He was born on a Tuesday, nine days late. Everyone had predicted I’d go early, and I was convinced he would be born on his due date – but his due date (July 12th) came and went, and he was still in my belly. Our doctor casually mentioned induction, just to bring it up not to plan it. When she checked me the day before my due date I was zero centimeters dilated, and she said my body wasn’t ready. She preferred to induce at 41 weeks (a week away), but would let us go to 42 as the board of whatever-medical-thingy-she-mentioned allowed. We told her she could put us on the schedule for the night before I was 42 weeks, which was the norm for people who didn’t want to actually schedule to be induced. Then a few days passed and I had to get checked again (once you go past your due date, you get checked every few days). Again, I went in on Monday, July 20th. That morning I had had contractions, and I was SO hoping that even if I wasn’t starting labor, my body was at least getting ready to have the baby. I was desperate to not have to induce for two reasons: letting your body go into labor naturally is healthier for mom and baby (the mother’s body releases hormones that gets her body ready to do the hard work ahead), and people who induce are far more likely to have interventions (such as epidurals and cesarean sections). I had low platelets throughout my pregnancy and at my last blood check, they were too low to be considered for an epidural or a spinal. I had prepared for no epidural since early in my pregnancy when I found out how low my platelets were. I wasn’t excited to have the option taken away from me, but I was devastated to learn that it could mean that in the event of needing a C-Section, I would have to go under General Anesthesia and miss out on seeing my son born. Going under General would also mean that Joe wouldn’t be allowed in the room, which would mean Smith would be born without either parent welcoming him into the world. I cried every time I thought of it (I still tear up when writing this).
Back to our Monday appointment, I was 41 weeks and 1 day pregnant, had contractions that morning, and went in to our first of two appointments for that day. My doctor checked me and said I was zero (zero!) centimeters dilated. After a morning of contractions, this was very disappointing. Again, she said my body wasn’t ready and she wasn’t keen on sending me in to have an induction considering I possibly couldn’t have an epidural and she knew my anxiety about the C-Section. She assured me that an induction would take a long time, especially at the point where I was, and that was not going to be conducive to my hopes. This was fine with me, considering I didn’t want to be induced at all. We asked if we HAD to be induced at 42 weeks or if she’d let us go beyond. She said we could go past 42, but she’d have to sign off saying that she was not recommending it, it was too much of a liability for her if something went wrong (in her opinion, it was unhealthy for the baby to stay in utero that long). We decided to re-evaluate a few days later when I came in for my next appointment. We headed over to the perinatal office, where we went to check the amniotic fluid and have a stress test (routine things that happen every few days after one’s due date has passed). I had plenty of fluid and the baby was doing great, but the doctor there (who works closely with all of the OBs in the area) said he would have induced me the week before if it was up to him since he doesn’t like women to be pregnant over 40 weeks (we learned that this is very common for doctors, and that midwives are more apt to feel comfortable letting a woman’s body take the lead; luckily our doctor was flexible).
We left the doctor’s and grabbed some lunch in downtown Santa Barbara before heading home. We talked about what we had heard and what we thought we wanted (we were barreling towards 42 weeks). On the way home, around 2:30, I started getting contractions again, and was frustrated with my body for continually tricking me with these contractions, while not being ready; it was discouraging to say the least. By the time dinner rolled around, I was still having contractions, so I started timing them (just in case). They hadn’t stopped by bedtime and I wasn’t tired enough for bed, so Joe went to the guest room to get some rest in case this was the real deal. That night I slept in between contractions that were getting more and more intense… intense enough that I started groaning during them. Just when I thought they were getting more uncomfortable than I liked, it was morning and I decided to get up and not push myself to try to sleep anymore (it wasn’t really working at that point anyway). Walking around the house felt so much better than lying down, so for the next several hours that’s what I did. As contractions got more intense I needed to look out the window while they were happening and not talk as much. Our doula, Alexis, came by and confirmed that I was definitely in early labor. We spoke about going to a hotel in Santa Barbara (we live in the mountains above the city), to be closer to the hospital, but when Alexis suggested we try going for a walk I was so opposed to running into anyone that she warned us I might be uncomfortable going to a hotel where we would run into (and be in a room next to) other people. We ended up staying home and I continued to walk around the house, drink fluids, and eat what I could – gearing up for the harder work ahead. My contractions continued to get closer (and stronger), so I got dressed and Joe double-checked that we had everything we needed before putting our bags in the car. By the time I was starting to use my breathing techniques, and focusing on Joe’s t-shirt as my focal point as he stood in front of me (something I would do for the rest of labor), I threw up much of what I had eaten (again, normal for women in labor). At that point, Joe made the decision for us to get in the car and head to the hospital. That’s when I realized how far I was into labor – the position of the seat and the bumps of the road, made contractions terrible. We hit traffic around Refugio Beach (where the oil spill had been) because they were doing road work down there. It was then that I stopped caring if people in the cars around us could tell I was in labor (don’t ask me why I cared about this in the first place) and I started sobbing. Amazingly, Joe got people in front of us to pull over by flashing his lights as we made our way south on the 101. As we passed them in the fast lane they could at least see my face and why we had gotten them to pull over.
By the time we got to the hospital the staff could clearly see that I was in labor, and I didn’t have to go to a triage room to be checked. I was admitted immediately into a delivery room, and we found out that I was 4 centimeters dilated, almost half way. Our doula arrived moments later and after we answered all of the admitting questions (note to hospitals: ask those questions, particularly the ones about what to do if you become a vegetable, during pre-registration instead of when a woman is starting her active labor), I got my Hep-Lock put in and had my blood taken. I had started a steroid the day before to help my blood count (and had only taken one pill), so whether it was the steroid, or the fact that blood counts can jump and change, my platelet level had jumped up and I was allowed to have an epidural. At this point in my labor, I didn’t hesitate to say no. We had prepared to not have one and I was assured that I was already in a hard part of my labor – that basically contractions would just get closer together but not more intense. I could handle this, I thought.
Well, contractions did get closer together, but they also got way more intense. I spent the rest of my labor (another 10 plus hours) walking around, sitting, standing, in the tub, on my knees, banging my head against Joe’s stomach (banging my head against the wall, at one point when I was too close to it… Joe stopped that – I didn’t even realize I was doing it), you name it. I screamed, I swore, I told everyone that I couldn’t do it – that I was going to go insane (I literally thought both were true). I tried to go deep down into the eye of my contraction like I had been told to do (I kept picturing the eye of a hurricane) and sometimes I could do it and I’d make it through a contraction quietly moaning, while on the very next contraction I was screaming again. I didn’t know pain like that existed.
Towards the end, I had my blood taken again (a very scary thing to have done when you know a contraction is coming and it will be VERY HARD to hold still) and was still good to go on the platelet count. At that point I wanted to know about medication. I wanted to hear, in detail, what Fentanyl and an epidural (separately) would feel like. Somehow I felt like just hearing how good those pain relievers would feel would bring me some relief. I decided to go without either: Fentanyl because it sounded like it doesn’t do much and can make you loopy, the epidural because I’d have to hold still (yeah right!) while they put something in my spine… I’d have to wait for the anesthesiologist, then wait longer for it to take effect… then hope it actually worked. It was night by then, and my doula and nurse both promised the baby would be born that day (I didn’t believe them, labor felt like it would never end). As I went through a contraction or two debating, in my mind, what I wanted to do, I decided to hold off. Partly because of fear of the actual drugs (and also a needle in my spine in the case of an epidural), and also the fear of slowing down labor, which epidurals very often do. But honestly, mostly because of pride. To have to say I went through over 24 hours of natural labor and then got then epidural was not something this A-minus-type-personality could handle. I’ve been told over and over that no one gets a medal for the way that they give birth, and that’s absolutely true (unless I have just yet to receive mine). Every birth is birth and every birth is miraculous and (I imagine) hard work. We can never know what someone else goes through or what their pain or their bodies feel like, and since I have only had one child, I don’t know what labor with drugs feels like. However, I doubt there is anyone in the world who thinks that a woman who gives birth without drugs doesn’t accomplish a major feat. The scenario that went through my mind, when I was making the decision, was of a marathoner running 25 miles and then getting in a car for the last mile. Since I had been told I was almost done, I didn’t want to have my story be that I got in the car for just the last mile. Also my natural VERY curious nature knew that I wouldn’t know what the very end felt like if I didn’t go through with it. And really, a huge part of this, for me, was wanting to know what labor felt like. I wanted to experience what it felt like giving birth (as crazy as that might sound to some people).
So, a couple (few?) hours later it was time to push – and I did. I started without the doctor, they said they’d call her when the baby was about to come. So every time they told me to push and said I was almost there I would say, “No I’m NOT almost there, you haven’t called the doctor,” (if you know me, this does not surprise you). My goal with every contraction and every (very painful) push was to get them to call the damn doctor. I kept thinking that nobody knew what they were talking about, that a baby wasn’t actually coming… I mean, I didn’t know HOW to make a baby come out, so how would it happen?
Luckily, my body knew what to do (even if my mind didn’t) and they did finally call the doctor. She got there and told me that this was it, he was coming (again, seriously doubted her but I didn’t fight). I did exactly what she told me and then I felt the burning and I knew. He started crying the minute his face hit the air. (Once thing nobody told me: the shoulders hurt worse than the head). I felt my doctor reach in to help him out and HELLO, but then it was over and he was born and I was still not believing I had just had a baby. They had to whisk him away to the baby table to check his mouth (he had pooped in the womb, which is very common for babies who are past their due date) to make sure he didn’t have meconium in it. He didn’t so they brought him over and put him on my chest. I’d love to say I was the weepy woman saying a gushy hello to her newborn, but I wasn’t… I was still in labor (delivering the placenta, which is not nothing as far as contractions go), and I was EXHAUSTED from 33 hours of labor and no sleep. I clung to him on my chest and tried to get a look at him, but they put the baby so high on your chest that it’s actually quite hard to see them, especially when you’re still flat on your back working. He quieted and fell asleep as soon as he was on me, and I clung to him like a little comfort blanket. When I finally settled my eyes on him it was surreal – who IS this person? I don’t know him! But I do! I can’t explain that feeling no matter how hard I try. After finally finishing labor and getting taken care of by the doctor, I stayed in the delivery room to recover as Joe went with the nurse to take the baby to the nursery to be weighted and measured.
My brother, who had been in the waiting room, with my friends Norah and Alex, for HOURS (like 10?) came in to say hello quickly. They allowed it even though it was after hours, which I was grateful for. He said he was actually a little nervous because I didn’t look like myself. I guess that’s what over a day of labor will do to you. I also had almost no voice from how vocal I had been. (Apparently I scared the woman next door who had had an epidural and was afraid that she had overestimated its help).
Here’s the thing: Labor hurt, it really did. Mostly the second half. However, I had a great birth partner (even if I did tear some skin off of him while gripping him… he didn’t complain), a wonderful doula (HIGHLY recommend a doula if you are birthing naturally for your first time), and lucked out with two pro-natural birth nurses (found out later that the one who was with us the longest requested us because she tries to be with natural birthing mothers so she can help). Also, I ended up with a baby. My baby.
Something that you aren’t supposed to say (because birth is birth is birth) is that I’m really fucking proud of myself. I’m someone who lives in my head and have to remind myself that I have a body, so doing this GIANT feat, where I had to leave my head as much as possible and experience raw animalistic body taking over… I’ll never not feel proud of that. This does not mean that I think I did a better job than anyone else (if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that no two stories are alike), it just means that I’m proud of me. And I still can’t believe I did it. I still can’t believe I didn’t beg for that pain relief, and I still can’t believe that a baby actually came out. Sometimes I still feel like an imposter when I say, “my son,” to someone… but I have a son, I HAVE A SON. So crazy. I am someone’s mother. And probably, knowing myself, if I hadn’t experienced birth the way I did, it would feel even less real to my brain.
My son is Smith Danilo Reese, and I love him madly. He’s named after two men that have been very important in our lives; Smith is for Joe’s grandfather and Danilo (pronounced Dah-Nilo) is for my uncle, my father’s brother. We’re hoping that being named for two incredibly loving and good men will encourage him to be loving and loyal as well. I am infatuated, and once the fatigue wore off (my adrenaline kicked in about half an hour after I was done) I became obsessed with my baby. I still poke him while he’s sleeping (two months later) to make sure he’s alive, I am SO excited to see him in the morning (even though he sleeps in a bassinet next to me and I feed him at least once in the night), and when he smiles at me it’s better than any feeling I’ve ever had.
This stoic woman has turned into a bit of a mush pot, actually, who has fallen madly, madly in love.