Last I left you, I had just yelled something about my digestive system I haven’t uttered aloud since preschool with what I think was probably a lot of volume in a room full of strangers and the man who at some point in the recent past I had convinced to make a baby with me.
But so is the beauty of childbirth.
Anyway, Dr. Not-my-doctor-but-fine-anyway posted up with his catcher’s mitt as the urge to push descended on me. It wasn’t quite as strong or as much of a relief as I had read it could be. The contractions still hurt like a mother and I didn’t really feel like anything was coming out. It just HURT. So much so that my bovine moans turned into panicked, I’m-being-chased-by-an-axe-wielding-maniac screams. This is where my doula Rachel came in sooooo clutch. I think The Husband was holding my hand or one of my knees or something but probably also trying not to panic/pass out (as I surely would have been, in his situation), and while he was a hell of a support, neither of us knew what to do at this point. Rachel got in my face and kindly but very firmly told me I COULD NOT scream like that, that I was wasting my energy and not helping the baby out at all. She talked me off this ledge and I got back to the business of pushing for real.
The doctor and nurses started making excited-sounding comments, letting us know our baby had a full head of hair (as I fully suspected, having myself come into the world with what looked like an adult’s wig.) I think someone encouraged me to reach down and feel the baby’s head, and I tried to but I don’t remember it very clearly.
The pain was still incredibly intense and I was ready to get the baby out. I remember a thudding headache like when you’re trying to blow up a balloon that won’t expand but maybe multiply that by a few million. I tried to curve my body in a C position as I grabbed onto my leg. I remember it being difficult to push all the way through a contraction; I kept wanting breaks to breathe.
In a little more than a half hour from the time I started to push, I felt the weirdest sensation as the baby slid out. I opened my eyes wide for the first time in hours as the doctor lifted him to place him on my chest. I remember seeing his scrotum and being truly surprised it was a boy, having been sure it was a girl throughout my pregnancy.
The Baby was born at 3:36 p.m. on Christmas Day. He was placed on my chest and he cried. The Husband was gazing at him over my shoulder and I saw a tear fall on his cheek. I want to say I also cried tears of joy but I was so exhausted and relieved to be done with pushing that the happiness and the weight of motherhood hadn’t settled in me yet.
Trigger warning, this is where things get a little graphic (not too bad, but again – babies come out of human bodies), so scroll at your own risk.
The Baby’s umbilical cord was so short I think his exit basically pulled the placenta out right behind him. I remember the cord being stretched taut from where he lay on my chest to the place he just emerged from and telling the doctor it was hurting. I don’t remember pushing, but I do remember a huge gushing feeling right after. I dumbly asked the doctor, “Whoa, was that amniotic fluid?” The look on his face as he prepared a measured response so as not to alarm me made me realize that no, silly, it was about a gallon of blood.
The nursing team/cleaning crew got to work while the doctor placed a few painful but necessary stitches.
Really, though, all this was not a huge deal. I lost “on the high side of normal” amount of blood, so they started pumping me full of Pitocin to stimulate more uterine contractions.
The Dad cut the umbilical cord and got a good look at the placenta, which our childbirth instructor strongly encouraged dads to do, “because it’s so gross and so cool.”
We had narrowed our list of potential boy names down to two, and I let The Dad pick. The Baby was nursing within a half hour of delivery and kept at it for a full hour until we finally had to unlatch him to get his vitals.
In her final act of kindness and extreme helpfulness before she left, our doula took me into the bathroom and helped me get a little cleaned up before we made the trek to our recovery room. Someone put a hand-knit Santa hat on the baby. The nurses helped me into a wheelchair and fashioned a don’t-drop-the-baby sheet sling, we took a few photos and were wheeled down the corridor to introduce The Baby to our waiting family members and settle in for recovery.
So that’s it, my Christmas birth story in three parts. I have plenty more to say about the parts leading up to it and the aftermath, but I want to leave you with a few key points:
- I was really lucky. Every book and blog and childbirth educator and doctor tells you to go ahead and plan for the birth you want, but to understand that plans can change and you have to be able to adapt and be okay with whatever birth story you end up with. I feel very proud and empowered that I was able to have an unmedicated childbirth, but I am not smug about it. A lot of what happened was luck and circumstance. Fetal distress, or a ruptured placenta, or a spike in blood pressure or an upside-down baby or a long list of other circumstances completely out of my control could have changed how things went down. Hell, five more minutes of that “transition”-y labor and I would have been begging for someone to knock me out by whatever means necessary. My body was strong and I had amazing support and I got the birth I wanted and I don’t take it for granted. If your birth goes differently, it’s not a failure. (But you ARE allowed to mourn if it doesn’t go the way you planned. You are allowed to be happy for a healthy baby and be bummed about a C-section or a wicked tear. Mixed emotions are the right of all mothers and childbirth is hard work no matter how it shakes out.)
- I had an amazing team. My husband was great, from his successfully convincing me to go to the hospital when I was in complete denial, to his words of encouragement and his instantly protective and comforting approach to fatherhood as he let The Baby hold his finger while he was getting examined. He also was supportive and let me convince him to hire a doula, which was the best few hundred bucks we could have spent. She helped him help me better, kept us both calm, served as our birth historian (I’ve been consulting a stream-of-consciousness email she sent me tracking every event from the time we called her to the time she left the hospital) and checked in on me via text for weeks afterward. If you can afford it, even if you’re planning to get an epidural, I think it’s way worth it. They’re not hippie-dippy nutjobs who will shame you if you get the meds or try to force feed you your encapsulated placenta. They are there to support you in your choices, help you have the birth you want and help you adapt if things don’t go as planned. Learn more about doulas and find a few to interview if you’re thinking about it at DONA International.
- Don’t stress eat junk food while you’re in active labor. You will not be thinking, “Damn, I really wish I had grabbed a handful of cookies before we got here,” while on all fours feeling like your bones and organs are jockeying for front row seats to a cage match in your cervix. You just won’t.