So I woke up sometime before dawn on Tuesday, July 24th from my all-too-short slumber on the couch with a powerful need to visit the bathroom. For the next half hour I was quite annoyed as well as very uncomfortable, because I had happily avoided the “constipation” symptom throughout the whole pregnancy and was quite disappointed for it to rear its head now and be so difficult to resolve. Well… then I noticed some murky fluid splash on the bathroom floor during one of my dozen or so trips from the couch to the bathroom to the bed to the bathroom to the… you get the picture.”That’s not clear,” I said to myself and went to wake up the Fardreamer.
Waking up the Fardreamer from a dead sleep is a very difficult task. Grunting replies do not constitute speech nor are guarantees of having been understood, and mobility is not a sign of proper cognitive activity. So while I was in the bathroom giving him instructions on what to text to E&V, there was a disconnect. My midwife had given me instructions on when to notify them and what they wanted to hear about, so I tried my best to follow their guidelines. I was very concerned with not setting anything in motion before its time. I didn’t want to be “that mom” who calls and says “Oh my goodness, get here NOW because, um, you know… I think I had a contraction.” I didn’t want to cry wolf. But on the other hand, I thought the notification was an unspoken bargain – You tell us when you water breaks… and we’ll come over. You tell us you’re in transition… and we’ll come over. You tell us you have the urge to push… and we’ll come over.
Apparently this was not exactly true. I was sitting in the bathroom, bearing down with the power of a freight train, and I knew the Fardreamer had sent them texts saying her water broke, she feels like she’s constipated (to which E replied that it feels that way to most moms but it’s really the baby descending and getting pushed), the amniotic fluid is murky and not clear. He told me he did and he was receiving replies. Time went by, enough time – in my mind – for them to have arrived already. Why aren’t they here? I want them here. I want answers. Is this fluid an ok kind of not clear, or is it bad? I wanted this to be real. I had waited so long for this to be real, but if they’re not here then it’s still just the same old braxton hicks as before, the birth machine has not yet started, it’s not real yet. I didn’t want to do this by myself. I wanted my story to be like the other stories I had heard, the ones where E came and set up shop and there was companionship, guidance, and afterwards it seemed like the whole thing had the air of being a party, a real true birth day party no matter what sort of lows or dark times happened along the way. I wanted to be a part of that. So why wasn’t she on her way? Why wasn’t she here already? I am holding up my end of the bargain, or at least I think I am. Maybe she doesn’t think I’m ready yet. Maybe it still needs more time to be real. Ok, I’ll keep waiting, maybe she just hit all the lights red…
Finally the Fardreamer asked me if he should ask E whether she thought she should come over now. What? I was jarred out of my head so hard I thought my mind would permanently disconnect. That was the point of telling her all this! I’m waiting it out right here, holding on with the grip of knowing she’s on her way and by this time might be here any minute and what?? That’s the bargain! I have no grip anymore.
The hip pain resurfaced. It was never really gone, just masked by the shot, and now it was wearing off in earnest. I think at some point I was in the tub before or when they arrived – E&V brought the chiropractor who is part of their birthing community to see if she could fix my hip – but I got out when the water was too cold and it never got warmed up – I never got back in the pool again. I had no grip anymore. The bed had been double made so there was plastic sheeting underneath the sheets, and V kept giving the Fardreamer new chux pads and taking the messy ones. I screamed with rage and frustration. I tend to turn emotions and pain into anger, and if I hadn’t lost myself so deeply then I wouldn’t have done that. I was on the bed, getting snapped into pieces. Have you ever caught a fish, or seen a fish get pulled out of the water and tossed on deck maybe on a movie or on TV? You know how the fish’s whole body arcs and flops, enough to send it leaping into the air, and it looks like it’s folding itself in half? That’s how it felt as I writhed on the bed, completely gone. In my head, there was a calm voice in the back which kept telling me everything I had read about labor – don’t scream, it wastes energy. Change positions smoothly and with purpose to find one that fits the moment. Low, guttural sounds will help. The higher on the register, the more unhelpful. I knew better. I rejected it all. The moment when all of this could have been properly contained and channeled was gone. I felt like I was all on my own even though I knew E&V were out in the living room. It was my teenage years all over again. I had cried in my room all night with my stuffed bunny and no one was there, no one knocked on my bedroom door asking if I was all right, if they could come in, if I needed anything, no one came in with no words but a hug instead, to keep out the loneliness and solitude. Seven years of crying myself to sleep, I was used to it, this was familiar. But I didn’t have to do what I was told by those people who never came. I would fight and writhe and scream, scream, I didn’t care about the neighbors. My hip was unbearable. Every so often through the sobs which wracked me stem to stern worse than any contraction I would try to convey to the Fardreamer what was going on and how I felt about it, this expression of raw frustration with a veneer of objective detachment so that he could understand me. It was all my hips, my hips, no position was better than any other, I just wanted a sledgehammer to smash off my hips and then I would be able to get on with this. Then everything would be fine and we would be able to mirror the story of everyone else, have our own birth party, where even if things go wrong they work out in the end like a 90s family sitcom. In fact I couldn’t feel contractions. I only knew they came because I would bear down like a Hulk punch and there would be more amniotic fluid. I could see in his face that the Fardreamer was afraid.
At some point the Fardreamer came back in – he was my go-between; how he knew to leave for someone to tell him something and come back with it I don’t know – and said that E wanted me to get back into the tub so that the murky amniotic fluid wouldn’t be so much of a problem and probably so that I wouldn’t feel so horrible either. The chiropractor came in first to see if she could do some adjustments, but I couldn’t be still anywhere. That’s when V and E took turns listening to the baby’s heart rate on the doppler. During contractions, it was dropping to 60 when it should have been a nice high 150 or 120. E asked me if she could do a cervical exam, and then told me that part of the baby’s cord was down by his head and was getting pinched with every contraction. Too much fluid was gone for it to move, and I wasn’t dilated enough to get the baby out in only a couple of pushes. I put on a nightshirt, sweatpants, and slippers. The Fardreamer scrambled some things together. E was on the phone with the hospital, calling us in so they would be ready for us. Fortunately – heh – we had been there just a few hours ago so they already had my file and I was in the system. V drove us there.
When we got there, the staff was very slow. (This was not just my perception – V corroborated it for me later on.) I could understand them being slow the first time we were there, because there was no emergency, just a pregnant woman in the wee hours of the morning looking for a shot of pain meds. Nothing had been wrong then. But now something was wrong. This was an emergency transfer. My baby’s oxygen was being cut off every few minutes. The heart rate was way too low. This is a baby in distress. This is an emergency. The least you could do, nurse, is walk faster. No one’s asking you to run. The least you could do is sweep the monitor belts off the bed instead of taking your sweet time to fold them up and place them to the side. People say, oh you should give birth in a hospital because if anything goes wrong, they can take care of it quick as a wink. Well, something went wrong. I’m here. Thousands of winks are going by as you chitchat with your nurse friends while wheeling away the wheelchair. Thanks for making me get into your labyrinthine hospital gown by myself. Good thing I was here last night to figure out how it works. I want my nightshirt back. It was home. It was safe. It was a connection to my mom. It hugged me.
The nurses were kind, at least. So was the OB who came in like a three-masted ship, sails billowing with the winds of serene authority. He was tall,with salt-and-pepper hair, and his demeanor reminded me of family. When I cried because I couldn’t stop pushing and made the decision to request an epidural so that the pressure on my baby’s cord would be mostly relieved, the anesthesiologist was also kind. I don’t remember what he looked like but he had a pleasant foreign accent which I couldn’t quite place. Or maybe that was the second one. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Since pretty much all of the amniotic fluid was gone, they were going to insert a pressure bulb catheter and use that to replace it with some kind of solution – I dubbed it fake amniotic fluid and left it at that. That way the baby could wiggle, the cord could pop out of the way, and everything would be fixed. I asked for the epidural because if I didn’t stop pushing, the pressure would not be relieved and I would just expel all the fluid they tried to introduce, and I couldn’t stop on my own. So I had to have an IV. I got it in the wrist. The Fardreamer held me as close as he could while I was sitting in the bed with my back curled as far as my spine would stretch. It was everything I didn’t want being done to me because I chose it, because it had to be done. Needles. So many needles. A forest of needles, but the only path there was went right through it.
The Fardreamer, V, and the nurse who stayed after all that was done turned me only my side and propped me there with pillows. I had to be turned from one side to the over every hour, or half-hour – I can’t remember which. Now we just had to wait. There was no emergency anymore. I slept some, and at one point sneaked half a muffin because I wasn’t “allowed” to eat anything and I was ravenous. V was on the phone with the woman who had rented me the birth tub. She wanted to know if there was anything we wanted from home. At one point there was talk of V doing a quick food run, but it never happened. That bit of muffin was the only thing I had to eat in over 24 hours. I felt like I could have slaughtered a horse and eaten it raw. I wanted to go home. I peppered the nurse with questions about hospital policy, wanting to hold on to even the slightest amount of control. I wanted them to know that I am a person, that I have wants and desires, that I don’t give a fig for what they usually do because usually I am not there. I wasn’t supposed to be there, but now I was, so everyone just gets to deal with it.
I started having pushing contractions at 3:00 pm almost on the dot. It turns out that with the epidural and the IV in, I “had” to push on my back because the nurse wasn’t going to help me move into any other position and rearrange the various tubes shackling me in place. The one concession was that the nurse, with the help of V and the Fardreamer, would haul me as bar back up on the bed as possible so at least I was sitting up so I could take advantage of gravity. I had no idea until later what a tremendous concession this was. So, with the Fardreamer holding one leg and the nurse taking turns with V to hold the other leg, I got the epidural “turned down” so I could feel what I was doing* and I pushed mightily with every contraction. The nurse actually asked me if I wanted to do them on my own or if she wanted me to have her count, which was nice, and I told her not to count. It was cute though, because the first few times she would start to count and then catch herself, and then she would count under her breath and catch herself, until she stopped doing it altogether. Hearing the count was highly annoying so I’m glad she was able to break the habit. That was not so bad. It wasn’t ideal, but it was just the four of us and I was ok with it. Then crowning started and this whole “making the best of the hospital experience” was shot all to pieces.
There had been a shift change and this new female OB was not the upbeat, informative, respectful doctor that the former one had been. She came in already capped, gowned, and masked. She never introduced herself and I never saw her face. She never spoke to me – she spoke to the nurses, who had to convey her message to me. I wanted to continue pushing the way I had been, because it was working so well and it was a great dynamic. She would have none of that. She caught babies one way and that was it. So no more of this being upright business, where I could see and be seen, and have some presence and control in the room. Nope, the end of the bed was broken down and I was slid horizontal, so that the rest of my body – most notably my face – was hidden from her view. Fortunately I was able to keep my people – I thought of the nurse possessively now, as on my team instead of the Hospital Team, even though before I had finally started warming up to the idea that we were all on the same team – instead of putting my legs up in stirrups.
The nurse had been doing a marvelous job with applying a warm, wet washcloth for perineal support. It made me feel safer and really did help with the pulling sensation. Then it went away. I felt like no one was paying attention to me so I said the next few phrases in various order repeatedly, loudly and clearly: “I want perineal support” “please” “just like the nurse had been doing before” “I don’t feel safe pushing without it” “I’m afraid of tearing without it” “PLEASE GIVE ME PERINEAL SUPPORT”
The OB turned her head away from me and said, “What is she yelling about?”
V and the nurse started to explain that I had been getting perineal support for the last few hours and it had been working well, and that I wanted it back, but apparently Dr. Knows-What’s-Best Didn’t Do That Sort of Stuff, so instead she told them (not me!) that she was going to do perineal massage instead. Now I had read about perineal massage and I didn’t want it; in fact I had made it clear what I DID want. But hey, the uncaring impersonal Hospital God had to show up at some point, and here it was incarnated in this OB. I’ve been burned before and it felt like she was setting fire to me. It also felt like she was “massaging” me with a wad of the stiff, scratchy paper dentists put around our neck. I didn’t want more pulling and stretching, I wanted counterpressure to help contain the stretching that the baby’s head was going to do. I wanted the complete opposite of what she was doing to me. However I was too caught up in pushing with contractions to say anything to her. Now I wish I had made the ugliest scene I possibly could have. I wish I had done something to assert that I was still here and I was still a person, and just because you’re a doctor doesn’t mean you can ignore me.
So now I was all wrapped up not in oh hooray my baby’s coming but rather all the other stuff – that I was getting disrespected and dismissed, that now I was scared to push but had to anyway, that my support team was getting gutted by this doctor, that they weren’t going to let me hold my baby after he was born because apparently they can’t suction a baby or listen to the heartbeat or anything while on my chest but rather had to be whisked to the far side of the room out of my sight and apparently 11 hours is not enough time to move their little table and set up next to me, that this had suddenly turned from a decent consolation prize into something rotten, that I wanted the first OB to come in and throw the bums out because he actually listened to me and took my situation and desires into consideration, that I wanted to go home, that I wanted E to be there so badly. The nurses kept asking if I wanted a mirror so I could see my baby’s head coming out and I kept saying no because they were ruining my concentration. I knew subconsciously that the only way I could make it through without bursting into tears of rage, frustration, and loss was if I just got this over with as soon as possible.
And poof. I was mentally disconnected from my baby. This was just an ordeal. I hunkered inside myself and pushed. I was not me, so it was ok that no one acknowledged me as me. I was just a thing that another thing had to be extracted from. And then the rest of that thing slid out.
I asked, “Did I tear? Did I tear?” over and over again, but the doc didn’t answer me. I asked V who had been holding my right leg for the last bit and she looked over, or something, and said I had a second degree tear. I needed to get stitched up. I tried to stave off the fear by asking that the epidural be turned back up, and there was initially some resistance – I think Doc Knows-What’s-Best didn’t see what the big deal was and didn’t want to wait – but kinder hearts prevailed and we waited a very long time for the second anesthesiologist to come in and adjust the epidural. While we were waiting, I could see the OB doing those little impatient movement things that people do when they’re irritated at having to wait. She threaded the needle very early on and I freaked out. She sighed and held it up before she set it back down, as if to say ok, ok, I’m backing off, you crazy person. Well too bad, because from then on out I had high-powered panic attack that didn’t stop until the extra pain meds kicked in. V kept trying to redirect me by talking about the baby, and how the Fardreamer was hovering over by the nurses, completely smitten and baby-drunk, and repeatedly insisting on slathering him with olive oil. It’s sweet and funny now but I knew it was a distraction tactic and it wasn’t working. I didn’t want that OB to stick me with a needle when I wasn’t paying attention. I could have cared less about the baby. I hadn’t seen the baby at all and as far as I was concerned the baby wasn’t real. Somewhere in there I delivered the placenta and there was another flurry of getting it into a cooler instead of thrown out. I got stitched up. I could feel every puncture. I could feel the thread rub through my flesh. Fortunately it didn’t hurt.
Eventually a bundled up baby was put on my chest. I couldn’t hold him very well because the IV in my left wrist was right at the bend, which means I needed to keep my arm and hand perfectly straight. I was also pitifully weak because they didn’t let me eat anything and all I had in my system was three bites of muffin. The Fardreamer’s mom came in very soon – she had taken it upon herself to drive to the hospital soon after hearing where we were, and the staff had told her where we were – so I was polite and collected because that’s what you do and I smiled for the camera because that’s what you do. I don’t remember how I felt about holding the baby. Eventually I was put in a wheelchair and pushed to a room.
And that’s my birth story. There are other details, but this is long enough already and these are all the bits that immediately stick out to me.
*I have no idea why I didn’t ask to get rid of it. Then I would have had no tubes to get in the way and be an excuse to make me push on my back.