Warning: There are bound to be some graphic or raw mentions of the birthing process in this series. It’s difficult to feel any squeamishness or embarrassment on my part having been through the experience. And it’s difficult to tell a birth story without any of the real details.
I climbed into bed sometime during the early hours of the morning, still in good spirits and enjoying the space between contractions. But, there was an air of seriousness that came with the powerful rushes now. I began to go deeply within every few minutes, bobbing in and out of a trance-like state where the lines between life and death seemed blurred. I have yet to find the right words to explain the place I visited during active labor (and later on, during pushing). It was a place where I simultaneously did not exist yet felt more in my body, and in my soul, than ever before. It was a place where I was connected to something greater than the material world. Every time I closed my eyes, I was gone. But, the second I opened my eyes again, I would return and finish the sentence I had started before the contraction began.
I was surprised by the amount of adrenaline I still had on tap when active labor began, as my body had been working so incredibly hard without any sleep. I hadn’t gone into labor with many hours of sleep in my reserve tank either, but sleep was the farthest thing from my mind at this point in the game. I looked around at the rest of my birth team, their eyes at half mast, disappearing one by one to sneak in quick naps in various corners of our house. My husband begged for coffee, but I would not let him leave my side. I even asked him to “please just pee the bed” when he tried to get up to use the bathroom.
Someone brought Alex a cup of joe so he wouldn’t have to leave me. He happily sipped from a pink mug with a Victorian-era looking woman pictured on the side with the words “Maybe I want to look cheap” floating next to her head. There was something so hilarious about him holding that mug during labor, especially after I handed him the underwear I had been wearing up until that point and asked him to just “hold them.” He stood next to the bed drinking coffee, my undies hanging from one finger, looking a little bit cheap. For whatever reason I insisted that he keep those undies on him, as if I’d need them while laboring or pushing out a child, so he tucked them in his pocket for safe keeping.
The contractions grew stronger, and my body adopted a pattern of “double-headers” that lasted throughout labor. One wave would begin and peak, only to run directly into the next wave. The pain was unexpected, more than I could have imagined never having experienced it before. But, I continued to welcome the intensity and kept thinking to myself “I can totally handle this. The pain does not matter.” Meanwhile, I began to clutch Alex’s hand with every contraction, and nearly broke it several times. I specifically remember someone exclaiming “your pinkie, Alex! It’s turning purple!” during a particularly tough rush.
I watched the sun rise out my bedroom window with the feeling of my husband’s body holding me in the quiet hours of morning. Everyone there felt like my baby was coming soon. The midwives had already set up the birthing supplies the night before, preparing for the imminent eruption of life from my womb.
I lay in bed, completely unaware of time (so the exact details of my story may be off). As the contractions continued, I buried my head in my armpit only to discover how hard I had been working. I told everyone that my B.O. had reached full hippie status, and that it reminded me of the yoga retreat center I visit every summer, Kripalu, where the people all smell the same—a combination of B.O., dreadlocks, patchouli, and Indian-spiced beans. This led to a conversation about the first time I brought my husband to Kripalu and how much of a culture shock it was for him, beginning with the discovery that all of the guests there fart at will. Alex reminded me of how he was particularly grossed out when someone farted, without apology, while he was eating a banana. He then begged me not to recount the tale of the time I made him dance barefoot in the drum circle, but I couldn’t help but immediately launch into the details of how he danced so hard that he tore the skin off the bottom of his big toe and painted the floor with his blood, much to the horror of the other dancers. We all roared with laughter, intermittently interrupted by abrupt silence as I contracted.
At some point that afternoon, my midwife finally gave me the okay to get into the birthing tub—reserved for late in active labor when it’s pain-relieving qualities are most needed. It took an eternity for my husband to fill the tub and ensure that the water was the exact, right temperature. But, the wait was worth the immediate soothing effect of the warm water. I was able to relax and take what felt like a break after a hard day’s (actually day, night and another day’s) work.
Later on my midwife checked my cervix for the first time. She was very vague about what she felt and didn’t offer up the exact details of my progress, a tactic that proved quite effective for keeping my spirits up and preventing any frustration on my part. She decided to massage my cervix while I was contracting in order to help it dilate, which changed everything.
The pain I experienced, both physically and emotionally, during those cervical “massages” pushed me over the edge. Fear began to creep in, not of childbirth, but of what I might discover about myself in the final legs of this experience. I was not prepared for the pain I felt then, just as I was not prepared to have my cervix massaged during labor, so the tears began to fall. That’s the thing about labor, it’s incredibly emotional, and laughter may melt into inexplicable tears at any moment.
There were many times that I began to cry, quietly, and for a multitude of reasons, in the middle of contractions. But, during my second cervical massage, it became evident to my midwife that my tears had a story. The whole birth team—my husband, midwife, apprentice, and doula—gathered around me, placing hands of comfort on my arms and feet and in my hands, as we discussed what might be going through my head. This was one of the greatest moments of healing I’ve ever experienced in life. Issues from long ago were brought to the surface, pain expressed, fears uncovered, and ultimately, I found the courage to release what was holding me back and come back to the task at hand, empowered.
The cervical massages were a choice, my alternative being going to the hospital to receive an epidural. When those options were given to me, more tears fell. I did not want to even hear the word “hospital” during my labor or birth. I was content to pretend the hospital didn’t even exist. Choosing the massages over medication (aka, choosing more intense pain over the alleviation of any pain) seemed like the only option in my mind. But, now the possibility of being transferred to the hospital was out there, and it would continue to lurk in the dark corners of the room for the rest of my labor.
To boil my complicated situation down, the issue was that my contractions were growing to the necessary level of intensity, seemingly announcing that transition was nearby, but my cervix was not cooperating.
Somehow, that day, the morning became afternoon, and afternoon bled into night, while I was unable to perceive any of it. All I knew was dark and light, and suddenly it was growing dark again. How could this be? Two sunrises and two sunsets, and still no baby? My husband did his best to keep his cool around me, and I did my best to completely ignore his hushed voice questioning the midwife downstairs. Questions began swirling in my head, a nagging feeling in my gut that I was about to hit a turning point, but perhaps not the turning point I had been anticipating for the last thirty-some-odd hours.
To be continued…
Read the next part here: Part IV