I was rubbing cream into my cracked, scabbed nipples, reflecting on the 57-hour labor of my third child. My husband was complaining how cold his ass cheeks felt on the toilet as he used the bathroom nearby with the door open. “It’s fucking terrible,” he repeated. This got me thinking just what fucking terrible is all about.
I recall during my labor thinking, This is truly not going my way. It wasn’t fucking terrible, but it was not what I outlined in my birth plan. AT. ALL. A narrow audience cares to read about birthing, and even fewer are interested my non-Kardashian life. So for the Venn diagram of seven-ish or so who are still skimming, I thank you.
After two vaginal, unmedicated births, I thought I had this in the bag. How cocky. To think I was bigger than birthing. Oh, no. Birthing is always bigger than us. It looms above and slowly drips around the edges of our final tableau, gradually enveloping us. We are privileged to get a seat. And we must succumb. This last piece of surrender is what I remembered only at hour 56, just as things turned a corner.
It was to be an induction. There were health concerns with Baby’s heart — unsexy problems that could greet us on the other side. Inducing would guarantee the A-team cardiologists between 8 am and 5 pm. Who wants the doc Skyping in after three martinis from the Rothstein bat mitzvah? Not us. We wanted the showered, refreshed, total-recall of her high-priced-education cardiologist.
I wanted to avoid a C-section. I’m very passionate about birthing, and I have two boys under age four who use Mama as a trampoline. Women I love and respect have sections, but I couldn’t see how the recovery would play out. This was when I planned my birth like a paint-by-number — before I learned I’m not that powerful.
I bathed my wild octopuses, then reported to the hospital. They offered me a gown. “No thanks,” I said with confident airs that annoy some women and make others love me. “Gowns make me feel like a patient. I need to feel like a warrior.” I preferred my yoga-pant-uniform and sneakers.
The Cervidil was inserted. Twelve hours later, I was four cm dilated, 75% effaced, and the contractions were highly manageable. I suggested my husband and boys pay a visit. With my sister and teenage niece arriving soon, the party was set to begin.
By the end of my sons’ visit, the room was sufficiently destroyed, maintenance was called twice, and my contractions picked up. Progress from many days of strong cramps! I’ll deliver before sundown…as planned!
The nurses changed shifts at 7 pm. I said goodbye, figuring I’d be kicking back in postpartum before they returned. Oh well, I’m having this baby tonight. Doc will Skype in from the Rothstein bat mitzvah, and I’ll have to live with that. I adjusted my expectations.
It was recommended they break my water. I refused. I’ll agree to Pitocin. They can always stop that. But if they break my water, they can’t patch it back together. And so we were left alone with an IV pole of Pitocin, freshly rubbed feet and energy for 1,000 laps around the nurses station. My spirits remained high, my feet swollen. A few nurses told me I was the strongest woman they’ve ever seen. I believed them.
By 7 am, the day shift clocked back in and my look of determination took a wallop. Baby did not get the memo on my birth plan! I assumed after a whiff of Pitocin, my third baby would fall right out of my vagina, no questions asked. I was wrong.
Around 48 hours, everything gets hazy — when I let them break my water; when they detected meconium; when they cranked Pitocin way the Eff up. Hello! I’ve had two natural births! This was my game to win! I refused an epidural for the 100th time, for fear of stalling progress. It would be worth it for my baby boy (We never found out gender, but were confident this would be my third boy and my husband’s fourth.) Next came talk of an imminent C-section. Panic set in. Foot rubs were vigorous. I rounded with fury.
Like the runners who appear mentally deranged as they win the race of their lifetime, I, too, have distanced myself in the end of my labors. When would I peel away from my crew to dilate my last three centimeters? Instead, I was hyperaware of the pitying glances at me and my IV tree. More people said I was the strongest woman they’ve ever seen. I no longer believed anyone.
I wouldn’t progress past seven cm, and they couldn’t safely crank the Pit any higher. I recalled my second birth — back labor — which stalled at seven cm for six hours in a punishing manner. I assumed feather daggers to my abdomen might be all that Lucky #3 had in store for me. Not so much.
An internal monitor was jammed up there, a ghoulishly torturous adventure. It revealed my uterus was not resting between contractions. Then they advised a second monitor be “placed” to confirm the mystery of my un-resting uterus. Shout-out to the ladies who’ve had their vajay violated with an internal monitor — Is this not horrid? It’s pretty fucking terrible. Maybe not ass-cheeks-on-porcelain-terrible (WINK FUCKING WINK), but you smell what I’m stepping in.
A good friend came to support me that night. During the insertion of monitor #2, I stared into her hazel eyes. WHY ME OH WHY OH WHY? Remember me? The gal with no hospital gown, no further interventions, no breaking water, and I plan to truck my ass around until I’m 10 cm, and I tell you, thankyouverymuch, when I’m ready to push. BwaHaHAAAAA.
Some time later I learned the second monitor was defunct or some cruel shit of the sort. They needed to insert a third. I looked at them as if to say, I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Danish. Maybe the lady in the next room does.
Then came a trusted doctor. “If you want to avoid a C-section, we need to try everything. That starts with an epidural. Your uterus is resting at 30%. It must rest at zero.” I’m paraphrasing, but now I’m sleep deprived in a robust way. I looked down at my tear-soaked hospital gown, which I had somehow begun wearing over my yoga-warrior uniform. Then I cried to my sister about the unfairness of it all. After all, I had a plan.
The cardiologist agreed — the epidural was a good idea, unlike with my first son, who also has a heart condition. Fine. Baby’s health comes first. You want my uterus at rest, let’s put it to rest.
Pop. The epidural. That enemy I always avoided, and would encourage other women to do so if they asked me. And I meant it, by the way.
They suggested I sleep. But I sent my husband to get my boys, who were chomping at the bit for Mama. I figured if I’m chillin’ on an epidural, I might as well cover my IV and read them a few books. Nothing’s gonna happen for a while.
Husband left. I closed my eyes. It was hour 56.
A few minutes later, I turned to my sister. Something wasn’t right. I asked the nurse if I should push? Definitely, not. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but I was using 10-point words like ENGAGEMENT, PRESSURE, NEED TO PUSH. I requested someone check me.
I recall hearing, “She’s fully dilated” before my room was overrun with a dozen NICU players. My doctor was flushed. “You did it! You’re getting your birth! Where’s your husband?” Oh, him? He’s on his way with two small boys who plan to demolish this room until there’s no doubt it was vandalized.
My sister was texting my husband to haul ass back solo. My niece was seeing more than she should for her 14 years. And I was HAVING! THIS! BABY! Somehow, the final leg of my labor progressed in 15 minutes. That goddamn epidural did the trick, and here I was benefiting like mad.
Husband was eight minutes away. I waited.
Our BABY GIRL (!) was born moments after his arrival. I stared at her vagina and requested confirmation several times as if I had not had a working one of my own my entire life. There weren’t many dry eyes in the house. Everyone knew how important my birth plan was, and item by item, I let it all go until the only things left were me, some faith, and that baby. Over the past three days, I had to rake through the cobwebs of my past deliveries and accept the one in front of me. The rest got in my way.
Still, I’m glad I wrote that plan. It served me well for my first two births. But this one made a plan of her own, from a room of her own. I’m so grateful to hold this little lady with lashes that are positively not from her Mama. And just to keep it all in perspective, no matter how bad things got, they were never, ever fucking terrible.