Natural childbirth? Riiiiight.
If I were completely honest, I never really thought I could do it.
Turns out I was wrong, and I'm still sort of in the shock of it all.
I relive that day/night over and over again in my head -- playing the scenes out line by line, trying to understand how it all happened -- how, all of a sudden, I was in the hospital, being told I was already 9 cms, and realizing, "Oh wow -- this is actually going to happen."
But let me back up a bit.
Please note: this entry is really-super-duper long. I really wanted to document as much as I could remember. If birth stories aren't your thing, just skip to the part entitled This is Actually Going to Happen, and read from there. Or, um, just skip the post entirely.
On Wednesday, March 6, I woke up experiencing what I assumed were Braxton Hicks contractions every 10 minutes. I believe they had begun overnight while I was sleeping, and I didn't think much of them. They had come with such regularity before, and they never hurt much at all, so I just ignored them. Yet there was something different about the day -- something expectant in the air. I'm not romanticizing it. It just felt different. Like something was about to happen.
My mom had come down the night before since we were expecting an impending snow storm and she didn't want to get stuck in North Jersey (they always get hit with the snow when New England gets hit). I was feeling relaxed but also praying that Birdie would come while my mom was in the area. That morning, Gwen couldn't get enough of talking to and tickling the baby in my belly, and she had even run up to it first thing -- laying her hands on my belly and requesting that we pray.
"Something is different."
I couldn't get it out of my brain. But still, I didn't want to get my hopes up. Like I said -- the BH contractions always came and went without rhyme or reason.
My friend is a massage therapist and recommended I come in so she could massage the pressure points known to help speed labor along. So with my mom at home, we decided, "Hey, why not?" and I headed over there to see if my friend could work some magic.
It was on the way over -- around 1 pm -- that the contractions noticeably changed. They became painful. Still, I was in complete denial. Having read around the interweb about the difference between "real" and "fake" contractions, I had decided these were still "fake." Everywhere basically said that I should be feeling the contractions start in my back and radiate towards the front. These were all in the front. So I went to the massage, telling my friend about the contractions, but assuring her they weren't real. Her massage helped relax me, and who knows -- maybe helped to intensify the productivity of the contractions -- and I headed home.
By the time I got home, I faced the reality that these contractions were indeed getting more intense and had continued at a steady 8-10 minutes apart. I texted Elliott around 3:30 pm to inform him that we should be on our guard.
We were both very confused by all of this -- having literally no idea what to expect from non-pitocin-contractions -- and we were both so guarded against being excited. So I called my doula, told her what was going on, and she wisely said,
"I don't like the term 'false labor.' You're near your due date. I would say that you're in the 'early stages of labor.' Sometimes this lasts for days, sometimes for hours -- there's really no way to know. I'll get my stuff ready in case you need me at any point. In the meantime, I'd recommend you rest as much as possible as you might need your strength in the middle of the night."
Ah, Joy and her wisdom. What would I have done without her coaching me through every twist and turn? That was the turning point for me. I realized that -- yes, this could go on for days -- but really, now was the time to make sure everything was in order (packing the last-minute items, eating my potentially-last meal), and yes -- now was the time to rest. So I spent the rest of the evening in bed, listening to podcasts and catching up on some New Girl (and other guilty-pleasure shows which shall remain nameless *coughSmashcough* -- what? No, I didn't say anything...).
The contractions continued -- increasing their intensity but not their timing -- until about 9 pm on the dot.
That's when they stopped.
I was so disappointed. I texted a few people to let them know, and just took advantage of the opportunity to sleep.
Thank goodness I did, because the break didn't last very long.
(Later, Joy told me that she knew it wasn't over. Apparently, it's very common for the contractions to die down for a bit, only to start up again with a fury not long afterwards.)
Through the Dark Recesses of the Night
At midnight, I awoke.
It was painful.
I jolted out of bed and checked the clock.
Five minutes later, another one came.
Naively, I thought perhaps I could lie back down and rest a bit more. Five minutes later, I knew this was an impossible notion. I had to get up. I didn't want to wake Elliott yet -- I wanted to make sure they lasted consistently for at least 2-3 hours before waking him -- and honestly, if I weren't going to get sleep, I wanted to make sure my partner did.
I breathed through every contraction and attempted to distract myself. I went online and checked the news, Facebook, wrote some random e-mails (some of you may have gotten e-mails around 1 am or 2 am -- that was me, in labor, trying to do anything other than think about being in labor -- I'm never up that late otherwise), and walked around. My brother was randomly awake at 1:30 am, and called to pray with me (well, he prayed and I breathed heavily through contractions).
Around 3 am or so, I decided that perhaps I should call the midwife to let her know what was going on, but Elliott made me promise to wake him up before doing so. So I gently woke him up and just as I did, my contractions went from 5 minutes to 8 minutes. I was disappointed again, but within the half hour they started back up. By this point, I was getting really tired, so I leaned myself up against the bed with some pillows (I was on the floor) to attempt to fake-sleep in between the contractions. When they got to the point where I couldn't breathe through them but had to make moaning sounds, Elliott recommended we move downstairs so as not to wake Gwen (whose bedroom is attached to ours). I think this was about 4 am.
So I sat at our dining room table and attempted to rest in between contractions -- head against a tower of pillows and an iPod in my ear with Bifrost Arts singing some hymns. I'm pretty sure I was moaning through some song lyrics during the contractions. In general, I guess I should say that my method to deal with the pain was to vocalize it. I'm a vocalist/actress, and this was just what made sense in my body. Somehow, it lessened the pain. If I tried to breathe, it was like I would hyperventilate. It also just didn't seem to work for me. So vocalize I did.
And Then It Was Morning
I believe we called the midwife around 5 am, but the contractions were wavering between 3 and 7 minutes apart, so she told us to call back in a little bit when they were more consistently 3-5 minutes apart. This was fine by me, as I just didn't feel ready to move into the hospital. I called just to let her know what was going on.
It was around this time that I felt a shift happen in my body and brain. The pain was more intense, and I just knew I needed my doula with me. I wanted someone there who understood all about this labor stuff, who could suggest things and coach me through it, who could be with me when Elliott needed to attend to other things (ie. packing the car, getting Gwendolyn ready for the day, etc.).
While Joy was on her way, Elliott somehow convinced me to get into the bath (I've heard of some laboring women liking the freedom to move. I don't know who you are or how you do it. When I found a position that worked, I never wanted to leave it). The bath worked wonders. Joy arrived, and I told her that just being in the bathtub was taking away a significant amount of pain. She called it "nature's epidural," and I decided that I would love to try a water birth someday (I think I decided this later -- not really sure if I had this thought at that moment).
At some point, we headed back downstairs and I went on the birth ball (it's basically like a yoga ball but bouncier). Joy said that it helped to move labor along when women stand, but there was NO WAY I was going to stand, so the ball was a good compromise. Joy also pressed certain pressure points in my back between contractions which relieved tension (seriously people: doulas. They are A-MAZ-ING). At this point, I was able to hold conversation between contractions, even joking around a bit with Elliott and Joy.
I stayed on the ball for a good long while until something happened -- but I'm not sure what. Somehow I ended up on the floor, leaning up against the blow-up mattress that my mom had stayed on overnight. I stopped being able to converse between contractions. All I could do was close my eyes in between, and sort of drift off somewhere. I just didn't feel very "present" any more. That's when -- at some point, I just KNEW -- just like I KNEW I needed to have Joy with me -- I just KNEW I had to leave for the hospital rightatthatverymomentnodelay. I couldn't imagine bearing through the pain in the car. "NOW." I said. "I want to go NOW."
I tried to go to the bathroom and comfort Gwen as I left (I assumed she was crying because mommy was in pain -- but no, she was crying because Joy wasn't staying to PLAY with her. Apparently it just sounded like I was singing loudly).
Just Like the Movies
So we're on the road, and this is when I start having these out-of-body moments, where I'm able to look at the situation somewhat objectively and think things like, "Wow, this is just like a scene out of the movies." I mean, here we are -- Elliott's driving to the hospital -- and here I am, SCREAMING my HEAD off, begging the Lord to give me a break for the 10 minutes it would take to drive us to the hospital. Of course, we ended up behind a STOPPED bus. A handicapped person was getting on board, so the bus STOPPED. Finally, Elliott found a way to sneak around, but he was so reluctant to do so -- not wanting to take any chances. Also, unlike the movies, I was NOT begging Elliott to go faster -- I wanted him to go slower because each bump was sheer horror for me.
It's also important to note that the whole way there, I was saying, "I'm getting the epidural. I'm getting the epidural."
We get to the hospital and enter through the ER entrance. I'm in a wheelchair. I guess Elliott had called the midwife before we got there because they were ready for me, but for some reason wanted me to wait for a nurse to come down. I refused. "No, we have to go up NOW," I said. Mainly, I was concerned for anyone in the waiting room. I mean, I was in SERIOUS labor. I could NOT hide my pain or my yells.
After getting into the room, I apologized to all the nurses for being overdramatic. At this point, although I was in a lot of pain, I really believed I was barely dilated. I think I said, "I'm probably not even dilated," and one of the nurses laughed and said sarcastically, "Oh sure, you come in here like this and you're dilated at all?" In my last experience with pitocin, the pain was SOMUCHWORSE than my current pain and I was only 1 cm. So I figured -- maybe 4 or 5. My birth plan specifically asked that I would not know my dilation unless my doula and husband thought it would be helpful for me. Well I peaked and saw the midwife look surprised as she whispered to them. They both immediately responded: "Yeah, she'd want to know."
We got to the hospital just in time.
This Is Actually Going to Happen
That was that thought going through my brain. I remember it so vividly.
This is actually going to happen.
There would be no epidural.
I was simultaneously thankful and fearful. I was fearful of the inevitable. Pushing.
Not much happened until the inevitable. I remember lying on my back -- that lying down was such a relief from all the work I had been doing -- and not wanting to move because moving meant I would progress towards pushing. I was NOT ready to push for a long time. Then suddenly, I just wanted the pain to stop, and I knew that meant I had to push. So I changed positions.
This is where I started experiencing out-of-body moments again. Throughout the whole pushing experience, I was thinking of the BBC show Call the Midwife, and recollecting how similar my experience was to some experiences they've shown. I was also thinking, "The next baby? I'm getting an epidural. This is so not worth it." (I later recanted this thought wholeheartedly, but I'll get to that in the next post.)
I was pushing for a good long while, so it seemed, and they kept having me move around because the baby's heart rate was dropping and they didn't know why. Apparently, they were really concerned for my baby, and Elliott was really freaked out for both me and the baby.
Meanwhile, I was just getting annoyed with everyone. They kept saying things like, "She's almost here -- just one more push should do it," and I kept responding with, "You keep telling me that but you keep lying! Stop lying to me! That's what they told me the last time!" And for whatever reason, anything Elliott said bothered me, and I just kept yelling, "Shut up, Elliott!! SHUT UP!!"
Although in reality, Elliott said I wasn't yelling at this point. I was angrily whispering. I do remember everything being really shaky and fuzzy, and feeling like I was going to pass out. I remember getting oxygen. I remember saying, "Whatever you do, just get this baby out of me!" I remember asking for a c-section (to which the nurses ALL laughed in response, and my midwife said, "We're a little beyond that point.").
There. She. Was.
Read Part 2.