So now that I have two hands free, here’s how it went down:
I got pretty much everything I wanted and planned for, and it was nothing like I expected. I mean, there’s only so much that reading can tell you. There are statistics and averages. We packed snacks in case we were laboring for the average 12 hours or more, and didn’t even dig them out of the bag until the morning after the birth. We didn’t have time to need them.
I had painless Braxton-Hicks contractions on and off for the better part of a week. I was trying not to get excited about them approaching our “due date” because I was a 43-week baby, and I figured 39 and a half weeks was too early to start hyperventilating. On Monday, I got up in the morning to use the toilet (for the fourth or fifth time in eight hours, sigh…) and plop! The mucus plug fell out. It was this dark red gelatinous glob the size of a silver dollar. I told my husband, and tried not to read too much into it. After all, you can lose the mucus plug weeks before giving birth. You can even grow a new one and lose it again. But it can also come out a day or two before, or even during labor. So I cautiously took it as progress, and continued to pass little pink-tinged gooey bits for the rest of the day.
I spent the day having more on-and-off painless contractions which I basically ignored. I ate cumin-drenched chicken hearts and chard for lunch, did all the usual chores and errands, made chicken soup for dinner, ate it, talked to family on Skype. Toward evening the contractions were still nothing I couldn’t ignore, but they seemed to be getting more frequent, so around 9pm or so we started timing them. They were running consistently 3-4 minutes from the start of one to the start of the next. I tried really hard to figure out the length of each contraction, but it was really hard to tell so we gave up on that pretty quickly– we kept coming up with times ranging from a minute and a half to over two minutes, which is not even in the guidebook’s range of possibilities. We looked at our numbers and said “well, they don’t seem that intense, but they’re every three minutes, and they’re at least forty seconds long– that’s two out of three.” Plus, I’d had diarrhea for about two hours by then: this always happens with my period, and since I’d been constipated for pretty much nine months straight… this made me think it could be the real thing.
So we called the midwife around maybe 10pm. Or tried to. My husband’s cell phone was not cooperating, so he went to ask the neighbors to use theirs. It worked, but ran out of minutes in the middle of the call, so another neighbor’s phone was enlisted. Our apartment building being what it is, by that time news had whisked through the whole place. The landlady came over to check on me and make sure we’d packed our toothbrushes. One of the older gentlemen– I think it was the owner of the first cell phone– walked up the street and got a cab for us. Once the cab arrived, it had to wait a few minutes for me to get out of the bathroom, and the neighbors escorted us and our backpacks out to the cab, after making sure we wouldn’t get gouged on the fare. The cab driver got confused about where exactly we were going, so the ride ended up longer than usual– five contractions in the cab, I counted. By this time they were really unpleasant, at least partly because they were in a cab. Still not as bad as my ordinary period cramps, though. Then again, my ordinary cramps are hellish.
We reached the birth center at 11:05. The doctora let us in. I drank some water, we went upstairs and put our bags down, and she checked my dilation. I had not had a pelvic exam for the entire pregnancy, which was nice. This one exam was really uncomfortable. She didn’t give me a number, which was good, because I would have obsessed over it. She just said I was “at the beginning” and we should all get some rest. I said I was feeling nauseous and a bucket was procured. I promptly spewed my entire lunch and dinner into it. She told my husband to come get her if we needed anything and went downstairs to take a nap. I brushed my teeth. We crawled into bed and tried to nap. My husband actually managed to snooze between contractions, but getting horizontal made the cramping go all into my lower back. Ouch! Still, we were both really tired and up past our bedtime, so I alternated between lying down with husband pressing on my lower back during contractions, which helped tremendously, and sitting on the toilet, since my intestines were still busy emptying themselves and sitting there with my feet up on a stool and my head stretched back was marginally more comfortable than being in bed.
I was not keeping track of the time, but it didn’t seem like much had passed before I was feeling nauseous again. I tottered to the bathroom to throw up, leaned over the bucket, and heaved. But instead of vomiting, my water broke with a great slosh all over the floor and I grunted involuntarily. I climbed into the empty bathtub to keep from making an even bigger mess, called for my husband to go get the doctora, and felt myself convulse and let out a long and unflattering “UUUuuuuungh!” sound.
I got down onto hands and knees (fortunately, it was a huge bathtub). And in a couple more grunts the doctora and my husband were there. We ran the water– not to fill the tub, but because the sound was nice and I liked the feel of it on my feet. At the doctora’s suggestion, husband climbed in behind me and I sort of squatted and leaned back on him, and hung by the armpits from his knees, which was comforting, and also made the pushing urge stronger. Here I alternated maybe twice between just leaning on my husband and hanging onto a hammock that dangled from an overhead beam. When my arms got too tired for the hammock, I leaned– here and there letting out a long grunt over which I had no voluntary control. It all seemed to happen very fast. The doctora asked if I wanted to feel the baby’s head, but I declined because I thought it might freak me out a little. Maybe three more pushes and my son gushed out into the bathtub, looking a little purple in the moment, but he pinked up almost instantly, squeaked, gurgled a little, coughed, opened his eyes, and peed on me. I am pretty sure his head and the rest of his body came out all in the same push, but I was pretty out of it at that point, and can’t say for sure. The doctora handed him to me, checked the umbilical cord and asked if we wanted to feel it– it was still pulsing and felt more like a rubber hose than anything biological.
My husband, who had been a rock the whole time, now admitted to feeling rather woozy– probably some combination of the hour, me pressing the air out of his lungs while I pushed, and his much-clearer-than-mine view of the crazy amount of blood in the bottom of the tub (mixed somewhat with the running water, which made it look like even more)– so we crabwalked our way around to the other side of the tub where he could sit/breathe more comfortably and still hold me, while I held the baby, who was still attached. My son (somewhere in there, I had checked to see) was already making nursey-faces– nosing from side to side, open-mouthed, sticking out his tongue– so I held him up to a breast and he latched right on. The doctora told me to give another good push, so I did, and the placenta flopped out. I had no idea how large a placenta was!
Once the cord had gone all white, the doctora tied it off with what looked like green dental floss, and I cut it. We handed the baby off to his father so I could rinse off. The doctora checked me out and said I’d torn superficially. She recommended stitches, but said if I chose not to, I didn’t have to. I’d torn superficially– one tear on each side. I agreed to the stitches, and we established that I could put that off until daylight, so I was tucked into bed with baby, husband, a gigantic maxi pad, a couple of towels, and a big chux sheet, and we dozed until the sun came up. The baby was awake and alert for the first hour or so, which was cool. I nursed him, and he fell asleep hugging my boob. He smelled like cumin.
When we woke up in the morning, he had passed a tremendous amount of meconium on my arm, and it had squelched its way onto everything– sheets, pillow, baby, me, and the towels. We were in an awkward bind. The doctora was still asleep, and we were loath to wake her so early just because we didn’t know where to find appropriate rags for the cleanup. I staggered into the bathroom and rinsed myself off, but it was a bit chilly to be washing the baby in cold water. We waited a bit, and then my husband went to wake the doctora. She used it as an instructional opportunity on how to wash the baby in a bucket. We got everything cleaned up. I nursed the baby again, we did all the weighing and measuring and checking (8 pounds, 21 inches, perfect in every way). I got a proper shower and then got stitched up (ow ow ow!). Somewhere late morning or noonish, we packed up and got a cab home.
A lot of birth stories talk about it as a deep spiritual experience, and I believe them, but mine wasn’t like that. It happened way too fast for that. Everything before transition was like having a period without the naproxen, except not as bad– because with menstrual cramps there’s no break between. Part of me now thinks women who can’t bear the contractions without drugs are just wusses. I have to remind myself that A) it’s probably not equally painful for all women, and B) most women don’t have periods as bad as mine to condition them. Anyway, the birth of my first child: not a deep spiritual chant-fest. More like getting run over by a freight train without warning. We arrived at the birth center at 11pm, barely dilated, and a little after 2am, my water broke and suddenly I was pushing. My son was born at about 2:45am.The entire second stage, maybe thirty or forty minutes… in my own experience, it felt like five minutes. Totally out of control, everything happening at once, and there he was! People have been telling me how lucky I am to have had such a short labor, but I really wish things had gone slower so I’d have had a chance at avoiding the tearing and stitches– those are still quite painful.
I expected to bring home a squishy purple baby with a cone-shaped head, because that’s what all newborns look like… except they don’t. When he was born, my son had little Klingon-like ridges on his head where the bones overlapped, but no molding, and he wasn’t squishy or purple looking. After only a few hours the ridges had smoothed out considerably, and now they’re barely there. Not completely ironed out yet– he doesn’t seem to have a fontanel in the front so I guess things are still aligning.
I did get what I wanted: A natural birth. No drugs, no IVs, no inductions or surgery, no strangers… just me, my husband, and the same doctora I’ve been seeing for all my checkups. Nobody snipped the cord and whisked my son away to APGAR him. Nobody sucked the snot out of his throat or washed him and bundled him up before I could hold him.
We had sort of planned to fill up the tub so I could hang out in the water during labor and possibly for the birth, but in the end, there wasn’t time for it. And that was ok: you can’t plan everything. If I had it to do over again, though, I’d probably put a diaper on the kid before going to sleep. At the time, I was too doped up on my own hormones to think of anything so practical.