I had voraciously read every pregnancy and birth book I could get my hands on, and spent hours reading online. I had spoken with most of the mothers that I knew about their birth experiences. I had taken a very academic and thorough childbirthing class, done the homework, and practiced the exercises. (I even reviewed old lessons and studied for fun — where was that ethic a few years ago in college? — and got the top score in our review class.) I knew that the unexpected was inevitable, but I had even planned for that (not emotionally, though, because no one ever can) and written it into my birth plan. I knew that no one can get all that she wants out of her birth experience, no matter how strong-willed she is, but I was also prepared to be flexible. And what truly made me different from all the other young mothers that I knew was that I had faith in my body, in my son, and in nature. I knew that birth was one of the most natural processes of life, and that without it, there would be no life.
In short, I had Little Red Henned my way to the big day and I was ready to eat the bread myself.
While the doctors had estimated the due date to November 25th, 2004, I had estimated November 28th. This made it difficult because the 25th was American Thanksgiving, and my husband’s whole family had found their ways to LA for something more exciting than turkey and many of them would be gone by the 28th. I was torn, because I wanted my son to take all the time he needed, but some of said family had traveled from outside of the country and I really wanted them to see the baby. Thanksgiving was a lovely day with not so much as a twinge (except the emotional dilemma) and I reveled in how comfortable I was, as full-term and large as I was — maybe the baby wouldn’t come because we were so comfortable? After all, I was two weeks late, and if he was that late, almost all family will have come and gone.
What do you do when it’s time, you’re ready, and you’re waiting? Keep active and try to get your mind off it … I recommend spending the day walking around Santa Monica. Yes I had to sit frequently to shoo the fluid out of my ankles, yes I had to use the washrooms everywhere, but I was comfortable (ankles notwithstanding) and staying active, and staying upright, which couldn’t hurt the pre-labour process. Out on the pier I noticed the full moon, and excitedly told people that many babies are born with full moons and low-pressure storms (it was supposed to be rainy the next day.) My husband and I were elated in the evening as we walked back to the car and I had mild, but steady contractions all the way. We dutifully went straight to bed, knowing we’d need our energy, and anticipating less than a full night’s sleep.
We tried to keep busy to keep our minds off our mild disappointment the following day, but we were sure to keep all of our errands nearby, and my husband insisted that I get some rest (but I don’t think I napped, because if I wasn’t having a baby, I might as well stay busy!) I talked him into going shopping because I wanted to walk around, and he compromised, than instead of walking around the mall we would go to IKEA and buy the final items we needed anyway. We shared a plate of fetuccine and went home to put the dresser/changing table together (which, incidentally, is a great pre-labour project: it keeps you busy but you can rest when you want to.) The contractions began again, but I tried not to think about it for fear of getting my hopes up again as I had the night before, and once my husband’s family came over, I worked even harder to take my mind off it, but discreetly shooting glances at the clock on the wall to monitor my progress.
My husband, man of discretion that he is, said nothing but must have known because the moment his family was out the door he said, “how are you really doing?” The contractions had been a minute long and five minutes apart for over an hour, the rule of thumb my obstetrician had used for reporting to the hospital.
The nurse was kind and friendly, but graciously declined any of the ten copies of our birth plan that we presented. Upon my request, she called my doctor and asked if I could return home, since I was only dilated to 1 1/2 cm. After an hour of observation and no progress, I was allowed to labour at home, with much reservation on my husband’s part who believed that without the five minutes apart for an hour rule I would stubbornly stay at home until the baby was in my lap. The nurse insisted that I would know when to return because I would know when I needed help, and Paul insisted that she underestimated my will. I remained stoic while I observed them.
I wasn’t able to sleep at home, after all, this really seemed like it, but I tried to rest because I knew I had a long way to go. I laboured in every position we had practiced (except on the birthing ball, which we didn’t have, but I made a mental note to purchase one before the birth of our next child) and some that we made up. We practiced our breathing, our relaxation, and listened to relaxing music. I sipped the labour tea I had prepared, I used the aromatherapy heat pad I had. I got in the shower as a last resort, because my contractions were so close together and so strong the only comfort I could get was from putting the warm water against my stomach. As I filled up the tub and told my husband to sleep, since he couldn’t help me for the moment. It’s true what they say about labouring in water and I think I’ll need to choose a hospital next time with that as an option … I might even consider a water birth. My husband was able to get minute amounts of sleep, and I was able to labour another few hours in the tub.
By nearly 6 a.m. my contractions seemed on top of each other, and long, and strong. They seemed to have two peaks in every surge and I knew that I could no longer stay on top of them. I instinctively knew that something wasn’t right and began preparing myself for the possibility of a drug-assisted labour. When I awoke my husband I told him that something was wrong and that it was time to return to the hospital. Imagine his surprise when I said all that without a baby in my arms — I hope I didn’t disillusion him. I was lucid enough to say to my husband as we got in the car, “I guess we aren’t going to ward council today.”
After twelve hours of labour I had progressed only to 3 cm, but the administrative nurse, Jenny, and I agreed to admit me to the hospital, despite the spacing out of my contractions back to five minutes. She filled out her forms unobtrusively and matched me up with a nurse who not only had given birth naturally herself, but had studied the same birth method that we had. Kriki was exactly the nurse I needed and I was sad to see her leave when Laura replaced her. (All was not lost, though not as amiable as Kriki, Laura had also given birth naturally, and my in-laws were in and out all day visiting us, which was a wonderful distraction.)
By early afternoon I had progressed to 6 cm, which was better progress than I had made the night before, and I was encouraged to keep snacking on my labour-tea-ice-cubes that I had prepared, and the water and ice chips that came in a steady stream from the nurses. I was even okay with having an i.v.. It was a gorgeous day, my husband was the perfect coach, saying all the right things at all the right times, and we had happy company. It was the day I was going to enter the new realm of life, as a mother, and it was the due date that I had calculated. Maybe a long labour is a good thing, I thought, as it helps us transition to this new phase of our lives.
After nearly 24 hours of labour the contractions were again on top of each other and double-peaking, but I was now much to tired to relax. I had reached my limit, groaning and visualizing were now useless, and I needed something. Grace a my childbirthing class, I knew exactly what I wanted when I requested the first round of medication, and Jenny brought me a dose of stadol so small it couldn’t have been more than 5 ml. Since I’m usually a no-medicine girl, it had immediate effect and I discovered the discombobulating effects of a narcotic-induced slumber. When the drug wore off and I was still too tired to handle labour on my own, I requested “another of that.”
When that wore off and I hadn’t made any progress to speak of, my doctor prescribed some pitocin, to which I immediately added an epidural; I had done my homework and I knew that I was not strong enough after 27 hrs of labour to do it alone. (And just because no one else ever mentions it, I feel I needed to add that the epidural comes with a catheter.) Dr. Lore, my anesthesiologist was very amiable, and the epidural, I’ll admit, was a welcome relief. My in-laws left for the night, my husband slept on the cot that the nurses brought in for him, and I slept for the first time in two days with my night-nurse, Kelly, watching over.
During the night Kelly and I tried various positions to help me dilate better, and when I was rolled onto my sides were the only times that the baby showed any signs of not doing well; while his heartbeat never went low enough to cause concern, it did go lower than it had been, so we abandoned those attempts. When Kelly checked my at 5:30 she called in another nurse to confirm her results. I was still only at 7 cm but during a contraction, instead of the cervix relaxing more, it also contracted and I closed up to 5 cm. (This only confirmed the joke that Kelly and I had shared all night, that I was having non-textbook labour for all my preparation.) She had to call my Dr. to report my progress and I knew exactly what the next step was, so I said, “and she will say it’s time to do a cesarean.” We began the cleaning and shaving and transferring me to the surgery room.
My son was born at 6:24 am on Monday the 29th, not the natural way, but through a cut in my abdomen. My husband sat beside me holding my hand, and watching the procedure in the reflection of the doctor’s glasses. Out came the most perfect blond baby with great lungs, and as he cried my husband said, “it’s okay, I’m right here.” The baby stopped crying immediately as he immediately recognized the voice that had talked to him and sung to him every day since before he had ears. My husband was immediately scolded by the NICU nurses because cesarean babies need to cry the mucus out of their lungs.
When they brought him all bundled up to my view right before whisking him away with my husband, I cried. He was perfect and beautiful and I couldn’t hold him at all for all my straps and medication. But I was finally a mother, and my son was healthy. And as soon as they let me out of recovery I would hold him and look at him for the rest of his life.