I was floored and confused that things were already so intense. My first contraction happened at about 9:30am—it was now barely lunch time and it was already taking all my concentration and effort to get successfully through each contraction (success, in my book, was maintaining enough control to do the low moaning and not get high-pitched and freak out). Also, all of a sudden there was barely any time between them. I knew first-timers tend to have long labors, and I thought, how will I ever survive days of this kind of intensity? What if this isn't even active labor yet, and it turns out that I am just a big, fat wimp after all? Logically, I was having a hard time believing that what I was feeling wasn't active labor, but all my fears—of weakness and inadequacy and my body not working properly—surfaced, and I doubted myself a lot. I knew that if we called the midwife she’d listen to my sounds during a contraction and gauge where I was in the process, and I really wanted to know.
So right before Becky showed up, we called the midwife (well, Chris did). He gave her a brief update and then handed the phone to me. I started trying to explain what the contractions were like but immediately sensed one coming on and stopped talking so I could do my thing. She listened to me, and when it was over she said with some surprise in her voice, “Oh, Amy—you're in labor!”
Those words made everything brighter. It's kind of funny how those sensations seemed almost unbearable when I thought they were pre-labor, but totally doable once I knew it was active labor. From that point on, the sequence of events is blurry for me. Lis arrived soon after our phone call, and Becky arrived just before Lis. I remember Lis feeding me blueberries one at a time. Those blueberries were like sweet nectar from the gods. I remember Becky and Lis continually offering me sips of water and coconut water, and even though sometimes I didn’t want it, I drank it. I’m actually surprised at how compliant I was throughout labor—I thought I would have been more ornery and, well, bitchy. (It’s possible Chris and Becky could speak more accurately to the bitch factor, but nobody’s asking them.) I remember Chris behind me, always behind me, letting me lean so hard on him, grip his arms, push into him.
It was uncharacteristically warm that day, and we had some windows open—specifically, the ones that opened into a small courtyard that we shared with about 12 other tenants in our building. Eventually, a woman in a nearby apartment had had enough. “Close the window—we don’t want to hear that!” she yelled. Lis, our sweet, soft-spoken midwife, called out softly as she closed the nearest window, “She’s in labor!” and giggled a bit. I laughed too, and had a few thoughts but no time to speak: 1) Lady, I WISH I were having sex right now, 2) Doesn’t it seem peculiar at all to you that someone would be having orgasms every few minutes for the past two hours? and 3) We have to move immediately after the birth because there’s no way I can look any of these people in the eye again.
I labored in many different positions, all at Lis’ suggestion. I sat backward on the toilet and leaned back a bit (on Chris, of course), with my feet braced against the wall behind the toilet. That was more challenging than standing up, and I started chanting during contractions, “I can do it. I can do it.” This chant filled my mind so that there wasn’t room for negative thoughts, helping me stay calm and relaxed.
Next I tried kneeling in front of an armchair and leaning on the seat of the chair. That was the only position that gets a big, fat fail from Amy. All kinds of fun stuff was leaking out of me at this point, so they put a chux pad below me and my knees kept sliding on it. Also, strangely, I was still wearing socks even though my underwear had long since disappeared, so my feet couldn’t grip the floor like I needed them to. Because of all the sliding, I was having to tense up my thigh muscles to hold myself in place, and I was very upset about that. I knew I needed to be relaxed and loose; that was my primary goal throughout labor. After I complained about it between a few contractions, we moved to the bed.
I wanted Lis to check me to see how dilated I was, and when she was done she said something like, “Okay good, you’re doing great.” The fact that she didn’t give me a number discouraged me a little at the time; I assumed it meant I wasn’t very far along. After the birth she explained that I was at about five centimeters when she checked me, which was great, but she didn’t want me to get hung up on a number. I appreciate her wisdom, since I think five centimeters would have disappointed me. Also, believing that I still had a ways to go actually strengthened my resolve to continue to give every contraction my all.
After Lis checked me, I labored on the bed, on my side with my knees drawn up. Chris knelt by the bed so that his face was near mine, and I held onto his hands. If I didn’t have his hands, I completely freaked out. Since she didn’t know how long my labor would be, Lis wisely wanted me to conserve my energy. She encouraged me to relax my whole body, including my face and hands, and I tapped into all my relaxation and visualization practices to do it. It was so hard. She also encouraged me to lower the decibel level of my vocalizations and to try not to chant. I knew vocalizing was really working for me so I didn’t stop completely, but I did my absolute best to be quieter. I hope the neighbors appreciated the brief respite before the pushing began.
While on the bed, I felt my whole body bear down during a contraction. I told Lis I was pushing a little bit. She gave me some pointers on pushing effectively, and I’m sure they helped, but what I remember most is that my body was leading and I was following. After a bit, a pattern emerged: For a few contractions, my body would bear down very forcefully, and I accompanied it with all the strength I could muster, and then there would be one milder contraction. I learned to bear down only as forcefully as my body led me to; otherwise I felt I was wasting energy. It seemed like when my body and I worked in conjunction, the push was exponentially more effective.
I wasn’t really a fan of lying on the bed, so Lis suggested using the birth stool she had brought, but as soon as I sat on it I knew it wasn’t right for me. They moved it out of the way and I got into a deep squat there on the floor next to our bed. Wow—once I was in that squat the bearing down was WAY more powerful. Squatting opened up my pelvis and gave gravity a chance to help out. The contractions were now more difficult to endure, but I also felt that they were more effective, so I was glad.
It’s weird—I know the contractions were very painful and that during each one the pain and pressure seemed like the full amount I could possibly endure, but it’s hard to remember what the pain actually felt like. What I do remember is that the contractions were like a huge wave barreling through me, and I knew my part was to give in to the pressure by relaxing my pelvic floor and squatting deeply, and to bear down with everything in me. At this point, my sounds were guttural and very loud, and I saw my mouth as a little pressure valve that, when opened, made the pressure of the pushing bearable. Every so often Lis would encourage me to put more energy toward pushing and less toward vocalizing, and I would try, but my God. The force never felt like more than I could endure, but it came right up to the line every time.
When he crowned, Lis asked me to try not to push during the next contraction and to try to pant instead. I did as she asked, and I was surprised that I was able to do it. I remember feeling pretty proud of myself for having that kind of control. I think she asked me to do that for a few contractions, and then I felt his head leave my body. It seemed like my whole body was relieved, and I had no contraction immediately afterward.
Now that his head was out, Lis wanted me to push his body out ASAP. These things need to happen one right after the other. But there was no contraction, so I did nothing. I had only ever pushed when my body was already bearing down, so pushing outside of a contraction did not compute. I remember looking at her, wanting to obey but not understanding physically how to do that. Unfortunately, at the same time she was also telling me to put some distance between my butt and the floor to make room for his body. This also did not compute—the deep squat was the perfect birthing position for me, so why would I move? Also, logistically I couldn’t figure out how to raise my butt while remaining open to let his body through. I tried, but my pelvic floor tightened, and I knew that wasn’t good. Time was ticking, and Lis got very stern. I could tell it was important, but I didn’t know how to manufacture a push, and I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the squat. Since I wasn’t acting fast enough, Lis started telling Chris to lift me a bit. Finally, with Chris holding me up by my armpits, I pushed with all my might, no contraction—and his body shot out, slippery and heavy, just like I knew it would from the two births I had witnessed.
Lis laid him on the floor at my feet. He was purple and red, and he wasn’t breathing. I think she told us to talk to him. She used a little air pumping thing, but that didn’t work, so she covered his mouth and nose with her mouth and blew, and that did the trick. Finally, he cried. He was out, and he was alive and I was alive: mission accomplished.
I’m working on part three—the awful tear, the scary breathing, the two trips to the hospital, the breastfeeding blunders—but that’s the hardest stuff to write about. We are all fine now, but there is still so much from that time that’s painful to remember. Things I’m angry about, things I regret. That’s how I know I need to write it down, and little by little I’m chipping away at the whole mess.