Monday, November 3, 2014, 9 a.m.
Labor Hour 9
The passage of time during childbirth is completely confounding, especially to someone who lives with her head in the clouds and who may also be prone to exaggeration.
Yes, I’m kind of a fruit loop. If knowledge is power, my power lies in knowing how to harness the air in my head and use it for good rather than letting my brains run amok with unfettered neurosis. Just kidding. I’m a complete stressball. My brain nearly always runs amok, so my superpower is that I have developed an almost otherworldly ability to re-imagine hard times so they feel safer and less painful. Like labor. Labor is a hard time that is painful. Some people call this selective amnesia; I call it common fucking sense. Thusly, one of the things many of us know about me is that the accuracy of my memories is nowhere near precise. Like, at all. I deal in almost complete fiction. Let me just tell all you criminals out there right now that if you need to commit your crimes in front of someone whose eyewitness testimony will not hold up to cross-examination, I’m your girl.
Because labor is uniquely all-consuming and is unlike any other experience I’ve ever had in life, it further warped my already distorted sense of space and time and made me much more susceptible to mis-remembering literally every part of it. And that’s exactly what happened. I completely lost track of time and, outside of hospital shift changes (of which there were several dozen), I had no context for the pace of time’s passage, what happened when, or even whether some things happened at all.
I try to be grateful I get to swim in the fertile waters of my imperfect mind, but one thing I’ve learned over the course of refining details at the edges of my stories by just making them up is that it’s not very practical in the real world where my husband the scientist lives. Precision is kind of important to him I guess, so he documented labor by calling parents, texting friends and photographing my fat mug, which means that fortunately for him and anyone else who cares about facts (not me!), we have a digital time stamp on each progression of activity.
All of this noodling is to say I was previously convinced I was shot up the very second I moved to my own room around 7 a.m., but Randy’s records show I actually labored for two more hours before getting stoned. Time flies when you’re having fun and winging it with abandon? Sure.
Monday, November 3, 2014, 1 p.m.
Labor Hour 13
Other than the moment (many, many, many hours later) when we held our brand new human for the first time, the next few hours of labor were my favorite. Because I was high.
After what felt like 10,000 hours of passing time in three-minute increments, I was beginning to feel like kind of an expert, and with the morphine I was able to relax into a rhythm of breathing and contracting that felt manageable. Randy and I would be talking with each other or the hospital staff, jovially, pleasantly; the now-familiar innards squeeze would start to grip my guts; I would hold up my hand to excuse myself from the chat, breathe in and out through the contraction; and then we would resume the conversation exactly where we left off. I remember feeling pretty impressed, as if it was normal to stop mid-sentence and grunt like a mad bull. No big deal.
But it was a big deal. It was a huge deal. With each contraction our little person was inching closer to life in the real world. Amazing. I was giddy, I was terrified, and I was brimming with boundless, limitless energy. (I was still high.) To help manage my wiggles, we went for a walk to the Zen garden on the other side of the labor and delivery wing. Hello, Berkeley, California.
When I think about labor, these are the hours – the ecstatic, beautiful, calm hours with Randy, sunshine, fresh air and regular contractions – I remember most fondly, most vividly, most accurately. Probably. Maybe. I mean, who knows, my memory is shit.
Monday, November 3, 2014, 3 p.m.
Labor Hour 15
By hour 15, the morphine had worn off and I had been informed that, sadly, no, there would be no more morphine. That was a one-shot deal and we made the best of it, but now our options were gritting it out ‘til the bitter end or succumbing* to an epidural.
*Welcoming with open arms.
I was reluctant to commit to an epidural when I was in my right mind and working on our birth plan, because I was sure it would mean slowing down labor and opening myself up to complications, not to mention confining me to one position in bed for countless hours, and some (insignificantly small) part of me felt like it was a measure of defeat, like how many mamas for how many hundreds of thousands of years have birthed babies without modern medical intervention? But in the throes of a long, hard, not-without-challenges labor, I said a prayer of thanks for medicine and science and having a baby in the year 2014 with adequate health insurance. So, I got the epidural and never looked back.
Morphine: The ultimate gateway drug.
Monday, November 3, 2014, 9 p.m.
Labor Hour 21
I clocked the progression of labor and cataloged each event in my mind according to the degree to which something was or was not awesome. Random low grade fever? Not Awesome. Vomiting last night’s dinner on my baby daddy? Not Awesome. Panic attack in triage? Not Awesome. Suddenly completely painless contractions? Awwwwwwesome, brah.
But by 9 p.m. when I was just barely 8 centimeters dilated, confined to the bed, and now also fulfilling my prophesy that the epidural would slow labor, I was like, ugh, this is Not Awesome. I was also bored as hell. To help lighten the mood, friends and family texted or emailed jokes to make me laugh or at least not cry; the friends who were watching our dog sent videos of the dog being completely unimpressed with them; and the same friends gave us a solid to-do list for whiling away the hours:
- Count the ways the Atlanta Braves suck (this took awhile)
- Imagine the nurse in his Burning Man outfit
- Practice your moon walk
- Cut farts and blame your bunk mate
- Flick Cheetos over an imaginary goal post
- Eat ice chips
- Make paper towel sculptures
- Practice your Jewish mom accent
- Order pizza with extra jalapeños
- Have a baby
Randy, who had been in it to win it with me since 3 a.m., also needed a change of pace. We would have both preferred for that change to be the doctor announcing that it was time to push, but we settled for Randy going to the Whole Foods next to the hospital to get my push presents: a pastrami sandwich, sushi bento box and oatmeal raisin cookies. And pizza. And apple juice. And muffins. And chili. And cornbread? Yes, and cornbread.
While Randy was at Whole Foods, the baby’s oxygen level dropped sharply.
The nurse, who didn’t appear to be particularly unsettled, spoke to me calmly and in soothing tones, but I was sure the umbilical cord was wrapped around baby’s neck and we were nearing an emergency situation, so I started crying. But kind of pitifully because I was so tired. It was more like defeated whimpering. This was also the longest period of time I had been without Randy since I went into labor, so I was feeling vulnerable and scared again. My amazing nurse (shout out to labor nurses: you work hard and you make life better for everyone you meet and I love you and part of me wants to be you but not that much) gently put an oxygen mask on me, then held my hand and comforted me sweetly while baby’s oxygen crept back up to normal. She explained that sometimes when baby is working so hard, their oxygen levels can drop, but he or she is usually helped by giving mom oxygen, so everything was fine and there was no reason to worry.
“You’re doing great, momma. Baby knows you’re working hard, too.”
Mega waterworks up in herr.
A few minutes later Randy walked into the room and saw the oxygen mask on my tear-streaked face.
“WHAT HAPPENED?!” he barked, while simultaneously hurling to the ground the 30+ bags of food he was carrying (my man comes correct).
Alarmed, I was like, hey, that is precious cargo! Be nice to my pastrami sandwich! It has an important job to do! But instead of saying any of that, I just held up my hand to stop everything and everyone, like I had learned to do mid-sentence around hour 13, and then I motioned for the nurse to tell him exactly what she had told me. He calmed down too, but that was the last time he left my side.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014, 12 a.m.
Labor Hour 24
I went into labor on Sunday. It was now Tuesday. I was exhausted and emotionally drained and hungry and restless, even though I couldn’t move. We were plagued by doctors and nurses promising us “30 more minutes till we push!” But the hours would pass and there would be no pushing and no progress, so they would hit me with a shot of Pitocin and again they would say, “We’re almost there!” But we were never almost there. We were pregnant foreverrrrrrrr.
Throughout the evening whenever a doctor would visit, we would discuss whether to break my water, which had so far not broken on its own. The danger in breaking water too soon is that if labor continued to progress slowly or not at all, doctors would have to intervene and take baby out through my belly. Between you, me and the fence post, this was FINE. It wasn’t what I expected going into labor, but the only hard and fast rule of our birth plan was to bring home a healthy baby (and Randy wanted me to add, “and a healthy momma”), so I was open to whatever we had to do to make that happen. I just didn’t want to force it. So through all those conversations, the answer was always to wait just a little bit longer. Baby was moving, slowly, but moving nevertheless.
But during the 12 a.m. conversation with my team, we learned that I was dilated to 9.5 centimeters, a mere half centimeter away from go-time, so I finally agreed, OK, spill it. The doctor broke my water and then we all….waited. Nothing. We were still not almost there.
Regardless of the pace of labor up to that point, once my waters were broken we really were in the homestretch. Baby may be coming out the old-fashioned way or the new-fashioned way, but baby was coming out. Armed with that awareness, I made the only clear-headed decision of the entire 26 hours: let’s finally get some sleep. And this time we actually did. We both napped for almost an hour, and the next time the nurse came back in to check me, it was time.
YOU READ THAT RIGHT. IT WAS TIME. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, IT WAS FINALLY TIME.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014, 1:45 a.m.
Labor Hour 25.75
Having learned my lesson 25 hours earlier when I disturbed the sleeping giant to poor results, I asked the nurse to wake Randy calmly but firmly and with urgency. He stirred MUCH more quickly this time. He looked at me and at the same time we both said,“LET’S DO THIS.”
As the nurse got the room ready to welcome baby, she said,
“OK, we’re going to do some practice pushes. Take a deep breath in and while I count backward from 10, you push, push, push, then when I get to 1, breathe out.”
Sounds easy enough. Randy stood on one side of me, the nurse on the other. She counted and I “practice” pushed…? Uh, hello, this is real deal pushing! After just one rep of practice pushes, the nurse paged the doctor.
“We’ve got a live one!”
(She didn’t really say that. I have no idea what she said, but I’m assuming she said something. Or she might have just texted someone or pressed a page button. I literally have no idea.)
The doctor and what felt like half a dozen nurses rushed in and assumed their positions. The room was buzzing with activity and people, but I suddenly felt far away from everyone and everything, sort of melty and floaty in lala land. It was just Randy and me. There could have been a four-hundred pound purple people eater breathing down my neck and I wouldn’t have noticed. And it was the last time it would be just us, so I savored those few seconds for as long as possible. Then, with Randy’s eyes locked on mine, the team in place, the purple people eater gone (probably), the nurse started counting.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014, 2:22 a.m.
Labor Hour 26.5
Randy had long since taken over counting from the nurse and was announcing each number with all the unabashed excitement of a man who was about to become a dad. Now HE was high.
Happy New Year!
No, just kidding, that’s not what happened. This is what happened.
Randy looked at me with love bursting from every cell in his body and through a mess of man-tears he said, “We have a son. A beautiful, perfect, amazing son.”
There is no possible way to articulate how I felt in that moment, how my life changed, how my mind settled and my heart grew. I can’t even think about it without choking up and feeling large, crashing waves of weepy emotion, of hard-won love for my little family, to which my husband would shrug and say, “This is what you have now.” And thank god for that.
Welcome to the world, Moses Baer.
P.S. I’m a mom!