On Monday ,4/16, I woke up early-- 4:30 a.m.-- in a funk. I was tired of waiting for baby, even though I was only slightly past my due date. I just wanted to start the next chapter of my life already, and I was feeling so impatient! Thanks to DeChRi's thread about "ending the pregnancy funk," I made a list to sort of re-prioritize the way I was thinking about the end of my pregnancy. I embraced a new due date-- my 42 weeks date-- and made brunch plans with friends for Saturday, a spa appointment for Wednesday, and a ladies' night plan for Friday. I recommitted to taking all of my supplements. I went and bought a new novel to read at bedtime instead of reading Peggy Vincent's memoir of her life as a midwife-- a collection of birth stories-- right before bed.
So on Monday night, I'd been up since 4:30a.m. without a nap. Come 9:30pm, I was tired, but had all this energy from my new look at life. I finally took a full tablet of unisom at 10 and got in bed. By 10:15, I was totally asleep. At 10:30, I heard a "POP!" in my lower abdomen. My eyes flew open. I had just read a birth story in the Vincent book that began just that way-- her own! I waited for a moment, and sure enough, a trickle of water tickled my leg. I leaped out of bed with athletic speed, but probably not much grace. I called DH in from the living room, where he was still watching Pride and Prejudice. :) Later, we had a good laugh about what he found on the bed: one quarter size drop of water, on my side of the bed (opposite of the bathroom) and one more quarter size drop of water on his side (closest to the bathroom). I was a woman with a mission, apparently. Because when I got to the bathroom, I flooded the place. Lordy. I had no idea there was that much water in a pregnant belly. I also did not know I could move that fast at 40 weeks pregnant. :)
I stripped off my wet pj pants, and immediately began shaking. DH thought I was cold, but I was actually panicking. I had been waiting for labor to begin, and now, now that I was ready to wait for two more weeks, I didn't want it to start. I think being an RO makes the beginning of labor harder than being a first-timer. You know what's coming. I wasn't full of anticipation and excitement to meet my new baby. I was full of dread and despair thinking back on being in transition and pushing. I didn't really want to do that at the moment. I wanted to crawl back in my warm bed and go to sleep. So I started to shake violently. Truly. I freaked out for a moment. DH meanwhile leapt into action. DS2 was born in 2.5 hours, and our midwife had warned this one could be faster. I got in the shower to calm myself down, which mostly worked, and he called the grandparents to come take our two older boys out of their warm beds to their beds at the grandparents' house.
The grandparents arrived by 11pm, and I still hadn't had a contraction. I had calmed down, and put on my birthing clothes, and braided my hair into an updo. I put on earrings. I told myself I was ready. But it wasn't until I had kissed my boys and the second of them had been carried across the threshold in a sleepy pile that I had my first contraction. And I'm not kidding about that. I kissed DS1, who, while understanding the plan that was in action, was still not too keen on being taken out of his bed, grandma picked him up, and carried him out the door. (He's my most sensitive child, and just not ready to witness the Roaring Mama I become in birth. He once cried when *I* stubbed *my* toe.) As soon as her feet crossed the threshold, my first contraction began.
It was about 11pm, the boys were gone, and I had switched from panic mode to calm and capable and ultra rational mode. I was full of adrenaline, and didn't want to lay down. DH was still bustling about, getting the pool set up, taking the food out of the freezer, finding the birth kit, etc. I sort of floated in and out of my "Labor Sanctuary," which was the bathroom in which I'd hung up affirmations, notes from my Blessingway, special objects, etc. I did all of active labor on the toilet with the previous two boys, and had figured that's what I'd want to do this time. I like nothing to be touching my belly, and no pressure at all on my bottom, and the thought that there is a good place to catch more water makes me more comfortable too. I spent the next half hour making sure everything was set up and ready to go in that space. And then I figured I'd better get back in bed and rest for a while. It was by now 11:30 and the contractions still weren't intense or regular.
I laid down, and as soon as I did, the contractions began to pick up in both regularity and intensity. 11:30 was the last time in the labor that had a number to it. It was really an amazing shift into Laborland- I laid down, and almost immediately I could not respond to DH's questions without effort, I had to work through contractions, and time ceased to mean anything to me. He laid in bed with me for a while. I'm not sure what prompted him to get up. I was very quiet as I worked through the contractions, breathing through them, listening to music. I was so surprised that I did not want to get out of bed. My side of the bed is rather inaccessible, too, being alongside the side-carred crib. But I didn't want to be anywhere else but in my "nest." So much for all the trouble spent on the "Labor Sanctuary" in the bathroom! I did have to visit it every so often-- I was thirsty, and drinking water has its consequences- but mostly, I stayed in bed, laying down.
Eventually, when I came back to the bed it was too much to think about crawling over to my side, so I laid on DH's side. I was still fully quiet through contractions. DH seemed doubtful when I said it was time to call the midwife and the birth photographer, but, bless his heart, he listened to me. I later found out this was at 2:30a.m.
Our midwife showed up around 3 a.m., and by that time I was beginning to have a hard time making the visualization I'd been using for contractions help me through quietly. So let me take a minute to say what those visualizations were, since the next part of the story is about losing their effectiveness.
In my first labor, I was wild-eyed and panicked most of the way through. I was extremely dependent on DH, whom I had press on the accupressure point right between my eyes with steady pressure and count from 1 until the contraction peaked, and then back down as it ebbed, for 8 hours. I still look back on that labor and puzzle over how on earth I got through it. But for the second time through, I had learned a great deal more about what the contractions were doing- the layers of uterine muscle, the necessary turns and twists the baby would need to take, the way the cervix dilates and thins. With each contraction, I envisioned these things happening. I welcomed the sensations involved because they meant work was being done and progress was being made, and with each contraction I thought only about how to get my brain out of the way so that my muscles would be relaxed enough to let the uterus do its job. I was conscious of pink rippling muscle tissues undulating upwards and light and energy emanating downwards. The pain, when I really embraced it this way, felt less like pain and more like what hard work should feel like. And sitting on the toilet, working with gravity and somehow leaning down and in to the pain, made me feel like I was active and a teeny bit in control. Hey- you can't control when the contractions come, or how hard they are, but if you are saying, "yeah, come on, I'm eager to get this next one out of the way and over with," you're in the driver's seat.
But I was too tired to do that this time around. I really just wanted to lay down. And as much as I believe in doing as much as I can, at least mentally, to move the contractions foward (and not shrinking back from the pain), I just didn't have it in my to be upright. I used my squatting bar once (I had had DH install one in a doorframe with hopes that I could labor in a squatting position quite a bit to charge forward through labor as much as possible.) I didn't want to sit on the toilet. But laying down, I still wanted to get mentally out of the way. So what came to mind was the music I listen to while running.
I didn't love to run until last summer, when my sister gave me her old iPod. Suddenly, because of the music, running was transformed from something grueling to something that was total "me" time, allowed me to in good conscience purchase new tracks from iTunes, and a way to get out in the beautiful weather and not feel bad that DH had the boys. I got hooked. Soon I was running for an hour without stopping, just so I could keep moving and hear fun music. The feeling of my muscles burning on hills became oddly welcomed as I thrilled in my ability just to do it.
So that was the playlist I turned to around 11:30. I listened to calming music between contractions, and more intense music with them. DH had to laugh when he leaned down and realized I was having a contraction because I was listening to "Super Massive Blackhole" by Muse (you know, the music playing in the baseball scene of Twilight?? :)). When the contractions were more intense, I upped the volume. I felt the burn of the contraction, and the music helped me to welcome it, to challenge it to double peak (which I did get one contraction to do, I think!), and to feel a bit of pride in my body's ability to work so hard.
But by 3 am, when our midwife arrived, this was no longer working. I was becoming antsy, and I remembered that same antsy feeling from DS2: I instinctively knew I was headed towards transition and I wanted to settle where I had envisioned delivering: the birth tub.
So this is the biggest bump in the road. I walked into the kitchen to check on the tub. I lifted the lid. I touch the water with my hand. It feels cold. Not tepid. Just cold. I stare at my husband, take in the fact that the hose is not in the tub, even though the tub is only halfway full. I take in the fact that my husband has a sort of "deer-in-headlights" look on his face, and that he is standing in front of four pots on the gas stove, none of them steaming, but all of them atop tall blue flames. I understand. I say one very unladylike word, and return to my bed, trying not to panic, thinking about how I might possibly go about birthing this baby on dry land. It's not what I had prepared to do. "I am prepared to meet any turn my labor takes" I say to myself over and over. And when my midwife follows me into the bedroom, I turn to her and say, "this isn't going to happen, is it?" and lose it just a little.
She is very calming and very reassuring: the water is getting hot, and the hot water heater may still kick in again (for that indeed was the problem- we had talked about replacing our aging water heater before birthday, but it never got done, and here we are with one that refused to reheat once it had completely emptied.) I turn to my music, but it's not working. I try valiantly to squeeze DH's hand through a contraction, and then the midwife's. I am beginning to have that feeling of wanting to get off this ride, of not being up to the challenge, or wanting desperately a pause button, just to take a breath. And that's when it hits me: it doesn't matter how cold the water is. I am getting in it anyway, damn it.
In the kitchen, I remember labor dancing with DH through at least 1 contraction. I remember him saying, "please don't bite my neck." And I remember steeling the resolve to get into the tub.
It ended up not being as cold on my body as it had felt on my hands. Halleluiah. :) Further, the pots had become ready, and the hot water being dumped in was heavenly. It wasn't very full- crouching, covered half of my belly-- but man, it sure helped. I must have had two contractions in the tub before the urge to push came on. It came on hard. I was squatting through the first three of the pushing contractions. The first one I roared through- it took me by surprise that I was already there, and the surprise made me mad. I was loud. I was worried I was scaring the birth photographer. I kept my face away from her. The second, I tried to get my bearings and breathe through. I managed that, which to me is a huge success. The third I roared even louder. DH admitted to me later that at that point he nearly passed out. I reached up and didn't feel a baby's head, and asked for advice. What could I do to get this over with? My midwife suggested turning around and leaning back. I had instinctively not wanted to do that because I didn't want too much of me wet, and then cold, but I did. The next pushing contraction got his head all the way out. I pushed without a contraction and got the rest of him out. Just as with DS2, this moment, which I would have liked to have been about the baby, was not. All I could do was keep my eyes closed, my hands firmly on the handles of the tub, and say things like, "It's over! I did it! It's over!" over and over again. DS3 (DS3!!!!) was placed on my chest, and I looked at his little head and felt giddy. It was over! The ordeal was over! But not so much: It's my baby! My beautiful baby! Oh well. It was 4:03 a.m. We decided DS3 had been born at 4:00a.m. on 4/17 on the dot. I had wanted DH to be the first to determine the sex, but he told me to do it. And that's when it became real. I was elated. Three boys. I couldn't (and sort of still can't) believe it. Three boys!
The water was getting cold, and we were worried about baby getting chilled. The cord did stop pulsing pretty quickly though, and once he was out the placenta came out with one big cough. I was helped out of the tub to my bed, where I began to complain immediately about my bottom. Not my vagina, but my butt. Turns out all that vigorous pushing sprouted a few new hemorrhoids, which I am still trying to figure out how to deal with. Gar. Not cool to wear your badges of valor on your butt.
I did have that thought in active labor: birthing for women may well be a bit like what going to war may have been (or may be still, I suppose) for men (and, to be fair, soldiers generally.) But as a classicist, I'm thinking primarily of what it may have felt like to fight in the Trojan War. To be swept along into battle wielding a long spear and a heavy shield, knowing your success in your endeavor relied on something within you but somehow bigger than you. And that to be courageous meant trying to take charge as much as possible in an impossible situation. I don't know. Obviously, the intended outcome is amazingly different. And the ramifications of being a death-bringer versus a life-bringer cannot be overlooked. But I can't help but wonder whether or not there are some similarities between a mama and a soldier as each wages a battle on the edges of life, in their different ways.
Baby nursed quite readily and easily-- for over an hour! During this time, the photographer chatted and took pictures, and my midwife sat down to work on the hat she is crocheting for him. :) Finally, he was done, and it was time for an exam. My midwife decided I didn't need stitches- a small first degree tear was all. I asked for her forgiveness for being somewhat hard to deal with when she wanted to do some fetal monitoring. :) She laughed. (A note: two days later, I would examine myself in the mirror and call her back to reassess. It turned out I did end up getting stitches-- 7! That first degree tear was on top of scar tissue from my previous deliveries, and it had been so swollen on the night of Timo's delivery that she couldn't see that it would not likely heal by itself. I'm glad I called, but getting stitches on day two pp was not my idea of a good time.)