I’ve thought a lot of things about my second birth experience since that day almost four weeks ago. In a way, it was a culmination of a lot of thought I’ve been doing this year about suffering: a little lesson in a nutshell if you will. I can’t write the glowing, euphoric post I did about my first birth but, like my first birth experience, it felt like it had meaning to me beyond the fact that I had a baby and it hurt.
Honestly, I haven’t really wanted to write about it. I’ve almost deleted my blog a few times recently; once after a long draft got totally erased. Plus I don’t get a lot of time to myself. I have had to move on from this birth experience quickly. Many more pressing things taking up my time. The way I sum it up to people who ask is that it was almost as different from the first one as any birth could be; because I was in labor off and on for 40 hours and didn’t know what was going on for much of that time. I was exhausted before it even got going in earnest so when it was all over, I was more feeble than I’ve ever been in my life. Also, the end was very intense; pushing was much more painful.
There are reflections, however, which I think might be valuable to others other than myself. I believe I’ve done most of my cathartic talking-it-out but I hope you’ll forgive me if I find here that I had more of that to do.
So, I’m counting from when I woke up on Thursday, September 6th with cramps and the feeling that it might be the day. Right after that thought was the thought that, since we had two things planned to which I was looking forward, I probably wouldn’t go into labor that day. I did have contractions all that day, regularity being off and on. When the sun went down, as I expected, they got into a regular 7 minute apart pattern. I had the diarrhea I was expecting and cried to Henry about how that evening had been our last time putting Piggle down for bed just the three of us. I texted friends and midwife and tried to get some sleep – thinking they’d either go away or get closer together. Neither of those things happened. They were regular and painful but never got closer together. My mom decided at 11 that she would come down. At that point, we both trusted they’d resolve into real labor that night or in the early morning like last time and since I’d been told (by multiple, experienced caregivers) that things would go quickly once active labor started, we didn’t want her to miss it by being 2.5 hours away. She came, got locked out for 30 minutes at 2 a.m., and I continued to labor through the night, neither sleeping nor progressing. I tried lying down, and ironically that’s when they were the most intense. I tried walking around and squatting and they would go away – almost MORE distressing than the lying down. If I squatted during a contraction, it would almost dissipate. It was completely counter-intuitive and counter to my first experience. I got about an hour of sleep that night and kept hoping things would keep going, but then the sun rose and contractions went away completely.
I guess this must have been when I started unfavorably comparing the two births. Last time, contractions started at 2 a.m., and things really got going around sunrise. So I was surprised when they went away, but my midwife wasn’t. She told me what I didn’t want to hear, which was that they probably wouldn’t come back until the sun went down. She said I could come in for her office hours that day and have her check me to see if I’d made any progress at all. I was dejected and exhausted, and I just cried when I put down the phone. Last time, I’d labored alone for four hours but when the sun came up I’d woken Henry and had friends around me. I hadn’t felt alone anymore. I’m not sure exactly why I felt more alone this time – even from the very beginning – but I did. I spent that whole night alone and in pain, but not enough to warrant waking anyone else. I thought about getting a friend to come sit with me but then I was too afraid contractions would go away if I got my mind on something else and I just wanted to keep being in labor.
I got a chance to shower and take a nap (another hour or 90 minutes of sleep) before contractions started again around noon of Friday, September 7th. I timed them on my drive to Christina’s – about 7-10 minutes apart again. And again, most intense when I was sitting in one position. They would go away for about 15 minutes when I moved and then start up again once I was sitting still. When she checked me I was dilated 5 cm and 75% effaced. She said the bag of waters was bulging when I had a contraction while she was checking me. At that point, she announced I was in labor and to call her when I had two or three contractions 5 minutes apart and not to wait for a whole hour of those because they didn’t want to be racing to get here before the baby did. She’d promised to be at my birth if she could even though she wasn’t on call that week, but she had a consultation that night until 8:30, so if it happened before then, I’d have Stephanie, whom I didn’t know as well. At that point, I was okay with that because Karen had also promised to try to be there. She’d been my nurse last time and was so encouraging. Christina told me to call Karen on my way home to let her know what was going on.
So, I ran to Target next door to get some last-minute food and supplies, all the while thinking “I’m in labor! I’m in labor!” Just being validated felt like a wave of energy. I texted my birth team and called Henry to let him know. He’d stayed home to help care for Piggle since my mom and I hadn’t gotten any sleep. On my way home, I got a call back from Karen. She was in Wisconsin for the weekend and wouldn’t be able to be at my birth. I’d have a different nurse, Kelli, whom I was assured was great. I tried not to be too disappointed and thought maybe I’d still get to have Christina there since they still weren’t getting any closer together. Believe me, I was monitoring.
At home, they didn’t get any closer. I put stuff away, got my apartment in order, Piggle and Henry got home and they all ate leftovers – while I sat in the rocker alone in our room having contractions 7 minutes apart. Any time I got up they went away. Piggle wanted to be with me and was climbing on me during this time, my mom and Henry visited periodically for short times, but mostly I remember being alone, looking at the leaves out the window and feeling hope dwindle. Christina had said she thought it unlikely I’d pass another night like the one before it without a baby by morning but I was starting to have my doubts. I told them when they visited. I called Bethany and told her she probably shouldn’t dally, although I wasn’t positive I was right. Sarah eventually said she was going to make dinner and eat with Chris and then come up – even if I wasn’t progressing. Christina called to see where I was and to make sure I wasn’t trying to hold out for her. I assured her I wasn’t, wishing THAT was my problem instead. Henry lied on the bed with me while I cried for about 15 minutes while my mom was giving Piggle a bath. That was the last break I had…pretty much literally up to this moment.
When Henry went to put Piggle to bed, I got up and started pacing because I just couldn’t sit in that damn chair any longer. My tailbone was starting to hurt and I thought – even if I am progressing a little bit, who ever heard of a baby being born on contractions 7 minutes apart?! This must not be labor. I don’t know what I’ll do if it’s not. I don’t think I have the strength to push out a baby on two nights of no sleep, much less care for one when it’s over. I told Christina that when she called around 8:30 when her consultation was over. I asked her what she thought about breaking my bag of waters or what else I could do to get it going. I can’t say that any of the options were things I could see myself doing at that point (not really in the mood for sex, believe it or not), but I told her I’d like her to come if she would so she could check me and see if I’d made any more progress. She didn’t want to break my bag if things hadn’t progressed because I “might not be in labor.” As you can imagine, those were not words I wanted to hear, although by that point I also didn’t want to be in labor either. I just wanted to be pregnant for another day or two and get some sleep! That didn’t look like it was happening though.
And then…I started having contractions 4 minutes apart. Finally, the walking around was doing something! That’s when it all caught up with me. I just couldn’t keep it together any longer. The sign I’d wanted was there and I just couldn’t hold in the tears. My mom and Sarah were there when I put my head down on Henry’s recliner and said that I just didn’t want to do it. I said I knew I had to and that it would happen either way, but that I was just so tired…
That was pretty much the sentiment for the rest of the time.
Bethany walked in right after that moment and then Maria. Kelli, my nurse (who was great) came in pretty soon after that because I’d had them call Christina to let her know my contractions had gotten closer together. One weird thing happened. I’ve thought about this since a few times. You just can’t predict what strange thing will happen no matter how well you try to plan – everyone ended up sitting on our bed watching me labor. It made sense. It was the only place in the room to sit and the tub was taking up so much space in the corner. I ended up pacing in the 2.5 feet between the wall and our bed for a lot of the time and leaning on the ball to have contractions with most of my birth team sitting on our bed watching and commenting like they were my birth panel. I don’t know if it was exactly uncomfortable – someone commented on it at least once – but it was strange. I think it contributed to how I ended up feeling pressure in different ways that I didn’t last time but it definitely wasn’t the only thing.
For one thing, my contractions were NEVER regular in the way they were with Gilead. Christina checked me when she got here and I was at 7 cm but I’d had a range of times – 4 minutes, 2 minutes, 6 minutes – and although they were painful they were never as sharp and hard as those I remembered with Gilead. I got in the tub after she checked me and they again went away for a while and then came back at 7 minutes apart. It was nice to have a break – and I suppose I could have taken the opportunity to sleep a bit – but I felt pressure to keep it going and get it over with asap. It must have been largely pressure from myself. I had concluded that I wanted it over with quickly and so I think my birth team just wanted to support that desire as best as possible by giving me encouragement in that direction. Maybe a doula would have seen how much I needed to sleep and how susceptible I was to others’ opinions and gotten me in a position to sleep some more, but I didn’t have that option. I have since thought many times that what I really needed was a doula. I won’t go without one again, I don’t think.
So, again, in retrospect I realize that at this point I felt very alone again. I was just trying to make the best decisions I could under the circumstances. I got out of the tub after saying myself that I probably should and getting positive feedback about that idea. I kept pacing. Then I started to have contractions that were pressing more on my pelvic floor and causing me to grunt. My only experience of that feeling was that pushing was imminent. It felt good to grunt and do tiny pushes, so I assumed I was that close. Wow. Too good to be true! Comparatively, even though I was so tired, this had been easy! Famous last words.
Christina came in when she heard the grunting and asked if I wanted her to break my water now. She thought I was progressing enough to warrant it. I said I had to think about it. I knew it would make things go faster but I also knew it would make things much more painful right away and I kind of didn’t want to face it. Again, everything in me was saying “no, I don’t want to do this” but I said yes anyway. I had to wait for a contraction because she couldn’t hook the bag when it wasn’t bulging. That contraction went from a 4 to an 8 in a millisecond when Wyatt’s head got right onto my cervix. I wasn’t wrong.
The rest, honestly, is a blur. I got in the tub. I kept saying I wished I could throw up and stop feeling so nauseated. I got my wish. I leaned over the edge and got a back-rub in between. I tried to relax and to moan and mostly did okay for about an hour or so. This part is really dark. No one was talking and I was barely staying on top of those mountains of pain and pressure. Until I really couldn’t anymore.
What I only realized the next day was that the premise for breaking my water (I was about ready to push) was totally wrong. The pressure I felt was the bag of waters bulging, NOT his head against my pelvic floor. I had positive reinforcement from my team because, of course, they were doing what they were there to do! Encourage me! The problem is that none of them had a fraction of as much experience as a doula (including me!) My only experience of pelvic floor pressure had been that pushing was here and so I thought, “if I’m really ready to push, it won’t matter as much if it hurts a whole lot more for a short period of time.” The short period of time I was thinking of here was about 20 minutes or so. Not an hour and a half. So, for an hour and a half I was trying to push against contractions that weren’t for that purpose and which were twice as painful as they had been before. Which, I think only increased the pain. Again, I was acting on what I’d known before, which was that pushing was a relief.
THEN, Gilead woke up (as usual, he woke up crying and when Grammie came in instead of Henry, it became screaming) JUST as contractions were getting to be their worst. Henry couldn’t leave, nor could we just shut off the bustle or the sound of the screaming, not to mention how terrible we both felt that we couldn’t go to him. What an experience for him, for us, for poor little Wyatt to be born into! I wish it could have been different. At the height of one of the worst pains and the loudest of Gilead’s screams, I screamed myself, “just get him out of here!” I didn’t want him gone and I didn’t want to scream, but it wasn’t helping me any to have to hear him so close. And in my labor-fogged brain, he was IN the room – which wasn’t true at all. But they did close his door and mine and Grammie and Sarah tried their best to comfort him away from us.
All I know was that my third brave act (after getting out of the tub and having my bag broken when I knew how much it would hurt) was moving to a squatting position at some point so that I could catch Wyatt when he came out. My one regret last time had been that I’d been too paralyzed to move my arms and so I didn’t catch Gilead. I thought, even if I am too scared, I deserve to be the one to catch this baby I’ve worked so hard to push out. I’m going to make it happen even if I myself don’t want to do it. In that position I pushed my hardest against some of the longest, hardest pain I’ve ever felt. It was different than last time. The darkness – it’s hard to describe any other way, it’s so lonely, so bleak, going through that kind of pain; it drives you both into your body and mind and out of them in some weird way – pressed in on me for long spells. When they were over, I could only slump and try not to dread the next one. And then it was there and I was in it and everything in me screamed no, no, no while I was forced just to accept that it WAS. There was a point in that time when I realized it was so quiet, no one was talking, no one was encouraging me like last time. I heard a couple of quiet comments, which only reinforced how absent of cheering this time around was. I had a second to think, “I really wish someone would help me. Even just tell me I’m doing a good job.” I didn’t think I was doing a good job. I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t even keep myself from wailing in a high-pitched voice at the height of contractions. I tried once to make it lower but it went right back up there. That was the time I blurted, “It just won’t stop!” because I couldn’t believe it was still going. It felt like I would be in that pain forever, alone. And then, finally, I felt him move when I pushed. I pushed harder, harder than I thought I could and his head moved down. I had time to think, “Oh my God. I had forgotten.” and “No. NO.” It wasn’t a relief. It felt impossible. Like it would break me. Even when I knew it wouldn’t. I knew I’d done it before but I knowing and remembering are two different things. You can’t remember birth until you are there again. Thank God. Again, that feeling of everything screaming against the thing I was about to do and once more into the breech, as it were. I pushed again, into the unimaginable and this time I moved him all the way out. I just knew when I had to put my hands down and catch him, so I opened my eyes in time to see his face – frozen in a cry through the water – as I pulled him up toward me. Henry’s and my instant reaction was to cry too, for him, for me, in relief.
I didn’t do that last time. I also didn’t clutch Gilead to me right away like I did with Wyatt. I just wanted to hold him, show him I loved him. The only good thing coming out of that, as far as I was concerned. My first thought was “I can’t believe that’s over.” followed closely by, “I’m not sure I want to do that again, ever.”
I wish the rest had been more hazy, covered up with love for our new babe. There was plenty of love, but I remember the aftermath way too well. Henry had to leave me to comfort Gilead – after a brief family moment which was likely scarring to Gilead – so I was with Wyatt alone in the tub, shaking uncontrollably and still having pretty bad contractions waiting for the placenta to come out. They took him to weigh and measure him so I could get out of the tub and I almost couldn’t. I was almost too weak to stand and walk the three steps to the bed. And then it was hell just having my legs swung up and around to a lying position. It got somewhat better when I got to hold my baby again and nurse him, and then when the placenta came out, but I was shaking for quite awhile after even that. This was all quite contrary to last time, by the way, and I didn’t even want to eat anything. Last time I’d been ravenous. I kept waiting for the happiness to flow and the little party to begin, but it never really did. I was tired, Henry took an hour putting Gilead back down, so I didn’t have him with me, and I felt wretched. I also was painfully aware of how late it was…strange the social pressures we feel no matter what situation we’re in. It was just so different from last time. And maybe it’s mostly in my head because I felt so bad. In any case, the prevailing feeling was one of relief. But Henry and I did have a nice moment when everyone but my mom and the midwife and nurse had left. We were lying on our sides admiring Wyatt, Henry holding me, when Christina came and gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek to congratulate me. I am very thankful she got to be there. And Wyatt is beautiful. He’s worth every moment of all that. Gilead is…recovering. But he’s in love with Wyatt too. Thanks be to God.