Waiting is hard to do.
It’s especially hard when you’re waiting for labor to start so you can finally meet your baby. At 38 weeks, I was DONE with inhabiting a pregnant body, and I wanted to see my son. I did not particularly enjoy the pregnancy experience, especially since I had had six months of morning sickness that required medication in order for me to function. Month seven was great, and then by month eight I was starting to feel like a blimpy hippopotamus in a slow motion movie. So yeah, I was over being pregnant. I was looking forward to labor because I’d much rather be DOING something about a particular situation than being a passive participant. Even though it’s not really like this, pregnancy felt like a very passive thing to me. I looked forward to labor because I felt things would finally start HAPPENING that I could participate in. Plus, it would mean that I wouldn’t have to be pregnant much longer. But I had to wait some more, had to dig deeper into practicing patience, which as it turns out, is what motherhood is all about. It wasn’t time for my body to go into labor yet, so despite whatever I wished for, my uterus remained relatively quiet and my cervix steadfastly closed.
In week 39, I started having BH contractions that came at steady intervals. They were painless but noticeable, and coming every 5-7 minutes. I thought (of course) that maybe this was the beginning of the real thing, but really my uterus was just doing a little pre-game trial run. I had 48 hours of this 5-7 minute pattern and then whoosh they vanished. It wasn’t until ten days later at 40 weeks 5 days that labor actually started. The nice thing about that was that it gave my mom time to get here for the birth, which I was so glad about. She arrived from 3,000 miles away on July 16. We spent the 17th relaxing, and on the 18th we took a longish car trip, hoping superstitiously that it might get things moving along because we had gone to the beach for a day trip the day before Beth went into labor with James. Worked for her, might as well try it again, right? Mom cooked one of my favorite meals that night (gf chicken and vegetable lo mein) and I gobbled it up. Nobody said so, but we all had the feeling that “tonight’s the night.”
The evening was the time of day that my BH contractions would come back, so Beth and I took a walk around the neighborhood, and I took up a pace that was brisker than usual (although I’m sure I was still just moving like a waddly puddle.) I went to bed having contractions that felt stronger (squeezy) but still painless (not crampy or sharp) and slept well. I got up to pee at 4am, and when I got back in bed I felt a twinge-cramp thing that got my attention, and a flick-pop on the lower right side of my belly (assumed it was the baby kicking). Ten seconds later, warm fluid poured out and I said “Oh!” I was excited to have a clear signal that things were finally rolling. I woke B up and went to the bathroom to check the fluid– it was clear. Real contractions started immediately, but I could still talk through them. After calling my midwife and doula, I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t sleep through the contractions anymore. Since the amniotic fluid was clear, my midwife said I could stay at home for as long as I wanted before coming into the hospital. I knew that laboring at home for as long as possible would help things progress, but I also was apprehensive about transitioning to the hospital when already in active, intense labor. I decided it was time to go a few hours later, and we made our way to the maternity ward.
I was just 2cm, and the contractions were INTENSE. (I’m going to write a later post in which I’ll try my best to describe what labor actually felt like to me, since that’s the question on the mind of every woman whose facing labor for the first time). They strapped the monitors on my belly for the initial 20 minute strip, which I hated. They encouraged me to sit down in the rocking chair, which I HATED. No, I don’t want to sit down. No, not even between contractions to rest. Don’t you understand, there is a baby skull pushing on my cervix, trying to get out! It doesn’t want to get pushed back up by a chair!
After the strip was finished, I was free to walk the halls, with the help of Beth and my doula. I have no idea how long I was walking– in real time it probably was not much more than an hour. All I know is that when I started, I could still keep walking during the contractions, albeit very slowly, as long as I kept breathing deeply. When I said I wanted to head back to the room, I was grabbing whoever was closest to me and latching them into a slow dance, moaning into their shoulder, and thinking about how nice it would feel to crawl back to the room rather than stay upright.
The next nine or so hours I was deep in Laborland. The nurses couldn’t find a fetal heartbeat distinguishable from my own, so I consented to an internal fetal monitor (the kind that is inserted just under the skin on the baby’s scalp.) Count that as Plastic Thing Number One connected to me. Every hour (or thirty minutes? Who would know the difference? Certainly not a woman in labor), they put my finger in a heart rate monitor and took my temperature. Thing 2, Thing 3. I hated the Things. Then I needed IV fluid, the reason I cannot recall now, but I know at the time I fully agreed it was a good idea. But it was another Thing connected to me.
All during this time I was trying out the full spectrum of “labor comfort measures”– birthing ball (No), squatting on the bed using the squat bar (YESSSS), massage on my lower back (YESSS!), counter pressure on my hips (NOOOO!!!), drinking water (YESSSSS), getting in the bathtub (NOOOO), sitting on the toilet (no), sitting in a rocking chair (no), laying on my side in the bed (FUCK NO), hanging from the squat bar and the foot of the bed (OH YES), kneeling and leaning on the raised head of the bed (No, yes, no, yes, NO). Finally I got to five centimeters and they could get the birthing tub ready. About an hour (two hours?) later, I got in the deep warm water and it felt soooooo good. Beth got in the tub with me and we had some really beautiful cuddles and kisses in between contractions. She tirelessly dug her knuckles into my sacrum during Every. Single. Contraction.
The warm water helped me relax enough to be sleep a little in between every contraction. It also made me nauseous, so I asked for some Zofran because I knew that if I started vomiting, I would lose my rhythm, my calm, and my confidence. The physical sensations would just be too much. The feeling of pressure started to increase, and I started feeling pushy and grunty. The midwife came in to check me and I was only 7cm but she said I could follow my body’s signals and push if I felt like it. I pushed a little with each contraction, but not with full force because I knew I wasn’t fully dilated. That went on for a couple hours, and I started losing all sense of time. The span between contractions seemed to me to last twenty minutes, and I started to worry that labor was stopping. I talked to my mom between contractions, asking her over and over again if it really had been twenty minutes since the last contraction, and if I was doing ok. I needed her constant reassurance that it had only been three minutes since the last contraction, not twenty, and that I was doing everything right for my baby. I needed her to say these things to me between every contraction, and she did. Time stopped for me. I was deep in Laborland with no concept of how long I had been in labor. I was only aware of the previous contraction that had just ended and the one that was approaching. It was quiet and dark. There was nothing to do but just ride the wave.
Around 2 or 3 in the morning, the midwife checked me again, and I had not progressed past 7cm, and my cervix was a bit inflamed, so she recommended that I get out of the water to get things moving again. In retrospect, when I had started to get worried that labor was slowing down an hour or two before, I should have listened to that inner voice and gotten out of the tub then. But “should” is a useless word, so let’s move on.
As soon as my body lost the buoyancy of the water, the contractions came right on top of each other and I felt like I could barely catch my breath between them. I think I labored on all fours on the bed for a while, and at some point the baby’s meconium started coming out, which is a possible sign on distress. I also had a fever over 100 at this point, and my water had been broken for 24 hours– all concerning signs for the medical professionals.
The midwife sat down on the meconium stained sheet and talked calmly about our options. In the 60 seconds between each contraction, she said 1. The contractions seemed to have plateaued. 2. I had a fever (probably fighting infection), and a fevered uterus cannot work as efficiently as a non-fevered one. 3. I had been laboring like a champ for more than 24 hours, and I seemed very tired to her. 4. In her opinion, we were at the point of doing things to avoid needing an emergency c-section. 5. I could continue laboring naturally, and it was possible that I might continue to progress, but she felt it would go very slowly, and she was concerned about how little energy I would have left when it came time to push if we went that route. 6. I could use some pitocin to “re-establish a regular pattern of contractions” and an epidural so that I could try to rest for a few hours before it was time to push.
She left the room, and I talked it over (semi-deliriously) with Beth, with my mom, and with the doula. They all felt like the interventions made sense, and they reassured me that this was the kind of instance where those interventions were important and appropriate. I was at the point that I couldn’t really think well enough to make a decision on my own, so I was grateful for the birth support team–who knew what my priorities and wishes were–to help me make the decisions I needed to make. The idea of an epidural scared me. The needle, the paralysis, the poking around in my spine. I didn’t really want one, but I knew at that point it was the best decision for me and my baby.
Nobody knew I was trying to get a TEN POUND BABY out of my body. Hindsight is not really very useful when considering birth because there’s no going back and doing it a different way, but knowing now that I DID have a ten pound baby inside, I know I did everything I could to have a “totally natural” birth, and that I did everything I needed to do to have a vaginal birth, which was important to me. Could I have kept laboring without the pitocin and the epidural? Probably. Could I still have had the energy and the wherewithal to push out the mammoth two hours, seven hours, ten hours later? I don’t know, and I never will, and in the end it doesn’t matter. I don’t believe I’m any less strong for deciding to have these interventions, or any less of a mother. I did get an epidural at 4am, the pitocin did establish a regular pattern of contractions which I SLEPT THROUGH for a few hours, thanks to the epidural.
The midwives’ shift changed at 7am (I used a practice instead of an individual midwife, so you get whoever is on call) and the midwife came in before she left. Claire said she didn’t want to check me yet, since I was already fighting infection, and she wanted to give me a couple more hours of pitocin contractions before doing another assessment. This was the same midwife that delivered our first son when Beth was pregnant, so it was really beautiful that she was the midwife on call for me, too. We hadn’t talked about it beforehand, but knowing that Claire was going off duty, and that by freak occurrence we had found ourselves in the hospital on one of the few days per year where they only have an OB on call and no midwife, Beth asked Claire if she would come back to check me. She didn’t make any promises, but she said she would see what she could do. She had a few things she needed to do, but she might be able to “swing by later on.”
In the company of the automated blood pressure cuff and my IV drips, I got a few more hours of sleep. Beth and my mom found places to doze, and the doula and the photographer had both gone home when I got the epidural, with plans to return when I started pushing, or if there were other developments.
Nurses started stirring in the room around 10:30 or 11, and Claire walked back into the room! She sat on the bed next to my paralyzed legs and said 1. She was going to check me. 2. If I was fully dilated and effaced, I would start pushing. 3. If I wasn’t fully dilated and effaced, we would need to talk about a c-section. I said OK, check me. On the next contraction, she slid her hand in and bumped into my baby’s head, and she said with a smile, “Whoa, we’ve got a major conehead coming!” He was already at +1 (in the birth canal) so she said, “OK, let’s push!” Click here to read the rest of my birth story.