eternalsojourn: Legs (Legs)
[personal profile] eternalsojourn
Warning: the content below contains candid and potentially graphic information about birth. If this is triggery for you, please proceed with caution.

If this is not triggery content, please be aware that I am posting this as a kind of antidote to everything you hear about birth everywhere else. For all that this contains frank discussions about pain, this is a positive story in tone and spirit, if I'm even remotely successful in conveying the actual experience.



My water broke at 3:15 on a Tuesday afternoon. I was surprised as it was nearly 3 weeks early, but it took barely half a moment to dismiss possible incontinence as the cause (my bladder couldn't possibly hold that much by 37.5 weeks) and realize what had happened.

Back up.

I had a midwife visit early that morning. With no ride and the midwife not being too far, I decided to bus it. That was more challenging than expected and I ended up walking more than I expected. I took it slow, though, and just hauled my unwieldy body through the city. It was a good appointment, wherein we discussed my possible pre-eclampsia (or lack thereof — this is a whole other story containing thoughts on the medical approach to pregnancy and childbirth). Suffice to say about this visit that I was filled to the brim with righteous feminist energy about my pregnancy and a stern determination to see my body as strong and built for the birth, not faulty and requiring intervention at the slightest deviation from “normal”.

So back home I realized suddenly what an effort it was heading out my door, and I crashed for a nap on the sofa. As a matter of fact, once the nap was finished, I posted on Facebook and Twitter something to the effect of: “This nap was like being seized by the kraken. I thought I surfaced for air once but was dragged back down.” I was still laying down from said nap at the time. I sighed and got up to empty my bladder AGAIN, when halfway there, my water let go. Alarming momentarily, I assure you.

I paged the midwife to tell her what happened and then settled in to wait and see what happened next. I was alone, you see, but not panicked because I knew I had a good while to go before anything got dire, and if need be I could labour through the first part by myself. Lots of women do.

After the various phone calls, etc., my husband was on his way home anyway and my mom was on her way. I felt nothing really. Not emotionally: emotionally I was calm and cautious. Apparently only 10% of women have their water break before labour starts, and there are some risks associated with that happening. If my labour didn't start within 24 hours, it's pretty standard procedure to induce labour. There are a number of reasons I was disinclined for them to do that.

I needn't have worried. When everyone arrived and started the flurry of getting together all the things we hadn't pre-packed for the hospital, I decided to have a good shower and hair wash while I still had the presence of mind. While in there I did a few gentle squats and knee lifts, and did a little dance and shimmy while I washed my hair. It was kind of lame and half-assed but I was hoping it would be enough to trigger labour. A short hour or two later I had my first labour pains.

Now here's where the movies and tv have misled us; most women don’t experience hard labour instantly; actually only about 10% of women have their water break before labour, or so my midwife informed me. My first labour pain was like a low-grade period cramp: a wee bit unpleasant, but nothing serious, and it only lasted a minute or so. I know this can happen sporadically for as much as a few days before actual labour, so I didn't get excited. I texted, I went on twitter (but didn't post after some phallus/banana tweets shortly before my water broke). People were surprised, but it was pretty much like having occasional gas pains.

I'll gloss this next bit because it's frankly a bit boring. I used an app to measure the contraction timing and just kept on keepin' on. I went to bed about 8:30 and slept on and off, woke to breathe through the contractions, then went back to sleep.

At about 5:00 a.m. I woke to a hard one. It is an awful lot like period pain, but amped up from what I was used to. I was prepared, though. My meditation and Buddhist practice have taught me to be present and that unpleasant things don't necessarily equal problems. Like I've done in meditation practice before, I used my breath to imagine I'm the ocean, breathing a tide in and out. It helps me to feel immense and that the things going on are just surface; below/inside I'm calm and full of life.

The harder the contractions got over the next few hours, the more I'd physically blow about with my mouth and imagine I was more than that: I was the ocean, I was the weather, I was all of it, whipping up a storm. My head moved back and forth of its own accord in a rhythm, blowing the waves and the wind.

Throughout it all I hit the start/stop button on my contraction timer faithfully, and my contractions were regular (as few as 2 min, as much as 10 min between the starts of each contraction, depending on whether I'd get up and move around or stay still).

The contractions were gripping me hard, and during one particularly tumultuous one, I suddenly ceased being the ocean or the weather, and was simply a tiny helpless person on a shitty raft in that same storm. I panicked a little and clung to my husband's hips in the best hug I could manage and hoped that would save me. Still, I didn't feel my contractions were regular enough to call the midwife yet. My sister had since come over and between my mom and my sister, they decided that my contractions were intense enough to call.

After hearing me, the midwife got me on the line after the contraction died down — this bit is a blur. There may have been more than one phone call? In any case, she heard me shouting “I need to push!”. When she got me on the line, she said she was on her way and bringing more midwives and would be here in no more than 10 minutes.

What felt like the next moment later, my living room was suddenly full, I had people soothing me, checking my baby's heartbeat, and deciding whether or not I was too far gone to get to the hospital. My husband was shaken, finally. He'd been a rock and when he realized we might be having this baby in our home, he blanched.

We didn't, ultimately. They let me push but I still had enough cervix left to make it to the hospital if that's what I wanted. I did, so off we went. In retrospect, I might just have a home birth next time. That car ride was hard. As it's only 10 min to the hospital, though, it seemed silly not to.

I’ll gloss this part as well, as it’s just checking in and getting into the labour suite. I will say that I remember a few people in the hallways being quite alarmed to see me in full on hard labour on a wheelchair coming through as a volunteer parted the way for me.

Settled on the bed in the labour suite, I decided I needed to lay on my side, the same way I'd been labouring through the whole night. It was a little surprising, considering I thought I'd want to try walking, squatting, getting on my hands and knees, etc. But those positions pulled my baby downwards, and anything that had gravity helping her along just moved everything too quickly for me, so I decided laying on my side was the most manageable.

I'm not going to lie, that last bit of 1st stage labour is crazy. I'd experience such relief between contractions and extreme trepidation about the onset of another. I clung to my husband, I had people press on my tailbone and compress my hips together, and feed me sips of water and bits of cheese or whatever. I don't even remember what I ate. All I knew was the steady cycle of storm and lull.

Now, as I understand it, most women get to the point of thinking they can't do it any more. I knew that. I didn't have a lot of cognitive function but I knew I wasn't going to say “can't”, not even in my head. If I said it in my head, it would be true. Instead I asked how many more contractions, not caring what the answer was really, and I said, “I don't know how. I don't know how I'm going to get through this.” At one point I ordered people to tell me, “You can do this,” and I distinctly remember a half laugh coming from several places at once. My sister said, “Of course you can do this, you are doing this.”

Shortly after that things changed. The storms stopped and pushing became the thing to do. I won't say it's easy, but it's different, and change is good. This is where I was able to strategize my own labour. I'd push, I'd feel my baby move down, and feel the pain. I could also feel where the pain became too much, as though I was stretching too much too soon. So I'd push until I felt my limit, push a tiny bit beyond that, and let my baby ease back again. I did this again and again, and apparently I fell straight to sleep in between. I remember nothing of my surroundings, only what was going on inside my body, and I remember nothing in between, just oblivion.

Towards the end I was aware of the midwife telling me to feel the baby's head with my hand. I wasn't interested, but I did it once anyway. I just kept on the way I had been until her head crowned properly, and though I felt I could use one more go, I gripped the hands holding mine, pressed my foot into the squat bar positioned above my bed, pushed with everything I had and got my girl out into the world.

There’s a small lull where the baby’s head is out but the body is still to come. It’s true the body is easier than the head, but it’s also a hell of a lot weirder. The baby is squirmy and your insides get jostled and pushed around, but it’s fast after that head.

She was out, and they shifted me right onto my back (I’d been laying at a 45 degree angle left/right braced against the squat bar), and placed my baby on me, wet, waxy, and utterly knackered like me.

I was so exhausted I wasn't even really relieved. All I know is I had my baby lying on my chest while I listened to her little sounds and everyone around me cooed and awed. People told me how great I did and I couldn't connect to it. Minutes earlier all I wanted to do was sleep forever and suddenly all I wanted to do was just lay there with my girl and my husband. I couldn't see her face because she was laying on my chest, and that was frustrating but better than moving her because every possible bit of her was touching me.

The rest is the usual kerfluffle, which if you're not familiar with it, isn't interesting enough to expound upon, I think. I'll answer any questions people have if you are interested. It's what happened later that I wanted to talk about here.

That thing where everyone said how great I did? At first I thought, “whatever, tonnes of people do this”. But that doesn't diminish it, does it? There are lots of ways it could have gone. There were lots of times I wanted to just find a happy place and be done with it. There were times the thought I refused to have was, “I hate this, make it stop”, but I didn't think that. I got as far as, “I don't know how to get through it”, and just trusted that an answer would come, or not, whatever. It was enough not to know. Instead of shutting it away or resisting, I paid attention, which sounds simple but took all of my strength. I honestly don't believe I could have birthed my baby with almost no perineal tearing* had I listened to a doctor telling me when to push, or had drugs inhibiting my awareness. My body knew when to push; I simply obeyed.

So that's the story of how my little Lyra came into the world, and how I've come to view birthing as a display of uniquely female strength. We're built for this, and we have the wisdom to choose what happens to our bodies. We have reserves of strength that surprise even ourselves. I don't think all women should have babies, but I do believe that bringing forward life is one of the most powerful things a person can do, and that's our domain. For me feminism isn't about righting wrongs or toppling the patriarchy or anything else. It's about realizing our power and embodying it, however that looks for us.

Thanks for listening, and much love to everyone who has shared in my joy and pregnancy experience here, on twitter, by text, or however. You're part of the support network that gave me the strength to get through it all without fear.

Rena

*I want to stress how shocking this little fact is to me. My bits are problematic and tight, and I have troubles letting the muscles relax down there. I've had super painful PAP tests because of it, painful sex, chronic UTI's requiring corrective surgery, the works. PLUS. PLUS! My baby was born with her hand up beside her head, so what came through first wasn't just her head, but her head and her arm at once.

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eternalsojourn

February 2015

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