A few morning contractions and a little birth show on my panty liner are the first indicators I deem important enough to text to my doula, Julie. Just a quick update but a new development since I saw her at our 38-week prenatal appointment with my midwife, Lanette, two days previous. It’s another low-key morning with a wide open time line of an unknown duration of waiting. The end of pregnancy. I spend most of my time these days resting, eating, and watching Property Brothers on HGTV, which I am convinced exists for frustrated, non-working pregnant women. Thankfully, this day has a little more color because my husband, Michael, and I have a big adventure planned for the day: going to the grocery store. Woo-hoo, right? Not many contractions through the morning, but a really strong one in the dog food aisle of Pick ‘n’ Save this evening reminds me of the promising change from the morning. A few more through dinner. A few more in the evening. Several while trying to go to sleep. Several more while trying to stay asleep. Finally, they are too frequent and annoying to sleep through, so I get out of bed at 3 A.M. and spend an hour rolling around on my birthing ball. I don’t want to wake Michael, because I know he will need his rest if I really am in labor. After an hour, I call Julie to tell her I am having strong contractions every ten minutes with a smaller one at the 5 minute mark in-between. I know I need to try and sleep, and she confirms that in her sleepy voice. I go back to bed and rest between contractions, but sleep will not come.
Michael and I are up around 8 A.M. which is earlier than usual, because we like to sleep in. Michael rubs my back while I lay over the birth ball and while I’m on my hands and knees. I’m trying very hard to relax and help each contraction be as productive as possible, but I’m also trying to rest. So, I keep my contractions about 10 minutes apart. Around 11 A.M. I decide to commit to laboring, and I go upstairs to walk around the living room. A few granola bars and a fruit smoothie later we leave at 2 P.M. for the 35 minute drive to Milwaukee. (Contractions have been 3 minutes apart if I’m walking and 5 minutes apart if I’m sitting.) The car ride is not as bad as I expect, which is a small relief.
We arrive at the birth center to cheerful, excited faces. I feel that my face is one of exhaustion and almost boredom. The only thing I desire is sleep, and I’m having a hard time getting excited about the prospect of a new baby. It’s as though my mind doesn’t comprehend the possibility. It’s only a couple minutes before I find out why.
After letting me pee, the midwives have me lay on my back, take my vitals, and listen the baby’s heartbeat through a contraction. I haven’t had a pregnancy pelvic exam yet, so I don’t know what to expect, but it lasts longer and is much more uncomfortable than I thought it would be. Lanette calmly tells me to stay relaxed, and she will let me know more when we’ve gone through a contraction and finished up.
Turns out our baby had decided her hand was so nice that she wanted it right by her head. Consequently, she had been sitting on top of my cervix off-center, with her hand jammed up by her head. Lanette had needed to push it back. That’s what had made my pelvic exam so long and extra uncomfortable. The baby could now sit on my cervix like an egg in an egg cup instead of an egg with a marker next to it trying to fit in an egg cup.
I’m so glad she could push back that arm, but I’m just so tired and now we need to walk around. A couple laps around the birth center with contractions that now feel different. I want to lay down, so Julie sets me up in a three-quarters-over position with my right knee on a pillow. I try and sleep. I’ve spent hours being woken by contractions, but I wake to a much larger, much more painful contraction. I feel so much pressure in my lower back and have a harder time finding focus in my relaxation. These are worse to try and sleep through.
Another pelvic exam, two hours after the first, and I’m 1 cm dilated. I haven’t slept in 30 hours, laboring for about 16 of those, and my only question now is “what next?” I don’t care when the baby will come. I’d wait a week if it meant I could get some sleep.
Lanette and Ali explain that I have a couple options. There are some different medicines that might slow my labor and let me sleep. Julie listens, does some more research for us, and recommends the anti-histamine. It should help me sleep and has been known to slow or stop early labor (usually anything before 4 cm). Sure. Call it in. We will pick it up at the Walgreens a mile from our home.
We walk into a mucky winter night and our windshield washer fluid has frozen. Our 35 minute drive turns into a much longer affair with slow speeds on the interstate and two stops to wipe off the windshield. Michael has been a pillar of calm and reassurance, but I know he is getting impatient. He just wants to get me home, and I just want to sleep. The contractions are incredibly painful and I relax through each one as best I can, but I am getting angry. I start audibly sighing through contractions but not so much out of coping or instinct. I’m just angry at the contractions, so I’m yelling at them.
We get to Walgreens and they tell us they can’t give me my prescription because it’s not covered by my insurance. Fine, we will pay out of pocket. Oh, the state won’t let you do that. Are you kidding me? (That thought may have contained some swear words in my head.)
Michael asks if I want to wait in the Walgreens parking lot while we call the midwife to figure something out or go home. I say I want to go home so I can just “get out of the damn car.”
I haven’t eaten more than a piece of toast and a couple granola bars since Friday night dinner, so I know I need to eat before climbing into bed. My mother-in-law comes downstairs with my requested bowl of raisin bran to sit with me while Michael calls, gets the prescription redone, and goes to pick it up.
I finally get my medicine around 8 P.M. I am ready to settle in for some much needed rest.
The medicine doesn’t work. I’m up every 5 minutes with strong contractions. Every two or three take me off my side and onto my hands and knees on the bed, and Michael wakes up with me for each one. Every time he tells me I’m doing well is a time when I need to hear it. (Which is with every contraction...) I tell myself I’m strong. Focus. I can do this. I picture myself running up a hill, knowing it will be easier after I get to the top. I can’t help thinking that running up hills will be much easier to me after this night of labor.
We try again with more medicine at midnight. Still doesn’t work. More contractions. At 4 A.M. we are texting Lanette and Julie that it’s not working. They recommend a bath. There is one time (maybe two times...) when I think I could just go to a hospital and tell them to take the pain away somehow with some drug that will stop labor. Anything. But I don’t want that, so I do what I don’t want to do. I take a bath. Michael sits in the low lit bathroom with me to make sure I don’t drown or slip. I stay in the water until it's cold, and he sits with me quietly the entire time though he has not slept either. The bath is relaxing, but not like I want it to be. Back to bed. I spend the rest of the morning much like before with the addition of weird visions of lemon greek yogurt during contractions. I’m also going through them with Rock You Like a Hurricane going through my head, because I keep rocking my hips and it hurts and somehow that means hurricane to my exhausted mind. 48 since I’ve slept, 32 hours of labor.
It’s 8 A.M. and my hands and knees are so tired. I’ve been on them on and off for probably 32 hours, the last 14 of which have been very difficult. I wake from one of my 5 minute nap breaks to a promising plan from Michael. Julie and Lanette are supposed to text us about a time to come to the birth center so they can check the baby. Finally, something to look to! I’ve been laboring convinced my contractions are ineffectual because that was how my first 18 hours of labor went. The medicine was supposed to slow my labor, so I think the last 14 hours have been for nothing.
We leave at 9:45 to meet everyone at 10:30. I’m pretty sure I look like death. Yesterday, I walked in feeling like a woman in labor. Today, I walk in feeling like zombie.
Ali gives me a pelvic exam and the best news I’ve heard in 24 hours: I’m paper thin and 6+ cm dilated. The last 14 hours have not been for nothing! She mentions to Julie that the baby is +1. I'm pretty sure that means she’s low. No wonder I’ve had so much lower back pressure. That and the fact that my membranes still have not released.
But...I can get in the tub. A big tub. A big, beautiful tub of water which is all I have wanted for 8+ months. I get in and keep trying to relax. I’m pretty sure I look relaxed, but inside my mind is running like crazy. I don’t remember any of the thoughts I was having, but I was very focused. Very aware. Trying to relax. Moving. Breathing. Drinking water from my blue cup with Michael’s help. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that a modified hands and knees was the most comfortable position for me. The tub had a little seat or shelf thing on which I could rest my elbows, so at least my wrists had a break.
Time moves quickly in the water. Sooner than I expect, my body has a small convulsion at the end of a contraction that feels like a push. Two more contractions with that pushing instinct, so I tell Michael to get the midwife (who is just in the next room). I feel a pop between my legs and know that my membranes have finally released. I find out later that it is 12:45 P.M. I've been in the water for only two hours.
From this point, I do not remember any pain. I did compare the pushes with contractions and couldn’t decide if I had a preference. At least I could feel more keenly the great work my body was doing. I felt my baby begin to move down. I felt her move forward with each series of expulsions and then slide back a little. I was very happy she was doing this, because I knew she was stretching me out little by little. And she was moving fast! I thought maybe a little too fast, but I couldn’t slow down the work my body was doing for me. 3 pushes from the end I knew how many more there would be, and I could feel her head. Second to last push and I knew there was only one more. She was right there. I was completely stretched out. Her head finally popped out (this hurt for only a moment) and I remember thinking it felt very round. It’s 1:13 P.M. A rest in my body’s work, and then some final expulsions to release her body. Her body felt bigger coming out than her head! (And hurt a little more, too.) She’s born at 1:15 P.M.
I moved off my elbows and knees to lay down, and then she was coming into my arms. Her head was up and her eyes were open and she cried immediately. I felt exhaustion. I felt relief. I didn’t know what I was feeling. These two days after the birth I didn’t remembered crying, but as I write this I remember. I cried. I looked at Michael and he was so happy. I drank in his expression, and I have held that memory second most vivid to my daughter’s face as she came into my arms and my chest. I didn’t feel like I knew her, nor did I feel any rushes of understanding. I only felt confusion and what I think was happiness. I knew I would get to know her. She was mine, but I didn’t quite know why. I knew she was Michael’s, because I could see it on his face. And his face gave me hope.