Lily is 8 days old, and we’re all feeling pretty sleep deprived, but I’ve resolved to use the next hour or so to update everyone.
I’ll start at the beginning. At 3:30 in the morning on Wednesday, April 4, I woke up to go pee. Feeling period-like cramps in my lower abdomen, I wondered if this might be the start of something. Back in bed, I felt my first contraction – not unlike a normal Braxton-Hicks. The suspicion that I might be going into labor kept me up for another 30 minutes, and gradually, I began counting the contractions which were coming every 5 to 7 minutes and lasting between 45 seconds and a minute.
I woke Joshua up after the third contraction or so, and beset with self-doubt, I made him promise that he wouldn’t get too excited. I’ve heard way too many false labor stories to accept the first signs of labor as the real deal. By 5 o’clock we hadn’t slept a wink, and the contractions were consistent and more intense than they had been throughout the last few weeks of pregnancy. Joshua got up to pack bags, something we hadn’t quite gotten around to. In some strange reverse-psychology, I had decided that the less prepared I was, the more likely she was to arrive.
I took a shower while Joshua gathered our things, and when I finished, I went into the kitchen for breakfast. We told Kyle and Stacy (who are living with us at the moment – another story for later) our suspicions, and we all ate breakfast looking at my belly and the bags near the door.
Joshua and I spent the rest of the day timing my contractions and writing them down in a little journal. At one point, we went for a short, two-mile walk out to the new pier on Sloan’s Lake. Joshua insisted on snapping photos of me catching my breath in the middle of contractions and grimacing.
Back at home, I tried to find anything on Netflix to distract me, but there was nothing good. In fact, most things were pretty bad. Joshua worked on organizing our photos (an epic task that he’s been working on for days).
We tried to take a nap, but so much of me was still in doubt as to whether this was the real deal and whether we were wasting one of Joshua’s days off, that I couldn’t really sleep. As the day wore on, the contractions became more intense, and at 7 PM, we called the midwife. The midwife recommended that we stay at home until contractions were 2 to 3 minutes apart and lasting a minute long.
So we kept waiting. Stacy and Kyle got home, and it was clear that this was really happening. At some point, I began making noises and the pain became pretty intense.
At 10 PM, we called the midwife again. Contractions were 2 to 3 minutes apart, lasting a minute long, and I rated my pain an 8 out of 10. Connie, the midwife I had seen most often during my pregnancy, was on duty, and she told me to try to wait one more hour and then start making our way in.
At 11 PM, we bundled into the car and drove to St. Joseph’s Hospital in downtown Denver. We walked into the intake area, and I was immediately taken into a room where I was asked to lay down. The woman placed a fetal monitor on my belly, and checked my cervix. I was dilated to 4 cm, and the contractions were indeed 2 to 3 minutes apart.
Once the woman was certain that Lily was ok, she took me off the monitor and we walked upstairs to the Birthing Place. By now, the contractions were so intense that I was squealing, and the midwife urged me to make noise, but make a lower, deeper sound. So I did. I sounded ridiculous, I’m sure (like some roar from the Wild Things), but I was past caring.
Connie arrived, and Joshua and stripped down to our skivvies. In the jacuzzi, I labored for two hours, while Connie did this thing where she placed her hands on either sides of my hips and bore down with each contraction. That – and roaring – seemed to be the only way I could get through each contraction.
At 2 AM, Connie checked my cervix. I had dilated to 7 cm, but my water had still not broken. We moved back into the bedroom, and I labored for another hour, squatting and facing the back of the bed. By now, the contractions were very, very painful, and I was exhausted. My skin felt raw from Connie’s hands, but that was still my only relief.
At 3 AM, Connie checked my cervix again. It was clear that I was beginning to flag, and we were all dismayed to discover that I hadn’t dilated any further. We moved back to the tub.
I labored in the tub for another 2 excruciating hours. When Connie checked my cervix again and again found me at only 7 cm, she told us that my labor had stalled and the only way to progress further would be to break my water or put me on a pitocin drip, both of which would make my already unbearable contractions even more unbearable.
I think I began to sob. I had wanted a natural childbirth so very, very, very badly. I didn’t want medical interventions, and I didn’t want pain medication, but I was exhausted. I had already been away for 27 hours, and every time I felt another contraction coming, I felt as though I wouldn’t be able to survive. Connie told me that she had a very similar experience and that she had taken an epidural after so many hours. Completely spent, Joshua and I agreed.
Connie and the nurse put me on an IV to fill me with fluids, and then finally, at 7 AM, the anesthesiologist came in. Connie held my hands, and for the first time, I cried. I felt like I was letting down Lily, myself, and Joshua. I had wanted so badly to be strong enough. I couldn’t have asked for a better midwife, because I felt like she completely understood. With her similar experience, she was able to tell me that her second daughter didn’t love her any more or less than her first, that it was all worth it, and that it would be ok. She told me that if I had had a “normal” labor, if it had lasted less than 24 hours, I would have been fine. She told me that I can have a natural labor next time, just like she did her second time.
It was scary to labor through fierce contractions while someone placed a guitar string of medication down my spine, but within 20 minutes, I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t lift my legs.
Connie’s shift ended at 7 AM. She stayed through 745, until the epidural was through. I couldn’t have been more grateful for her help. From the time she arrived until the end, she was with us. She took two breaks – one to pee and one to call and update the next midwife. Otherwise, she was superwoman, pressing down on my hips with crazy strength for contraction after contraction after contraction.
The next midwife was Martine. I felt incredibly lucky, because when Joshua had asked who I would like to be on call, I said I hoped that it would be either Connie or Martine, and I got to have both of them. Once my epidural was in, Martine decided that I needed to rest for an hour, because I was completely spent.
It felt surreal to feel the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life for hours and hours, and then to feel nothing. I slept. After an hour or two (this is where things get a little fuzzy from exhaustion), Martine came back in to check my cervix. I had only dilated to an 8, so she decided to break my water to progress labor.
Martine and the nurse (who was lovely, but alas, whose name I have forgotten) broke my water. I couldn’t feel a thing. Not the break and not the water. Martine said she would come back in another hour or so to see how things had progressed.
At this point, I think Joshua sent out some texts. I had wanted to hold off telling people that I was going into labor until I knew for sure, at which point texting people was the last thing on our minds. As we rested, I looked out the window at Thursday morning sunlight and listened to the music that we had selected bright and early yesterday morning: Bon Iver, Alexi Murdoch, Patti Griffin, Tegan and Sarah, and Sun Kil Moon.
Martine came back in after a bit. I was dilated to 10 cm. It was time to push.
With a fetal monitor strapped to my belly, an IV hooked up to my right wrist, and an epidural in my back, nothing looked much liked I had hoped it would. Nevertheless, I was relieved that the end was in sight. If I was pushing, then I would have my baby girl soon.
But “soon” is relative. Martine watched the monitor, and when a contraction would hit (which I couldn’t feel), she would tell me to push HARD three times. We did this for an hour. I yelled and panted and pushed through it all, but because I couldn’t feel anything, we weren’t making much progress. My pushes were getting weaker because I was getting more tired.
We decided to turn down the epidural to about half so that I could feel the contractions and the pressure. An hour later, at 1230, we began pushing again.
On my right and my left the nurse and Joshua stood, holding my feet in the air. At each contraction, I was told to wrap my arms around my knees and bear down as though “I was pushing a stack of library books through my ass.” (Don’t know who said it, but it wasn’t me.) I did this for an hour, and then two.
So what’s the hold up? The nice nurse tells me that if I had been built like a milk maid, there wouldn’t have been a problem. As it is, she said, “you probably look very nice in jeans, and that’s not your fault, now, is it?” Martine and Joshua have been telling me that they can see Lily’s hair for the past hour and a half, but I can’t seem to push her head out from underneath my pubic bone. She’s wedged in tight, and every once in a while, I have to roll to my side and inhale straight oxygen to keep her heart rate up.
At some point, someone says, “we WILL be having this baby vaginally,” and I realize that the matter is up for debate. In fact, Lily is sunny side up (eyes facing the sky), and we’re informed that very few sunny side up babies are delivered vaginally these days, and hardly any are delivered without an epidural. A couple of obstetricians are called in to wrestle with Lily’s head, trying to get her to face down, but she resists. By now, there is a crap-ton of people in the room. Nurses, doctors, the midwife, Joshua. It felt like there were 15 people in the room (in my Birth Plan, and I quote, “we would like a very private birth with as few people as possible…”). Apparently, word had gotten out that something big was about to happen: either a c-section or a vacuum or maybe a really nasty episiotomy.
We’re given a choice. We choose the really nasty episiotomy. The obstetrician makes a snip that sounds like cutting jeans with scissors, and on the next push, Lily is out. In less than 30 seconds, Joshua has cut the cord, they’ve wiped her off, and she’s lying on my chest. I’ll never forget what she looked like the first second I saw her: purple with vernix on her skin, screaming. I can’t describe the relief that I felt that she was here and she is mine. As soon as they set her on my chest, she stopped crying and looked up at me with her enormous blue eyes. The song that we played as I walked down the Apple Orchard with my dad at our wedding came on. Heavenly Day. We stared at each other as chaos still ranged on: they pushed on my belly to expel the placenta, they flooded the epidural and began stitching me up.
21 stitches and 1 hour later, Lily was still on my chest. I had roped the nurse into helping me breastfeed her, and Joshua stood by, gazing at her perfects hands and toes. Her detached earlobes, her blonde hair. In my head, I sang along to Bon Iver, “I’m in love with your arm, I’m in love with your cheek.”