Some women (my wonderful Mommie included) regard birth as a beautiful, sacred, spiritual experience. If any of my readers fall into that category - wonderful! But I personally do not subscribe to this way of thinking. I think of the delivery process much the same way as I thought of my entire pregnancy - a rather distasteful means to an end. Don’t get me wrong - in theory, pregnancy and the birth process is beautiful and it is incredible that women’s bodies can undergo such an intense metamorphosis and such extreme trauma (again and again for some...!), but I wasn’t exactly relishing the experience, nor am I eager to repeat the process for quite a while.
From about 9:00 p.m. until midnight, Jay and I were able to “rest.” I was confined to my left side, so I watched and listened to the contraction/fetal heart rate monitor. Every time the heart rate lowered I tried to take in deep breaths, partly to calm myself and partly because I figured more oxygen-rich breaths could only help the situation, right? In any case, baby girl’s heart rate kept dipping often enough that at around midnight the nurse came in to say that an internal monitor was highly recommended. Reluctantly, I agreed, but only to the non-invasive monitor. Well, in the process of inserting the monitor into my uterus, baby girl’s heart rate kept dropping below 100 BPM, and eventually stayed there long enough that the nurses began to panic. Even though my OB was on call that night, they didn’t even wait for him to get down to my floor - the OB who was making rounds was rushed in to my room and I was informed that the baby’s plunging heart rate necessitated the invasive monitor. (I’m sure “plunging” wasn’t the word used, but I was freaking out at this point so everything seemed more dramatic than it probably was.) At this point, as a wire was being inserted into my unborn child’s head and I was being rolled back and forth in an attempt to get an accurate read, I was so busy mentally preparing myself for the emergency c-section that I was sure was coming that I didn’t have time to dwell on the fact that my poor baby was being stabbed in her scalp. (Again, the adrenaline-induced drama... “They say” that the invasive monitor doesn’t hurt - but there was definitely a scab on her head for a few days.) Unbeknownst to me, Jay was also on the verge of freaking out (which is highly unlike him), and the whole experience of standing helplessly behind a crowd of medical professionals who are frantically rolling your wife around in an attempt to steady your unborn child’s heart rate kind of turned him off to having more children. (A temporary turn-off, hopefully.) Thankfully, baby girl’s heart rate returned to normal and I was again left to rest and wait for my slower-than-molasses cervix to continue to expand. I think I was around 5 cm at this point.
For the next two hours, contractions continued. Somewhere around 2 a.m. on Wednesday, May 23rd, my nurse came in to check dilation: 6.5 cm. Because the anesthesiologist had set my epidural at the lowest possible dosage, I could still feel contractions, and they were getting stronger. At this point, I experienced a truly awesome sensation: I felt my pelvis spreading and my baby moving down into the birth canal. I use the word “awesome” in its literal sense: I was in awe of what my body was capable of, and how perfectly my body and my baby were working together.
At 2:30 a.m., my OB came in to check my progress. I was at 9.5 cm. The nurse almost shrieked “What?!” She couldn’t believe I had progressed 3 cm in a half hour. I probably wouldn’t have believed it either if I hadn’t actually felt my body expanding like it did. A few more nurses entered and set the bed up with stirrups and I was instructed to push. I wasn’t experiencing contractions that were any different than the ones I had been feeling all night long, and I had zero urge to push. I was relying on the doctor telling me when to push, and I had no idea what I was doing or how to “push.” I kept saying “I don’t know when to push! I don’t know HOW to push! I don’t need to push!” After about twenty minutes of utter frustration, my doctor decided to wait for the extra half centimeter. He told me to call him back when it was “harder NOT to push than to push” when a contraction came. Okay then.
Of COURSE almost the minute after the stirrups were lowered and I was back on my left side, those contractions started. After the frustrating twenty minutes before, I decided to wait for a while before calling the nurse. It was crazy to feel how each contraction pulled at my body. I say “pulled” because the only way I can put the sensation into words is by trying to describe how each tightening felt like my entire body was going to be pulled through my vagina and I would end up inside out. I literally could not lay flat. Each contraction had me crouching forward over my belly. (I guess this is what “bearing down” means...?) My OB had told me during an office visit that he had heard labor described as “taking the biggest dump of your life.” As gross and unpoetic as that sounds, it’s pretty much on point.
I called the doctor in at 4:00 a.m., and the room was prepped again. They were surprised that I could put my feet in the stirrups on my own, despite the epidural. This time around I didn’t need ANYONE to tell me when to push. (My natural instinct was to squat, but of course my traditional hospital birth didn’t allow for that.) Even now I’m not sure how effective the epidural was, because the “pressure” I was feeling was of such enormity that it was quite painful. I was told to push for three sets of ten seconds during each contraction. I wanted to fire the nurse who was coaching me because she counted to ten like this: “One... Two... Three... Keep going Katherine, you’re doing great... Four...” EFFING BALLS WOMAN, WE’RE AT LEAST TO EIGHT BY NOW!” She kept telling me not to exhale while pushing, and to not waste my energy making noise. At one point my doctor said “Katherine, I thought you had an epidural!” to which I replied “SO DID I!!!” He barked at someone to “get the anesthesiologist in here immediately!” (At the moment that I actually gave birth, there were at least seven people with me in that tiny office-turned-delivery room: Jay, my OB, three nurses, the anesthesiologist, and the pediatrician.) Everyone, including Jay, kept saying I was doing great, but I didn’t see a baby in my arms, so CLEARLY I was doing well enough! My body was doing the most excruciatingly intense work it had ever done, and I was getting tired and frustrated by lack of progress. Finally, Jay said “I can see her head, baby! You were right, she has dark hair!” That was the motivation I needed to finish. My baby.
All the tubes and wires were making me feel trapped, and I in my head I started ripping everything off, from the IV in my wrist to the oxygen mask on my face, but in reality I guess I was just begging Jay to take them off. Once I wasn’t “tied down” anymore, I focused on that little dark haired baby and pushed with everything I had. Every single muscle fiber in my body was in use. I ignored the nurse and allowed myself to make whatever noise I needed - there was no way I was going to waste energy trying to keep myself quiet. One final massive contraction, one final push with every ounce of strength I had, and out she slipped. Jay grabbed my hand and said “She’s here! She’s here baby.” I kept stammering “My baby! My baby, my baby...” I was so dehydrated that even though I was crying, no tears were coming.
As much as I would love to describe the intense relief and the rush of adrenaline that followed, I can’t. I think it’s like trying to describe a migraine to someone who’s never had one. Suffice it to say, I was expecting to be unbelievably exhausted after that crazy physical exertion, but instead I was invigorated. I looked at my doctor and said “HOW do people do this more than once?!” to which he chuckled and replied “Believe it or not, it gets easier.” At that point I was thinking I would just take his word for it.
I had wondered my entire pregnancy when the “rush” of emotions and mother love would crash over me once my baby arrived. For some, it arrives as soon as that little person emerges from their cocoon within the mother. For others, it doesn’t come until later when the adrenaline rush dies down. For me, it happened when I heard her cry for the first time. The sound of her little shriek pierced me to my very core in a way I simply cannot explain. I felt incomplete, like something was missing, and I knew I wouldn’t feel whole until she was in my arms. Jay brought her to me, and I held her close to me, skin on skin, and gazed into her huge brown eyes for the first time. I understood in that moment how mother love is different than every other kind of love. As I held her tiny body close to me, I knew that from this moment on, her pain would be my pain and I would do anything to comfort her. Her joy would be my joy. And I would never sleep again without knowing she was safe.