Friday, February 15, 2019

Cecilia Louise

I woke up 41 weeks pregnant and decided today was the day I was hanging a shelf.

So off we went to Lowe’s, a mile and a half away, on foot. That was the advice: go for long walks.

There was lots of advice, turns out. Eat spicy foods. Take evening primrose oil. Do acupuncture. Have sex. (Did I need to be uh, into it, or was the actual penetration enough?) (Have you ever tried having sex while 41 weeks pregnant?)

Whatever it was, I did it, and still here I was, 41 weeks pregnant and staring down the barrel at risking out of the birthing center or needing an induction.

I started having contractions in the lumber aisle, and these ones weren’t the fun, exciting contractions I’d been flirting with for a few days. No, these ones felt like the worst of the worst-ever period cramps, the kind that made you curl up and put on a frowny face and whine to yourself about fucking men and their fucking bodies that didn’t have to FUCKING DEAL with this kind of shit.

We got home with the wood and the brackets, and while I put up the shelf by myself, the contractions stopped.

Fuck. This. I took a little bit of castor oil—the final thing on the list of advice—and went to bed very, very pissed off.


I woke up at 1am in labor.

They say you’ll know when you’re in labor (but how?? HOW WILL I KNOW?) and it’s true. I did.

I took a nice, hot shower as more of an experiment to see if that slowed anything down, but it didn’t. So I went and sat on the birthing ball in the living room and bounced. Bounce bounce bounce. During my labor preparations, I’d always envisioned listening to books on tape or a podcast during early labor, but the sound of other people talking was suddenly unbearable. So I bounce bounce bounced in silence so my being awake wouldn’t wake the neighbors.

The contractions were a lot like the lumber aisle ones—shitty—but I could deep breathe and bounce my way through each one, no problem. I took another shower and the water was absolutely lovely. I had another few contractions in there, but they barely registered.

Around 3am, I decided this was all Officially Happening, so I woke up my husband. I told him I was in labor, that I needed the midwife’s phone number, and he could go back to sleep since he’d need his rest. He handed over his phone and immediately passed out again. Hmmmmm MUST BE NICE.

My midwife was at work (it’s funny having a completely alert, coherent conversation with someone at 3am). She gave me a few things to look out for and instructions on when to call her back. After I hung up, I went to try and pee—unsuccessfully, because having a baby head squeezing its way down cuts off the ability to pee—and finally FINALLY had the bloody show I’d been waiting for. (W000 mucus!)

I labored by myself for another 2 hours. Bounce bounce bounce. Shower. Bounce bounce bounce. Shower. And at 5am, I decided it was party time. I woke up the husband, and he called the doula.


For the next 5 hours, I moved between my favorite spots in the apartment:

From sitting on the ball and leaning forward onto a stack of pillows on the bed

To standing and swaying over the dining table

To taking a very hot shower

and back again.

My doula had brought a magic heating pad, which I loved on my lower back with some counter pressure.


So. What do contractions feel like?

Contractions feel like the entire space below your breasts and above your knees is being wrung out like a wash cloth. It’s a wave, with a crest that is unbearable—you can’t do it—and then it fades away again to nothing. There is zero pain in between in each contraction.

Standing up and moving around made the contractions much, much worse, like twisting a knife or flicking lemon juice on a paper cut. My whole body shied away from the pain, but I knew the harder things got, the closer we’d be to having a baby.

I’d done a lot of mental work during my pregnancy to prepare for an unmedicated labor. I knew it was something my body was designed to do in theory, and I wanted to see if I could do it. There are lots of reasons not to want an epidural (and of course lots of reasons to want one) but at the end of the day, I’d never been in any real physical pain before, and I wanted to experience birth as fully as I’d experienced pregnancy.

So each contraction, I pictured myself diving headfirst into a wave. If I’d tried to hold back, the wave would have hit and drowned me. So I released myself to the pain, and took each contraction as it came. I also just moaned a lot.


Around 10:30am, I knew it was time to go to the hospital. Contractions were pretty steadily 3-1-1, and even sitting on the ball wasn’t helping me cope anymore, so we called the midwife. She let me know verrrry delicately that the birthing center was full. There’d been a snowstorm, and the change in pressure had sent a lot of women into labor. (Seriously it’s a thing.) She asked if I wanted to wait.

No. No I did not want to wait.

The husband got a Lyft, our doula grabbed some of our shit (bringing a car seat felt awfully presumptuous) and I stepped into some shoes and headed down the stairs in between a contraction.

The next hour was probably the worst hour of my life, because it suuuucked.

Our poor, doomed driver rolled up in a mini van. I kneeled on a seat and hugged the back of it, facing the rear of the car. I’d learned in birthing class that it’s common for labor to slow down or stall when you head to the hospital, because you leave the cozy, safe den of your home and your body reacts accordingly. Not this guy!

Nope, I moaned loud and long the whole time as I rode (hah) each contraction. The driver was pretty freaked out, so he drove FAST and hit allll of the potholes and speed bumps. Every single tiny jarring motion was torture.

It only took 15 minutes to get through the tunnel, and as we screeched up to the hospital, I climbed out and barreled through the doors. The front desk took one look at me waddling in like a penguin on fire and pointed me to the elevator.

Up up up we went, and the doors to the fucking labor and delivery ward were sealed. “Shift change!” the doula sang, as she elbowed them open. I burst in again and, unlike the guys downstairs, not a person on L&D gave a single fuck about my state.

I guess having pregnant women burst into your place of business multiple times a day dampens the panic you might once have felt.

Someone brought me into triage, which is the actual worst fucking place in the entire world.

The nurse left me a bag for my clothes and a hospital gown and socks. I stripped down blindly, out in the open, stuffing my clothes into the bag, and then turning around, trying to find the now-disappeared nurse.

“WHERE THE FUCK IS THE NURSE” I bellowed, and she came resentfully back.

She had me lay down on my back and strapped a fetal heart rate monitor on. I was instructed to be still for twenty minutes.

Just to recap:
-I was having life-altering, minute-long contractions every 3 minutes
-I had been walking around or bouncing for the last 10 hours—not laying on my back
-Neither my doula nor my husband were allowed to be with me

Because it was such a small hospital, I was also only separated by a curtain from a pregnant woman who had fallen hard and wasn’t feeling her baby move anymore. My heart breaks when I think about her. I hope everything ended up being okay.

At some point, my midwife came in to check me. FINALLY AN ADULT WITH A DEGREE EVERYTHING WOULD BE FINE! My heart lifted at the sight of her. Let me just say here: midwives are the best. They are so loving and calm, but also so capable and ready to Do This. Also the best? Doulas and nurses and birthing balls and heating pads.

6cm. The midwife was jubilant. I, on the other hand, was almost hysterical from the pain.

The nurse came back to give me a hep lock (one which, I must point out, was never used, and only served to irritate me during labor and after, when I attempted the Herculean task of breastfeeding a newborn for the first 50 times). I asked if I could go back on the ball for the rest of monitoring, which she allowed. She also asked when my waters had broken, and I realized my legs were wet. “Uh, now?”

They let my husband in, and I was. Over. It.

“I can’t do this, I’m done, this is too hard, bring the midwife back.”

He tried to keep me calm, but I had hit the wall. It hurt too much, I was too tired, there was no WAY I was going to have a baby without every single millilitre of sweet, sweet modern medicine injected into my spine.

We agreed I’d decide after they put me in a room. And anyway, my midwife was nowhere to be found. Once I got settled, I focused again.

I spent the next hour or so bouncing on my beloved ball. I was facing the bed, with the doula holding my hands across it, and my husband supporting my back with a heating pad.

That’s where I went through transition, the crazy last stage of labor when all bets are the FUCK off, and the baby moves all the way down into position. Transition is when women completely give up. It’s when they try to get out of the room. When they bargain or laugh or weep.

My transition was a little bit of everything, but it was very internal. Each contraction hit one after the other, without any chance to catch my breath. My doula asked, “it’s still the same contraction?” and I knew something intense was happening.

Then it was time to push.


Pushing is another one of those things you wonder and worry about recognizing beforehand, but suddenly I knew it was time to push and the contractions just stopped.

(I know logically they didn’t stop, but they basically ceased being the center of my world and I felt no pain.)

I told the doula it was time to push, and she found the midwife. The midwife was skeptical, but she took one look and agreed that, oh yes, it was time to push.

They had me hobble into the delivery room. It felt like I was carrying a bowling ball with my kegels.

And then! I tried pushing every which way. If this were a movie, pushing would be a hilarious montage of me first on my hands and knees, then on one side, then the other. Standing, squatting, trying to push (or pee, for fucks sake) on the toilet. Nothing was working. The movie would have a shot of me in the trenches, pushing with every muscle in my goddamn body—with O Fortuna blasting—and then cut to elevator music as my midwife, doula, husband, and a nurse stood around, chatted, and held my legs.

My kid would crown during a push, then pop back in every time I stopped. What a nightmare.

At least the playlist in Hell was good, because I made it.

The midwife had a little pep talk with me. She said my baby was ready, and it was time for me to push her out. They gave me a catheter to drain out all the pee that was blocking her final descent. They wheeled over a mirror and I could finally see what they meant when they said to push a certain way, in a certain place in my body. (Spoiler: they tell you to push in your butt. They basically tell you to poop, guys, which is why, very often, poop actually comes out.)

After 90 minutes, I did one final push that felt like my eyes were exploding and my body was ripping in half.

And I pushed Cecilia Louise out. She had the umbilical cord looped twice around her neck. The doula very nicely took some gory action shots, which I still haven’t quite been able to look at. But the gist is that she came out in one push and I tore, and then they put her straight onto my chest and she was perfect.


What happens immediately after birth is sort of funny and weird: Cecilia cried and cried, which everyone said was good. She was so HOT and smelled so strange, like a frog dissection (which I SAID out loud and everyone kind of awkwardly laughed off). She latched right away, and I tried focusing on that instead of on the really terrible process of birthing the placenta (my midwife: “push a little bit more?” me: [pointedly ignoring her]) and getting stitched up with only a very small, ineffective shot of local anesthesia.

They gave us time to just sit and marvel. They took Cecilia’s footprints and weighed her, and probably did the Apgar (which I’m still SO mad I didn’t hear). They cleaned up the absolute horror show of blood and other fluids. A nurse helped me stand and step into a mesh underpant. If blood grosses you out, sorry: but what they do is fold a puppy pad into a hot dog shape, then put two industrial size maxi pads on top of THAT end to end. And the whole contraption gets soaked through in about an hour after birth.

Then I sat in a wheelchair with Cece in my arms, and off we went to the recovery room and, you know, life.

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