Perhaps due to the variation in experiences, you can’t actually call any childbirth experience “normal”, but it would have been nice to have a “normal” childbirth experience. Instead, my second birth was a cross between a comedia del arte sketch and a Quentin Tarantino movie.
To fully appreciate the absurdity of the whole thing, I have to take you back a few months...
Sitting in the kitchen/dining room of our apartment I look at the drawer that holds my son’s food paraphernalia and realize that the drawer that used to hold bottles, pacifiers, pump parts and formula and the like now holds snack bars and silicon bucket bibs and suction cup plates and will never fit the former again. Panic sets in as I think about all the stuff we have to get out of storage once the critter squirming around in my belly decides to make an appearance, and how we’ll have nowhere to contain it.
I imagine the ranks of bottles sitting on the counter just waiting for one to be tapped slightly before the rest domino their way to the floor and my husband’s resulting sleep-deprived tirade. I try to figure out how to expand the outlet capability on my side of the bed to plug in my pump, and which stack of infant or toddler related books it will more securely balance on.
So I talk to my husband and we go find a house to rent. We schedule our move for exactly one week before my due date. Now this is a risky endeavor because my first son came 7 weeks early, and I fully anticipate the second will make his appearance right after my last round of weekly progesterone shots my husband has been sticking in my upper bum since halfway through this pregnancy1. If all goes well, he will hang in there long enough to not need a stay in the NICU, and I will just have to suffer through two pumpless weeks of chaos.
He sticks around longer. And longer. It would have been great, except for the fact that I had lower back pain so bad it necessitated physical therapy just to be able to walk and get up and down from chairs. Lifting is difficult. Packing is even harder. Every day at work I pray that those abdominal pains I am feeling are just gas, and I should just hang in there one more day to save up one more day of leave.
Moving day comes and with the help of some family and friends we actually managed to pull it off okay. Our son sleeps just fine in his new room, easing our fears that the transition will go poorly for him. I have saved up enough leave to make it through the holidays and finally stop going to work, which leaves me free to start unpacking. With the back pain, large belly, and feelings of being overwhelmed, it goes something like: unpack for 10 minutes; sit and stare vacantly at the wall for 20 minutes; think about getting back up for 10 minutes; repeat.
My induction is scheduled for the day before my due date. Now given how much time I’ve spend reading pregnancy community forums, I’m well aware that it’s better to go into labor on your own than be induced. So four days earlier when I’m still only 2cm dilated, my doctor suggests sweeping my membranes to try to move things along, I wholeheartedly agree2!
And it works. The next morning I feel like my insides are churning. After sending my husband to drop our son off at daycare on his way to work, assuring him that it could still be all day before anything happens, I sit on the couch and think about unpacking while timing contractions. I didn't feel the contractions with my first child, so this is my first experience with it. Aside from the churning and cramping inside me, I don't think it is that bad. Ten minutes apart turns to eight minutes apart and then six minutes apart3. I call the doctor who says yep, go on in, and I call my husband as I shuffle my way to my car. It astounds people that I drove myself to the hospital while in labor. I told them I put a towel underneath me just in case, like that was actually the concern.
The check-in process at the hospital takes way too long, especially when you’re dealing with a trainee and the man behind you keeps interrupting the process while ignoring the fact that you’re panting and groaning and standing there having contractions and can’t really lean against the counter because an overblown uterus has prevented you from doing things like reaching the faucet for weeks now. I finally get to my triage room and they strap on the contraction monitor and the fetal heartrate monitor and sure enough, I’m having some contractions, although they appear to be slowing. And my blood pressure is elevated. And my husband arrives. And then the contractions stop4.
I tell my husband I’m going to be sick and he tries to pull a trashcan over to catch it before calling the nurse who gives me a little vomit bag instead. So I vomit, knowing that vomiting is common in the transitional phase of labor. My blood pressure is finally low enough that I can roll onto my other side, but now they’re thinking about sending me home since my contractions have slowed considerably, even though I vomited and I’m convinced I’m progressing. I also know that incontinence is common in labor and frankly I’ve been having a hard time holding it in anyway, so I stop trying thinking: that’ll show them I’m really in labor!
At this point, due to his superhuman ability to discern the different smells of poop (something I'm sure he learned through our toddler5), my husband realizes that I’ve got the stomach virus that had stricken our son just a few days earlier. It helps that at this point our daycare calls to tell us our son has a fever of 102 and needs to be taken home6. In my defense, I was ill, and logic wasn’t really working in my favor that day. My husband explains to the daycare administrator that I’m in labor, and we can’t leave the hospital to come get our son and maybe they should try one of our emergency contacts. They call our emergency contact friend who has been ready for something like this to happen for about 7 weeks now, and is probably relieved that he can stop planning for it.
My blood pressure is still elevated and now I’m dehydrated but hey, things are looking up; I can have ice chips7! The contractions start up again. I guess your uterus just figures it needs a time-out for you to void your stomach and bowels before continuing on with labor. Time for the IV; the first sign that things aren’t going to be the beautiful birth experience of bouncing on a yoga ball and taking hot showers that every mother-to-be dreams about. Whatever, I’m pretty miserable and I know that I definitely want the epidural now. My doctor agrees that’s probably a good plan, so here comes a nurse to take some blood and get the IV going.
Did I mention I was dehydrated? I should also mention that on good days when I've had a gallon of water before having blood taken, I’m a phlebotomist's nightmare. I don’t watch because I find it easier to ignore the pain, but my husband is alarmed at the size of the welt that quickly swells up on the first needle stick site. Site number two doesn't swell up quite as bad, but damn it hurts. Site number three is inconvenient, in the crook of my arm, but at least it sticks8.
Off to the labor room! The contractions are pretty close and painful now, and unfortunately I’m still only 2cm. Time to break my water to help things along. You know what happens when they break your water? You vomit. A lot. I thought the triage episode was bad, this is worse. I go through two of those little plastic bag things.
And now the contractions are really painful. I try to sit on the edge of the bed and rock my hips back and forth while I breathe, like I imagine in my painless, angels delivering my perfect little cherub boy down to me labor. In the next what feels like 3 hours but is probably 10 minutes, I ask at least three times about the epidural doctor.
When your contractions are about a minute long with maybe a 30 second break in between, you learn to appreciate the technique of an anesthesiologist who can deliver the local during one break and thread in the spinal catheter in the next. An epidural takes about 15 minutes to kick in. Mine never has a chance. The last 3 or so contractions are no longer painful. In those 3, I push out my son.
The cover of the ceiling light is slightly reflective, so unfortunately I can see a blurry vision of what’s going on. At least I can’t see my face though, so I can sort of disassociate myself with it and convince myself that it’s someone else’s body being stretched past the brink of tearing down there. I disappoint myself for looking away on the last push, but I do see him crown briefly. You know what’s weird? Seeing a baby lying on your chest while a grayish, bulbous cord stretches down to your nether regions. But the latest research says it’s good to leave the umbilical cord attached for a while post-birth, to get more of that extra special cord blood pumped into the baby9.
The epidural is turned off and I’m vaguely aware of squeezing some slimy stuff out and then some more pain as my minor tear is stitched up, since the epidural never actually kicked in much. The doctor tells me it will take longer for a local anesthetic to do it's job than it will for him to finish stitching me up, and really hasn't the last ten minutes he spent in here been enough? Yes, I will always opt for pain over inconvenience too10.
The nice thing about no anesthesia is that is that I can get up to walk to the bathroom shortly after delivery since they also didn’t have time to do a catheter and I never lost feeling in my legs. And I have to use the bathroom unaided twice before they’ll take out the IV, so I am all for getting that over with as soon as possible. A newly unpregnant woman using the bathroom leaves behind enough gore to rival a death scene in a Martin McDonough play. I wonder if the nurse finds it amusing that I try to clean up after myself, or if she’s used to the irrational embarrassment that naturally kicks in for new mothers?
You’d think this is about the time where the story ends, but remember that stomach flu that got my son sent home from daycare? It strikes again. Somewhere in the middle of the night my husband who has been fighting a months-long chest sickness of some sort gets up for a repeat performance of my triage voiding. Thankfully, he has packed an extra pair of underwear in our overnight bag. Unfortunately, it happens again in the morning. Thankfully the trashcan is close to the toilet this time around. When the nurses find out what is going on, they tell him he can go to the ER or drive home, but he is not allowed in the same room as our newborn anymore. He stands up and makes it to the admission desk before passing out. Then they think twice about it and shove him in a wheelchair to push/force him down to the ER. That’s pretty much the only way to get my husband to see a doctor; wait until he’s too weak to come up with a counter argument when you order him to go, then just take him in a wheelchair.
I won’t go into the details on my husband’s ER stay and admittance since it’s not my story to tell, but let’s just say I learned that there is something like a wheelchair toilet seat and that it’s not very big, and that if your hands are shaking so bad you can’t pull the ID out of your wallet, you should probably warn the ER folk sooner than later to bring you said chair and probably a vomit bag while they're at it. Lesson learned. I’m sure they’ve cleaned up worse.
It is unfortunate that my husband has to spend our son’s second night outside the womb in a hospital room alone. It is also unfortunate that we did not install the infant carseat a few days prior.
My parents are also in the process of moving, but my mother has managed to make it to see all 6 of her grandsons within 24 hours of their births. She makes this one, grandson number 7, with about 5 minutes to spare before she and my father promptly drove back to our house (getting lost along the way) to drop off some stuff and pick up the carseat so we can take our son home.
My mother has this odd fascination with hospital food. She excitedly looks through my room service menu and asks me what I am going to get and if she can order it for me. I supposed she's trying to be helpful? I haven't decided and I'm not hungry yet anyway, so I send them off to find their own dinner before coming back to snuggle with grandson number 7 for a while and stopping by Sean’s room to give him his cell phone charger.
My mother plans on staying at our place for a few days, but my father has to leave around 2am to get back to their new house for a utility installation or something. He will return to retrieve my mother a few days later. Thankfully, the hospital wants to keep us one more night for observation, otherwise my mother would have had to drive our car back to our house for us. My mother hates driving in DC. My mother thinks DC encompasses about a 100-mile radius around the city, including our home in Alexandria.
The next day my husband is released from the hospital with permission to drive and a few hours later we pack everything into the car (including my fancy new hospital provided sitz bath) and head home. My mother is there with our other son, who apparently has been hit with a second bout of the stomach flu. Why is it that when we don’t have a container to vomit into, our natural instinct is to try and catch it in our hands11?
Our house is a maze of unpacked boxes and snot. It’s impossible to find anything quickly, even though I thoroughly labeled all the boxes I packed with their contents. I was too vague. In my head, I have an elaborate plan for the next time I move that includes numbered boxes indexed to an excel spreadsheet of every object that gets packed. I strive with each move to get more and more organized and one day I will build a kind of portable conveyor belt scanning and sorting contraption that packs all my boxes for me and knows exactly how much space there is in each box and how to perfectly fill every centimeter of that space. I will sell it and make millions12.
There is a flurry of visitors, all of whom want to help us unpack and organize. I love that people want to help, but their idea of an organized kitchen or closet is so alien to me, I just end up sitting there wishing I could spend more time on my feet to reorganize what they’ve already done. My mother does not cook often unless it involves a casserole dish or crockpot. Anyone who cooks from scratch often or even minimally would know better than to toss all our spices standing up into a pull-out drawer so the only way to find what you want is to lift each bottle and look at it.
On the plus side, one of my sisters comes to visit with my father, who has delivered an extendable maple dining room table and six matching chairs I won in an online auction for $40. Then helps my husband put together a kitchen cabinet I ordered online. There has been much online shopping lately in an effort to get organized. I am still in nesting mode, even after the birth.
My father takes my sister and mother back to Philadelphia with him, and my husband’s parents take their place. There is one final task to complete our ordeal. Since we drove separately to the hospital, one of our cars is still in the parking garage there. It’s about a 20-minute drive to the hospital. My husband and his father plan to run an errand and then go to the hospital to pick up the car. They come home without the car. Turns out my husband forgot to grab the key before he left. So he grabs the key and they head out again. And again, they come home without the car. Turns out he grabbed the wrong key. Except when he pulls it out of his pocket to show us what he has done, he realizes he had the correct key after all, just in a different pocket. At this point my husband collapses on the couch and nearly cries.
I’d like to tell you that the gas tank is empty or I had left the lights on and the battery is dead just to increase the ridiculousness, but no. The third attempt to retrieve the car is a success. There ends the saga of my second child’s birth.
If I hadn’t decided months ago given my age and stress of this pregnancy that two was my limit, would I go through all the madness again? After watching the tiny human sighing with each breath out as he naps next to me I can say without a doubt; yes.