four years ago today
Today is Iris' fourth birthday. Taking a page from Sarah's book, I thought I'd tell her birth story. (Iris', not Sarah's.) Settle in, get comfy: it begins two weeks before her birth.
March 12: Baby's original due date (according to my doc's Magic Due Date Predictor Wheel). No action.
March 15: Baby's alternate due date (according to mid-pregnancy ultrasound). Still nothing.
March 16: An ex-boyfriend's birthday. Gosh, he was such a nice guy! Haven't thought of him in ages! But yeah, I can see how this would be maybe not such an auspicious day for this baby's birthday. Showing early solidarity with her father, baby stays put.
March 17: I am relieved my baby will not be forced to share future birthdays with shamrocks, leprechauns, and green beer.
March 19: All right, baby, listen up. The first week overdue was fine. I was actually kind of grateful for the extra time. But now I'm starting to get performance anxiety. Of all things, I dread an induction, so let's get this show on the road, shall we?
March 21: The first day of spring and my friend Beth's birthday to boot. What a perfect day to have a baby! Unfortunately, the baby does not agree.
March 22: I am so tired I can barely walk to the bus stop. I remember a coworker telling me that one day at the end of her pregnancy, she felt she couldn't go another step, and sure enough, her labor started that night. I call J to tell him to get ready, I think tonight may be the night. But no.
March 23: I never thought I'd have to make this presentation at work. I was so sure I'd be cozily ensconced at home on maternity leave by now. Members of the audience regale me with folk wisdom for going into labor: "Drive over bumpy roads!" "Eat grapes!" Don't they know I've tried everything by now?
March 24: My grandmother's birthday, but clearly this baby is not interested in sharing her cupcakes with anyone.
March 25: Leaving work for my weekly doctor's appointment, I wearily inform my boss that I don't think I'll be back. How right I am. Dr. A says I am to check into the hospital at 6 P.M. for an induction to begin at midnight. Furthermore, I am 2 cm dilated, 80% effaced.
I temporarily forget my dread of Pitocin in my excitement that things are finally moving. J and I go home, pack, call friends and family, and spend the warm, sunny, spring afternoon walking to our favorite video store two neighborhoods away, renting a movie to entertain us in the hospital. The marathon walk is a last-ditch effort to get labor started on its own. It sort of works – by the time I'm examined in the hospital (we walk there, too), I'm up to 4 cm. But they don't have any birthing suites available, so the induction is put off till morning.
In the miserable little room we're stashed in to wait, I get stuck for an IV and weep bitterly at my fate. "What's the matter?" asks the nurse. "I don't want to be induced!" I sob. She looks at me quizzically: "Why not?" If she has to ask, how can I answer her?
Unable to sleep, J and I walk laps around the maternity wing all night.
March 26, 6 a.m.: Things are looking up. We move into a big, beautiful birthing suite. The day dawns overcast but warm, and I take pictures out the window of the day that will be my baby's birthday.
7:00 a.m.: The anesthesiologist pays a visit. "I hear you're going to try and go natural," he says skeptically. I nod, though as I look the reality of Pitocin in the face, I'm not as confident as I may seem.
8:30 a.m.: My doctor arrives, voicing annoyance that the hospital staff kept me overnight for nothing. She examines me and determines that I am still 4 cm dilated, now 90% effaced. Pitocin drip begins.
10:00 a.m.: 5 cm: halfway there! We're watching Moonstruck and I'm snacking on the cranberry juice, chicken broth, and tea from my liquid breakfast tray. A nurse comes in to ramp up my Pitocin every 20 minutes. She's nice and pregnant, too. I feel the contractions as a rock-hardening of my abdomen, but so far, no pain.
12 noon: Feeling some pain now, nothing I can't handle, but it's not what I expected. It feels exactly like sharp intestinal gas, whereas all the descriptions of labor pain I've heard/read refer to backaches. My back does not seem to be involved in this at all.
12:15: My doula, Laurie, arrives. I'm on my birthing ball, talking on the phone to my father in Holland. "I'm having a contraction right now!" I tell him cheerfully. The pain is getting more, well, painful, but I'm still in control. Maybe I'm having one of those beautiful, easy labors, after which I'll tell everyone, "It really wasn't that bad!" Yeah, I can totally handle this.
12:30: I'm still telling myself that, but something has shifted. I can't find a comfortable position. I feel sick. The pain is becoming overwhelming. I'm not so in control anymore.
12:45: I am desperate to find a position that eases the grinding band of pain around my stomach. As I lean forward over the counter on one side of the room each time a contraction hits, my skimpy hospital gown falls forward, exposing my naked rear end. At this point, modesty is the last thing on my mind, but Dr. A kindly ties another gown over my behind.
1:00: The counter isn't my friend anymore. I lean against the wall. It doesn't help either. Nothing helps.
1:15: I am back on the birthing ball when I realize that the nausea is going to get the better of me. "I'm sorry," I tell J. "I'm going to throw up." "It's OK, go ahead," he says, and I do. "That's worth a centimeter!" says my doctor congratulatorily. Everyone seems so unconcerned, even cheerful, about my losing my breakfast, I feel a smidgen less miserable myself.
1:30: I don't especially feel like getting into the bed, but Dr. A wants to examine me again, so I do. She determines I'm 8 cm dilated and 100% effaced. Now I'm free to get up and move about the cabin, but it's out of the question. Contractions, coming fast and hard, pin me to the bed. There's no time between them to do anything but catch my breath.
1:50: J gets in bed behind me so I can lean back against him, my human armchair. I've begun uttering a low, moaning, mooing sound.
2:20: Dr. A is sitting lightly on the window ledge, watching me moo. Serenely, she says, "If you feel like pushing, go ahead." After a few more contractions, I think I feel it, so I give it a try. I didn’t realize I had to learn how to push. For some reason, my response to each contraction is to want to elongate my body by stretching it back; Dr. A shows me how to grab my legs and crunch forward, over the contraction, to compress my uterus even more.
2:30: Agony. That is the only word for this. I want to beg for the epidural, but I know it's too late. I look at the clock on the wall and tell myself: I will push this baby out by 3:00. Then it will all be over. Another half hour: I can do it.
2:40: The fetal monitor begins showing that the baby might not be getting enough oxygen, so the nurse gives J an oxygen mask to put over my face between contractions. I don't know if this helps the baby, but it definitely helps me. Its weirdly pleasant smell is a sensory distraction from the enormity of the pain, and its presence reminds me to try to relax and breathe deeply between contractions. Then I feel the stirrings of the next contraction, meet J’s eyes, and he removes the mask so I can hold my breath and moan.
3:00: There's a flurry of excitement in the room. The baby’s head! They can see the head! They try to position a mirror so I can see, too; I'm giddy and relieved, fully expecting to see the baby crowning. But when I do catch a glimpse in the mirror, I feel crushed. That, that dark spot, way up there? The head is visible all right – way up in the birth canal. I have a long way to go.
3:15: The baby is bobbing up and down in the birth canal. Dr. A is perched on the edge of the bed now, and during every contraction, she locks eyes with me, saying, “Five seconds. You can do anything for five seconds.” I'm so tired, I fake pushing through some contractions just to get a little rest.
3:23: So that's what they mean by the ring of fire! This is it: I'm done. I'm determined. From where the sun now stands, I will push no more forever. Just as the contraction is fading, I give it an ounce more effort, and Iris Susanna slides into the world, her clenched fist pressed up against her pink, swollen face.
J is red-faced himself and weeping. I'm too wasted for that kind of emotion. Not to mention I have to brace myself for the next contraction... which doesn't come. Instead, a baby, my baby, is placed on my chest. I look into her sweet face for the first time and see, clear as day, that she has my nose.
Happy birthday, sweet little love of mine. The waiting, the Pitocin, the pushing... it was worth every second.