(read part 1 here)
Dalton parked at the very front of the assessment center, and we walked in together. I didn't know what to say to the receptionist. "I think I'm in labor?" I asked her.
"Go ahead and fill this out," she practically yawned as she slid some paperwork in my direction. This was not, as they say, her first rodeo. (I found it very reassuring that most of the hospital employees acted bored during one of the most terrifying/transcendental experiences of my life.)
My hands were shaking as I illegibly filled out forms. I was ushered into a small room with an admit nurse and a computer. She asked me basic questions while Dalton went to repark legally. By the time he was finished, she was leading me to a room.
The assessment center was quiet. I couldn't tell if there were any other patients, but at this point, I didn't care. I was on my hands and knees on the hospital bed when the nurse returned.
"Using our coping mechanisms already, I see!" She clearly thought this was adorable. Somehow Dalton had helped me into a hospital gown. The nurse had me lie down so that she could check my progress. "Four and a half centimeters!" she announced. "Looks like you're getting admitted."
I was disappointed. I'd hoped she would glance down and say, "I see the head!" Instead, I knew that I had over half of the way, the hard part, left to go. The nurse and an orderly wheeled me into an elevator and then into a labor suite. I moved around uncomfortably on the bed until another nurse, a tall brunette around my age, walked in. She smiled brightly at me. "I'm Jessica." She squatted down by the side of my bed and looked directly into my eyes. "I saw in your chart that you want to go natural. I just want you to know, you can do it."
She said some other things after that, but I don't remember them. As I type this, I'm blinking back tears remembering her kindness and her enthusiasm. She didn't know me at all, but she wanted to support me. This was such a relief. One of my fears had been that I would have a nurse who would think I was annoying or naive for wanting to have an unmedicated birth. But with that one statement, Jessica had won me over. Then I heard her say that I could order from the light labor diet menu.
The last thing I had eaten was buffalo wings the night before, plus some blue Powerade during all the pacing at home. I might have been in labor, but I was still pregnant. I ordered lemon ice, apple juice, and a Popsicle.
While I waited for the liquid food, Dalton and I walked the halls. We ended up in a lovely waiting room lined with floor to ceiling windows. I watched the sun rise in the sky and realized that I would likely have a baby in my arms by nightfall. The sweetness of that thought was quickly eclipsed by the next few contractions. They were getting stronger, and even the relief of Dalton's magnificent counterpressure was waning. We walked back to our room.
The liquid food was waiting there, and I quickly inhaled about 2/3 of it before a violent queasiness hit me suddenly. I ran to the bathroom, but I didn't make it in time. A minute later, I was apologizing to the sweet student nurse who was assigned the enviable task of cleaning up my vomit. "It's okay," she said, smiling kindly and looking ill herself.
In spite of the unpleasantness of the vomiting, I was excited. Vomiting meant transition! Transition meant I was close to pushing! I must be ten centimeters! I submitted to a cervix check, and Jessica announced that I had progressed to five. A measly half of a centimeter. It had been a few hours since I was four and a half, and I started to worry. I was only halfway dilated, and walking was no longer a relief. I tried kneeling and swaying on a birth ball. Nope. I asked if I could try the labor tub.
When I say labor tub, you may be picturing a large, jetted setup in the middle of the room over which my partner could lovingly drape his arms to encircle me and our newborn child while crying tears of joy. Nope. Picture a standard bathtub in a hospital bathroom. It did have jets. I don't know how they get cleaned. I didn't ask.
As unimpressive as it looked, that tub was like sitting by a warm fireside in the middle of a punishing blizzard. (Or what I imagine that feels like, because I live in Louisiana.) The tub took the edge off of the pain. I still couldn't focus on anything but my contractions, but I could cope.
Speaking of coping, here I will provide you with a list of coping mechanisms which I had prepared prior to labor, along with my personal assessment of their effectiveness:
Light labor diet: I'm very happy that I was allowed to eat during labor, so that I could keep up my energy. Just don't scarf the food like you haven't eaten in days, because it probably will end up on the floor.
Birthing ball: No offense, birthing ball, but you are a joke. Sitting on the ball during pregnancy and very early labor felt helpful and nice, but during labor it felt more like torture to me.
Walking: Walking was so helpful. I didn't want to do it, but I felt like every step was productive.
Visualization: I can't write much about this one because I'm laughing too hard. Dalton and I had prepared for this one by imagining scenes from the beach on our honeymoon, but if he had tried to walk me through a visualization exercise while I was actively laboring, I would have snapped at him to be quiet, probably.
Music: See above. I only wanted silence.
The tub: Warm fireside.
Counterpressure: This was probably even more helpful than the tub, mainly because I wasn't allowed to labor in the tub as long as I wanted. Counterpressure is essentially someone pushing hard against your lower back during contractions. Your partner must do this for as long and as often as you ask. He is not allowed to complain about the shooting nerve pain in his hands. It works great!
Slow dancing/swaying with partner: We never tried this one, probably because I was constantly asking for "pressure, pressure, pressure," and the two techniques are not really compatible.
Peanut ball: I'll come back to this one.
A book: We were told during our Coping During Labor class to think creatively about what might distract us from the pain. I chose a new release by a favorite author, since reading is my absolute favorite distraction. The book ended up being great to read while nursing. I read exactly zero pages during labor.
Prayer: We had a list of intentions, and Dalton read one with each difficult contraction near the end. I would do this again for the contractions, only because I want those suckers to count.
I had been told that it was fine to labor in the tub, but I wouldn’t be allowed to give birth there. Prior to labor, this seemed reasonable- delivering a baby in a hospital bathroom’s bathtub seemed like it would present several logistical challenges. But in my less than rational laboring state, getting out of the tub felt like torture.
Things get blurry here. I think I was checked and told that I was at six centimeters. This was probably around noon, meaning that I had dilated only two centimeters since my admission around four AM. Jessica came in with the OB on call, who asked if I wanted to have my water broken to speed things up. Somehow I had the presence of mind to realize that if my water were broken, I wouldn’t be able to labor naturally any more. “If you break my water, I don’t think I can do this,” I somehow squeaked out.
“That’s fine,” the OB said. “But I’ll going to check you again in an hour or so, and if you haven’t made any progress, we need to seriously think about breaking your water and maybe Pitocin.”
I was allowed to get back in the tub, this time for a shorter interval, and then I started acting in a way that made Dalton and Jessica nervous. No idea what I was doing, since I know I was silent. Maybe I had told Dalton I needed to push? In any case, I got out of the tub and was 8 cm.
This was great news, but it was still too early to push, and I wanted to. I didn’t know at the time that early pushing could create significant cervical swelling which was counterproductive to giving birth. Even if I had known, I don’t know if I would have been able to stop. From around 2 PM until the early evening, I was stuck at 8 centimeters.
Jessica put a peanut ball between my legs and rolled me onto my side. I freaking hated that peanut ball. It felt like the outside of both of my hips were sore and the inside of my thighs were on fire. As incredibly uncomfortable as I was, once I was on the ball, I couldn’t move. I don’t know how long I used it- Ten minutes? Two hours?- but the next time I was checked, I was nearly complete- with a swollen cervical lip. I was encouraged to try to push. This was a relief, since I had been pushing intermittently, illicitly anyway.
Here’s where I meet Jesus. The pain had gotten so intense and difficult to bear that I don’t think I could even really see very well. I retreated into myself, saw shapes and colors and pain and nothing at all that was logical or coherent. The time in between contractions had shortened so much that it felt like there was no respite.
At some point during all of this, there was a flurry of activity in the room. An overhead light came on, and the bed was broken down and the OB came into the room. It was time to push for real.
Knowing that the end was in sight gave me a small boost of emotional energy, but physically I felt spent. Jessica brought another nurse into the room, one who had had an unmedicated birth herself, to coach me through the end. Dalton knew this nurse instantly because she was his babysitter years before. This was odd and strangely comforting. I was told to push with each contraction, and each time, I expended all the energy I could muster. After a few contractions, I was totally depleted.
Luckily, my nurses told me that my baby would be born with the next contraction for about ten contractions in a row. You would think that at some point I would have become suspicious of this, but I was too out of my mind to be intelligent. I believed them, every time. I can still hear them cheering. “You’re doing so good. Come on, Patrick. Come on Patrick.” Dalton would tell me later that to see all of these women gathered around, encouraging me and helping me to give birth to our baby, was incredibly moving for him.
After one contraction, I was told to reach down and feel the baby’s head. When I felt his mop of matted hair, it gave me resolve. I pushed him out during the next contraction.
Feeling his body exit mine was one of the most profound, relieving, and weird sensations of my life. After his head was born, I felt each appendage twist on through, smaller and more slippery than their massive predecessor. He was instantly placed on my chest, and I started instinctively rubbing his body to get him to cry (do all moms do this, or just nurses?) With a jolt, I realized that I had a baby. I remembered that I had a husband. Dalton stood next to me with tears in his eyes. It was such a precious sight that I almost wanted to give him Patrick to hold. Almost.
Dalton cut the cord, I had an interesting first breastfeeding experience, Patrick went to NICU. There’s a lot more to tell beyond just the actual birth. One day I might write it all down. For now, I’ve completed the part that Kath demanded I write before I give birth again. It’s time to go have some ice cream, finish packing our hospital bags, and organize our bookshelf again.