Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Labor Day: How Hard Can It Be?

On actual Labor Day (September 3), I was at a friend's barbecue, 39.5 weeks pregnant and sporting a thrift store t-shirt that read "Labor Day: How Hard Can it Be?" Andrew snagged it for me on his most recent excursion to Village Thrift and we both thought it was completely hilarious. I went to the barbecue just so I could wear the shirt. If it were any other day, I would have been sleeping away, but I really wanted to show off this shirt.
I ate some spicy shrimp and drank some lemonade and told everyone I would see them in a couple days because there was no way this kid was coming in the next week. No woman in my family has ever had a baby early, and I was absolutely confident that I was not going to be the exception. So much so that I had several things still to do at work and around the house in preparation. I was trying to drag them out so I wouldn't be sitting around bored out of my mind for the next two weeks.
We went to bed around 11pm. At 3:28,am I woke up with cramps. I rolled over and went back to sleep. Ten minutes later, I had more cramps. I tried three more times to go back to sleep before I decided that I should time my "cramps" and see how far apart they were. The next three "cramps" were 7, 5, and 3 minutes apart, respectively. At 4am, I got up to go to the bathroom. By this point, I was clear that these "cramps" were in fact contractions, but I wasn't sure they were for real.  I downloaded a contraction timer app while I was in the bathroom. Originally, I thought an app was a stupid idea but I realized pretty quickly that there was no way I was going to be able to keep track of these on my own. For the next hour, I sat in the bathroom (or hunched over the bathroom sink) and timed contractions. They were all about 2 minutes apart and lasting about 45 seconds each.  They didn't match up to any of those 4-1-1 or 5-1-1 rules, but it had been an hour, so I texted my midwife, Christy.  She called me saying that it sounded like I was in actual labor and suggested waking Andrew up for some extra support and that she would check in on me in an hour.  I had been in the bathroom for about an hour and a half and Andrew hadn't even noticed I was gone so I could have easily let him sleep longer, but I figured he would be bummed if I let him sleep too long.  Even though I didn't feel like I needed the support, I did need someone to take the dogs over to our friend's house. So I gently tried to wake him up. He shot out of bed like a crazy man (as I'd always imagined he would if it went down this way), and he went right downstairs to send emails to his work, and to our friends to let him know he was bringing the dogs over.  (What? You don't check your email at 5am?  Neither do our friends. I'm glad I texted them.  Emily told me later that she didn't see the email until 10am. I think he was so excited he wasn't really thinking straight.)
Andrew took the dogs over (those are good friends who let you drop your two insane dogs off at their house at 5:30am) while I swept and vacuumed for about 4 minutes.  My contractions were too intense to do anything but focus on them when they came. I had a hunch things were progressing quickly.  I had heard all of these stories about women who go out to eat, clean their houses, go to yoga-all while in labor.
This was not me.
My labor was active from the first contraction. Which, honestly, was how I had hoped it would be.  We had planned a home birth so I was able to labor and move around as I pleased the entire time. There was no rush to pack a bag or get to the hospital, which I feel allowed me to just relax and be totally present for the whole experience.
I was tolerating the contractions well, still every two minutes or so. At 6am, Christy called to check in. She listened to me have a contraction over the phone, said it sounded like I was managing well and that she would make her way over in the next few hours. At this point, I emailed my boss that I wasn't going to be in that day. Or the next day. It was storming outside, complete with thunder and lightening. The whole summer had been impossibly hot, so it was a welcome cooling. The storm got more intense as the day went on, and I found it somehow fitting and strangely peaceful. 
For the next two hours, I swayed and breathed my way through each contraction. I was intensely focused. The contractions themselves were intense but not at all unmanageable. They were painful but not excruciating. I have a very high tolerance for pain and knew that I would be able to manage the pain pretty well.  I also knew that I wouldn't be screaming and yelling and would instead be very inwardly focused.  I guess I've inflicted enough pain on myself over the years to know exactly how I react. A bizarre blessing in disguise, I guess. But both Andrew and my midwives knew this about me, so they were very hands off. And that really worked for me.
At one point, I thought I might try getting in the tub.  It wasn't very comfortable and I didn't like being in a seated position at all. I was in the tub when Christy arrived and she said I could stay as long as I like but that the heat may slow things down a bit. I got out immediately. No need to drag this out any longer, amiright?

Christy and Jill (my other midwife) set up shop in the bedroom and Andrew set up shop in my office down the hall.  I didn't need him just then, but I wanted him close by just in case.  At this point, it was around 8:30, I think. I continued to labor on my own for a bit and then Christy checked to see how I was progressing. After 5 hours of labor, I was 6cm dialated. I think I gave Andrew a high five. I was really excited. Things were moving fast and I was feeling good.  I labored on while it poured and thundered away outside.

I ate some ShotBlox and took some sips of water in between contractions. At some point, I asked Christy to tell me when I was in transition. I knew it would be motivating because its means the end is usually pretty near.
I continued to breathe very intensely through each contraction.  I heard Christy say to Jill "you can tell she's a singer, listen to that breath control." It was a comment that was directed at me, but it was very empowering nonetheless.

Around 11, my contractions started to pick up and I asked Andrew to come help me through some. He did a few with me, but they were too intense and I felt like I needed to focus on them so I let him off the hook.  I should add here that I was on my feet for the entire time I was in labor until I started pushing. For whatever reason, standing was the only position I felt comfortable in.  By this point, the contractions felt like they were back to back, without any rest in between. I was getting tired (maybe because I stood the whole time?!) and I remember saying "I don't want to do this anymore."  And Christy replying, "you're in transition!"
I knew the end was at least in sight and that helped me push through the rest of transition, which lasted about 45 minutes.  It was the most intense part of labor, for sure, and there were times where I felt like I was wildly out of control.  I wasn't, but it felt that way. The pain was searing and intense but I just focused every ounce of my being on my breath. Over and over and over. I remember feeling like I was thinking so clearly in my head but I could not speak a word. Under any other circumstances that would have been insanely frustrating for me. But my midwives seemed to be able to sense what I needed (because they are AWESOME) and it made me not worry about communicating verbally.
Around this time I felt like I wanted to push. I don't know if I actually needed to push, and in hindsight, I don't think I actually did. I just wanted to. From this point on, Andrew stayed by my side.  He was attentive and patient and offered assistance where he could without crowding me, which is (I think) exactly how partners should be in this scenario.

 I started out just squatting on my own. It was very much like what I pictured when I pictured primal women going out into the woods to have their babies (I couldn't even do a squat before I got pregnant, which speaks to the inutitiveness of the body).  After 15 minutes of this, I think she could sense I was getting tired, so Christy set up a birthing stool for me and I continued to push on my own for I would guess another 25 minutes or so without much movement.
Christy suggested I try a different position to help move things along.  I had read you're supposed to change positions every 3 contractions but I definitely did not.
I got onto the bed but being on my back was super painful. I immediately rolled onto my side.  Christy suggested I push with one leg in the air while on my side.
I was as comfortable as a person can be while in labor, so I didn't argue. At this point, my contractions were much father apart and I got some actual time to rest in between them.  Jill kept putting cool cloths on my forehead (do they do this in the hospital? If not, they totally should) and offering me sips of water.  They were also putting pellets of a homeopathic plant, Caulophyllum, under my tongue to help make my contractions longer. (Andrew thinks homeopathy is silly magic, but it totally worked.)

From this position, my pushing was much more productive. Christy instructed me to push and then not relax my pelvic floor totally so that I could push a bit farther before each contraction was over. A few good pushes into it, my water broke. It was pretty much the only time I said anything and it was, "what WAS that?!"  It was gross. I am so glad that didn't happen in public.  It was about 15 minutes more of pushing before I heard Andrew say he could see the head.  They asked if I wanted to look, but I was way too focused on getting the baby out and didn't want to get distracted. Andrew was holding my leg and Christy was helping with the baby's positioning.  I think Andrew was also texting my sister in between contractions.
I knew I was so close to the end, so I really gave it my all. (For the record, the "ring of fire" is real and it is no joke.) One intense push and the head was out. I remember how excited Andrew was. I could hear it in his voice. At some point, Andrew and Christy switched places so that she was holding my leg so Andrew could catch the baby. Christy asked for one more push and just as a huge clap of thunder rattled the house, the rest of the baby's body slid right on out and into Andrew's hands.
It was the most amazing feeling ever. I don't think I could ever put it in words. They put the baby right into my chest as it gave a single, loud cry. I think I said "ohmygod" about a hundred times as I held him to me and looked into his tiny eyes. And then I said "wait! what is it?"  Andrew checked and said "we have a twig and berries!"  Which is (if you know Andrew) pretty much exactly how I expected to find out the sex of our first born.
He was 6 pounds, 13 ounces and 19.5 inches long. And we named him Simon Bennett. Simon because its an awesome name. And Bennett after Andrew's nana.
I admired every single inch of him while Andrew snapped a bunch of pictures on his phone. Then he texted one of our first photos together (when Simon was just minutes old) to all of our friends and family. The photo was sweet and completely captured every emotion I was having just then. It also happened to capture my nipple, which I did not find out until about a week later. Andrew was so excited I cannot possibly be mad at him but, seriously guys, you can delete that photo now.

Simon was so alert and wide-eyed right from the start. It was all so amazing. He stayed right on my chest for the next hour and half while the midwives cleaned up, cooked me a hot breakfast (RIGHT?!) and did all the rest of their postpartum good stuff, like a load of laundry (YES.)  After I ate, Andrew cut the cord (after I delivered the placenta, it was put into a plastic bag and tucked into bed with me while it was still attached to Simon-in case anyone was wondering about the logistics of that. You can read about delayed cord clamping here).  After he was weighed and measured, I passed Simon to Andrew for some skin to skin time and got in a hot shower, which was divine.  I came back to clean sheets and a warm bed and the three of us snuggled up for the rest of the rainy day.

And then, because I think it's hilarious, my sister's facebook status while I was in labor:

I love how she's giving everyone a play by play and then leaves them all hanging at the end. So awesome.

About an hour after Simon was born, I was talking to my sister on the phone and she asked if I would do a natural birth again. "Hell yes," I said. I know not all natural births are smooth sailing, and I feel very fortunate that mine was. Let me also add that my sister is no wimp herself, having delivered a 10 pound baby naturally just 3 weeks before I had Simon. But she did tell me that I was crazy and that she was glad she did it but would never do it again.

The decision to have a home birth warrants its own post, I think, but I will just say now that the experience was incredible. I would not ever have chosen to do it any other way and I have zero regrets. I feel very blessed to have had a smooth, active pregnancy and a fast (8 hours from the first contraction until the moment he was born), easy birth supported by a team of loving and sincere caregivers (this includes Andrew).  The experience would not have been the same without each of their unique contributions. I am eternally grateful for Christy, Jill, and all of the love and support they continue to give us.  I can only hope to have them all on my team for round two (which is NOT anytime soon).