Friday, September 24, 2010

Harriet's Birth Story (Rated PG13)

The night before my due date Devin and I attended a party. As I attempted to mingle (no small task considering my considerable size) and made small talk, I began to notice that when one is pregnant (especially when one is 40+ weeks pregnant) people begin to treat the female anatomy as if it has suddenly become the property of the Human Race as In General—and thus proper topic for even casual conversation among very casual acquaintances. Throughout the evening I found myself discussing the feminine Nether Regions with several strangers (MALE strangers, I might add), who told me stories of their wives’ anatomies during birth, encouraged me to trust in (and I quote) “the amazing power of my perineum.”

I mention this incident because I am now about to recount my birth story and publish it on the world wide web, where it will become the property of…the Human Race in General. I am ambiguous about publishing such a personal story, just as I was ambiguous about discussing my perineum with strangers. But birth is a strange thing: at once the most private and intimate experience—yet also the most public (no hiding that belly…or that baby!). With the birth of her first child, the woman’s secret, private, personal body becomes the door through which human things get out into the world—out into public. It still amazes me: this is the ONLY way people get here. Through that little hole—which, in birth, does somehow become (if only for a moment) the property of the Human Race in General. How exciting. How humbling. How bizarre.

So with these thoughts in mind I will publish the story of Harriet’s debut. I hope that her story (MY story) will prove interesting to all and sundry, and particularly edifying to those women considering natural birth.

On September 7 (my due date), Devin and I were approved for the mortgage we had applied for, like, 2 months before. The closing date for our house was scheduled for the 9th. Wonderful timing. Nothing baby-related happened on my due date, and I prayed that I wouldn’t be in the hospital during the closing!

The morning of the 8th I woke up early with what felt like mild lower intestinal indigestion, coming in waves every 15 minutes or so. I didn’t wake Devin, and I proceeded to ignore the feelings (which might be, after all, merely indigestion). Devin and I got up to go swimming and I noticed a bit of pink when I used the toilet. Swimming was cancelled. However, once I had eaten breakfast the indigestion/contractions had gone away. Still, I put Devin on minor alert and sent him off to work. I spent a very quiet day at home, reading in the sun on the back porch. In the afternoon I went in for my scheduled midwife appointment. I told them my early morning symptoms and they checked me: 80% effaced and 2 centimeters dilated. They told me not to get too excited, but—be watchful.

After dinner that night my contractions (not indigestion, I guess!) returned, coming like before, every 15 minutes or so. After I called the midwives to give them a bit of a head’s up, I took a bath, had a glass of wine (don’t judge!) and went to bed. Though the contractions continued to come at irregular intervals throughout the night, I was able to sleep between them. I am very thankful for that night of sleep! By early morning the contractions were becoming a more painful and closer together. But--!!!—our house closing was scheduled for that morning. So I got up, got ready, and Devin and I drove 45 minutes away to the broker’s office. What a miserable hour. I signed my name hundreds of times, tried with all my might to remain calm, alert, composed while this lady explained things like escrow, taxes, and insurance. All the while I was dealing with contractions.

After suffering through the closing, we left the office home-owners once again, and very nearly parents. Devin and I drove around the Crossroads, went to an art gallery and bought a poster for Harriet’s room (it has a dove on it—“la paloma”!). We went home and had lunch while watching The Barefoot Contessa. After lunch things took off. I really consider this to be the true beginning of my labor: 2 PMish on September 9.

Devin put in an episode of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Frye as Jeeves and Wooster. Despite Bertie’s buffoonery and Jeeves’ genius, I was unable to attend. I went upstairs to lie down and deal with contractions, which were coming less than 5 minutes apart and sometimes less than 2 minutes apart. 20 minutes later, I called the midwife and we were on our way to the hospital.

I wish I could describe the contractions. While I was pregnant I was frustrated by the women who would describe their labor down to the minute, but wouldn’t describe the actual sensations they had charted so accurately! But now when it comes to me to describe my own experience, I find it difficult—and I am already forgetting! My earliest contractions were like indigestion or period cramps, with very mild pain. By the time my labor had really kicked off and I was having “working” contractions, they were different. Along with the pulling, cramping, tightening throughout my whole abdomen and back, there was also very strong pressure in my pelvis and against what I assume was my cervix. When I felt the pelvic and cervical pressure, and when the pain level became more intense, I realized that I could be closer to delivery than I had expected.

Devin grabbed the bags at about 4:15 and we drove the 8 minutes to the hospital. I had, I think, 3 contractions in the car, so they were pretty close together at that point! When we pulled up in the driveway, I prayed that I wouldn’t have another contraction in the hall, elevator or waiting room. I was able to walk in on my own steam and I got all the way to the check-in desk outside Delivery. There, we were confronted by a very dour secretary-type person who challenged our status (“have you even been here before?”) and made us wait while she got the waiver forms for me to sign. She took *for* *ev* *er*--long enough for another contraction to strike. When she came back she stood there holding the door for me and tapping her foot—like I could walk through the door and sign (ANOTHER) stupid form during this sort of contraction. This was the only time I broke down emotionally and I wept openly in the hall. A friendly nurse happened to be walking by and realized that I was pretty close. Despite the fact that she didn’t even know my name, she managed to extricate me from the evil clutches of secretary person and took me immediately to triage where I was checked. I was 100% effaced and 7­-8 centimeters dilated. Then I signed the waiver form (BETWEEN contractions). They moved me to the delivery room—I remember seeing the little glass bed with the heat lamp where they put the new baby. I remember thinking: “It’s empty now, but it won’t be empty in a minute.” I remember this being very very surreal. Soon my midwife Sheila and her student Caycie arrived and checked me again: 8-9 centimeters.

All my memories after this point are strangely clear, yet difficult to describe. I stopped thinking. I stopped thinking about or worrying about the actual delivery, or my surroundings, my body, my husband--even the baby I was about to deliver. My body was doing everything. The sensations I was having demanded my entire attention—and that attention was purely physical rather than mental/intellectual. I was going through transition, and the contractions were very close together, sometimes without any break in between. I prayed—at first something like: “Lord, have your way,” or “Jesus, I am open to this.” Or “Mother Mary, help me.” Towards the end all I could do was cry out “Jesus” or “Mother”.

Sheila checked me and found that the baby’s head was turned at an angle, making descent difficult. She told me to stand against the bed with my chest on the bed, butt in air and rock my hips. I spent most of transition in this position, head buried in the bed, dripping water with every contraction, and moaning loudly—and trying to pray. Soon my legs became shaky and I was helped onto the bed (by whom??) and onto my side. (At this point I closed my eyes and didn’t open them until the baby was on my chest.) I was breathing very hard and very deeply during contractions and I told them (who?) that my hands and feet were tingling and I was feeling sick. Sheila (somehow!) made me open my eyes and look at her as she helped me breathe differently. However, at this point they noticed a bit of meconium in the amniotic fluid which was coming out during contractions as well as a slightly raised heart-rate on the baby. I guess I was dehydrated at this point, and Sheila was worried that I might not have energy enough to push the baby out quickly enough (?), so they gave me an IV drip with some water for instant hydration. I remember being thankful for the IV because I couldn’t imagine drinking water out of a cup to get myself hydrated.

Almost immediately after the IV was inserted my contractions changed. I felt the infamous “urge to push.” This was the wildest part of the whole labor. I have never felt anything like that feeling. It was—kind of—like the urge to have a bowel movement. But it was absolutely irresistible—like the feeling you have when you vomit, the irresistible force of your whole body working against/despite your will. My whole body was bearing down without my consent and pushing this huge thing down. The pushing contractions seemed farther apart than the ones before—and they really STOPPED between contractions, giving me a chance to rest between them. I kept my eyes closed, and almost fell asleep between these contractions. After about 4-5 push contractions I felt intense pressure against my rectum—like I was passing a huge BM. (Yeah, gross, I know.) The midwives announced “tons of dark hair” and asked if I wanted to feel the baby’s head. No, I did not. (I don’t know why I didn’t want to touch her head…) I knew that the baby’s head was coming out a bit and then slipping back in, but something in me was scared to push her out all the way past crowning. I was, even at that moment, afraid of tearing, I think. I stalled out after each peak and stopped pushing.

Sheila made me pay attention (once again) and showed me how to curl my body around the baby’s body while pushing, coached me on when to push and how to breathe (or not breathe). After another 4-5 contractions I felt huge rectal pressure, and a stinging, searing pain around the opening of my vagina. I was told to “push through the pain,” and I did, and this huge baby came out of my body. I don’t remember pushing the shoulders—it felt like she came out in one slippy rush. They put her on my chest, and she cried, and I opened my eyes.


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  2. Thank you, Sarah, for giving us such an intimate look into this personal, public, unique, universal experience. Darn that paperwork, and mean nurses!

  3. B: actually, all the nurses I encountered were lovely. It was just this secretary person, who wasn't a nurse, I don't think... But the paperwork was stupid. I know waiver forms are necessary blah blah blah. But I hope they didn't expect me to read the fine print...who knows what I signed away at around 8 centimeters dilation...!

  4. Yikes! I started with a chuckle at the glass of wine, started feeling very anxious at the appalling secretary and was ready for a drink at the part where you were reduced to "Mother" and "Jesus." It all sounds ghastly. Mothers are heroes.

    My mother had five natural childbirths and all of a sudden I feel very small, meek and wimpy.

  5. Dear Seraphic: I don't think there is any fear of you ever becoming "meek" or "wimpy." (Except "meek" in the way Jesus wants us to be meek!) As for turns out that parenting is harder. And this darling baby makes me feel "small, meek and wimpy"--and happy!

    I hope all is well in Scotland. We are missing Edinburgh in the fall...

  6. Well, we just got back from hot and sunny Barcelona, having caught colds on the plane home to cold and scotch misty Edinburgh, so we are impatient with romantic notions of Edinburgh in the fall.

    I am glad you're happy, and Harriet Paloma is beautiful.