When I imagined the beginning of labor, I always imagined the birth scene from I Love Lucy. You know, the one where everyone is running around in a bumbling panic, throwing things into a suitcase. Then they run out the door in a rush to get to the hospital, leaving the pregnant Lucy behind. Except I would already have my bags carefully packed with all the natural labor tools I had researched.
Well, the excitement of rushing to the hospital didn't happen, but I did have my bags packed ahead of time. The baby dropped around 36 weeks and a week later, the midwife told me it could be any day now. Despite all the statistics and the knowing mothers who told me that first babies always come late, I truly believed this baby was coming early. So of course, as the days passed and the due date got closer, I began to panic. The closer the date got, the more drastic my induction methods became. I literally tried every method I could find: herbs, walking miles everyday on bumpy roads, hopping down an entire flight of stairs in the middle of the mall, eating eggplant, eating spicy food, eating spicy eggplant...I even tried the dreaded castor oil (I mixed it with Dr. Pepper to help the taste, so it was like drinking Bonne Bell's Dr. Pepper chapstick).
Then the due date came and passed. For liability reasons, the midwife had to schedule an induction for almost two weeks past due. As each day went by, the window of time when my parents could come to see the birth or at least visit the baby was growing short, and every day meant he would be that much younger when we went to my school's convocation in Chicago in January. With the pressure (and pregnancy discomfort) mounting, I did the unthinkable and pushed up my induction date by a couple days.
I knew I could face serious consequences for this because it often involves a synthetic hormone called Pitocin, which would throw me into hard, fast, unbelievably painful contractions. I was terrified, but still determined to go throw the medication-free birth we had worked so hard for.
So instead of the bumbling excitement I had imagined at the beginning of my birth, my entourage (Robbie and my mom, who carried in enough luggage for a week's vacation; my dad, who carried in a giant lime-green birthing ball; and a very pregnant me) calmly walked into Labor and Delivery at the scheduled time. Eventually we were settled into a room and I was given a hormone called Cervidil, which ripens the cervix in preparation for birth. They told me they would leave it in for 12 hours to let it work, then we would start the Pitocin, if we needed to, in the morning. The plan was that I would be well rested after a night in the hospital, which anyone who's ever stayed in a hospital knows is an impossibility.
Those first couple of hours after everyone left us to sleep was a haze of machines blinking, nurses shuffling in and out, and the sound of paper puddling on the floor as the heart monitor continuously printed the jumpy black lines that represented his tiny heartbeat. I remember in birth class hearing that sometimes Cervidil can throw you into labor all by itself, but with the bad luck I had so far, I didn't dare dream of that possibility. But sometime in that haze, the contractions snuck up on me and I was officially in labor.
The rest of the night quickly fell into a rhythm: I sat on my birthing ball at the edge of the bed with my head buried in the covers so I could sleep for a minute in between contractions. Since I had the added bonus of back labor (imagine a pitchfork twisting into your lower spine), I would groan or say "oh God," as a signal for Robbie to come do counterpressure. Eventually the contractions were so close and hard that they became concerned about the way it might affect the baby, so they removed the Cervidil insert. I don't remember much beyond that point except that eventually it was light again and my parents were back from the hotel.
Many hours passed, with my parents taking turns with counterpressure to relieve Robbie or taking me on walks around the hallways. I would see women with their new babies and think in illogical despair, That will never be me...this baby is never coming. Morning melted into night, and then the contractions began to slow dramatically.
I had been making progress in dialating and effacing, but suddenly it all came to a screeching halt. So the newest midwife beginning her shift gave me the options: Pitocin, which sounded even more unbearble after laboring without any real sleep for almost 24 hours; breaking my water, which meant I had to give birth within 24 hours to avoid infection risk; or what she referred to as the "French Induction." She described this as going into the bathroom with Robbie, locking the door, and well....*you* know. Nothing seemed less appealing and least likely to work than that option! We opted for nipple stimulation since we'd researched it in birthclass. It's not as erotic as it sounds. Basically they wheeled in an industrial version of a breastpump and I did my best impression of a cow while Robbie marvelled at the mechanics of the pumping mechanism.
It made a little dent, but after a few minutes we could tell we were going to face the tough decision. The midwife came in for another check and squealed in excitement, "This bag is just ready to burst! I could break your water and you'd have this baby out in no time!"
ha ha ha!
So we opted for that option, took another walk, and said goodbye to my parents as they headed out for the hotel again. Within an hour, I had launched into Labor Part Deux. I got onto my hands and knees on the bed to help with the back labor and I stayed in that position...for hours. The midwife kept coming in to check on me and asking me to move positions so I would make progress and to spare my hands and knees, but I wouldn't budge. In retrospect, I know she was right, I would have gone much faster had I changed positions sooner, but my body was so tired that this glacial rhythm was all I could handle.
I stopped letting her check me so I wouldn't get frustrated if I wasn't making progress, and I sunk someplace deep inside. It was like that scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy looks out the window and sees the tornado swirling around her, the characters of her life spinning past. The pain was a darkness that surrounded me and random memories, images, words would whirl past. I only surfaced a couple of times to throw up (I knew from watching enough Baby Story on TLC that this meant I was in transition), and then I eventually gave in to my midwife and agreed to get into the birthing tub.
People tell you that you will lose all dignity in labor, but I was determined to do it right. In fact, I had packed a swimming suit for both Robbie and I. But when the moment came, I knew another contraction was already on its way, so jumped into the tub fully nude (apparently I was naked from a previous shower/tub experience, although I don't really remember it now). Robbie, on the other hand, jumped in fully dressed to help me with the contraction. The labor nurse Sarah was an incredible help all night, even taking over counterpressure for Robbie several times when he would get up to help me and then fall asleep standing in the middle of the room! She got us settled into the tub and then left us to relax alone.
After a few minutes, I felt my entire body convulse. I didn't want to get my hopes up, so I kept my mouth shut until it happened a couple more times. Then I said, "Robbie, pull the red cord, I think I'm pushing." Within seconds of pulling the cord and paging the staff, the quiet room filled with a rush of people and my midwife was checking me. When she told me I was fully dialated and ready to push, I thought No duh. Robbie called my parents and I pushed with everything I had, ecstatic that the end was in sight and the back labor gone.
The next thing I knew, my parents were in the room, cheering me on. My poor father had previously agreed to film what I thought would be a sanitized birth video, so he dutifully pulled out the camera. There I was, naked for the whole world to see, my legs propped up on Robbie's shoulders as he tried to brace me in the slippery tub, and the midwife trying to keep me from drowning because I was so focused on pushing that my head would sink under water. Suddenly someone yelled, "He's got a head full of blonde hair!" and I thought, Who's baby are they talking about? My baby's a brunette! But I didn't have much time to focus on this thought. I could hear the whole room saying, "Ahh, ahh, ahh" as his head would start coming out, then a disappointed "ohhhh" as it would suck back in. Everyone except Robbie, who held his breath every time I would. Finally the midwife said, "You need to breathe!" and I realized she was talking to him!
After about half an hour of this, the heart monitor stopped working underwater and the midwife warned me that I had one more push to get him out or we have to move back to the bed. I gave it my all, and when it didn't work, I stood up and made a beeline for the bed. Robbie went splashing out after me, his sopping wet pajamas making a trail across the room so that someone suggested he change clothes. Somehow he mangaged to do it with lightning speed and then rushed back to help me, his hands ready to catch the baby that was coming any second. It was at this point that he looked around and realized he and my parents were the only ones standing there - everyone else was cleaning up or getting things prepared. After a brief moment of panic, the midwife came to help just as the baby was crowning.
I won't attempt to explain that kind of pain...I will only say that after 30-something hours of quiet moaning, this was the first time I screamed. Watching the video now I realize it didn't last long and I gained relative control when the midwife coached me to grunt instead of scream, but it seemed like an eternity at the time. Luckily it was immediately followed by relief as his head was freed and the room exploded with excitement. Another push and he easily slid out, right into Robbie's arms. After 35 hours of labor, Emerson Porter was born on December 19, 2006 at 6:45 in the morning.
The midwife suctioned him out and we heard first gurgling cries. They passed him through my legs and after some acrobatics, I was lying down with his squirming wet body on my chest. For the first time in days I was fully awake - probably more awake than I had ever been in my entire life. I just stared at him, my little white snow baby, in uncomprehensing awe. I heard my voice saying comforting things to him, but it sounded like another person far, far away. And there was Robbie, my unbelievable partner through it all, standing by my side, sharing those first few moments of parenthood. I had always imagined myself weeping in that moment, but I was totally stunned instead.
And then Robbie, in his true Robbie fashion, said giddily, "That was so exciting, let's do it AGAIN!!!"
Dear God, I thought, I am in trouble.