Childbirth. Sometimes the world fades away and it's just you, working, laboring, literally. And then sometimes it takes a village.
When Joseph was born it was all hands on deck. There I was with my feet in the stirrups and nurses pushing on my back, more nurses assisting my doctor, bright lights, people moving frantically about the room, lots of talking, and me screaming that "I need this to be over!"
But let me back up and tell you how I got into this position.
This baby was late. Nine days late. In pregnancy terms that's like 25 years. With each day that passed with no signs of labor, more and more of my mental strength began draining away. Evenings would find me a hot mess of emotions, crying things like "I'm so ready to be done," and "I just want this to be over," and "what if he never comes?"
At my 41 week appointment I was 1-2 centimeters dilated and 80% effaced. My doctor said if we wanted to we could pick a day to induce. I said "How about Friday?" making Alex's one week off feel as long as possible. So my doctor set up an induction, and it was such a relief to know that whatever did or did not happen on it's own, I would have the baby out by Friday.
The rest of the week passed totally uneventfully. I took my kids to summer school, I re-watched The Crown. I meal-planned and went to the grocery store One. Last. Time. Thursday night we got everything ready. Then Friday morning arrived. I called the hospital at 6:00 am, as instructed, and they said...that they were full, and could I please call back at 10:00 am?
Disappointed, I hung up and tried to go back to sleep for a little while.But sleep wouldn't come. So I got up, shaved my legs, put on make-up and the earrings I got for myself on my due date. We brought our bags down stairs, and played with Johnny and Trixie until 10:00 rolled around.
I called the hospital again, a little nervous this time about what I would hear. The charge nurse said they still didn't have room for me. They needed to discharge a few more women. She asked me to call again at noon, hopeful that they would be able to get me in then. If not, she felt sure that by 3:00 pm they would have a room for me. I tried hard to control my tears as I thanked her but my voice was shaky. When I hung up the phone I cried. It was happening. It was really happening. I was actually NEVER going to have this baby. I was going to be pregnant and giant and sweaty and uncomfortable for the rest of my life.
At that point Alex took the kids to the park and I tried to take a nap. When 12:00 rolled around and it was time to call the hospital again I had Alex do it because I just couldn't face anymore rejection. But then of course this time they said we could come at 1:00! Hurray! We called my mom, who was on standby to come watch Johnny and Trixie, ate some lunch, loaded up the car, and headed to the hospital.
It was weird to be driving to the hospital to have a baby without actually being in labor. And it only got weirder when we arrived at Labor and Delivery.
"Hi! My name is Anna, I'm here to have a baby." The woman at the welcome desk calmly checked us in, had me signed a few papers, put a bracelet on my wrist, and then asked us to have a seat in the waiting area while she paged our nurse. So we sat down, not in the least bit in labor. Alex checked his phone, I rummaged around in my purse for a chap-stick, just like it was a normal day.
Our nurse came and got us and showed us to our room. It felt more like checking into a hotel than going to have baby, except of course for the hospital bed in the room, and the invitation to don a hospital gown.
Then we had a lot of down time, most of which was due to a dispute between my doctor and the hospital about whether or not I could do a water birth with an induction. The hospital I was delivering at doesn't normally allow water birth with an induction. But the water birth consent form I signed for the hospital system that this hospital was a part of did allow for water birth with induction. My doctor tracked down the head of Labor and Delivery to argue my case, and he was ready to give the green light when they realized I had never had a hepatitis C test, which apparently you must have in order to do water birth. I was disappointed. My experience with water birth when Trixie was born had been so positive. I almost felt like if I couldn't have a water birth then I would just get an epidural, but I decided I should at least try to do without one.
The bright side of all this fruitless negotiating was that it gave Alex and me time to douse the room with holy water and say a rosary together before things got going. I had been feeling pretty nervous, so it was nice to be able to do something calming.
Finally, at 3:00 pm we were ready to start the induction. But before they hooked me up my doctor check my cervix. I was already 5 cm dilated, without even a hint of labor! I had my membranes swept (ouch), and my doctor tried to break my water (also ouch) but couldn't because I had "membranes of steel." Given how ready my body was she thought all I would need was a "whiff" of Pitocin to get things going and then my body would take over. And she was right.
The induction started at 3:00 pm. The nurses were having a hard time finding a vein to start the IV and had to try a couple times. They kept apologizing for having to poke me multiple times and I just kept thinking "you do realize I will be pushing out a baby soon. This is nothing compared to what's coming." They did eventually find a vein and got the pitocin going. Within 45 minutes I was feeling contractions. And about 30 minutes after that they were getting painful. I decided to use the bathroom before things really ramped up. By the time I finished in the bathroom contractions were hard. Like, I couldn't talk through them, had to bend over, needed a cold wash cloth on my forehead afterwards hard.
The next hour was a blur of moaning through contractions, not being able to find a position I liked, and finally me saying that I wanted some help because I felt like I just couldn't do this any longer.
I wanted an epidural, but I knew it was too late to get one. I also knew that the fact that I wanted an epidural was a good sign. I was in transition. It would hopefully be done soon. We had talked a head of time about using fentanyl as mid-level pain management. But when I asked about it my doctor thought it was too close to when baby would be born. As much I really wanted some pain relief, it was good to know that the end was near. It was also at this point that my doctor told me that if I felt like pushing, I could go ahead and push.
I don't know if it is being in my 30's, or it being my third baby, or being nine days past my due date, but pushing was really really hard. I felt like I had no fight left in me and I just wanted to be done. That's when I started saying "I need this to be over!" And that's when my village came around me to help make that happen.
My doctor put on her gloves, all the lights came on, and my feet went in the stirrups. All of a sudden many nurses were in the room, bustling around, talking in low voices, and doing I don't know what. I was told to hold onto my knees and pull myself up while I pushed. It was so hard and so painful. That's when Alex and one of the nurses started pushing me up from behind. My doula was on water and cold washcloth duty. My doctor was doing everything she could to help my baby out faster. I'm not sure exactly what this entailed, but she was very hands on and I remember hearing phrases like "pushing back your cervix."
Then the ring of fire. I was pushing out his head. If you've ever had a doula or a midwife, or a doctor with a more midwife-like approach, they will tell you to not to scream while pushing. Instead you should keep that energy in the lower part of your body, use it to help push. In the past I've been pretty good at this. But this time around I was screaming. According to Alex I was screaming a lot.
Then I finally got the head out. "He has so much hair!" they were all saying. With my other babies, once the head was born the rest of the body just slid out. But not with this one. I had to push again to get his shoulders out. My energy was almost all spent, and my doctor was urging me to keep pushing and not to stop. Somehow, finally, we got him out. I say we because it really was a group effort.
I had been so preoccupied with how much pushing hurt that I sort of forgot that at the end I would get to hold a baby, MY baby! They put him up on my chest and it felt so good to hold him.
"Does he have a name?" our doula asked. "Joseph Terence." Alex said it and we both cried. Terence was Alex's dads name. We had found out about this baby's existence the day after Alex's dad died. Finally seeing this baby and hearing his name spoken out loud was a beautiful uniting of the past with the present, the eternal with the temporal. I knew there was a great cloud of witnesses to greet this baby and pray for his safe entrance into the world.
Joseph Terence. Born at 5:47 pm, less than three hours after the induction was started. He was so soft and warm and perfect, but he wasn't crying and he wasn't "pinking up". So the nurses took him under the lights, used the mucus extractor, and then he cried.
They did his intake. Someone shouted out his weight. "10 pounds, 5 ounces."
And his head circumference, "15 inches."
The whole room erupted with exclamations of how big he was, and what a great job I had done. I felt so vindicated. There was a good reason that that had hurt so bad.
One by one, as they finished their tasks, people cleared out of the room until finally it was just Alex and me and our beautiful baby. Then I got the itch to see my other children, and see their excitement at finally meeting their new brother. We called my parents and told them to come down to the hospital. When they arrived and I saw them squealing with joy over their new baby brother I felt like my heart would burst., proof to me that love multiplies. The more people there are in my life are to love, the more I am capable of loving.
We stayed one night in the hospital and then were able to get home and start our life as a family of five. Since then it's been a lot of nursing and snuggles and protecting Joseph from the enthusiastic signs of affection from his big brother and sister. There's a lot of love and craziness going around here, and I feel blessed to be a part of it.