At around 35 weeks I became fearful that my water would break in bed, we’d spend 48 hours in the hospital, and come home to a bed soaked in bodily fluids. It didn’t matter to me that there was less than a 10% chance that my water would actually break in bed. Or anywhere else for that matter. So, in the sweltering heat of pregnant nights in the summer, I slept on top of waterproof mattress pads that don’t breathe. There were mattress pads everywhere. On the leather driver’s seat of my car. Tucked away in the consoles of our other cars. On the couch.
I went into labor at about 3:30 am. And my water didn’t break in the house, or in the hospital. I remember waking up to poo, and feeling pain in what I would describe as a tiny 1 cm triangle super low on my pelvic bone area. I don’t think it felt intermittent, like how I thought contractions would be; it felt almost like a bad bruise. My husband asked if I ate something weird, and then said, “I think you’re going into labor.” I said, naw, tried to poop, and went back to bed. I woke up some time later, perhaps with the urge to poop, and again, with that pain.
The next time I woke up I think I had that dysmenorrhea-like pain. When I had been getting Braxton Hicks contractions in the past, I had no idea what they were and called it “shelfing” for a long time, because it felt like the top of my belly was forming a 90 degree shelf. Then I also called it bouldering. I accepted I was probably in labor. My husband looked at me very seriously and said, your friend Mrs. Argentina is going to be SO MAD. I laughed and felt terrible about it. She was at 41 weeks and all her friends had been popping out babies left and right, even those with later due dates.
My husband recalls that I was super thirsty, and I had tried a hot water bottle. Pretty soon I had lower back pain that must have been so severe that it eclipsed my pubic bone pain and dysmenorrhea pain and I no longer noticed them. The back pain, oh the lower back pain. They say that contractions feel like the worst dysmenorrhea cramps you’ve ever had, but all I could feel was back pain. It seemed like pooping could make everything feel better, like when you’re super nauseous and all you want to do is throw up to feel better, but I didn’t really get that relief. I kept trying to sleep it off when the back pain (aka contractions?) subsided. All I wanted to do was go into child’s pose to alleviate the pain, but my stomach was so darn huge I couldn’t. It felt like I had spent the whole night doing that cat-cow yoga position, but only the arched cat part, and not the humped cow part that I so desperately wanted to do. I tried slumping over my exercise ball to cow it up, but my stomach was still in the way of my thighs. Unfortunately I was not capable of pulling off cow.
I tried to cycle through the labor positions I had learned during a class we had taken. There were a lot of posters in the room of more labor positions than I ever thought possible, and what I should have done was take a photograph of each poster. I didn’t because I thought I could easily find them all on the internet by googling “active labor positions.” Boy was I wrong! We even had a handout with several diagrams of labor positions, but they weren’t as comprehensive as those darn posters. The rebozo was one that I had remembered and had wanted to try out – I even packed a sarong in my hospital bag to do it with, but then by the time we got to the hospital I’d forgotten about the position. The sarong ended up being super handy for covering up for visitors afterward though, because I embraced the naked time in the hospital room. Who has the time or patience for clothes during labor? I think I even shuffled out into the hallway once in nothing but giant hospital underwear and a bed sheet.
I was looking forward to this criss-cross back massage, and another where my husband pushed my hips together. In the end, the position that worked best for me was on no diagrams I’d ever seen. It involved me pushing against the dresser and doing a mime walk. However, it felt like it enhanced that “cat” arch in my back and did not help alleviate any lower back pain, but it got me through the contractions. I tried to go back to bed every time the contractions subsided.
By about 7:30am I had hit the 5-1-1 and my husband called the maternity center. The phone number was on a little thought bubble post it note attached to the fridge that said “Baby Time.” He was on the phone with them for a long 10 minutes or so, and they finally said we had to call the OBG first and make an appointment to see her before we came in. What the what? So much for the instructions from the birth class.
He scrambled around the house trying to find the doc’s phone number. I thought it was on my prescription bottle for my prenatals, but apparently the pharmacy labels had changed and it was no longer there. Then I remembered it was on the prescription’s receipt. So after locating that paper, he called the OBG and was put on hold for some time, and another 10-15 minutes later he got confirmation that we could come in. But wait! We had to call work to let them know we wouldn’t make it in. And of course we didn’t have the scheduler’s pager number handy either. Now it had been 30-45 minutes or so and we needed to get going. I took a handful of blueberries and grabbed a bag of Life cereal to eat on the way. I sat on my hands so I could writhe in my seat when a contraction hit.
When I got to the doc’s office that morning in mega contractions, I was in my husband’s sandals and my too-small tank top. I must have looked like a wreck. As I was checking in, I heard a man call my name from the waiting room. It was Mr. Argentina, and his wife was in the chair having contractions, too! I cried because it was so amazing to see her there; words cannot express how happy I was. I remember sitting beside her, breathing through a contraction with tears in my eyes – maybe I was hormonally super-emotional, but it was definitely from a place of pure joy, not pain.
After a long wait for my OBG, she came in and declared I was 6cm dilated, and I needed to decide if I wanted an epidural – “It’s now or never.” I had asked her before how likely it would be that I could get by without an epidural. Her response was, “Very unlikely.” I remember getting e. coli poisoning when I was about 12, and I was curled up on the ground in such immense pain, I vowed to myself if childbirth felt like that I never wanted to have children. A couple years ago I got a bartholin’s cyst and the pain of the in-office procedure was beyond excruciating. I remember literally jumping 2 feet off the table and screaming with tears welling up in my eyes. I asked her if it would be worse than that, and she had nodded.
I thought for a moment, and then said I’d go without the epidural. She left my husband and me to make our way across the street to the maternity center, and I took his hands and prayed a quick prayer that I had made the right decision. We walked up the stairs, and I stopped before crossing the street, held onto a bar outside and prayed again as another contraction hit. I quite literally got through all my contractions by praying, and it wasn’t all that bad. I would say my labor pain even at its worst was a 7 out of 10 — the bartholin’s cyst surgery was an 8.5 out of 10 — and then a few weeks later I got some nerve pain from breast-feeding that I would call a 9.5 out of 10.
The time on this picture indicates it was 9:10. Ice King time! My husband had decided labor contractions look like the crown of an Adventure Time character.
I wanted a popsicle to eat in the bathtub because I’d seen it in a labor prep movie and everyone in the class thought it was an amazing concept. I made it through about half the popsicle before I gave up on it. I had an uncontrollable urge to push in the tub, and the nurse told me to try my best not to push and I could hear her on the phone trying to get the doctor to come. She said I was “already bearing down in the bath tub.” It wasn’t a birthing tub, so she helped me out and I tried to breathe through the contractions and tried not to “push.”
The doctor asked if I wanted her to break my water. I had learned in our birth class that very rarely, babies can be born with the amniotic sac intact, and that it was rather auspicious. I thought that would be pretty cool, but then I asked if it would go faster if she popped it. The answer was yes, so I went for it. I went in the traditional North American birthing position, on the bed and on my back. By the time the doctor came, I had conditioned myself to breathe through every contraction and I had lost the uncontrollable urge to push. Also, I don’t think there could have been a more counter intuitive position for me. I needed to pull my knees toward me? All I wanted to do was push them out and brace them on something, like the straddles on an OBG examination table.
I “pushed” for a while, then flipped to my side. Then I asked if I could go to all fours, and the nurse and the doctor were surprised at how mobile I was and that I didn’t need assistance. I pushed for a while, held my breath like they said, which was incredibly counter-intuitive after I’d spend the last couple hours breathing through every contraction. I heard words like “almost,” and “how about another big push.” Did this mean she had crowned already? (Apparently not.) Then I thought I had “pushed enough” and asked for the squat bar. I saved the squat bar for the end because I’d heard that if you do it too early, it’ll cause a lot of tearing. The squat bar felt so much better than any other position. I gave a push with one contraction, and the nurse said to push harder. So I pushed as hard as I’d been pushing in the other positions, and the baby popped out and into the nurse’s hands. The doctor wasn’t even in the room! Every nurse that came to visit us during our stay marveled at my baby – “the baby the nurse delivered.” She was famous for a day!
They put her on top of me and she was so much heavier, longer, and more purple than I would have thought. I was surprised she spanned my whole torso. And she was so warm. Coming out without crowning meant my vagina was ripped to shreds, and the baby had to be whisked away to the NICU because her lungs hadn’t cleared all the amniotic fluid.
My “birth plan” was pretty basic. I wanted no drugs if possible, the bath tub and my popsicle, delayed cord clamping, and a photo of the baby being weighed. I also wanted an overhead photograph of her hospital ephemera.
I think my husband balked at the volume of blood I had apparently lost in the process and was happy to follow the baby up to the ICU. I was stitched up for probably 45 minutes. It was so long that the lidocaine wore off and then I heard them scrambling to find more. My nurse brought me warm flannel blankets, and at one point I thought I was going to pass out because the bed was inclined. It was only at my 3 day postpartum visit did I realize how bad the tear was. The nurse called it a third degree tear, and only then did I realize I was just short of tearing my vagina all the way out to my anus. I thanked my lucky stars that my poop still came out of one area and the pee came out of another. Too graphic, I know. I knew there would be tearing, but I didn’t realize it could be that bad. In fact, I was hobbling around like a cowboy and slathering on lidocaine gel like nobody’s business after the bartholin’s cyst surgery, and despite all the tearing from birth, I didn’t need any numbing salves, I refused a prescription for Percocet, and I never filled my prescription for Vicodin. My husband didn’t think I could do it without the epidural, but I made it through and then some.
All in all, I think the active pushing phase lasted only 20-30 minutes, and the total labor time was about 8 hours, which is unusually short. I exercised hard, up until the end. I really should have gotten a photo of myself and another friend of mine who were pregnant at the same time, huge as can be, and still killing it at the dance studio. I was still doing jetés and triple pirouettes up until the end, and I would have even done a 2 hour class the night she was born, but we had family in town and we went out to dinner instead. I’ve found all the women I’ve met with my small build and fitness level have abnormally short labors, and they were all able to do it without drugs. Are there any petite mamas out there? How was your birth experience?
Mrs. Argentina ended up in the room across from me and apparently my door was open for my delivery and they heard it all. I think I let out a few screams at the end that concluded with the “beautiful sound of a new baby’s cry.” I wish I’d known! Or perhaps it’s better I didn’t know. Our babies were born on the very same day, and it’s been such a blessing to have someone that I could yammer to at all hours of the night before and long after our pregnancies.