by Kelli, USA
October 23, 2001
It's peculiar; the first question people ask after “How much did he weigh?” is usually “How long was your labor?” I suppose people prefer statistical questions because they are easier to put into some sort of context. With labor, though, it's not such an easy answer. I had my first contraction during my 20 th week of pregnancy, but I could hardly call my labor 20 weeks long! And I progressed from 3cm to holding you in about 45 minutes, but it wasn't quite that short, either.
Somewhere in the middle, then. Unquantifiable. Yes.
October was a very full month for me. Uncle Alan's wedding was 10 days before your due date, and I had been harboring stress about making the trip to Monterey so close to your arrival. I had been having so many contractions during that week that I was almost positive you'd make your debut at the wedding reception. As it was, though, it turned out fine, and when we got home from that trip I dug in my heels to wait. And wait and wait! It had seemed that you were knocking on the door for weeks – I was certain you'd be early – and suddenly it was almost as if I wasn't pregnant at all! Well, except for the fat belly and severe carpal tunnel in my hands. But no contractions, nothing at all feeling like impending labor. It's probably a universal feeling among women, but I started to feel like I might be pregnant forever. In retrospect, I had been having contractions that week, but I didn't recognize them for what they were because they had changed in nature. For months I had felt them as a tightening of my upper belly, and I didn't really put it together when they moved down lower into my cervical area as occasional and mild aches.
At 12:30am on your due date, I awoke to a contraction that was, shall we say, more easily identifiable. Those continued on every half an hour or so all night, and I napped through them. It was almost mysterious, being in that otherworld of half-sleep where dreams and reality mingle in such a confusing way. I got up at 6:00am, not really sure if all the contractions I had dreamed about were real or imagined, but the bloody show when I went to the bathroom told me they were real. I had a moment to myself where I broke out into a huge smile, and simultaneously experienced a swarm of butterflies in my stomach. Today would be the day.
I returned to the bed to wake Daddy with a kiss and a whisper, “Today's the day, hon.” You should have seen his eyes glitter with sleepiness and anticipation. He said he was calling into work to stay home, but I told him he didn't have to. I was sure we'd have a whole long day ahead of us, and my plan was to go on with our day as usual. I didn't expect you until 10 or 11 that night! Your Daddy, though, is incredibly intuitive, and he called in anyway. We got Rhanna up and told her that you would be born that day. We called the midwife and Margery to give them a heads-up, and also called all of your grandparents. Of course we told them that nothing would be happening for a while, and we were getting ready to take Rhanna to her ballet class. They thought I was crazy! Running errands in labor, really! Who ever heard of such a thing?
So we did take Rhanna to ballet. When we were about halfway there, the contractions really stepped up. Being in the car seemed to exacerbate them incredibly. All through ballet class, Daddy and I sat in the hallway and timed contractions. It was like our little secret – all these moms there gossiping and chatting away, completely oblivious to my peeks at Daddy's watch, and the knowing glances and grins we kept sharing with each contraction.
We stopped by the health food store on the way home, and the intensity of the contractions, again, picked up once back in the car. I was famished, and I felt like I needed to eat a lot of food, very soon. We almost stopped at a deli, but Daddy said it might be better to get me home, and he'd go out again for food. I simply HAD to have a New York brisket sandwich, so he dropped Rhanna and me at home and went back out to get lunch. I called Margery to let her know she should probably leave work and head over when she got the chance, no hurry. When Daddy called on his cell phone to tell me the NY deli didn't have brisket that day, I could have cried. It was a weird craving, I know. But I felt like it had to be that or nothing, so I told him to forget it. He went to a second deli, and called me from there. They didn't have brisket, but how about meatball? Yeah, okay, whatever. I have to tell you, though, that meatball sandwich was the best darn sandwich I've ever eaten. Kind of comforting in some strange way. I inhaled three quarters of it and then suddenly couldn't eat another bite. I figured I'd save the rest and snack on it as labor heated up and I needed more energy. Little did I know that that was what had just happened!!
So that lunch was at about 12:30pm. I was really starting to get uncomfortable during the contractions. I was still chatty in between, but each contraction required my attention and slow breathing. Margery showed up around 1:00pm. I had told her not to hurry, but I am so glad she decided to immediately leave work and drive up to our house. I remember I was standing in the kitchen with Daddy when she arrived. I had been telling him that the contractions were really getting stronger and longer, and that I was feeling surprised by their intensity. Rhanna was bouncing and excited about a day with Margery all to herself. Those were my last truly clear moments. It was as if I had been subconsciously waiting for Margery to arrive to be with Rhanna before allowing myself to descend into myself for labor.
So the rest of the story is much less lucid. I hugged Margery hello and then was right away overcome with a contraction much stronger than any other. Daddy and I stayed in the kitchen for a few of those, and then I said I'd like to try to lie down. That made it much worse so I got up again. Not long after that I called our midwife Shari to ask her if she thought getting in the tub was a bad idea. I felt like, time-wise, it was pretty early in labor, and I didn't necessarily want to slow things down, but I did crave the relief of the water. She told me to go ahead and do what I felt like doing. Ah, blessed relief. Warm water is a miraculous invention.
It felt nice being in the tub, but it turned out that I needn't have worried about slowing things down. There was very little respite at all. I felt like I needed to lean or hang on something in the tub, so – don't laugh – Daddy washed the Hippity Hop toy and I used it to hold me up out of the water. The best part of being in the tub was when Rhanna came into the water. She rubbed my back and said soothing words to me during contractions. She got a cup and poured warm water on my back so I wouldn't be cold. What an amazing sister you have.
Amazing, yes, but she also has sensitive hearing. As soon as my vocalizations got louder, she decided to go out into the living room with Margery. She wasn't overly concerned or worried about me; she just doesn't like loud noises!
So it was just me and Daddy, and Tracy Chapman playing in the background. I wanted to listen to the same music I had listened to during Rhanna's birth. I tell you, I think that album was created with birth in mind. Around the same time that Rhanna decided I was a little loud for her taste, Daddy asked me if he could call Shari. As fond as I was of our midwives, I really didn't want them to arrive before they might be needed; my plan was to have them arrive just in time to watch me catch you. Daddy knew this, and so a part of me was wondering why he wanted to call them so early, but as I have said, Daddy is really intuitive. My response was a shrug and an “If you want to.” He did.
Physically, I was very uncomfortable at this point. The Hippity Hop was too unwieldy to use, and my arms and legs were tired from holding myself up in strange positions during the contractions. The water in the tub was a little high, so I couldn't sit completely down without my face going in the water. This made me uncomfortable because I couldn't get into a position where I was able to relax completely, and I knew that if I could just relax during the contractions that they wouldn't hurt so much. Oh, I was so loud at this point. I was making strong, guttural, grunty moans through the contractions, which really helped to disperse the pain. I was starting to feel a little out of control, in that I wasn't able to get ahead of the contractions to rest at all. They just kept coming and coming, and I was getting more agitated, because I couldn't figure out what to do with my body.
Shari came in at this point (3:15 or so). I knew she was there, although I couldn't acknowledge her right away. She came in during one of those loud vocalizations, and I remember her first comment being, “How long has she been doing THAT?” She thought I was pushing, but I wasn't. I was really just using the noises to deal with the pain. They were some pretty serious noises though, and it was some pretty serious pain.
I wanted to get out and try lying down again, so I did. Oh, boy, bad idea. Being horizontal made everything much worse. As long as I was down, though, Shari asked if she could check me, and I consented, saying, “As long as you don't tell me I'm only 3 or something,” because I really felt like I was nearing some sort of threshold, and I didn't think I could take it mentally if I knew there was a really long way to go. “A stretchy 3 or so” was her response. Ack!!
While I was lying down, I really started to feel like a trapped wild animal. Almost on the verge of panic. None of this was going how I had planned. I had spent years studying childbirth, so how was it that I was out of control? I wasn't supposed to be surprised by the intensity of labor – I knew what to expect! Oh, silly woman.
I got up off the bed and Daddy saw immediately that I was losing it. He gave me back control by descending into myself with me, as no other person on Earth could have. He sat in a chair so I could lean on him in a semi-comfortable position during contractions, and he moaned with me. Brought me back down. My vocalizations had been getting higher with my panic, and he helped me keep them low and loud, relaxed, not tense. At one point I remember wanting desperately to bite his shoulder really, really hard, but I was able to control the urge. Another thing that happened around this time was that I couldn't stand the smell of Daddy's shirt. I told him he had to take it off, and he put a different one on. One contraction of leaning on him with the new shirt and again, I couldn't stand it! I made him take that one off too, and he went shirtless after that. The contractions were coming one after the other, with no time in between. I just didn't feel like I could ever get ahead of it! It was something like being on a runaway train, plastered to the front of the engine like a ship's figurehead.
After a half an hour or so, I wanted to try to get back into the water. I stepped into the tub, but couldn't figure out how to really immerse myself in the water comfortably. I stood up and hung on to Daddy's neck during a few contractions while dripping wet. All of the sudden, there was a contraction that – pushed- all by itself. Completely involuntary. It freaked me out! I felt like you were about to fall out, completely out of the blue. I looked up at Daddy and Shari with a wild look and said, “Oh my god, it's pushing – don't let me push. It's too early!” In my mind I didn't think I could have been much past 3cm, having just been checked so recently, and I didn't want to cause a cervical lip by pushing too early. I also think I had it in my mind that you weren't coming until later that night, and I just couldn't wrap my brain around the idea that it was happening NOW.
Shari said, “Kelli, let's get you out of the tub. Come on, your baby's coming.” Always one to argue, I replied, “No it's not, it's not coming. It's too early.” She calmly and softly repeated that I should get out, and she and Daddy moved to help me out. (They knew I didn't want to have you in the water – I love the idea of waterbirth, but I also love the amniotic way babies smell, and I didn't want to lose that in the water.) Another huge pushy contraction – Daddy noticed the water breaking with that one, but I didn't. The tub's walls were kind of high, so in the moment that I hesitated to figure out how to lift my leg over and out, I had a third intense contraction with another huge and involuntary push. I think I still may have been arguing that it wasn't time for you to come. Funny mama.
I don't remember walking to the bedroom, but there I was, hurriedly and ungracefully crawling up onto the end of the bed. I felt a roar building up and I had a moment of lucidity – “Where is Rhanna? Get Rhanna!!” I said. I vaguely recall the sound of Rhanna and Margery running down the hall as I gave a fourth push, and out came your head. I was on my hands and knees, and I reached down to touch your head. Small, warm and hard, your perfectly round head fit into my hand like a puzzle-piece. I'll never forget that feeling; it is burned into my hand's memory forever. In another moment, Daddy's hand was there too, and with one last push, you entered the world, guided by the hands of the two people who made you and loved you. Catching you myself is my proudest moment.
I admit I was overwhelmed. I didn't expect you so soon. Everything felt blurry and unreal. Your first hours were calm and quiet though, and you were surrounded by your family, welcomed to the world with respect and love. Unquantifiable amounts of love.
These things can't be measured.
So how long was it? Too long and not long enough.
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