There’s something to be said for doing something a second time. Really, I had no recollection that labor and delivery was going to be as hard as it was. Not that I remembered Bella’s birth as being easy, but I sure didn’t remember how deeply I fell away from this world of rational thinking into the world of my body – the intensity of the contractions and the pain of pushing through them. Having a baby presses you right up to the limits of what you think you can manage (and stay conscious).
Right now, my breast have swollen to cyborgian proportions and I have a diaper shoved up the front of my t-shirt to absorb all the enthusiastic dribbles. Little Christian is well-nursed and swaddled in my lap. This is the first time I’ve sat at my desk since before he was born. He is now four days old.
Probably not long after my Thursday afternoon post, Chad and I retired upstairs to the bedroom to watch a movie together – either we were watching the last bit of The Company (historical fictionalized account of the CIA from a HBO) or starting the HBO miniseries Angel in America (AIDS, life and politics in the Reagan era – lots of surreal insertion – which reminds me of one of my favorites, Brazil). Bella, Corrina, and Chad’s brother were downstairs hanging out. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t settle down enough to watch the movie. The contractions were manageable, but growing in intensity and length.
My mind started to float away and resist thinking. I lay in runner’s pose on my bed and just breathed and observed my body. The contractions were coming anywhere from four to 15 minutes apart, and I told myself that if they continued that way for an hour that I would call my midwife. In my labor with Bella, my contractions had been fitful and irregular and both midwives had come and gone and returned several times before Bella was actually born.
I could feel the beginnings of a contraction swirling up from somewhere deep in the space inside me and then the tugging sensation as that contraction seized my uterus. It felt like a waistband tightening, but the waist of an internal me. And the tugging and pulling was like something the size of a watermelon trying to contract down to the size of a golf ball. As much as it felt like my uterus was trying to shrink into something small and hard, I kept focusing on reversing that feeling as the STRETCHING OPEN of my cervix – my cervix need to go from pea-size to softball size.
By nine in the evening, I’d been laboring like that, pretty much alone in the bedroom for two hours. I called my midwife, and then spent the next two hours laboring very intensely with Chad. We spent most of our time on the king-size bed, although I did spend a lot of time on my knees holding onto the edge of the bed too. In between contractions, Chad would spoon me and the warmth and smell of his body was unbelievably comforting. I remembered flashes of Sue laboring with her eyes tightly shut and her face buried in her husband Joss’s armpit – he wasn’t allowed to move an inch. It was the same way with Chad – once I’d set up my comforts – I didn’t want anything to change at all.
By the time the midwives arrived (Karen and her helper, another Karen), I was so focused on my contractions that I can barely remember them entering the bedroom. I don’t think I ever looked up – I just heard Karen say, “Oh, it won’t be long now.” At this point, my rest periods were very brief, so I stayed crouched in child’s pose over a stack of pillows vigilantly listening with my stomach’s ear for that initial tugging sensation that another contraction was on its way. Once it started, I needed to be on my hands and knees, moaning and rocking, and Chad bearing down on my lower back. Somebody handed me a wet washcloth which felt great on my face.
As contractions continued this way I remember just wishing for more rest time. It seemed that the more weary I grew, the more painful and longer the contractions were. I knew the cliche was that during the transition phase, the laboring woman often says she can’t make it. I thought that since I knew the cliche that I would be beyond it – but not a chance. The contractions now were so long and intense and painful that even if I started a contraction with deep regular breathing, by the end I was thrashing and panting as if I had been pulled under by a strong ocean wave for too long. I had to go poo, but I knew I couldn’t make it to the bathroom in time between contractions. Wait, I think I may have made it to the bathroom two times, but the contractions were completely unbearable when I was sitting up, so I think I scrambled back to the safety of the bed.
I couldn’t tell you who was in the room. It was dimly lit with just two candles burning and I think we had a Belle and Sebastian playlist going. My eyes were closed for most of this.
Then the sensation of having to pass a b.m. turned into a generalized desire to push, so I pulled myself into a squat and started pushing with the contractions. I remembered being angry at this point: where was the rest I was supposed to get between the transition and pushing phase?!? I was fearful too, because my pushing experience with Bella had been so hard; I had pushed for over four hours with her due to a low-lying placenta that had partially covered my cervix. So I was pushing hard, but not expecting to make much headway. I knew it was important to push gradually so as not to tear, but I felt deeply compelled to push HARD, and so I did.
I was shocked when after only a few pushes I heard Karen say she she could feel the head. And then Chad saying he could see it. Karen encouraged me to reach down and feel the top of the baby’s head, and I wanted to – I really, really wanted to – but at that moment it didn’t feel like I had that capacity to budge even a tiny bit from the position I was in. I pushed again and felt the RING OF FIRE. And then, just as I groaned to myself that NO WAY could I take that pain for another push, I felt the baby’s head pass through, and with it the searing pain was gone. I pushed a couple more times and felt buckets of loose slippery parts move through and into the midwife’s outstretched hands.
And there he was. Bleary-eyed, but calm. Stretching his legs as far as they would go, quietly taking in his new surroundings, Christian just lay there. On the bed in the room with us.
It was magic.
Christian several hours old – in his car seat coming from a very un-magical experience at the hospital. More details to follow. We are all fine… great, in fact!