My last post (read it here) left off just before I demanded that we make our way to the hospital instead of continuing to labour at home…
For nine months my heart had imagined a spiritual birth where I was at one with my body. Now that labour was here, I knew I needed the sweet, sweet relief of modern science in order to bring this baby into the world. I thought about my girlfriends who had managed to deliver without drugs and I wondered what kind of hocus pocus allowed them to do this and not suffer from PTSD. Downstairs our children had returned from their play dates, and the grandmothers were still holding court. We couldn’t pack up and get out of the house fast enough. My contractions felt like they were starting to come every three minutes and panic was really starting to take hold.
I was in my pajamas because we thought it would be smart to just wear what I was going to wear to push to the hospital and with the only maternity jacket I own wrapped around me, it wasn’t enough for the cold night air, but I was barely aware of this by this point. I got into the car, and the grandmothers followed in their own grandma-mobile.
Once in the grandma and children-free shelter of our vehicle, I came totally unhinged. I made animal sounds. I swore like a sailor. I turned into one of those labouring women from television or the movies – noisy, crazed banshee women. I didn’t understand why the drive was taking so long, or why the route had so many potholes. I ranted and raved and after what felt like about two hours (but was really only about fifteen minutes) we arrived at the birthing centre.
Nekky dropped us off and went to sort parking. Sarah helped me to the door. We were right near the lake at St. Joseph’s and the wind was howling. I could really feel the cold now. Managing contractions while your body is rigid from the cold is a very special kind of hell. As luck would have it, we arrived ten minutes after hours and the birth centre doors were locked. Our midwives had warned us of this possibility, and had gone ahead to prep a room and meet us there to let us in, but they were nowhere in sight. Instead, we were trapped outside with two women who were soon terrified of me as I began to scream and pound on the doors with both fists. Finally, some poor lady with her young children came along and as they exited, the doors slid open to let us in. The children stared at me in horror.
We stood at the admitting desk for about eleven years while everyone behind it ignored us. Finally our midwives appeared. I clutched at one of them and said, “I NEED AN EPIDURAL.” She gently removed my claws from her arm and said, “I suspected that might be the case and we’ve already given the hospital staff the head’s up.”
As the midwives led us to our birthing room, I clung to the railing along the wall with each new contraction. I was making angry jungle cat noises at this point I think, and still swearing my head off. It was like Tourettes, I couldn’t stop. As we rounded the corner these little mocha-coloured children shuffled slowly out of a room to see what the commotion was. They peered at me curiously with their big, liquidy brown eyes as I was seized with another contraction. I gritted my teeth, trying with all my might not to frighten them. “The children…” I whispered, now sweating profusely. “The children….”
Finally we were in our room. As I realized I couldn’t wear my “birthing pajamas” and get an epidural, I began to strip off all of my clothes and put on a hospital gown. Or perhaps Nekky or Sarah did this for me? I can’t recall. What I do remember is how long it seemed to take before the anesthesiologist came (which in reality was only about half an hour). I needed to let them take blood and get an IV started before I could get the epidural. The blood taking was no problem, but our student midwife did something funny with my IV and blood began spraying all over me, and all over the bed. My left hand was dripping with blood. It didn’t hurt though. Or else maybe I was in so much pain, it didn’t feel like it hurt. For reasons that escape me, she neglected to clean me up, but the feeling of blood caking under my fingernails was lost amidst the contractions, which were now about a minute apart.
I don’t know why nobody bothered to check how dilated I was when we arrived at the hospital, but I’m glad this oversight occurred, because I’m pretty certain they would have forgone the epidural if they had. I think it was pretty close to pushing time, based on how I was feeling. Finally a tidy looking Asian man named Steve arrived with my salvation. He prepped me and froze me and assured me he would try to avoid putting the needle into where my tattoo ink was. I kept having contractions, and so he kept needing to pause. At one point the contraction was so violent I moaned “FUUUUCCK” and Steve apparently had to suppress a chuckle. I’m glad my back was towards him. I noted with this last contraction a very strong urge to push – like I had to take a big poop. I said nothing about this though because nothing was going to keep me from the sweet relief that Steve had to give.
Once the epi was in, Steve stepped back and waited to make sure the magic would happen, and happen it did. I cannot convey to you the vast, vast difference between drug free and drugged up labour. The pain literally vanished. My contractions went from feeling like someone was prying me apart by pulling my pelvis in either direction with a tractor to feeling like a gentle tightening of my pelvic region, not unlike a kitten curling up in my lap. I looked at Steve and uttered the first non-offensive sentence to leave my lips in about two hours; “Thank you so much.”
Then it was party time. I was back to my old self. I was better than my old self, having been rescued from the brink of insanity. My jokes were the best jokes I’ve ever made. I was witty, and charming, and ready for anything. Nicole, our labour nurse, was my BFF and my son might possibly be named after Steve, my savior. We waited for Dr. Pham, the lovely OBGYN on call (the midwives had to ‘hand over’ my care until the baby arrived with the introduction of the epidural) to come and check my dilation. She appeared, and she looked about my age. She was very friendly and confidant, and informed us that I was 10cm! The midwives wanted me to wait until the baby descended a bit more to start pushing, but Nicole didn’t want to wait because of how long it had been since my water broke. She kept asking if I felt pressure in my bum, but Steve was so thorough that my bum could have been anyone’s bum at that point. Nicole and I both agreed that I wouldn’t be feeling anything in my bum for many, many hours.
And so the pushing began. Dr. Pham was busy with another delivery, so the midwives took over with the help of super awesome Nicole who I really felt was my touchstone. So weird that I would feel more connected with her than with the midwives I’d built a relationship with for nine months. I think I felt on some intuitive level that she really “got it” and knew what was happening for me and for the baby, and she seemed so much more confidant than the midwives. Now, in my mind I wanted to push without straining too hard, so my first pushes involved trying to imagine pushing with my abdominal muscles while exhaling slowly. I laugh at this now.
The midwives looked at me, puzzled. They said, “We need that thoracic pressure caused by bearing down and holding your breath.” I began to push while holding my breath and the resulting feeling was like an eyeball might pop out or a blood vessel in my brain might explode. I was very glad we were in the hospital in case either of these things happened. I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. The onlookers kept seeing the baby’s head crowing, but then it would disappear again. The midwives kept telling me to push down towards my bum, but all instruction was useless because I couldn’t feel a damn thing below my waist. I tried in vain to visualize the process. I tried different pelvic tilts. I tried, and tried, and pushed and grunted for TWO AND A HALF HOURS.
Dr. Pham returned to see what the issue was, and why the little guy wasn’t budging. The head that everyone thought they were seeing was actually only a part of the head. Baby was on his way to a pretty awesome cone head because he was stuck on my pubic bone. The doctor gave me two more tries but warned me if this didn’t work she would have to go in with the forceps. Since I couldn’t feel anything, my main concern was how this would mark up the baby, and so I asked Sarah if she could photo shop out the forceps marks in the baby pictures. Then I started to remember that eventually the epidural would wear off. Nicole assured me she was a pro with forceps and everything would be okay. They both told me that the “baby was getting tired” which I already knew because I could hear it on the monitor. This is happy language that means that the baby’s heart rate is slowing down very dangerously.
Now the people in the room were starting to rush about. Some new nurses had appeared and were prepping the baby warmer and some other equipment that I tried not to think about because I knew it was for emergency resuscitation. The giant, silver forceps were placed on a stand in my periphery, a gleaming reminder of why I had to make the next pushes count. Sarah leaned over me and said, “Do NOT let them use those salad tongs in your vagina.”
As the next contraction came on, I gathered all of my strength and concentration. I glanced at the prayer beads that my brother-in-love let me borrow and asked the powers that be to aid me in my efforts. With no less than six people cheering me on (plus two grandmothers who were peeking into the room behind the curtain) I grunted and strained and pushed with every fiber of my being. The crowd said, “There he is! He’s coming!” and then suddenly I heard wailing. Noah’s head was finally out and he was ready to announce his arrival before any of the rest of him could be born. Imagine a tiny head sticking out of my vagina, screaming. Dr. Pham looked at me and said, “Would you like to pull him out?” Stunned by the prospect, I stammered in the affirmative, then reached down and put my hands under his hot, slippery little arms and lifted him from my body onto my chest. Nothing else in my entire life will rival the elation and triumph I felt in that moment.
After Noah came out, there were hands everywhere cleaning him up, cleaning me up. I was oblivious as they set about their business, so long as my baby stayed on my chest. Sarah cut his umbilical cord, and I delivered the placenta without any difficulty. Then Dr. Pham set to work sewing me up, as I ended up with a second degree tear. She assured me that this was quite common, but there is nothing common about the amount of time it seemed to take her to restore my hoo ha to its former glory. I felt a bit panicked about the amount of time she was taking, and she explained that the repair had to be done in layers, and that she wanted everything just as it was. United in this common goal, I decided to focus on something else while she finished her job. She warned me not to let myself get constipated or I would tear my stitches. I banished all thoughts of trying to go to the bathroom in any way from my mind because this simple task seemed really terrifying.
The rest of the next twenty-four hours remains very fuzzy. I know someone took Noah to the warming table to weigh him and check his Apgar scores (which were 9 at both intervals!). I know Noah and I tried our first breastfeeding latch (the fact that he left me with nipple hickies should have been my first warning that something was wrong there). I know it took a long time for my bleeding to slow and my uterus to harden, and I needed some oxytocin to help this along. I know we waited forever for the epidural to wear off.
The midwives informed us that we’d have to transfer over to hospital care and stay another 24 hours because I wasn’t ready to be discharged, and if we got caught mid shift-change, we were stuck with hospital policy. Strangely, when they went to inform the staff there was no nurse on the ward, so our poor, exhausted midwives got stuck staying with me. They went to rest in the on-call room, and I tried to sleep, but I was completely wired. Nekky rested in a reclining chair with Noah on his chest and Sarah was passed out on the sofa. I just watched everyone and tried to wrap my brain around everything that had happened.
I took stock of myself and realized I was covered in DNA; meconium from where the baby had his first poop on my thigh, blood caked all over my hand where the IV went awry, dried amniotic fluid, and god knows what else decorated my hospital gown and myself. I continued to move my legs and feet as much as I could to help the feeling return. There was no way I was leaving the hospital without a shower.
Eventually the midwives came back and told me they were just going to try to get us out of the hospital, rather than make us stay another 24 hours. I begged for a shower, so they helped me to my feet and got me set up in the washroom. I moved slowly and carefully, and eventually I was clean again. When I emerged, Nekky and Sarah were awake and they were being hustled to get the baby dressed and to pack up our things. I started to get the feeling that we were being smuggled out. In the parking lot I noticed the dusk sky was pink and a few stars hung out by the thin sliver of moon while the sun began to take over the next shift. The midwives helped me into the car with a big hug, and then the rest of the ride home was spent staring at my beautiful baby resting peacefully in his car seat.
At about 7:30 am we walked into our house. Everyone was awake, including the girls who got to meet their brand new baby brother. I really don’t remember any of this, but I do remember going upstairs and napping for a couple of hours. I imagine everyone else used this time to pass around Noah. The entire day floated by like a bit of a dream. I was surrounded by our close family, and really just trying to take it all in and rest after the incredible intensity of labour. I kept pulling myself into the moment by smelling the soft little head of my sweet baby, and I knew that I would never, ever think of myself the same way that I had before my water broke.
Schnooville is presently overrun with subjects like poopy diapers and breastfeeding challenges, so I hope you’ll indulge me as I work through these subjects here. I promise whatever I write about will be entertaining, because every day I am humbled and amazed by what my life has become.