Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
Upon our return to the hospital, the new on-call midwife performed another very painful vaginal exam. I had only dilated 1cm, the cervix was still anterior, and there was increasing reason to believe that the baby was posterior (I was having hard back labor).
On the plus side, though, I was now 80-90% effaced. Again, I burst into tears of frustration. I felt like I could be laboring for days still, or that, worse yet, labor could stop completely and the baby could wait for another two weeks to be born. Somewhere in this time, our dear friend Christine joined us, which completed our birth team. Wednesday was the day of a thousand positions. Our doula had me cycling through all kinds of different movements: side-lying, hands and knees, birth ball, walking, laboring in the tub, using the rebozo (which I kept saying sounded like a muppet), some crazy pelvic position that had me hanging off of the side of the bed, nipple stimulation (which brought on some hardcore contractions), the list goes on.
Throughout the day, R and I were both able to maintain our sense of humor, but I did have the distinct sense that this baby was never going to come out.
This check – the 1cm check – really broke me. I had been laboring alongside this woman for over 30 hours by this point, and even if the contractions weren’t of the change-the-cervix kind, that is a long, long time. I had prepared myself for long labor plateaus, but 1cm at 30+ hours felt unthinkable. So I had to stop thinking. This is the point at which I left my head and went straight into the moment. One contraction at a time, no big picture. This was the only way I knew to be helpful.
By mid-day is was obvious that the baby had dropped considerably. There was a large gap between my belly and breasts, and I had a lot more lung capacity (our birth team joked that I should record the sounds I was making during contractions – like orca whale songs)! By Wednesday night things were getting very intense. For several hours it felt like we were making a lot of progress. My contractions were coming one on top of another. I lost all modesty and began shaking from head-to-toe. Obviously, everyone got very excited that I was nearing transition. In retrospect, though, I think that (while I was making cervical change), I was also hitting the wall with regards to sleep deprivation.
It’s true about the orca whale sounds: entirely beautiful. I will hear those moans for the rest of my life. This last period of laboring was lovely, but overwhelming and too intimate for me. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to write about it.
Thursday, January 19th, 2012
Around midnight, I consented to another vaginal check by the third on-call midwife we worked with. Again, I think that we were all waiting to hear that things were finally progressing. It was a dark time in the labor to find out that we were only 4cm dilated and that the cervix was still anterior and the baby still posterior (the back labor had really intensified throughout the day, and, lets be honest, it’s more ass-labor than back-labor really). R had been such a pillar of strength throughout the whole labor to this point: applying counter pressure, keeping me focused on my breath, offering a sweet, reassuring face when I was scared and in pain, retreating to the tub with me to have little one-on-one pow-wows about how things were going. But I could tell that she was exhausted and starting to get scared for me and the baby. She tried really hard not to show it, and to talk it through with our birth team out of earshot from me, but I could see it in her face.
At this point I just felt totally lost. I was the most sleep-deprived I’d ever been. My contractions were coming steadily, though I had ceased believing in their generative power, and I was beginning to lose it. I started hallucinating sometime around 1am. I thought that our girl cat was in the hospital room with us and I kept trying to call her up onto the bed. Someone suggested that we try the tub again, which I did, and I remember calling out to R, “I’m in hell” when a particularly difficult contraction washed over me in the tub, Finally, I said the thing I had been hoping to avoid through the whole labor, “I want drugs.” My whole birth team had been instructed to ignore my requests for drugs, but, seeing as we were at hour fifty-something, I don’t think anyone felt comfortable ignoring my wishes.
I still really didn’t want an epidural, but I was beginning to feel like I was losing my mind. I was also concerned that without some rest, I wouldn’t have the strength left to push the baby out. After several consulatations with the midwife on call and our doula, I decided to take a low dose IV narcotic, nubain. Given my past history with narcotics, this was an extremely difficult choice for me to make. I remember crying when they gave me the first dose and apologizing to God and to the baby for taking the drugs. I still think that it’s the part of our birth story that will require the most personal processing for me.
At the three-day mark – and at nearly the exact hour that we lost E – things started feeling hopeless to me. We hadn’t slept since Sunday night and it was now Thursday. After getting J calmed down a little (after the decision to take the nubain was made, and maybe after they’d given her the first dose?), I went downstairs to find my mom (who was sleeping in the waiting room) and our birth team (who had stepped out during the last check). When I found them and filled them in, I looked across the waiting room and locked eyes with a woman who had just (seconds before) been told that someone (my guess is her husband) had died. She was mid-thirties. Beautiful. Dark-brown hair. Pale skin. My eyes found hers just as that horrible look of realization swept across her face. Her new reality. Her nightmare. This was by far the darkest moment of this labor for me, and one of the worst moments of my life. Her loss has nothing to do with me, and I feel terrible for taking it personally, but it comingled so entirely with so much: days of sleep deprivation, days of watching my love in pain, flashbacks to losing Emmett one year before, growing fears about J’s safety, about the baby’s. I practically ran back upstairs, but I couldn’t get her face out of my mind. I remember saying, over and over, “Oh my God.” There was nothing else to say. I tried to pull it together, but I know that I returned to our room a broken wreck. I still think about that woman. I track the days her loved one has been gone by the days we’ve had Bram with us. Maybe someday it will feel like a cycle.of.life thing to me, but it doesn’t yet. For now it’s just a confusing, heartbreaking, terrifying part of this long, long labor. I wish I knew who she was. It seems impossible to me that our son was born in the same building, on the same day, as her beloved person died.
The nubain didn’t knock me out, but it allowed me to sleep between contractions (which had slowed to every 5-10 minutes) and it rounded the pain at the peak of contractions, so that I didn’t wake up startled and in agony (which had been the result when trying to sleep between contractions before). Each dose lasted two hours – I could actually rest during the first hour, then I had to work through the second. I did this three times for a total of six hours of semi-kind-of-resting. I had crazy instant REM dreams about national geographic zebras. They talked to me and told me when it was time to wake up and have another contraction.
Christine stayed with J throughout the night, and I was able to sleep: about four hours total, I think. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more grateful to anyone as I was to C that night. I could not have stayed up with J. I couldn’t. I was collapsing quickly, and I needed time to build myself back up before I could be any good to her again. These hours saved me. Knowing that J was being loved, being supported, being held, was enough for me to let go. And the sounds changed during these hours too. J’s pain lessened and her moans were softer. Easier. Less earthy somehow. Jessica got me settled on a couch, covering me with a towel. Sometime later, one of the nurses brought in a blanket and laid it over me. I think I started crying from the sweetness of that one small act. When I woke up, I found that J had written this in the condensation on the window.