It was a little after 4:00 p.m. when I shuffled into the delivery room. We could only have four people in the room at a time, and my plans to have a doula friend accompany the husband and me seemed off somehow: the medical supply-laden room and urgent circumstances were incongruent with the natural birth I'd been planning for. Nature had collided with modern medicine and I was still scared to death about what was happening. I called my aunt and good friend in addition to my husband, craving family to warm up that that machine-filled environment.
With the exception of a violent, bloody insertion of the IV line into my arm, the next two hours are a blank, but until about 7:00 I was riding solo. Nurse Jackie arrived, starting her 12-hour shift, and she immediately hooked up the magnesium sulfate and pitocin drip, setting the meter at 12 ("We can increase it to 16. Then, if for some reason it's not working, we can get doctor's approval to go to 24").
Somehow, Steve, my aunt, and my friend arrived, seemingly all at once. The husband made the grandest entrance, toting a big smile and a sack of loot from Taco Fiesta. He went behind the curtain to eat carne asada tacos by the baby warmer, as the magnesium was already making me nauseous.
For the first few hours I was aware of little except the discomfort my body felt from being strapped to the bed. I had two monitors on my belly, three medications and a saline solution pumping into me. It took a nurse and ten minutes to unhook me and get me to the bathroom. Initially, I was committed to my no pain-meds birth--we'd spent five Saturdays in natural childbirth class, after all, and I'd read more than enough books on the subject.
The first OB-GyN of the evening walked in and did an even more painful cervix check. "Good!" she said. "You're already three cm. We should talk about when you'll get the epidural."
"Umm, I was hoping to go without meds," I replied quietly. Inwardly, my resolve was already weakening, though I had no pain at this point, just waves of nausea from the medications.
The doctor looked annoyed and sighed before she walked out.
They say that for the laboring woman, the experience is timeless. At least there was some advice that was true for me!
Somewhere around 1:00 a.m. I brought up Obama and ISIS. My family laughed at my attempt at small talk. I then heard and felt a popping sensation and a quick burst of pain, the first real pain I'd felt so far. My water had broken, I figured. This set off what finally felt like real contractions. Somewhere between 1 and 3:00 a.m., after breathing and moaning through each one my blood pressure grew higher. Trapped on the bed like a prisoner, unable to enact any of the pain-reducing techniques we'd learned in childbirth class, I decided to go for it--I asked for the epidural.
Though the epidural needle insertion was anxiety-ridden, it wasn't any different from what I imagined it being, and the relief it brought was instant and welcome. Moreover, my blood pressure lowered and I was able to go off the nausea-inducing magnesium. After my aunt and friend left for the night, reassured that it would be at least another ten hours before the baby was born, Steve and I settled into an uneasy sleep, a balloon called the "peanut" between my knees to keep my pelvis in a good position for the baby. I remember feeling like our room was enormous and dark, a private, machine-filled temple where only Steve, Jackie, myself and the baby labored together through a dull sleep.
It was around 5:00 a.m. that I started feeling contractions again. This time, they made me think of a vertical canoe, taking over my abdomen from my fundus to my perineum. The nurse had the anesthesiologist turn up the epidural meds. At 6:00, the OB came and checked my cervix. I was fully dilated, and the baby's head was about to emerge.
Turns out those intense contractions were transition and my body's natural pushing. They say women in comas have birthed babies unassisted. I believe it! My body, completely numb, had pushed the baby just an inch or two away from the outside world.
The room flooded to life: Nurse Jackie, minutes away from the end of her shift, was now accompanied by at least six other nurses and an OB, another youngun who looked to be years away from having children of her own. Four contractions later I had pushed out the slippery little selkie.