May 22, 2009

birth story

It’s May 22nd, 2007, 3:00 in the morning when I wake up. I feel some mild cramps, like I’m about to get my period; only I’m pregnant, so that can’t be. I get up, go to the bathroom, and by the time I come back to bed I feel normal again. It takes me an hour to fall back asleep because I can’t stop thinking about those cramps. I’m not due for another two weeks – could something be wrong? I’m scheduled to have an ultrasound later this morning to confirm position of the baby, and number of babies – the day before, my midwife had been unsure when she felt feet on opposite sides of my belly, and heartbeats on both sides also. Maybe I’m just worried about that – it’s my first ultrasound, and even though I know it’s highly unlikely to discover twins at 38 weeks, it’s still a nerve-wracking thought.

I get the cramps again in half an hour, and half an hour after that, until it’s time to go to my ultrasound appointment. My mom is going with me. I sign in and wait for my name to be called. After what seems like forever I’m called into a room, weighed, and then asked to give a urine sample. I pee into the little cup like I have so many times since becoming pregnant, but this time there is something different – I’ve lost my mucus plug. A funny feeling creeps into my belly. I know that losing your mucus plug is a sign of impending early labor, and along with the cramps I’ve been having all morning it’s even more of a sign; but my due date is still two weeks away, and young first-time moms like me never go early. I shake it off and go back to the room where the ultrasound technician is waiting for me.

The ultrasound gel, which the tech assures me won’t be cold, is too hot and it burns the skin on my belly. My mom sees me flinch and she knows the gel is too hot, but I don’t say anything to the tech and so she doesn’t either. I haven’t seen a doctor my whole pregnancy and for some reason being here, in a medical clinic, makes me nervous. I feel like I need to stay on the doctor’s “good side” and not complain. Soon, though, I forget about the hot gel as I focus on the blurry black-and-white image moving across the screen. I can’t see a baby at all, but as the technician points out ribs, heart, and head I start to make sense of it. Sure enough, it’s only one baby, head down in perfect position – it must have been doing the splits the day before.

Happy to be out of there, and relieved that there is in fact only one baby about to enter the world from inside of me, my mom and I linger before returning to our respective obligations. The day is hot for May and the sun is shining, and I bask in the sunshine outside a café where we splurged on ice cream bars. Eventually, ice cream gone, my mom goes back to work and I go to class to take my last final exam of the year. It’s perfect timing, really.

In class as I finish up my final I feel the cramps again – stronger now, but I still ignore them. I head home and start filling out the birth plan worksheet my midwives gave me weeks earlier – I’m still not even half way done with it, but when a few friends call I tell them to come on over. They show up with henna dye and in my lazy state of mind I agree to a belly-painting session in the front yard. As soon as I lay down on my back my lazy state of mind goes out the window as I get another cramp, this time much stronger than the ones before. I talk it over with myself mentally and agree to call them contractions from now on, but still I don’t say anything. What if this isn’t the real thing? I’m not due for two weeks, after all.

Belly painting accomplished, I waddle up to the porch as my friend’s mom stops by to say hi. Getting out of the car, she takes one look at me and informs me that my baby is going to come soon – she can tell, she says, by the way I’m holding myself. The baby is very low and I can feel the head engaged in my pelvis. I start to take notice of when the contractions come, and it’s down to every ten minutes now. Tonight is the last in a series of classes on labor that my midwife is giving at the birth center, and my mom picks me up to go with me.

When we get there at 6:00, there is only one car parked in the parking lot – my midwife’s. It’s such a nice day that no one else has showed up for the class. I tell her about my mucus plug and the contractions I’ve been having all day, and we go into an exam room so she can check me, “just in case.” She tells me I’m 2cm dilated – when I look at her, she translates: “go home, pack your bag, and call me when you can’t talk through a contraction. You’re having a baby tonight!”

I’m still in such denial that it’s my mom that reminds me I have yet to pick up any supplies for after the baby is born, and so on the way home we stop at the store to buy pads, yogurt, cereal, and other easy foods. My mom starts to think about what was on her grocery list at home since she’s already here, but I (a little too forcefully) remind her that walking around a grocery store is not a fun place to have a contraction. At home I lay on the bed while my mom goes through my things, trying to pack a bag for me, all the while telling me how she told me weeks ago that I should pack my bag now rather than wait until it’s too late. Everything she’s saying goes right over my head as I try to be comfortable. Nothing is working: lying on the bed, sitting on the couch, walking, listening to my iPod. I’m curled up in the fetal position on my bed when all of a sudden I feel heat seep down my leg. I jump up and more fluid gushes. Running to the bathroom, I shout at my mom that my water just broke.

She wants to call my midwife now, but for some reason I’m still in denial that I’m really in labor. I tell her not yet, I can wait a little longer; but with the next contraction I start crying and she makes the call – I can’t talk to tell her not to. My midwife has to find child care and she’ll meet us at the birth center in half an hour. At 9:00 we pull into the birth center parking lot again, and I have to stop twice for contractions before I can make it into a birth room down the hall. My midwife checks me immediately after my next contraction, and is amazed when she finds me 8cm dilated and 70% effaced. She tells my mom, “I guess you guys really do have fast labors!”

I feel like I’m helpless, stuck inside of a contraction – I need to get on top of it somehow. My midwife fills the Jacuzzi tub and I crawl into it. The water feels amazing, and I imagine this must be how my baby feels inside the womb. With each contraction I press my body against the side of the tub. When the contractions are at their peak I lose grip mentally and start to pant; my midwife is kneeling next to me on the other side of the tub with her head pressed against mine, telling me to breathe deeply, breathe down to my baby. I pull myself back on top of the contraction and ride it out. It seems like the Doppler is making another contraction come, because as soon as one ends and my midwife listens to the baby, another one starts immediately – soon I realize that I am starting to fight against my body and I need to push.

Pushing, I think, is ridiculous. To push is excruciating, but not to push is impossible. There’s just no way around it. I struggle with myself to open up and push at the same time; it takes a couple of contractions, but now they are coming one after the other with only a second’s rest in between. I have read about how the baby crowning feels like a “ring of fire,” and as I stretch to what feels like the absolute limit I hear Johnny Cash, “Ring of Fire,” playing in my head. My midwife tells me to reach down and feel my baby’s head, and I touch thick, silky-soft hair. It is only now, when I feel the baby’s head, that it really sinks in to me – I’m actually having a baby. And I’m having the baby right now – another push and the head is out. I’m too tired to push the rest of the baby out right away, I have to wait for the next contraction. It comes and I feel myself tear, but I absolutely do not care as my midwife lifts my baby out of the water and onto my chest.

The baby splutters, coughs once and cries once, and then its eyes open and it lies on my chest just looking around. I have not found out the sex, and secretly I want a girl very badly, but everybody that I know have told me that they think it will be a boy. Now that the time has actually come, I’m almost afraid to find out. I quickly hold the baby out and look – it’s a girl! I’m so happy and relieved, but just to make sure, I have to look again.

Sure enough, my Sophie Carolyn was born at 11:04pm on May 22nd, 2007 - 7lbs, 12oz, 20 in long.

Happy birthday Sophie!

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