It's about 3:00 am when the first one hits. I've been having contractions for months, so I don't bother getting out of bed to alert The Man. But I know. I've been feeling a little off all day, and even left work early that afternoon. And this contraction is just different; not stronger, exactly, but somehow more intense. But it's late and I'm tired and I've been through this before. I know what to expect of the hours ahead of me. And I'm not ready. Not yet.
I sigh and roll onto my side, burrowing my head into the pillow and pulling the blankets tight around my shoulders. But I can't get comfortable. I know it's time. Even the air feels different.
By the time The Man comes to bed I'm curled into as tight a ball as a full-term pregnant woman can get, desperately trying to get just a little more sleep despite the pain spreading across my abdomen. He climbs into bed next to me and realizes my position. "Contraction?" he asks.
"Is it time?"
"I think so."
I know so. But I make no move to get out of bed. I'm still not ready. Not yet.
It's 4:30 before I call my mom. By this time the contractions are immobilizing. I have to stop what I'm doing and wait them out. The Kid is sleeping soundly in the next room, and my mom drives over to stay with him. She helps The Man load me into the car and we're off.
We get to the hospital around 5:00 am. It's after-hours, which means that we have to park in a special garage across the street from the ER. The walk from the car to the building is more than daunting (in reality, it's only about half a block). The Man is trying to hurry me along, but these are not the kind of contractions I can walk through. I shuffle along as best I can behind him, desperate for some sort of hand rail to drape my body over. We get inside the doors and I literally fall into the first wheelchair I see. The Man is pushing me forward before I even have time to get my feet on the footholds.
We're admitted into labor and delivery triage immediately. The nurse is friendly, but not moving with as much urgency as I'd like. I've been through this before. These contractions are strong. I know we're close. She takes her time, reads over my chart, and asks me why I've come in. Why have I come in? I'm concentrating on breathing my way through another contraction, which is lucky for her.
"I'm having a baby."
She gives me a kind, wide-eyed look that lets me know she's not so sure. I'm sure she sees a lot of false alarms, but this is no false alarm.
The first cervix check puts me at 4 cm. (If I recall correctly. The details are all fuzzy.) This is enough to convince her that I really am in labor, and she leaves to call my doctor. I'm now well beyond uncomfortable. The contractions continue to get stronger and the triage room doesn't offer the same comforts of a labor room. I begin to shake uncontrollably. My heart races, I'm drenched in a sudden sweat, and I nearly pass out. I feel nauseous. And the contractions are growing ever stronger. I have to fight off the urge to yell for the nurse. My instincts are beginning to take over, and they're telling me that it's time to hunker down and get settled in my final birthing location. I need to make a safe nest, an this triage room ain't cutting it.
The nurse returns, does another cervix check, and proclaims me ready. We move upstairs to my labor and delivery room. The nurses exchange notes while I get into a hospital gown. I've brought labor clothes, but my body is telling me to skip the formalities. It's time for the gown. I'm well past the point of caring whether or not my ass is hanging out.
The preparations of my new nurse make it clear that I'm right. I'm progressing quickly, and she's wasting no time in getting my room ready for a baby's arrival. I overhear a quiet conversation between the nurses, where the first says something along the lines of, "she's been here a half hour and she's already gone from x - x cm." (I can't remember the centimeters she quoted, but it was a lot for a half hour.)
It is clear to me that there will be no walking up and down the hallway for hours and no jacuzzi bath during this labor. We are simply too close and I am already too focused. I spend a bit of time in the rocking chair, but mostly I sway with my body draped over the bed, belly hanging, breathing and moaning.
At some point I get into bed to allow the nurse to do... something. I'm too focused on what I'm doing to commit to memory what she's doing. I'm loathe to move. Even the tiniest twitch of a toe brings on another contraction. The nurse finishes with whatever it is she's doing and makes me an offer: "Shall we have the doctor break your water and get this show on the road?"
I pause. I've had my water broken before. I know what happens next. There's no pain with the rupture, but the contractions get about a million times more intense. When I was in labor with The Kid, I literally believed that my organs were being squeezed out of my body after my water was broken. I'm not even kidding - I actually lifted up the sheet at one point, fully expecting to find that I'd birthed my bladder. Am I really ready for this? I run a quick check of my emotional and physical state.
No use putting off the inevitable, I decide. I would like to be done with this ordeal sooner rather than later. I nod at the nurse and with only a bit of hesitation tell her that I'm ready. The doctor arrives shortly thereafter and my water is unceremoniously broken.
Immediately the contractions are nearly unbearable, coming two at a time, back-to-back. I am, at this point, completely in my body. My brain has gathered up all higher thought processes and is standing off in the far corner, desperately trying to stay out of the way. The only thing in the room I'm aware of is The Man, his concerned face, his comforting hand. Occasionally the doctor or a nurse interrupt to take my blood pressure or give gentle instructions, but they are only voices, only minor annoyances tugging at my consciousness.
I already need to push; am already unintentionally bearing down. The doctor is apologetically asking me to wait. For those of you who haven't been through this, there is no "urge" to push any more than there is an "urge" to hiccup. There is only need. Your body decides that you're going to hiccup, and so you do. Someone saying, "Wait, not yet! Don't hiccup yet!" isn't particularly effective in stopping your hiccups. It's even less effective in stopping you from pushing.
But I do my best. I change my breathing from "hee hee hee hoo" to "puh puh puh puh" and secretly consider ignoring the doctor and pushing anyway. What does she know? But then she says something about a bruised cervix and I think better of it. I am allowed to bear down just a little, just enough to take the edge off, and then I return to "puh"ing.
There is not the same feeling of birthing my internal organs in this labor (aside from that one contraction that squeezes every last bit of air from my colon in what is quite possibly the world's most forceful fart EVER). This time the pressure is much more focused, much more localized, much lower. This time, it's all head against cervix. My other organs have learned their lessons and are staying out of it.
I am convinced he's making his way out, with or without me pushing. The pressure is unbearable. I'm in immense pain from the contractions, but that I can live with. What's killing me is not being allowed to push and relieve the pressure. I am gripping The Man's hand, but my eyes have been squeezed shut for most of this journey. I open them to see his face wet with tears. I want to reassure him; tell him I'm okay. I try to say it out loud, "I'm okay," but I'm not sure if I remember to open my mouth. Talking is hard.
The contractions are too strong, and The Baby is not responding well. His blood pressure drops. The doctor shoots some fluid back into my uterus to offer him some little bit of cushion. I am outfitted with an oxygen mask and The Baby gets probes stuck into his scalp to aid in monitoring his vitals. I am forced to suffer through one more contraction before the doctor says, "Okay, I'm going to have you start pushing." I get the impression that I'm not exactly where she'd like me, but it's time to get The Baby out.
I am rolled onto my back an the nurse says the most audacious thing she could possibly say to me in that moment: "I want you to hold your legs and pull them back as you push forward." Clearly this woman has somehow missed the fact that I lost the use of my arms at least 45 minutes ago. I am exhausted. It's amazing I have the energy to blink. There's no possible way I can hold my legs.
"I can't," I say. I had intended to explain that my arms were too weak, but a pathetic "I can't" is all I can manage. (Later she'll need me to put my legs back down, and I'll respond the same way: I can't. Again, I'll have more to say, but that's all that will make it out before my mouth is just too tired to continue.)
"Yes you can," she encourages.
I win. She holds one leg and The Man holds the other. I put my hands on my legs, but it's for show only.
When the next contraction hits, I push with all my might, breathe, push with all my might again, breathe, and push with all my might one last time. It feels glorious, but is wildly unproductive. I'm still getting my bearings and honing in on precisely where to push.
Panting on the bed waiting for the next contraction, my head begins to clear. My body is rallying. I feel a contraction building and grab hold of my legs for real. It's business time.
The second series of pushes (three pushes for each contraction) is much more effective. I can feel that his head is quite low now. While I rest between contractions, the doctor tells me she's going to let me try one more time, and then they're going to have to use the vacuum. His blood pressure has been too low for too long.
The third contraction begins to build and I am determined. No one's putting a vacuum on my kid's head if there's anything I can do about it. And so I push and grit my teeth and hold my breath and push and push and push. I can feel that I'm close; can feel that his head is nearly out. The doctor and the nurses and The Man are all cheering me on. The contraction has ended, but I keep pushing. I desperately need to take a breath, but I keep pushing. I feel that stretch, the biiiiiiig stretch, the one that means we're going to make it, and then his head is out.
I collapse back onto the bed in relief. I can tell already that this is a big baby; there is no doubt that that was a much larger head than the last one I birthed. But the hard part is over. The shoulders, I know from previous experience, will take only a half-hearted push and the rest of his little body will slide right out. I take a couple deep breaths to prepare myself, grab onto my legs, curl forward, push and...
...and nothing. I look up, startled. I see the doctor through my legs and say, again, "I can't." She thinks I'm just tired and encourages me to keep trying. But I'm not too tired. I can't make him move. At all. It's like there's nothing there; nothing to push against. I try again but still...
I can't. And here's where the shit hits the fan.
I see the doctor's face change. In a whirlwind, she pushes the emergency call button. A voice comes over the receiver: "What do you need?" The doctor responds with a note of something in her voice, something that sounds just a bit like panic: "More hands!" she replies.
I have no idea how many people come rushing into my room, but suddenly I am surrounded by an entire medical team. I am not aware of any faces, just the tangle of arms above me. One arm grabs my left leg and throws it back towards my shoulder. Another arm performs an emergency episiotomy. Another - or several others - are on my abdomen, forcefully pushing down hard. Really, really, really hard. Like they're performing CPR on my gut. Only harder.
I have no idea what exactly they're trying to accomplish, but judging by the force they're using and the expression on my doctor's face, they need to accomplish it quickly. He's stuck and, presumably, receiving little or no oxygen. Between stomach punches, I have time for a single thought to spring forth:
This is how babies die during delivery.
This is how babies die during delivery.
This is how my baby will die during delivery.
And then, just like that, he slides out. My body is empty. I should be relieved, but I'm scared out of my mind. My baby is whisked away to the other side of the room, and he is silent. My brain tries to play with the idea that he might be dead but I won't allow it. I look at The Man, who tells me later that The Baby exited my body a ghastly shade of white.
After an eternity, I hear his cry. "There he is..." I sigh. I hear the nurses cooing over him and saying in surprise, "That's a big baby!" He's placed on the scale and the announcement is made: 9 lbs, 8oz.
That is a big baby. A big, healthy baby. His apgar scores are all excellent and he is pronounced unscathed (though, we'll discover a week later that, in fact, his left collar bone was broken during the ordeal). Diagnosis: shoulder dystocia. A broken collar bone is a minor annoyance compared to the nerve damage, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and death that can easily occur.
He was born at 7:40 a.m. All told, I was in labor for just under 5 hours (including the time before we got to the hospital), and I pushed for only 3 contractions, a far cry from the 14 hours of labor and 2 hours of pushing I did with The Kid. We stay overnight in the hospital and are released the next day to live happily ever after.
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