My contractions started around midnight on Saturday morning, although at first I wasn't exactly willing to admit they were contractions because that would mean I was in labor, and that would be huge. J started timing them and when he excitedly showed me his perfect handwritten notations, and explained that the contractions were about 10 to 12 minutes apart, I'd say something like, "No, you know what? I think that last one was it. I think it's over." It wasn't, however, over. I tried sleeping as the beginning was uncomfortable, but not incredibly painful, and I imagined we had a long day ahead. But sleeping was difficult, as I was anticipating the culmination of a long nine months. The end of pregnancy. Birth. Something totally new. After several restless hours we got up and called the hospital. We talked to the doctor on call and decided to remain at home for awhile and see what happened.
While the real thing was much more intense than all the practice sessions, I was happy we'd attended childbirth classes. I breathed, slowly, in and out, trying to picture myself by the water with a glass of wine - the scene I'd chosen when prompted by our instructor during our "deep relaxation" exercises. It turned out that thinking about a glass of wine made me feel like I was going to throw up, so I ditched that imagery, but I kept up with the breathing. It was a distraction method, a way to cope.
When my contractions were 3 to 5 minutes apart and lasting a minute each, we made sure we had everything we needed in the bag we'd packed, got in the car, and headed to the hospital. It was this absolutely beautiful day, about 75 degrees and the sky was a piercing blue. This was not at all what I'd wanted, not at all. I'd pictured being in labor on a rainy day - a Monday preferably - when I could rejoice in the fact that I didn't have to work, when a day spent in the hospital was perfectly reasonable. But this...a perfect Saturday. It seemed so ridiculous to spend it breathing heavily while sitting on an exercise ball or falling into a deep squat as I felt another contraction coming on in the upstairs hallway, as my husband supported me. What was this? Some kind of joke?
And it turned out that morning's drive to the hospital was only our first. I was overjoyed when we arrived. Maybe it was the change of scenery, or maybe it was the fact that I tend to like being around trustworthy medical professionals, I don't know. But after being hooked up to a couple monitoring devices and waiting in the tiny triage room for what seemed like forever, the doctor - one I really liked, thankfully - arrived and announced that I was only two or three centimeters dilated (which prompted a rather loud, "You have GOT to be kidding me"), and it would probably be best for us to head home for a while until I was further along, because hadn't I said I'd like to wait as long as possible to come to the hospital (yes, I'd said that) and hadn't I wanted to be at home, rather than cooped up in some room, for the beginning part (yes, I'd said that, too)?
So I got dressed and we picked up our bag and left, and I told myself over and over that my initial instincts were correct. The next few hours passed uneventfully, really, except for the fact that things got more challenging. "Challenging" was a word I'd heard uttered many times in regards to childbirth and I finally got what it really meant. "Challenging," as in, "If I am not more than 2 or 3 centimeters dilated when we return to the hospital, then, honestly? Let's just call this whole thing off." I worked with it the best I could. A long, hot shower. More squats. The exercise ball. The breathing, which was getting louder and louder. J was amazing, helping me any and every way he could. It had only been a few hours, maybe three, since we'd returned home, but I knew it was time to go back, like the doctor said I would, I just knew.
The resident who examined me when we'd, once again, made our way up to the fourth floor triage area, became the first of my many favorite people that day upon announcing that I'd been "doing some hard work" at home and was around 6 centimeters dilated, to which I responded with a resounding "Thank GOD!" but held off on giving him a hug as that would have been somehow too much.
I had been up in the air about an epidural before labor. My attitude was something like, well, if I go in and am close to having the baby, I think I can hold off. I've got nothing against pain relief, it just seemed that if I could remain standing up rather than lying in bed, using gravity to my advantage, do it the good old natural way, then why not? That line of thought, which, honestly, seemed very reasonable when childbirth was a theoretical, not actual, part of my life, was abandoned in a heartbeat when I returned to the hospital and discovered I was finally moving along at a decent clip. "I want it," I explained to the nurse and the resident. "I wasn't sure before, but now I am. I really, really want tons of drugs, ok?"
The nurse did me a kind service by reassuring me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my decision. "You're tired. You've been up all night. Let's say this takes four more hours. Can you do this without pain relief for four more hours?" I managed a smile and hesitated not a moment before saying "No. No, I can't."
Because getting pain relief takes a little while once you request it, I was closer to 7 or 8 centimeters when the anesthesiologists administered my epidural. Once it took effect, things got fun, I'm not kidding, and stayed that way. J, in relating the story later, told everyone I got really "chatty." True. I suddenly wanted to talk birth statistics with the doctor and nurses who were hanging out in my room, and tell the anesthesiologists, "Hey, how fun is YOUR job? People have got to love you." Lying there in the dim light of the birthing room, as the long, long day turned into night, we finally discussed your name.
It didn't take long at all before I was ready to push, and at that point I felt ready to do some hard work again, ready for the last stage of labor. When the doctor examined me, however, she found that you were facing up - towards my bellybutton - not down. This is not an ideal position for delivery, but certainly not a deal breaker. The pushing stage just might take longer, she explained. Still, I understood at that point that there was a chance things might not go exactly as planned.
Pushing was hard. I asked J, who acted as counterpart to the nurse during the entire process, for a constant supply of ice chips because my throat got so dry. But at least I finally felt that I was playing an active role, and knowing that the harder I pushed, the sooner I got to meet you was all the encouragement I needed, although everyone in the room provided so much more.
The problem was, no matter how hard I pushed, you remained content where you were, your little heartbeat constant and steady. You were happy and in no danger, but not on your way out. You were situated up under my pubic bone, the doctor said. It had been three hours since I began pushing, and I was doing a great job, they assured me when I asked if there was anything else I could do, but you had barely moved at all. We'd tried pushing on my side, and all on all fours, without any luck. A C-section seemed the best option at this point, my doctor explained.
Leading up to my due date I told a few people that my biggest, perhaps only, childbirth fear was the loss of control - that I'd be at the mercy of the doctor, and if the doctor decided on a surgical birth, I'd have no way to dispute that, even if I didn't think it was necessary. But as I was discovering with everything that day, what I felt prior to those very first contractions and the beginning of this whole affair was nothing like what I felt during it. First of all, my doctor and nurses were incredible, providing me with such support that I trusted them without question. And as though they sensed my previous concerns, they told me, as they explained the reasons for the C-section, that I had done everything possible to avoid one.
Plus, as I mentioned before, everything had changed when I'd received that life-saving drug earlier in labor, and I was still in an excellent mood. "Ok!" I said. I felt clear-headed and confident. "It's a little disappointing, but I totally understand."
The surgery was by no means an emergency, as you seemed content no matter how the labor progressed, so the team began preparations in a relaxed manner. A new anesthesiologist with a head scarf adorned with smiley faces and bright colors - a Grateful Dead-esque accessory - arrived to top off my epidural. I'd feel more numb, he told me, and my heart might race for a few minutes. Feeling completely awesome, it turned out, was another side effect. They could have announced they were going to saw off one of my legs while they were at it and I'm pretty sure I would have responded, "You know what? Whatever you think is best. GO FOR IT."
They took J aside to prep him. At this point everyone was wearing those paper hats that surgeons wear, just like on TV. I had one, too. "Should I put this hat on?" I asked. "How about I put this hat on?!?" I mean, were we having a party, or what?
The next move was a major transition. I was moved from my bed to a table and wheeled from the dark quiet of my delivery room to a bustling, bright operating room where everyone got ready for the task at hand. I remember thinking that everyone was in such a good mood, chatting about their weekends, for instance, and I felt so totally comfortable with these people. The anesthesiologist, who remained close at hand during the surgery, flipped a switch on a stereo and Bob Marley filled the room. Soon J was sitting by my side in scrubs and a face mask.
Everything I'd learned about C-sections previously and found at all scary just didn't matter. My hands were secured to the table, at least I think they were, and I was totally naked, I suppose, beyond the sheet they'd set up so we'd be blissfully unaware of the actual surgical procedure going on. But I was completely alert, and I wasn't nervous in the slightest. J and I talked carelessly, I don't even remember what about, but I do remember thinking that it was as though we were out having a beer or two. I realized at the time that he was probably trying hard to keep me talking so I'd be distracted from the fact that I was being operated on, and that he was doing such a good job that I was actually into the conversation. And on some other level, some level beyond the drug-induced high and the celebratory atmosphere in the operating room, I was totally aware that I could not love a person more.
I had no idea they'd even begun the procedure. Then we heard a baby cry. We stopped speaking mid-sentence and looked at each other with eyes wide, mouths agape, and the sudden understanding that that was our baby. While you were being quickly examined by the pediatrician on call that night, one of the nurses came by to tell us how cute you were. "Chipmunk cheeks," somebody said.
We waited, but not long, and suddenly, nearly 24 hours after we'd begun, you were in your father's arms, blinking in the bright light. I knew then that any preconceived notions I'd had about childbirth didn't matter at all, nor did the logistics or medical certainties. Because whatever it took to bring you into this world would have ended up being perfect. As "One Love" played and the dutiful doctors finished their work, we said hello, the three of us.