[note: m = midwife, v = backup midwife, and s = midwife apprentice.]
on june 18, i woke up with a craving for blueberry muffins. i’d been dreaming of them, freshly baked. and so i woke h up at about 7, and asked her to go for a morning walk with me. i envisioned us finding yummy muffin mix at the corner store. sadly, they had no muffins to speak of. fortunately, they had donut holes delivered by the krispy kremey people. so. nice consolation prize. and we got a 1.5 mile walk out of the deal.
incidentally, i had pretty regular contractions throughout our walk, and i could feel sparky’s head low against my cervix. i felt different that morning. the contractions felt similar to how they’d been all along, but i had a sense of this is all working up to something today. and so i called my midwife to update her with details of sparky’s whereabouts in my pelvis. upon hearing the news of sparky’s lowness, m said excitedly, “it looks like we’re having a baby today!”
h and i needed to make a trip to the grocery store later that morning, and since m’s house is in the neighborhood, she asked us to stop by for an exam. m immediately agreed that sparky was ready to come: she was -1 station, and i was 3 cm dilated and as effaced as i was going to get until i was completely dilated. she gave me an intense cervical massage to stir up the hormones, and recommended that i drink a castor oil smoothie when i got home, to push me over the edge from pre-labor to active labor.
h and i took our time at the store, and as we walked the aisles, my contractions were slowly becoming more regular, and more intense. finally, we came home, and i ate a lazy late lunch. i really was in no hurry to drink the castor oil. i didn’t want to do it at all. i knew that it would push me into active labor, but i also knew that i would probably have the worst shits of my life, and knowing my sensitive little system, i’d still be shit-happy by the time i was ready to deliver sparky. finally, at about 4 pm, h blended orange juice and castor oil, and i forced it down with much whininess and gagging.
castor oil is supposed to take effect within about 2 hours. 20 minutes after i drank it, i was on the toilet. the contractions quickly came closer together (about 3 mins apart after being 5 mins apart all day). m, v, and s arrived to our house at about 6 pm. m immediately checked my progress, and said i was now 4 cm dilated, and the baby’s bag of waters was right on my cervix. she offered to break my waters then, and get the party started right away, but i wasn’t ready. i was tired and was on the toilet every 10 minutes, and the thought of jumping into the big scary part of the experience so soon was too scary.
and so we drew a bath. heaven, heaven. hea.ven. i lay there on my side for a long, long time, as h poured water over my belly and my back and my legs. the contractions were coming in stronger, longer waves now. they weren’t crashing over me, so much as rolling by. i watched in awe as my belly turned into a rock every few minutes. i breathed deeply as my lower abdomen seized and my lower back ached with the worst mentrual cramps ever. the endorphins kicked in about that time, and i was able to find a peaceful place inside myself to just let these contractions happen and to bask in the relief of their passing. the midwives poked their heads in the bathroom every twenty minutes or so to check fetal heart tones, and sparky was a happy little girl. as i rested in the tub, with h so lovingly tending to me, i felt the presence of my dear aunt mh, who passed last summer. i felt her calmness, her stoicism, her fortitude. i smiled and told h.
finally, m told me it was time to get out of the bath for another internal check. it was a little after 8 pm, i think, as i could see the sun going down outside my bedroom window. i remarked that a walk sounded nice, now that it was cooling off outside. m checked me, and said that i was now 5 cm dilated, with a poochy bag of waters waiting for the perfect opportunity to break. she offered again to break the bag, or to leave things be and go to bed for the night. i was still afraid of getting to the point of no return so quickly, but i felt like it was fast approaching anyway, and so i agreed.
my waters broke with a pop and a gush. immediately i entered transition. the contractions took me over in a new, frighteningly intense way. they were no longer aches and cramps, but fire in my belly, wave after wave of fire. and those gifts of relief were much harder won. as i was coping with the adjustment to this new experience, m reminded me that i wanted to walk. i backpedaled with a “hellll no”. but she thought it would be good for me to try. and so i tried.
it took a few fits and starts to get me moving. i couldn’t integrate the contractions with movement at all and i was beginning to feel panicky. m looked me in the eye and said, “you’re experiencing fight or flight feelings now, and you can’t fight or flee this. remember, only your uterus hurts right now. let everything else go. let go of your arms, your jaw, your neck, your legs, your bottom. this is only happening in your uterus.” and so i focused on everything else i was holding tightly, and one part of my body at a time, i exhaled until the fire only remained in my belly.
somehow, we made it downstairs, and the midwives recommended i sit on the birthing stool for a bit. i did not like this at all, and politely told them exactly what i thought of their torturous stool. all i wanted at this point was to go outside, and suggested we go out into the backyard. i was wearing sexy mesh panties, along with a gigantic pad to absorb the leaking amniotic fluid. as soon we walked out the door, i remembered that we have four dogs, and they were all outside in the yard. naturally, they came flocking to me just as i had another huge contraction. i fell into a squat, with h supporting me, and another gush of fluid poured onto the patio. the midwives tried to push back the now very intrigued dogs, as i thought to myself, in any other situation, this would be equal parts nasty and hilarious. m decided to help me into a makeshift adult diaper, right there in the yard, as the pad was clearly useless against the fluid. and so it came to pass that i stripped and was put into a diaper made of chucks pads and tape. ingenious.
after the “let’s go for a walk” debacle, i was done taking suggestions for things to do. i wanted to be in my room, on my birthing ball, with h’s thumbs pressed firmly against my lower back. there was only the matter of getting back upstairs in order to make that happen. i have no idea where i found the strength to climb stairs while contracting, but i did it.
finally, i was in my room again. v dimmed the lights and lit candles. the midwives left h and i alone. this is the time when everything gets fuzzy for me. i sat on the ball for a long time, with my head leaning against the side of the bed. h stood behind me, applying constant counter pressure to my back. my labor mix played quietly in the background. so many of my musical friends were singing and praying me through the birth of my daughter. in my altered state, i was very aware of this fact.
i was in the most intense pain of my life during this time out of time. and yet, i was mostly silent. i moaned through each wave, and finally understood what is meant by trying to get on top of the waves and ride them through. i kept my eyes closed, and slipped deeply into myself. i’ve never been more mindful of remaining in the present tense. there was simply nothing else in the world other than me, the fire, h at my back, and my daughter descending. in fact, i forgot that h and i were separate people. she felt like the strong, standing part of me; my backbone.
i felt annoyed when the midwives had to come in and check sparky’s heart. i hated the interruptions, and mostly tried to remain silent and focus as they listened. m came in after what she said was 45 minutes and told me i had to try to pee. i was not happy about this change of scenery. i don’t remember if i was successful in my urination attempt.
another bath was drawn for me, but this time, it was not soothing. in fact, i fell into my most panicked state while in the tub. it felt angular and hard and i couldn’t escape and the contractions were coming so fast that i couldn’t change out of an uncomfortable position…i demanded to be freed at once.
and then suddenly all was quiet again. v recommended that i spend the rest of transition in bed, lying on my side with a pillow between my legs. she told me to try to sleep through the breaks, until it was time to push. everything around me went dark and silent, as h held me through the contractions, and i found my way back down inside myself during the breaks.
just as i was getting used to being in this place, m was in front of my face. “you smell like peanut butter,” i remember saying. she apologized, and asked if she could check me. it was just after 10:30. i was 9 cm dilated, with just a lip of a cervix remaining. h and v each held up a leg of mine, and m asked me to push. there went the lip. i was fully dilated now and ready to go.
i was right about the castor oil and its lasting effects. i’d told h as i bitched about drinking the smoothie, “i am going to shit all over m and not feel bad about it. she can wipe my ass and i won’t care.” and so it came to pass that the prophecy came true. “well, annie, isn’t that the sweetest poo you’ve ever laid,” m said as i pushed. i grunted and pushed some more.
once again, just as i got comfortable in this pushing position, m asked me to get up and try pushing on the birthing chair. the birthing chair is the assless chaps of chairs. it’s basically a chair without a seat. there’s room enough to hold your legs, but that’s it. your ass is left to gravity.
i pushed and pushed and pushed on this chair. things were going great; everyone was smiling. h supported me once again from behind. m told me to look down at my belly as i pushed, and wouldn’t you know it, my big belly was totally gone, except for just above my pubic bone. “reach up in your vagina and feel your baby,” m said. i thought i must be making fantastic progress, but i had to insert my finger a long way to find a baby head, and i briefly felt disheartened. i let the thought go and continued pushing.
and then the mood changed and the air was charged with urgency. sparky’s heart tones had dropped from 160 to about 90. she was stuck under the pubic bone and i was going to have to push double time to free her.
i was given oxygen, and taken back to bed. i held my legs behind my head, and pushed with my ass to the sky. there was a small part of me that felt panicked about the situation, but mostly i was back inside myself, concentrating on nothing but pushing. pushing, by the way, did feel comparatively awesome. it wasn’t pain anymore. it was just pressure. the contractions felt purposeful and helpful, and i worked together with them to bring my baby down. and i knew that i was a good pusher, too. i had no idea had such core strength, but i felt the sparky descent with every push.
meanwhile, m suddenly called for a shot of lidocaine, which snapped me back to the current situation. “are you going to cut me?” i asked as she numbed my perineum. i think she replied something vague like “we’re just helping you get your baby out”, and i knew she didn’t have time to properly answer me, and so i went back to following directions to push. i felt tugging and more pressure and her hands inside of me, helping me push sparky out. she asked me again to feel her head, and this time, a squishy fuzzy crown was poking out of me. i kept pushing.
there was no ring of fire for me. my perineum was numb, and the rest of me was well supported by hands and copious amounts of olive oil. i pushed as hard as i possibly could, and the oxygen mask kept slipping off my face, and then plop! her head was out. m yelled, “h, pull your baby out!” and with my next push, h had sparky’s whole body in her hands.
our daughter, judith marguerite, was here, after what turned out to be 34 minutes of pushing. she came out pink and screaming. and then she quieted down, and checked our her new digs. i’m not sure how long we all stayed that way, staring at each other, h crying and me staring in disbelief. but at some point, the cord stopped pulsing, and i watched h cut it. it was then that i delivered the placenta, which was mostly painless. it felt like i gave birth to a pancake.
jude got stuck because she refused to come out without her arm against her head. because of the distress, and having to push her out a lot faster than the ideal pace, i tore a lot. the pressure i felt after the lidocaine shot was m tearing my perineum to make room for my daughter’s head and hand. all that work with stretching and softening my perineum for months and it was torn on purpose!
i am so grateful for all the iron i’ve been taking. after delivering the placenta, i had an arcing hemorrhage, and required an immediate shot of pitocin in my leg. i bled a lot, “more than average” i’m told, and it could’ve been a lot worse…but i’ll save that story for next time. i’ve got a baby to feed now.
[next intallment: the afterbirth story.]