Sunday, April 6
8AM - I wake up, start walking to toward the shower to get ready for church and my first contraction hits. I had not felt a contraction my entire pregnancy but in that moment I knew exactly what it was because it felt like an intense menstrual cramp. Hello! As I continued getting ready they kept hitting me about every ten minutes. I tell my husband (N), and we mutually flail. Baby's coming! Baby's coming! And the weird thing is that I had spent the day before crying in bed, depressed, more exhausted to the bone than I'd felt the whole pregnancy, feeling like I'd never have the baby (even though it was still three days till my due date) and N said, "That probably means you're going to have it really soon." And I was all, "Whatever, man, I have no symptoms of labor, blah blah blah" but of course N's intuition was right as usual for the following morning there we were flailing andshopping to and fro in between contractions. This may be it! We decide to go to church because I predict it'll probably take at least another ten or twenty hours before I give birth. And idly waiting would make it worse. So off we went.
9AM - In Sunday School, staying in the book discussion and hoping they don't notice my face flushing bright red every time a contraction hits.
10AM - Contractions still coming at a steady rate. Crying through hymns because everything seems to be about impending motherhood and the joy to come. N raising his eyebrows at me from choir and me nodding in return to let him know I'm alright, water hasn't broken yet, etc.
11AM - Shopping for labor snacks at Whole Foods after church! So giddy. So excited.
12 - 3PM - We take a long walk to help labor along. We are almost hysterically excited. I am feeling brave and strong. At one point N teases me and I punch him hard, so hard that I think my water broke. But it did not. Did you know contractions can cause loss of bladder control? Well. *cough*
3 - 8PM - Pace around the apartment half watching The Office and half counting contractions on my iPhone app. They are getting increasingly horrible and closer together, which is good, but scary. I'm starting to gasp and swear and feel breathless when they hit. And they're getting longer. Oh, much longer. And then around 8PM they're coming a minute apart, and our doula, who I've been texting with, says we should probably consider heading over to the hospital. So we do, though I wanted to wait a few more hours. N felt pretty strongly we'd be stupid not to go then, and the contractions were amping up rapidly, so we did.
8PM - 3AM - Twelve hours into labor. We arrive at the hospital after the misery of being in labor while hitting the many potholes on our two-mile drive to the hospital. My beloved doctor is waiting for us on the maternity floor - it was her night to be stationed there, so good timing and whatnot. She checked my cervix (ow ow ow) and it was dilated a measly one inch. Usually dilation goes at an average of one centimeter per hour, so that would indicate I'd have at least another nine hours of pain to go, and probably more since twelve hours of labor had only dilated me one centimeter. I was pretty discouraged but hoped that since the contractions were speeding up so would the dilation.
They hooked me up to the fetal monitor and found that my contractions were causing the baby's heart rate to drop, nothing horribly alarming, but something they wanted to keep an eye on for an hour or so. Then they did an ultrasound and found that the baby was turned posterior, or sunnyside up, which means he was facing my belly button instead of my spine, as most babies do, which meant that the labor would be especially difficult because he'd be working against gravity and the shape of the birth canal. The nurse compared it to trying to crawl through a tunnel by lying on your back and scraping yourself against the ceiling rather than crawling on your belly. The sunnyside up position would cause the dreaded back labor, which is generally considered about twice as horrible as regular labor. So, N started texting with our doula to get ideas for trying to turn the baby around. My favorite was doing figure eights on the birth ball, because it was the only thing that helped make the pain endurable, so I spent the next four hours on the birth ball breathing and doing figure eights and staying calm and centered. Then around 11PM the contractions got even worse, slamming my back with the most excruciating pain I'd ever experienced and making it almost impossible to breathe. I'd always known the pain would be rough but I'd planned to used the time in between contractions to breathe and relax before the next one hit. But suddenly there was no time in between. Even after the contraction subsided (and there's a definite wave quality to them... a little pain, more, more, zenith, slowly residing) I'd still be writhing in pain and gasping for air.
This was when the panic started to set in. We asked our doula to come, and soon she was there trying tricks with my rebozo, which is a special scarf used to try to shift the baby into proper position. I lay on my back and she and N tried sifting me back and forth from under my back... ARGH!!!! The pain was unbelievable. Then we tried sifting during a series of side-lunges, and then pulling my belly up from below while I screamed during contractions. We did this for about an hour. I wanted to collapse, but kept trying even though the pain was so much worse, because I hoped that it would eventually turn the baby and be worth it.
Alas, it was not to be. The baby did not turn, pain kept ratcheting up, and I was shaking uncontrollably, constantly, and the pain never went away. I felt like I was suffocating in pain. Breathing was so hard. I don't know how to explain it. I always thought it was a little weird how childbirth classes are so into breathing, but when I was in labor I understood. When you're in blinding pain it's hard to relax your body enough to squeeze a breath in. And of course the lack of oxygen makes it worse.
So there I was, moaning and shaking and whimpering and trying in vain to find a position that didn't make me want to scream (and oh, I tried them all... squatting, lying on my side, on the birth ball, standing, leaning against N, letting my doula press against my back in an attempt to ease the pain with counter-pressure) and around 3AM my doctor came in and suggested I go home and try to sleep and come back, since I didn't seem to be making a lot of progress (though I had lost my freaking mucus plug...) and I begged her to check my cervix again, surely all this pain had accomplished something. So she did, and found I was dilated to... 1.5 centimeters. The past seven hours of hell had only dilated me half a centimeter.
It was then that I began to beg for drugs, all of the drugs, my natural childbirth plan be damned. It's funny, because I'd assumed they'd be foisting drugs on me and I'd have to keep asserting that no, I was all about birthing my child free of potentially harmful medical meddling, than you very much. But instead, I was pleading for anything that would kill the pain dead, and they were like, no, no, you go home and sleep and come back with you're really ready to have this baby. My doctor (who I normally love) kept making me feel frantic by saying, "Well, you know, early labor can last a long time..." and I wanted to scream, "No! I had early labor for eight hours. I could handle that at home just fine. THIS IS NOT EARLY LABOR. THIS IS SHEER NONSTOP UNBEARABLE TORTURE." But of course I couldn't say any of that because all my energy was used to breathe and not die. I used to watch childbirth videos where the attending nurses and doctors were total assholes and always wondered why the poor women giving birth did not tear them limb from limb. Now I know. It is because the pain is just too all-consuming. So my doctor kept saying, "I can give you a prescription for Ambien and you can go home and sleep." She kept saying it was a good "option." And N, speaking on my behalf, kept saying, "No, look at her, she's in agony, she's losing her mind, no way in hell do we want to go home." And finally it became clear that the "option" wasn't really an "option." We *had* to leave. Hospital policy required that women not progressing at a certain rate had to be sent home. It was at that point I started vomiting violently into the trashcan. But it didn't matter. We were being kicked out.
So N went to get Ambien at a 24 hour pharmacy and I got into the shower and cried and cried and moaned and moaned and the hot water helped a little but still, my God, the pain. I felt like I sat under the water for hours, but I think it was really only an hour, before Nathan came back and our doula followed us home over the horrible potholes and made sure I got into bed and then she left and said to call if we needed anything, but she seemed to think rest would help me though I knew it was bullshit because how the hell do you rest when you're vomiting and your body is constantly racked with pain? I took an Ambien and crouched on the bed, moaning and screaming and shaking for another hour. Then I took a second Ambien, which likewise did nothing to the pain. If it did anything, it just made me slightly more insane. Somehow, the pain kept getting more severe and I was soon screaming at the top of my lungs, "God, NO!!!! God, make it stop!!!! Please, God, somebody, make it stop!!! NOOOOO!!!!!!" And N was freaking out, punching the wall and saying he was going to burn the damn hospital to the ground for sending me home when I was in such pain, for not trusting us when we said we needed to stay. And he kept bringing me a cold washcloth every few minutes, which I would plaster against my face till it was soon burning hot from my face. After about two hours of this I tried getting into the shower and blood, so much blood, was running down my legs from my vagina and I was still in agony and we finally said, to hell with this, we're going to go back and beg them to let us back in (there was a lot of begging that night).
6AM - So we drove back over the wretched, wretched potholes to the hospital and had to check back in through the ER and there was a new check-in girl and she took forever to figure out how to check us in, meanwhile I'm literally crashing into the walls and moaning and look like hell with my hair wet and matted from multiple showers without any brushing afterwards and my body was still dripping wet because I was in too much pain to use a towel and some guy saw us and said to N, "Oh, you're having a baby! Congratulations!" And N yelled, "Nothing is good about this situation!" Which is exactly how I felt. Neither of us were thinking about the baby at all at this point. We both just wanted the freaking pain to stop. I really felt like it was going to kill me at that point. I staggered into the bathroom while N was still dealing with the slow ER girl and I was crouching over the toilet hoping to somehow get relief that way and thinking I just wanted it to stop, even for five minutes, I was so exhausted. I kept thinking, there's no way anyone would have a baby if they knew it was like this.
Eventually we got through and I realized I couldn't walk. I can only compare it to if you're incredibly constipated with the biggest poop known to mankind and it's trying to push it's way out. Could you walk then? No, you could not. So they wheeled me up to the maternity floor and I remember they pushed me into a gown and I had wanted to keep the dress I had on but was in too much pain to care. So on came the hospital gown and I pulled myself onto the bed on my side and gripped the siderail bars and shook them like a gorilla and roared. The nurse said something about how each pain would bring me closer to my baby and I wanted to claw her throat out but of course was too pain-riddled to even look at her. So I shook the siderail and roared and my doctor (who had been there all night) checked my cervix and I was five centimeters dilated now, which was good but still only halfway there. But! It was far enough along to permit an epidural, which I now pleaded for with all my heart, much as I hate needles and numbness, anything was preferable to what I was feeling, and I really felt I was about to die from the pain/exhaustion. So the doctor went off to see if the epidural was available and meanwhile I felt like a terrified animal, out of my mind, screaming, "THIS IS GOING TO KILL ME!!!!! SOMEBODY HELP ME!!!! FUCK!!!!!" N was with me the whole time but I remember nothing about his presence at this point, all I see are a blur of nurses faces and a whirl of violent colors. And the nurses kept saying, "You're fine, you're OK, you're doing great," and I kept moaning that no, I WAS GOING TO DIE. And I hated them for not understanding how horrible it all was. They kept telling me I had a long way to go. This turned out not to be true, thank God!
7AM - 8AM - So I'm screaming and sure my body is going to burst apart and suddenly a huge rush of pressure goes through me and I feel an explosion of liquid come out of me and splatter the nurses. Sure enough, my water has broke! I feel my body tighten around the middle so hard I feel like I'm going to die if I don't push, so I push. And the nurses start yelling at me, "Stop! Stop! Don't push! You'll hurt yourself. You only just got here. You were only five centimeters." But I kept roaring and pushing because I HAD to, there was no NOT pushing, and N heard one of the medical students ask the midwife who was there, "Is this NORMAL???" and the midwife said, "She's in transition." Transition is, notoriously, the worst part of labor, the part right before you push the baby out. I did not know I was in transition, however. For all I knew the pain would continue like this for hours. I was sure that now, finally, it would kill me. And where the hell was my epidural? No matter. It was too late. I had to keep pushing, and the pushing would kill me, though not pushing would kill me... in a worse way. Somehow. That was the situation.
So the nurses are screaming at me to stop pushing and I kept pushing and they'd say, "Breathe, don't push," and I'd try, but I couldn't for long, and they frantically got my doctor to come in and she checked my cervix and lo and behold! I had dilated five centimeters in thirty minutes, which is INSANE. SO FAST. And the baby was already crowning! Thus my uncontrollable need to push. So my doctor, she says to me, you're all set to push! Not that I was going to stop. And I remember feeling so glad I was in the pushing stage, that it would all soon be over, but also I wanted so desperately to just have FIVE MINUTES to rest from the 24 hours of labor I'd been going through. But now I had to use all the strength I had to push, which beyond all belief made the pain even worse, and felt as though I was going to tear my vagina to shreds and break my pelvis and do other unspeakable things to my body. It felt WRONG, it felt HARMFUL, but it had to be, I had to keep pushing and feeling like I was destroying my body because it was my only chance to stop the pain that had no end. I honestly was not thinking happy thoughts about meeting my baby at that point. All I wanted was to stop the pain. So I pushed like a fiend and roared like a madwoman (because of the pain and pressure every push came with a roar) and they said, "Oh, Whitney your baby has hair! Do you want to feel its head?" And I only roared and shook my head because I had energy and concentration only for getting 'em out. I remember screaming at my doctor, "PULL IT OUT!!!! JUST PULL IT OUT!!!!" And she said, in her awesome way, "Nah, you got this," but it was so hard, feeling the head come out and then recede back into my body after each push. My doctor was pulling on my vagina the whole time, stretching it out as much as she could between pushes to keep the tearing to a minimum. And then, after forty minutes of pushing (which my doctor said was quite impressive for a first baby... she said I was a really strong pusher, and no wonder with such pain for a motivator) out came the body and a sweet, I mean really sweet, strong cry with it, and then N said, "It's a boy!" and Baby L was on my chest and I was holding him and kissing him while they sewed up my tears (which were small) and pushed out the placenta and N cut the cord. And he was so strangely beautiful, not red and wrinkled like other newborns I've seen but with full, plump cheeks and porcelain skin and the most glorious silvery-golden hair and huge curious eyes and such gentle little sounds coming out of his mouth and dear God, the newborn smell! There is nothing more heavenly than the newborn smell. And I felt like I had just done the most difficult thing that could be asked of a human being, and I was so full of love for L, so protective of his well-being, and I felt strong and proud and I-am-woman-hear-me-roar though, frankly, I also felt traumatized. It's like walking back from death's door. I still think about this day often, to understand it. I probably always will.