So, I made the proverbial first-time-mom mistake of cancelling everything in the 9th month of pregnancy and sitting around in intense anticipation for the birth. I just knew I’d go early since I was measuring big. Of course.
So I sat in a rocking chair until a midwife told me that would keep the baby from descending. So then I switched to a birthing ball or a straight-back chair––or napping on the bed. Haha. I took walks around the neighborhood everyday, though my semi-daily two miles to and from mass had gradually shrunk to a very slow one mile or less. I drank turmeric shots from the local juice bar and had one memorable afternoon where slight contractions came every ten-fifteen minutes until a nap eliminated all uterine movement.
Except the baby, who loved to kick and had hiccups every afternoon.
I had a teeny-tiny breakdown at about 39 weeks and decided that I had to get busy or I’d go crazy, so I started working schedules and tax stuff and reading books. I cleaned the apartment. We ate Indian food. I even went on a fast waddle-walk down 21st Ave to church one Thursday evening in pouring rain at dark with cars splashing me every time they whizzed by, much to the horror of James.
The next Saturday, January 21, James and I went out to eat with friends who had a newborn and talked birth stories and experiences with the L&D department. After lunch, we went home and I took a very long, deep-sleep nap. James came over when I started to wake up and kissed me and asked how I was doing. I started to sit up and felt a tiny flow of water. I continued to sit up (it takes a while to ‘sit up’ at 40 weeks pregnant) and felt a very large, continuous gush. I stood up in disbelief as water puddled the floor…and kept on coming.
“Uh, James…James!” I said.
“What is that?” he said, looking down at the puddle.
“My water broke!”
I had tested GBS negative, so I didn’t have to go in for 12 hours or until my contractions were strong. It was about 4:30pm, so James and I decided to go to mass since we wouldn’t be able to tomorrow. I had absolutely zero feeling in my uterus. No contractions, nothing. My back ached a teensy-weensy bit. After mass we drove to my sister-in-law Lisa’s birthday party, under instructions from the midwife to have fun and then sleep as much as we could.
I had planned on telling everyone when I got there, but once I was there it felt a bit awkward to suddenly break out with: ‘Hey guys, I’m gushing amniotic fluid right now!” But eventually I got up the gumption to announce, and then worry took over. Once your water breaks you’ve got a time limit. If you don’t have contractions, you have to go on Pitocin to simulate labor, which is said to be much more painful since it doesn’t have the natural ebb and flow of natural labor. I had wanted a natural labor, med-free.
James and I took a quick sojourn to triage to make sure the baby’s heartbeat was strong, and then went home to sleep. Around 1am I woke up to a contraction, and kept on waking up every 30 or 40 minutes to more. But by 5am they were gone.
With the morning we went into hyper action. Water had been broken over 12 hours. I drank fluids and James and I went outside into the gorgeous January day, warm and full of sunshine. Hillsboro Village was blanketed in a Sunday morning stillness. My brother’s family met us on the road on their way to church with a packet of labor-inducing herbs that we borrowed from a friend midwife. And then, after a healthy dose of those, James and I did everything we had ever read to do on inducing labor. Walked over Belmont campus, went up and down stairs, curb hopped, kissed, drank more turmeric ginger shots from the Juice Bar, and finally, exhausted, met up with family for brunch. Still no contractions.
After brunch, my mother and sisters and I descended on the apartment for the Last Stand. We had three hours before we’d have to check in at the hospital to induce labor. Mama gave me copious amounts of blue and black cohosh and had me drink half a bottle of castor oil. Then Annie brought her electric breast pump and we tried that. We prayed. Finally, around 2:30pm, at 22 hours from water breaking, contractions started. They were every 3-5 minutes apart. Just strong enough to make me concentrate through them.
We sacked up and headed across the street to the hospital. I was afraid that the contractions would stop on arrival, as happened in so many birth stories I had read, but in the excitement of finding a place to park, walking to the L&D floor, then walking to triage, they ramped up, until I was stuck signing myself away at the welcome kiosk breathing heavily and having to squat with each contraction. It was all in my back. A tingling, aching sensation that was concentrated in my low spine.
I had done Hypnobabies, read Ina May Gaskin books and other literature on the energy of labor, preaching that women experiencing pain in childbirth was something that women were brainwashed into experiencing. I was totally, one hundred percent expecting that it would not be painful, just intense, and that taken in the right mindset, I’d be able to be calm and relaxed through the ‘energy’ and the ‘rushes’.
And at that moment, it was an energetic rush. I breathed, stayed calm, and went straight back into a L&D room since my water had been broken so long. The midwife at that shift was pretty brisk and was not very happy that I had taken so many herbs to induce labor. She checked me and found that I was only 1cm dilated, but that I was 90% effaced, which is half the battle. Somehow all the little back twinges I had been feeling over the last 24 hours had been working toward something.
The contractions were more intense now that the hustle and bustle of getting set up in a room, listening to the anesthesiologist’s pain-med offerings, and getting the IV put in (oh horror) was over. I had never been an inpatient at a hospital before so it was all new to me. They monitored me shortly, the baby’s heartbeat was very strong (and never faltered through the whole labor), and then I was left with no distractions but the contractions. I was on the bed, leaning forward against the raised back of the bed, coming up on all fours every time the vice took hold. I felt no sensation in my uterus, just fire in my low back. I tried for a short time to listen to the Hypnobabies birthing tapes and send ‘purple anesthesia’ to the pain in my back, but soon the contractions took over my entire existence so intensely that I forgot I ever did Hypnobabies or was supposed to not be in pain.
Every time James would press on my back to ease the gripping ache. I had a heating pad put on my back until I got so hot that we had to take it off. Finally I tried getting in the shower. The minute the water fell on my back I didn’t feel the pain so much, I was able to concentrate and breathe through the contractions and take it in stride.
But the water slowed down the contractions, and so I was told to come back out. They were now 5+ minutes apart and I had been going a few hours. The staff shift had changed and I had the midwife I had wanted to have. I also had my husband, mother and sisters, sister-in-law and mother-in-law in the room with me. I had been worried about having so many people, but I found it was a welcome reminder that this was exciting and that there was a baby at the end of it.
I lay on the bed on my side. When a contraction started, I would sit up and squat off the bed, hanging from James’s neck. Poor James got very tired. When it ended I would lay down and actually fall asleep. I don’t know how it’s possible to go from such an intense feeling to total sleep, but it happened. My body knew it needed rehabilitation. The contractions came in 2s, one long hard one, one short medium one. They hooked the IV on while I lay down and put some sugar water in there to keep me hydrated.
Mama, Annie, and Gretchen coached me through contractions. My mother-in-law went home and got a back massager which she welded with expert muscle on my low back during each contraction. I don’t know what I would have done without that. The rumble and vibration of it dispersed the vice grip on my spine.
At some point the guys, who were all in the waiting room, brought pizza and everyone took turns leaving to go eat. I got a bit upset when James left to grab a bite until it dawned on me that I had been going for several hours and no one had eaten since lunch. I was shocked that it had been going on that long. I had absolutely no desire for food and my psyche was so taken up in what was happening that the hours had literally slipped away.
Then the castor oil kicked in. I would lay on the bed in the few minutes between contractions, sit up to vomit into a bag, squat down for the contraction(s), lay back down, rush to the bathroom for the other end, have contractions on the toilet alone for a while with a pillow at my back, pressing against the walls with my hands and against the floor with my feet, while Mama reminded me through the door that I needed to relax so that I didn’t hinder the labor progress. Even in the action of it all I was very intent on not making a mess anywhere. I couldn’t bear to be in filth. And the rotation kept on for an hour or so until the castor oil wore off, and so did my contractions.
At this point it was sometime past midnight. I had been in labor for 30 hours and in active hard labor for 8, and had had only a little sleep the night before. The midwife, Kate, came in to monitor. We needed to get the baby out soon. She knew I wanted a natural labor and did not posit meds, but said that she could bring in the breast pump to try to to get the contractions closer together than 5 minutes. The idea of doing the breast pump again made me want to cry. I was so exhausted, the breast pump hurt, especially with contractions going at the same time, and I didn’t believe that it would really work. I was very disappointed in my body at this point.
Then Mama suggested I just go ahead and get on Pitocin. I had been going so long and if I didn’t get the baby out soon, I would get so tired that a C-section would be inevitable. I was shocked, since my mother is a huge proponent of natural childbirth.
“But won’t it hurt a lot more?”
Kate, the midwife, said that in her experience it didn’t actually make the labor more painful, it just made the contractions more even. So I said yes and tried to steel myself for what would come.
She put me on a very tiny, steady drip of Pitocin. And then I was in the game. The contractions came strong and steady every 3 minutes. I sat on the side of the bed, then would stand and hang on James while I tried to open my legs and squat down, wishing the baby out. My mother-in-law wielded the heavy back massager for the hours, dispersing the pain in my back. Mama and my sisters coached me through the contractions.
I would moan as each contractions gripped me, feeling like my spine was about to be crushed. I tried to think of Jesus’s suffering, to join my suffering with his. I kept saying, “Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me!” with every contraction.
And then Mama said, “Camille, He is helping you.”
That went all over me like a bucket of ice water. I felt slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t been recognizing that before. And then I was able to take it. I started breathing through the contractions, I focused, I accepted the pain and tried to ready myself for ‘transition’, which was supposed to be even worse.
Then I started having a bit of bloody show on the chuck pad beneath me. The midwife would come in and out, feeling my stomach as it labored. She had not checked my dilation at all since there was risk of infection from my water being broken, so I didn’t have an idea where I was in the labor process. I thought I couldn’t be ready to push. But I did feel an intense need to poop right then and there.
And suddenly those magical words from the midwife. “I think she’s ready to push.”
Apparently I had been in transition and hadn’t even noticed. Suddenly there were more nurses in the room, the bed had transformed into a donut shape, a great plastic bag was below it to measure bleeding, and I was being propped up on the edge and James was behind me for support.
Excitement took over. The baby had moved past the place in my spine that hurt so bad and now I barely felt the contractions. Suddenly I knew this was going to be fun. The midwife checked me, and said I was 100% effaced. She put her finger on the baby’s head and told me to push. I pushed and felt the head come past the hip bones.
The midwife smiled. “Good work! That was great. Now just push with the contractions. Try to rest in between.”
I was so excited now that the pain was gone that it was hard to be disciplined. Especially since it was very hard to feel when exactly the contractions were happening. It was just a tingling sensation. I was super surprised that pushing out a baby feels like the biggest BM of your life. I kept pushing, asking “Do you all see anything? Do you see anything?” after every push.
And then finally I felt a burning sensation, a taut stretching, the head squeezing through, and then a closing, and the head was out and then the body slipped out in one great bloody gush and my baby was being laid on my chest. I couldn’t believe it! It was over!
He cried a little and I just held him, looking down at his little face and his great big nose, his nostrils flaring, and the bunch of black hair that was on his head. We immediately knew that the name Gabriel Elijah was right for him. He was just as I had always imagined he would be.
I don’t remember much about this time, but my mother said that I said, “Well, I had a baby!” And everyone laughed. I also remember suddenly remembering that I had forgot to remember Hypnobabies during the labor, and saying, “Man, Hypnobabies! What a crock!” Which made everyone laugh. James held the baby, and then the grandparents and family held him while I was stitched up (oh horror!)
Pushing had only taken half an hour. I felt blessed. Gabriel was born at 4:26am, a full 36 hours from when my water broke. It was January 23, my Grandpa Bill’s birthday. It was the most incredible experience of my life and I was fiercely glad I had felt everything.
And then they were measuring and weighing the baby. He was 8 lb 10 oz, and that was with me being on an intense third trimester diet! They thought he was 20.5 inches, but a few days later once he had stretched out a little the pediatrician measured him at 21.5 inches.
Then they wheeled the baby away because he was grunting and they wanted to check his air passages. I wasn’t able to concentrate very well. I had lost a liter and a half of blood, very dangerous since I’ve always been anemic. We had to vacate the room and go to the postpartum floor, and there was a bustle of movement as I was put in a wheelchair and all our stuff was gathered up and a crew helped us move. Everyone but Mama and Gretchen finally went home to get some rest after the all-nighter.
Finally we got to the room and the nurses helped me get comfortably in bed. They squashed down my uterus and continued to monitor blood loss. I sent James after Gabriel to try to get them to bring him back to me. After an hour or so it became necessary to empty my bladder so that the uterus could get back into place and wouldn’t hemorrhage, which could mean death for me. The nurses helped me walk to the toilet but I was so swollen that I couldn’t pee. As I was sitting on the toilet, the nurses standing over me, I suddenly found myself in a room talking with a tall man in a long coat, and other people milling around. Then I felt a great wind in my face and heard voices calling out of the distance and came back to the bathroom and the toilet seat. I had fainted. The nurses were waving a piece of paper on my face like mad, yelling at me and I saw the look of shock on my mother’s face and James, who had come back to say the baby was fine. Mama says I was as white as a sheet and they were afraid I had died.
They wheeled me back to bed on a dolly, telling me to look at them, look at them, and then I was again in the dark room. This time I came out of the faint quickly and they got me back into bed.
We discussed putting in a catheter, since it was imperative that my bladder empty lest I hemorrhage, but when they touched me to clean before they inserted it I screamed with pain and begged to try to pee again. So they rolled me to the toilet and thankfully I was able to empty my bladder. They brought me back to the bed and I fainted again in the process of being put onto the bed.
The nurse was very defensive and hard to deal with throughout. My mother and my sister Gretchen had stayed through the ordeal, though they had been up for hours and it was now around 6:30am. I was brought a plate of eggs and sausage and potatoes from the restaurant down the street and a huge beet smoothie. Our family probably spent hundreds of dollars feeding us excellent, hearty food and nutritious smoothies and juices over the next two days. I started calling the nurses, trying to annoy them into bringing Gabriel back to me. James went and stood beside Gabriel in the nursery, making sure they didn’t do anything we didn’t want them to do.
Finally, after having had him about 2 hours, they brought him back. He wasn’t interested in nursing now. Mama and Gretchen went home and were replaced by my brother Alex and sister-in-law Berklee, and then my mother-in-law Kathy. I held Gabriel close, skin to skin, and would sleep little bits until a nurse came into the room and then pretend I was awake, so they wouldn’t take the baby away from me. I wasn’t accepting any of the hospital’s push to keep my baby in a cold plastic bassinet when he’d spent his entire existence inside of me. I kept him with me and only laid him in the bassinet long enough to take a shower the next morning. The lactation consultant came in a few times and helped me establish nursing with him.
It was a slow recovery. The nurse on shift changes went from saying I fainted three times to saying I fainted a ‘little bit’. Gabriel thrived. Every check up they would take his vitals while he nestled beside me in the hospital bed. I was intent on keeping his body temperature regulated so they wouldn’t take him away again. I barely slept for the 2 days, I was so worried they would take him from me. I talked to him and stared at him. He was so beautiful to me. The labor was still traumatic in my mind, but it was slowly fading and the beauty of my baby replacing it.
When it was time to come home we were quite a sight to see, me all bundled up in pajamas and a coat and Gabriel teeny tiny in his car seat. We went across the street to our apartment and found that my sister-in-law Lisa and my siblings had been in and cleaned the place and decorated it with lights and a Welcome Baby sign. It was beautiful!
A week into recovery I started bleeding more heavily again, passing blood clots the size of gum balls. My sister Annie had invited us to dinner that night but I called her to say I had to stay at home because I was terrified that moving around was going to make me bleed more. I started crying as I talked. After the conversation I sat in bed, holding Gabriel and rocking back and forth, sobbing, thinking I was going to hemorrhage and die and leave Gabriel without me. There is no bond like the bond of mother and child. Even now I can’t take anything mentioning parents dying and leaving little ones.
Clotting this much a week postpartum was not normal. The midwives sent me to get an ultrasound to make sure there was no placenta still in the uterus. Mama and Annie and Gretchen took me in the wheelchair to the ultrasound place, where I felt generally whoozy and was seen by the first-aid man who was able to get our reports back from Vanderbilt and we found that my blood count had come from a 7.5 to a 9.5 in only a week, which was great. I felt relief pour over me. If I hemorrhaged I probably wouldn’t bleed out. I was going to be around for Gabriel.
After that James and I went to live with my mother for a couple weeks. I did nothing but lay on the couch and watch movies and eat good food and hold my beautiful baby boy. There is no love like it.
When I got married I was surprised at how great my love for James was, how deeply it was possible to know another person. Having a baby, the depth of married love deepened. The floodgates opened up, took me down to an eternal depth. I kept Gabriel with me, I wore him in my baby wrap, I talked to him and sung to him. I was fully needed, fully and unquestioningly loved.
It is better than anything life has to offer.