If you're not into gritty deets, redirect your attention elsewhere for a while, like maybe to this. Otherwise, read on for le birth story de moi.
So my due date came and went with still nary a sign of anything going on other than my pelvis feeling more and more like it would snap in half before long. That day (January 11th), I went to a breastfeeding class at the Birth Center and sat through it on a yoga ball, hoping to bounce the baby out. It didn't work. The next few days I was rather miserable, to say the least, if only because I was certain that my absolute lack of apparent progression meant that either:
1. I wasn't really pregnant, it was all a big, elaborate joke played on me by someone (hello, yes, this can happen, did nobody watch Smallville?)
2. I would literally be pregnant forever (as in literally, literally. See link above.)
3. I would have to be referred to a doctor, admitted to the hospital, and induced. The induction would then inevitably fail, and I would need a C-Section to safely deliver my baby. This has happened to a couple people I know lately, so it was rather at the forefront of my mind. My fear was worsened by the fact that I still don't have health insurance, so paying for all that would be a nightmare.
Anyway, for some reason, though rather desperate and disconsolate (thank you church songs for widening my vocab), Tuesday I was finally able to relax some. I had lunch out with family, and got reassuring answers from a health insurance rep. We had a good Webelos activity that night, and then went to bed.
At 1:43 in the morning (ish...but who's keeping track), I woke up feeling what I was certain were pretty bad contractions. They felt like period cramps on steroids, for those wondering. But they were pretty manageable. I lay there for a while wondering if I should bother timing them since there was no way they could be real the very first time I felt them (at four days overdue, no less...ha...). After a few contractions, I decided to time them. They were still rather painful, requiring concentration on my breath to get through them, but not horrible. They were about 6 minutes apart and lasting about a minute. Eventually I started to wonder if there was something else I could do, at least so that I wasn't thinking about it. I went through the list of things-to-do-in-early-labor: Eat, Drink, Walk, Shower, Nap. Well...I didn't think any of those activities (besides drinking some water) would be justifiable at 2 in the morning, except the sleeping part. So I tried to go back to sleep. My body had other plans, however. Pretty soon I got too uncomfortable to be lying down, and anyway, I felt like I needed at least to get up and go to the bathroom. Nobody likes contractions on a full bladder.
They were pretty uncomfortable sitting down too, it turned out, so I decided to pace the halls of our freezing cold apartment. I wandered around ("putsy-putsy" the books call it) and paused in random places for the contractions, breathing and swaying my hips through them. After about an hour and a half of them being regular, they suddenly switched to being anywhere from 30 seconds to 7 minutes apart (those coupling ones are the worst, lemme tell you), and lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Basically, they were all over the place. But at the same time, they were getting more intense. Even though I swore to myself "that won't be me" when we talked in class about getting through contractions by humming and/or moaning, I pretty much needed to at least hum to get through them, while concentrating on breathing.
My plan, when this all started, was to get through the early labor by myself, then let Sam go to work at 6:30 like he normally does, then call him home when things progressed further. But by 4:30 or so, I decided I needed help getting through the contractions, and who better to turn to but the card-carrying labor coach sleeping in my bed? So I woke him up, trying to play it cool.
"I think I'm in labor. But the contractions are all over the place and I'm not sure what that means. They're pretty intense though, like it hurts too much to be sitting here talking to you...HMMMMMMM..."
He called the midwife. I was worried about crying wolf, and I kept thinking about how they had told us that normally they can tell if a woman is really in labor by the way she sounds in the background on the phone. I was thinking I might have to fake it, but oh boy nope, it was all real. She recommended I take a shower to take the edge off the pain, and call her in a few hours.
So I got in the shower and told Sam to go back to bed. At first the shower felt really nice, and I even washed my hair between contractions, pausing to breathe and sway during them. But after a few minutes, the contractions started getting more and more intense, and what the? I felt like I had to push soon.
"How is this possible? I'm just being dramatic. I can ignore it and breathe through it. Or, you know, hum. Or...yell? What..."
Sam came back in and asked if he should call the midwife again. I told him no, go back to sleep. ("Ahhhh!") He called the midwife and told her I felt like I had to push and that I had started bleeding some. She said to come in, especially considering we were about 40 minutes away.
It took forever for me to dry off and get dressed since the contractions were coming more frequently and were obviously pretty intense, and I was having to be rather vocal to get through them. Eventually we got out to the car ("Hurry up I don't want to have a contraction out here and wake up the neighborhood!") and took off.
You know how they say that the overly-dramatic mad-dash-to-the-hospital labors you see in movies and TV shows are basically fiction, or else really rare? Well, that's how it was for us. Sam was going at least 100mph whenever he could. We only ran one red light, and didn't get pulled over, so that was lucky. There were a couple of jerks who went slow in front of us on purpose, but I think once we got around them and they could see me screaming through the window, they went home and repented.
Shortly before we got there, I had a horrible feeling of dread that I really might not be able to make it, since it was requiring all my effort and concentration not to push at this point, and it hurt quite a bit to do so, but I told myself we were almost there and that I could get through it because it wouldn't last forever, etc etc. As we were pulling into the parking lot, a rib or something popped in my chest from the exertion of not pushing. Ouch. It scared me a little. And made it hard to blow my nose for a couple of days.
We got out of the car (it was about 6am at this point) and Adrienne, the midwife, was standing there waiting at the door. I had to lean on the bed through a contraction, then stood there and said "Okay...what do I do?" Adrienne said she wanted to check my dilation first, so I managed to make myself available in that way, somehow.
"Okay, the baby's right there and you're fully dilated, so push whenever you want."
"Really? Okay..." I had this thought that I didn't really know what I was about to do, since it had all been so fast. I'd anticipated it would take hours and hours to get to this point, and here I was, 4 hours later and ready to push. Adrienne asked if I wanted to fill the tub, and I said sure, though I wasn't sure I'd end up using it. She started filling it, Sam called my mom and told her to make tracks (or maybe he did this when we left the house), texted his mom to give her the heads up, and I pushed a couple times on my own.
I was sort of on my hands and knees on the bed at this point, though it was almost more like Child's Pose. They did some vitals on the baby with the Doppler and apparently she "didn't like that position," so Adrienne suggested lying on my side. I pushed a couple times in that position, and then Adrianna, our Bradley teacher, who is also the group prenatal teacher and a birth assistant at the Birth Center, showed up. I felt pretty lucky that she had been on call that night.
After that, things get a little hazy for me. They gave me oxygen, I think because I was a little worn out from the yelling/breathing through the contractions (my throat felt sore and I remember thinking I was going to regret it later). My mom showed up. The pushing was hard, and it hurt quite a bit, and I kept thinking of Elvis dying on his throne, and hoping I wouldn't have a heart attack, but then I reminded myself that millions of women do this everyday and everything turns out just fine, so I went with it and pushed through the burning.
After a bit, everyone started talking about how they could see the head, and how it looked like she had hair, and then oh-my-gosh she's en caul how cool! At this point, they were encouraging me to push pretty much continuously, which was difficult, and I didn't feel like I had the energy, but I reminded myself that it was SO CLOSE to being over, so if I could just forget Elvis and push through to the end, I'd feel better, so that's what I did. I also kind of got the feeling there was some urgency, like the baby really wanted to come out, like now, and holding back would be cruel, and I didn't want to start off my career as a parent by being selfish and neglectful.
Apparently the baby's cord was wrapped around her neck, but with one of her arms in there too, so once her shoulders were out, Adrienne broke the membrane and ruined the en caul experience (just kidding) so she could free her. One more push after that (I think) and she was out, at 6:36, less than 5 hours from when I felt the first contraction. I guess they had to give her a few puffs of oxygen, although I'm not sure why (in fact, I didn't know they gave her oxygen until yesterday, and I'm kind of glad, because it would've worried me a lot) They handed her to me, all wet and wiggly and soft, and toweled off her face. She started to cry some, and that was that.
I held her while the cord finished its thang. I can't remember if they cut the cord before or after the placenta was delivered, because it took a while to come out. That part might've been my fault, Adrienne told me I'd need to push it out when I felt cramping, and I was thinking, "No way, I'm never pushing anything anywhere ever again." But I did it anyway. Story of my life.
Anyway, so after separating the placenta from the baby, Sam got to cut the cord in grand ceremonious style, with large golden shears (or rather, scissors that apparently needed sharpening). I held the baby a while longer, we decided to name her Rosalind, tried some nursing, and then we both needed to get checked out, so the party was over.
Again, I don't remember the order things went in, but I know that they weighed the baby and that she was 9lbs 4.5oz, making me feel proud and accomplished for making a baby over 8lbs. All her reflexes were good and her color was great, and yada yada my baby is amazing. And then they checked me out while other people held the baby.
I had only one little tear, and nowhere near my perineum at that (go me!), but it was sort of a funky shape, and rather high, probably caused by the baby's fist near her face. So for that I needed a few stitches. But I kept bleeding, which apparently makes it hard to see anything, so Adrienne checked me, and lo and behold, I'd retained a bunch of junk that really hurt like the dickens when she pushed it out. I was still bleeding a little, so they gave me a shot in my thigh (and subsequent pills every few hours) to make my uterus contract more and stop the bleeding. Then I got my stitches (yikes, ow, etc).
Sam's mom then showed up (after a phone call that went something like "Why didn't you tell me?!" "I did" "Oh wow, that was fast, I just got your text") and everybody oohed and ahhed over the baby, and I had a yummy French toast breakfast from a diner down the street.
Eventually, the moms left, Adrienne went to attend to clinic, Adrianna went to a class she had to go to, another birth assistant showed up to help me get a little cleaned up, and then Sam and I were alone with the baby, so naturally we took a nap.
Around 12pm or 1pm, the birth assistant came in again to give us a little discharge education, and Adrienne came in to chat with us for a bit. Final vitals were taken on everybody, we all got dressed, changed our first diaper and cleaned up our first spit up (of wonderful mucus, thank you, dear en caul baby). Then we went home.
Sigh. All missions accomplished.
Now Rosalind is two weeks old. I've been trying to simultaneously adjust to and process everything that's happened. It all went so fast and contrary to how I expected that now that it's over, I wonder if it was really real. And taking care of a new baby is hard anyway, especially when you realize you basically know nothing you thought you did, and you look like a sleepy deflated balloon and feel like a sad and angry empty box, and oh the baby is starting to fuss, so you should feed her and change her diaper, but didn't you just do that? Also it's 2am and you haven't slept in 16 hours and the last time you ate was when? And between your crying and struggling to stay awake, the baby laughs in her sleep or you count her tiny eyelashes while she's feeding and it's heart-meltingly adorable, and even though sometimes everything feels like a horrible joke (man, apparently I have issues with reality), there are the times that make it feel worth it, or at least make you forget about everything else for a little while.
You know how they say that when you reach two weeks, you look back and say "Man, that was hard, how did I get through it? Things are a little better now." I think that's true. And then when that happens again at 6 weeks, and 3 months, and 6 months, and forever... I think everything's going to be okay. Eventually the baby will learn to nurse and so it will stop hurting, and if she doesn't, we will come up with a Plan B, and it will be okay.
And it's okay to take every bit of advice people throw out there and put it through the sifter. It's okay to be scared and unsure, as long as it doesn't consume you. And it's okay to feel uncertain about your birth, because it was kind of a big deal, and writing it down does actually help. And the baby sure is cute.
Oh, and my wedding ring still doesn't fit. Suck a moose.
Side note: I absolutely loved my experience with the Birth Center. I also am really glad that I decided to have a drug-free birth. It caused me to seek out a ton of education, which I think is extremely important for a life-changing event as big as pregnancy and birth. Even if I had decided to do a hospital birth, I would probably not have had time for an epidural or any of that because it was so fast, and so because I knew what to expect, I was able to get through the pain, and I wasn't afraid, so it wasn't so bad. I actually imagine it would be scarier to have an epidural birth, but that's just me. I also have really appreciated how willing to help and understanding my midwife has been through the postpartum stuff. It really has been a great experience, and if you're even considering ever doing a natural birth or using a midwife or whatever, I would absolutely and annoyingly recommend it, if it's a safe option for you.