pasta needs to be drained in 9 minutes (I know that's what I said, because C repeated it to everyone who asked how our labor had begun, and to several people who didn't ask)."
Eventually, the steady stream of fluid slowed to a trickle that I felt a pad could manage, so I tossed my wet clothes in the washing machine, took a shower, and sat down to a late dinner. All the while, C was assembling all the things we thought we might need for a prolonged, first-baby labor- birthing ball, extra pillows, something to read, our hypnobirthing handouts, a CD player and an iPod,... He dutifully loaded up the car and then got a bit impatient when I requested he snap a belly shot (our first and last) before leaving. Somewhere in that time, I called the hospital and let them know my water had broken (definitively- there was no doubt whatsoever) and was advised to "come in soon."
We arrived at the birthing center at 10:00 pm, and in spite of all my visits for NSTs, I didn't recognize a soul (so much for familiarity). By 10:45, we were monitoring Ishka's heart rate and my contractions, which were just becoming "real" after an afternoon full of BH's. I was 4cm dilated, 100% effaced. My biggest fear was coming to pass- I was stuck on the hospital bed, not allowed to walk or move around because they wanted to monitor the baby and me, while painful contractions began. The nurse convinced me to accept an IV (I had a choice with respect to the IV, but they wouldn't let me get off the bed until Ishka became "responsive" supposedly, IV fluids would elicit a response). As soon as the baby's heart rate demonstrated the desired rises and falls, I was disconnected from the IV and allowed to walk the halls, bounce on the birthing ball, or whatever else I felt like doing. I think it was about 11:20 when we took our first stroll down the hall.
Backtracking a little, let me mention that the contractions I felt while lying on the damned hospital bed were the worst pain of the whole night. I truly believe that most women would be abe to manage their pain without medication if only they were allowed to get off the bed and move around. The pain was, as we've all heard, a very intense pressure. But it also involved a sensation of something hard pressing or moving against something equally hard, both unyielding, with no possible resolution in the position I was in. Even contractions that registered very low on the monitor were extremely painful. Had I continued in that position, I think I would have begged for an epidural. Luckily, I walked.
Anyhow, strolling the hall was not without it's own kind of discomfort. The 50-yard promenade was punctuated each way by at least 3 contractions, which felt like an overwhelmingly irresistable and massive bowel movement after prolonged constipation (you get the picture, right?). I got through them by leaning my head against the wall, hanging onto the railing, and rocking side to side with bent knees, focusing on staying as loose as could be by consciously relaxing my mouth and facial muscles. When we got back to my room, I decided that maybe I did need to use the bathroom, since that's what it felt like, so I sat on the toilet. Time began to blur.
I sat for a while in the bathroom. The institutional toilet is a little taller than mine at home, so it was the perfect height for me to crouch, semi-squatted on. I threw up. While SuperNurse cleaned up my mess, I walked part-way down the hall again with nearly constant contractions. I must have handled them well, though, because the nurses later confessed that they didn't think much was going on with me at that point. Back in the room, I tried out the birthing ball, but it felt wrong somehow to have something between my legs. The toilet, with its open seat, was way more comfortable, so I headed back into the bathroom. At some point, I stopped fighting the urge to push and just gave in to it. Eventually, I figured I should go back into the room to see how C was doing and when I wiped (I wasn't using the facilities per se, but amniotic fluid was still trickly out now and then) I felt something...
SuperNurse was in the room and asked how I was feeling. I asked her if it was normal to feel something between my legs. I climbed on the bed so she could check and see what I was talking about. One peek and she said, We're having this baby NOW." She ran into the hall (apparently calling for back-up) and suddenly a whole army of nurses were in the room- turning on the baby warmer, assembling all sorts of instruments. But I was kind of oblivious to it all. Our baby was nearly here!
Someone asked C and me what we thought we were having, giving us one last chance to officially guess before we'd find out. We both said, "A girl." On the next contraction, I breathed into my body's instinctive action without consciously pushing. I was asked not to push on the next one, but I saw my baby's head crowning (reflected in the TV, or was there a mirror? I don't know, but I know I saw the head). One more contraction, one more instant of allowing my body to do what it knew how to do, and our Charlotte was on my chest looking into my eyes.
The doctor arrived about 5 minutes later. He missed the big event, but got to stick around for a while to stitch me up (2nd degree tear) while I counted fingers and toes. C had no interest in or desire to cut the cord, so I did it (it was kind of anti-clamactic, to be honest). I snuggled Charlotte for what felt like a long time and even made a first attempt to nurse her before she fell asleep and I allowed the nurses to take her for weighing and a more thorough cleaning.
So yeah, labor hurt. But my body knew what to do and as long as I reacted instinctively, without fighting myself, the discomfort was never overwhelming. I'm not sure I could have continued for 8 hours, or 12 or some other terribly long time, but I think it went quickly BECAUSE I was unmedicated. I'd do it again, and I hope we get that opportunity some day.
5 years ago