Sunday, June 27, 2010

So, that was really, really hard. (A story about labor.)

About a month ago, I had a baby. Labor. Hmmm. What to say? Where to start?

It really fucking hurt.

I guess that's a start. I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting - I mean, I keep telling myself that it would be intense and painful...but I guess that's all pretty abstract and theoretical until you feel it. All I know is that all the classes and the books did not really give me any notion of what to do. I know they help a lot of people, but I felt my labor didn't really progress in a manner that made a lot of it recognizable from the descriptions. I mean, I know everyone's labor is different, but I felt mine didn't conform to anything I'd read or heard. Maybe everyone feels that.

On May 30th, by the middle of the day, I felt like I was sort of having contractions...well, not exactly contractions - my abdomen would get hard (uterus contracting) periodically...and I had crampy feelings in my lower abdomen, but not really coordinating with the contractions; instead they were kind of constant but bearable. The Friday before this, in the middle of the night, I thought my water might have broken. We went in to the birth center and had a ph test to see if I was leaking amniotic fluid. I wasn't - so, I was relieved that we weren't on the clock. (If your water breaks before labor - which is rare despite depictions in TV shows - you have about 12 hours to start labor naturally before they want to induce you.)

Anyway, over the next couple days, I felt mild contracting of my uterus...I had been joking with Kiyomi for days that I wouldn't recognize a contraction when labor really started...and it turns out I wasn't exactly wrong. All of Sunday afternoon, I sort of vaguely tried to notice when a contraction was starting...or how long it was...and they were very amorphous and didn't seem to peak...or have any kind of regularity. Sometimes they didn't even feel like a distinct contraction - just sort of intense cramping for four or five minutes.

Now, we took basically three separate birth education classes...and none of them really prepared me for the indistinct, hard to follow contractions. I mean, we finally decided to go to the birth center at about 10:30 PM because I just felt pretty awful. I still hadn't had any clear, timeable contractions. I thought that might mean that I wasn't really in labor yet. Nope. I was halfway dilated and completely effaced when I got to the birth center. My water then broke and after this, labor picked up. From about 11:30 to 2:30 AM, I had LONG (90 second to 2 minute) contractions very close together. After these three hours, it eased up a bit...and I thought, foolishly, that maybe it was the end of the first stage and I would be pushing out the baby soon (second stage of labor).

HA! I had another 3 excruciating hours of long contractions that were often only a minute apart. I lived up to all the cliches - I screamed some, I moaned that I couldn't go on, that I didn't want to go on, I asked about medication. Finally, the midwife checked my cervix and, encouragingly told me that I was at 9 centimeters (10 is when the second stage is going to start). I, very grumpily, told her that that last centimeter could take another hour. I wanted to tell her to fuck off...but I didn't.

Finally, I started pushing. This, according to books and many people's stories, is a relief...and that it is an "overwhelming, inescapable urge" and that "your body takes over." I wish. I felt that it was intensely difficult work that I had to FORCE my body to do. It took about an hour and a half to two hours...the last 40 minutes of which, everyone else could see Ila's head (just a little sliver of it at first). They were all saying, encouragingly, "She's so close." It took all my will to not tell them all to go fuck themselves because I knew she was not really THAT close and that I had a LOT of pushing to go. I wanted to shriek, "Tell me when her goddamn head actually comes out!" Every contraction, I kept thinking, "Is this it? Will her head come out now??? How many more contractions???" Of course no one can tell you that...but, god, I wanted to know so badly.

Finally, her head did come out - and thanks to the midwife's direction and my pausing during crowning - I only had a very small tear. Yay! The one small victory of my labor! After another contraction or so, the rest of her body was born and I had her on my chest. That was amazing. I loved her intensely immediately...I don't even really remember looking at her, I just held her against my skin...and it felt completely and wonderfully right.

Unfortunately, the third stage, delivery of the placenta, which is supposed to be sort of barely noticeable, was complicated. It wouldn't come out and I kept bleeding. I lost probably between 1 and 2 liters of blood while they tried to get the placenta to birth...and then prepared me for the ambulance ride to the hospital. At the hospital, I got an epidural - as anesthesia before going to the OR to have my placenta removed manually. Ouch. About three people had already been rooting around in my cervix for the preceding hour (which is horrifyingly excruciating, in case you were wondering), so I was ready for some relief.

The irony of receiving an epidural AFTER labor did not escape me...nor did the lovely numbing sensation of the epidural itself. I found myself thinking, "Why didn't I want one of these during birth? What's wrong with a medicated birth?" (My friend Jenny commented, when I told her these thoughts, that she'd had the thought, "Why didn't I want a c-section? Why can't they just take the baby out?" after her natural vaginal labor.)

In the OR, they were able to remove the placenta pretty easily - and eventually I received a blood was draining (ha ha) and intense, but everything went smoothly after the whole loss of vast quantities of blood debacle. I was very...sort of drunk with love for all the nurses and doctors in the OR. I told the anesthesiologist that the epidural made me react like I did when I drink - I felt so much love and appreciation for all of them for helping me. He was amused...and I think kind of charmed because he kept making jokes with me while Dr. Mead dug around in my uterus.

I couldn't really think about the labor without shuddering for about 2 or 3 days. I felt like a failure...because I really wasn't able to use any of my breathing work or any of the strategies I'd practiced for labor. I just never got ahead of the contractions...they were fast, hard, and so vaguely shaped compared to everything I'd read...I just wasn't ready at all. A few people from my birthing classes have commented that their births were "smooth" and their partners have said these women were "calm and focused." I just felt like I was barely hanging on, to be perfectly honest. And, although it was the scariest part, the whole placenta thing and loss of blood did not frighten me at all compared to my memories of the pain and how incapable I felt at handling it. I know it's very harsh and critical of myself to say this, but I think I felt embarrassed at how "badly" I handled the pain. I just was completely floored by it. They say that the second time is easier...but I am going to have to get a LOT further away from it before I would consider doing it again. And by "further away" I mean, I will possibly consider labor again after a bout of amnesia!

I am so grateful that Ila and I are both well...and, obviously, it was worth it to have this little sweet pea in my life...but I am still finding it sort of challenging to integrate that experience into my memory...I didn't think I had a clear set of expectations for birth. I didn't have some specific scenario in my mind; I even thought that was sort of foolish because you have so little control. Maybe that made me feel superior? Well, I discovered that I obviously had SOME expectations...even if it was as simple as, "I will be able to tell when contractions are starting. I will be able to relax at all during labor." I am curious to see how I reckon with all these thoughts and feelings as I move away from them...and I am curious to see if I actually ever want to try it again...