On the 3rd night of Hanukah our 3rd little light came into the world. I think I may have coughed her out. I’ve had a cold for a couple of weeks now, one of the kind that linger in the lungs and lead to prolonged fits of coughing and choking. I noticed on the Thursday before the Baby was born that after a coughing fit I would start to have a contraction. They weren’t very strong. I assumed they were just Braxton-Hicks and was pretty much able to ignore them for a couple of days. I laughed to myself a day or two later when I reread the instruction sheet on when to call the midwife and right at the top it said when you start feeling contractions in your back. Oh yeah. So I coughed and contracted and continued to expect to have a baby at the end of the month at the earliest. Other people around me seem to have clued into what was going on before I did. Maybe they saw my slight winces on Friday night during the Shabbat meal as I contracted at the dinner table. Maybe they noticed me stopping to bend over and breath as I took the short walk up the hill to my FIL’s office. Either way, my MILLY offered to put my kids to bed for me that night, and when she found me sleeping on the bed in said office, offered to pull the night shift too, which involved waking up with the Girl at 1am when she went into her nightly coughing fits for a couple of hours. I barely responded with a mumbled okay, before I continued to sleep the sleep of the dead; only I kept waking up for contractions and then passing out again. I felt great and really well rested Saturday morning.
I wonder if I had not already been through this before if I would have been able to ignore what was going on so much. There is something about knowing how it feels when it really gets going that makes it easy to look at the early stuff and say to yourself, “Nah, it’s not time yet.”
Saturday was more of the same. We went home, we took care of the kids, I made a simple meal and we lit the menorahs. I did my usual things and went to bed. Sometime in the night the contractions stopped. I remember feeling a small sense of relief when I woke Sunday morning and realized I hadn’t felt any contractions in several hours. I had been bracing myself for 2 weeks of this kind of thing and it was nice to have a break. I was also relieved because I had so much to get through before I felt ready to have a baby arrive, like Hanukah, and a birthday party, and all of the other holiday gatherings. Then I got up to go to the bathroom, and there was the mucous plug. So much for having the baby in a couple of weeks. Because I was having no contractions, I left my midwife a message but didn’t bother to page her. I called my Milly whom I wanted as my doula this time around and whose house we planned to have the birth at. (Can you say gigantic bathtub and master suite with it’s own private entrance? Just in case you’re wondering why I would want to go to my mother in law’s house to birth my baby. Plus, then I could just stay in bed while my in-laws took care of the kids for a week.) I told her I thought maybe tomorrow or the next day she would need to be ready for us.
Then I tried to get everything in order for the imminent event. I cleaned a lot of my house
I made lists of things that we needed to remember to take with us, I called my mother and sat pouring over dictionaries while she was on the other end of the phone trying to find a name I liked with the meaning I wanted. At some point I called the Genius Husband who was out for some reason and asked if he would think I was falling down on the mothering job if I just made grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries for dinner that night. I reasoned that it was an oily food, why not on Hanukah? He brought home soup to go with it. Meanwhile the contractions had returned, but I was too busy to mind them much. Around 6pm I became obsessed with the idea of getting a new menorah because the clay menorah’s that the kid’s had made the week before were already broken. I also needed Pull-ups and a present for the Boy to give to the Girl on her birthday, and I decided to walk to Target to accomplish this goal. On the way I had to stand still during each contraction but they were still several minutes apart and I did my shopping and walked home.
I started to get irritated at the kids as I sang to them and put them to bed because they kept asking me questions mid contraction, and jumping around and climbing on my lap, and it was vaguely irritating. After getting the kids to sleep I decided that I should pack up the things we needed now before going to bed so that I wouldn’t have to do it in the morning. This shows you how deep my denial was. I really thought I was going to get to sleep that night and have this baby the next day. I packed bags for the kids, and myself, double-checked the list for the GH, sent him to buy labor food, and stared at my dirty floor, wondering if I could manage to vacuum it before going to bed. I decided that what I needed most was a good night’s sleep and lay down in my clothes on my bed. It was then that I noticed that these contraction thingies were kind of intense. I had to really breath to get through them. I had decided that the two main things that I wanted to do differently this time was that I would not complain, at all, about labor, and that I would concentrate on keeping my mouth relaxed and open because for some reason that helps to keep your bottom relaxed and open.
The coolest thing happened while I lay in bed with those contractions. I started to feel the baby’s feet kicking like mad against that top of my uterus and her head pushing against my cervix with each contraction. In the books you can read about babies having those reflexes that help during labor, but I’ve never before felt my child cooperating with me in the birth process. After about an hour of this I decided that I didn’t want to be making the 15 minute drive out to my Milly’s with stronger contractions than what I had. I summoned the GH and told him to call his mother. This was at about midnight; she had just finished getting the room ready. We woke up the kids drove to her house, I lay on the bed and vomited a couple of times while they maneuvered people and things into vehicles, and then we were there. The children were placed in beds next to various aunties and uncles and I got into that glorious bath and lay down. For a couple of contractions they felt really gentle and easy after getting in the water and I planned to rest for a while. But my Milly kept coming by and saying what a good job I was doing and praying that each contraction would be even stronger than the last and do more work and get this baby out fast. One corner of my brain was thinking of telling her to shut up, that I didn’t want them to get any stronger, but the rest of me lost in laborland realized that I could handle them and that I did want it to go fast so I lay and breathed and felt the most amazing, efficient, purposeful contractions I have ever experienced. (My Milly is kind of a labor savant she has this deep spiritual connection to birthing mothers. She can be half a globe away from a person that she cares about and suddenly announce to everyone nearby, so and so is having her baby, right now in Thailand. A phone call is made, and sure enough, she’s right again. This was just last week. You want this woman around when you’re giving birth, trust me.)
At some point I said that I wanted the Genius Husband in the tub with me, I was getting tired of holding my own head above water, and I wanted his touch on my back because it always relaxes me. The hour or two that we were in there dissolved into a blur of contractions and candle light, and sweet smelling oils and his hand on my back as I lay in his lap, and the efforts of the midwives to keep the water warm, and occasionally monitor the baby’s heartbeat and suddenly I was pushing. After two on my side I was done with that and moved to my knees in the tub, bracing my hands on the sides. I don’t remember more than 5 pushes after that before she was born. I remember feeling her head as she came down, really quickly from one push to the next, I remember telling them as she crowned that something felt wrong, that it was too big, but not having time to be afraid because I was pushing again and her head came out, with her fist next to it, which is why it felt different, and then she was born, at 3:10 in the morning. I had been in active labor for about 4 hours, unless you want to count the walk to Target and the mad packing, but I don’t.
We settled into the tub for a few minutes and the kids came in to see their baby sister. The Girl’s first reaction to the slimy purple thing was a little bit reserved, but she was willing to hold her a few minutes later. The boy tried to take her from me before the cord was cut he was that excited to hold his new sister. My SIL cut the cord, and then I moved to the bed to wait for the placenta to come and everyone greeted the baby and then made their way back to bed. It was the most incredible lovely birth experience I have ever witnessed or experienced, I felt euphoric, as well as tired and a bit tender in obvious places. I had no tearing at all, just one little scrape and felt many times better than I felt after the Girl was born.
I really wish I could end the story here, that this perfect birth story could be all neatly wrapped up in a bow and you could walk away smiling. But I can’t, the story goes on, and life isn’t ever really perfect now is it?
The Genius Husband went to have a shower and lay down with the Girl to help her go back to sleep. My midwife Michelle, whom I adore, and her assistant set to work charting and writing down the things she needed to record, and I tried to get the Baby to nurse, which she wasn’t all that interested in, she wanted to look around her for a while. We all were waiting for the placenta to come. One hour went by and it still hadn’t come out. Placenta’s usually deliver spontaneously just with the aid of gravity. I had tried pushing on the toilet, and the birth stool and just moving around, but it was still attached. Then I started pushing out big blood clots that felt like the placenta coming out, but weren’t. Two hours went by and I was given every remedy and tincture for making the uterus contract and therefore loosen the placenta and stop the bleeding. Michelle gave me a shot of Pitocin. My Milly went to wake the Genius Husband up and he came in to be with me. I laid on him and tried again and again to push out the placenta, but only succeed in pushing out more clots. Two more shots of pitocin. I could tell Michelle was concerned, but she kept everything so calm and low key that I never really caught or felt her worry. Her main concerned was that the placenta had somehow adhered to my old c-section scar and would have to be removed “manually”. After 3 hours I suggested getting up and trying to use the toilet again. People helped me stand, my Milly took the baby, and I took a couple of steps. Then the room rearranged itself, I had a strange and vivid dream that I don’t remember now and when things righted themselves I was laying on the bed, Michelle was prepping my arm for an IV and confirming with someone that they had called 911. A couple of minutes later there were about 10 firemen lining the hallway to the bedroom where I was, all curious to see a planned homebirth and bleeding mommy. Fortunately the kids were fast asleep at this point and didn’t see mommy carried away by the paramedics and put in the ambulance.
We were about a 20 minute drive from the nearest hospital, and when Michelle saw me pass out she quickly decided that she could do nothing else for me here at home. Whatever further exploration needed to be done would have to happen in a hospital where they could give me blood and therefore lessen the risk of me bleeding to death. She also decided we were past the point when making the trip ourselves in a car was practical. I met a lot of firemen that day, too bad I was pasty white and a little out of it. They all kept chatting with me in order to keep me awake. It took 4 of them to lift me onto the little bed with wheels that goes in the ambulance. The Genius Husband rode with me in the ambulance, his feet and shins covered in my blood, and a cute paramedic named Jon kept me talking about homebirth until we arrived, after a couple of wrong turns, and a brief stop at the side of the road while the driver got out to tell Michelle that she couldn’t follow him to the hospital. Um… was she supposed to take a different route on the single lane twisty curvy road through the hills to get to the freeway? While lying in the ambulance I realized that if I died today, not that I was really in danger of that yet, but I’m morbid like that, now you know, it would be the exact fulfillment of all the lame dark thoughts that have plagued me in the past several months with the maternal depression. Thoughts like I’m a bad mother and my kids would be better off without me, but how could I leave without it hurting them even more than my staying, without them feeling abandoned, either by my suicide or desertion, which I of course never got to the point of really contemplating, just morbid fantasies that haunted my days and crept up on me in the moments when I knew I wasn’t winning any mommy of the year awards. Dying in childbirth would be the perfect out, except I realized I didn’t want to die, not even a little bit. I didn’t want to leave my children without their mother. I didn’t want them to know grief. All I could think about was that baby laying in her Beema’s arms right now and that she hadn’t even nursed yet, and that I needed to get home to her as soon as I could. (We decided not to take her in the ambulance because we didn’t want her admitted to the hospital; she was and is perfectly healthy.)
We got to the hospital, the OB on call was a gigantic man who was none too gentle in his exam. Michelle had done the exact same exam an hour before and it hurt way less than what this guy was doing. Anyway, the short version is that I was given general anesthetic, because I was complaining of discomfort, hah, and he did a D & C, which basically means he stuck his hand in my uterus and scraped the placenta off of the uterine wall, according to the records it came off in one piece. I woke up 1/2 an hour later in post op and kept asking them when I could leave and go see my baby. I felt fine.
When I found out I would be in the hospital until at least noon I sent the GH back to bring me the Baby so I could nurse her, and because I wanted her with me. My Milly had been holding her all morning and offering her breast to suckle, even though it was milk less, and wrapped her up in my sweater so she would have my smell, and my children of course thought this was completely normal when they woke up and found their new baby sister at their grandmother’s breast and mommy “gone away for a little while to get something fixed but she’ll be back soon.” (She’s done the same for them when they were smaller and she was baby sitting, and they were desperate for comfort.)
After several blood tests, and a lot of IV fluids, and realizing that standing made me dizzy, and 2 rogham shots because of the amount of fetal cells found in my blood, I signed the form to be released against doctor’s advice so that I could go home to my children. (They wanted to watch my hemoglobin for another day, but I knew I wasn’t going to be doing anything strenuous so I left.) We returned to a birthday party. The GH cooked me a steak for dinner. The kids had baked 2 birthday cakes in my absence, the uncles had driven across the county to be there, and we enjoyed the baby’s first birthday party as everyone took turns in the family tradition of blessings for the birthday girl. I was so grateful to be back with my family again, and then we went to bed.
Even with the trip to the hospital I have to say this was the best birth experience I have ever had. Two things stand out to me. The first is that I wasn’t afraid, even a little bit, which I have been before. The other is that I wasn’t trying to control anything; I was able to surrender to the process and allow it to happen. I trusted my caregivers and the people around me. The births of my first two children felt a lot like I was battling the people around me, this one felt like more like a dance, and I felt safe and cared for and carried by the rhythm of it all. I don’t know if I will have any more children at this point, but I will be forever grateful that I experienced this birth this way. I feel that something has healed inside of me and I hope it stays that way.