graham’s birth story part 3 – a family affair
i’m spending a few days recounting the story of my firstborn’s birth. if you need to catch up, start with the preface, then part 1 and part 2. there is some crazy stuff there.
fair warning: this segment is the longest by far and probably the least entertaining for those who are not into labor stories. but some of us are.
lee arrived just before our birthing suite was ready, and i changed into my own gown before waddling down the hall (and around the corner and up the elevator and through more doors…why are hospitals built like labyrinths?!) to the labor and delivery wing.
our doula, macy, arrived as we were meeting our nurse and i was getting set up on the monitor. my midwife was busy attending two other laboring moms farther along than me, but she stopped by to say she would be checking back periodically.
after the requisite period of monitoring the baby, i was freed from the cords and dug into my bag for the arsenal of supplies i thought might help get me through the day: hair ties, lip balm, sour candies, a stay-cool neck rag, juices and light snacks, and of course my own pillow. (i ended up using it all, but not wanting most of it. the candy got in the way of my breathing, i preferred cold washcloths to the squeegee towel, and all i wanted to consume was water, water, water.)
lee connected his phone to our portable speaker to set a chill mood with some mellow tunes, and i headed into the bathroom to shave. (because, obviously, smooth legs are a priority on such a momentous day.) i remember being genuinely glad that the pedicure i got for the baby showers still looked good. being distracted by ragged toes when i should be concentrating on the Big Event would just not do.
she periodically snapped some photos, as i’d asked her to, but i honestly didn’t notice one discreet shot. i paced the room hanging on to lee (the severe wobbling in my legs during contractions was such a shock to both of us), tried sitting on the birthing ball (which i loved during pregnancy and hated during labor), and relished the oh-so-perfect counter-pressure on my back and hips applied by macy (who had quite a few helpful tricks in her repertoire).
my dad arrived sometime mid-afternoon, and even though the contractions were coming back-to-back by that point, i wanted to at least see him and tell him i was doing fine.
lee and i had decided that our families could come in and say hello and good luck if they got there early enough, but that when things got more intense it would just be the essential players: the two of us and our doula, and my midwife and her nurse.
my sweet sister, who had experienced childbirth for the first time exactly ten months earlier, had offered to play the role of doula during my labor, but i was worried that our personal relationship might get in the way of her effectively coaching me (by making either of us concerned about displeasing the other).
in the end, both my dad and sister were present until nearly time to push. kel was a huge help to me with her whispered advice and gentle encouragement. my dad sat quietly in the corner sipping coffee, and as weird as it seems to me even now, it felt totally natural. the birthing suite was large and had a seating area and table in the corner, and i ended up spending much of the time in the bathroom taking advantage of the tub, anyway. i certainly felt more comfortable with my dad there, rather than sitting in a waiting room alone and wondering if everything was going well.
sometime in the late afternoon bryan called kel’s phone, and when he realized she was with me, he asked to talk to me. through my concentration on deliberate breathing, i heard her say something to the effect of, “she’s kinda busy.” but after the wave passed i took the phone, anyway. i can’t tell you one word that we said to each other, but i do remember that i was glad to hear my brother’s voice and know he was thinking of us, and not annoyed at all.
my cervix was not dilating very quickly, and i stayed at a 5 for a long time. i was anxious to try sitting in the bathtub, knowing that being submerged in warm water would take the edge off the discomfort, but we waited until i had progressed far enough that there was less concern of it stalling my labor. when i finally did slide into the warm tub, i really did find it soothing and had an easier time enduring the contractions.
but a still pool cools fast, and since i was continually leaking amniotic fluid (and such), it was soon time to drain and rinse the tub, anyway. i moved back into the main room for the obligatory period of monitoring while someone prepared a fresh tub.
when i headed back to the bathtub, the nurse attached the waterproof monitor to my belly and i moved back into my warm little pool of “ahh, thank you” to labor the baby down some more. but this time, the surges were so strong that i could not tolerate lying back and relaxing through them. i much preferred to kneel and lean over the side of the tub.
macy stayed with me while lee stole away to eat the pizza “i” had ordered from the hospital menu. throughout the entire day, she was fantastic at maintaining a low-key mood and talking me through all my questions about what was happening and what to expect.
according to the women in the room who had attended and given birth, my contractions were not typical. this was my predictable pattern => huge pressure accompanied by a full-body shudder, followed by a quick wave of nausea and a fire deep in my pelvis.
frankly, the best way i can describe it is pretty gross, but accurate. have you ever been sick and vomited so much that your stomach is still retching but nothing is coming out? for me, each wave felt like my uterus was dry-heaving in the other direction. without any intention from me, my body was doing just what it was designed to do and squeezing the baby down bit by bit. all i could do was breathe (grunt) through it.
i heard myself say more than a few times, “i just didn’t think that this is what it would feel like!” i’d prepared myself for acute pains in my belly muscles, not waves of pressure and shaking and nausea. (the queasiness and burning were seriously worse than the contractions, but i only threw up once.)
and every time a cycle would subside, i was overwhelmed by thirst. it became routine for someone to hand me a cup of water after each wave, even up to the very last push. i was just so thirsty!
when i got out of the tub the second time, i paced the floor with lee a little, but then settled into a “comfy” spot sitting on the edge of the bed and leaning over the back of a chair. after i had maintained that pose for some time, kel finally worked up the nerve to tell me she thought i’d make more headway if i stood up and moved around. and of course she was right.
i got up reluctantly and went to the bathroom (because every contraction made me feel sure i was gonna make a mess, even though the sensation was coming from my cervix, not my colon.) when i came back out, it was clear that things had kicked up a notch. the pressure was ferocious, but i felt a surge of energy and adrenaline that had me bouncing on my toes and shaking out my limbs as if i was warming up for the big game. which i was.
part 4 of graham’s birth story will be up tomorrow. it gets real.