It was a week and a half before Eloise’s due-date and I was really beginning to get the hang of this whole maternity leave thing. I’d slept in, swam laps, taken a long, hilly walk, bounced on a yoga ball, and painted my toenails… well, tried to paint my toenails. I did deep condition my hair and shave my legs though. (Do you like how all my nesting centered on personal hygiene? My house was a wreck and my husband, Brakes, had not had a home cooked meal in weeks, but by God, my skin looked fantastic!) This was by far the most productive day I’d had since stopping work a week earlier.
The first week of my maternity break was pretty much dominated by my unsuccessful but valiantly attempted, “Give-Birth-in-Time-for-Mama-to-Toast-St.-Paddy’s-Day Campaign,” which included copious amounts of pineapple core, raspberry leaf tea, sex (okay, just reasonable amounts of sex), spicy food, walking, swimming, bouncing, more walking, and direct instructions to my daughter via me shouting at my stomach, all to no avail. She teased me on March 17th with semi-painful contractions three minutes apart all night long, which only resulted in the birth of my mucous plug the following morning. Brakes blushed bright red at work when he got a text from me that said: “The mucous plug has landed.” And for you weirdoes that want to know: my MP was not bloody, it just looked like thicker EWCM.
Anyways, on March 19th I had finally decided to embrace my life of leisure, while I still could, and I concerned myself with nothing besides the beatification of my body and tivoed back-episodes of Must-See TV. At 8:00 PM on the dot, I had just settled in for the newest episode of The Office when I felt an unmistakable pop followed by a warm gush. I shouted for Brakes.
Brakes is a scientist and a bit of a know-it-all so he was not convinced my water had broken because I managed to keep most of it off the couch. (Impressive, I know. I owe it all to Mr. Kegal.) Once I showed him my soaked shorts he called labor and delivery. Hoping to avoid pain-meds (needles give me the creeps), they recommended we wait until my contractions were three minutes apart for at least an hour and that I call and check-in with them again around 11:00 PM. We dilly-dallied around the house for a bit and then settled back down to watch The Office.
Before Dwight had given me my first gut-busting laugh I had a major contraction (approximately a level 5, said in my best geek-voice). Six minutes later, I had another one (level 5.5). Three minutes after that, I had a third (level 6). A minute and a half later: another. And another. And another. They were 1.5 minutes apart and getting more intense with each one. We decided to go to the hospital (but not before snapping these adorable pictures):
*Drive to the Hospital, 9:45 pm:
Okay people, we only live twenty-five minutes from the hospital, so riddle me this: Why did it take us almost twice that long to get to there on a fine-weathered, traffic-free, Thursday night?
Because Brakes decided to be extra prudent and not go above 45 MPH on I-280, bless his heart. At one point, after I had urged him to pick up the pace because I was having contractions every minute on the minute, Brakes made the mistake of informing me that I “only thought I was having contractions every minute, and that he knew when I was having a contraction.” He reasoned that I had lost my ability to read the clock when labor started. I reasoned that he had lost his ability to read an odometer or his wife. From that point on, I quit trying to be brave and vociferously narrated each contraction so that there would be no mistake about the rate in which they were occurring. Brakes’ foot developed some lead.
*Labor and Delivery, 10:30 pm:
Brakes finally dropped me off at the ER entrance and went to find parking; in San Francisco, this is no small feat!
Before they admit you at L&D, they have to confirm that your water broke. They ask you to swipe your pachina with a glass slide. After nearly slicing off my labia (that glass slide was scary-sharp), I had barely managed to get undressed when the worst contraction yet flooded me (level 9.5 according to my analysis, snort snort). I hit the ground on all fours and rocked back and forth groaning until it passed. It was here that Brakes found me; buck-naked on the bathroom floor mewling like a badly injured heifer. The rest of the mystery in our marriage slowly drained away right along with my dignity…
He helped me back to bed, put down the three bags of crapola we had brought as labor tools (FYI: A mini-DVD player and aroma therapy wickless candles are probably not necessary) and we met our nurse. After reading that knife-like slide, she started hooking me up to monitors (The most annoying part of labor. I hated them; I can’t be bound- ask anyone.) and discussed my pain-management preferences. Upon hearing my hope to go med free she very nicely said, “Okay crazy lady! More power to you!”
Next a very sweet doctor, who looked about ten, came in and asked me how I was feeling. “Just grand,” I told her, “ other than the ewok trying to claw out of my abdomen and the diamond point drill bearing down on my hienie.” She decided it would be prudent to check me. She determined that at 4 cm dilated, fully effaced, and at + 1/2 station, I was in transition labor. She warned me that first time moms can be in transition for hours and hours and with that blithe message, she skipped out of the room.
For the next two hours I labored. There is no other word for it. I felt like I was at the end of a very long, very hard work out. I was out of breath, sore, and bone tired with exhaustion. Towards the end I was actually falling asleep for the few seconds between contractions. To deal with the pain I mostly just breathed and held Brakes’ hand. My tip for pain-med-free labor: stay calm, quiet, and focused on not reacting. Don't think about the pain and don't give into the impulse to cry, writhe, and yell. It makes the pain worse and is zaps your energy. I also recommend having a really incredible husband (or partner, I don’t judge). Brakes was so amazing. He gently nurtured me and whispered reassurances that I was doing a good job and that I could handle what was coming. I don't think we have ever worked so effectively together. He anticipated my needs before I even recognized I needed something. When I started throwing up he was right there holding the bucket with nary a sympathy gag. (Puking mid-contraction is pretty much the definition of rotten.) He fed me ice chips and Pedialyte to keep me hydrated.
I changed positions a few times in labor; I sat on the ball, leaning over with my head and shoulders on the bed, I kneeled on all fours on the bed and rocked, or I lay on my side with my knees curled up. The contractions were heinous; much worse then menstrual cramps, (You people that told me they were like having a bad period? Liars! All of you!) and the pressure on my bottom put me in an ungodly amount of pain. But to be honest, the worst part was that there was no break! I was so tired and my body did not give me anytime to rest. Everyone says I lucked out having a relatively short labor, and I am sure in some ways I did, but for four and a half strait hours I was contracting every minute on the minute. That meant my body was in an almost constant state of contracting. It was a fierce, fierce labor!
I was beginning to worry about my ability to push Eloise out because I was so tired when the doctor came back to check me. I had decided that if I had not made significant progress then I would brave a shot to take the edge off and hopefully get some rest… But thank goodness, I could put off meeting Mr. Needle until another day! I was still fully effaced, at +2 station, and 7 cm dilated. As soon as I dilated to 10, they said I could push. The doctor turned to leave, murmuring she would be back in another couple hours but my roar stopped her dead in her tracks: "Oh no!” I insisted, “I will see you in twenty minutes! This baby is coming out in twenty minutes! I WILL NOT do this for more than another 20 minutes.” I think I scared her, because with an odd little smile and a quick nod, she scurried out of the room. “Don’t go far!” I shouted at her retreating back.
Less than ten minutes later I felt the urge to push. It is indescribable how strong that urge was for me. It was like my body was doing it on its own and I had no control! I looked at the nurse and said, "I have to push," and then did this face distortion thing like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. Then came the grunts. Brakes said I sounded like a wounded animal; half wolverine, half wart-hog (like I said, he’s a scientist. He would know). Whatever species I was imitating, it got the nurses attention because when she heard the grunt she yelled into the intercom: "Urge to push! Urge to push!"
The doctor rushed in and checked me. I was at 8 cm. She said, "Katie, calm down. You are not ready yet. It is still going to be awhile." I had another contraction and made the grunting/yelling animalistic noise again. Surprised, she quickly re-checked me. I was at 9 cm. She and the nurse rushed to get the tools set up and I had another contraction. I was at 10 cm. Every contraction dilated me another centimeter. The nurse and doctor were shocked at how fast I was going. My body was pushing by itself already; I just needed permission to help it along.
Finally I was given the okay and while Brakes and the nurse each held a leg, I grabbed the back of my thighs and pushed hard for the count of ten. We did three counts of ten with each contraction and let me tell you, there is no better feeling than finally being able to push. It alleviated so much pressure. It was like my bottom was finally able to exhale.
They wheeled a mirror in so that I could see what I was doing. At first glance I experienced a panic unlike anything I've ever felt before. There was this tiny hole with this gigantic mound trying to come out. As the nurses told me to push, and I shoved with all my might, and the hole only became marginally larger, I cried to Brakes that I couldn't do it: "I have small crevices!" reverberated down the hall. I pointed to the hole as evidence of my small crevices and a knowing smile appeared on Brakes' face. He gently pointed about two inches higher in the mirror where there was another hole... in which a hairy head was beginning to emerge. (That's right, folks; in my daughter's first moments of life I mistook her for what may or may not have been a piece of woops trying to escape the confines of my rectum. Mother of the year over here… Oh, and BTW, my kid looks nothing like a poop. Just wanted to clarify.)
As soon as I saw her dark hair I became super motivated to meet her in real life! I gave a mighty push and part of her head whooshed out. All the sudden everyone was yelling at me, "Stop pushing! Short pushes, short pushes!" The nurse showed me how to do little pushes, which I managed by making gorilla noises, which somehow reminded me of a sitcom I watched as a child. The one with the little boy that said, "What you talking about, Willis?" I was laughing about that when Eloise's shoulders and body slid out. (I may have gone a little crazy by this point.) I swear I have never felt such blessed physical relief in my entire life! It was amazing. I savored it and then I demanded to see my daughter.
I said, "Hi, baby! There's my girl!" She looked totally different than what we had thought she would look like but somehow I recognized her. I held her to my bare chest and kissed and cooed at her. She was beautiful. Blue but beautiful. Brakes cut the cord (after it quit pulsating), which made blood splatter all the way up to the ceiling while the nurse wiped her off. It took her a minute or two to pink up and start crying because her cord was wrapped around her neck but I barely noticed. I think I instinctively knew that everything was going to be fine.
And everything was fine- with her. Me and my hienie were another story. I had an external 2nd degree tear and an internal tear on my cervix. On the internal one, they had a hard time stopping the bleeding. Soon there were four doctors crowded around me and they were talking about giving me a transfusion and pain meds so that I would hold still while they sewed me up.
I’ll be honest, I felt pretty violated by this time. I had done my part; I pushed my darling girl out without so much as a swallow of whiskey to anesthetize me. I had carried my baby to term, happily giving up seafood, wine, and stomach sleeping. I had joyfully put on thirty pounds, watched hair sprout from my stomach, and dark blotches appear on my cheeks. I felt like my job was over, the pain should stop, and I should be able to enjoy these first precious minutes with my daughter without needles and sutures flashing and an angry attending holding my hips still. I burst into tears for the first time since my water had broken.
They took the baby away because I was wiggling around so much. I was instantly devastated but in one silent action Brakes managed to simultaneously calm me down and give our baby-girl the bonding and warmth she craved. Brakes knew how important skin-to-skin touch right after birth was to me, and he saw the panic in my eyes when they took Eloise out of my arms. Without me even saying a word, he ripped off his shirt and snuggled Weezy against the warm (and substantial!) muscles covering his heart. She listened to it beat, and with that, my pulse slowed down too. I was able to relax and the doctors finished sewing me up successfully and I did not have to get any pain-meds.
Soon I was drinking a juice box and basking in the post birth glow, which for the record is strictly an internal thing. I looked like hell after birth. I had broken all the capillaries in my face, chest, neck, and shoulders, and my features were swollen to almost unrecognizable proportions. I will not share the pictures taken directly after birth, as I do not want to remind Brakes that I have ever been so unattractive, but I will share one from two days later so that you can tell I am not exaggerating; I really did look like I’d been hit by a truck.
Making, birthing, and mothering Eloise has been the best experience of my life. It is my greatest privilege and it has forever changed the way I view the world and myself. I am so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to participate in this experience and words cannot describe the joy and sense of rightness I feel doing this together, with Brakes by my side.