I believe that when I wrote out Adriana's birth story three years ago, I established that I am prone to Oversharing On The Internet, as well as Using Many, Many Words. So if you read that one and thought it was perhaps a bit Too Much Information, may I suggest some alternative use of time on the web? Because, look, some things just don't change.
On New Year's Day, Adriana was ill, and spent most of the day throwing up and sleeping. By dinnertime seemed fine, but I knew we had a rough night ahead of us because of how much she'd napped. I tried to go to bed at a decent hour, but as I lay there in the dark, telling Brian what needed to be done before the baby's arrival (and determining that I would be ready to go into labor by Wednesday night, giving me five full days to get everything accomplished), I began to panic a bit, and it was close to midnight before I slept. And at 2:30 in the morning Adriana awoke demanding food.
I knew her body needed to make up the calories she had missed out on during the day, so I was sitting on the kitchen floor with her while she ate a banana and a slice of bread with butter, when I realized that my Braxton-Hicks contractions were seeming a bit stronger. I glanced at the clock when one came. When the next one hit 10 minutes later I wasn't suprised, and the next one was exactly 10 minutes after that. I thought about my labor with Adriana, about how I had gone for several hours before finally admitting I was in labor. I wasn't quite ready this time to admit that that was going on, but I knew it was a possibility. Adriana finished her snack and I got back into bed with her, but she wasn't interested in sleeping. I watched the clock while I snuggled with her and rubbed her back. Finally at 4, with the contractions coming anywhere between seven and ten minutes apart and Adriana insisting that she wasn't sleepy, I decided to wake Brian. I was tired and if this was really labor, I needed to rest while I could.
Brian got up with Adriana and told her that when she was tired she could get back into bed and cuddle with me. She insisted I sleep in her room, and I couldn't see any reason to argue. I got into her bed and tried to doze while listening to Brian quietly telling her stories on the couch. I think I slept, and I definitely got some rest, but I also couldn't keep my eyes off the clock for a good part of the time. I would close my eyes and try to doze, but I kept peeking up at the clock, memorizing when one contraction had started and anticipating the next one. By 5:30 they were coming steadily seven minutes apart and I gave up on sleeping and got out of bed.
Adriana had fallen asleep on the couch beside Brian as he told her stories. We started to get ready. I had begun to pack a hospital bag a few weeks before. I had managed to put in a few of the things I would need after the baby arrived--a going home outfit for the baby, a couple of receiving blankets, and a tube of lanolin--and I set about adding in the things I would need during labor, as well as other things for after the birth. It occurred to me at that point that although I'd made plans for Adriana's care while I was in the hospital, I hadn't actually done any packing for her, so I grabbed another bag and threw in her special blanket and doll, her current favorite book, and enough clothes to get her through in case I had a c-section again, although if we were gone that long the plan was to have her stay at home for most of the time.
At seven, we started making phone calls--the doula, to give her a heads up that we'd been needing her before too long (Brian told her the contractions were "seven to fifteen minutes apart," and I corrected him sharply), a local friend with whom we planned to drop Adriana off (who was just back from Christmas with her family in Europe with two jetlagged children of her own--who better to offer an extra kid to?), and the friends who would be caring for her until we were back at home. We then spent a little less than two hours packing bags and tidying the house, stopping every five minutes so that I could breathe through contractions and Brian could apply counter pressure to my low back. Because I was having back labor, just as I had with Adriana. At one point I thought about consulting Dr. Google about this--did it mean the baby is posterior? Is all back pain in labor really back labor?--but I stayed away from the computer, figuring that this time I knew more about what I was doing, and I was feeling the contractions in my belly as well, which hadn't happened with Adriana.
We called Eva, our doula, again, this time to ask her to come over. My friend Trine offered to have her husband come pick Adriana up, but I wanted Brian to drive her over. I couldn't imagine Adriana walking out of our house without us willingly, even with the father of one of her friends, and the idea of Brian buckling her into their carseat and watching her drive off seemed similarly traumatic. (It turned out that Trine thought Brian was leaving me home alone in labor.) I woke Adriana and told her what was happening. We'd been over and over the routine for a few days; sometimes she would ask me to tell her what would happen, and sometimes she would recite it herself: When Mama goes to the hospital to get the baby, Daddy will take me to play with Matilda and Baby Nora, and then Helen and Sami will come get me and I can play at their house and sleep there, and then Mama and Daddy will come get me and we all go home with Baby Sister. So she cooperated well with getting dressed, although we were fighting a bit (as usual) about brushing her hair when Eva let herself into the apartment.
Before too long, Eva was really encouraging Brian to get going with Adriana. I knelt down to hug her goodbye and tell her I would see her soon. Everyone had told me how big she would seem once I had the baby, so I tried to memorize the feel of her little body. And then she went out the door with Brian and I began to cry, because there she was walking out the door in her little blue sweatsuit, with her special blanket and baby doll in a backpack, brave and happy, and I was the one who was scared and crying. Eva hugged me, and another contraction hit and I had no choice but to move on, because I had learned with Adriana, and even before that, when I'd had a miscarriage, that the only way to get through contractions is to focus on them.
I did find this time, maybe because I was actually admitting I was in labor, that I could use imagery to help myself relax, but it wasn't that I was ignoring the contractions. I would stop talking, stop whatever I was doing, and breathe deeply and let a relaxing image fill my mind. So I guess I wasn't focusing just on the contraction itself, but I wasn't exactly trying to get my mind off of it--just let my body relax enough that I could cope with the discomfort. Leaning forward seemed to help, too, so I would lean over the table or the bed or the arm of the couch and while either Eva or Brian pushed on my back, and I would close my eyes, take deep breaths, and focus on one thing. Then the contraction would end and Eva would give me some water or Recharge to drink and we would talk casually until the next one hit. Sometimes they came very close together. "Shit, another?" Eva exclaimed in surprise at one point while Brian was taking Adriana to Trine's. And that contraction was hard to get through because that was somehow extremely funny to me, and I was laughing instead of focusing on the pain.
Eva suggested I get into the shower, but I was hesitant, and she said we could go to the hospital instead and maybe try the shower there. I dreaded going to the hospital at all, but I also thought it might be better to get the drive over with--the sooner I did it, the further apart the contractions would be, so the fewer I would have to have between home and Kaiser. I also remembered that the midwives had clinic hours in the afternoon, which meant if I arrived too much later I would have an obstetrician attending me instead (I was not thinking clearly enough to realize that there were no clinic hours on Saturdays). So Brian loaded our bags (and the infant seat, which I'd meant to install before the baby came) into the car, and I arranged myself uncomfortably in the passenger seat. As we pulled out of our parking place, I remembered that I was supposed to call the hospital to tell them we were coming, so that they could have a room ready for me. Brian stopped the car in the middle of the parking lot and called. After a few minutes of him talking to the nurse on the phone, I got frustrated and told him to just drive while I took the phone. I grabbed his cell phone and immediately moaned into it as another contraction hit (Brian laughed about that later). I gave the nurse the information she needed as Brian headed up towards the freeway.
We pulled up in front of the hospital just before 11, and Brian grabbed one bag out of the car while I leaned against the car through another contraction. Someone saw us and came out of the hospital with a wheelchair, but I had just spent nearly 20 minutes sitting down and didn't want to have any more contractions in that position, so we waved him away. Eva came up from the parking lot and we went up through the hospital to Labor and Delivery, with me stopping to lean against the wall for contractions a few times on the way.
Once we were in our room, the nurse I'd spoke to on the phone gave me a hospital gown and a specimen cup and sent me into the bathroom. Brian and I looked at each other, and he said something about our having just given up control of the situation, but I went into the bathroom with Eva and I did as I was told, and Brian went to move the car.
When he got back, the nurse was trying to put the external fetal monitor on me, and I was giving her a hard time about it. She explained that it was policy to do continuous monitoring, and that I would have to sign a form in order to avoid it. The midwife came in then, and, after she and Eva greeted each other in surprise, since they knew through a mutual friend, we told her that we didn't want the continuous monitoring. She asked that we let them get "just one good strip," and sent someone to get the form for me to sign. The nurse fitted the belt around me, and then we could hear the baby's heartbeat. I did like the sound, but the belt was uncomfortable (which I didn't remember from Adriana's birth, but I had been in labor for 24 hours by the time I got to the hospital with her, so I was pretty out of it--and I got an epidural not too long after I arrived so it hadn't been uncomfortable for very long) and I was glad to have it gone after the nurse had entered all my information into the computer and she had her strip that recorded my contractions and the baby's heartbeat. The midwife, Sheri, checked my cervix, and declared me six centimeters.
Another nurse drew some blood, inserting a heplock into my wrist at the same time, just in case I needed an IV later. They put a rubber glove over that hand so that I could get into the shower without getting it wet. The nurse had a few more forms for Brian and me to sign, but soon after that the room was down to just Brian, Eva, and me. Eva started the shower for me, and I went to stand under the hot water. I was in there for an hour, trying different positions on the shower stool, standing and leaning against the wall, and holding onto the bar on the wall to support myself during squats. That bar was exactly what I needed--it gave me something to grip as I did a series of squats through each contraction. I must have looked ridiculous, but suddenly the only thing that made sense to do during contractions was to raise and lower myself, just as we had in my prenatal yoga class. I joked between contractions that my quads would be killing me the next day and that I would have bruises on my back from the counterpressure, until I couldn't even joke between contractions anymore. Brian brought me more of my Recharge, and I looked at him as though he were crazy, because he was handing me something yellow in what appeared to be a specimen cup, and he told me what it was so that I would drink it. Something about the way I was gripping the bar was bending the heplock in my wrist, so that it was hurting, and I found myself focusing on that instead of the contractions. I began sitting down between contractions and caught myself nodding off a few times. Eva and Brian chatted with one another and took turns pressing on my back, and for the most part I tuned them out and usually wasn't even aware who was the one supporting me.
There were times in the shower when I considered giving up on natural childbirth and requesting an epidural. I never mentioned it out loud, and instead talked myself silently through it, reminding myself that I wouldn't be able to move, that the last time I had had one I had also ended up with a c-section. Sometimes that wasn't quite enough. Sometimes I would have to ask myself, "Do you really want to have to admit afterwards that you gave up?" And it was that worry, the worry about the injury to my pride, that kept me going. ("Women have their own kind of macho," Brian said, when I told him about it later.)
Once I was out of the shower, Eva offered to go get Sheri so she could check to see what kind of progress I was making. Brian and I both hesitated. It was only one o'clock, so I hadn't been at the hospital all that long, and we were remembering labor with Adriana, and how discouraging it was after several hours of labor, some of it very intense, to discover that I'd only gained one centimeter and hadn't actually reached transition. So we resisted the idea, but only for a little bit. I was hopeful that something was happening, and it also just seemed like something to do. Sitting there waiting for the next contraction to hit, and leaning against Brian through the pain was actually kind of boring. I wanted something to happen. I suppose I hoped she'd tell me I was fully dilated and that I was going to have a baby any second now.
Instead she told me I'd progressed one centimeter.
She offered to break my water for me, telling me that that sometimes would make things progress more quickly. I declined, not wanting to have any unnecessary interventions. I went back to sitting on the edge of the bed between contractions and experimented with different positions to get me through them. I tried listening to music, but several songs into the playlist I'd made of relaxing music, I gave up. I liked the music between contractions, but during I found that it distracted me from focusing on the contractions when they hit. I put the iPod aside and just perched on the edge of the bed, standing and hanging on Brian during each contraction. Half an hour of that and I asked that Sheri break the bag of waters. I wanted things to progress, and again, it just seemed like something to do.
Around two o'clock, I started wondering how long labor would go on (which strikes me as funny in retrospect, given how short the labor had been compared to my experience with Adriana) and was back to considering whether I could actually manage labor without an epidural, Sheri checked me again. I was dilated to nine centimeters and feeling the urge to push. She told me I could bear down a bit with contractions to see what happened.
For the next two hours, I pushed with contractions. It was harder work and I already felt tired, but it also was exciting and a bit energizing. My memory of those two hours is hazy and scrambled. I know I was surprised to find that, as much as it was a relief to feel that something was actually happening, time was also moving more slowly: sure that I had been pushing for an hour, I looked at the clock and discovered it had only been ten minutes. I know Eva and Sheri were having me move around to try different things. I knelt on the bed and leaned against Brian, and then the back of bed was raised up so that I could lean face-first into it, and I tried that, as well as the hands-and-knees position I had already tried laboring in. Finally, Sheri had me try sitting and leaning against the back of the bed. I resisted, but she and Eva seemed to think that this would help, and I did what they suggested. I know that at one point someone confirmed that the baby was posterior, but that later on they said they could see her turning. And I know that at some point I became very noisy, basically yelling my way through contractions. I felt a little silly when I was resting, but then another contraction would come and I was grit my teeth and yell through it. And then, as many of the contractions ended, I would protest that I couldn't do it. Brian, Eva, and Sheri would tell me that I could, and sometimes that informed me that I not only could I do it, I was doing it already. I still hadn't full dilated, but Sheri was holding my cervix back, which also helped me focus my pushing.
Soon they were telling me that they could see the baby, that her head was "right there." "She's right there," Sheri kept promising me. Eva looked and assured me that this was true. But then it went on and on. Finally I gave up listening to them when they told me so. But there came a point when someone told me the baby was almost there, and I started to say that they'd been telling me that for well over an hour when Brian interrupted me.
"A bunch of people just came into the room," he told me. Until then we'd been attended just by the midwife and the same nurse with her obnoxious fetal monitor (she didn't try strapping it to me again, but would periodically use it to listen to the baby's heartrate). But suddenly there were half a dozen more people in the room, and we began to realize that now they were serious. I felt myself become self-conscious for a moment, but contractions and pushing left room for no other thoughts in my mind, and soon I was able to tune out the fact that they were there, focusing just on the sound of Eva's voice.
Eva was the one coaching me through the last stages. "Don't yell with the next contraction," she ordered me at last. "I want you to put all your energy into pushing, not yelling." And she had me grab onto my knees and pull them toward me as I pushed, and not yelling seemed like the hardest thing ever. She told me I was doing great and to do the exact same thing for the next contraction.
"I can't," I told her. "It's too hard. I can't do this anymore." I was exhausted and the burning feeling that came from all the pushing seemed like too much.
"You can," she assured me, with Brian echoing her. And then she told me. "You are going to pull on your knees and not yell, and I'm going to count to ten and you are going to push the entire time I am counting." At that moment I wasn't thinking about the fact that I had told her when we first met with her about hiring her as my doula that I probably needed someone to boss me around during labor, but looking back it seems as though I was right, and that she was good at doing exactly that. Because when the contraction came a moment later, I pulled my knees and didn't yell, and pushed as I listened to her count to ten.
"She's right there," Eva said again.
"She's not, she's not," I said. "This is too hard. It's taking too long." But another contraction came, and Eva counted, and I pushed. And then I rested for a moment and protested again.
Everyone reassured me again that I could do this, and someone asked if the baby had a name. I hesitated, not sure if we should tell anyone before she was born, but Brian told them, and several people in the room were saying "Lyra!" as I pushed with the next contraction, and then something changed and the burning feeling was gone and Sheri was telling me that I could reach down and feel the baby's head.
I don't remember pushing any more after that, but a moment or two later, Sheri was lifting a wet little Lyra onto my belly, and my hands were on her and I was holding onto my own little baby.
I was in such a haze, then. I didn't hurt anymore and I had a baby, and I felt so good.
Brian got to cut the cord, and I heard someone saying that the baby had been born at 3:57. I was given an injection of Pitocin to help deliver the placenta. I asked to see the placenta, and Sheri asked me if I wanted to keep it, and I told her happily that I was not that much of a hippie. But then it's even more of a blur than the end of the labor. We were covered in towels and blankets while I marveled at how tiny Lyra seemed, and someone laughed and said that she was a big baby, and Eva told me that yes, she was small compared to Adriana, but she was not a tiny baby by any means. Everyone in the room was guessing that she was at least eight pounds, and when they finally took her from me to weigh her and she was eight pounds one ounce. I had some second-degree tears, and Sheri stitched those up while I chatted with her and Eva (and asked if I could go home soon), and Brian stayed close to Lyra while she was examined in the corner of the room. I felt exhilarated and almost drunk--I couldn't stop talking and I kept asking to hold the baby again and apologizing for all my yelling and wondering when we could go home. (The answer to the last one was that I probably could go home that evening if I wanted to, but it was a much better idea to stay the night and get some rest, and they would discharge us first thing in the morning.) I kept asking to have the heplock removed and was told that it needed to stay in until later that night, in case I hemorrhaged and needed blood; I assured them I had no intention of hemorrhaging this time around, but that was disregarded. Eva got me drinks and snacks, and I realized how thirsty I was. The baby was cleaned up a bit and then wrapped up tightly and we had a chance to nurse. More and more people cleared out of the room, and I asked Brian for his phone, so I could call our parents. The nurse who had come in to give Lyra a more thorough bath knew exactly where we'd gotten the name, which I thought was nice, even as I wondered whether my baby needed to be scrubbed so thoroughly right then.
About two hours after the birth, I was seated in wheelchair and Lyra was placed in my arms and we were wheeled up to the maternity ward. Brian went with the baby while the pediatrician in the nursery examined her, and a couple of nurses got me settled, while I explained that I needed food and to have my heplock removed. And finally it was just Brian and Lyra and me in the little hospital room, all settling in for the night, and everything seemed so easy.
Me, Lyra, and that awful heplock.