Sometimes Your Birth Plan Goes South
I was two days past my due date and I was climbing the walls. After spending three weeks sick with a head/chest cold, I finally felt strong enough to deliver so I headed off to my midwife for a cervical sweep to see if we could get things moving.
The next morning around 3am I started having contractions. Throughout my pregnancy, everyone was talking about pre-labor contractions but, let me tell you, until you have a real birth contraction you have no idea what sort of physical intensity you're going to experience bringing a new life into this world.
There's something pure about this type of physical pain because it's all consuming. You can't think about anything else...your mind and body are absolutely in sync and it's a totally new feeling. I wrote down the time between each contraction and, in less than an hour, they were 3 minutes apart and it was time to uber a car and head to the hospital.
We headed right to the birthing center and my midwife did a quick pelvic exam. She could feel my water balloon and break on her hand and then I saw her face drop. Right as my water broke Grayson decided to poop. Usually, if you're not past your due date, it's not a problem but now we ran the risk of him asperating the meconium. We were out of the birthing center and heading upstairs to the maternity ward.
I didn't have time to react. They had me in a wheel chair and on my way to Western medicine in less than a minute which is why I chose that birthing center. Grayson's health was our number one priority and if there was one complication I wanted every available option at our finger tips.
We labored for 15 hours and the power of those contractions was like nothing I've ever experienced (and I have an extremely high threshold for pain). At first, I met the pain with deep guttural sounds. When the pain got more intense, my sounds went higher in pitch which didn't help at all. Then I started chanting. I met each contraction with a sustained "ooooooo" and then "aaaahhhh" as my husband held my hands and rubbed my back. I could never have given birth without this man. He left the room for a brief minute and one contraction without him brough tears to my eyes. I felt the power of our relationship - of his complete support and love - throughout this experience.
As I continued chanting, images of the bodysex workshops with Betty holding the space flooded my mind. I felt the strength of all the women who've been in the circle and given birth swirling around me. Then I started to receive images of native american women and their birth rituals. I was visualizing female power.
I labored on my back...one my side...on all fours...we tried doing rotations through all these different positions to get Grayson to move down the birth canal but nothing worked. Then we started pushing - it was like he was stuck inside me and couldn't budge an inch. We kept going until I was completely exhausted. They were giving me fluids intravenously because I'd started vomiting early on in my labor. No food...no moisture in my mouth or throat...I was completely out of energy.
We made one last ditch effort at a vaginal birth - I finally consented to an epidural to bring down the intensity of the contractions and then some medication to quicken labor NOT THE BIRTH THAT I WANTED. Still nothing worked. They gave me some oxygen and then Grayson's heart rate started to fall. I could see the fear spread across everyone's faces in the room. It was time for surgery.
My husband looked into my eyes and said, "I know you wanted a natural birth but I can't lose you two. It's time to end this." I knew he was right and it was a relief. It was almost 24 hours since my first contraction and I wanted to meet our son.
Once we made the decision to end labor, we started to get excited. And I was amazed how fast they can perform a c-section. It felt like we were wheeled in and out of surgery in less than 20 minutes. And when we heard his first cry all the stress of the day just melted away. Then we found out why there was no way that I was going to give birth vaginally.
I'd gained a total of 14 pounds during my pregnancy - Grayson was born at 9 pounds. His head...his feet...his hands...he's huge. And his head was on an angle the whole time during labor. Unless he straightened out, I was never getting that body through my vagina.
He was nursing in the recovery room. His blood sugar tested normal and we were headed to my room. The unfortunate side of a surgical birth is that you have to spend the next 3-4 days in the hospital. In my birth plan, I calculated that I'd be in labor 8 hours and home from the birthing center, baby in tow, in 12 hours. Sometimes you're birth plan goes south.
The maternity ward is kind of like a modified bodysex workshop. It's all female nurses, female patients, and a support system to help you move into breastfeeding and motherhood. Other than my husband, I didn't have a post-birth support system so I really needed this experience. The nurses would wheel your baby into the nursery to give you a two hour sleep break and wake you up for feedings. If it was 2am and the baby was having trouble latching on to your nipple - they were there to support you through the process. It was reassuring to know that they were there to enable your parenting choices.
My hospital roommate was a young girl and it was obvious that hers wasn't a planned pregnancy. There was no partner...no excitement...and the staff kept asking her to chose a birth control method in the hospital. My heart went out to her. Then one morning I heard one of her doctors come in with a consent form to circumcise her infant. They weren't exactly pushing it on her but they were definitely pro-procedure.
I'll admit that her baby was crying all the time and it did disrupt my sleep but babies cry so what are you going to do? And I don't want to judge her or make absolute propositions but the change in her infant was alarming. We didn't talk really and the curtain between us was drawn at all times so my observations are all based on sound. His strong cries were replaced with this pained whimpering that sent chills down my spine. It was like his soul had been crushed. At one point, one of the nurses announced, "now he's a man" and I almost vomited. And his mother just kept "shushing" him every time he whimped for comfort. The last straw was when the nurses were applying vaseline ointment to his wounds and his whimpering became high-pitched cries of abject agony.
My eyes started to tear up and I called the nursery and demanded my son. From that moment on, Grayson never left my room. I confirmed that there would be no circumcision. And he slept on my chest my entire hospital stay. I know that's controvsial but since I'm all cut up any movement is painful so I knew that I wouldn't roll on him and with pillows on either side of the bed he was safe.
By the time I was discharged, I could have Grayson nursing on one breast and be eating..reading..checking email with the other. At one point, my surgeon and the head of nursing came into my room and were amazed by my ambidextrous skills. My whole body has acclimated to motherhood faster than I ever expected.
I have one last hospital story that's worth sharing. After all that labor and knowing that I wouldn't be leaving my apartment for a few weeks, I was desperate for a manicure/pedicure. When I asked the nurses if they had a service, they pretty much laughed in my face. Then I thought, "this is nyc. We pay crazy rent so that we can get whatever we want whenever we want." I started googling on my phone and in less than two hours had one of the top manicurists in nyc painting my toenails.
One by one the nurses came in and I could tell that they were impressed - impressed with my ability to take care of myself. I knew I needed a little reward for my efforts and I made it happen without feeling guilty about spending $160 on me. I didn't have any visitors or any flowers so I thought fuck it I know what's going to make me feel human again.
That together with the love and support I feel from Betty, our D&R community and social media friends has sustained me through the most physically challenging event of my life. Now I'm home with my son and my husband watching the snow fall as I make chicken soup. I just can't imagine anything being better or more fulfilling.
Life is magical.