You’d think a writer would have no problem writing her birth story. I guess it’s not that easy sometimes. Even now, the words sputter out like the tentative mist from a faucet with a lot of air in the pipes. Maybe we will both understand why after I finish writing this, and you finish reading it.
My due date – which was completely fabricated from start to finish because I couldn’t remember exactly when my LMP was, so my midwife and I hazarded a guess from a span of nine days and picked a date based more on hedging bets towards later rather than sooner, to prevent the possibility of my going way “post-date” on paper and transferring out of her care even though the baby was not, in fact, that late – was Friday, July 20th. Since first-time moms statistically deliver at 41 weeks 5 days instead of the overall average of 40 weeks, I told anyone who would listen that the day would go by uneventfully. This might have been more for me not to be disappointed if nothing happened.
But then every so often I would notice that the utterly painless, in fact rather pleasant, Braxton Hicks contractions were coming and going regularly, and they seemed to stay for a significant period of time. Dutiful daughter in the family of engineers that I am, I used a stopwatch program and Notepad to record data starting Thursday morning. For six contractions, they were all approximately a minute long and 3-4 minutes apart. I had the 5-1-1 “rule” fixed in my head, thumping like a pulse: “five minutes apart, one minute long, for one hour”. But then they became more irregular, and after the ninth contraction, I waited almost ten minutes before throwing in the towel. I ignored them the rest of the day so as not to get my hopes up. When I want to, I have some pretty good delayed gratification skills. Just don’t expect them to exist when it comes to sweet stuff.
Friday morning, 7:36am, I started timing contractions again because they seemed to be lasting a long time. Still painless, they lasted between 2-3 minutes, but they were spaced 5-7 minutes apart. I still kept track because I thought if they were lasting that long, they might turn into something, but after the fifth one I wrote: “need a nap. starting over.” I tracked twice more on Friday, at 10:39am and 2:39pm, but both of them petered out before an hour went by. I knew nothing was going to happen that day. I told people that my contractions were shy, and ran away to hide whenever I paid attention to them.
I woke up very early on Saturday and allowed myself to be a bit more excited because, well, it was too early in the morning to use my brain properly, and also because it was After Friday, and even though I was trying to convince myself that nothing was going to happen until that 41 weeks 5 days mark, really it could start for real Any Time Now. I had tried to convey to a few people how difficult it is to wait for something when you have no idea when it will happen. It was easy for me to wait till Christmas, or to get married, but this wasn’t something I could count down to. I like that it’s supposed to be that way. Counting down to something projects my mind and actions into the future, and I can get dragged away from the here-and-now. I stop appreciating what is happening in the moment because I desire that more exciting thing in the future, and if I can just reach out far enough, stretch myself forward enough, I might be able to get there sooner. It’s like when your mother tells you as a child that the sooner you go to sleep, the sooner your birthday will come (or whatever it is you’re looking forward to). But this… I just had to tell myself that it would happen, but until it happened I had to just live my daily life instead of trying to put everything on hold.
Anyway, I woke up very early on Saturday morning. Here are my notes verbatim:
start time: 4:19 am (saturday 21)
first contraction: 1:30
second contraction: 1:45
spacing: 7?? lost track
third contraction: 3:40 (hurts)
fourth contraction: 4:00
spacing: [husband] woke up from a bad dream
fifth contraction: 4:00
spacing: 1:00 apparently
sixth contraction: 9:40 (started hurting around 5:40 mark, stopped hurting around 8:50 mark) maybe I have no idea how to gauge these things
seventh contraction: 4:20
spacing: 1:18 good grief this cannot be real
eighth contraction: 3:00 my body is weird and as confused as I am
ninth contraction: 5:50 (hurts for the first couple minutes)
spacing: 0:45?? must have biffed the ending of the last contx
tenth contraction: over ten mins?? crazy (started hurting 4:15, pain tapered off 5:50) starting over
end time 5:38 am
It was the first time I had ever had a timing session last an hour. Perhaps I wanted them to be more important than they were. I was sitting on the floor with my back propped up against the bed with a pillow. It quickly became uncomfortable but I didn’t want to move out to the living room and I also didn’t want to be in bed because the glow of the laptop screen would have made it very hard for my husband to sleep. Nothing else interesting happened that day, though, until the evening when the contractions ramped up in intensity by they were still meaningless time-wise.
On Sunday the contractions still didn’t hurt but they took enough of my concentration that I knew I would not be in any condition to drive, so I stayed home from Mass. I didn’t want to be by myself while hubs biked to the local church for Mass, though, so my midwife’s assistant came over and stayed with me. I had made gluten-free vegan shortbread cookies with a little frosted baby foot outline on them for her, so we snacked on those and discussed signs of actual labor, what she and my midwife wanted me to give them updates on, what signs to recognize to call them in for realsies, etc, as well as a whole bunch of completely unrelated things since we’re both major geeks. She also asked me how I met my husband and instead of just giving her the short answer of “through the club and then we hung out a lot and finally people told us that we were dating so we accepted it as a fact and eventually got married because it was silly and wrong not to be”, I strangely decided that she ought to hear the whole story in detail, and apparently “the whole story in detail” has its roots way back when I met my first boyfriend in high school… So she gets a gold medal for sitting through the entire story (about nine years’ worth) which is pretty hard to explain in the first place and was made even harder to follow since my brain was as scattered as birdshot and I kept pausing every few minutes to go limp during a contraction.
Monday morning I woke up sobbing and begging my husband not to go to work that day because I couldn’t take contractions without him. They had ramped up the last evening and without him there I felt pretty sure that I would just snap the last little synapse keeping me from being stark raving crazy and just, I don’t know, something horrible would happen. He struck a compromise (because he couldn’t just call out of work ten minutes before he was supposed to leave here) whereby I would call my mom to come over and essentially babysit me in the morning before she went to work (fortunately she works afternoons on Mondays – I am convinced God helped set up her schedule all those years ago just for this morning) and he would take the afternoon off and relieve her when she would have to leave. So I called her and it worked out perfectly, and since I knew someone was going to come over I was able to keep it together for the hour or so between him leaving and my mom arriving.
Since the contractions generally calmed down the more awake I was anyway, by the time she knocked on the apartment door I had figured out a good coping technique. When I felt a contraction coming on, I would close my eyes and clench my right fist until it felt as tense and tight as the rest of my body. Then I would slowly release one finger at a time, corresponding with an area of my body that I would relax at the same time – first finger was “Shoulders drop”, second was “Face relax”, then legs, and finally hips/pelvis. Since my mind was concentrating on moving the finger at just the right speed so that it would be straight at the same time that section was completely limp, it wasn’t caught up thinking about my body, which broke the tension/anxiety cycle.
Around noon my midwife’s assistant called and said she was in the area and had the birth pool I had rented with her, so would she be able to pop round and set it up now? I said yes so she did. Later after my mom left, my husband filled it up for me and I sunk into the warmth like a berry falling into batter. It was wonderful. Perfect. Relaxing. Buoyant. Everything I had wanted it to be and more. We had to change the water at least once when it got cold and I was sad whenever I had to leave it. I would lay back and relax or swirl around most of the time, and try out various positions when a contraction came. My head was full of thinking about what I liked best and envisioning where I might be and how things might go when this all turned into labor in earnest, people came, and our baby was born.
But then, late in the evening, I stretched into the deepest, widest squat I’ve ever done – undoubtedly aided by the loosening effect of the water – and something in my right hip went poing.
That was the beginning of the end.
TO BE CONTINUED