Hanging on for dear life.
On Wednesday morning, November 5th, at about three o’clock in the morning, I woke up with contractions. These were not the same contractions that I’d been having for the past several weeks; these were painful. Regular, but not – I’d have one, then wait fifteen minutes, then I’d have another one, then wait twenty minutes, etc. Right away adrenaline coursed through my veins. Could today be the day? I wasn’t ready! I was sick with a rotten cold that my kids so kindly shared with me; my first cold in months. My throat burned; my nose was congested. I was miserable. I couldn’t fathom going into labor while sick.
I waited about an hour and a half before calling the midwifery answering service. I couldn’t stay in bed since I wasn’t sleeping, and pacing around the house felt better anyway. The midwife on call rang back about five minutes later and asked me a few questions, yawning between sentences. “Well, it could just be dehydration from being sick,” she said, and suggested I take some Benadryl to help ease me back to sleep. I don’t even think I had any Benadryl in the house, but it was clear that she didn’t think there was anything serious going on yet. Still, she reassured me that I could call back any time if things changed, or if I was concerned at all. We hung up, and I heaved myself back into bed to try and catch a few more winks.
My alarm went off at six, as is customary for a school day, and in a zombie-like state I moved around the kitchen, handing a banana to a grouchy toddler, finally enlisting Daniel for some assistance. I was still in pain, and running a low fever, and though I didn’t have much of an appetite, I thought it would be wise to eat just in case I needed the energy later. Connor and Adrienne boarded their respective buses and I switched on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood for Eleanor, and promptly conked out on the couch for the next several hours, dozing intermittently. I was keeping track of the frequency, duration, and pain intensity level of the contractions, and they seemed to be slowing down quite a bit. My biggest fear was being left alone – Daniel was supposed to leave for a photo shoot in Skaneateles, over an hour away, and was scheduled to work his Wednesday night shift after that. “You can’t go,” I told him, and so he didn’t. For most of the afternoon and evening, I stayed on the couch, sleeping, drinking water, watching episodes of “Chopped” on Netflix and catching up on New Yorker articles, all with a looming sense of fear and dread. I wasn’t ready.
At bedtime I was restless; I was still contracting, and a few of them were intense enough that I had to stop and breathe through the pain. Around 11:30pm I got out of bed and decided to put a few things together for the hospital, just in case. I threw a jar of peanut butter and a package of rice cakes into a bag; I printed an information sheet for my mother-in-law Kathie who would be staying with the three kids, and quadrupled-checked to make sure there were baby clothes in my suitcase. I can’t say I was thinking particularly clearly at this moment, but in retrospect my actions were certainly heightened by the true onset of labor. After a little while I settled back into bed, only to be awoken around 2:30am with a contraction that made me leap out of bed. It lasted almost five minutes and when it was over, I was shaking from head to toe. Once again, I timed the next hour of contractions, which came regularly every fifteen minutes or so – not quickly enough to warrant jumping into the car, but enough that I started thinking this was really it.
I called the answering service again. It was the same midwife on call (?!) who phoned me back. This time she told me to fill up the bathtub with warm water and see if that would stop the false contractions. For some reason this annoyed me tremendously and I fought back the urge to holler at her. I still didn’t have much of a speaking voice, though, and I figured indignantly squeaking at her wouldn’t have the desired effect, so I mumbled something about giving it a try, maybe. The last thing I wanted to do at four o’clock in the morning was lower my whale-like self into a bath. I hung up and crawled, defeated, back to bed. During all of this I was reluctant to wake my slumbering, oblivious husband, because I knew he needed rest, too, for what was about to come.
Once again I was reminded of how lonely the birthing hours are, and I stayed half-awake for the next couple of hours, having semi-regular, strong contractions every 10-15 minutes. The kids got up for school, and I could tell Adrienne especially was worried about me, so I decided to keep my pacing restricted to the bedroom and bathroom. Food was not going to be an option today, which was a big red flag. After Connor and Adrienne were gone, Daniel went ahead and filled up the bathtub and helped me into it, thinking it might at the very least distract me from the almost constant pain. Eleanor found this hilarious.
“You taking a bath?” she inquired, and proceeded to spend the next several minutes offering me bath toys. I’ve gotta say, nothing beats being in the stages of early labor and having your two-year-old throw a rubber duckie at you.
It was marvelous. I stayed in the tub for over half an hour, and while I was in there I decided that no matter what, I was going into the hospital that morning. I might not be following the textbook “contractions every five minutes lasting 60-90 seconds,” but I just had this gut feeling that it was time to go. Not to mention I had an overwhelming fear that if I waited too long, I’d be afraid to get into the car. Kathie came over shortly to collect Eleanor for the day, and we told her it was time. I called the midwifery office again, and they said to head on over to Highland Hospital.
As a side note, car rides when you are in labor are probably the worst thing ever, besides the actual labor.
At my request, I asked Daniel to drop me off at the door. No medals for bravery this time – I wanted the damn wheelchair. A very sweet gentleman took me upstairs to the Labor and Delivery unit, where I was left at the admissions desk in front of a not-so-very sweet woman. I wasn’t in the system, she told me. My pre-admission paperwork hadn’t been received, the paperwork I’d sent in nearly two months ago.
As another side note, there are few things more discouraging and downright inhumane than paperwork and medical bureaucracy when you are in labor.
Off to triage, where I was met by a very nice nurse named Mariah, and Daniel arrived shortly thereafter laden with bags, his camera, and the f@$&ing clipboard containing a new admissions form. I was five centimeters dilated, HOORAY!, which meant I was staying put. Once again I experienced the joy of having tiny veins while poor Mariah struggled to get an IV inserted (“Do I really need that?” “Yes, just in case.” *sigh* “Fine.”) and drew some blood, which took multiple tries. I started feeling dizzy and nauseated, which was enough to get her to stop poking at me for a little while. It was approximately 10:30am by the time I entered the delivery room.
Now, at this point things started to get somewhat hazy. I was having regular contractions, not super-close together, but they were painful. And I was terrified. I asked Melinda, one of the midwives who had met me in triage, what my pain options were. Please understand that in my previous labors, I had never even considered drugs for pain. I was strictly ALL NATURAL, thank you very much, so don’t even try to talk me into it. But here I was, asking for drugs. She mentioned some narcotic that could be administered, and with my usual nosiness I asked what the pros and cons would be.
“Well, it will take some of the edge off of the pain…but won’t eliminate it entirely. You’ll probably start feeling some dizziness right away, and you’ll feel pretty out of it. Oh, and it might slow down your contractions…which are pretty irregular anyway…”
Yeah, no thanks. I couldn’t imagine feeling any more out of it already. Bring on the heating packs, cold compresses, and counter-pressure against my lower back. Once I’d planted myself in the bed, I had no desire to move ever again.
I breathed. I groaned, in my hoarse cold-wracked voice, and tried to focus on the Brahms sextets that Daniel had put on for me to listen to. “They’re out of order,” he told me. “Spotify won’t let you play the movements in order.” I assured him that was the least of my worries at the moment.
There were a couple of interesting things I remember from the next few hours. I decided that the last thing I wanted on my skin was a hospital gown, so VAVOOM! there’s a pregnant, laboring mama in her birthday suit on the delivery bed. If you’ve ever given birth before, I think it’s pretty safe to say that modesty flies out the window. I also remember consciously trying to stay in the moment, because I was acutely aware that this was my last birth. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t necessarily want to remember the excruciating pain, but I wanted to be as present as possible. I wanted to talk to my baby boy, hanging out down there with his heart beating as strong as ever, absolutely no distress at all, and tell him I was working as hard as I could to get him out. I told myself over and over again that my body knew what to do, and I pictured every contraction as a way to help with that process. It didn’t make it hurt any less, but it really helped me cope with the pain. And I don’t remember being able to do that with my previous three births.
I don’t think I ever had what would be considered those “textbook” contractions, but I do know that I started feeling the urge to push, and when Michele (new midwife – it was a busy, full moon delivery day, I guess) checked me again, I was 9 1/2 centimeters, which is basically saying GO FOR IT. So I did. And for the first time I felt like getting out of the fetal position I’d been in for the past three hours, and decided I needed to be on my hands and knees. I’m not gonna lie – for a split second I felt very bovine-like, but hey, cows give birth all the time, right?
There wasn’t much humor here, honestly, and I realize my attempts to be funny are simply efforts to mask the enormity of what was happening to my physical body at that moment. When you are being told to push, and you push harder than you thought humanly possible, and you can feel that baby’s head dropping down where it’s supposed to be, and then suddenly the contraction is over and he’s still not out and you’re dripping with sweat, and breathing like you’ve just sprinted a mile, and know that you have to muster up some more energy in another minute or two and do it all over again – that’s labor. I kept moaning “I can’t do it…I can’t do this…” and Michele, Mariah, and Daniel would all immediately respond in perfect unison “Yes, you CAN!” The half of a banana I’d managed to choke down at 8:30 was still sitting in my throat; my mouth was drier than it had ever been, despite repeated sips of water. It felt like hours, but in reality I pushed for about twenty minutes. Out he came, in a surge of earthly goop and flailing arms, one of which was nestled up next to his face. I heard a raspy little cry (not too unlike the sounds I was making at this point), and there he was!
Frederick Charles Fischer was born at 3:01pm, about five hours after I arrived at the hospital. Good thing I hadn’t waited for those “regular” contractions.
He was perfect. I was spent. Daniel cut the cord, I think; someone placed a hat upon Frederick’s head and laid him upon my chest. He was about thirteen different shades of skin color (peach! red! purple! blue! grey!), but what stood out the most were his bright red, pouty lips, like he’d been sucking on candy. The nurses took him briefly from me to weigh and measure him – 9 pounds, 2.2 ounces, 22.75 inches long. He didn’t seem that big to me at all; he seemed tiny and helpless and other-worldly. We settled in for our first nursing session; it took him several tries to get a good latch going, but once he was on, we were good to go.
For the next several hours, we did the usual postpartum routine – Mama got cleaned up, Frederick was wiped down a bit, footprinted, pricked, given the slimy eye ointment, and handed back to us. We were brought to our room in a timely fashion, and as soon as it was humanly possible I started shoving calories into my gullet. I was RAVENOUS. Who cared if the graham crackers had honey in them? Who cared if ginger ale is one hundred percent pure sugar? FEED ME. My nurse brought me peanut butter, saltines, and a dinner menu. As far as hospital food goes, Highland isn’t terrible; I could have eaten four of the black bean burgers they brought me.
The evening dissolved into nighttime; Daniel was exhausted and kept dozing off. I was wired. Frederick and I continued our breastfeeding lessons; Merideth, my night-shift nurse, was a dear and made her presence known without being the least bit intrusive, though she kept politely refusing my repeated requests to remove the IV from the back of my hand, saying that it had to remain in for twenty-four hours “just in case.” I finally convinced her to take it out around three o’clock in the morning because it was interfering with my sleep. Which was a total lie, because I couldn’t really hunker down and SLEEP if I wanted to, and I’m sure she knew that, but she smiled at me and did it anyway.
“Sleep? Who needs sleep?”
I was already set on going home the day after Frederick was born. I was in virtually no pain, which was no small thing, and a strange anomaly I’d experienced after Eleanor’s birth as well. Frederick had a clean bill of health, and aside from needing a weight check over the weekend, he was good to go. I also knew that I would sleep a thousand times better at home, in my own bed, with my Bewley’s Irish Breakfast tea and soy milk to greet me the next morning instead of crummy hospital coffee. Most of all, I was anxious for Frederick’s siblings to meet their new baby brother.
“That a baby!”
The introduction did not disappoint.
So here we find ourselves, Daniel and I, the parents of now-four wonderfully energetic, bright, and beautiful children. I’m under no false pretenses – these next several months are going to be nothing but exhausting. Yet I catch a glimpse of the joys it will bring as well, on a day like today where the school kids are home, the sun is out and the temperatures are warm, and Frederick must be having his first growth spurt, because he’s done nothing but sleep and eat for the past twenty-four hours. I’ve been able to write this, and I EVEN GOT TO TAKE AN UNINTERRUPTED SHOWER.
Labor. Work, indeed.