Twelve weeks ago today, I was getting out of the car in the Whole Foods parking lot when I felt a small-but-noteworthy rush of fluid. Noteworthy except that it was my due date and I was determined not to think about the "due-ness" of anything. I had sent Rob off to work with the usual hug/kiss/"I'll-let-you-know-if-anything-exciting-happens" routine, and I had resisted the temptation to watch whatever birth programming Discovery Health was broadcasting early in the morning. I was damned if I was going to let something like my water possibly breaking get in the way of purchasing organically grown apples and bread baked by local hippies.
I decided that the fluid was probably nothing. Just a side-effect of being gargantu-pregnant. Later that afternoon I felt it again but maintained my "probably nothing" stance. But by about 5:00 pm I was starting to feel like a leaky faucet. "Nothing" was turning out to be an undeniable something.
When Rob walked through the door an hour later and asked how my day had been, I said, "Uh, I think I'm leaking amniotic fluid." He made an oh-shit face, and the potential seriousness of the situation hit me hard. I called my midwife. She said I probably was leaking fluid, and that she would come by the house when evening traffic out of Seattle had died down.
Rob and I stared at each other for a minute. How could this possibly be? It seemed so ridiculous and surreal. Neither of us really believed that there was going to be a tiny person at all, never mind soon. Mother and father. We paced around the apartment, and stared at each other some more.
Rob cleared his throat. "I guess I'm not going to work tomorrow."
It's cruel to have to set an alarm when no one has to get up and go to work in the morning, but we had done it anyway. We wanted to be awake and somewhat presentable when the midwife arrived at 6:00 am.
During my pregnancy, I tested positive for Group B Strep. When my water broke, I would need a shot of antibiotics every eight hours until I delivered to keep the baby safe from all kinds of GBS-related medical problems. I got my first shot on the evening of my due date, after the midwife confirmed that I was indeed leaking amniotic fluid while Rob and I did our best not to freak out. After some discussion of how my labor should progress, she had determined that she would return in eight hours for my next shot, unless we called her sooner.
"I'm glad your baby let you sleep," she said when we reported that the night had been uneventful. I wondered how the hell she could sound so chipper when I was feeling groggy, impossibly huge, and very worried. She had explained the night before that if I wasn't in labor by 5:45 pm the next day--today--I would have to go to the hospital.
I was having no contractions. None. Nothing to indicate that the baby was on its way except for a little wetness every time I stood up. I felt incredibly vulnerable and was suddenly afraid of interventions and unfamiliar surroundings and unfamiliar people. I repeated over and over to myself that everything would be fine, hospital or no. But some deep-down, childish part of me truly believed I would die if I ended up in the hospital.
Antibiotic shot over with, I was directed to eat something substantial, and walk. But I was pissed. I had seen two midwives throughout my pregnancy, and I felt less comfortable with the one who was on call that day. I hated having a deadline for getting labor established, nothing was turning out the way I'd imagined, and I was starting to feel very put upon about this whole baby-having thing.
Left to my own devices, I probably would have pissed and moaned and moped around the apartment all day, complaining that nothing was going my way. Rob wouldn't let me be whiny. He took me out to have lunch for breakfast. I suspected my midwife wouldn't approve of veggie burgers and French fries as pre-labor nutrition, but I didn't care.
Afterwards, we commenced with the walking. And walking and more walking. Walking led to strong Braxton-Hicks contractions, which encouraged me to walk some more. It wasn't labor, but least it was something. We walked around Target, and then Walgreens. We discovered that while gingerbread house kits are made from sugar, salt, and chemicals, they claim to be edible--serving size: one-twentieth of a house. I bought a bottle of castor oil and some chocolate soy milk.
Sometime after we got home, I started having contractions. Real ones, with pain and everything. I sat on the couch and watched the clock, waiting for them to become regular. No pattern emerged, mostly because I didn't know when to decide that a contraction was beginning or ending. I made myself a castor oil milkshake and drank down it in three cold, oily chocolate glugs. And then...more walking. Up and down the lane, circling our cul-de-sac, stopping every little while to lean into Rob's shoulder and try to breathe.
Somewhere between 2:00 pm (my next antibiotic shot) and 5:45 pm (my active labor deadline) things started to happen. Time began to shrink and expand. Hours flew by in minutes, and minutes felt like hours. And near-constant walking. Up and down the lane--mind the potholes-- up and down the hallway--squeaky floorboards. The birth pool was inflated in the kitchen and filled with water, and then drained, and then filled again. I wore my bathing suit, then my bathrobe, then my college sweatpants and gardening clogs and my mother's crocheted duster jacket. There was crying and hugging and pacing.
At one point, my labor stalled. No contractions, no discomfort apart from the weight of a giant belly with a baby inside. A boulder refusing to budge. So we bundled up and headed outdoors for another walk around the neighborhood. I found myself pausing to play fetch with a neighbor's dog through a chain-link fence. The dog would bring me one of his muddy tennis balls, I'd squat down to scoop it under the fence and then I'd throw it into his yard and he'd tear off, delighted to find the ball and bring it back to me. Sweet, wonderful dog. For a few minutes, I forgot that I was working on having a baby.
One hilly mile and no contractions later, I felt defeated. I went to lie down for a while, and things were happening again almost instantly. The pain hit me like a building collapsing, and I tried to remember how to breathe through it, or with it, or whatever I was supposed to be doing. I was tired and suddenly very afraid. Although I was determined to be tough about this natural childbirth thing, my heart dove into my stomach. I can't do this.
The pain was excruciating. I had expected pain with contractions and thought I was prepared to cope with it, resting between contractions and working through them. But I had terrible back pain that didn't subside when a contraction ended. My midwife, along with a student midwife whom I had never met before (but loved immediately), had arrived somewhere amidst the in-and-out-of-the-pool tedium. They came into the bedroom as I was cuddling up to Rob and crying that I was afraid, that I couldn't do it. I prayed that the pain meant progress. The midwife suggested an exam. I agreed, convinced that I had to be almost there.
"Well, you're at about four centimeters." Four. I lost it. Four was a million miles away from ten. It was almost midnight, and after having worried for hours that my labor would never start, I was now sure it would never end. The next few contractions were agony, and I didn't even try to cope. My mother asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. I told her to go away. "I can't," I sobbed, my tension making the pain worse. I felt hopeless. "I can't, I can't, I can't…"
When the student midwife gently mentioned that many women choose a mantra like "I can do it" to help them through contractions, I tried not to listen. I was miserable, and didn't want to accept help from anyone, especially someone I'd just met.
But then, everything changed. Suddenly, somehow, I was up and standing in the bathroom, repeating over and over again that I wasn't afraid, that I could do it. Then back into the pool. I told Rob I wanted him with me, and then yelled at him to put his suit on when he tried to get in wearing clothes. I fell asleep between contractions. The back pain never let up. The midwife determined that I was between eight and nine centimeters, but I was too tired to care.
Pushing came before I was ready. "Don't push. Pant." But pushing was the only thing that made the pressure somewhat more tolerable. I wasn't feeling contractions anymore. I got on my hands and knees and pushed, putting my face in the pool, thinking about God, the water, the baby's ears and how they must be smushed up against its head, mother lions… The midwife urged me to get out of the pool, but I couldn't have moved if I'd wanted to. I had the briefest realization that these were my last moments of being pregnant.
The Doppler was on and the baby's heartbeat had suddenly dropped to a slow thump. "Your baby needs to come out now!" I was sure that I would tear right up to my navel, but her tone of voice scared me. Fine, I thought. I'll split in half. It was better than trying to get out of the water, so I pushed. And pushed.
And then a flurry of excitement. I sat back. A limp baby was untangled from its cord and placed on my chest. A slippery blue swimmer with long limbs. A floppy, strange fish. No crying at first. Then, a little squawk. The room sighed.
"Hi, baby." I moved the long legs aside. I have a boy. "Hi, Westley!" I looked at Rob. "Westley…Oliver, right?"
Westley Oliver. December 1, 2007. 4:58 am. Seven pounds, fourteen ounces. Twenty inches. Born at home, in the kitchen.
Then, a different kind of chaos. Rob left my side for the first time in three days. The baby went with him, and I was helped out of the pool and into the shower. I rubbed my deflated belly, not really believing any of this could be real--that somewhere in our little apartment, my husband was holding our son.
I fainted getting out of the shower, and spent the next little while lying on the bathroom floor. Blood everywhere. I lay on the tile and ate a piece of toast with jam very slowly, and told the student midwife the story of how Rob and I met. I was examined (everything sore, but incredibly, not really torn) and Westley was examined (long and slender, perfectly healthy). Then trying to breastfeed, trying to pee, "Here's an ice pack for your bottom and call us immediately if..."
Finally, finally, a new family got tucked in to bed. The sun was coming up, and snow was falling outside, and Westley was wrapped up like a burrito and fast asleep. Rob and I stared at each other, and I cried.
Mother and father and son. It was not at all what I had imagined, but it was exactly as it should be. Three strange, difficult days--over.