My labor started suddenly, at about 1 p.m. on my due date, Tuesday, May 10, 2005. At first, I ignored the crampy contractions, thinking they were some weird fluke-y thing, or maybe that I’d jinx things if I got all excited. But they didn’t go away, and soon I was glancing at my watch every time one started. My watch isn’t the greatest for timing, and I kept forgetting what time the last one had been, but they seemed to come every three minutes or so right from the start, and to be about 30 seconds long.
After an hour the cramps were still mild but just as regular, and I gave A a call at work to tell him that something was probably going on, but not to come home yet. And I baked a dozen chocolate chip cookies and puttered around the house. An hour later, when the contractions were still regular and getting stronger (though I was still being imprecise about timing them), I called him again and said, “I think you should come home and help me time these.” At that point they felt about a notch worse than the worst period cramps I’ve had. Totally manageable.
A got home around 3:30 and, feeling proud of our nerdiness, set to work making an Excel spreadsheet to track the length and distance apart of each contraction.
I started out doing a lot of standing and swaying during contractions, or sitting and rocking back and forth, but by about 5 p.m. I was spending more time on my hands and knees, leaning forward on the birth ball, or lying on my side in the middle of the living room floor. A and Mom started taking turns holding a hot pack on my back. I was already pretty focused on getting through the contractions by relaxing completely both during and in between. A and Mom were also making a lot of phone calls, letting various family members know what was going on. I was aware of all this, and extremely aware of the sounds outside the house—birds singing, and, later, rain falling—but I already felt like I was in my own world, and while my senses seemed sharp, I was keeping it all at the periphery of my consciousness and focusing on relaxing and on what was going on with my body.
Things took a major turn at about 6 p.m., when I had a hard contraction and promptly afterward, threw up… into the nice pottery bowl we had on our coffee table. Mom and A scurried around cleaning up after me, bringing me a toothbrush, continuing to keep the hot pack on my back at the right times and to rub my back. I remember feeling really well taken care of, then and throughout labor.
After that, the contractions got a lot harder, and I became even more focused. I think this is when I started making low moaning sounds through each contraction—something that I continued to do throughout labor. Also at this point, A called our doula, Rita, who said she was going to take a shower and then head to our house.
I think Rita arrived at about 7 or 8. By then I was spending most of the time lying on the living room floor, switching from lying on one side to the other. I spent some time in the shower, which felt great, and lay on the bed for a while and then on the living room floor again. A, Mom, and Rita sat on the couches.
I wasn’t exactly miserable, but I remember thinking how pleasant it must be to spend an evening watching someone in labor, compared to actually being the person in labor. I was still making lots and lots of moaning sounds through each contraction, and I remember being very, very relaxed in between many of them, even almost falling asleep.
Around midnight, Rita suggested that A and I go up and lie in bed and try to get some rest / sleep in between contractions. I’d been starting to wonder whether we should go to the hospital soon, but was waiting for a cue from Rita, because I didn’t want to go too soon. I was thinking Rita would somehow have a good sense of how far along I was and say something when she thought we should go. I definitely felt that contractions were getting harder and harder to deal with, and was feeling like I must be pretty far along. I didn’t say anything, but I was a little discouraged that she recommended going to bed—like she must think this was going to take a lot longer. But lying in bed had been pretty comfortable earlier, so I agreed and we went upstairs.
After a few contractions in bed, it was clear that things were getting much harder. Instead of making relaxed, low moans, a few times I felt like I was shouting, like the sound you’d make if someone stepped on your foot really hard, over and over. Then there was a super intense contraction that, like the one earlier in the evening, lasted much longer and was much harder than the ones leading up to it, and after that I got up and ran / waddled to the bathroom to puke—which I did for quite a while, while A cleaned up and continued to help me through contractions. I got back in bed after a while, and the contractions continued to be really, really hard and I started to wonder in earnest about going to the hospital. I was feeling a lot of what Rita kept calling “rectal pressure” —like I needed to shit—which was getting more and more intense.
A and I had a short discussion about when to go, and he told me that Rita had said we’d rely on my cues to time that, that I’d know when it was time. This was news to me, and I was starting to feel like we should go soon. A went downstairs to get Rita. I think it was shortly after she came up that I said, “I think we should go to the hospital pretty soon,” even though I was still afraid that this was just the beginning and that I’d end up laboring at the hospital for hours and hours. Rita suggested trying the shower again, and I thought that sounded good—that it might rejuvenate me for the trip. So I said I’d get in the shower for a while and then would want to get in the car.
The shower felt awful. The water felt like it was irritating my body and making me more tense as it hit me, and I was cold and shaking hard from the beginning, even though the water felt too hot. I did maybe one or two contractions in the shower before saying, “I think we should go to the hospital now.”
Rita came in and asked me a lot of questions about what I was feeling—the nature of the rectal pressure, did it hurt in front or in back more. I found it very hard to answer her. It seemed impossible to put what I was feeling into words, and it also seemed very petty that she was asking these things. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what she was going to do with this information! I remember saying, “It just feels like I’m going to explode,” and then, after a few more questions of hers, “I just think we should go to the hospital now or I’m not going to be able to go.”
So we went. Rita helped me dry off and dress, and I could hear A and Mom making phone calls downstairs, telling various people that we were headed to the hospital (it was 12:45 a.m.).
I was wearing yoga pants which were totally covered in mucous / blood, and a blue tank top with vomit down the front. I’d shed my underwear and bra at different points in the evening, and I remember that putting on sandals felt excruciating—bending down to deal with them, and also the feeling of them on my feet. My walk at that point was a cross between a stagger and a waddle, and I’d gotten used to the cycle of contractions—if I wanted to do anything or get anywhere (like, say, down the stairs and into the car), I had to start it asap after the contraction ended, so I wouldn’t get trapped on the stairs when the next one started. And I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way or hold me back as I was doing this, either. So I bulldozed down the stairs and out to the car while those guys were still finishing up phone calls and gathering bags.
Rita said something like, “If you’re not comfortable sitting down, you can turn backwards and lean over the seat.” There was no question in my mind—sitting down wasn’t an option. So I leaned over the seat. It was raining a little, and I remember seeing all the streetlights shining through the drops of water on the windows, but mostly I kept my eyes closed. I couldn’t tell you which route we took to the hospital. I know that A ran one red light. I was moaning loudly, and Mom was in the back seat talking on the phone to the doctor, whom, thankfully, she had remembered to call. I could tell she was unsure what she was supposed to say, but she got across the point that we were on the way to the hospital and needed the doctor to be there soon. I think the noises I was making were probably pretty persuasive.
As we arrived at the hospital I found myself in a state of complete unwillingness to be interfered with. Bureaucratic procedures and social conventions seemed absolutely trivial, and although I still felt extraordinarily aware of everything going on around me, I pretty much did not do anything but what I needed to to get through each contraction. This meant that I was on my hands and knees moaning and bellowing in the hospital hallway for about four or five contractions on the way to the elevator. A security guy appeared and escorted us to the elevator. He kept offering me a wheelchair, and I kept saying “NO.” So the guy would walk along with us and then loiter about 15 feet ahead when he realized I’d dropped to the ground again.
When we got to the right floor, I remembered exactly where the triage area was. Someone sitting behind a desk said, “Can I help you?” I said, “I hope so,” and promptly dropped to my knees leaning on a chair to moan through another contraction. They got us into an exam room in short order. Later Rita told us that they'd been unusually flexible with the admission procedure, not making us do a ton of paperwork right away and not even making me be on the fetal monitor for 20 minutes. Who knows why this was. My theory is that it was clear to them that I wasn’t going to put up with anything. Another possibility is that I was making so much noise they wanted to get me the hell out of the triage area and into the farthest possible labor room so I wouldn’t disturb the other patients.
I don’t have a great memory of what happened in the exam room. I know that they monitored the baby for a while, but I don’t remember thinking about it or worrying at all whether it was ok. The baby’s well-being, in my mind, seemed like a given, and the monitoring seemed like a hoop to jump through.
She checked my cervix and announced that I was about 6 or 7 centimeters. Six or seven! I was afraid when I heard this. I had heard and read over and over that you should not count on progress being consistent, or try to calculate how long labor will last based on how long it’s taken you to dilate this far. But the contractions were so intense, and the pressure—which felt more and more like the fabled “urge to push” —was so great, I didn’t see how I could continue to get through it for even a few more minutes, let alone the minimum time I assumed it would take to get to 10 centimeters. I mean, what’s the fastest you’d think a person could pull off four centimeters of dilation?
We weren’t in the exam room very long before they told us we could go to a labor / delivery room. I believe I was wearing only the pukey tank top at this point, and, like I said, I wanted to act quickly between contractions. Mom tried to get me to take off the tank top and put on a hospital gown, and I not only thought that sounded itchy and hot and horrible, but also had no patience for the whole ridiculous convention of clothing. I was fully ready to walk to the labor/delivery room wearing only the tank top, and I think I was even partway out the door before the nurse forced me (in the most gentle way possible) to put on a robe. I did not put on my sandals – the thought of those things touching my feet was completely abhorrent.
So, somewhat suitably dressed, we made our way to the room where Ingrid would be born. My memory of what order things happened there is foggy, and my visual memory of it is alarmingly sparse. I could hardly tell you what anything looked like, let alone who was in the room at any given point, or who was doing what.
I remember using the bathroom and then climbing onto the bed. I was more or less out of my mind, yet surprisingly able to think clearly about certain things that you’d think I would have overlooked. Knowing the way to the triage area is one example; I also reminded Rita to tell the nurse I wanted to use the hydrotherapy tub, though I could not see how I was going to survive long enough for a tub to be wheeled into the room and filled up.
I don’t know how many contractions I went through on the bed—not many—before I blurted out something (between bellows that I’m sure were getting increasingly horrifying) that I’d been feeling for a while without thinking it could be right: “I wish I could push!” This seemed to kick people into action. I heard Rita or the nurse murmur something that included “…push…” and the nurse checked my cervix again—and said I was basically fully dilated, “just a lip left.” I think I almost cried with relief when I heard this. This was only about 20 minutes after they’d said I was six or seven centimeters.
That was the good news. The bad news? They didn’t want me to push until the doctor arrived. I said something like, “Where IS she?” It felt like it had been ages since we arrived at the hospital, and I was wondering if she was driving down from Canada or something.
Not pushing (or trying not to push) was the hardest physical task I’ve ever done. I can’t describe the feeling of it … pain is one thing, but this was like pain that wants to make you do something, and not doing that thing is like—well, it’s bad. It’s like going against the forces of nature.
Here is where Rita was worth about three times her weight in gold. After the nurse left the room, she said, “You know, on the next contraction, try to put a little of that sound [I was still bellowing like a stabbed moose] into pushing, just to relieve some of the pressure.” Was I ever glad to hear that! Pushing even a little bit was an immense relief. I didn’t realize at the time that Rita had told me behind the nurse’s back to do this, but I’m so glad she did. Then when the nurse came back in and noticed I was pushing, Rita said something very calm and diplomatic like, “The baby is not going to fall out onto the floor before the doctor gets here,” and she let me be.
It wasn’t long before the doctor got there anyway. It was a doctor I hadn't met before, and she introduced herself to me. I remember thinking, can we cool it with the niceties and just get the baby out? She gave me the ok to push hard. And I did. It took a while to get the hang of it, I think, but not that long. It was like each contraction was making me push in a certain way, and I had to follow what the pain was telling me to do. It seemed when I was doing it right it just felt better.
Even though pushing felt a lot better than not pushing, it was very, very intense and hard. I wish I had better words to describe it. Calling it pain doesn’t seem adequate. It did hurt. But more remarkable than the pain was the pressure, and the feeling of being possessed—or being an animal. I remember thinking it is amazing that so many people have managed to get born in the world so far. I remember thinking (completely irrationally since I was so close to the end) that in fact I would need to get an epidural, or perhaps have a C-section, right then. I remember thinking—and saying— “I can’t do it,” which was met with instant encouragement from everyone in the room. Rita, a couple of times, gave me some gentle but stern talks about how I needed to focus on my breathing, and that helped.
Shortly after I started pushing hard, my water broke. This was astounding, because I’d forgotten that that was going to happen at some point, and because it felt like it was shooting out of me with the strength of an ocean wave, and it kept coming and coming and coming—I could hear it splattering onto the floor. And because, as it emptied out the feeling of the contraction changed, got more intense, like the baby was pressing down on me harder and harder. After it was all over I asked A if it’d gotten him wet, because it felt like the fluid must have shot about five feet into the room. Apparently it didn’t, it just flowed out onto the bed and from there to the floor. But boy was it strong.
Rita very calmly said, “It looks like there is meconium in the fluid, so there will be extra people in the room for delivery, and they’ll need to take the baby right away to suction the airways.” I remember letting out a whimper at the thought of someone taking the baby, but another contraction started then and this too began to seem like a superficial concern.
And I kept pushing. With each contraction I was pushing three or four times, holding my breath for longer than I thought possible. I pushed all the way through the end of each contraction, because the contractions felt so much worse when I wasn’t pushing. And then it would keep hurting in between contractions, too.
At one point, Rita said, “Soon you’ll be able to reach down and feel the baby’s head,” and I think I almost cried then. It was a joy I’d forgotten was coming, and a sign that I was almost done. Up until then I’d had no sense of making progress, and no sense that I could even start thinking about labor ending soon or about the reality that a baby was coming out of this. Hearing this from Rita made it feel like running the last leg of a race—the end was in sight, and I could put everything I had into getting there.
I have no memory of how long each step of this took, or of who was in the room, or who was doing what, but I continued to feel so well taken care of. I know that a couple of people were holding up my leg, and that someone was wiping my face with a cool wet cloth.
I remember almost wanting to suck on the cool cloth because my mouth was so dry and my throat was getting so sore from all the bellowing.
They were also continually monitoring the baby’s heart rate, but the whoosh-whoosh sound was pure background noise to me. Mom told me later that it made her incredibly anxious to hear the heart rate drop with each contraction, or to hear it stop when the monitor slipped away from the right spot on my belly. If I’d been in my right mind, I’d probably have been out of my mind with worry about that as well … but as it was, I was operating on the assumption that the baby was and would be fine. I could hardly tell you what the monitor looked like, or how they had it attached to me, or what motions of mine would make it slip off of me.
When the baby’s head was emerging, the doctor said something like, “You can reach down and feel the head now,” and then, “Do you want to feel it?” For some reason I assumed she was talking to A. I think she wasn’t calling me by name, and I didn’t know her or know her voice, so the things she was saying seemed like part of the background noise to me. Finally Rita took my hand and guided it down there—the head felt kind of soft, almost spongy, and wet and warm, and a little hairy. I felt this delirious joy that there was a real baby there, and that it would be out of me soon! It was a remarkable sensation, and if Rita hadn’t intervened I don’t think I’d have broken out of my little labor world to reach down and feel it.
After that it was the homestretch…it must not have taken many more pushes before the head was (painfully) out…then a little break, and then the shoulders, which were unexpectedly painful to push out. (Rita told me later that the baby had her arm up by her shoulder, which probably explains this.)
The first moments after the baby was out are blurry in my memory. I don’t remember seeing the baby right away. I remember craning around and trying to see it, and getting weird glimpses of a baby that seemed far too large to have lived inside me. But for the most part, for the first minute or so, I was totally overtaken by an immense sense of relief. I’ve never been so glad to be done with anything, ever. It was luscious to think that from that moment on I could go through life without a contraction coming every three minutes.
After what seemed like quite a long time after the baby was born (but it was probably only a minute or two), the doctor said, “Well, does anyone want to know if it’s a boy or a girl?” A and I had both forgotten to care about this—we were so overwhelmed by the very existence of a baby and the intensity of what had just happened. It seemed like it took a long time for A to walk around the bed and get into a position where he could see, before he said, “It’s a girl!”
A girl! I was thrilled. And then I got to see her face, which looked so much like my dad and brother, and like me. And she was so big. I couldn’t believe she had been inside me, and come out of me.
It wasn’t long before they lay her on my chest. She’d been fussing and crying a little, and when she came in contact with my skin she became quiet immediately. Her skin was so soft. And she was alert and looking around. It was hard to see her, because I was lying down, but A and Mom could see her big blue eyes open up. I’d been waiting for so long to hold her, and she seemed so content, I could believe she had been waiting and looking forward to this moment as long as we had.
She was 9 lbs., 2 oz., and was born at 2:40 a.m.
When I was all through being stitched up and cleaned up, we were moved to a recovery room. I rode over in a wheelchair holding Ingrid in my arms, all wrapped in blankets and with a little stocking cap on that made her look like a munchkin. I was talking to her in a string of baby talk and pet names that I’d never known I was capable of. Her eyes were open as we wheeled down the hall, and it was amazing to see her looking up at me.
In the recovery room I fell asleep holding her. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning I lay her in the bassinet while I went to use the bathroom, and then fell back asleep. A bit later she woke up fussy, and when I picked her up, lay her on her side on my chest, and jiggled her a little, she fell right back asleep, all calm and snuggly. I think I will always remember just how her little face looked as the room got lighter and lighter that morning.