To recap, this is how I looked at 40 weeks, right before I was catapulted into labor by a brownie & a really good massage:
Labor progressed early, as I mentioned, leading me to the hospital within hours; then a mean midwife threw me into reverse and sent me home. An hour later, though, I was back to where I started, contracting regularly, and in increasing, sledge-hammer quality pain from what turned out to be back labor. But we couldn’t go to the hospital or we’d be back once more under the jurisdiction of the mean midwife. We decided to tough it out at home.
From about 12:30 AM until 6:30, we used the tools at our disposal: a yoga mat, water, highly-diluted Vitamin Water, bendy straws, massage, frozen vegetables, mantras, more water, and a rubber ducky from the O’Haire Motor Inn in Montana. There was also quite a bit of cursing and crying. Every few minutes, I looked at Mr. Ben and said either: “It huuuuuurts” or “I can’t do it. I’m sorry, honey, I can’t.” And he would say, “You are doing it. You’re doing great,” and empty the freezer of more bagged produce to push against my back.
“Breathe, honey,” he told me. “Don’t forget to breathe. Keep breathing.”
We ruined the frozen corn, the raspberries, the edamame, turned them all to slime. I didn’t notice. I sprawled on the bathroom floor in various positions, clutching my husband’s hand, listening to him tell me it would be okay. I spent about an hour in the shower and then another hour in the bath with him pouring water on me, singing to me, doing anything he could to distract me from my certainty that I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t push to the other side of the smashing, obliterating pain.
BEN NOTE: The pain had a predictable peak, it would be painful and seem endurable, and then would ebb, and then would come back much much stronger and you would cry out and you would have to breathe in and out about four times until it was finally over. I was aware of every contraction because I was trying to time them on the app I had downloaded to my iPod touch, at least at first. I stopped for a while when I realized that we were in it for the long haul and the contractions were not really changing in length or frequency much.
(Hereafter Mr. Ben’s comments are in blue bracketed italics within the text.)
I shivered, and then I sweated, and then I shivered again. [We got to know our bathroom floor better than any other bathroom floor before or since.] I drank what felt like gallons of water [in fact you took on the tiniest sips that I had to force on you] until the very sight of a bendy straw made me nauseous. When I could catch my breath between contractions, I repeated a phrase from a prayer my shul’s congregation recites every Shabbes: “We have not come into being to hate or to destroy; we have come into being to praise, to labor, and to love.” Possibly this nauseous, moaning, hand-gripping, childbirth-type labor was not exactly what the writers of that prayer had in mind, but the words helped soothe me, even the tiniest bit, so I kept saying them. To praise, to labor, and to love.
And eventually, after hours that felt like whole deserts that had to be crawled across, the sun began to rise, timed perfectly to a newer, even more intense kind of pain and pressure. If I stayed at home any longer, I felt like I would have the baby right there on the bathroom floor, which, though not cold, hard Mexican ceramic tile, was not my ideal birthing locale, either. Mr. Ben called a car and a portly bearded man from Arecibo arrived with his chariot. “It’s okay, Mama-ji,” he told me as he helped unload me in front of Park Slope Methodist hospital in the misty half-light. “Girls do this every day, all over the world. Fifteen, sixteen year old girls!”
All the wheelchairs must have gossiping over their morning coffee together or something, because the lobby was empty. A resident who happened to be walking by changed direction and helped Mr. Ben support me up to Labor and Delivery. At that point, I could barely stand on my own. “I can’t do this,” I told Mr. Ben for the bazillionth time as we made it to triage. “You are doing it,” he assured me. The nurses summoned the midwife on call, and we held our collective breath until she entered — Donna, one of the other four midwives, a practical, confidence-inspiring woman with a wry sense of humor. Glory be, Hosannah, we had done it. If I could have relaxed, I would have. The mean midwife faded from memory as Donna took charge.
[SPOILER ALERT: FROM HERE ON OUT, THINGS GET KIND OF GRAPHIC. AS DR. SPACEMAN SAID, WHEN PRESIDING OVER A BIRTH, “EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS IS DISGUSTING!” READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.]
“Seven centimeters,” she told me. “Let’s get you to a room.” [That moment was one that I will never forget. Donna waited for a contraction to end, and you whimpered “It huuurts” while you were having the contraction. Then when it was done, she stuck her fingers up into your vagina and said, “You’re seven centimeters dilated” and smiled, and then I think she said “You’re not kidding it hurts.” I was so relieved, I just beamed at you. Because up until that point I really didn’t know how painful it had to be. Everyone was saying that women want the epidural at 3-4 centimeters, and I was just praying that we had gotten at least a little further than that. When we were at seven, I knew that we had gotten through the worst, the endurance/psychology of pain part.]
For the first time in my life, I saw things from the perspective of a patient on a gurney as I was wheeled through double doors and down a hall. [And I got to be by your side in the crowd of nurses and midwife wheeling the gurney!] For the first time, I felt myself attached to an IV and then given a HepLock so that I could move around. Seven centimeters meant that I had made it through active labor and was now in transition: the most challenging phase but also the shortest, and the very last before pushing. A very nice nurse asked me if I wanted an epidural. [She said it in a really sweet voice, like she was offering you candy. She was not making it easy for you to say “no thanks.”] I quavered. If I got the drugs, I could stop feeling like I was being repeatedly run over by an SUV. But they might also interfere with the last stage of the process and lead to a c-section.
The only decision I could make was that I wanted to be in the shower again. [Actually, you looked at me and said “I think I might want the epidural . . . .” And the nurse said “OK,” and started making arrangements for it. And then I had to say “she hasn’t decided yet,” because I knew that your use of the word “might” meant that you weren’t sure.] Charrow appeared and she and Mr. Ben together took on the job of getting me from 7 cm to 10 and across the finish line. They supported me as I stood crying under the [pathetically low-water-pressure] faucet, trying to twist myself into a comfortable position; afterwards, they took turns rubbing my back and holding my hand, listening to me babble and telling me I was doing great. They used up all the cold-packs in the room and moved on to latex gloves filled with ice, which they had to refill from the machine in the hall. I couldn’t have made it through without them. They propelled me forward; they propped me up; they cheered me on.
Then it was time to push.
“Hold your breath, bear down, and then roar like a lion,” said my otherwise sensible midwife. I looked at her like she was crazy, but she didn’t offer an alternative. I tried, though I wasn’t very successful. After several really strong contractions, she broke my water for me on the table and unspeakable liquids poured out of me, including meconium, a sign of fetal distress. Donna’s demeanor didn’t change — she remained calm and controlled — but a grim nervousness settled around the table: it was clear that I needed to deliver the baby soon. An hour later I was doing no better at the purple pushing. “I can’t, I can’t,” I sobbed. “She’s coming, she’s coming!” everyone replied. “Just a little more! We can see her hair!”
Donna summoned a team of pediatricians to be on hand as soon as the baby emerged. I was beginning to feel like she never would. All there would ever be of her was hair. Why had I not immediately said yes to the drugs? I couldn’t stand the pain; the pain was bigger than I was and it had eaten me alive. I wanted to go unconscious, to have them cut the baby out of me, to be done with all of this. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t.
“Her head! It’s coming! Just a little more!”
Mr. Ben on one side, Charrow on the other, pushing with me, crying with me; the nurse and the midwife exhorting me from between my legs; the unbelievable pressure; the pediatricians grouped just out of sight, waiting; roaring; and finally, finally, a tremendous swoosh and release. Donna caught something squirming and hot and passed it to the pediatricians. My eyes couldn’t focus — I found out later than I had burst blood vessels in and around them, leaving me looking like a boxer who’d gone down in the fifth. Charrow stayed with me while Mr. Ben followed the tiny, messy human being struggling in the gloved hands of the doctors.
[Things happened very quickly: there was the moment when Donna pulled over her rolling tray covered with surgical tools from the side of the room. Then there was the moment when they got your legs into the stirrups, the moment when there was a quick snip snip that no one commented on, but I asked about afterwards, and the moment when they put the big blue tarp up to catch whatever liquid came out with the baby. When the baby came out, it looked like the impossible was happening, it looked like CGI. There was this smushy yellow elongated alien with hair and eyes that emerged out of the area immediately next to your vag.]
An aggrieved cry resounded through the hospital room and we all breathed again. “Can I stop pushing now?” I asked the nurse, who rewarded me with a laugh. Then I added, “OK, I’ll take the drugs.” Charrow grinned. A world with no contractions in it! The very air was euphoric. My sense of humor, my sense of self, came back. I had a brief glimpse of something pulsing, huge, and red, like a jellyfish from outer space, as Donna delivered my placenta and started sewing me back together.
Lara had come out occipital posterior, or sunny-side up, which is rare and accounts for the extra difficulty of the delivery, including a natural tear and Donna’s small incision. (Which, by the way? OUCH.) The difficulty was compounded by Lara holding one fist stubbornly next to her face, like a stuffed animal she was clinging to, as she emerged.
The doctors finished prodding the baby, whose Apgar score had gone from an initial, worrisome 4 to a robust 8 within minutes, and handed her to me to warm up against my chest. She was skinny and long, funny-colored and scrunchy-faced, with lots of dark hair and an exhausted look in her eyes that I could imagine mirrored the one in mine. She was amazing: an amphibian churned out of dark water and thrown up on the shore of my body. All I could do was hold her and breathe.
Nearly two months later, I haven’t advanced much further than that, but she has. She’s become a very successful, charming, chubby little mammal who seems none the worse for her atypical delivery. I spend half my day staring at her, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that she used to be floating inside me, and and now thrives on the milk my all-you-can-eat Brestaurant provides. We had quite an adventure together, her and her father and me, one I can’t imagine two of the three of us, or Aunt / Doula Charrow, will ever forget.