Before we begin, I leave you with Dr. Spaceman of “30 Rock” and his wisdom on childbirth: “Everything about this is disgusting!” So consider yourself warned about the graphic content ahead. You don’t like bodily processes…perhaps go read something about the Supercommittee. Same quantity of poo, different type.
On November 6 I started feeling odd. Not in labor, but the intensity of the Braxton-Hicks contractions picked up along with the lower back pain and my emotions had spiraled out of control. Waves of nausea would hit at random times and my digestion was shot–most mornings began with stomach pain and gas. You might have noted that Moira was born on the 18th…and my due date was the 11th. I spent 12 days in pre-labor bodily prep, seven of which were after my due date, and straining to maintain a Zen attitude about it all. So you’ll understand why, when my first few contractions hit like a runaway train and woke me from a sound sleep around 6am, I brushed them off as the French onion soup I had for dinner.
Maggie woke up around 8 and by this time I suspected there might be more to this than wine-infused beef broth and gruyere. I had enough presence of mind to think “There is no way I can prepare a hot breakfast” as I flipped Maggie a dry scone, summoned Tom home from work, and called the midwife. I thought about timing contractions but the app I got for that purpose was on the iPad, which Maggie had stolen while I was on the phone, and I was too busy groaning to use my watch. My best guess was every 5 minutes.
Tom arrived home to find me hanging from the stair railing like a rhesus monkey and took over, setting Maggie up with a proper breakfast and a day’s worth of amusements on the DVD player. I did as I normally do under stress and paced aimlessly, suggesting that Tom run a quick vacuum in our room before making the bed up in plastic. Once he did I was able to administer a chlorhexdine…let’s call it a wash instead of what it really is (rhymes with sploosh), recommended by some for group B strep positives who don’t want to go to a hospital for antibiotics. Now, my mother used to keep the books for a convenience store/gas station and the back hallways were lined with various cleaning fluids and windshield wiper spray. I am here to tell you that the antiseptic smelled exactly like car cleaning fluid. So obviously I was really excited to administer it to my hoo-ha.
Proust had his madelines; I have my windshield wipers.
I kept pacing and harassing Tom about setting up the house. Finally I realized I was making us both nervous and hit the shower. Ohhhh…shower good. I had three contractions while showering that required my full attention to get through but I still managed to condition and shave my underarms. It’s the little things, you know? But then I realized: it was only a ten-minute shower. And the contractions were lasting about a minute. That…was that right? That couldn’t be right. That was too fast. I got Tom to wrestle the iPad away from Maggie and officially started tracking: less than three minutes apart. I tried to sit on the exercise ball but had to stand up and hang off our closet shelves to power through each contraction. Apparently my pains were counteracted by all my sloppily-folded laundry.
I started wondering where the midwives were, because dude, this was really starting to hurt. Time to call in reinforcements; that is, wake up my mother in Florida. I didn’t think she’d mind (actually, I didn’t really care because I don’t know if you’ve heard: contractions hurt) because what mother doesn’t like to hear that her child needs to hear her voice, even if said child is an alleged adult groaning under the strain of passing a human being? While I was making my mother feel bad for me I had to excuse myself to take solace in my laundry, which is a pretty effective way to end a call.
Now, as an obsessive type with a fast computer and internet connection, I had done a lot of homework prior to the birth. I spent a lot of time studying this article on labor positions and committing the various merits and demerits to memory. Despite the red flashing warnings going off in my brain reminding me that lying on my side makes contractions “more effective” (re: stronger) and slowing labor, I hit the bed to assume the position that got me through labor with Maggie: on my side biting on my pillow.
Once on my side my groaning got an upgrade to full-on yelling. I wouldn’t call it screaming (not yet) but the contractions required a lot of volume. My midwife, K, arrived and I begged for something that most women dread: the dilation check. Since my midwife is smarter than I am she tried to talk me out of it.
“We don’t usually do that…it’s quite uncomfortable.”
“I need to know. I need to know how much further I have to go.”
“If that’s what you want I’ll do it. But we really don’t do this typically.”
Once I peeled myself off the ceiling I immediately accepted the wisdom of my midwife’s warning and didn’t ask again. However, I realized I could really have used Tom’s hand to hold during all that. I could hear crashing around downstairs and realized he was doing dishes. I resolved to break UK handgun laws and shoot him in half at the first opportunity but later he clarified that he was getting Maggie settled so she wouldn’t come upstairs. That was acceptable and I no longer felt the need to murder him in a highly sensational way.
Another part of my prep was reading birth stories online; stories of this type glut the parent blogs but my favorite is from Fussy. (“I shit my guts out. Labor does not begin.”) Having essentially committed it to memory I was more than willing to head for the toilet when my midwife suggested that “having a wee” would help me get more comfortable. I don’t know if that’s true but I didn’t care: sitting upright DOES feel glorious! Hallelujah for gravity! Tom set up shop at the edge of the tub as I downgraded my yelling to “focused moaning.” It didn’t hurt any less but the position allowed me to feel like the baby might come out in a sensible way. I felt well enough to think about Maggie:
“Does she have water? A sippy?”
“Yes, she is fine. She isn’t bothered or scared.”
“I love her so much.”
“I know. So does she.”
For the record, she spent the labor watching movies in her britches:
The other nice thing about this position? Less messy. You cannot give birth to a ten-pound child without also giving birth to a lot of mess. Your metaphorical bathwater is going to get tossed out with the baby. Everything about this is disgusting.
Despite this, I was still really working against two problems: every contraction triggered a panicky flight response and my skin felt like it had gone to super-receptor. It literally felt like I was buzzing–actual, literal vibrating from the endorphins. Not only could I not stand to be touched or spoken to by anyone else, oh no: I couldn’t bear for my OWN hands to touch me during a contraction. So my arms went between fluttering uselessly and death-gripping the edge of the tub in one hand and my pillow in the other. Sometimes I would stand to stretch my back and incorrectly timed sitting back down, which was excruciating. Tom helped me drink sips of water. They took my temperature and pronounced it normal, which shocked me because I felt like I was on fire. All I wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep; I wanted to return to the days of twilight sleep and forceps. I kept thinking “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be here anymore.”
And then the cold voice of reason and self-preservation spoke up from the bottom of my brain stem: “So don’t be here. Find somewhere else to be.”
…Huh. That’s not a bad idea, Voice. I think I’ll go here:
Nice, eh? This is Chun’s Reef, my favorite beach on the North Shore. Tom tells me that around this time I completely checked out. I stopped vocalizing and shut my eyes; there were a few times they thought I fell asleep. For my part, I was on the beach. I was feeling the heat of the sun on the black lava rocks under my feet and the salt drying on my shoulders. Every contraction brought me into the tidal pools.
Time passed, just me and my beloved Hawaiian sunshine. An hour and then into a second hour.
And it was fine. Everything was fine. Two or three nasty ones snuck in but I handled them. Later I mentioned to Tom how if I had a long labor I might have given up. He disagreed: “You were in the zone. You could have kept it up for hours.” And I could have except the feeling of a Shrike missile dropping into my lower pelvis completely wrecked the groove. I snapped back and shrieked, which summoned both midwives from the hallway where they had been discussing ordering sandwiches for what they thought might be the long afternoon ahead. Then another one, and another, just as intense. It was almost noon.
“HURTS IT HURTS!”
“In what way?”
“BURRRRRRRRNING!” (In my mind I heard Ralph Wiggum. Go figure.)
“Can you check yourself?”
Before I wreck myself? Regardless, I checked. Everything was right there.
“Okay, the baby’s moved down. Can you get on all fours?” No, I sure as fuck could not. K said very calmly “Well, okay, Deanna, but you can’t have your baby on the loo.”
That made sense but I was stumped. Frozen and stumped. At that second I could no sooner have moved from that position than I could have jumped up to do the rumba. I had to make myself remember how to stand. “Just…give me a second.” Tom and the midwives got me up and walked me through the longest 15 feet of my life: from my bathroom to my bed. I let everyone position me: on hands and knees, head face-down on a stack of pillows, and a half-dozen strategically arranged towels under me.
My water broke at 12:03 with a pop I felt in my ears and teeth. I prayed nothing had hit the wall behind me and tried to find the words to summon Tom to my head and away from his bird’s eye perspective of the carnage but it would have interfered with the unabashed screaming I was doing. (Maggie watched on downstairs, oblivious.) A few more contractions brought the head came barreling through.
“Gently now, gently! Wait for the next contraction!”
“I CAN’T!” I roared. “Get it out, oh my God, get it OUT!” Tom admitted that at the time he felt terrible for me but fully anticipated having a laugh about my first words to our child later. He had a perfect view of the baby’s face and arm, which emerged at the same time, and was able to answer “Fine, it’s fine” when I asked if our silent baby was okay. You see, he got to see her brushing her face off with her little hand and begin to smack her lips and root for food. Not even fully born and looking for a snack.
While Tom was sniffing back tears and waxing sentimental, I was dealing with the wall. The head that had emerged so freely slammed into a shoulder barricade and the whole works halted.
If I live to be 100 I don’t know if I will ever have occasion to scream that loudly ever again.
Thankfully, K was able to adjust the shoulders and a mere ten minutes after my water broke, Moira was born in a frenzied push and laid, perfectly pink and as plump as a roast, on the bed underneath me. Tom yelled “It’s a Moira!” I babbled and cried and laughed. “Moira!” She looked around, as shocked as I was, but quiet and rosy and happy despite the frantic cleaning going on around her. Tom helped me maneuver to lie down and they put Moira on my belly, and we looked at our baby together.
And that’s how it was.