Like many things to do with pregnancy, it’s odd how much women’s stories can help other women more than any of the books out there. I learned that labour doesn’t necessarily happen like in the books – I was four centimetres dilated (beginning of active labour, right books?), but having 2-minute contractions every 2.5 minutes (transition, right books?), and I had the sensation that the baby was going to come out my BUM — and after the fact, I spent a lot of time scratching my head and thinking “what the hell was that?”
I went into labour on February 5, at about 10:00 in the morning. Ripley was born on the 6th, at about 3:00 in the afternoon. He’d been such an active kid inside that he was tied by his cord into my womb like a skydiver into a parachute; he couldn’t reach my cervix, let alone the outside world, through traditional means. We never descended past 0 station, and he spent most of the labour at -3 station. (What that means: he was about 3 centimetres up from my cervix or the bony part of my pelvis. Babies go from -5 to +5, where +5 is making the final break.)
Ripley was also Sunny-Side-Up – his spine lying against my spine – which causes what’s known as “back labour”. This is not fun. I don’t want the back labour again. The problem with this style of giving birth is that there’s a little head that repeatedly gets rammed into your spine with each contraction. It’s the bony part of the head, not the soft and pliable part. In the best-case scenario, the bony part is pointed towards your abdomen, and the face at your spine, and the soft and pliable part at your cervix. This is how all the bits are supposed to interact, and although no one would call labour a cakewalk even when all the bits are properly aligned, at least there’s some collusion of parts.
My uterus was quite happy banging the tied-in child against my back, but my spine decided it didn’t like being hit repeatedly from the inside. By about 2:30 in the morning on the 6th, there was no point that I wasn’t in pain because my back just hurt all the time – contractions just changed the sensation, but not-contractions just let my spine do most of the complaining. There’s some threshold where it all becomes youch.
I also was a Sunny-Side-Up baby (OP), and I feel that my karmic duty to my mother has been paid.
They tried to send me home at 8am on the 6th (I wasn’t dilated), but I refused: I knew, at that point, that something was wrong. It’s funny, the thing that both the medical and the natural systems for birthing babies often do is ignore the fact that instinctively, women know what’s going on… There are midwives at my hospital, as well as doctors, and they were on the same page that I wasn’t far enough along. (It didn’t help that the contraction monitor didn’t show the contractions I was having. The fact that Ripley was born with a crazy, huge, wrong-direction cone head caused one of the nurses to remark in surprise that I must have really been having seriously powerful contractions. You will be surprised to know I didn’t hit her.)
At some point, the combination of Ripley’s movements and the tenor of my own discomfort started letting me know we were going nowhere good. I’m glad I refused to go home again – a friend of a friend lost their baby when sent home for lack of progression, and I feel that would have been a possibility for us. It wasn’t until 2:45ish that Ripley’s heart stopped… but by that time, I was having contractions like what they call “transition” – continuous contractions – and was no longer in the room. (I asked John to take me home from “this shitty nightclub”.) I doubt, if I’d been at home, that I would have understood that a hospital might help.
We went for an emergency C-Section. I thought, momentarily, that I was going to feel the procedure until the nice man holding a hissing mask stepped up to my head and started talking. I ignored him, and grabbed the mask and sucked: the other man at my stomach had a scalpel in his hand, and I wanted to make like Elvis and leave the building. Call me crazy.
Poor John. Wife and new kid whisked away, she’s delirious (and on all fours), the baby’s heartbeat isn’t there, and he’s left in a room by himself. That’s the part that still chokes me up: he was so damn unflappable for me the whole time, but was dealing with worry and fear. The next time, we’re having a doula and two grandmas: if anything goes wrong again, John’s going to have his mom there, for cryin’ out loud.
I was under a general anesthetic because I didn’t have other pain control in place – and John wasn’t allowed in the birthing room, because it was an emergency C-section.
Weirdly, I “remembered” hearing my son cry. Whether my mix of anesthetic wasn’t quite right, or what, I don’t know – but I experienced darkness, a cry, and then a nurse holding my hand and saying over and over and over – “You have a beautiful healthy baby boy. You have a beautiful healthy baby boy.”
That nurse is a saint in my life whose face I would not recognize. I am so grateful for her voice. I had been so scared that the baby was dying, but so focused on getting through, that what spun me around in her voice was both fear and its relief. I needed her reassurance, her hand on mine, her happy-for-me comfort. I think I relaxed then – I had not relaxed, even under general anesthetic, because my state going in was terror.
Relaxing released me back into my own state. I lost track of where I was or why, and I shook and shivered and felt myself quiver to my toes. I don’t remember moving from the operating room to the recovery room, but I think exhaustion may have overtaken me, too.
Then John was there, with a giddy, giggly, ridiculous smile, waving a long thin piece of paper at me and making me laugh. I couldn’t really understand what he was saying: that this paper was the baby? Baby? There was a baby. This paper was the baby… I had to pull myself to the surface to understand, and that gave me a goal. I finally got it – John had a measuring tape that had been ripped-to-length, and I there was an infant somewhere around here who’d been beating up my insides only a day ago.
Because Ripley had coded, and I was drugged, I didn’t meet him for four hours after he was born. After recovery, the nursing staff wheeled me into a room and set me up medically, and then my mom and others were there and I stared stupidly at everyone. When I figured out how to ask for him, there was a flurry of alarm – the nursing staff hadn’t realized we hadn’t met yet, and had been handing him around in the nursery.
They wheeled Ripley in, in the clear bassinet, and pulled him up beside me. His face was turned towards me. I was overwhelmed with something like a thirst to hold him; something that crawled out of instinct and barked. It wasn’t quite love, not yet. It was more like my world had unhinged and the axis on which it spun shifted, and this serious grey-eyed newborn stare was the new fixed point.
I wouldn’t let him go, after. They offered to take him – I was injured, and tired, and woke every time his breathing changed – but I wouldn’t let them.
There’s of course post partum stories too. Those first couple of months after becoming a parent are wild. I kept expecting his REAL parents to come up and claim him, or for someone to notice that they’d sent a baby home with a couple of amateurs…
After Ripley was born, I wandered about with uterine infections for 5 weeks – again, I knew something was wrong, but because I don’t get fevers when I have infections I wasn’t hitting the major diagnostic criterion, and I wasn’t demanding enough. (Now, my doctor is aware that if I ask for antibiotics, he’ll hand them to me without a by-your-leave and ask questions later.)
Also, with Ripley, I was terrified of the label “failure to thrive” because the Community Health Nurse was insistent that he’d lost one gram of weight too many, and wasn’t gaining back quite as quickly as she’d like – she was very stern with me, too. (Now, as a more experienced parent, there will be no terror based on the ‘charts’. Charts. Bah.)
All of these experiences have combined to make me more, and not less, confident. I don’t care if I end up with another C-Section if necessary: not like last time, where I felt like a section was the End Of The Universe. The pain is bad but I can cope. I don’t care if ‘their opinion’, or that of their monitors, doesn’t line up with my experience: I’m listening to me first, and will take their advice with respect to what I have learned and who I am.
-Shared by Arwen Brenneman from B.C., Canada
To read about Arwen’s own birth, please click here.