Preface: This story was originally written in March 2006, shortly after Lily was born. I have modified it for this blog, as I am four years older and wiser, and hopefully a better writer.
When I was pregnant, I was convinced I’d give birth hooked up to an epidural. Why go through all that torture if it could be avoided? However, over the course of nine months, I turned a 180 and decided to have an un-medicated experience. Birthing From Within didn’t leave my side; pre-natal yoga welcomed me weekly; Jake and I practiced breathing and tried to beat each others times of how long we could grip ice-cubes in our hands. I decided we would stay at home as long as possible, and I felt as prepared as I could be for a long and intense labor.
In present day, I continue to thank the labor goddesses and my paternal AND maternal great-great-grandmothers for passing along their short (although still very intense) labors to me. Okay. Now you are ready to read this story.
Two days before Lily was born, I had a total meltdown. Laying on our bed, sobbing, I tried to explain to Jake what I was going through. I was scared to be a mom, worried about having a baby to take care of, frightened of the changes we were about to experience, petrified that I couldn’t be strong enough to birth this creature my body had housed for months. Why, oh why had we ever decided to have a baby?
But for some reason, this breakdown was needed for my breakthrough. On Sunday, March 19, 2006, the first thought I had upon waking was, “I’m ready to have this baby today.” For about a month, I had been having contractions that grew stronger but never remained consistent. These contractions were simply a tightening feeling that encompassed my entire midsection, like involuntarily flexing a muscle I had no control over.
Around 11am on Sunday, things were different. The contractions were 5-10 minutes apart and felt similar to PMS: backache, menstrual cramps, tummy-ache, bloating. We called family, a few friends and the midwife on call (not my own, unfortunately), who said we’d probably be at home for a while and that she’d see us that night at the hospital.
At 12:30, I was eating lunch and taking a “What Kind of Couple Are You?” quiz in a magazine to distract myself from the contractions. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom, feeling like I constantly had to pee. A half hour later I couldn’t handle timing my contractions anymore. Sitting or lying down became unbearable, and movement took over my body. Rocking on my hands and knees on the blue carpet of our living room, the contractions suddenly grew very strong, very quickly.
I could feel the natural rise and fall of each wave, but my body gripped onto the past 30 seconds of pain and would remain tense until Jake reminded me to breathe and relax. I moaned, groaned, grimaced, flinched, writhed, tensed and tightened during each contraction. My focus remained on taking deep, slow breaths, because some of the contractions literally took my breath away or made me hyperventilate. I tried to concentrate on the purpose, the reason, the whole point of my labor. With each wave, I welcomed the opening and widening, centimeter by centimeter, that brought me closer to my daughter.
Jake stopped timing at 1:50, when the contractions were a mere minute apart. I was still on my hands and knees, sometimes trying to crawl away from the overwhelming intensity, other times being floored by the pain and not able to do anything but try to tear out handfuls of carpet. During the first half, I was convinced the contraction would last forever, as they ripped through every vein and muscle and were most certainly in control. But as each subsided and eased, I was able to regain my strength in order to face the next one. The 30 second breaks made every coming contraction bearable and I never felt like I couldn’t do it or that I’d have to start screaming for medication.
My mom called to see how I was progressing and Jake told her there was no way I could manage a conversation. She called my dad (a doctor), who was shopping at REI nearby and frantically told him to come check on us. My dad felt my uterus during a contraction and I growled at him to stop – any outside touch made me lose focus. My mind and body were completely consumed with labor and I was totally incapable of talking or thinking during each contraction.
My dad and Jake decided we needed to go to the hospital. Jake brought me white and red knee-high striped socks, which I refused and told him to find me some black ones (they didn’t match my outfit!). He brought me three different pairs of socks and three different pairs of shoes, remembering that one of the things we had learned in our birth lass was to offer a woman choices, because even simple decisions would be impossible to make while being consumed with labor.
Jake and my dad were desperately trying to get me to leave the house, but I didn’t share their sense of urgency. I was comfortable at home and was convinced that the moment I set foot in the hospital I would be strapped to a machine and brainwashed into taking pain meds. I began slowing wondering around the house, turning down the heat, asking Jake if he remembered the CD player, my robe, massage oil. “What about my rice buddy? What about the camera? What about my water bottle?”
Right before we left the house, I ran to the bathroom during a contraction because I felt like I needed to poop. I came out a minute later saying, “Hmmm….I really just feel like I need to push.” My dad replied incredulously, “What did you just say? We need to get to the hospital NOW!”
In the car, with every contraction, I grunted and pushed. And with every contraction, Jake would tell me to stop pushing and just breathe. I closed my eyes, put my seat back and rolled down the window. Luckily, being a Sunday, we didn’t meet much traffic and sped through green lights. Jake followed my dad, who led us to the doctor’s entrance of the labor and delivery wing. My dad asked if I could walk inside, to which I replied, “NO WALKING!” He raced inside, screaming to no one in particular, “My daughter’s outside and she’s pushing!” and grabbed a wheelchair.
I got out of the car and leaned against it as another contraction came on. Whoosh – my water broke all over the concrete, all over the black shoes and socks Jake had so lovingly brought to me to match my pants. Jake tried to maneuver the wheelchair into the hospital, but kept veering off the sidewalk onto the grass and banged into the door frame as we were going inside. If I hadn’t been in labor, I would have laughed.
In our room, I vaguely remember taking off my soaking wet pants and climbing onto the bed. One nurse came in to check my cervix (I’m sure she was gentle, but it felt like she just shoved her hand inside of me) and said, “Good job!” and walked off to wash her hands. I was lying there thinking, “What the hell does that mean? Can I push, please god?” My dad asked, “How far along is she?”
The nurses kept telling me not to push because we were waiting for the midwife on call to arrive. How do I explain how this feels? Imagine having the stomach flu. You are bent over the toilet, and your throat opens to throw up the contents of your stomach. But instead, you have to keep your mouth shut and swallow and shove the bile and vomit back down into your stomach. When your body is naturally trying to expel something, it is virtually impossible to intervene.
One of the nurses put some kind of monitor on me to read the baby’s heartbeat, which drove me crazy. I was trying to fixate all of my energy into breathing and not pushing, and having anyone touch me broke this focus. After what felt like an hour (but was more likely only five minutes or so) I heard my midwife, Nancy, talking in the hall. I thought, “Thank god! Finally she is here and I can have this baby!” (I later found out that my dad had called her at home, where she was in the middle of gardening, and she drove about 100 miles an hour from her house to the hospital to arrive in jeans and a t-shirt to deliver my baby on her day off).
Pushing was bad. Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash kept running through my head. The nurses told me to “push into the pain,” and I kept telling myself that the harder I pushed, the sooner it would be over. I tried to channel the love and energy being sent from Jake, my parents and my sisters, who were in the room with me. During the last contraction, I fully succumbed to the pain, pushed with all of my strength and felt a “pop.”
At 3:04, the whole room went silent as Lily was born. Nancy placed her on my chest, and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment, pride and relief. The scene was dreamlike and couldn’t quite believe she was finally here. My sister Melissa cut the umbilical cord and Nancy wrapped Lily in a blanket and handed her to a sobbing and emotional Jake. The room became very busy as nurses weighed and measured Lily and more family and friends arrived. The room was buzzing with excitement and I still couldn’t believe it was over, just four hours after it had begun. I said something like, “That wasn’t that bad. I could totally do that again!”
After delivering the placenta and being sewn up, my endorphins had really kicked in. The high I experienced is indescribable and I felt like I could run a marathon. (I still find it humorous that my friends look more tired than I do in this picture!)
Everyone eventually left after a couple of hours, and Jake went to get us some dinner. That was the first time I cried – when I was finally alone with my newborn baby. I cradled her in my arms, gazed into her big blue eyes and was flooded with an overwhelming sense of love. I was really a mother. All of the waiting and hard work seemed miniscule compared to the miracle in my arms.
What a wonderful, wild way to enter this world. My baby, My Lily, was here.