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A Tale of Two Births

Number one: Trial by Ordeal (or The Initiation)

My muccus plug came out on shabbat, probably during the prayer for wine. I was 38+6 weeks. I had read somewhere not very reputable that the first child arrives on average 8 days past its due date (41 +1) so I figured I would just be muccus plug-less for a few weeks. I continued ritually welcoming the holy day of rest without much expectation. I had bronchitis that was maybe pneumonia. I hadn’t slept in over a week (ha! I thought that was bad!). I kept doing neti pot because I was pregnant and couldn’t do anything else. It kept not working. I kept bending down lower trying to coax the salt water through my sinuses in a way that would be cleansing and not drowny and useless. I kind of hung upside down over the sink.So when my lower back started to hurt, that’s what I attributed it to – irresponsibly over-aggressive neti pot posture.

I went to sleep. I woke up. I was having contractions. Except they were in my back. And they didn’t hurt very much. A and I excitedly got out a notebook and timed them. They were 3 minutes apart! I was even better than 5-1-1! And it didn’t even hurt that much. I smugly thought about all the bicycle commuting I did throughout my pregnancy against the advice of my coworkers. Also I hiked like every day. That’s why my labor is so easy, I’m just so fit. Or maybe I’m just tougher than everyone else. I had never thought of myself as particularly pain tolerant, quite the opposite, but when it comes to this most primal of all experiences, my body just knows what to do. I called my mom and told her I was having contractions three minutes apart. I had some while on the phone but they didn’t hurt much, I could still talk. I called my doctor. She was skeptical. When she heard I was bleeding, she said to go to the hospital to get checked. We giddily grabbed our hospital bag, which contained two neti pots, some organic cheeto/pretzel snack mix, a ginger drink, and clothes for me and the baby to wear home-and headed over. The triage nurse checked me. 2.5 centimeters. We and our neti pots were sent home.

On the way home we stopped at Albertsons for some matzo ball soup ingredients. My contractions and I waited in the car. I ate matzo ball soup, then eventually it was dinner time. We went to some Italian place and I ate pasta like I was not going to be allowed to eat for two more days. We came home. The contractions got more painful. They stayed in my back. I never felt anything in my uterus. We decided to watch a funny movie for distraction like you’re supposed to but we didn’t really know anything about funny movies so we just picked Bridesmaids which is weird and heteronormative and not so funny. By 11pm I was in real pain. I realized my cycling and hiking weren’t shit. I was sure this was active labor. 3cm according to the triage nurse, but they admitted me I think out of pity and because there was a lot of blood. “This looks like an OP labor” she remarked. She was weirdly gruff for a New Mexican lady. “What’s an OP labor?” “Sunny-side up. The baby is facing the wrong way. Her back is facing your back. That’s why your labor is in your back. These labors are really painful and really slow.”

Our friend who was studying massage therapy was with us as a support. I needed her to push as hard as possible on my back for every contraction. I thought each one was going to take my life. I had two minutes to neti pot and then I would feel one ramping up again and I would scream PUSH and she would position herself and lean as hard as she could.

There was a nurse on duty that used to be a doula. Or still was a doula but right now was a nurse. She super kindly volunteered to help me flip the baby. There were all kinds of props, scarves and birthing balls. So many positions. I only wanted to be lying in the bed on my right side. Words kept coming out of her mouth at me and making me have to comprehend them and then move and it all hurt so badly it was almost unbearable. I finally said I felt the baby flip to make it stop. I did not understand doulas. I hated them.

I had kind of avoided any mention or image of birth on the internet so I wouldn’t have any expectations but I did somehow internalize that at some point one needs to be in a tub. I was holding on to this idea through each contraction like a piece of a rope in some kind of scuba diving disaster rescue situation. I felt like each contraction was going to break me. I asked to get in the tub. The nurse gently suggested that I wait until things were a little further along. I demanded to get in the tub. (I also felt like at some point I was supposed to be demanding things). It really felt like it was about survival. I just had to get in that tub, and we would survive.

I got in the tub. It was unfathomable to me, but the contractions actually hurt just as much in the tub as out. I got out of the tub and left the useless scuba diving rope behind. I don’t know how but I stayed alive the rest of the night.

Around 11am the nurse checked me again. “I’d say 4cm?” she said in a way that was clear that she was being generous. I used the absolute last vestiges of my energy to break down into hopeless, desperate sobs. I felt the beginning of the next contraction pull me under. The doctor was called.

She suggested two interventions, break my water and give an epidural. I agreed to the water breaking. She stuck a wooden hook into the water bag and all the amniotic fluid gushed out and immediately things became even more intense. I descended into a world of shadows and archetypes. The nice nurse was like a guide across the river styx. I stopped seeing. At one point I was on the birthing ball in the shower. The ball was over the drain. The room flooded. Water dripped into radiology below. There were many people, men, in my room, wondering about the deluge, and I took absolutely no notice of any of it.I stopped worrying about whether I would die. The only thing I was capable of knowing was the forming, cresting, and ebbing of each contraction.

An hour later i was checked again. 5cm. “I think an epidural would help you” said my very very natural-y, non-interventionist doctor. A: “I really think you should get an epidural” Me,”No.” I don’t understand words. I’m remembering from some distant, unrecognizable past that I wasn’t going to get an epidural. That sounds right. A: “I really think it’s a good idea” Me – “Ok” Just stop. The nurse anesthetist came. When she forced herself into my consciousness I could only vaguely perceive her as an evil witch with terrible potions. They prepped me to shove an extremely large needle down my spine. I did not give a fuck. The only thing I cared about was that I wouldn’t be able to have my friend push on my back during the contraction when they were preparing my back.

And then they stopped. I slept for an hour. I woke up. I was shaking violently. I couldn’t drink enough water. I had to drink all of the water. I vomited. I drank 10 gallons more water. The vitals machine sounded an alarm. The evil witch came back and injected something into my IV. “What’s that? ” “Epinephrine. Your blood pressure is too low” More violent shaking. I said I felt pressure. The nurse checked me – 10cm and ready to push. The nurse put her hand on my uterus and watched the machine, informed me of when I was having a contraction, and told me to push. I pushed like I was trying to split myself in half. Nothing happened. I had been in labor for so long that my contractions were petering out, not strong enough to help the baby out. I was given pitocin. Eventually the Dr remarked that she could see the baby’s head and could put a bow in her hair. At one point the nurse took my temp, looked alarmed, showed it to the Dr. The dr remained impassive and just said “It’s ok. She’s drinking plenty of water” I even tried to drink water while pushing. Eventually, after three hours, I asked if maybe this called for the vacuum. The Dr agreed that that was a good idea. I didn’t look at it but I imagined a dust buster with my baby’s head in it. She got it in position and told me to push as hard as I could. I summoned all of my remaining strength and everyone else’s and the epinephrine’s and PUSHED. Y was here. She was perfect. Strong and beautiful and mysterious and so familiar. I had never seen such a creature. It was like the universe cracked open and god fell out. I loved her.

And I was in such shock.

Y’s temp was 102.5 and the doctor, amazing as she was, told the nurses that she should stay with me rather than being brought to pediatrics because she knew she had a fever only from cooking in my crazy feverish body, not because she had an infection. Her temp dropped quickly. She stayed with us the whole time, got a perfect APGAR score and latched well. I was given antibiotics for pneumonia and a nebulizer.

​Number two: He Basically Just Crawled Out in My Sleep

We hired a doula for this birth, even though I was doubtful of their usefulness. We only had two questions for the potential doulas: Are you homophobic? Are you ok with epidurals? Because we’re gay and I’m getting an epidural. Much sooner this time.

I weathered another end of pregnancy bronchitis adventure this time with a different doctor who strongly encouraged me to take drugs and sleep – better for baby if I sleep than if I stay sick and cough myself into early labor because I didn’t want to expose him topharmaceuticals.She tried to give me Ambien. I took the cough syrup with codeine. I slept 5 hours one night and finally got better after five weeks of refusing drugs and staying sick.

I started to have some back pain and so I went to acupuncture at 38+6 days. The Acupuncturist asked if I wanted her to get labor going. I declined.It was dark when I walked home, but it was snowing and bright so I didn’t trip over anything for once. Around 10pm I started to feel twinges. In my fucking back again. By 11pm they were regular and not so painful. Nothing to see here, I know what this looks like, let’s all go to bed. Our doula told us that in early labor I should sleep as much as I possibly could which was damn good advice. She had also shown me different positions to hang out in to encourage the baby to be facing the right way. I kind of dozed in those positions. My three year old who never sleeps jumped on my back and asked me to be a horse. The contractions got a little bit stronger around 5am (and they were also in my uterus!) but still nothing to write home about. I didn’t write home, I did write to the doula just to warn her that in the next few days I might have a baby. I hesitantly woke A and had her push on my back for some of them, but most I could just breathe through. My daughter petted my face as I breathed. Then she went to dance class with Grandma, who was visiting to take care of her when I went into labor.

Around 9am I realized I was hungry. I ate fried eggs and a peanut butter banana chocolate smoothie. All of it. The contractions were 5 or 6 minutes apart but I still didn’t make much of them. I asked A if she thought we should write the doula. “I just don’t think you’re there yet, compared to last time.” I agreed. The doula suggested getting checked at my Dr’s office since then I’d skip triage at the hospital if I were admittable. I thought we should wait, but then I became curious.

I got dressed and we left. Anne threw the hospital bag in the car cause why not?. This one also contained organic cheetos-so good for pushing babies out. When I was standing, the contractions were coming much faster but still not so painful. I had to manage a contraction outside before I could make it to the receptionist. She asked how quickly they were coming. I looked at my watch. Actually, about every minute. I learned against the wall to deal with another one.

I told the doctor to lie to me if I were any less than 3cm because it would be too discouraging. She agreed. She checked me for ten years. I waited to hear “3cm” But instead: “There is no cervix there. You are like 9.5cm. And the baby’s head is RIGHT THERE. Why are you not at the hospital??? Ok.. I just got an emergency kit so I can deliver you here. Do you have to push?” I did not have to push. We all rushed to the hospital.

The 0.3 miles between the clinic and the hospital is primarily composed of speed bumps. A flew over them like there was not a baby evidently about to fall out of my vagina. We waked into our room and somehow the dr. had already teleported herself there. I got hooked up to the monitors and cracked some jokes between contractions. I was convinced that the Dr had somehow missed my cervix and that I was actually like 3cm. No blood, no mucus plug, I’m having a coherent conversation, I pointed out to the nurse. She kind of agreed. But I didn’t want to be checked again.

Then I was in transition. I descended down to the pain place. It was incredible, magnificent pain. The hot shower maybe helped and then it didn’t. An hour went by.I still didn’t feel the need to push. I was stuck. I panicked. I can’t stay in this place. I want an epidural.

The doula calmly said that sometimes when people feel stuck there’s something they’re afraid of. She asked if that was maybe happening. She expected me to worry about tearing or pushing,but I burst into tears and said “we never did the genetic testing and I’m scared that he has a chromosomal abnormality.”The doula calmly encouraged me to maybe just worry about getting him here.

But voicing my Down’s Syndrome concerns didn’t lead to eviction. She recommended that I pee. I stayed on the toilet for several awful contractions and then finally felt like I maybe needed to push. I asked the Dr to break my water, which still was intact. Then I was really ready to push.

The feeling of pushing not numbed, I will never forget it. It is crazy. It was like 7 pounds of jello in my vagina. Bone-in jello. I pushed for three contractions. Each time I was told to rest between contractions, gear up as the contraction gears up, and then give it my all when the contraction peaks. I could feel the jello go out and back in. I didn’t think we were getting anywhere. At the fourth contraction the Dr said, “The head and shoulders are out, let’s get the rest.” She yelled at me to push. Some crazy strength came over me and I did as I was told. With enormous force. I think a noise even came from me from somewhere. Then I lay back down to get ready for the next contraction.”Look down, your baby’s here!”

And so he was. I couldn’t believe it. He was already shining, light, so happy to have landed here. He was totally embodied. He was love. I loved him. I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to love someone as much as I loved my daughter but here he was and I did.

Delivering the placenta HURT.

Several nurses called me rock star. I wanted to let it get to my head but I knew better.

Here’s what I learned:

The way your birth goes is all about chance, mostly the position of the baby. You can’t control it. You can’t prepare for it. You can’t be doing things right or not right. And especially this: If your birth did not go the way you anticipated, it has nothing to do with you having unresolved something or other that stopped you from truly accessing your whatever. I had much more unresolved something or other with N’s pregnancy but my whatever was evidently engaged. How it goes is how it was going to go, how it was supposed to go and you just brought a new life into the world, and people profiting from preaching ecstatic births or results from hypo whatever or spiritual techniques etc should really take a look at what they’re doing because in my opinion it is fucked up to try to make people think they can control this and are supposed to have a particular experience and failed if they didn’t.And the obvious corollary, if you were lucky enough to have a relatively easy birth, it was just luck and other people who weren’t so lucky are in no way less good at it than you are.

Contrary to what I might have initially feared, hospitals don’t send anesthesiologists to suddenly pounce on you and shove a needle in your spine the second you walk in the door. In fact having the option of an epidural was super helpful for me and saved me from a c-section. I have all respect for all types and places of birth, seriously, but I don’t think the hospital is a terrible option.

People who give birth without medication are not amazing heroes of strength and power and endurance any more than anyone who gives birth in any scenario. It’s all completely unfathomably amazing. But people who have back labor kind of are the toughest.

Basically, just not judging, ourselves and others. There’s no control over any of it and the sooner we get ok with that first and hugely important lesson of parenting, the better this continual ripping apart of ourselves (in order to make room for life and growth and amazingness) that is parenting will go for us.

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