To read the prologue, in which I reminded myself that whatever was going to happen in labor was not up to me, click here. To read Part 1, in which I was sent to the hospital for an NST/BPP and then scheduled a medical induction for the following morning, click here.
More Than Just Wishful Thinking
Brian and I returned home from the hospital sometime between 2:00 and 3:00, and the Critter arrived soon afterward, along with the friend who had come to the hospital to take care of him while we were there. Brian made me a late lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches, and I set myself to taking care of whatever needed my care before I went back to the hospital to have my baby. I arranged for someone to take over that evening’s chat for my online writing class. I called my doula and spoke with a friend who had twice been induced. Then I started writing and posting critiques of my students’ writing exercises. My dad and stepmom would be on their way from Connecticut at 6:00, after rush-hour traffic cleared, and all I wanted to do was survive the hours until they got to our apartment and I could talk to them and go to bed. That, and play with the Critter. And maybe take a walk, if only five blocks to the grocery store and back.
Looking back, I see how dissociated I was. I had agreed to do one of the things I dreaded most, and not even (I suspected) for very good reasons. And I wasn’t even trying any of the things I thought I would try instead of a medical induction, such as castor oil or acupuncture. My doula sent me a list of natural induction methods, and I opened the file, read it, closed it, and went back to writing critiques. All that I could really bear to think about was whatever was right in front of me.
Meanwhile, I was having mildly painful contractions. I didn’t think much of them; any discomfort seemed to be a result of having had my membranes stripped. Besides, I had read Kristen’s post at Birthing Beautiful Ideas on prodromal labor, in which she explains: “You can ignore early labor – even early LABOR-labor. But you’ll know it’s the real thing when you can’t help but recognize it as labor – when it grips you and doesn’t let you go or ignore it anymore.” These contractions were definitely something I could ignore. Just more Braxton-Hicks contractions, I thought.
Then, at 7:30, everything seemed to happen at once. Brian was calling from the kitchen, telling me that dinner was just about ready and it was time for the Critter and me to wash our hands. Meanwhile, a powerful contraction gripped me as I finally posted my last critique. Wow, I thought, that was a really strong Braxton-Hicks.
The sequence of events that followed that thought is one big blur.
I remember the Critter crying because he wanted me to pick him up (something he knew I couldn’t do since about the fourth month of the pregnancy). I remember telling him that he could sit on my lap during dinner. I remember not being able to have him sit on my lap during dinner, because my Braxton-Hicks contractions — as I continued to think of them! — were coming on so strong. I remember not being able to eat much dinner. I remember having to go to the bathroom but just sitting on the toilet without much of anything happening — except for the contractions, of course. I remember feeling much more comfortable on the toilet than anywhere else — and feeling not particularly comfortable there, either. I remember giving myself permission to entertain the thought that the idea that I might be in labor might be quite a bit more than just wishful thinking. I remember deciding to time my contractions — just to see! — and telling Brian to get an app for his iPhone so that I could do so.
Even after about twenty minutes of timing my contractions — which were coming about three and a half minutes apart, each lasting not quite a minute — I still wasn’t sure whether or not I was in active labor. I so very, very much wanted to be in active labor that I was very, very afraid that these contractions were some kind of delusion. But then, while clinging to the bathroom sink, I saw a glimmer of clarity and shouted to Brian, I just don’t see this slowing down!
Brian called my doula and the birthing center. The midwife listened to me vocalize through one contraction, said, “That’s pretty strong,” and told us to meet her at the hospital. My dad and stepmother arrived then, at about 8:30, and Brian greeted them with the announcement, “We’re in active labor” — which, given my moaning, would soon have been obvious. I was vocalizing just as I had been encouraged to do while in labor with the Critter — long, low moans — and telling myself again and again what the narrator in a video my doula had showed me had said, “This is the sound of a woman who is handling her labor well.”
By this time I was on my hands and knees on the bedroom floor. I don’t know how or when I got there, or why I wasn’t wearing any pants. I did know that the last thing I wanted to do was to go anywhere else, unless it was into a warm tub, where I could relax between contractions. But I had had to let go of those possibilities, and so over the next hour or so my family and caregivers carried me — literally and figuratively — from the bedroom floor to my dad’s car to the hospital to Labor and Delivery and finally, after stops at two different waiting areas and triage, to the birthing room. By the time I was ready to go to the birthing room, sometime between 9:30 and 10:00, I gladly — though not quite intelligibly — accepted a wheelchair. I was seven centimeters dilated, fully effaced, and probably in transition.
When I envisioned myself laboring in the hospital, I usually pictured myself sitting on a birthing ball. As it turned out, I was able to relax — just barely — only when lying down. After going to the bathroom, I got onto the bed and stayed there, lying on my side. Dimly, in the far recesses of my mind, I couldn’t believe I actually was where I was: in the hospital, about to give birth to my baby (I knew he was coming soon), without any interventions. But really I had no time to marvel at my surprising good fortune. My entire being was focused on this moment, this contraction … and on relaxing as much as possible when the contraction subsided … and now on this contraction … and on relaxing as much as possible when the contraction subsided … and so on and on and on.
I was hardly aware of anything outside of my body. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I couldn’t really see any of the medical equipment that had made me so uneasy on our hospital tour a few weeks earlier. Nor did I hear any of the steady stream of requests and who knows what else coming into the room over the intercom system. My doula massaged my feet and legs, but otherwise I can’t really say what anyone else on my birth team — Brian, my midwife, my doula, and a labor and delivery nurse — was up to. Meanwhile, my midwife and the nurse made just about everything on my birth plan happen without my needing to make a single request. I labored in my own clothing, hydrated orally rather than via routine IV (though I did accept the heplock), and had minimal vaginal exams, and nobody even uttered the word pain, let alone offer me any medications.
I Can’t Believe It’s Over
When I was about eight and a half or nine centimeters dilated, my midwife broke my waters — and she noted that, despite the low AFI on the BPP I had had just that morning, plenty of amniotic fluid had gushed out of me. I have no idea whether the artificial rupturing of my membranes actually sped things up; things had been going pretty darn fast since 7:30 that evening, and by this point I was feeling a strong urge to push. Between contractions, which were coming powerfully and right on top of each other, I kept saying, “The pressure! The pressure!” hoping that someone (my midwife) would finally tell me that it was time to push. After one more cervical check — nine and a half centimeters dilated — we agreed that it was time.
Though my birth plan stated my preference for spontaneous pushing and birth, in the midst of labor I let go of that preference. My body had stalled in the second stage of giving birth to the Critter, and the last thing I wanted this time was for my labor to stall when I was in a hospital, where the full array of things that can be done in labor were actually available. Also, the position and technique that my midwife was coaching me through — in which I curled my body around the baby and pushed through contractions — were similar to what finally helped me get the Critter out. As I once did as a music student and as I now do as a student of Zen, I let my midwife’s words (like my teacher’s words) bypass my thinking mind and simply did with my body just as she said.
My first few pushes didn’t do all that much, though. Then came the crucial moment: I saw my fear. I saw my fear of a big baby, a stalled labor … and I reminded myself that an entire baby was going to pass through my body, and I was going to have to push hard.
It was the crucial moment, but it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t even tell anyone about my insight. I just started pushing hard.
Although both times I’ve given birth I’ve forgotten the sensation of labor contractions pretty much immediately, I’m certain that I will never forget what it feels like to have an eight-pound baby in my birth canal. All I cared about then, though, was that my work was working! My baby was on his way … and crowning … and (one more push) …
… right here — a vernix-coated chunk of beautiful baby curled up on my chest!
I lay back and admired him, cuddled him, asked him if the name we had chosen suited him. And then it hit me: It was all over.
No more roller-coaster of ultrasounds, NST/BPPs, and unwanted opinions. No more fear.
Yes, more tests and uncertainty were to come, but at last I could see my little Gnome with my own eyes.