2007.07.09. close but no...
It is 9:44 a.m. and I am on the #17 bus on the way downtown for a "speech" (i.e. a two-minute rah-rah) I'm giving at the low car diet kickoff.
And, I just lost my mucous plug. At home, que fortunado!
The past 24 hours have been pretty, well, wet and wild. There has been more than the usual extras when I'm using the facilities, and wiping has been a more involved process than usual. But today, I knew I couldn't be far away. Last night was full of contractions, so much so that I could hardly sleep. I know I was having them all night long, perhaps not every four-to-six minutes, but...
This morning, I alighted the toilet, and was surprised that I didn't have a gush of something immediately. I was loose, so loose that yesterday for a minute at the bins with Larissa, her mom, and the boys, I thought I might just have a part of my anatomy -- or a wash of fluid -- falling right out of me.
If I could guess, I'd say I'm currently dilated to almost-four.
When in labor with Truman, I spent a night at the hospital at four, and was given pitocin around noon the next day to speed me up. Heck, this time, maybe I'll do the four-to-five thing while out and about. The TV cameras should be at the ceremony in Pioneer Square. It would make for a great human interest piece on the 5 p.m. news if I were to suddenly start screaming in pain while waiting for the head of Trimet to finish his talk.
But I'll want to remember this, so I'll write about last night. Jonathan was in a mood -- he'd started taking antibiotics given him by one of his many pharmaceutically-supplied co-workers (seems like there's always someone doling over-the-counter medicines from a large purse), as we'd agreed that he had an infection, what with the sleeping and the fever. Our intention is to call a few dentists this morning, and indicate that it's an emergency -- his wisdom teeth are beyond urgent at this point. What timing.
Anyway, he doesn't react well either to (a) pain or (b) antiobiotics. So he was alternating between sweet and helpful and really, really annyoing. The sweet and helpful parts were coming fewer and fewer between. He had no patience with my so-called "freaking out" (which I called "the natural response to my impending labor"). We were not getting along.
In an attempt to make peace, he kept taking Everett out on bike rides, you know, to "leave me alone and let me calm down." But for me? There was no calm to be had. I was frantic, exhausted, focused, introspective, mostly insane.
I'd have to sit down a lot, because the contractions were getting more pronounced, more frequent (not four painful contractions an hour, but I knew when one started, when it stopped, I often had to wait a bit) and my feet hurt from hours in the kitchen.
I'd take breaks, with Truman cuddled up against me, with my laptop, or my knitting, and buzz while I contracted and drank mango black iced tea. My brain wouldn't stop, flitting from planning to worrying to preparing for labor.
Truman was sleeping and sleeping in the early evening; he fell asleep in the stroller while grocery shopping around 5 (I bought frozen waffles, and cans of tomatoes, and ice cream, and pounds and pounds of pasta, and huge quantities of fresh veggies -- now almost all cooked up and in the freezer -- and my favorite potato chips, and everything I know the kids will need for the two-to-five days I'll be unavailable). I was feeling anxious, and close, very close. Almost here. It's crazy how I still don't imagine the sight of the baby.
In the stillness, I try to find space to connect with the coming days of labor; I can feel the contractions matter more. But there is no stillness in my brain, and instead of focusing on contractions, meditations, the image (never distinct) of my baby, I focus on all the food I should make. White bean stew? Some sort of soup, with all those carrots and celery I bought, but what kind will we eat? Should I wait until the zucchinis ripen a bit more? I've got a half-dozen or more in the junior high stage. And baking, I should make pancake mix and scones and banana bread and...
In the end, I cook, chopping up so much garlic, imagining how wonderful these greens will be mixed into pasta and quiches and mozzarella tomato sandwiches, expectant of the time we will all eat pizza with roasted vegetables, planning for a luxurious meal with stuffed mushrooms and grilled meats with feta cheese. I cook, and I cook, and I cook.
2007.07.09. noonish . close and yes...
I'm working at Souk with Olivia, and oddly I've suddenly lost connection from the internet. It's a good thing, as it gives me a few minutes to just type this. Not so long after I sat down (and had a glass of water, for good measure), I started in on the every-four-minutes contractions. (well, four-to-six.) They're the biggish ones (not painful yet but definitely THERE), and after losing my mucous plug and my crazy nesting spree, I think this is it.
Amazingly, I'm so close to the hospital that it will take only 15 or so minutes to get there via walking to the #33 bus... faster than it would have been, had I been in the position to drive from home. Boy this will make for a good car-free story when the time comes!
Thankfully, I took some photos in windows on the way over here. I think I'll be really well self-photographed, this pregnancy.
2007.07.09. nearly 3 p.m. . feeling stupid
It took me so long to get through to someone who would tell me whether or not I should come in to the office, or the labor & delivery ward (they're in the same complex), that by the time I did, the contractions seemed to have slowed. I sat on 'hold' with the doctor's office for at least 20 minutes, perched on a low concrete wall in the shade of palms, in front of House of Louie -- where Everett and I have waited to switch buses so many times. I stuck my cute shoes out in front of me, hoping I'd get something going, depressed that the contractions had slowed to 12, 16, 8 minutes apart. I hopped on the bus feeling stupid, and still, though I'm having some they're not big nor long nor This Is It.
Not to mention, I can't get online. I am sitting in a hospital hallway feeling exhausted and silly. Should I just hop a bus and go home? But the space between my legs feels enormous.
Dr. Williams is on call today, and she must be at the beach or something. She seems Hard To Reach (it's a day for capitals). I just want to sit here, waiting until I have the Contraction That Counts. Or go home and sleep until Dr. Kehoe's on duty (Wednesday, I think, I suppose I could get up for a bit between now and then).
Well, perhaps they'll send me home again. And then I'll sleep. My feet hurt from my cute-as-all-getout shoes, and I just feel stupid.
After eight minutes of just sitting here, finally I got a Contraction That Counts. Now, now, I can go to the second floor.
I hope I can get wifi there.
2007.07.09. five-ish . so. so. tired
I got here, got strapped in, and immediately started having frequent contractions, every four minutes or more often, and rather uncomfortable, so it was hard to talk during them. Naturally, baby was moving fine the whole time. DURING the contractions, you stinker.
After 30 or 45 minutes of this, Susan came in to check me. She's a pretty rigorous checker, especially as compared to Dr. Kehoe (though it didn't hurt much). As promised: lots of wet stuff going on. But her verdict was: still 3 cm.
Really? All I wanted to do at that point was go to sleep. Not for giving up purposes, but just because I was so, so tired. And, for that matter, hungry -- I realized I hadn't had anything to eat all day except half of Tati's leftover scone (part of the festivities in Pioneer Square, and from Three Lions Bakery: yum). But instead of offering a nap, Susan asked if I wanted to get up and walk around, procuring slippers (also known as uncomfortable baby blue socks) and a bathrobe for the purpose.
I walked around my room for a minute, then sat down for some knitting. I was just too tired. Fortunately a couple of gigantic contractions came along to keep me from discouragement.
And as I knitted away on my pinwheel, all I could think was, this is going to take me so so long to finish!, and I'm so hungry.
I sure hope I get on the docket for a spare dinner. All that delicious, nutritious food that's stocking my fridge and freezer at home, and I'm stuck in the hospital, longing for rather tasteless chicken and polenta.
2007.07.10. monroe's birth: the story
The phrase most-uttered through yesterday's late evening was, "I can't believe it!" followed closely by "she's really doing it!" said with appropriate incredulity.
That the "she" in question was me, and that the "it" involved was pushing a baby out the way God intended, well, I'm sure you'll understand when I can't even begin to pick the right superlative to describe the experience.
Monroe Gilbert Hanson was born at 11:40 p.m. on July 9, much though I expected him to be born sometime in the wee hours of the morning after. He was, incredibly, 7 pounds, 6.7 ounces (rounding up to his brothers' shared weight), 20 1/4 inches, with a head circumference of 13 1/2 inches (I've never known it before). He looks just like Everett, and not a bit like Truman, and as soon as I held his little vernix-covered body I knew he was just the same size as my others.
Much to everyone's continued amazement. As I've said before and I'll say again; as I said right at that moment, I can't believe it.
How did this happen? We last left you at around 5 o'clock, the sun bright outside my window and my cervix still at 3 cm. I was hemming and hawing; would anything happen? Jonathan was sure I'd come home. Dr. Williams had promised to to check me around 5:30. When I'd first gotten up to walk around, probably at 4 or 4:30, I'd done a little yoga, the usual, downward dog and warrior sequence, a little cat-cow. What would stimulate contractions? Maybe some horse. I did it, breathing deep and holding it for 30, 45, 55 seconds.
So I horsed, again, watching myself in the little mirror, the sun sparkling around the room. All was quiet. I sat down again on the little couch, knitting and trying not to fall asleep, occasionally sending a text message, feeling the rare contraction. When I'd gotten off the monitors, the contractions had slowed. Now they seemed to be picking up a bit, 8 minutes, 6 minutes, 4 minutes. Dr. Williams was later than she said she'd be; it was very quiet. I turned on NPR, hoping I'd hear the bit on the low car diet, hoping they would have used a clip from my speech.
I was relatively sure I'd be sent back home.
A few minutes after six, in came Dr. Williams, friendly and matter-of-fact as always. She checked me.
"You're at four! We're having this baby," she said. And took a breath.
In that breath, I knew I had my work cut out for me -- she was all ready to get me prepped for surgery. "I understand you want to try a vaginal birth, and it's just not a level of risk I'm comfortable with," she said with finality. She went on, how she'd only attended one other successful vaginal birth after two ceseareans -- and this woman was on her seventh child, with several non-surgical births in her history, how the risk of a scar rupturing, to her, was too high.
"I've looked through Dr. Kehoe's notes, and I can't find anywhere that she consented," she said.
I looked at her, and set my mouth. "I just want to try," I said. "Dr. Kehoe and I talked about it at length, and she said she'd support me in trying. She told me that the chances were less than 30% -- "
"I think she was being generous," said Dr. Williams.
"-- and, even if it's 20%, that's one in five! Those odds seem like, it's worth trying, to me. Part of it is emotional. I don't want to just hop up onto a table, without even trying." Here in the talk I always get tears in my eyes, thinking of Amey, who really struggles with that. "I don't want to recover from a c-section. I have two kids at home." Practical. Dr. Williams will go for practical, I think.
Suddenly I saw that she had turned the corner. She started bringing up the stats from my chart; this baby was early, the others had been 7-7 ("if the baby was probably going to be eight pounds, I wouldn't try," I said); Dr. Kehoe had sewed me up last time; I'd obviously been thoroughly counselled by Dr. Kehoe "because I know that about her." I had won.
"Well, here's what we're going to do. You've done a very good job today; you've convinced me. But I'm going to keep you on a tight leash. As soon as anything isn't going exactly down the path to labor, we're going to go in for surgery. Gather your troops. We're going to have a baby tonight. And I'll need two hours to get ready anyway, and you'll have to progress one centimeter an hour (I swallowed, knowing that this was far from my control), without Pitocin. I'm going to have you sign the consent forms, I'm going to have the anethesiologist come in and consult with you, we're going to be ready to do a c-section at a moment's notice."
We talked some more, about how I was willing to get an epidural anyway -- the few minutes between deciding to have the c-section and getting the spinal, with Truman, were some of the most excruciating of my life, the urge to push, the terrible pain, the baby that wouldn't come out any other way -- about the risks of surgery ("baby could die, you could die," she said, "if I say it I figure it won't happen," immediately I imagined me, dead, with the boys left motherless, Jonathan left drifting), about what it would feel like if the scar started to rupture -- she said this next two hours was the most risky, that it would feel very, very wrong -- and soon she was off, with encouraging words; "you're very calm, and obviously in touch," and an exhortation to "gather my troops!" and "don't stay pregnant!" She'd return at 8 to check me on my labor progress.
One centimeter an hour; I'd have to be at 6 centimeters by 8 p.m. Could I do it? I didn't know. I started calling, Jonathan, then Abby and my dad to arrange care for the boys, Larissa, my sister Hannah. I sat on my bed in the quiet and worked the last row of 'mulberry' yarn in my blanket between contractions.
I could feel them starting to work a bit more, but they weren't breath-taking-away yet. I tried to focus on the meditations, thinking of my cervix opening, thinking of the contractions' power, my power, trying to imagine myself succeeding. And I knitted.
I'd been banned from all food and drink, in case of emergency surgery, and fitted with an IV ("I hate to start these in the hand!" said the nurse, though I barely cared after the first painful poke. She'd done a much better job than the IV with Truman and it was comfortable, relatively) for fluids and antibiotics. I longed to have just one drink of ice water, a gulp of something solid. I started remembering the emergency sweet treat I'd made a few nights ago -- instant cheesecake pudding, with raspberry sauce -- whose leftovers were in the fridge at home. What I wouldn't give for a big spoon and that bowl of cheesecake pudding, right now. But though I thought darkly of the stories of food and drink snuck to laboring women, the very real possibility of a ruptured scar hung over my head too heavily, and I tried to focus on other things.
Larissa was there soon, bearing gifts (the 'melted crayons' shawl I'd loved as I watched her finish it), and Hannah wasn't much behind her. We sat, talking and describing the ways of labor to Hannah as we knitted (Larissa still had ends to weave in), and soon I was at the end of my mulberry row, with only a few inches of yarn left. I held it up as evidence that today was the day, the baby was just waiting for me to finish his blanket.
All through this evening I couldn't help but refer to the baby as "he," even though everyone but me agreed that, not only did they hope it was a girl, but they were "feeling" girl. Dr. Williams' evidence was the blanket, colors for a girl, she said (the nurses and doctors were smitten with it, though one thought that I was knitting, not a big round blanket, but a cocoon of some sort). I kept knitting, though the contractions were getting bigger, impossible to talk through. I guess I was, really, in labor. I told Larissa how I thought that, this time, I was so proud of myself for just waiting, for not having tried to encourage labor (but for the shortlived experiment with strong feminine herbs) by running up and down stairs, or having sex. I'd always resorted to this with the others, and look how it had ended up -- pitocin, pain, c-section.
Erica arrived soon, too, and the room was full of happy supportive women. A little after 8, Dr. Williams returned for a check. "Ummm... four-and-a-half, almost 5," she said, and I bit my lip, sure this would not be enough for her. Then I could see in her face, it was, she wasn't going to give up on me, I was moving, and entirely on my own. "You're progressing," she said, "I'll check you again at 9:30. "Besides, my errant husband still hasn't arrived," I said. I called his grandma and uncle's house, where he'd gone to borrow the car and drive over. His grandma seemed vastly confused, why was I calling? After several moments of odd responses to my questions, she confirmed, he had picked the car up. I sighed. Jonathan still didn't really believe we were having the baby tonight.
Dr. Williams had told me she intended to put a monitor on the baby's head, so we could know exactly what was going on with baby, and take off the monitor around my belly -- "so we don't have to run in here any time you sit up," as they'd done a half-hour before. Baby's health was, after all, one of the conditions to my continued TOLAC (as she explained to Jonathan later, I'd had now two Trials Of Labor After Cesaerean, but only a chance at one VBAC). She broke my waters ("Owww!") then stuck in the monitor, which seemed too easy, too fast, too simple. As the nurse, Liz, was changing the now-soaking pads and towels beneath me, she must have disconnected the monitor somehow. Dr. Williams had to do it, again (this time, with less discomfort). Immediately the nurse and Dr. Williams stood at attention. "Have you ever seen this before?" said Liz. "Whoa... no," said Dr. Williams. "Freaky." They stood there, mouths agape, staring at the monitor.
"That IS baby, right?" said Dr. Williams. Evidently the baby's heart rate had spiked through the top of the charts -- as high as 203 bpm -- as soon as he was attached to the monitor. I could feel him wildly kicking and turning in my belly, Larissa could see my belly virtually erupting with activity. Liz put the monitor back on my belly for a minute, verifying the same numbers.
The sight of doctor and nurse, staring dumbfounded at the monitor while my baby went bonkers inside, was not exactly re-assuring. "If baby doesn't calm down, we'll have to get him out NOW," said Dr. Williams. I had faith that it was just a blip -- after all, they just had stuck a probe in his head! -- but it wasn't exactly a wonderful moment. Fortunately, after four or five minutes, his heart rate was back to the calm 130s. Another reprieve.
I was getting close to the end of my blanket, binding off, I'd made it 2/3, 3/4 of the way around. I had to put it down frequently, to continue a conversation, for a blood pressure check, for a sudden gush of fluid. I had been getting IV pumped in for hours, after all, without having left the bed -- it seemed too difficult, what with the IV stand, the monitor on my belly, and now baby's head monitor. My cervix felt very loose and all at once I was peeing, I thought, all over the bed. I felt I should stop, go use the restroom, but there was no stopping. I had no bladder control! I felt badly, but not extraordinarily so. I couldn't do anything but just let it happen, so I called for a change, feeling a bit like a kid who's just had an accident.
I picked up the blanket again, and soon I had reached the end of the row. In the diminishing light, Larissa and Erica and Hannah spread it out on the floor. It was huge, bigger than I thought, it was perfect and gorgeous. I was so happy to have it done. "I can block this for you, you know," said Larissa, and in my haze I wondered if she meant right now, before the baby's born, but knew that probably wasn't it. Exactly.
"Alright, I've bound off, I can have the baby now!" I said, proud of myself for my accomplishment, and relieved I didn't have anything more to do between contractions. They were steadily getting bigger, a little more painful, I was now having to breath through them. I wondered if I shouldn't change position, but it seemed too hard.
It was an upbeat atmosphere, and though I kept checking the clock imagining what could possibly be keeping Jonathan, I was having fun, laughing and talking with the women in between contractions, giving my sister "labor school," still having hope, often idly wondering where is that anesthesiologist? The contractions were increasing in pain and I would like to at least be prepared. I was suddenly worried about my mental readiness for the task at hand. I hadn't even visualized labor, this time, I think I had never really thought I'd be allowed to make it this far -- despite my best hopes, my stubborn desires, I'd let myself become partially resigned to the fate of surgery. I knew that, above all, I was not prepared to do labor like I'd done with Truman, hours and hours of pain and pushing, without anesthesia. This time, I would accept it if I needed it, and I was starting to wonder if that time wasn't approaching.
At about 9:30, Jonathan finally arrived, followed closely by Dr. Williams and Liz, full of jokes as usual. "We brought your errant husband!" Dr. Williams said, laughing. They had met him at the nurse's station, asking if he was, indeed, the errant husband I was searching for. He was. "Oh good, the other one just left," quipped Liz, providing plenty of fuel for Jonathan's comedic machine.
Jonathan was clearly on edge, immediately getting on the phone, worrying that my mom wasn't ok with the chickens. Evidently Mom and Dad were taking the boys home with them for the night, which was partially good (I wouldn't have to worry about them being happy at Grandma & Grandpa's house), and partially a little sad (it would be some time before they'd meet their new brother or sister). Not to mention Jonathan's worry. Were the chickens actually ok? Was the house secure? And he'd forgotten the cell phone's charge cord. He had to go home and come right back.
We all had to keep telling him, "no!" The baby was coming, now, tonight, soon, and if he left he'd surely miss it. I think he was kind of hoping for that. He was thoroughly freaked. He kept saying, "I'm not ready to have three kids. I wasn't ready for two!"
Dr. Williams checked me, laughing to Liz. "Didn't I tell you?" she said. I was five-and-a-half, maybe six. "She's six. We'll say six," said Dr. Williams, and told me that, despite my inability to make the centimeter-per-hour goal, I was progressing just too much for her to have the heart to stop me now. She was still on the team. "Don't stay pregnant!" she said peppily, and was off.
Evidently, my body was now taking the reins. It was not staying pregnant, it was not putting up with Jonathan's repeated insistence that he just had to go home and come right back, variously halted by my yelling at him, something along the lines of "this baby is coming any time!" or Larissa again reminding him that I could be rushed into an emergency section at any point.
I was trying to find a comfortable-yet-effective way to sit, and having trouble. The contractions were coming faster now, and I was having to turn away from everyone and breathe through them, blowing out my mouth and clutching my pillow. Jonathan and Larissa's joking had reminded me something I'd utterly forgotten from Truman's birth -- when he said he'd walked in on everyone chanting, he wasn't exaggerating (though he was exaggerating about the cow's blood and the pentagram, thank goodness). I had been "EEEEEeeeee!"-ing through the harder contractions, and in order to remind me to come down the scale in pitch -- evidently a lower pitch makes it more manageable -- Larissa and Destiny and my mom were chanting "ooo, ooo, oooo" in low tones to modulate me. "Ooooooohhhh..." I tried in the next one. "ooohhh...ooooooo...." bringing it down lower "oooooooohhhhaaaooo."
The contractions were now moving up the pain scale, 7s or 8s, and the best way to describe them is incredibly sharp and long-lasting gas pain, in a flexible cylinder that presses in so tightly on your abdomen, bladder, liver, creating a hard roundess that feels like it might explode. The only thing that was getting me through was remembering that they were only a minute long, and that the anesthesiologist must be coming soon. I asked the nurse, who came in a few minutes later, to find that anestheisologist immediately. "I'm not mentally prepared to endure labor without medication!" I said, quietly, desperately. "Maybe that's a good thing!" said someone hopefully. I wasn't ready. I couldn't do this! The anesthesiologist had been paged, she would come as soon as she could. "She had better have someone aspirating," I said a little grumpily. About that time I remember apologizing to Hannah, that I hadn't expected her to have to see this much pain. "It's ok!" she said somewhat brightly. I didn't really think it was ok, but I couldn't worry too much about it now.
In what seemed like moments, I was starting to feel a bit of a push urge at the end of the contractions. It must have been 10:20 or 10:30, I wasn't able to watch the clock, I was trying to find a space that allowed me to curl around my contractions and yet not bury my face in the pillow. I occasionally heard people saying things like, "good breathing!" and Erica and Jonathan were taking turns rubbing my back a little. "Just tell me if you want me to stop," said Erica, and for a while it was helping. At some point I wanted it lower, and asked her to go lower, then realizing that it just increased the pain and pressure. By the next contraction I couldn't take it anymore and simply barked, "NO MORE!" I didn't have the facility to talk in anything but one- or two-word orders, waves of the hand, I remember throwing my hand wildly in the direction of the bathroom door when Hannah was trying to find me a tissue to blow my nose. Between contractions I talked somewhat calmly, but I wasn't having much time, I was hot and kept trying to take things off but didn't want to go totally naked, besides, it was too much work to negotiate the gown with wires and cables and tubes. Still, we kept having to remind Jonathan that he couldn't go anywhere.
When I felt the poopy/push urge, I first had to remind myself not to fight it but to accept it, to move into it, relax, and then I started to panic, what if I didn't get to have an epidural? I thought I couldn't go through Truman's labor again. Things were happening too fast, they were getting out of control. At this point I wildly indicated to Larissa, anyone that I needed the nurse, gesturing incoherently at the call button that was on a table, far too far away for me to reach it in my curled-up position. She couldn't find it and dashed out into the hall, almost dragging in a reluctant woman who was not my nurse, and not happy about being drug. "I'm starting to have a push urge!" I said, and she told me where the call button was (but went to get my nurse). Thanks Ms. Helpful. "She knows where it is!" Larissa yelled at her as a parting shot. "She just can't tell us!"
I didn't have time to think about it. Liz came in and checked me between my next contraction, though it scared me (what if I have a contraction in the middle of a check?!?), at least they were giving me my full minute between. "Eight centimeters!" she said. I knew it. I also knew that there would be no two hours from now until 10. I was going to be pushing in 20 or 30 minutes. I was panicking.
A minute or two later, Liz told me Dr. Williams had been called, and the anesthesiologist was finishing up an epidural and would be 10 or 15 minutes. "What if it's too late!" I wailed, thinking of stories I've heard of women getting to complete and then being refused an epidural (later, I'd realize that this must be ancient practice -- I don't think the so-called "window" really exists anymore, except maybe for people who might only push a few minutes). Larissa understood this and explained to Liz. "She's coming, I promise," said Liz. I had no faith, I was now having to focus on relaxing my pelvis, allowing myself to curl around the poop urge instead of tighten up and fight it, oooooh-ing and wishing I could scream, trying to breath but feeling frantic instead. Each contraction was doing huge things, getting closer and closer to the push urge. I knew I only had minutes, a few contractions, until I would have to start pushing.
Dr. Williams and the anesthesiologist arrived virtually at the same time. I've never been so relieved as when she started explaining what she was going to do, talking fast in an Eastern European accent, I was nodding and saying yes, do it, I've done it before, I know, before I dove into the next contraction. She had the paper I'd filled out (there was a back portion I was supposed to sign in her presence), she didn't even try to get me to sign it, I was thankful. She went quickly to work, between contractions, and in three or so she'd inserted the needle. "When will it start working!" I wailed to no one in particular. I could feel sharp pains in my upper hips, I could still feel the contractions. "One more contraction," said Dr. Williams. "But it wants me to push!" I said, being flipped onto my back with much pain. Dr. Williams was checking me. "She's complete," she said. "And plus one."
Though the epidural was only just beginning to work, and I was so exhausted I didn't know if I could make it through hours of pushing, I was instantly amazed and thrilled. "Plus one!?!" I said. "I've never been plus one!" I remember Erica, smiling and hopeful, leaving at this point, telling me good luck! Don't stay pregnant, I thought to myself.
But still I didn't believe, didn't believe it could happen. Through the next 40 minutes I'd go on not believing, every moment thinking that she was going to say, "too bad, it's not working enough," and send me off to surgery. I think Jonathan felt the same way, disbelieving. No one really believed. At some point, even in the midst of pushing perhaps, I thought of the Everywoman's Health business office, who had sent me a bill to pre-pay for Dr. Kehoe's services during a c-section. I'd paid half on June 15, thinking smugly to myself that, thanks to their miscalculation of the due date and my own tendency to be early, I'd probably have already had the baby by July 15, and they'd just have to bill me. It seemed that the cost for a c-section was twice the cost for a non-surgical birth, and I hoped that I would prove them wrong -- AND not have already paid for their lack of faith in me. Hah! I thought to myself. You'll never get your other $310.
Jonathan and Larissa were holding my legs up, I was on my back, Dr. Williams was telling me the time-honored advice: "Curl around your baby. Push down toward my hand." She told me to hold my thighs, and already I had to push, the pain was mostly turned to pressure. I could do this. I remembered everything I knew about pushing in an instant. I let my jaw go slack, my neck, my eyes, my lips, I tried to put every single thing I had into the push, just where I was supposed to and nowhere else, imagining the way my upper belly was pressing down on the baby's feet, how I was just pushing the head through my birth cavity. Nothing more. I pushed with everything, everything, forgetting at first until exhorted to hold my breath, but remembering not to make any noise while pushing.
As I pushed and she counted, Dr. Williams was vigorously working the bottom of my vaginal opening, in a half-circle, back and forth, back and forth. I was so happy I had the epidural, otherwise I'd surely be screaming in pain with such force, instead it felt rubbery, flexible, like the right thing. Later both Jonathan and Larissa would comment to me on how they thought this made all the difference, that she very literally opened the way for the baby's head. Between each 10-count they told me to release and take a new breath, and it always seemed like too much time wasted, I didn't want to breathe out and in, but did to pacify them, never taking a deep one, always trying to hold on a bit longer than 10 if I could, or do a fourth 10-count if I felt the urge.
"Good pushing, good pushing!" said everyone at every push. Liz was doing the "pushpushpushpushpushpushpushPUSH!" each time, which I don't think really helped, but certainly added to the rah-rah atmosphere. I kept hearing, "you're really doing it!" and "I can't believe it!" Despite all my belief to the contrary, it seemed that the baby's head really was getting closer, and I was so determined and amazed that I wanted to push the instant the urge came each time; I tried to push in the occasional doubled-up contractions I seem to have, littler ones moments after the big ones. I didn't care how tired I got, I was not going backwards.
I don't know if I said it out loud or not, but I remember thinking after the second or third contraction, when there had been some marked movement, "I always thought I was a good pusher!" I'd been told "good push!" a hundred times before, with Everett, with Truman, and I'd thought it was true, but never had any evidence. I'm such a strong, athletic person, I'm so coachable. Much of my disappointment was that I wondered if my pushing was not, in fact, that great. It had, after all, never worked before.
But it was working, it was. At some point I was told to reach down and touch the head, and I did, and it was there. There was brown hair (I knew it was a boy), Jonathan kept talking eagerly to him, "come on little guy!" And it was going so fast.
About 20 minutes in, Dr. Williams grabbed someone and barked that they get the transition nurse. We all must have thought simultaneously, "is something wrong? Is it not progressing fast enough?" because a few of us asked at once what, indeed, was a transition nurse? It's the baby's nurse, said someone, and I didn't believe that the baby was really going to need it that soon. It's only been 20 minutes.
But it couldn't have been more 5 minutes more before I could feel that the head was so close to the edge that it would be silly to go back now. I was. I was really doing it. I can't believe I'm really doing it.
People were almost jumping up and down, it was so close. In a few minutes more, I could feel that the head was emerging, that it was in the "ring of fire" state (though I, fortunately, felt no fire, just elastic pressure), and everyone was saying the head was round. Somehow I knew there would be no conehead, this baby hadn't stayed in the cavity for two hours like his brothers. A few more pushes, each one with more purpose, more force, more belief than the one before, and Dr. Williams was wiggling his head, his head was there, I could see his face, and then his shoulders and like a SPLOOSH! he was out, I kept pushing him the whole way.
It was, of course, a boy. He was handed to me, grey and wrinkled and grumpy with vernix, he was crying little sad bursts, I was telling him "it's ok little guy!" Jonathan was telling everyone his name and I was saying over and over, "I can't believe it, I can't believe it, I can't believe it." I kept saying that I didn't know what to do, that I'd never done this before, never had a baby right there and felt so good, so mobile, so able to do anything. "Right now I'm usually shaking on a gurney downstairs next to some guy who's just had his kidney stone removed," I said, shocking Liz and requiring me to tell the whole story of the uber-busy night of Truman's birth, where there were so many c-sections -- seven or more -- that I had to be taken to recover to the general surgical recovery downstairs. I remembered later that the man next to me was old and frail enough, and the operation (not a kidney stone, I don't know what it was) severe enough that someone from the hospital was explaining over and over again to a clearly fraught woman (sister? wife? daughter?) that he might be ok after the surgery, but he might not, he might never be the same, he might not even be able to talk, they didn't know yet. I remembered, too, thinking that I was lucky to be recovering from a c-section for a healthy, beautiful baby, and not in this position, and my heart was going to burst from the sadness of it all. The woman who monitored the recoverees kept apologizing to me for having me down there, and it seemed like a small price to pay for a family whose health was all secure.
While this conversation was going on, Dr. Williams was quickly delivering the placenta (I asked if she needed me to push; she said she didn't, but I gave a couple of little bursts just in case) and I distantly remember Jonathan being shown the placenta, and being amazed and intrigued despite himself. "You only have a little first-degree tear," said Dr. Williams, "and I'll stitch you up now." I was proud and happy. One stitch. Hurray for me! I also had a bruise on my perineum. This was new territory... I wondered how that would feel?
But Monroe. Monroe was now on me, and I asked incredulously, "should I try to nurse him?" He was crying still, I was saying, "it's ok little guy!" and wondering if he was, indeed, as cute as Everett and Truman. I'm such a skeptic, I always doubt the cuteness of my children until it's been guaranteed. He looked nothing like Truman, nothing at all, and soon we'd decide that he looked identical to Everett as a baby. Everett's little brother. It was right.
I was given the go-ahead to nurse, Larissa and Hannah were leaving, and Liz brought me a new gown, the you're-a-mom-now gown that actually has nursing openings. For a moment I hesitated, then realized that there was nothing to hide after an hour of half-a-dozen people looking at my vagina in awe, and shed my labor gown and waited for the new one.
It's now 10:45 p.m. on the night after Monroe was born -- he's nearly a day old now -- and I'm thoroughly exhausted, I've slept but only in bursts of a few hours apiece. Monroe has slept nearly all of the time, in jags as long as six hours. He's developed the cuteness that I was doubting last night (I'm still holding out for that one-year-old threshold when they change from baldish baby to handsome toddler, though) and he loves to snuggle next to me, squeaking his funny baby sounds. I'm so exhausted but I have to keep typing so I'll always remember how I felt after the birth.
It was such a feeling of utter freedom and elation. I kept saying how I didn't know what to do, I've never done this before, and it was wonderful. I felt like I could get up and run across the room (though of course I could barely move), I felt like I could stay up for days, I felt like the world had just opened up to me. I had a baby, I had pushed him out the way babies are supposed to come out, and he was sitting right here with me and that was SO right, so perfect.
Jonathan and I were talking and he was crying, little bursty quiet baby cries, he couldn't seem to get the nipple in his mouth though the baby nurse and I kept trying, and his crying didn't bother me at all. Eventually I got him to latch on a bit by squeezing my breast (for some reason doubting that he was getting anything -- I've not had any leaking this pregnancy, not the tiniest bit of colostrum), but I had to keep readjusting and squeezing for him to keep on it. For the first hour or more of his life, he cried almost nonstop, but it didn't make me sad. "He's a fussy one!" I said happily, imagining a colicky baby, a screamer. And figuring, I'll just deal with it.
All I can do now is to sit back in amazement. Monroe was nearly identical in size to his brothers, and as both Drs. Kehoe and Williams now agree, probably closer to 38 weeks than 37 -- surely not good odds for my success. I attribute the outcome to simply having learned to wait, to not try to hurry labor, to let things take their course, to going without Pitocin, to accepting that I might, at any time, be sent home.
What's more, my scar doesn't hurt a bit.
The one thing I've noticed today, as I've learned to adjust to this very different kind of recovery (and been frightened as all hell of my very-swollen vagina), is that it is indeed true what the say -- the after-birth pangs get worse with each baby. A few hours today have seen me literally writhing on my bed as I nurse Monroe, or now, as I wait for him to get back from his weighing and endure the contracting-back-to-size uterus. It's a terribly sharp gas pain feeling, and it's extraordinarily uncomfortable, the way I imagine the worst period pain to feel. As I said to a nurse who told tales of women with five or six babies, "nature manages to balance things out" -- your labors are so much easier, the aftermath is harder. It's tough not knowing that these contractions will end in one minute. But, they'll never get worse, and that makes it all right.
I can't wait to go home with my baby and bask in the relative ease of this recovery. I can't believe my good fortune, I can't wait to tell everyone that it's always worth trying.