Monday, November 3, 2014, 3 a.m.
Labor Hour 3
Fortunately for Randy and the lifelong health of our young marriage, he eventually realized “I need you” was code for “this is happening with or without you, so pick a side.” As he came to, I was trying to figure out the most comfortable position for laboring at home until my contractions were close enough to go to the hospital, which I hoped would be any minute now. I began by leaning into the bed, swaying from side to side through the contractions. No, this sucks, I hate it, what’s next. I moved to the bathroom and paced, white knuckling the bathroom counter breathlessly when the innards-squeeze would start to ramp up. No, this is worse, next. I convinced Randy to shove my exercise ball into our shower so I could bounce myself into hypnosis while the hot water rained sweet relief down on me, but WEIRDLY the shower wasn’t big enough for both my ball and my belly. Next. He then offered to run a bath in our oversized clawfoot tub, but I took one look at that giant, cast iron cauldron of gravitational torture and had a physical reaction so negative and visceral I had to leave the room. (That poor bathtub has never been anything but kind to me; it didn’t deserve that level of scorn. Sorry, bathtub.)
I moved through locations and positions like a wild animal trying to find a nice place to die. The video they showed in our childbirth class featured a mega-chill, soon-to-be new mama yoga-ing and sipping on a spritzer like it ain’t no thang, so why am I failing to find any comfort in this process? Answer: Because that lady was a liar.
Although I couldn’t get comfortable, I still felt in charge of my body. I would breathe, Randy would count, and together we were feeling confident about the work we were doing. We can do this, we said. This is not too bad, we said. Labor is fun, we said. JK LOL no one said labor is fun. We were confident, not crazy. But of course, no sooner had I started to feel like I was the most amazing and capable pregnant woman who ever lived than suddenly and without warning the labor gods turned the crank on the vice in my gut, sparking a new wave of contractions that were closer together and more intense than I thought reasonable, because if there’s one thing we all know about childbirth, it’s that everything is reasonable and it all happens exactly the way you expect it to, which is why we spend so much time creating detailed birth plans and following them absolutely without any deviation whatsoever. That’s a thing I’m certain we all know.
This new batch of contractions went from seven minutes apart and 20 seconds in duration to five minutes apart, one minute in duration to four minutes apart, one and half minutes in duration. Four, four, three, eight, three, eight, two, two, seven, two. Two, seven, two? Get it together, labor.
As the contractions intensified, so did my unease. The pace was erratic and unsettling. Randy calmly followed me from room to room, kindly suggesting positions that might help but didn’t, massaging my back sweetly but to zero effect, bringing me snacks that went uneaten, speaking in soothing tones about I have no idea what, and diligently timing every ache and pain. When my contractions were so strong I could no longer speak and so unpredictable I started to panic, Randy made the only suggestion that mattered: “Let’s call the hospital.”
Monday, November 3, 2014, 5 a.m.
Labor Hour 5
One of my clearest memories from labor is sitting on my exercise ball, bouncing lightly, breathing innnnn, ooouuuut, innnnnnn, ooouuut, listening to Randy describe my contractions to the nurse and worrying that she would tell us to tough it out until they were consistent.
Please say it’s time, please say it’s time…
“OK, it’s time!”
On the 20-minute drive to the hospital, my contractions continued to wreak havoc on my sanity, growing stronger and closer together with each minute. It wasn’t so much that they were painful, although they were, it was that they were so all-consuming that at the conclusion of each one I felt like I had just run a marathon (in fact, pregnancy and childbirth stretch the metabolic limits of the human body and while there’s no science I could find – I didn’t look very hard – about labor itself, some have suggested it taxes the body more than any known exercise and burns upwards of 50,000 calories; while there’s no way that’s accurate, I understand in my bones why someone would perpetuate that myth). Long gone were the easy contractions of early labor with substantial rest periods of 10 minutes or more; the confidence-shattering waves of discomfort were now assaulting my whole body so furiously I couldn’t rest, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t recover. Something didn’t feel right. It was too much, too fast. I was tired and spent and I needed a minute to recover and breathe normally, but as soon as I finished one contraction, another would start. Randy gunned the engine, disproving my assertion that childbirth is nothing like the movies. He ran red lights and careened into the hospital parking deck expertly, wildly.
Another pro tip we learned from our baby class was to stay together rather than dropping mama off at the entrance and leaving her to labor by herself while dad parks the car. Making this choice probably depends on how far apart your contractions are and whether you would rather beg for death on a hospital doorstep than in the passenger seat of a pickup truck, in which case, hey, you gotta do you. I was still in control of my breathing, barely, but I wasn’t prepared to be left alone, so we opted to park together and walk in together, a pair of activities that took in the neighborhood of about 45 minutes because the short journey to Labor and Delivery was dotted by long contractions that would. not. quit.
(If you’re reading this and you’ve been through this kind of labor, you know I am equal parts exaggerating and truth-telling. If you’re reading this and have never been in labor but anticipate that happening sometime in your life and are now thoroughly freaked out by my hyperbole, let me offer some reassurance and unsolicited advice: just go ahead and plan to take the drugs. Drugs were not actually part of my birth plan, and as we have already learned, birth plans are airtight legal documents to which we must adhere strictly or risk incurring the wrath of the Facebook mommy-group police. Good thing I don’t give a shit about those fuckers.)
Over the course of the next hour, my situation went from bad to worse to WTF. I was feeling vulnerable and weirded out from panic, and I was reluctant to speak to anyone for fear of giving the wrong answer and being sent home. I communicated with Randy only, and he answered all the triage nurse’s questions urgently and purposefully without taking his eyes off mine. I was exhausted and scared. I had gotten through my entire pregnancy without a whiff of depression or anxiety, but now, in this chaotic holding pen with other women laboring around me and contractions hindering my ability to move oxygen to my brain, I was in a full-on panic.
“Well, honey, it looks like you’re about half a centimeter dilated,” the nurse said carefully.
For those of you playing along at home, that meant I still had nine and half centimeters to go, so she continued, “At this point, we probably won’t admit you. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Then she ducked as I threw rotten vegetables at her head. I mean, I think that’s what happened. I was delusional from pain and panic so I can’t remember exactly.
I hyperventilated. I could not even begin to process what the next several hours would have looked like if we left the hospital while I was in labor and now also having a panic attack. Oh, and I’m all of a sudden projectile vomiting TOO? Great!
As a federal first responder, Randy had been preparing his entire professional life for this exact moment. “I was made for this,” he would tell anybody who asked whether he was nervous, and then, as a way of bolstering his claim that he had the confidence to be cool under pressure, he would recite his lengthy rap sheet of managing crisis response teams for train derailments, hurricanes and oil spills.
“No, we’re staying. We’re not going anywhere. You don’t have to admit us, but we’re not leaving triage.”
The crystal clear sound of my husband taking over and project managing this runaway train was like heavenly angels tickling my ears with rose petals and peanut butter cookies (on top of everything else, I was also hungry). Then, while Randy and the nurse stared each other down, the fetal monitor that had been hooked up to my belly sometime after we arrived making diva demands for basic medical care but before I had puked on anyone, began to emit alarming sounds indicating baby was in distress.
10 minutes later I was in my own room.
Officially being admitted to the hospital went a long way toward calming my mind, if not my body. Given our druthers, relying on our unhappy unborn child to get me a bed was not the card we would have played to win our first battle as almost-parents, but we were not in a position to be choosy.
Randy, satisfied with himself and proud of his kid’s act of defiance, resolved to let no one else try to steamroll* his little family, and he spent the rest of our hospital stay running the show, kindly, but firmly. From that point on, I never lacked for ice chips, mouthwash (important!), juice, food, pillows, blankets, proper explanations of medical care, pain medication, attention or anything else I needed (or maybe didn’t need, but wanted). Having an advocate – whether that person be a doula, midwife or first-responder husband – is absolutely essential to having the birth experience you want, need and deserve. You can’t have my husband, so here are some doulas I love in Oakland and western Massachusetts. Tell them I sent you.
(*This is possibly a too-harsh sentiment for the legitimately nice hospital workers who were just doing their jobs, so you can file this under the heading “Julie Exaggerates Because She’s a Mom.”)
Monday, November 3, 2014, 7 a.m.
Labor Hour 7
We settled into our room right at shift change, which, on the one hand, was unnerving because I had grown accustomed to my mean ole nurse, who was by now engaging in infuriating small talk about my hometown…
…which she thinks she visited once, or maybe it was somewhere else, possibly another state, you know what, in fact, she had never been there, but she hears good things from her cousin, no wait, that was a different cousin talking about somewhere else, it WAS the first cousin who definitely said good things about a place that shares the same name as my hometown but is, in fact, in another state…
…but on the other hand, my new nurse had an IV in my arm and drugs in my drip before she even clocked in. Out with the old, that’s what I always say!
I had decided while we were still in triage that I was going to need something stronger than breathing exercises to help regulate my labor (by “decided” I mean I growled “DRUGS” at Randy with all the finesse of a wounded animal), and once I made that choice, I never looked back. Although I went into labor endeavoring to get as far into the process as naturally as possible, I concocted that hair-brained scheme based on never having been in labor before. So, yes, I took the drugs. I could labor without them, but WHY WOULD I LABOR WITHOUT THEM. (I also decided that taking drugs was like a giant f-u to the patriarchal, religious establishment that teaches us pain during childbirth is our punishment for original sin, to which I say, no thank you, King James.)
While I relaxed into a new rhythm, as much as was possible when the force of a thousand suns was clamping down on my delicate parts, the nurse took her time explaining the menu of pain management options and the times at which each would most likely be most effective. Fentanyl, which was already in my drip, is short-lasting but effective for giving mama a breather. It has the welcome effects of being mildly sedating while also putting the brakes on the pace of contractions (although not the intensity of them), which was FINE WITH ME. Then she described the epidural, which blocks the pain of contractions while allowing you to still feel pressure when it’s time to push. The pain was pretty crazy, but I wasn’t ready to commit to an epidural yet because it meant being immobilized for the remainder of labor. Mama’s got the wiggles, so being confined to a bed was something I wanted to put off as long as possible.
“Oh, and there’s also morphine,” said the sing-songy nurse with all the right answers. “It is longer-lasting than fentanyl but not as debilitating as an epidural, and its pain management qualities are…”
“I’ll take it. Give me that.”
One quick shot to the gluteus maximus later I melted into rhythmic, comfortable, enjoyable labor. Yes, enjoyable.
Ohhhhhhhhh yeeeeeeeah, mama’s got her groove back.