15 February 2012

Two years (and birth story, part I)

Our dear Gabriel turned two today, and we had a quiet family celebration for him this evening. He loved blowing out the candles, turned up his nose at the cake (not sure why, since cake is his favorite), and oohed and ahhed over every present, in both wrapped and unwrapped states, playing intently with his new blocks, exclaiming over his new books, and delightedly slicing his wooden fruits and vegetables. "More open?" he asked politely after he had finished opening them all.

Two years ago today, in the midst of a snowstorm, we were cozily gazing at the face of a tiny person who seemed wholly familiar and yet startlingly new. We were suddenly parents, in charge of a squawking, snuffling, demanding creature who knew no such notions as day and night, but whose tiny body fit so perfectly in the crooks of our arms.

But let me back up.

I've meant to write down Gabriel's birth story here for a while now, and what better day to do so than his birthday? I did write it down, every last detail, shortly after he was born, but that came out to nine single-spaced pages so I will have to abbreviate somewhat. It still may require more than one post...we shall see. In any case, I won't be too circumspect about the more unpleasant or more...bodily aspects of labor and birth, so if you'd rather not hear about those, you can stop reading now.

Valentine's Day, 2010. A week past my due date, a week during which I, along with my mom and the Mister, had been constantly wondering when the time would come. The big moment came not exactly as we imagined--rather, it came that morning in a gush of amniotic fluid as I was brushing my hair, and M. was on the phone with my cousin, who was in town to play a concert. When my eyes widened in shock, he thought he had misspoken to her, but it was simply my realization that my waters had broken. Today was the day.

Despite the unpleasantness of fluid leaking out every time I moved around, no contractions were forthcoming and I felt fine. My midwife told me we should wait for labor to start, but that we needed the baby "on the outside" within 24 hours. I still felt very relaxed, as well as excited, so we had my cousin come over for breakfast instead of going out, made a bunch of phone calls (particularly to my dad, who immediately got a new flight to Indianapolis for that day), and ran around collecting hospital bag items that we still needed.

By the afternoon, labor still hadn't started, so the Mister and I tried massage to get things going. I had a few very mild contractions, but nothing that felt like real labor. Still, that brief time was especially important for me, as one of the things I had envisioned was laboring at home in a peaceful and intimate collaboration with the Mister. Destined not to be, but at least I got a small taste of it then! I even fell asleep, and dozed for about an hour, which I credit with sustaining me over the night to come. When I woke up, I woke to Valentine's flowers from M., and a phone message from my midwife, who was getting nervous--not only about my labor, but also about the building snowstorm.

We agreed to meet at the hospital at 7:30 pm, much sooner than I had been thinking, because she was convinced that if labor hadn't started by then, it wasn't going to start on its own, and because she thought the snow might cause her to have difficulties getting to the hospital later in the night. I wasn't worried about the snow, since we lived a block away from the hospital, but felt comfortable with the plan. Plus, my dad was on the way, his flight already landed, and would be driving into town right around 7:30--we'd meet him at the hospital! I took a shower, ate a banana, and we headed over in the fast falling snow.

Walking into the hospital, I thought of how I had imagined this moment--doubled over with contractions, or timing them carefully, deep into labor. Instead, I felt perfectly normal except for a few scattered contractions and that constant amniotic gush. I felt almost giddy, in fact, just eager to move forward in the adventure this night would hold. Our room was spacious and our nurse extremely sweet; it was her first night back on duty after her own maternity leave. She would make a few mistakes throughout my labor and commented on how things had changed since she was gone, but I didn't mind because she was incredibly supportive and encouraging. I got into a gown, she confirmed that the constant gush was indeed amniotic fluid, and asked us a lot of questions and made us sign papers. I was glad not to be in labor during that process.

At this point I also got "hooked up"--the fetal monitors strapped to my belly with itchy velcro, and the IVs that would drip fluids and pitocin. Neither was very pleasant: the straps kept slipping and needing adjustment, and the IV required several painful jabs, and of course, the spindly stalk on wheels with fluid bags dangling from it had to be with me at all times. These were definitely not on our labor and birth wish list, but once it had to be, I decided to ignore them to the best of my ability and I think I succeeded pretty well. They didn't interfere with the overall experience of labor and birth, and in my memory the only part of the evening they came into play was during early labor.

My midwife came in, noting that I looked "way too happy," and did a cervical exam: well effaced but barely 1 cm dilated. My dad arrived then, too, in time to take some pictures before labor started in earnest. Around 9:30 he and the Mister went off in search of food (the cafeteria long since closed) and the pitocin started to kick in so my mom and I walked around the halls as the first contractions hit. I could still easily talk through them, the pain very low in my belly, and every few laps around the delivery ward my nurse turned up the pitocin. Contractions came steadily, every two minutes or less, which remained true throughout labor.

Finally dad and M. were back after what seemed like a long absence (not much open in our town on a Sunday night in a snowstorm, it turns out), and M. and I took a few laps around the hallway together. But by then, the contractions were hurting a lot, so we headed back to the room and, after a quick prayer, said goodbye to dad until the baby was born or the morning, whichever came first! I felt incredibly peaceful at this point, even though I was in pain. The nurse asked me to place the pain on a scale of one to ten, and I said 4-5, sure that things were still going to get much, much worse. (Plus, I find that pain scale really hard to judge. Compared to what?)

By then I was moaning with contractions, and needed the TV off, the lights low, and the room quiet. My midwife had reappeared, and was reminding me to keep my vocalizations low and loose, to feel heavy and relaxed. Basically I moo'ed through labor, but it really did help. She would tell me when contractions had peaked and were lessening, and even though I knew she was looking at the computer readout it still felt like a miracle of divination--how does she know? I thought. I tried lots of laboring positions over these hours, some of them suggested by my midwife and some of them just what I thought would feel better, what I remembered from birthing and yoga classes. I leaned over the bed with the yoga ball on it, I squatted on the bed in child's pose, I draped myself onto M., a chair, and so forth. All the time, swaying, swaying--that's what felt the best, that small movement back and forth, back and forth. The best position by far was sitting on the yoga ball and leaning into a pile of pillows on the bed. I stayed that way for a long time, because it felt the most open on my bottom and the least painful. I remember this period as very inward, keeping my eyes closed and focusing on a small dark place, even between contractions. I held the Mister's hand tightly, and the nurse and my mom kept putting cool cloths on my neck and forehead.

At several points during the night, I threw up. Unpleasant, to say the least, and I hadn't really known that it would be part of labor. Early in the evening I had requested a Zantac, worried that heartburn would bother me (hah!). I promptly threw it up, just as the nurse gently warned me I might. At one point, deep in labor, I said into a quiet room, "I'm going to throw up," and all four people jumped up and offered me various receptacles in which to vomit. It would have been comical if I had been in the mood to laugh...

Around 2 am, I thought the pain scale number was at about a 7: I was still sure it would get worse, much worse. Only a few contractions had really gotten the best of me, in that I would tense up and try to curl away from the pain instead of loosening and leaning into it. I also still expected the pain to rise up and consume my whole belly, because the contractions continued to be low and underneath. Still thinking that I had a long, long way to go.

(To be continued...)

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