Um, you guys? I am at a coffee shop. For the first time in two and a half weeks, I am ALONE. With a computer, a piece of carrot cake, a steamed milk and a lovely view. Time to pick up where I left off.
You'll recall that I spent the day before Mia was born trying to get my labor started, using acupuncture, an herbal labor tincture, lots of walking, and a deep-dish pizza loaded with pepperoni, sausage, meatballs, Canadian bacon and linguica. I wolfed down quite a bit of that spicy pie, enough that when my stomach began to hurt at around 10 p.m., I figured I had too much to eat. I told Sal I was going to lay down. During the next two hours, my "gas pains" kept waking me up, but I was so tired I drifted back to sleep every time.
But at around midnight, it had grown too painful to ignore, so I got out of bed. Sal woke up and asked what I was doing. I told him I couldn't sleep, but not to worry about me! No sirree! I said was just going to read for a little bit and then I'd go back to sleep.
Then I went into the baby's room and sat on my birthing ball. A birthing ball is essentially just a big exercise ball, and I had been sitting one one for weeks while watching TV. It was more comfortable than hefting my big ol' body on and off the couch, but more important, it alleviates back pain and supposedly helps your pelvic joints widen, allowing the baby to descend more easily into the birth canal. I'm not entirely sure that worked for me, but I was 2 centimeters dilated the day before my due date, so who knows?
Anyway, so I was on the ball and trying to read a book. Only the "gas pains" kept disrupting my train of thought. I decided to start timing them. My logic was that if they came at a regular pace, it MIGHT be contractions. If not ... gas!
Well, somewhere in the next hour or so I grew frustrated because I couldn't keep track of the clock and the pain at the same time. The cramps were coming two to five minutes apart, and they didn't seem regular at all. I figured I must be doing something wrong. So at 2 a.m., I woke up Sal. Told him I needed him to come time the pain, because I couldn't figure out what was going on. I dragged my ball out to the living room, and Sal plopped down on the couch with a watch. He also put on a DVD of "The West Wing." I'm not sure why I need to mention that, maybe because it's my last vivid memory for awhile.
So Sal started trying to figure out the timing, only this also goes terribly, because I kept forgetting to tell him when the pain began. Or when it ended. Or anything useful whatsoever. I believe there were maybe two times I remembered to say something, and both times the duration was around two minutes. So we called the hospital, which basically said, "Uh, yeah, you are IN LABOR, dumbass. So you might think about popping in for a visit tonight."
At this point things get a little frantic. For Sal. Who realized well before I did that This Is It. He began running around the house collecting the various things we would need to take to the hospital. We had our bags packed already, but he needed to grab stuff like cell phone chargers, the laptop and camera, birthing ball, etc. Me, I jumped into the shower because it seemed very, very important that I shave my armpits before having a baby. By this time I knew I was having real contractions, because a few times in the shower I had to stop what I was doing and cling to the wall to get through them. After I got dressed I sat on the ball again until we were ready to get in the car. We arrived at the hospital at 3:30 a.m.
I don't really remember the ride to the hospital, where I arrived dizzy with pain. But I definitely remember the woman who greeted us in the ER. As she pushed my wheelchair toward the elevator, she chirped, "Don't worry, honey! Once you get the epidural, you'll be JUST FINE!" I was not capable of responding, but Sal, who knew I would burn with fury at such a comment, said, "Actually, we are hoping to do this without the medication." Nurse goes, "Oh. Well. Good luck with that!"
She was one in a series of hospital folk who would royally piss me off in the next hour or two. Like the sing-songy receptionist at Labor and Delivery, who heard me gasp at Sal to give me a water bottle. She clucked her tongue and said, "Now, you aren't supposed to be having waa-terrrr!" God, I would have loved to see her try to take it away from me. And for the record, the nurses let me have as much water and juice as I wanted, so maybe the freaking secretary ought to button it up with the medical advice, hmm? Then, because all the L&D rooms were occupied or being cleaned, we were put into a small, stuffy observation room. And in came this timid little med student who fired off a hundred pointless questions, including this gem as I huffed through a particularly nasty contraction: "So, um ... Are you in any pain tonight?" I don't even remember my response, but I hope it knocked him a good one in the nuts.
Two more things happened in that horrid little room. One, a doctor came in to check me, and I was already 5 centimeters dilated. Cool. Halfway there! Two, we learned that, evidently, when Amy Pizarro is in labor, she prefers that her body remain UNTOUCHED BY EVEN THE TINIEST STITCH OF CLOTHING. The only reason I can even admit this is now is that it felt so out of my hands. I mean, it's not like I sat there thinking, "Gee, this hospital gown is a real bummer. I shall decide to remove it from my person!" No, I simply was covered up one minute, and the next, whoosh! I was naked. Naked as a jaybird. Except for the stupid fetal monitors strapped across my belly, but hooooo boy, guess what happened next! The crazed pregnant lady ripped those off, too! With a flourish! I was just so incredibly hot and uncomfortable that this was simply the only way things could be.
Also around this time, Kathy, my doula, had arrived. Which was really good for poor Sal, who learned that Amy in labor also does not care for people touching her, or talking to her, or anything else we had practiced in our birthing prep class. He'd try to touch my shoulder, and I'd shrug him off. He did my breathing with me - something that was so sweet and helpful in class - and I told him to stop. I had no idea I'd be so distracted by that, and I think it was freaking him out to see me in such awful pain AND to realize how little he could do to help me.
I'm not sure when we got moved to an actual L&D room, I think maybe it was close to 5 a.m. (They did convince me to wear a gown between rooms, but DON'T EVEN think I wouldn't have strolled right down that hallway in my birthday suit.) I immediately took off the gown and got into the shower, where Kathy began spraying me down with warm water. Meanwhile, Sal went to move the car from the holy-shit-please-help-us spot by the ER front doors to a real parking space, and to get my birthing ball. When he came back, I rested my legs by sitting on the ball in the shower. The sound and feel of the water were soothing to me, so this is how I spent most of the next hour. In the shower, being coached by Kathy to moan low and loud through each contraction.
A note about the low moan: This is something we practiced in my prenatal yoga class, and we all felt ridiculous doing it. It's embarrassing. We sounded like farm animals. But the reality is, the low moan for me was the very best way to work though the worst of the pain. The ha-hee-ha-hee breathing did help during the early parts, but that breathing doesn't work for shit when things get ugly. You need something far more powerful for your mind and body to focus on during the bad contractions, and for me that was moaning.
The next part is blurriest for me, but here's what I remember. At around 6, Kathy said I needed to move around a little more, so I got out of the shower. She and Sal dried me off, and we went to the bed, which I leaned on for awhile. At this point, I was in the very worst of the worst part of labor, known as "transition." I remember this funny diagram they showed us at our birthing class, with cartoon faces of a woman in each phase of labor. The transition face was crumpled up like a person who might be thinking, "Ow! That kind of hurts!" But real transition? Man. The truth is, it was the most terrifying pain I have ever felt in my life. The contractions rocked me. And they were piled one on top of the other, no break in the pain whatsoever. I was petrified. It felt like I was trying to outrun a monster, and every single time I thought I'd escaped, I'd feel it tapping me on the shoulder. Over and over again.
But do you want to know the weird thing? As much as it hurt, the pain wasn't the hardest part. The hardest part was trying not to totally lose my shit. The panic was so close, OH SO VERY CLOSE, and I knew if I lost my balance even a little, I'd nosedive into a sobbing, pleading, screeching hysteria. And I think keeping my senses focused on staying calm made the pain, which I couldn't do anything about anyway, somewhat of a secondary issue. I focused my mind and ears on the moan. I opened my eyes and tried to find Sal's face (which was 12 inches from mine, but it still took me forever to spot him). I clutched his hands. I moaned, and I moaned, and I moaned.
And then there was one contraction that ended differently than the others - I heard my moan turn into a strange, teeth-clenching grunt. Kathy whipped around and said, "Amy, are you pushing?" I couldn't answer. But with the next contraction I heard a bigger grunt, and Kathy told Sal to get someone to check me. They helped me onto the bed, and then I heard someone say I was 9 centimeters. Kathy helped me get back up and said one more really good contraction would probably get me that last centimeter, so she and Sal held me up and I clung to them both while I fought through another one. Then I was back on the bed, and another check put me at 10.
Next I remember a flurry of commotion. With transition behind me, things were becoming a bit clearer, and I was able to open my eyes and realize what was going on. There were cheerful people in masks, a light coming down from the ceiling, noisy stuff being wheeled in, and someone telling me not to push. This is funny, because the thing I discovered about pushing is, it's not really something you DO. You can certainly participate, but in my experience, pushing happens TO you. It's an urge that is out of your control and nearly impossible to rein in. So I ignored them and pushed anyway, but they got a bit more insistent - later I found out they were waiting for the doctor to arrive. So I huffed and puffed through one contraction without pushing, and then the doctor was there and I was given permission to push away. Sal was on my right, holding up my leg and foot, and Kathy did the same on the left. During each contraction, they held me by the shoulders, helping me curl up my body. The cheering and yells of "PUSHPUSHPUSHPUSH!" were so loud, and the lights blazed down all of us, and it was such awesome, scary chaos.
A nurse asked me if I wanted to touch the baby's head. My birth plan specifically said I did not want to do such a thing. But at this point in my labor, especially with the worst of the pain behind me, I was fascinated by everything that was going on. So I said yes, and they helped me reached down and HOLY SHIT THAT IS A HEAD. Then they asked if I wanted to see it in a mirror. Again, I said yes. I'm glad I did. It was so encouraging to see how close we were - even though they were telling me that my pushing was moving the baby out, it was hard for me to feel the progress. Then there were a couple more pushes, and I felt the baby slide out. Sal's beaming face leaned over close to mine, and he told me that we had a little girl.
The big moment!
Under that blanket is a slippery, bony little body wriggling on my stomach. I kept trying to see her face, but all I could see was the top of her tiny head, which was covered in dark wet hair.
They let Mia stay with me for more than an hour before taking her to be weighed, measured and washed off. Here we are after dad cut the umbilical cord, allowing me to pull her up to my chest.
After she was cleaned up, a nurse took two little hospital hats and cleverly cut and folded them into one hat with a pretty bow.
Our first family portrait!
Here we are on our way from the L&D room to our recovery room. It was so cool to be wheeled down the hallway while holding my new baby - everyone kept stopping to grin and say congratulations. We were like our very own parade!
And that was that! And as for natural childbirth, I'm just so happy I went for it, despite the overwhelming feeling that everyone thought I was crazy. I'm glad I trusted my body to figure this out without a medical tangle of drugs, tubes and monitors. Yes, it hurt like holy hell. But the bad parts were over SO fast. From our hospital arrival to baby, it took a little more than three hours. I pushed for 20 minutes. And about an hour after getting a few stitches for a small tear I never felt, I was up and about like the whole thing had never happened. I walked around. I took a shower. I devoured a huge pancake breakfast.
While I know an epidural woudn't necessarily have made any of this impossible, I firmly believe that a birth this fast and relatively easy would have been far less likely if I had gone the modern-medicine route. And now I'm just so incredibly grateful. It must be among the rarest experiences a person can have, trudging through the most excruciating pain I could imagine, and then watching that suffering become the most joyful memory of my life.