Labor, part 1

We knew it was coming. Not only was S’s belly hard and lumpy with baby, but in the final week of her pregnancy she carried it slung out in front of her, an almost unnatural looking protrusion. S’s energy rose, and she spent late afternoons puttering in the garden (which we now realize was her nesting instinct), and going for long walks in Prospect Park. A Thursday afternoon acupuncture treatment brought on more Braxton-Hicks contractions, but they didn’t become strong until after a long walk on Sunday, May 24th. Around three in the afternoon S realized they were coming with regularity and could well be the real thing.

By five thirty they were closer together and increasing in intensity, though our midwife said to relax, have a glass of wine, eat dinner, be normal—it could be a false start. So we cracked open our bottle of Special Delivery Pinot Noir, which we bought because it has a picture of a stork on the label, and I made us black beans with spinach and rice, figuring it’d give us a solid protein base if the night turned out to be a long one. (I only mention this because it comes up later.) Then in a last fit of nervous nesting I blared Talking Heads and cleaned the downstairs, getting it ready as if company was coming, while S soaked in the tub with her progressing contractions. Another call to the midwife around ten thirty confirmed that the labor had started.

I got our bag and car seat and snacks ready to roll. When I returned, the bedroom was dim with the light of a single candle, the night silent, and the air moist and earthy smelling, like it had just rained, or was about to. Our cat had spooked. For a short while I took a nap—after S told me she didn’t need me hovering over her—but it was impossible to sleep when she started pacing the room, vocalizing as the discomfort became painful.

Soon she took up position on the bed, laying on the side with her legs propped up. While rubbing her back I was able to measure the ebb and flow of each contraction by the tensing of her hands, which gripped the maroon blanket when the pain spiked (typically forty five to sixty seconds in), preceding her moans. She described these early ones as feeling like someone wringing her insides out, beginning with a sense of lightening around her midsection before squeezing her guts out.

At one point, still able to smile, she said, “This childbirth thing is going to hurt!” But by midnight she had passed the point of joking. Now the contractions were a regular three minutes apart, and were sharp enough that she was distant during them, burrowing in to breathe through the pain. The midwife told us to meet her at the Birthing Center at one thirty in the morning of Monday, May 25, Memorial Day.

At first I couldn’t get any car services on the line—they were either busy or not answering—and I panicked, wondering how the hell we’d get to the hospital. This had happened to S once, when she was going to the airport on a snowy morning. No one answered and she worried she’d miss her plane. But finally I got through and waited outside for the driver, while S slowly eased her way downstairs. Though she was starting to sweat now, she had covered up her lime green nightgown with a thick terry bathrobe, claiming she was chilled. Her cheeks were flushed, feverish looking.

When the car came, I piled our stuff in the back seat and told the driver I’d be back soon with my wife who was in labor. “What is this labor?” he asked, his voice thick with a Middle Eastern accent.

“She’s going to have a baby!” I said, and draped a towel on the seat in case her water broke.

The car made its way to Manhattan with S huddling against me in the back seat, practically hiding under her bathrobe, moaning in my ear when the contractions peaked. The driver told me about how he had four kids, and complained about bad New York driving, and pointed out the pot holes he was going out of his way to avoid, but I was too busy murmuring upbeat nothings to S, like “we’re almost there” and “everything’s gonna be ok,” to get much of a conversation going.

We beat the midwife to the Birthing Center by a few minutes, but when she arrived her voice was as even-toned and gentle as during our first office visit with her, when she gave us such a warm vibe. She asked S some basic questions about the contractions, helped us get settled in our room, and then put a monitoring belt around S’s belly. A display of green numbers rose whenever a contraction came on, and a series of yellow numbers measured the fetal heartbeat. The baby’s pulse rose as the tightening peaked, then dropped a bit, before leveling back into what the nurses called “the one-twenties,” meaning somewhere in the one hundred twenty beats per minute range—normal.

Around two o’clock in the morning, after eleven hours of labor, S’s cervix was dilated six centimeters. By this time the contraction pattern was well established—but during the next few hours things plateaued. Though they varied in intensity and interval, they never increased with any regularity. We tried a variety of methods to kick them into a higher gear, positioning S on the toilet, in a crouch, and in the hot tub, which caused S’s legs to seize up in Charlie horses. This was the first time the pain became so intense she was unable to vocalize; it caught in her throat and made her eyes wild and wide. The midwife rubbed her legs while I held her hand, talking her through it. I had quickly picked up the patter and rhythm of the midwife’s language, bolstering her with whispered “breathe it out, you can do it, hang in there, you’re doing great, deep breaths.”

Finally, with the midwife on one side of her and me on the other, we walked back and forth through the hospital hallway, S grabbing on to a bar on the wall whenever a contraction hit. Like in the weeks leading to the labor, the walk stimulated the contractions, and they began to come faster. Whenever we reached the window at the end of the hall we saw the sky lightening as the sun began to rise.

As tired as I was, I knew S must be exhausted. I took quick breaks for a bite of Cliff bar or muffin when I felt light headed, but S hadn’t eaten much besides banana and watered down Gatorade. Labor is often compared to a marathon, but these hazy dark hours were like a long car ride across unchanging country, like the terrain I drove through Midwestern Pennsylvania going back and forth to college. During these trips, a delirium set in because of the monotony of driving, a weariness that was paradoxically coupled with nerves jangled by the road’s many dangers—the speeding eighteen wheelers, the sudden sharp curves that came in the Alleghenies, and of course the risk of falling asleep itself. Just as during these trips, the labor seemed to go on without end, and I couldn’t keep a slight impatience from lurking underneath my concern for S.

When S’s legs tired we came back into our room and she felt pressure in her abdomen, like she had to go to the bathroom. At five forty, after moving her bowls, there was a large deep sound and a splash in the toilet bowl as her water broke. We got her back to the bed and S threw up, at first mushy chunks of banana, and then a mess of watery spinach and beans from dinner, which at this point felt like a million years ago. Another exam revealed that, four hours after the last check, S’s cervix was dilated eight centimeters, and still had a little ways to go.

But the midwife said all the signs were there, and the intensity of the contractions began to pick up. It shouldn’t be long now, she told us. She had delivered two babies the day before so was switching off with another midwife in the practice, though she told us she’d take a nap and then stop back down to see the baby before she went home. It was around seven in the morning and S had been laboring for sixteen hours.


4 Responses to “Labor, part 1”

  1. 1 John M. June 7, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Wow, this sounds really tough. I hope things go more quickly when Dan is in labor with our kid.
    You guys are brave.

  2. 2 Kim June 7, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Go S! Yo guys rock!

  3. 3 cindy June 8, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Oh man. Can’t wait to read part 2.

  4. 4 Hilary June 9, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Hi! Congrats! I read your ENTIRE blog one day at work when I was feeling too sick to do anything productive (I found the link off of Mom Appetit). Anyway, since that day, I’ve been checking every day to see if you’d updated it about labor and the birth and the baby. I am thrilled for you, S, and Felix! So cute!

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