On Wednesday, two days before my due date, I dreamt I was having my period and woke up at 4 a.m. with mild contractions. They remained regular but light throughout the day, so I checked in with the midwives, then bustled around getting the house in order, scrubbing the toilet and floors, vacuuming, and setting up the birth supplies. I was rather surprised, as I had told myself the baby would be at least a week late, just like my Mama's babies. After I felt like the house was presentable, William and I went for a walk and came home for a nice lunch--the last meal I would be able to eat for many days. After that, the contractions would be just too intense to leave me with any appetite. I had a lump in my throat all day, like I could cry at any moment. Not from sadness or frustration, but from submission to the ecstasy.
The contractions steadily built throughout the day. I never felt overwhelmed by them, so long as I was upright and moving and moaning them out. It was amazing to hear my own familiar voice making new noises. Hanna and Nancy came over in the evening, set up all their supplies, and sat down to knit and spell each other off with naps. I wondered if the baby would come by morning, and felt a bit disappointed that my mother would miss the birth. I managed to doze a bit between contractions. Lying down spaced them out but made them more intense, so I could catch up to 7 minutes of sleep at a time before getting up on hands and knees to work through each one. Early in the morning my water broke, and I braced myself for the contractions to become more intense. They didn't, however--with the morning light, they slowed down. Nancy asked if I wanted to be checked, and I agreed. She found me 3.5 cm dilated, and suggested that I try to rest as much as possible to conserve my energy for what would probably be another long night of labor. They left to go about their days.
Being only 3.5 cm after 24 hours of labor was a bit deflating, but there was always another contraction to focus on, and time didn't linger. My mother arrived that evening, and around midnight I had Nancy and Hanna come back. The contractions grew in intensity, and by Friday morning I was 6 cm dilated when Ami checked me (Ami was on call Friday, so she and Nancy switched out). Now I was deeply involved in each one, but also extremely lucid and very much aware of what was going on around me. At one point, as a particularly profound contraction faded away, I started to cry. "I'm going to have a baby!" I sobbed to Mama and Ami, "I'm so happy!"
I had to get louder to keep up with the contractions. "Mmmmmm mmmHMMMM nyaaaAAAAH nyaaaAAAAH!" I felt l was channeling something, that so long as I stayed all the way open and let them out through my voice, I could ride the contractions, submit to them, and be sustained by the ecstasy alone. Of course I was also quite literally channeling something--somebody!
I lay down for a rest in the middle of the afternoon, which, like before, spaced out the contractions but made them more intense. At last, I woke up with one contraction that did not stop. It rolled on and on for half and hour, forty-five minutes. I shivered and bellowed and held on to William and cried in joy. He told me later that he cried, too, the emotional intensity was so palpable in my vicinity. And to myself, I thought, "perhaps this is transition!" but I couldn't say anything. I was lucid enough to be relieved, though--if this was transition, it was something I could handle. I didn't feel like I couldn't go on, or that I was going to vomit, which are often signs of transition.
Suddenly the contractions had gaps between them again and I could pause. This often happens after transition, before the urge to push. I was so ready to meet the baby, 60 hours into my labor. Ami checked me and found me 8 cm dilated. And then I felt like pushing. The sensation is like convulsions in your bottom, completely involuntary and overwhelming. Ami checked me again, but I was only 9 cm dilated. That extra centimeter of cervix would swell if I pushed against it, or get damaged if the baby just ripped through it. "You need to breathe over the contractions," she said, and showed me how.
This was the most difficult thing I have ever attempted. I knelt on hands and knees and put every conscious thought and my entire will into panting and hissing through each urge to push. I was spitting and dizzy and demoralized, but over and over again I braced myself against each contraction. I fought my contractions so well, in fact, that I stopped them. Ami checked me and found that I had not dilated any further, but I had at least succeeded in keeping my cervix from swelling. Then she also found that my bladder was hugely distended--the baby's head was blocking my urethra. She used the lull in contractions to catheterize me and give me an IV of electrolytes, since I hadn't eaten more than a few tangerines in three days. I had a liter and a half of pee stuck in me, and an hour later she got another liter! This could quite possibly have been what set me off on the early pushing.
The contractions did not resume, and so we sat down to talk about what to do. Ami saw that I was running out of energy, and that a small hit of pitocin at the hospital might be all I needed to finish dilating and have this child vaginally. There was also a somewhat borderline amount of meconium in the amniotic fluid, which might require the baby to be suctioned after birth. We agreed the hospital was a good plan, but she told us to rest for an hour or so first, since it was shift change up at the hospital. She called ahead and found out that a friend of hers was the attending O.B. that night, and she has a very good relationship with all the staff up there.
It was a pouring down rain as we packed into the midwives' cars and drove the few minutes to the hospital. The labor nurse was shocked when I came in, practically strolling. "You're NINE centimeters?!" she asked. Indeed I was--the fact that I was walking and smiling was the problem! They hooked me up to all kinds of monitors and IVs, which were quite annoying, but the labor room was dim and spacious and I still had room to pace and rock. William ordered Mission Chinese for everyone but me (still not hungry!), and they started the pitocin. Soon I was having good, regular contractions again. I did have to be catheterized twice more, which is about the limit before they want to leave it in (uggggh may I please never be catheterized again in my life). Ami and Hanna did an excellent job of working with the hospital staff, turning down the volume on all the beeping noises, and continuing to direct my care even in this new environment. I do not like hospitals overmuch, but they are so much better when you have someone who knows the system right by your side, supporting you. All the fancy monitors confirmed that the baby was doing very well at handling this marathon labor, so I went back to moaning and pacing.
It was now getting on towards midnight of my due date, and I knew this meant the baby would probably come the next day, on the 17th, the very day I had hoped for. The 17th was my Uncle Hal's birthday--I lived with him and my Aunt Joan in the wilds of eastern Oregon for a few months about six years ago. He has since passed away from complications of Lyme disease.
After a couple of hours of strong contractions, I started feeling the pushing urge again. The O.B. checked me and found that I was still only 9 cm dilated. "Shiiiiiit," I said, which I should note was the only vulgar language I used in my entire labor. Again I knelt over the bed, hissing and puffing and resisting with all my powers. Ami tried a few techniques to shift the babe around, since it appeared the head was just a bit asynclitic--tilted, so it wasn't evenly pressed against the cervix. I started to grow desperate. The pushing urges are really non-negotiable, and I felt that I couldn't simultaneously resist them and yet relax enough to finish dilating.
"This might be an occasion for an epidural," Ami said. She explained that it would take away the urge to push (along with all other sensations from the waist down), and give me a chance to rest, relax, dilate, and birth my baby. We talked it over and I agreed, and very soon I was lying on my back like a beached whale with senseless, rubbery legs. I fell deeply asleep right away.
I had hardly been sleeping 30 minutes, however, before I woke up to Ami and the O.B. talking excitedly. They grabbed a mirror and showed me a thick swirl of baby hair peeking out of my vagina. I had not only dilated immediately, but the baby had started descending! Then began the strange work of pushing without any urge or sensation. At 4:40 on Saturday morning I had my baby after 72 hours of labor. "He's a boy!" my mother cried out. I laughed in glee, because an ultrasound earlier in the pregnancy had told us he was a girl, but we hadn't quite accepted it and so only told the midwives and my mother. So many surprises! I tore just a tiny bit--two stitches' worth.
Ami helped me start nursing the baby, before we all fell asleep for a few hours. We left the next afternoon--early, against hospital policy, but with the acceptance of our team, who knew the baby and I would be getting excellent postpartum care from the midwives.
I feel so blessed to have had such a wise and patient birth team--including my mother, who had also experienced premature pushing with her first birth, a planned homebirth. Only in her case, a hospital transfer meant a 45-minute drive on gravel roads, instead of a few minutes up the hill to the hospital! Anyway, the whole unexpected experience was sustained by such a strange ecstasy, we don't have room for anything but bliss and gratitude. It really was transcendent. And I'm so glad we planned a homebirth. Being at the hospital for such a long labor would have been emotionally exhausting. I'm not sure how things would have turned out.
The labor itself was less painful than I imagined--more intense than anything, but always manageable. I don't know where my three days of endurance came from. I usually fall apart when sleep-deprived or hungry! The midwives also assure me that cervix problems are usually confined to first births, and that my "generous" pelvis will make the next labors much shorter. Next labors? Yes, I can already contemplate doing this again.