If early labor is summer camp, active labor is boot camp. I was ready for boot camp, believe it or not. I wanted it to come. As Friday turned into Saturday and the moon crossed the sky, labor was getting harder. My contractions were closer together and very strong, but not regular, and all I could do was get through each one before moving on to the next. There was no past or future, only the present, and the present was the biggest challenge I had ever faced.
After that last walk outside, we came indoors and I finally laid in that horrible labor bed. Dawn, our nurse, wanted to monitor me a little more consistently, so I laid still and tried to sleep. I slept between contractions, and apparently even through some of them. J watched the contraction monitor as I slept. The baseline number for the uterus is about 20. Most of my contractions so far had had me in the 70s, and in my sleep, they were going into the 120s. These were some strong contractions, but because I was so exhausted, I started to sleep through some of them. I was aware of them, but I found another place to go that allowed me to endure them. This was a very surreal time as I drifted in and out, but upon returning to a more wakeful state, I found that I had lost my ability to concentrate. All I could focus on was how bad it all hurt, how tired I was, how it felt like this was never going to end. This prompted J to get me into the shower again, and this helped. I showered through many contractions, begging my wife to hold the shower nozzle against my back as I moaned and held onto the wall. As I moved in and out of contractions, she reminded me of my birth art, reminded me to ride the wave, to get inside of it. She would remind me of this throughout the hours to come, and each time, I tried to picture myself as part of the wave.
As night wore on into morning, so did labor, and it was becoming less and less bearable. My mom would hold me and hug me like she did when I was a child. J would rock me from behind, whispering to me how proud she was of me, how strong I was, how grateful she was that I was doing this. I would sit in the rocking chair and try to rock through contractions. They would each take turns giving me sips of juice or water, rubbing my back. Occasionally, I would lie down again, and they would once again take turns watching over me while the other rested. I felt so cared for, so nurtured, so safe in their presence.
We were still playing music from the laptop, and I remember at this time becoming irritated with anything that sounded artificial. I had a bunch of new age stuff on my playlist, but any time certain music came on, I would simply say, “No.” Poor J. The only music I could stand was Enya and Loreena McKennitt, so J kept playing them over and over, trying to soothe me. I believe we had another shower at some point around this time. Once again, I needed to reset, refocus, and find some sort of center from which to draw. Before, my wife had gotten into the shower with me. This time, it was me on the ball, moaning as she sprayed water on my back. I remember so little of this, only the feeling of the water and how much concentration it took to get through each and every contraction.
So far, because my water had broken on its own, the midwife and nurses held off on internal exams because they wanted to allow me to labor as long as I could without increasing the chance of infection. I had no idea how far I had progressed, but with as challenging as labor had gotten, J was convinced I must be close to transition. Sometime early in the morning—maybe around 5:00 or 6:00–she asked the nurse to check me, and we learned I was a mere four and a half centimeters dilated. I don’t remember if I cried, but I wanted to. I couldn’t believe I had only progressed two or three centimeters. Still, I was going to soldier on no matter what it took. I knew I was strong enough, and frankly, I had no concept of time.
And this is where labor becomes hazy. I remember that my wife and mother were using every tool they could to help me through each contraction. I had a talisman I had made from beads our friends had given us at one or our baby showers, and I held them, felt them, tried to focus on them. I rolled on the ball, leaned forward as much as I could onto the bed to try to get my baby to rotate enough to give my back some relief—and so that he might start hitting my cervix to help make more progress. I don’t know how long I leaned on that bed, but I do remember becoming increasingly frustrated as time went on, and I remember crying more than once. At one point, I threw the string of beads. “Fuck this thing!” I said. I think I just needed something to throw.
Early morning, around 7:30, we had a new nurse, Barb, an experienced hand with twenty years experience in Labor and Delivery. This was around the time that my memories are incredibly hazy for me. I was in labor land and had little awareness of what was happening around me. All I know is that with each new contraction, I had a more and more difficult time coping. The back pain was so intense, and I didn’t know how much more of it I could take. Barb came in with some icepacks for my back, and J and my mom would hold them on either side of my spine, pressing them into me. This offered small amounts of relief, but all tools were failing me at this point. I became increasingly discouraged, and I began to genuinely feel that I couldn’t take much more. “It’s too much,” I moaned. J tried to convince me that I was, in fact, doing it, that I could take one more contraction because it was getting us closer and closer to our baby, but I wasn’t so sure.
I knew that the midwife would be back around 9:00, and it was around that time that the nurse checked me, and I had gotten to almost seven centimeters. Somehow, I thought I must have progressed further as hard as I had been laboring, but this is where I was, and this is where I stayed for a few more hours. I must have sensed that I was stalling, but I kept going, kept moaning and panting and breathing and crying through the contractions. One thing J made me promise her was that I would not use the words “I can’t” during labor, but I was getting close.
I had hit a wall in more ways than one. My energy was low, and so was my morale and my strength. My body had hit a wall too. I was stuck, and every last bit of energy I once had was tapped. Barb suggested an IV to boost my energy, and I agreed, but it did little for me. Each contraction hurt more and more, but they weren’t serving a purpose. My labor had stalled. Despite all of my position changes, my coping tools, and my visualizations, I couldn’t move forward. I remember saying, “I don’t think I can take any more of this” with one contraction, and with another, I looked at my wife and said, “I need help. Please help me.” This sparked the conversation I had hoped I wouldn’t need to have, but the nurse went over my options, and then our midwife came in, sat directly in front of me and told me not only my options but what she thought would work to help our baby arrive safely, without need for a cesarean.
During our birth class, our instructor had talked about the use of medical interventions. She was a strong advocate of natural childbirth, but she found it important that we understand interventions. We discussed their side effects, their pros and cons, but what J and I got most out of this was a discussion about the tools we have to birth our babies and the importance of using them when appropriate. She had talked about the occasional necessity of an epidural to prevent cesarean, that sometimes it’s what a woman’s body needs to finish opening up and to avoid the worst. My greatest fear about our birth is that it would end in cesarean, and we were getting dangerously close to this ending. The piece of information from our birth class was probably one of the most valuable we learned for our birth, and it was critical in my decision-making in this moment.
The midwife sat with me through a few contractions, and then I asked for a few minutes with my wife and mom. When we were alone, I told them I didn’t want to regret my decision but that I knew it was time for chemical intervention, that I was ready for an epidural. I had done all I could for as long as I could. I had given everything I had to this labor, and so had they. We had used every tool we had at our disposal, and it was time for us to resort to these other tools. After so many hours of labor, I wasn’t as far as I needed to be, and I needed to save some energy if I was going to be able to push my baby out. To aid in my decision making, my wife reminded me of an affirmation I had written for myself only days before when at the doctor’s office, induction was being pushed. I felt that I was losing control over what was to come of my birth, so with some prompting from Birthing from Within and a desperate need to regain some power, I developed this:
I must be strong and open,
I must act like a mother
To bring our baby home.
J had only reminded me of this affirmation a couple of times once labor became really difficult, and it had helped, but it was now when I needed it most. It was now when I needed to remember how I was going to have this baby. I had already shown my strength, but I had to be open to this new direction. More than that, I had to make my first difficult decision as a mother, and by the time I asked for the anesthesiologist, I knew that it was the right one. I had no regrets; I just wanted our baby here safe and sound.
Once one makes such a decision, time slows, and I seemed to be counting the time the anesthesiologist took to get there in contractions. The count was in the double digits, and as he had me curled over a table inserting a needle into my back, I had two more. There is nothing like trying to hold perfectly still while in the most intense pain of one’s life, but somehow I did, and in ten minutes or so, I had some relief. It was at this time that I also was given Pitocin to help make my contractions more productive and to accelerate my slow, slow labor. Finally, I could rest for a bit. I could still feel my contractions, but they weren’t boring holes in my back anymore. By the time I was resting comfortably, it had been nearly 30 hours since my water broke so long ago.
My wife disappeared around this time, and when she came back, she had clearly been crying. Later, I learned that she had gone into the hall to cry. Seeing me hooked up to tubes and monitors brought back the pain of seeing her parents toward the ends of their lives. She knew this is what I needed, but she was so tired, undernourished, and so vulnerable, that this startling visual was just too much. A nurse found her in the hall, talked her through it, and even brought her some food. I assured her I was going to be okay, that this was going to bring us our baby faster, and that it would allow us all to rest up for pushing. I had been so mobile and independent and strong throughout the bulk of my labor that I know it must have been hard to see me suddenly mostly immobile and confined to a bed, but I really was okay. In fact, I was finally starting to get excited.
It took about three more hours for me to dilate completely. When Barb checked me in the end, she said something like, “Well, there’s no more cervix.” Neither J nor I registered that she was saying I was fully dilated. “How dilated is she?” J asked. Barb smiled and said, “Fully!” We had requested in our birth plan to labor the baby down rather than starting to push in the event of an epidural, and that is exactly what Barb said we’d do. At one point, the OB came in to check me, and she wanted to know why I wasn’t pushing. Barb stood up for us and let her know we’d be laboring the baby down so that my energy wasn’t wasted trying to push a baby that wasn’t as engaged as he needed to be. I loved this about Barb. I loved this about all of the nurses, for they all helped us stick with our plan the best they could.
The next time Barb checked me, the baby had made his way down significantly, and it was time to push. I was mostly on my back—something I never wanted—but because the baby was still posterior, sitting up wasn’t going to do much good. I used foot paddles for resistance, handles to pull on for resistance, and my mom and wife each held up my legs. Barb brought in a mirror, and for just over an hour and a half, I pushed. I could feel the baby coming down, and I watched as the midwife and nurse helped me stretch so that I wouldn’t tear badly (everyone knew he would be a big baby). They applied warm compresses to me, used mineral oil as he started to crown, and encouraged me along.
There were moments of quiet during this period too, though, and I distinctly remember looking over at my mom once to find that she was falling asleep. Minutes away from meeting her grandson, she was going to take a nap standing up while holding onto my leg! Some comic relief at this point was so good for us. The energy in the room was so positive and encouraging, even if everyone was a little sleepy.
Pushing with an epidural was hard, but I could feel my contractions, could feel a mild urge to push, and I knew with each one, I was closer to meeting my son. Soon, I could feel him crowning, and as the contraction was over, he continued to slide out a little more on his own. With the next contraction, he was completely out, and I had this incredible sensation of relief and emptiness. This boy didn’t stop at his head—his whole body slipped out at once, and within seconds, he was on my belly covered in vernix, and crying a delicate little cry.
Feeling his slippery little body on my chest was the most amazing sensation of my life, and when his head was turned toward me, and I saw his cherubic face for the first time, I cried and cried. My wife and I just stared in awe, crying and beaming and smiling as the pediatric nurses toweled him off.
He was finally here. All of those hours of labor, the months of pregnancy, that year and a half of trying to conceive him had finally brought us our beautiful baby boy. I had not a single regret.