This post is going to be long. Consider yourself warned.
Announcing: Claire Louise T_____
Born: December 29th at 6:19p.m.
Weighing: 7lb 14oz
When last I posted,
On Wednesday, I noticed a regular pattern to the braxton-hicks, and they were finally starting to get uncomfortable. Still, they were 15 -20 minutes apart. It was unseasonably warm out (if cloudy and gloomy), so I grabbed my portable cd player and the dog and set out to hike the entire neighborhood. I walked for about an hour and 15 minutes, and had 15 contractions. They were definitely getting my attention, but not so strong that I couldn’t pretend that I was just a huge woman out walking her dog. The dog, by the way, was thrilled. My shoes are still covered with road salt.
DH was scheduled to work that night. I debated asking him to call off all afternoon, and by dinner decided that it would be best to have him home, even if things weren’t progressing quickly. My biggest fear was a long labor – with Peanut, I started with contractions 5-10 minutes apart on New Year’s day. By that afternoon, they were getting hard to talk through, so we went to the birth center for a check, only to find that I was only 2cm dilated. We filleld a prescription for Ambien, picked up a frozen pizza, and went home. The sleeping pilled allowed me to get 6hrs of sleep. The next day, I was still having contractions every 5-10 minutes, only now I had a death grip on the back of the couch and a heating pad on my lower back. Miserable and unable to get any rest, we went back to the birth center, convinced that these more painful contractions must be doing something, only to find I was still only 2cm dillated. Completely discouraged and exhausted, we scheduled an induction in the hospital to be started the next evening and went home to endure more contractions and take the 2nd sleeping pill. Two hours later (around midnight) the contractions proved stronger than Ambien and my yelling woke DH, who rubbed my back for the next nine hours. Around 5:00 a.m. I couldn’t take it any more and we went back to the birth center. I was still convinced I was only 2cm dilated, so the midwife was surprised to find me pushing involuntarily and 9.5cm dilated. Anna was born after 2hrs of pushing. It was a good birth, but DH and I were fuzzy-brained with exhaustion.
This time, my biggest hope was that labor would be shorter than 54hrs. I was promised that statistics were on my side, with 2nd babies usually coming faster than firsts. Still, I was reluctant to accept that labor had started or that the baby would arrive any time soon.
That evening, we watched “Willy Wonka” and I knit most of the left front of the cardigan I was working on. At bedtime, contractions were still 20 minutes or so apart, so I vowed to ignore them and went to sleep. By 4:00 a.m. I was fed up with being woken by contractions. They were easier to deal with if I could feel them coming. During contractions, I was bracing my feet against the bed as if trying to climb away from my own abdomen. Between them, DH and I chatted good-humoredly. At 6:00 I called my mother and told her that it would be a good morning to come get Peanut, but not to rush. I really wasn’t setting my hopes on seeing the baby that day, but knew it could be a possibility. Plus, Peanut is extra sensitive to seeing anyone or anything in discomfort, so I didn’t want her distressed by seeing me uncomfortable.
When Mom arrived to get Peanut, I was parked on the couch in my pajamas, and I wasn’t talking during contractions. DH informed me that they were sitll about 7 minutes apart, as they had been since around 4:00. I refused to time them myself. I didn’t trust time between contractions to be a good indication of progress after last time.
At 10:00 I paged the midwife and was delighted to find that the same midwife that caught Peanut was on call. I asked if she still wanted me to come in for my scheduled 11:40 check-up, seeing as I knew it was still early on. We decided I could skip the check up, and she said to call her if things seemed to progress, or she would check on us later on.
A little after 11:00, my worst fear seemed to be coming true – the contractions that had been 7 minutes apart spread to more than 15 minutes apart and decreased in intensity. I had lunch and a nap, trying not to give into the feeling of disappointment and impending doom. The nap was cut short at 12:30 by a four-headed contraction from hell that would NOT let up. By 1:00, I was getting noisy and the contractions were back to their 5-7 minute intervals, only now instead of being 30 seconds long, they were 1.5-2 minutes long. I decided that if they kept up like that for one hour, I’d call the midwife back at 2:00.
The midwife was apparently psychic, as she called us back at 1:45. At that point, I had to tell DH to wait to answer the phone until I quit yelling, as I was in the middle of a contraction and figured he wouldn’t be able to hear who was on the other end. We all agreed that it would be a good time to go to the birth center and see how things were going. Our neighbors cheered when they saw us leave the house, as they’d been on pins and needles every time they noticed a vehicle missing from our driveway for weeks.
In the parking lot, it took me four tries to leave the truck, as the tail end of a contraction was making moving too painful. I hobbled into the birth center to be met with a smiling midwife in the same room where Peanut was born almost exactly two years prior. She checked my dilation, and before telling us, asked what we wanted to hear. I told her that if it was 2cm, she should lie and say it was either 1 or 3 because I never wanted to hear 2cm again. To my delight, I was 6cm dilated. Hooray! I got as comfortable as possible and continued to ride out the contractions. Around 3:30, I asked to use the Jacuzzi tub. I had been holding off on using it as long as I could, since I was afraid to use what I figured was my best relaxation tool too soon. It turned out to be great timing. In the water, I felt like the contractions were manageable, and even quit moaning through most of them. DH fed me oranges and cinnamon toast to keep my energy up. We chatted between contractions, as I was still in a relatively good mood. I told him I was leaving him and marrying the Jacuzzi tub, as it was now my best friend.
I was having a lot of back pain, and the midwife said that there was a good chance the baby was turning posterior. I eventually consented to her suggestion to get on all fours in the water with an ice pack on my back to try to convince the baby to turn the other way. It sounded like a miserably painful idea when she suggested it, so I admit I balked at first, but the ice wasn’t bad and I was able to rock on my hands and knees, which felt good. I can pinpoint the exact moment when I decided that labor wasn’t fun anymore and I’d had enough of it. Another four-headed contraction had me in its grasp and wouldn’t let go. I quit talking to anyone and stared sullenly at a reflection in the water. The tone of my moaning changed, and the midwife heard it from the kitchen and asked if I felt pushy. I did, so it was out of the tub an back onto the bed.
I was on my side, covered in toasty warm blankets, but still having a lot of back pain. I was helped up onto all fours with a stack of pillows to rest on between contractions, and I was now completely grouchy. I’d had enough contractions, I was sick of them. I was sick of labor. I was sick of back pain. The midwife checked my progress – the bag of waters was still intact, and was likely the source of the pushy feeling. Unfortunately, Baby had moved back up, so it was too risky to break the membranes as the cord could have come down before the baby. We had to wait until the water broke on its own or the baby moved down. After what seemed like an eternity, but was really less than an hour, my water broke. On checking, the midwife found an anterior lip. I had two options – I could continue to labor and wait until the lip went away, or I could try a push while she held the lip back. If it stayed out of the way, I could continue pushing the baby out. We went for option two, and that’s when things got REALLY loud.
I was yelling every television birth pushing cliche in the book – I can’t do this! It hurts! I want to stop! – as DH held my right leg with one hand and continued applying counterpressure to my lower back with the other hand. My vocallizations went from being a coping mechanism to a pain response. I was pushing all right, but pushing in a vain attempt to get the midwife to quit holding that lip up. Fortunately it stayed up. For all my yelling, I was greatful, even though I knew I didn’t sound it at the time. The remaining pushes weren’t much more quiet, as I was losing the control I’d been struggling to maintain for so long. Then I heard DH telling me that he could see the baby, that I was doing great, that I was almost done. Even though I had the same reassurances from others in the room, DH’s voice was a light at the end of the tunnel. It reached the remaining rational part of my brain and gave me the strength to keep going, to know that I COULD do it, to believe that it WOULD really be over soon. The midwife was coaching me to ease back on pushing as the baby crowned. The last thing I wanted to do was prolong the feeling of the ring of fire, but I complied as much as I could with tiny, pulsing pushes. I was rewarded with the sensation of the baby’s head out and no tears. On the next pushes, the rest of the baby followed, and I could hardly believe it was over as they placed the baby, wailing with indignation, on my chest. After we all had a moment to catch our breath, the midwife held the baby up so that DH and I could see that we had a second daughter.
DH cut the cord, and the birth attendants went to work cleaning us up, and getting us situated. We were tucked into bed as a family to get to know our new baby and bond together. Claire nursed like a champ, latching on as if it was old hat to her. Our midwife makes a mean omlette, and english muffins never taste so good as when you’re famished.
After the shell shock wore off, we called the families and shared the news. My parents brought Peanut down to meet her new sister. She decided that, “Baby nice.” She gave her a kiss and a hug, held her for a moment, and spent the rest of the visit playing with a rubber glove. Four hours later, we were all stable and healthy and ready to go home.
It’s true what they say – no two births are the same. Anna’s was exhausting, but I don’t remember it being as painful. The midwife pointed out that birth amnesia makes us forget the pain so that we have more than one child, but I think it’s more than that. For instance, I pushed for two hours with Anna, and had no idea that much time had passed. DH felt the same – we were shocked to find out it had been that long. I had a cervical lip with Anna that the midwife held back, or at least I remember telling me that she was doing so. I don’t remember feeling it. Three days of sleep deprivation (and possibly the lingering effects of Ambien) made my entire recollection of Anna’s birth furry round the edges – even the pain was in sort of a soft focus – and I knew that my grasp of what happened was shaky the day of the birth. I often had to ask DH what happened at different points because I wasn’t sure.
Claire’s birth, in contrast, stands out laser sharp and clear. I was completely lucid throughout. The nurse even remarked at how funny it was that we were having coherent conversations punctuated by my moaning loudly through a contraction. I suppose if I had to pick one experience over the other, I’d pick the 2nd because it was faster. However, I’m wasn’t happy to lose my handle towards the end. I didn’t like the feeling of losing control, of not being able to listen to my attendants’ reminders to breathe and to keep my vocalizations low. DH says that my conduct was excusable given the circumstances, but I admit to feeling a little sheepish.
Above all, I am eternally grateful to the midwives and the birth center. I know how fortunate I am to have access to these devoted caregivers, and the midwife who caught our daughters in particular. They’ve been serving in the Pittsburgh area since 1982, and they are a gem that I wish more people were aware of. These women have devoted their lives to ensuring that women have the option to birth in peace and comfort, surrounded by loving support. They know what birthing women need, they know the little tricks that make the big difference. They know when to give you space, and when you need a hand to hold. They make decisions with you rather than at you. They educate you without being the least condescending or patronizing.
There is, without a doubt, a culture of fear regarding birth in our society. I wish more people had access to caregivers like these. I wish more people could see birth as the beautiful right of passage that it is, rather than a medical procedure to be feared. I plan on doing what I can in the coming years to support them in their efforts, and only wish I had more time to assist in doing so. In the even that we are blessed with another child, I look forward to having a third birth experience to treasure in my mind. It is my hope that when it comes time for my daughters to have their own children, that they find the same wonder and amazement at the power of their bodies, the strength of their relationships with their partners, and the beauty of the first cry of their newborn child as I did.