this week i’ve been telling the story of the natural birth of my first child. if you’ve missed the last few days, start with the bizarre preface, then part 1 – the last to know, part 2 – maybe i should’ve tipped him more, and part 3 – a family affair.
following kelleigh’s advice had definitely made a difference, i could feel it.
kel and dad left to get some dinner and meet up with jared and caris, and my midwife, leanna, came back to check if i was ripe and ready to push. after spending hours dilated to about 6 cm, i was finally at a 10! i zeroed in my focus on the real work of getting this baby out.
as i was gearing up with a few “practice pushes,” the room phone rang. i don’t remember it at all, but lee picked it up and hung up immediately. we found out later that our friends lyndi & wes had called the hospital to check on where we were, and someone had transferred the call to our labor & delivery room! evidently, lee had inadvertently left the line open, and they got to hear a few moments of serious coaching before they figured out what had happened and hung up.
i proceeded to push in every conceivable position for three hours. squatting, sitting, lunging, lying back, hanging on the bar, on all fours…at one point i was trying to gain leverage and power by pulling on a sheet (or towel?) that was anchored only by our sweet, petite nurse on the other end! (who, by the way, was with us the whole day and stayed hours after her shift to be there until graham was born. chelsea, you were awesome!)
leanna was wonderful, as well, and guided me through each set of pushes and positions with soft but assertive instructions. and all the while, the perfectionist in me was seeking constructive feedback. “am I pushing the way you want me to?” i repeated several times, as everyone else laughed at me for even asking as i bounced from position to position and refused to rest through any contractions. i was focused!
after about forty minutes of pushing, the top of his head made an appearance, but he stayed there for another two plus hours. leanna told me later that she thought he was going to come out sunny-side-up by the stubborn way he was resisting my pushing. it turns out he just had his head cocked to one side. but leanna never even hinted that i might not be able to deliver him naturally. one of the many reasons we are thankful that she attended graham’s birth.
so i pushed, and pushed, and pushed. but i didn’t feel tired. i was actually more energized as time went on and i got more efficient at pushing thanks to pointers from my team. both lee and i were grateful to have our doula macy there to support me physically with water and cool rags and bracing so that he could just be with me as emotional, mental, and spiritual support.
leanna must’ve thought i needed some motivation after a couple of hours, because she suggested they bring out the mirror so i could see how much graham was moving forward with each set of pushes (two steps forward, one step back).
now, i already knew the mirror was available to me, but had decided that i didn’t want to look. i could touch his head, i knew he was there. i was trying to protect my mental resolve. i figured i’d be fine managing the discomfort if i could concentrate on the task, but if i saw the process it would look like it hurt, and so i would feel pain. in the end, i couldn’t keep my eyes open and push, anyway. all i saw for a brief moment in the darkened room was the unidentifiable mess of body parts that is childbirth.
i’m glad this was my first experience with labor. with nothing to compare it to, i never got worried that it was taking too long or i was having to try too hard. i was just doing what i had to do, moment by moment. time stood still. leanna commented more than once that he was really making me work for it, but i didn’t think much of it at the time. lee (rightly so) was more concerned about graham, being cramped in the birth canal, than me. he told me later, “you were an animal, i knew you’d be fine. i just wanted him out of there.”
chelsea cheerfully pointed out how my belly was deflating as the baby moved down. all five of us were staring at my abdomen when my son gave me one last swift kick to the gut. we all gasped in surprise, and i savored what i knew was the last time i’d feel the familiar jab of his heel in my ribs from the inside.
by this time lee’s family had arrived and we had a small crowd pacing impatiently in the hall and cheering graham on in his epic exodus. but inside the room, we were oblivious to anything but the crazy ride we were on. the shakes had become uncontrollable, and started affecting my arms as well as my legs. at one point, my right hand shot out and smacked lee hard on the chest. the bewilderment on his face reflected my shock as i apologized with a feeble, “um, I didn’t mean to do that.”
each set of pushes now felt like it should be the last. for at least three surges in a row, i could hear the excitement in the voices of those who could see him emerging, and the stretching i felt around his head had reached the “ring of fire” point. i turned to lee and whispered, “pray!” to which he answered emphatically, “i am.” everything just felt like this is it!
and then it was. i heard leanna say, “okay, mama, reach down and take your baby.” my hands eagerly sought my son as i blindly grasped at his slippery head and shoulders. i prayed that hands much steadier than mine were spotting me as he slid out of my womb and into my arms.
he cried out loud and clear right away – which brought a rush of emotion for me and collective whoop from the eavesdroppers outside the door. (i’m sure their celebrating was joined by a heavenly cheer, as well.)
someone guided him onto my stomach, and we lay there, finally skin-to-skin. bon iver played softly in the background as i gasped over and over, “oh, baby! oh, baby!”
kelleigh snuck back in to take graham’s first photos, and i held him close as several sets of skilled hands wiped him down, checked him out, and cleaned me up (no stitches needed!). when the umbilical cord finished pulsing, lee had the honor of separating mama and baby (without passing out!). i put up with a few more contractions until i delivered the placenta and we were left alone for a few minutes (at last!).
and then we were a family of three.
i’ll wrap up tomorrow with part 5 of graham’s birth story. the final installment offers all the gory glory that follows such a sacred yet corporeal event.
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.
this week i’m sharing the story of my first experience giving birth. if you haven’t already, you’ll probably want to read the preface and part 1 of this story.
the first half of my ninety-minute drive to the hospital was fairly uneventful. i called my client to tell her i wouldn’t be coming to work that day and ate a breakfast of granola bars, fruit snacks, and crackers from my food stash in the car. the activity in my gut didn’t seem very consistent, so i tried to calculate if i had enough time to go all the way home, get lee and the bags, then come back to the hospital (which would almost double my drive time).
about halfway there, i realized i needed to call lee and tell him to leave work. by the time i hit the metro, my pants were soaked through and i was timing contractions on my phone while fighting downtown rush hour traffic. with waves coming every 4-6 minutes, i was becoming increasingly impatient with the stop-and-go progress and other drivers’ rude oblivion to the fact that i was in labor!
the surges were more uncomfortable than painful, really, and just felt like fierce menstrual cramps. but i was very anxious to be out of that car, and debating when it might be okay to just use the shoulder to get to my exit a mile away. i tried to be patient as we inched forward and finally reached the off-ramp.
i pulled up to the hospital entrance, one hand digging at the quarters in my cupholder for something to tip the valet. i slowly extracted myself from the car, bracing for an oncoming contraction. the attendant was kind enough to wait until i had composed myself to approach me for the key. i was suddenly horrified at the state in which i had left the driver’s seat.
unable to think of anything to say except, “i’m sorry, the seat’s a little damp,” i dabbed futilely at the puddle with a napkin before throwing him an apologetic glance and dashing through the revolving door. (a friend brought my car home from the hospital, but i’m told it was definitely parked by someone who was trying desperately not to touch the seat.)
for some reason, they keep the ob triage buried deep within the maze of halls at the hospital, but getting rapid help with directions was no problem for the pregnant lady with the wet pants. the triage nurse checked me and confirmed that i was dilated to a four and fully effaced – membranes broken, obviously – and so she began the whole process of getting me into a birthing suite.
as i waited, i called lee a few times to tell him things that needed to be added to the hospital bag that had only been half-packed. the poor guy kept begging me to stop adding to the list of To-Dos and To-Brings and just let him get to the hospital already. i guess the nesting instinct dies hard, huh?
by this time my contractions had begun to feel more like an intense pressure deep in my pelvis. i was so surprised that i didn’t feel any pain in my abdomen. i was waiting for sharp pangs to radiate from my back around to my stomach, like i’d heard they would, but all i had was a powerful sensation of something pressing hard on my tailbone. (in short, it felt like a baby trying to get out of my body. .
already, my legs were trembling involuntarily with each wave, and the nurse reassured me it was a good sign that the hormones were flooding in and i was progressing quickly. i was left alone to wait, and for the first time i had nothing to distract me from the full realization that this is happening.*
but even as that reality set in, and up until the point that i delivered my son, i didn’t have an, “eek, the baby is coming!” thrill like i expected to. each moment was simply what i was doing at that time. throughout labor i never felt apprehension or a desire to quit, as i thought i might. what i felt was focus. pure focus on the goal.
look for part 3 of graham’s birth story tomorrow.
*as evidence of the degree of my disbelief up to that point, allow me to submit this shocker: i hadn’t even called my sister! when lee called her just to say, “i’m on my way to the hospital, see you there!” she had no idea what he was talking about. after all, she had just seen me the previous night when i stopped by on my way out of town. the last thing she said to me was, “just think, in two weeks you won’t be pregnant anymore!” i remember thinking, yeah, that sounds about right.
i’m sharing the story of my son’s birth this week. if you missed yesterday’s preface to this story, you might want to read it for the background on my bizarre start to labor.
the day before graham arrived, ten days before his due date, i decided to drive to my hometown to work one final day with an author there who was thisclose to finishing her book. my hunch was that baby boy was going to hang out in there a few days longer than calculated, anyway, and i wanted to finish up this editing job.
i spent the evening visiting my amazing titu and enjoying a late-nite chat with my dad. i finally went to bed around midnight, not even sorry that i would be probably be tired at work the next day.
i woke at 3:00 am with a full bladder, cursing myself for forgetting to set my pee alarm. my bladder was bulging, again, but this was the first time that i could not urinate no matter how i positioned or pressed. i was freaking out, running through worst-case scenarios in my head as i did acrobatics around the bedroom, trying desperately to make the baby move.
after practicing every prenatal yoga inversion i could remember and pleading out loud with graham to please move, i was finally successful. relieved (in more ways than one), i went back to bed about 4:00 am hoping to at least doze in an upright position for a few hours.
but every time i shifted a bit, i felt a little gush down there. my thoughts immediately associated this with my crazy condition and the previous scary incident. great, i broke my bladder. now i’m peeing myself.
and then i realized that every time i felt a little leak, i also felt kinda crampy. hmmmm, were the gushes and cramps coinciding with my movements or coming periodically? i gave up on sleep and got up to evaluate.
after about half an hour of occasional cramping and padding my underwear with tissues to determine if it smelled like urine (pregnancy is so glamorous), i texted our doula an “is this anything?” message, not wanting to alert too many people if i was just gassy and incontinent. i didn’t know.
when a response didn’t come quickly, i decided to called my midwife. she recommended that i at least come to the hospital and get checked out. she knew. when she said to bring my bags just in case, i didn’t tell her i was actually an hour and a half away.
i delayed calling lee until around 5:30, when i knew his alarm would be going off, anyway. still not sure i was experiencing the real thing, i told him to go on in to work and just be on standby. he knew. when he seemed shocked that i hadn’t yet woken my dad, i didn’t tell him i was thinking about going to work for an hour or two before heading back.
uncertainty played around in my mind as i gathered my things. everyone says you’ll know a real contraction when you feel one, right? if my water had broken, wouldn’t contractions be more intense? this has to be a symptom of my weird bladder issue. but the gushiness and crampiness continued, so i put on a huge pad (that i’m sure had been in the bathroom drawer for at least a decade) and prepared to head back to okc.
my early-bird dad was already awake when i went downstairs. (little did i know, he had been up for awhile wondering about all the movement he heard upstairs.) i told him about my change in plans, assuring him it was probably a false alarm. he knew. when he told me to let him know what they said at the hospital, i didn’t tell him that i was thinking about just heading home and waiting it out there.
even as i pulled onto the highway,* i still wasn’t convinced i was in labor. that would soon change.
check back tomorrow for part 2 of graham’s birth story. it gets better.
*i’m still surprised that my dad let me leave and didn’t insist on driving me himself. way to play it cool, dad.
when i imagined what childbirth would be like, i suppose my vision was pretty cliché. i figured i’d spend the last few days before my due date wondering if that would be The Day. when the time came, i thought i’d labor at home for awhile, while lee timed contractions and we excitedly asked each other “is it time to go yet?” i hoped i’d have the bags all packed and waiting by the door, and we’d strategize which route to take based on the traffic that time of day. maybe i’d even get a dramatic water-breaking moment like they do on tv. buuuuut life is unpredictable, right?
let me take a moment here to say that my pregnancy was a breeze. my biggest complaint was not being allowed to sleep on my back or stomach, and i felt pretty normal even through the third trimester. let that be an encouragement to all the pre-preg girls out there who, like me, have read the loooooong list of horrible symptoms of pregnancy and assumed it would be nine months of misery. while it’s true that most women endure at least a handful of chronic discomforts and strange or gross indications of pregnancy, it doesn’t have to be miserable.
however, in the last two weeks of my pregnancy, things got weird.
my long baby had grown to the point that he seriously crowded my bladder (normal). but when i would lie down at night, he would shift so that he shoved my bladder to the side (not normal). i would wake up with two bumps rather than one – one for the baby and one for my distended bladder! (when i showed the gruesome photo to my very experienced midwife, she actually pulled the Seinfeld-esque, “um, i’ve never seen that before,” and hurried out of the room to consult a specialist.)
it was such tight quarters in there that graham’s little head actually pinched the urethra closed when he was in this nighttime position. this made it impossible empty my bladder in the morning without manually pressing on it from the outside to force the fluids out. kinda funny, kinda scary, really annoying.
the specialist was concerned enough for the long-term health of my bladder and urinary tract that he had me setting an alarm for every two hours at night to get up and pee, and measuring my output to make sure i wasn’t getting overfull. how unfair is it that all that extra pregnancy fluid is processed more quickly while you’re sleeping?
when the oddity persisted, i resorted to “sleeping” sitting up and leaning over a tower of pillows to prevent the baby from wedging himself in the corner of my belly (i was paranoid that reclining would give me a posterior baby.) i guess that’s what karma gave me for having a breezy pregnancy, right?
i know we’re bordering on TMI, now, but all these gory details are necessary to set up why i spent more than four hours in early active labor before i realized it.
stay tuned for part 1 of graham’s birth story tomorrow morning…it’s a good’un.
motherhood is engaging.
i’m drawn into each new day with a transformed sense of purpose, as if i’m finally flexing all my muscles. i wake with an energy that has nothing to do with how much sleep i’ve had.
i connect more with other mothers now that i can relate to the endless source of conversational topics. i can see, now, why moms never seem to tire of comparing notes and swapping advice and stories.
i’m absorbed in a dialogue of coos and sighs when my son interacts with me as i talk to him. my whole world stops and my complete attention is gripped by his audible response to me.
graham has really started “talking” and responds to us with breathy “hoos” and “ahhs.” i love this preview of his sweet little voice. i would feel rather special when he talks to me if he didn’t also find the toys hanging above his play mat equally good conversationalists.
sometime over the last month he opened up his fists and started using his hands. when he sits propped up and clasps them together he looks so grown up to me. and he is growing up – or he’s growing long, at least. he is now more than 40 percent of of my height (26.25 vs 62.5 inches) and he fully fills out the length of his six-month clothes.
and now for your monthly dose of grainy phone photos.
where do they put the “pause” button on babies?