When I was pregnant with Hamish I read the books Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, both by Ina May Gaskin. They painted such a beautiful picture of natural home birth that I became more and more convinced that I wanted to give it a try. I decided to have a natural birth with my current pregnancy and if it was a good experience I'd try for a home birth the next time. Well, that didn't happen. I wussed out and got an epidural when Hamish was born. But it worked out in the end, so I don't regret it.
Pregnancy number four made it's appearance right as we were preparing to move. Between moving
to a different state, buying a house, selling our rental property in Utah, and you know, life, I didn't give much thought to how I wanted to give birth. Around Thanksgiving (month 7 of the pregnancy) I started thinking about it again. I reread my pregnancy books and was converted all over again to the idea of a home birth. I asked around and found out there was ONE midwife in our area that did home births. I emailed her and she said she was available. It took some time, but eventually Whig got on board with the idea, so I set up the initial consult and got the money together to pay for it (our insurance wouldn't cover the midwife). Two days before the consult the midwife told me she wouldn't be available to attend the birth after all. I was devastated.
Gradually I resigned myself to a hospital birth, though this time I was determined to go natural. I had many different strategies thought up to deal with the pain. When the contractions were still not too painful I'd have Whig read to me, or play music or an audiobook on my Ipod. I would walk the halls of the hospital, take a long hot shower, sit on a birthing ball, try getting in different positions, but most definitely NOT lay down in the bed, because I HATE feeling trapped there. I need to move around to effectively deal with the pain. I practiced relaxation techniques and rehearsed calming and empowering mantras. I reminded myself that Hamish's birth was nothing like I pictured, and this one probably wouldn't be either, but I still held that picture in my mind as a guide.
About this same time I started the ball rolling to have Gigi tested for sleep apnea. It was a much more involved task than I anticipated. First I took her to her pediatrician and talked about our suspicions. The doctor then referred Gigi to a sleep lab where she would stay overnight for testing. Then I experienced the joy of nearly 3 months of phone tag, miscommunication, and incompetence as I tried to sort out tangles between the doctor's office, the sleep lab, and the insurance company. Our initial appointment eventually had to be rescheduled, and the new date was two weeks before the baby was due. I doubted it would be a problem, and set the date.
Time grew closer. Those fun third trimester aches and pains started. I got bigger and bigger until at 30 weeks I looked and felt like I was full term. I did all those things you do before your due date. I made arrangements for the kids in case I went into labor at night (which I had always done before). I bought frozen meals and easy-to-prepare foods. I bugged Whig about getting the baby clothes out of storage so I could wash them.
Friday, February 6th rolled around. It was the day of Gigi's sleep study. I began to be nervous that I'd go into labor while she and Whig were at the hospital. They were due at the sleep lab at 9 pm Friday night, they'd sleep there, and be done at 6 am. From our house the sleep study hospital was 15 minutes west and the delivery hospital was 30 minutes east. Also, I wouldn't have a car. So, yes. It was on my mind a bit. I posted my worries on facebook that morning, hoping that I would be sort of anti-jinxing myself. It didn't work.
I laid down with Hamish for a nap around noon a woke up to a text from Whig asking if I wanted to attend a going away dinner at 5. I declined and tried to go back to sleep. I noticed an unusual pain shooting down the outside of my legs. I googled it and found out that during the third trimester the baby's weight can compress nerves in your legs, causing cramps. Yet another pregnancy pain to add to my growing list.
I laid back down for a bit, then got up and did some laundry. I noticed the pain had moved up my legs to include my backside. I grumbled to myself but didn't think much of it. I didn't suspect labor pains because I had never experienced anything like it with my previous pregnancies. Maybe an hour later I realized the pain was now in my lower back. This is weird, I thought. I began to pay more attention. Around 3:30 I was sure I was having contractions, but whether or not they were the real thing was still unclear. They were very irregular and still mostly in my back, though they seemed to be moving around to the front too. I sent Whig a text that said as much, he responded that he was already on his way home.
Whig got home a few minutes later and we decided to see if we could find someone to take Gigi to her sleep study, just in case. At 4:00 I texted a friend and explained the situation to her. She agreed to take Gigi and stay with her overnight at the sleep lab if needed. If we ended up going to the hospital we'd drop her off on the way. I talked to another friend who agreed to take the boys overnight. She said she was just leaving the house, so why didn't she come by and pick them up now? She even volunteered to take Gigi to the first friend's house while she was at it. Everything was falling into place perfectly, which was fortuitous, because that's when I started falling apart.
Immediately after arranging childcare I jumped into the shower. The hot water helped me relax into the increasingly painful contractions. They were getting stronger and closer together. When I got out of the shower I told Whig we needed to go to the hospital immediately. I threw on an undershirt and bra, and a pair of Whig's sleeping pants to tide me over until my jeans were done in the dryer. I walked over to the sink to brush my teeth when my water broke. I said, "Oh!" and jumped into to the tub. Hamish came in and said, "Wa'r?" I told him I didn't need the water turned on, thank you. "Bubble?" No, no bubbles either. He saw me have another contraction and said, "S'rry Mama. Mama, s'rry." and patted my leg. I got back into the shower and rinsed my legs off. I went into my room and tried to get dressed, but couldn't seem to manage between contractions. Whig came in from getting the kids ready to go and asked if we were going to make it to the hospital. I told him I didn't think so. He called 911.
From my bedroom I heard my friend arrive and start gathering up the kids. I tried to move around, walk through the pain, but it was getting to the point where I couldn't do anything. I could barely move it hurt so bad. The fire department arrived. I frantically threw a pajama shirt on before they walked in. One asked me to lay on the bed so he could see if the baby was crowning. Whig put a towel down and I laid on it. No crowning yet. I had the overwhelming urge to push. The EMTs showed up. (My friend told me later she was pulling out with the kids just as they pulled in.) They came in and checked me. The baby was crowning.
I was having my baby right there.
With four strange men in my bedroom.
I didn't care one bit.
When I imagined this birth, I thought I would have hours to prepare for the really bad pain. My previous pregnancies always started with a long build up of contractions that slowly, gradually became more painful. I was counting on that slow increase to help me get into the right mindset for the really painful contractions down the line. Instead, my contractions seemed to go from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. Well, not 4.5 seconds, but in less than an hour. Which is a very short amount of time when you're in labor. In other words, I was not prepared for the pain.
When the firefighter first asked me to lay back so he could check me, I did not intend to stay there. I was fully prepared to get right back up and walk, or get on hands and knees, or squat, or get in ANY position other than on my back. Only I couldn't. I physically could not move from that spot. Even rolling over on my side caused such unbearable pain that I had to give up trying. I was stuck there, on my bed, in the one position I hated most. My mind kept screaming, "Get up! Get up! At least sit up some so you're not flat on your back. This is the worst position possible! Move, darn it! Tell that guy right there to help you up!" but I couldn't even speak the words. My mouth was too busy yelling, "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! IT HURTS! MAKE IT STOP! OW OW OW OW OW OW OW" for me to relay any instructions to the men around me. Yes, as lovely and peaceful as I imagined my natural birth to be, it was not so. Not even a little bit. I yelled. I screamed. I sobbed. I felt like I was in a cyclone, thrown to and fro by gale-force winds of pain. I had no control over anything.
I pushed. I was amazed at how physical the urge was to push. I had to push. I needed to push. I didn't have much control over that either.
The senior EMT began relaying instructions to the others in the room. (This was the fifth birth he had assisted during his career.) Someone grabbed the labor and delivery bag from the ambulance. They spread some kind of covering down on the floor and bed. They got out equipment, and did other things too, but I don't recall exactly what. It's all kind of a blur. The junior EMT held my left hand, Whig held my right. The fire fighters stood against the wall, waiting for instructions from the senior EMT. (I found out later that this was the first shift the two EMTs had ever worked together. At the start of the shift the junior EMT told his new partner that he would do anything but deliver babies. He didn't have kids, wasn't married, and didn't plan on being so for a while. He wanted his first experience with a birth to be with his future wife and child. During the delivery he stayed right by my head the entire time, so he wouldn't see anything.)
I pushed, but it was slow going. I wasn't making much progress. The senior EMT tried to give me encouragement along the way. I would yell, "I CAN'T DO IT!" and he would say, "You can do it." or "You have to do this." or my personal favorite, "There's no turning back now." It actually was rather helpful, because I realized there was no use fighting it. I might as well get it over with.
Whig was much better. He prayed for me, he cheered me on, he let me know he was there for me. At one point I declared, "I don't want to do this anymore!" to which he replied, "I didn't want you to do it in the first place!" in the exact right tone of voice to make me laugh. It was tremendously helpful, to laugh. He held my hand and kissed my forehead. I could tell he was scared spitless, but he was trying his darnedest not to show it. He made me want to be brave because he was being brave.
I was afraid to push too hard, afraid I would tear. I could feel myself growing tired. But I needed finish this. I needed to have this baby. I gathered up my courage and pushed again, as hard as I could. And again. So close. And again. I felt his head pop out. If you've never felt a baby's head pop out of you, let me tell you, it's a singular experience. I pushed one more time and his body slid out. Baby Angus was born. It was 5:33 pm.
The junior EMT gave me an IV. (After missing two different veins in my arm and giving me bruises I finally told him to put the line in the back of my hand. I don't blame him, I've always had jumpy veins in my arms.) The EMT who delivered the baby clamped and cut the umbilical cord. Then he wiped baby Angus down and wrapped him in a foil emergency blanket thing and a regular blanket to keep him warm. He told his partner that Angus had an Apgar score of 10. The firefighters packed up equipment and threw away trash. At one point during the clean up the senior EMT said, "My name's John, by the way. Nice to meet you." We shook hands.
The junior EMT helped me wrap up in a blanket and they walked me out to the stretcher. John took Angus to the ambulance where it was warm. Whig followed.
The ambulance sped toward the hospital, sirens blaring. Whig sat in the front with the driver, John was in back with me, periodically checking to make sure the baby was still healthy. I remember holding Angus and looking out the back window of the ambulance. We were headed east, and behind us was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The sky was bathed in a brilliant orange and pink glow. It felt like the very heavens were reflecting the joy I felt. It was perfect.
To be continued...hopefully.