When I started having contractions a year ago I thought it was indigestion. It was 9pm on December 5th and I was in such denial that when J got home from dropping some friends in the city I told him that I thought I’d eaten something off, that I had a stomachache. He raised his eyebrows in that “are you kidding me” kind of way, and said as I was almost a week past my due date I was probably having contractions. When he called my parents at 10 pm to tell them that I had gone into labor, I’m sure they heard me in the background telling him that maybe I actually wasn’t in labor. Because a (big) part of me didn’t want to be in labor. As uncomfortable as the end of the pregnancy was, labor was going to be even more uncomfortable. And I wasn’t sure I was ready to go through it yet. We decided to go to bed and try to get some rest.
I was up every 10 minutes at first. The only place I wanted to be was squatting on the yoga ball in the door jam of our bedroom. With each contraction I pressed my forehead into the wood of the doorframe and practiced the deep breathing exercises I’d learned in prenatal yoga. In through my nose, out through my mouth, over and over until the contraction eased up and I could get back into bed. Jordan got up with me most of the night. He timed each contraction and rubbed my back and stroked my hair.
My parents drove through the night and arrived around 5:30 on the morning of the 6th. I had held it together up until their arrival, but when I heard my mom walking up the stairs I started to cry. I cried to think that she had gone through this to have me. I cried because I didn’t want her to see me in pain, but, in pain, I wanted her to comfort me. I cried because I realized that I couldn’t concentrate through contractions with her near me. I didn’t want anyone talking or asking me questions. I wanted silence and Jordan rubbing my back.
At around 7am my contractions were coming every 3-4 minutes so we decided to head to the hospital. The car ride only lasted about 8 minutes but was one of the longest car rides ever. I had two intense contractions and sitting in the car felt like the least comfortable place to be in the world. We arrived and were sent into triage, the holding area of pregnant women where the staff determines whether you’re dilated enough to be admitted.
So we sat there. And we sat there. They didn’t seem to be too concerned about me. I was managing the pain okay. I wasn’t screaming. I wasn’t moaning loudly. I wasn’t causing problems like the two other pregnant women who were also in triage. One wasn’t even in labor; she was at 37 weeks and demanding that the hospital take the baby out via c-section, that she was “done” with being pregnant. The other woman was actually in labor. That was clear by the screaming. She was a teenager, in triage with her mother who kept demanding that the nurses give her daughter drugs for the pain. When the doctor came in to check her she was only dilated 2 centimeters. Hearing that girl screaming for two hours was not only distracting but also frightening. If I was managing the pain and I wasn’t screaming did that mean I was only 1 centimeter dilated? Would I be sent home? Was that screaming pain in my future?
When the nurse finally got around to checking on me it turned out I was already 6 cm dilated. I was moved into a birthing room fairly quickly after that.
For the next few hours I sat perched on the edge of the bed, breathing deeply through contraction after contraction. To focus the intensity I visualized openings: flowers opening, doors opening. I ate fruit popsicles.
I had hoped to have my parents in the room with me, but it turns out all I wanted was J and silence.
At around 1pm they checked me again and I was dilated to 8 cm but my bag of waters still hadn’t broken. Stella was low in the birth canal, the nurse could feel her head when she examined me. The nurse gave me a choice. She could break my bag of waters and the birth would hopefully progress quickly after that, as no doubt I would dilate to 10cm and have to start pushing. The other option was that we could wait for the sac to break on its own and continue at a slower pace. I chose the first option.
Having my water broken was a strange sensation. It wasn’t painful, but it felt like being pushed over a precipice, like a loss of control. I felt a sudden shift in the center of my body and the urge to push soon overwhelmed me.
The two hours I spent pushing were the hardest thing I’ve ever done. In between contractions I wept. I wanted to fall asleep. I wanted it to be over. I told J I was tired, I was scared, that I didn’t want to do it anymore. He reassured me again and again. He told me I could do it. He gave me juice to drink and he wet my brow and hair with a towel. The nurses told me I was having a great labor. A fast labor. I was doing it without drugs and I was a champ. They told me not to worry about tearing, that when the next contraction came to push down, that she was coming. The space in between contractions was almost harder than the pushing itself. There was no forward movement, nothing to do but rest and feel my body splitting open, feel that loss of control. But the two hours went quickly. I have to idea how many times I pushed or how I suddenly found the strength to push harder than before. But all the sudden she was there, on my chest. Our screaming, wet, pink little Stella.
A year later I am emotional just thinking about that moment. The first moment I got to see the curve of her ears and the color of her eyes and the expression on her face. How I was excited to examine her tiny nails feel her breathing steadily on my chest. In the periphery of that moment, my belly is being pressed to expel the placenta. And as I try to guide Stella’s mouth to my breast for the first time, I am being stitched up.
The memory is still so vivid, at once terrifying and amazing. But mostly amazing. Happy Birthday to my girl.