A week ago today, I had a baby
With no drugs.
At my house.
In a birthing pool.
It was wonderful.
I had known for the past nine months or so that this would happen, what with the puking early on, the weight gain, and the fact that my midsection had been replaced with a beach ball. People had given us parties, we had made a nursery in our house, and I had spent countless hours researching what to do with a baby and how to raise one. By the end of things, I couldn’t walk without a waddle, sleep without feeling like a beached whale, or see my feet, which had swollen to look like those giant foot shaped bedroom slippers complete with cankles. So on Friday, when my midwife checked to see how dilated I was and told me I was 3-4 centimeters, I wasn’t really surprised. I was ready to have this baby. Or so I thought…
She told me that even though I was 3-4 centimeters, it could still be a few days before I was actually in labor, so I should just lay low until the magic happened. That, and the fact that she also said that the baby had a huge head and was floating in a really big bag of water, so unless I wanted to sink the Titanic in the produce aisle at Wal-Mart, I should stay home. Chris came home, we ordered in from Chili’s (I ordered a Quesadilla Explosion Salad- which will be important later) and then invited some friends over to hang out.I didn’t feel weird, or like I was about to go into labor, or anything different than what I usually feel.
My first inkling that anything was even remotely different was the fact that my dogs kept trying to tell me something. Charlie, the jack russell, would climb up on the back of the couch where I was sitting, scratch me on the head, and when I turned to look at him, he would look into my eyes and bark once, with a really bizarre pleading look. I didn’t know what his deal was at the time, but in hindsight he was telling me “shouldn’t you go crawl into a cardboard box or under the house or something?” But again, I didn’t notice.
Our friends went home. We watched our weekly episode of Flash Forward on Hulu. Then we turned out the lights and went to bed. About fifteen minutes later, it started. I had my first real contraction. Then another. Then another. I told Chris to start timing the contractions at about 1:15am. At 1:40 we called the midwife to come on over because my contractions were seven minutes apart and very regular. It was time.
Chris had a list of things he had to do when labor began- bleach the bathroom, get the dogs out of the house, set up a few supplies, call the parents, etc., so he got down to work while I laid on the sofa in the living room, waiting for my midwife to get here, dealing with the contractions. For those of you who are male or have never been in labor, let me explain what a contraction is really like. For me, each one started as two burning, razor covered tennis balls in my lower back. After a few seconds, the tennis balls would flatten and tighten around my waist, moving into my abdomen. Once tightened all the way around, a new wave of pain would wash in to the center of my uterus that felt like the entire population of Grenada had decided to take up residence in my midsection, and then decided to move out again, all at once. This worst part lasted only 15 seconds or so, then the rope of pain would loosen its grip and return to the tennis razor tennis balls and go away. This sounds really bad, and it surely wasn’t fun at the time, but honestly, it wasn’t THAT terrible. I was prepared to really want to get out a gun a shoot myself, or cuss everyone out, or throw things across the room, but it wasn’t that bad. Because you get a break between contractions, it made it very bearable.
At one point, I decided that the Quesadilla Explosion Salad was about to backfire. I ran to the bathroom with Chris behind me. He stood looking at me with a really pathetic look and I said, “Please don’t watch me puke”. I had my dignity to protect, after all.
I didn’t know at the time how decimated my dignity could actually become.
After about 30 minutes, my midwife arrived with her assistants and checked me. I was already 6-7 centimeters dilated and my contractions had advanced to 4 minutes apart. Things were moving fast. Thank you Lord. They began setting up the birth pool in the living room, and I decided to go sit on the toilet. I didn’t have to go, it just felt better. Chris was in there with me, holding the hose in place over the bathtub faucet that was filling up the tub. He kept looking at me kinda helplessly. Then I had to get an IV drip of antibiotics because I was GBS positive. The midwife came in and started the IV, but left the tape in the other room. She went to get more, and asked Chris to hold the IV in my arm while she went and got it. Now let me say that my husband is a strong and brave man in every aspect of life except when it comes to blood and needles. He almost passed out when our dog got a shot at the vet, so I did not have high expectations for his ability to hold a needle in my arm. Then I had a contraction. I felt sure that I was going to throw my arm out in pain and blood would shoot out everywhere and he would pass out on the floor and there we would be- me on the toilet and him on the floor, blood raining down over both of us. But he held it together beautifully, and the midwife returned in about 5 seconds with the tape. Crisis averted.
More time passed. The contractions got closer and closer. I started getting in the zone, which meant that I didn’t feel like talking or looking around between contractions. I just wanted to relax and focus. I went back in to the living room and laid back down on the sofa. At one point, I was able to relax enough to fall halfway asleep. I dreamed about Bob Dylan. He told me to relax and was singing me a song (I don’t even like Bob Dylan), so that when my next contraction came, he sang me through it. Thank you, Bob. At this point, it was about 4 in the morning. The birth pool was almost filled up, and the contractions were getting really intense. I all of a sudden felt a lot of pressure down below, like I needed to eject the Grenadian population that had moved in. Or like I had to take the world’s largest poop. I wasn’t sure which.
Then it hit me- I needed to push. I told my midwife, who checked me and said that made sense because I was fully dialated. It was time for the Grenadians to find a new home. But my water hadn’t broken yet. So I crawled on to a towel on the floor and my midwife broke my water with an amnihook. Warm water gushed out everywhere and some of the intense pressure I was feeling was released. Then I stripped naked (modesty no longer a concern) and put on my bathing suit I had bought specially for giving birth in the water, back when I thought I would have a shred of dignity left after this whole experience.
I stepped into the tub and looked at my husband. I think I asked him, “Are you ready, dad?” or something like that, but I didn’t care what his answer was. Another contraction came and I pushed. Let me say that pushing is so much better than labor. I really can’t compare it to anything other than the relief you feel if you have a really bad stomach ache and you finally get to go to the bathroom. The pain isn’t over, but you can do something about it. My midwife checked the progress of the push, and monitored the baby’s heartbeat with a doppler monitor. I pushed again and she asked me if I could feel the baby moving down. I said not really so she changed my position. This time Chris grabbed me under the armpits and I squatted in the tub during the push. I still didn’t feel the baby move down. So on the next contraction she had me get out of the pool and on to a blanket on the floor. I got on all fours and she pushed on my back to open up my hip bones as I pushed. Let me say that I have never felt more like an animal during this particular position. I may have even mooed. The details are blurry. This one seemed to work okay, so I pushed there through the next few contractions. Then I flipped back on to my back and pulled my knees up around my ears, while my midwife reached inside of me and pried my hips apart with her hands. Eloise had a big, big head and she needed some assistance getting out. Looking back on it, I should have felt like a thanksgiving turkey having her giblets removed, but honestly, I didn’t care at the time. I honestly couldn’t really feel it at the time. I just wanted the whole thing to be over.
Thankfully, the giblet-removal position was the real winner and after one push, they told me to reach down and touch the top of her head. I did, but everything was slimy and I couldn’t really tell what the heck was going on down there. I just wanted the baby out. I had gone from woman to baby cannon, and my only focus at that point was to shoot a new life into the world. There was no room for sentimentality. At this point, I was on the floor, out of the tub, and I had really wanted a waterbith, which my midwife remembered, but with a baby head partially hanging out of my business, moving myself from the floor to the tub was going to be a little problematic. So she had Chris grab my hands and her assistant grab my feet and they hoisted me into the water like a limp noodle. As the last contraction came, I pushed and felt a strange pop. I looked down just in time to see a head and said “Oh- the head’s out!” like nobody had noticed that part. She told me to stop pushing as she checked for a cord around the neck, which there was none- so she said, “Okay- go ahead and push”. I complied, one last time. The baby cannon was about to finish its duty.
What happened next changed my life forever. The baby came out, and with her the greatest feeling of physical release I think a human and know. I reached down into the water and grabbed the slimy blue baby and pulled her up to the surface. Eloise Bethea was born. During the whole labor, I had been so focused on getting the baby out of me that I had forgotten that there was actually going to be a baby present at the end of it all. So when I held her up, I was kind of shocked at the sight of a real, live baby human looking back at me. The room went completely silent. There was my baby, with her eyes wide open, tongue stuck out, holding her head up herself looking at all of us. Taking us in. Not even crying. I held her little slimy body close to me, and told her hello.
The whole turn of events of these past nine months had come full circle:
We started the night as two and ended as three.
I pushed a turkey out of my bumhole.
My life quilt had its most beautiful part yet added to it.
We sat like that for a minute or so, and then I had to get out of the pool to deliver the placenta. I didn’t even really know what a placenta was until I got pregnant, so delivering one of my very own was not an experience I was particularly thrilled about. It wasn’t a big deal, just a small push and a big splat sound as a giant bloody blob hit the floor. I made the mistake of looking down at it, and it reminded me of the Ninja Turtles Cartoon Character named Crane- that big monster with a brain in his stomach. At least having a baby is a dignified experience. Having a placenta is like something out of science fiction. I kinda expected it to sit up and threaten to take over the world, or crawl out the door and back into the swamp it came from.
They cut the cord, and whisked me off for a quick shower while they cleaned off Eloise. I put on a Depends diaper (dignity not allowed, remember) and hobbled into my very own bed to hold my very own pink and crying baby. Chris came and sat with us, and there we were- the Bethea family- together at last. They weighed Eloise and declared her to be 9 pounds even and 20 inches long- a pretty darn big baby. And I am not so much a darn big person. So based on physics, you can imagine what happens when a darn big baby comes out of a not so darn big person: tearing. There was no way around it- I had third degree tears. So after a few hours of hanging out at home, welcoming family, and enjoying our new baby, I had to go to the hospital and have humpty dumpty put back together again. It took 50 stitches and an hour or so with my legs up in those awful stirrups (dignity, what?), but I was good as new with the help of a couple of Loritab.
There is so much to say about this day and the week that has passed since then that it will take several more posts to contain even half of it. This is just the basic outline of what happened. I am still trying to quantify how I really feel about all of this. I can say that I love Eloise Bethea more than I knew I had capacity to love, and that sometimes I just break down into tears at the goodness of God and joy and beauty of life. But these are all other stories for other days. For now, all you need to know is:
A week ago today, I had a baby
With no drugs.
At my house.
In a birthing pool.
It was wonderful.