I should mention that 80 came 4 days early, and as Jason and I are procrastinators (and I really, really thought she’d be late), we hadn’t packed a bag for the hospital, or written out a final copy of our birth plan. Turns out, you can gather the necessary things really quick, and buy snacks at the cafeteria.
My second traveling contraction happened when Jason dropped me off at the door of the hospital. I made it in the door, then braced myself against a well-placed chair to ride out the contraction. I felt a little self-conscious, cramping over a chair in the foyer. I thought about all sorts of people who must come in and experience a similar thing, but because of illness — not childbirth. It reminded me that I was supposed to be here, and lucky to be having an exciting contraction that would be bringing us our daughter. The last time I had been in a hospital in pain, it was when I broke my collarbone. This was much, much better.
Jason soon joined me, having parked the car. We went up to the labor and delivery floor, and waited a few minutes for a room to be ready. Every room had been occupied, and ours was just being mopped, they said. I thought about why they’d be mopping the floor, and remembered the gore factor. I pushed the though out of my head immediately — dwelling on that wouldn’t be helpful at all.
We had requested a water birth, but there was only one working pool, and it was being used. I was too excited about being in labor to care, but previously, I had been looking forward to giving birth in water.
We went to our room, and the nurse put two monitors on my belly. One was for the baby’s heartbeat, and the other to show my contractions. There’s a whole controversy over monitoring — continual monitoring vs. occasional monitoring. I can see why practitioners would like continual monitoring, because it gives you a lot more data to work with. The downside is that you’re tethered to a machine, and can’t move very far.
At Mt. Auburn, assuming you’re not high risk for any reason, they let you do occasional monitoring. 80 and I were both doing fine, so after the requisite 20 minutes of monitoring, we were let free to roam around the room (or the hall even) for early labor.
A’Nova came while the monitors were on, and it seemed like we had just gotten there when she arrived. Jason, A and I got down to the business of laboring together. I had been laying in bed curled on my side, with Jason holding my hands.
Note the pitcher of water I was drinking out of. I drank countless pitchers of water, which comes into play later.
I decided to get up and try some of the many laboring positions I’d learned about. I found it all novel, and wanted to try out the birthing ball (it’s an exercise ball), the bathtub, the hospital bed that folded up so you could be on your hands and knees easily (I had seen photos of Tara laboring like this, and it looked comfortable/useful/like it makes babies come out).
The midwife (who I will be referring to as “Fantastic Susan”) came in and checked my cervix. The cervix dilates, up to 10 centimeters. When you get to 10 cm, the baby’s head can come out. Early labor is the phase where your cervix is dilating.
My cervix was dilated to 7 cm. We were all surprised. Turns out I had done most of the work at home. Nice. Of course, I was pleased that I was above average.
So, 3 cm to go. I had a bag full of tricks, and a measly 3 cm to expand. Truly, I had a bag full of tricks. In the birthing class, the instructor gave us the analogy of having packed a bag full of options for use in labor. At the top of the bag, easily reached, were things like different laboring positions, music, meditation and visualization. At the bottom of the bag were more intense tools like drugs and epidurals. The idea was that you can reach in and grab anything at the top of the bag easily, taking one out and replacing another. You want to use up all the easily attained things before you reach down to the bottom and grab a more intense option like an epidural. How fast you go through your bag depends on the person.
Here, I’m kneeling on a pillow, and propping myself on the ball. A’Nova would sit behind me, and press in from the sides on my hips. I need to ask her what this does, but I think it helps open the bottom of your hips (like squeezing the top of a clothes pin opens the bottom).
I kept looking for my water to break. At one point, there was a little dribble, and I got excited. A’Nova said that it was possible that this was my water breaking, but doubtful. She said I’d know it when it happened. I figured my water breaking would be a clear sign that things were moving ahead, and I was very interested in signals that things had moved ahead. I could keep doing this as long as it felt like we were getting somewhere. That I couldn’t judge time worked in my favor, as the hours flew by.
I briefly tried sitting on the birthing ball, but I didn’t like that at all. Kelly was a fan of it, but it felt uncomfortable to me.
What I didn’t know was that each of these labor positions would get real old, real fast. My knees would start hurting using the birthing ball, so we’d switch to the bed. On hands and knees on the bed (which was folded up to look like a z), my arms would start hurting from holding up my weight.
One position that I did like a lot was sitting on the toilet. This let me rest my arms and legs, and didn’t press up on the increasingly sensitive parts. Jason sat in a chair in front of me, so I could lean onto him during the contraction. I think A’Nova stood to the side, rubbing my back or shoulders, or something soothing.
While sitting on the toilet, during a contraction, I heard a great SPLASH! As A’Nova had predicted, I knew when my water broke. It sounds especially like a movie sound effect if it hits porcelain.
I had been saving the tub option, and was looking forward to using it. We started by my sitting on a chair in the tub, with the shower head spraying warm water down my back. What I hadn’t considered was that the rest of me would get really cold, and shiver uncontrollably. So, we moved on to filling the tub with water.
Much like at home, the tub was not deep enough to fill to the point of submerging me (especially with a giant belly), and I couldn’t stay warm. Uncontrollable shivering doesn’t do much for relaxation.
Up until now, it had been mostly just Jason, A’Nova and I. The nurse (who I will refer to as “I-Will-Listen-To-You Susan”) had come in to monitor occasionally, but it seemed like it wasn’t that often. At this point, I was making low sounds (the aaaa or mmmmm) with each contraction, and I let my voice get louder the more intense the contraction got. This helped me control the feeling, and I liked that Jason and A’Nova could also tell how long and hard the contraction was.
I’d only been drinking water or ginger ale, and decided I could use a snack now, before we got into active labor when I wouldn’t want to eat. I had some almonds half-chewed in my mouth when the next contraction happened. All of a sudden, the almonds tasted like sand. It wasn’t awful, but I decided I wasn’t hungry enough to want that annoyance during contractions.
Occasionally, we’d hear someone else’s labor noises. Every once in a while, we’d hear a newborn cry. A’Nova pointed out that we’d be hearing that cry of our own soon. That was a great motivator for me. All around me, women were experiencing the same thing I was, and they successfully gave birth. That meant I would too.
At some point, I had to stop looking at Jason when I was having a contraction, because he’d start getting an emotional look on his face, and get moist-eyed. I looked at our hands. For almost every contraction, I was holding his hands. It felt good, and necessary.
Fantastic Susan came in to check on me. I was dilated to 9 cm plus. I don’t remember the technical term, but basically I was 10 cm all the way around, except one little bit. I think she let us labor a bit longer on our own, but came back fairly soon.
If memory serves, I got up on the bed for Fantastic Susan to check me again. She gave that little lip of not-quite-dialated cervix a push with her fingers (which hurt, but only for a second), and I was at 10 cm. It was time for transition. I think at this point, Fantastic Susan and I-Will-Listen-To-You Susan stayed in the room almost constantly.
Transition is the next stage of labor, where you push the baby out from the uterus, into the vagina. After that, you push the baby out into the world.
Transition seemed to happen quickly, and I think it’s because it felt a lot like the previous contractions, which I had gotten used to (although they still tired me, and were starting to make me use louder noises to cope). I think I started making noises that were a bit more screams than moans, and my throat started to hurt from it. I remembered from high school cheerleading that there’s a right way and a wrong way to shout. I realized it was becoming hard to stay in control every moment, because the contractions were so intense, and because I knew things were starting to move faster than the hours and hours of labor I had become accustom to. I tried hard to modulate my moan, to keep it under control. This was a good, small thing to focus on.
I remember looking up at Jason, seeing his face start to crumple into tears, and said in a neutral tone, “This is your fault? Why did you do this to me?”
Jason and A’Nova were not expecting me to crack jokes during active labor, and they both laughed in surprise. That was fun.
For transition, I was laying on the hospital bed on my back, which had a raised head, so I was propped up. I was instructed to grab my knees, pull them in towards my chest, and push when the contractions started. Between contractions, I relaxed my legs. At some point, it became too difficult to let my heels rest on the bed. I think it was that I needed the energy to pull my legs up to my chest in pushing, not moving my legs.
Jason and A’Nova began holding my legs between contractions. They stood on either side of the bed, and when a contraction ended, I relaxed my legs. I let my legs fall outward rather than down, and Jason and A’Nova held them from splaying outward. It was really comfortable, and let me really relax between contractions.
Fantastic Susan explained to me that the baby’s head was past my cervix, and it was time to bring her into the world. She asked if I wanted a mirror, so I could watch. I hadn’t considered this, and took a second to think about it. (This was hard, as I was not really in a thinking place just then.) I remembered that Jason and I had put on our birth plan (which never made it to the hospital) that Jason wanted to cut the umbilical cord. He went with the logic that you should say yes to experiences that you might never have again, that other people maybe haven’t had. I went with the same logic. I didn’t look at the mirror at first, because it was angled wrong. I was too busy pushing to mention it.