Sublime? Hmm. I should have spent more time thinking before I wrote that completely barf-worthy paragraph the other day. How can something involving hospital gowns and stitches and, uh, all that fluid be sublime?
I read Moxie's post on what constitutes a good birth a dozen times before I got pregnant and another three dozen times after I got pregnant. My biggest fear was (is) post-partum craziness and after a while I decided that I would "plan" my pregnancy and birth and parenting style around whatever would prevent anxiety. Hee, you are thinking. THAT is HILARIOUS. I know! But all that really means is that I decided not to plan. I smiled when friends gave me books about pregnancy and then barely looked at them. I declined all the genetic testing. I read up on the side effects of epidurals and counted up the number of friends who told me I was crazy if I didn't get one. I did not write up a birth plan. I found a doctor and hospital I liked, went to a one day childbirth class and read an excellent book about labor and delivery about a week before the baby arrived. In the meantime I ate ice cream and watched TV and obsessed over diaper bags. (I bought this one by the way. *Love*. Seriously. Best bag ever.)
I know some people think women need to fully educate themselves about labor and not hand their births over to doctors who may see them simply as the screeching woman in room five and for the most part I agree. And I think I'm pretty educated. I have read every mommyblog on the internet. But I knew that too much information wasn't going to be good for me, the anxious control freak. I knew I couldn't do natural childbirth because 1) I am the Queen of Wuss and 2) it would require a lot more education, practice, determination and commitment than I was willing to give. I didn't want to commit or plan or decide on any one thing on the offchance I failed and set myself up for the kind of disappointment and guilt trip only a Type A overachiever eldest child can create for herself. The most important thing, by far, was to keep my anxiety to a minimum.
Anyway, birth was not a big deal to me. Except for the part about how much it hurts. That was a huge deal. I was not at all excited about feeling what it's like to have your lower lip pulled over your head. I figured as long as I got a healthy baby and a relatively intact body out of the deal, I'd be in good shape.
So that was my mindset when I started having contractions at 3:30 in the morning on Tuesday. I was pretty convinced this was nothing, just practice contractions because hello, this was my first baby and he was sure to be two weeks late. You know how all the books say "longer, stronger, closer together"? Well these were short, manageable and very close together. After a while they were longer, stronger and farther apart. Late Tuesday night we were keeping close track, but they weren't matching the go-to-the-hospital pattern, even though I was having to, you know, deal with these things. Who are these people telling you to get a pedicure and go to the movies in early labor? WHATEVER.
I stayed up all night watching crappy TV. I tried to sleep in between shots of stabbing pain, but because I had to leap up from the couch every time and go through my This Will Not Kill Me routine, sleeping was difficult. I whiled away the morning hours in the same way, watching Phillip work furiously on the laptop because he wasn't quite ready to leave for two weeks. I still wasn't sure it was the real thing, though. I'd been reading up on Jennifer, for one thing, she of the endless early labor misery, and the last thing I wanted was to show up at the hospital all eager new mom-like and be sent home. I had my last doctor appointment scheduled for that afternoon and Phillip made me go, even though I thought enduring a contraction in the car would make me positively insane.
The doctor said, "You're four centimeters already. You can go to the hospital now or stay at home a little longer, but you're having this baby tonight."
I didn't get it. These contractions were above and beyond the ones I was having even a few hours earlier, but they weren't closer together and they weren't getting longer. I didn't feel like I had lost my "social self" like the books said I would in active labor. I was still blogging! How could I already be four centimeters? So we went home and I threw a few more things in my hospital bag. We called our parents. We looked at each other nervously. Phillip did some more work.
A few hours later I was having contractions that were the same length, still about ten minutes apart but making me want to throw myself down the stairs. "I think," I announced to my husband, "that I would like the professionals to start taking care of me." We took five minutes to sit on the couch and ponder our last bit of coupleness, our last taste of doing-whatever-whenever-we-want-ness and then we were off. Phillip trying to remember how to get to the hospital, me praying I would not have a contraction in the car.
And I didn't!
Gosh this is getting long.
Once we got to the hospital everything got much more whirlwindy. Within the first half hour I was wearing the gown, strapped to the monitors, hooked up to an IV, a blood pressure cuff, fetal and pulse monitors and quickly growing loopy from the dose of narcotics the nurse had kindly dumped in the IV so I could sit still while they inserted the epidural catheter. "This," I thought to myself, "is why people do not want to have babies in the hospital." The epidural lady was scary, my nurse was pushing the drugs because she wanted me to sleep, the bed was already uncomfortable and the blood pressure cuff squeezed my arm off every fifteen minutes.
But the contractions didn't hurt anymore. After everyone left the room and I was under orders to get some rest, Phillip and I just stared at each other. We were going to have a BABY. I was already at 5-6 centimeters by the time we got to the hospital and unless the epidural slowed everything down, I was pretty sure I'd have a baby in my arms by morning. I couldn't sleep because of the stupid blood pressure cuff. We talked about how everything had gone as hoped: we'd stayed home as long as possible, we were well along our way dilation-wise, we had a room that faced the city instead of the boring hospital courtyard, we had yet to argue or freak out on each other. We were both done with work, we had time to pack our bags, we were totally prepared. I was starting to grow very fond of my nurse, who checked up on me frequently, and I think at that point we were both feeling incredibly thankful.
My nurse would come in every so often, cluck at the contraction monitor strip and say my contractions weren't getting closer. She laughed when Phillip asked if we might have the baby before midnight. Then she'd check me and every time I was further along than she thought. Sometime in the night we heard the woman next door start to scream and Phillip looked at the nurse nervously. "I thought she got an epidural too," he said. "Oh," she grinned, "let's just say that not all patients are like your wife." Which, you know. Totally made me feel like a labor and delivery ROCK STAR. I have to be a brown noser even when having a baby, people.
So we just waited. At one point the nurse came in and sat down and said, "Looks like you're ready to push!" And I was all, "Um, I don't think so." Because my doctor was not there. It was the middle of the night. I was quite happy just dozing off in between blood pressure readings. This was not how I pictured pushing. Phillip and I were all, "We cannot believe how easy this has been. Everything is going SO WELL!"
Of course, that's where things started to not go well, because suddenly our baby did not have a heartbeat. The nurse put on her Worried Look and started fussing with the monitors. I switched positions fifteen times. We could not get a consistent heart rate and when we did, it dropped dangerously low during contractions. The nurse went to page the doctor and left me there to obsess over the numbers. I finally made Phillip take my glasses away so I couldn't see the machine. (See? I need LESS information!) Finally the nurse brought out this scary ELECTRIC PROBE THING and said she was going to attach it to my baby's HEAD. And then? THAT DIDN'T WORK EITHER.
I don't know how long this took, but suddenly there were lots of people plus my doctor fidgeting in my room. Sometimes they had me push, sometimes they told me to hold back. My doctor hesitantly brought up the suction option, which I had to explain to Phillip was like putting a toilet plunger on the baby's head. They'd asked me long ago not to turn up the epidural anymore (turns out the contraction monitor wasn't working either and they needed me to "feel" them) and yowie, this was starting to get intense.
I thought of pushing as two things: either the crazy intense horribly painful experience I'd read about in countless natural birth stories, or my friend N's epiduralized pushing, which was more like calmly giving a good push every time she finished a chapter in a very engaging book. Phillip and I had watched N's birth video (not by choice, my God, we were so not interested in seeing that) and the pushing looked like a breeze. Seriously. She could have been having a pedicure. And that was our picture, Phillip's especially, of pushing.
But no. Not only did I have a lazy SMALL BABY who didn't shape up and start growing until the doctor threatened induction, I had a baby who didn't care for these monitor things and clearly was not interested in going along with the plan. Until the doctor threatened suction and he was all, "Time to exit! Here I go!" And suddenly I was PUSHING. Like, oh my God how is this even humanly possible pushing. Pushing to the tune of a chorus of people shouting, "YOU CAN DO IT! YOU'RE AMAZING! YOU'RE DOING SUCH A GREAT JOB! LOOK AT THAT! SHE'S AWESOME!" And you know what? I totally felt awesome. Well, I totally wanted to die, first of all. But a teeny part of my brain was also thinking, "This is the most cool thing I have ever done in my entire life and oh YEAH I am doing awesome." I mean, I know they say that to every woman pushing a baby out, but I don't care. They made me feel like a superhero. If I hadn't been breaking in two I would have given them all big sloppy kisses.
I think that was the part I would call sublime. Which is crazy. I have never ever felt that kind of pain AND THAT WAS WITH AN EPIDURAL. It was so awful I couldn't stand to not push. And at the same time I thought I was going to explode, I was unbelievably high. The baby wasn't even out yet and I couldn't believe that I, me, girl who hates exercise, girl who does not run unless she is being chased, girl who thought running suicides at the end of basketball practice was tantamount to torture- I WAS DOING THIS. AND IT WAS WAS WORKING!
He was out. He looked like a little alien. And quite honestly, I was much more excited about no longer having a watermelon in my pelvis than I was about having a baby.
A few hours later, in the middle of the night when all three of us were supposed to be sleeping, I cried into my plasticky hospital pillow. I could not believe this happened to me. I'd spent nine months fretting over how horrible it was going to be, how I'd just have to endure it and get through it and hopefully recover fast enough to escape the anxiety monster. And here I was thanking God that I got to feel what it was like to push my baby out. (Caveat: WITH AN EPIDURAL. I cannot even imagine what it would have been like withOUT the epidural. I would have surely died.)
I was so taken care of, you guys. By my husband who totally did not faint, by my nurse who stuck around to watch my baby being born even though her shift was long over, by my doctor who cheered me on. All the things my friends had prayed for a week earlier, when it occurred to us that we were going to have a baby soon and it'd be nice to have people pray for us- all of those prayers were answered. We had amazing nurses and a room with a view and not once did I tell Phillip that all of this was his fault and he was sleeping on the couch from here on out. Our baby came out by himself, perfect, ten fingers and ten toes. And the very last thing I thought I would feel- that the birth had been an amazing singular experience I'd treasure- was exactly what I was feeling.
I just have to think that God knew. God knew that the weather would be beautiful in May, and he knew that good weather does wonders for my psyche. He gave us enough time to finish up at work and still have a few moments alone together. He knew I'd want a room where I could see what was happening in the rest of the world. He knew my nurse would immediately want to drug me up and that I'd resist for the sake of showing off, but that she would sit with me and reassure me and treat me like I was Superwoman when I started to panic. I was so afraid and so nervous and so anxious about being anxious, and the whole time God was going to give me this.
Now I have to go feed the boy. Eventually I want to write up a play by play, just so I don't forget, but these are the parts I want to remember most. I can totally forget the mean epidural lady who told me, after the fourth prick, that if I didn't stop flinching I'd get the spinal headache to end all spinal headaches and she'd blame ME. Now I think she was trying to be jokey, since we were all being kind of jokey and I was completely doped on fetanyl and attempting to make light of absolutely everything, but MAN did she scare the crap out of me.