i’m sitting here listening to “womb noises” by dr. harvey karp (author of the happiest baby on the block – seriously, read it) and while it’s wonderful because it makes my baby fall asleep in about 2.2 seconds, it is not really conducive to me doing much of anything while he sleeps. and at least for the first fifteen minutes or so of his nap, i’m scared to turn it off in case he wakes up and starts crying.
i’m not very good when he cries in general. in fact, i am pretty sure i’m overfeeding him because the instant he starts fussing, my natural reaction is to fling my shirt off and stick my boob in his face. my husband is starting to make fun of me, saying that i just like getting my boobs out. at least i don’t cry anymore when he cries, so i guess i’m getting better.
anyway, back to the birth. so, friday night i stayed in the hospital alone, which was scary, but i dealt with it. though my husband was loathe to leave me, he was also kind of excited because his mother and sister had arrived that morning. they had intended to come out two weeks or so after we had had the baby, but again, he was late so that didn’t work out as planned either. leaving his family lounging in our living room (and watching the entire first season of game of thrones), he came back bright and early saturday morning – so early that i’m pretty sure i wasn’t out of bed yet when he and my mother walked into my room. being morning people (of which i am not), they are both pretty used to that by now.
they came so early, though, because i was scheduled to be induced. induction is a little different here than it is in the us, or at least, as far as i understand it to be performed in the us. to my knowledge, there they go straight for the pitocin, which is a synthetic hormone. here as well as in the uk, they use a gel hormone called prostaglandin first. pitocin is an iv and the prostaglandin is a gel suppository – which i suppose is better, you don’t have to be attached to an iv drip for hours. but at the same time, there’s already a lot (and going to be a lot) going on down there, sticking something else up there isn’t really pleasant… but i think that the general opinion is that the prostaglandin is more “natural” than the pitocin and incurs less invasive interventions on average throughout the birth.
how did it go for me? well, the first dose, which is a minimal amount because they don’t want to bring on massive contractions, did nothing. or well, i didn’t go into labor at least. who knows exactly what it did. so, we spent saturday monitoring the baby’s heart rate about five thousand times (six, to be exact) and walking around the hospital – which was on top of a hill where you could see all of cologne (when it wasn’t raining, which was never) and had a small wood in back, a rose garden on the side and a lovely grassy area complete with walking paths. for a hospital, it was pretty nice. of course, like i’ve already said, i had never really been to another hospital, so i have nothing to compare it to.
so saturday came and went, as did my husband and i was left to spend another night alone in the hospital.
as a side note, the european football championships were going on and germany played on saturday night, which was pretty exciting for the other ladies in my room and for james, as his brother had arrived saturday morning, meaning he had a buddy with whom he could watch. but in an odd way, it was slightly reassuring for me as well, which is something i never expected myself to say. but after over five years of being with my husband, i now find football to be so normal and familiar that it is comforting (just don’t tell him i said so).
germany having won the match, i went to my last late night heartrate monitoring session and it was the first one that i’d had alone. i brought my ipod and listened to krishna das and talked to the baby. i was alone in the room and the whole birthing section of the hospital was absolutely quiet. it was a nice moment, as i felt like i’d forgotten a bit why i was there in the midst of all the fear of the hospital and the worry about being induced and the lack of fluid for the baby. i remembered that i was having my baby and that no matter how or where it happened, he and i were in it together and we were going to do just fine. it was extremely peaceful and i left feeling much calmer than i had before.
so much so that i woke up early and took a shower before james and my mom showed up sunday morning. i love surprising them like that: look at me, i’m a real adult – i can get up on my own before my mom comes to wake me up!
the hospital and especially the birthing area retained some of its calm from the night before, which was such a stark contrast to the day before. on saturday, they had had ten babies be born and the birthing area was a whirlwind of activity all day long. it made me laugh, thinking that all the babies must know that it’s a catholic hospital and are, like good little boys and girls, avoiding being born on the sabbath. except for my little heathen, of course.
freshly showered, feeling calm, optimistic and well-fed, we headed to the birthing room for the second dose of the prostaglandin at around 10:30. we were monitored for an hour or so (if i never see a heart rate monitor again it’ll be too soon) and then went down to the cafeteria so james could have his daily milkshake. around 2:00 (14:00 hours) i definitely noticed the contractions were getting stronger and i started having an “oh my god, what’s coming??” sort of feeling in the pit of my stomach. i could still walk though and we spent a good part of the afternoon walking outside and sitting on the benches, unintentionally enjoying the last few hours (ever) that we would spend absolutely alone just the two of us.
at some point my mom came back with my grandmother (who ended up sleeping on the couch in the lobby until 2 am when she came up to meet her great-grandson) and around 6:00 (18:00 hours), we all (sans grandma) went to be monitored (am i conveying well enough how often the baby’s heart rate was monitored??) and at that point, i was definitely feeling the contractions. unfortunately for james, it coincided with the time the spain game was starting. not the last time this baby will change his plans, i’m sure.
we were shown to a birthing room where i was checked to see how far i was dilated, etc (which was not very far but farther than i had been – i had been at 1 cm for weeks!) and told to wait. around 8:00, the contractions were definitely stronger and i was beginning to feel like i didn’t really want to go through with it any longer. although i logically knew that some way or another, this baby would have to come out, there was a rising panic that tried to convince me that if i just ran out of the room and got far away somehow, it would all just magically stop. luckily for me and baby, i didn’t actually try it.
at this point, i asked james or my mom (i don’t remember which) to cover up the clock on the wall. i realized that either way – wether it went quickly or lagged on and on, i didn’t want to know about it. i could just imagine feeling like i was there for hours and hours and glancing up at the clock and realizing it had only been a half hour. no thank you. at this point, i was standing in the middle of the room grasping onto the knotted cloth hanging down from the ceiling that is common to all birthing rooms i’ve seen here, swaying back and forth, concentrating on not being tense through the contractions and wondering how in the hell i had managed to completely forget to put on my ipod all of the music i had planned on listening to during the birth.
i stayed this way for a certain amount of time (seemed like ages, really, but probably was only an hour or so) and then made my way to the birthing tub, which i wasn’t at all sure about. i felt like i should want to be in the tub and the idea of water lapping around me and heat on my belly and back sounded wonderful, but heat everywhere else seemed like it would make me pass out, but i thought i may as well try it. i was, however, correct. i loved the idea of the heat and i really liked the water in general, but i couldn’t handle putting my whole body in it. in fact, i sat on the edge, with my legs and nether regions in the water and had my husband rubbing ice water all over my face and back constantly. then it was okay.
it was interesting though. just at the time when i started thinking, okay, i don’t want to be in this tub anymore, but i don’t know where i do want to be… the midwife said that i’d had enough and it was time to see how dilated i was and move me back to the birthing room. at this point, it should be said, that i was borderline crying at each contraction. i’m not sure if anyone noticed, as i had ceased noticing everyone. i had closed my eyes once the contractions started to get bad enough, disappearing inside myself being the only way i could handle the pain. i had disappeared so much though that for the midwife to speak with me, she had to sort of clap at me and force me to open my eyes so that i paid any attention to her.
once we got back, it seemed like i started pushing immediately, but i’m not sure if that was really the case either. time had stopped mattering, really. and i was definitely at the point where i was thinking that i wasn’t sure if i was going to be able to finish this huge task i’d set for myself anyway. i knew that even had i wanted it, it would have been too late to have an epidural, but a small part of me was hoping they’d offer me some sort of medication. i wasn’t sure if i’d take it, after all, i’d really wanted to do this au natural, but i was starting to wonder if maybe that wasn’t just a little bit crazy. what did they give me? some sort of homeopathic cedar bark. i imagine it did do something, but did it compare to an epidural? no, it most certainly did not.
the pushing was hard. i didn’t really know where to push or how to separate out my pushing – the midwife kept touching me towards the back saying, “push here, right here” and though i’m sure it was helpful, i sort of wanted to punch her in the face because wasn’t i already pushing there??
luckily it was really fast (so to speak). i was squatting, supported by my husband and helped to a standing position during the breaks by my mother, who was at my side. though the whole process didn’t take very long, it seemed to take forever from the time when i could start to feel his head with my hand and when his head actually finished coming out. i mean, i know it’s big and everything, but i sort of thought that once i could feel it, once he was crowning (isn’t that what they say in films?), he’d just sort of pop out. not so. but, once the head did come out all the way, the rest of him just sort of blobbed out. and yes, i realize that “blob” isn’t a verb, but short of actually making the blub blub noise that i can still hear if i imagine it, that’s the most descriptive i can get. i’ve been told that if you have an epidural, you don’t feel that. and though i would’ve been happy in some ways not to feel the head coming out, the rest made it worth it. i have no idea why but that was a great feeling, that blub blub.
and the feeling that i was done was just incredible. what made it absolutely suck, though, is that i wasn’t done. in fact, i was bleeding quite a bit and they seemed sort of worried about me. ignoring the baby, they seemed to be all focused on me – both of the midwives as well as the doctor, who had come in for the actual birth, just in case. i remember thinking this in a rather detached fashion, as someone picked up the baby, daddy having cut the cord, and placed him on my chest. then, all i noticed was him – his eyes, his skin, his hair, his little fingers and his super long toes… i was somewhat aware of all of this activity going on down there, but it was as if they were working on someone else. even when they placed an iv in my arm because my uterus wasn’t contracting and it needed to in order to both get the placenta out and to stop the bleeding, i was just staring at him.
there were more contractions, then, as my uterus started to do what they wanted it to and they were pushing on my stomach, forcing my uterus to contract and forcing the blood and placenta out – it was horrible enough for me to remember that it was my body they were working on, in fact, and i most definitely was aware of what was going on. they took the baby from me (to have more freedom to do all of these horrible things to me) and gave him to his father.
the contractions i felt then were definitely in no way as bad as the ones from the actual birth, but because i thought i was finished and it turned out i wasn’t, they seemed a thousand times worse. i just kept thinking, i can’t feel this anymore. i just can’t do this anymore. not even for one second. what i discovered though is that there is a lot that your body can do without your permission and without your believing it can be done.
the only other thing i remember at this point is that my mother kept taking pictures of the baby with the flash on and i kept yelling at her and she kept ignoring me. but it seems like flash photography would bother a newborn’s eyes, right? he’s not blind, though, so i guess everything is okay.
unfortunately, i was bleeding because i had torn a little bit, which was basically my worst nightmare, second only to the dreaded episiotomy. the midwives didn’t seem to think it was so horrible though. the doctor said it was nothing. i suppose it must be normal. and truth be told, i didn’t feel it at all when it happened. so, i suppose it wasn’t really the worst thing in the world. the doctor stitched me up quickly and short of a strange sort of threading, i couldn’t feel that either.
finally, i got my baby back again and could close my legs and just stop for awhile. my husband was there next to me and i’m sure we babbled things to each other, i’m sure we had questions, i’m sure we were scared and confused and exhausted, but now i completely understand how in films, that moment is always so perfect and beautifully peaceful because no matter how it actually was (my mother flashing away with her camera, my husband worried about my bleeding and wondering over and over again why they hadn’t cleaned the baby and if they were going to and me concerned about everything and not even sure how to react), in my mind, i’ll always see both of us, heads bent over this perfect little baby (who in reality looked like a purple alien and was covered in blood, vernix and all sorts of goop) – our first glorious moment as a new family.