Sunday, March 1, 2009

leon's birthing day

for leon, who has the hiccups but is still hoping for more food...

i think it started saturday night when i received an email from my adviser wondering whether i could turn in my dissertation outline and a second chapter by sunday. having not communicated with him about my writing for nearly a month, i had assumed he was going to let me float by for old time's sake. i immediately started panicking--i stayed up until 1am finishing the outline, and then went to bed. needless to say, the belly wasn't feeling well. i assumed it was nerves.

the next morning i awoke at 8am, went to the bathroom and found a bit of bloody show. i reread my adviser's email, which stated he needed to see two chapters in order to write my finishing grant letter of recommendation, and that i should just 'try.'

i immediately sat on my yoga ball and began tapping away furiously at the laptop. my sporadic braxton hicks contractions started to feel suspiciously consistent, but i decided against timing them. matthew woke up soon after and left for a shift at the coffeeshop. he would be gone until 3, and then a haircut appointment at 4.30. i asked him to leave the car because i was becoming nervous.

at 10am i emailed my doula to tell her about the mucous plug and the contractions, which were definitely developing a pattern. on a scale of 1 to 10 for menstrual cramps, they went from a 1 (that nagging, bland ache) to a 2 or 3 (general annoyance).

my phone rings at 11 am. it's my adviser. this man rarely gets up before noon, so now i know i'm in trouble. he asks how i'm doing. 'fine,' i say, somewhat evasively. 'what does that mean?' he asks. 'mmmm, well....i'm having contractions, it's the early stage of labor.' 'oh,' he replies, 'but did you get my email?' 'yes, i'll get you something by 3 or 4 this afternoon, i'm really really sorry.' 'i need to see two chapters, you know, in order to write this letter. the chapter you sent is long, it could easily be split into two chapters, maybe, but you should just try to get me a second chapter today.' 'ok, don't worry, i'll send you a second chapter. did you read my outline?' 'uh, no, i haven't checked my email yet...' 'oh, ok, because it's like 12 pages long. i'll send you the chapter on planning today.' 'good. all right, talk to you later.' 'bye.'

it's now 12pm, and i've begun keeping track of the contractions. they're 1 minute long and 10 minutes apart. in terms of the level of pain, they're now hovering around 4. not enough to take your breath away, but definitely enough that you want to curl up in a ball and watch 'pride and prejudice' with a mug of hot cocoa.

my mom is clattering about in the kitchen, and i stagger out for a piece of toast. as usual, she's cooking something delicious smelling. i tell her in my calmest voice that i had bloody show this morning and now light contractions, but not to get excited because this could take a day or two. she's excited, i'm stressed. i go back to my yoga ball and finish up a section of the new chapter.

at 2pm i call my doula. she had been having computer problems, so i wanted to check in with her. per my suspicions, she hadn't read the email yet. in fact, her new laptop was in the repair shop. i tell her about everything, and she says that it sounds great and that it's progressing normally. the main thing that interests her is the bloody show. i confirm that there's been more of that. this makes her happy.

during this time i do a little blogging during my mini-breaks, call matthew 2 or 3 times to be snippy about this or that thing that he needs to do around the house. he arrives at 3.30pm and doesn't seem too concerned about my state. a contraction hits and it seems much much worse this time. i suspect it's because i'm so exhausted from doing this alone; seeing matthew makes me emotional. the added emotion accelerates the pain. at 3.50pm i turn to him and say i can't work on this chapter any longer. as soon as it's sent, i begin focusing on the contractions with all my energy.

all of the laboring positions and rituals that we had practiced are thrown out the window. sitting on the yoga ball, walking, or resting on my hands and knees only makes things unbearable. i labor on my side in bed for an hour, and then we call erin, our doula. she suggests that i sit in a warm bath. no relief. instead, it intensifies.

i get back in bed, and i'm freezing. my mom places hot water bottles on my back and between my legs. they leave red blotches on my skin. my feet are like ice blocks, and all i can do is focus on the contractions, which are now 4-5 minutes apart. at this point i've hit 10 on my pain scale. matthew is trying to rub my back, but i'd rather just know that he's here. after all, that's why i hired a massage therapist doula to take care of that aspect of my labor.

the bath clearly has intensified the contractions. my mom has been feeding me throughout the day, huge bowls of soup, rice, fruit, tea, and other filling things. she tries to feed me congee (jjuk), but i can only take a tiny bite in between contractions. a little after 6pm it's like a light has been switched on. during a contraction matthew tries to comfort me, but all i can say is 'i want erin, i want erin...' he calls erin and she listens to me go through a contraction. she decides to come to our house and suggests that we call the hospital, which we haven't done yet.

matthew calls the hospital and passes the phone to me. a midwife i've never met listens to me as i pause for a contraction. she then tells us to head for the hospital. erin arrives 20 minutes later to find me still on my side, breathing and growling through each contraction. she tells me to bring my voice down and keep it soft. this helps immensely with the panic and registering of pain. she helps me use the toilet, where i feel a vague need to push. walking intensifies the contractions, making them stronger and closer together. it takes 30 minutes to make it to the car downstairs. every few steps i crouch down to breathe through a contraction. it's raining outside, and cold. i hoist myself into our car, recline the seat, and labor on my side during the 6 minute car ride. matthew is ever calm, ever reliable, but i feel alone now.

by the time we arrive at the hospital and matthew parks, i can barely keep my eyes open. erin runs to get a wheelchair, and matthew and i start walking toward the front door. the ride up the elevator and to the birthing center is ridiculously long and painful, every bump makes me want to die.

it's nearly 7.30pm when i'm placed on the triage bed. thankfully one of the midwives that we know is working tonight. they put on a heart monitor belt and check my cervix. even turning from my side to my back is a production at this point. i tell them that the amniotic sac still hasn't ruptured. they tell me it's fine and then leila announces that i'm fully dilated. up til this point i hadn't even thought about my cervix, dilation, or the progression of labor, so it was a shock to hear this. i also felt incredibly empowered, knowing that i had labored this baby all day, half of it by myself, and that he would be out sooner rather than later.

they wheel me to the labor and delivery room, and i tell them i think i want to push. they tell me to push if i really need to. i have no idea what i'm supposed to do. they suggest i try different positions. i slowly sit up and turn to face the raised head of the bed. kneeling while holding the top railing, i bear down with the contraction and push twice. after every contraction matthew gives me a sip of water. he's forgotten my vitamin water, but that isn't surprising since we'd only begun packing our bags two days earlier.

the kneeling position isn't my favorite, so i switch to my side. leila and mischa (the nurse) help raise my knees so i can hook my hands under them and pull my legs towards my chest during the push. i look at my surroundings during a pause and am completely disoriented even though we had done a hospital tour last month. i am convinced that the open door with light streaming from it is a door to the hallway and that everyone can hear me. instead of telling someone to close the door for privacy, it becomes a badge of honor for me. i'm so focused and deep in labor that i have no sense of shame. only one thing matters at this point.

after laboring on my side for a while (i lost track of time), they suggested i switch to my back. i was so exhausted from every push because i wasn't conserving my energy or holding back. i hook my hands behind my knees and matthew pushes the pillow to prop me up during the pushes. at this point i can feel something stuck down there, but then it keeps slipping back during my rests. my mom, matthew, erin, leila and mischa are all saying things, but i can only hear bits and pieces. they says things like, 'that was a really good push,' 'do that again,' 'oh you're doing so well...' i have no idea what i'm doing, but at this point my body has really taken over. i used to think it was silly that some people called contractions 'surges,' but that's what they are for me. leila tells me to use the contraction, wait for it to build up before pushing. so i let the waves of terrible godawful pain to push up against me until i can't stand it any longer. then i hold my breath and push deep.

leila tells me that every push is great, and that i need to push him under and around my pelvic bone. i have no idea what this means. repeatedly during the night i ask them how far down he is. they're evasive, telling me only that i'm doing a really good job of laboring him down. i ask them repeatedly to just pull him out if he's so close. erin tells me later that i said matthew should have the next one. i also remember saying at least once that i'm never doing this again, that this is the first and last child for me. my mom replies that i'll forget about the pain, to which i snap, 'no i won't, i'll never forget this.'

i don't what time it is, but leila tells me that since the amniotic sac is still intact, a pediatrician will be there for the birth to make sure the baby is ok. if he doesn't cry immediately, they'll have to take care of him. i tell her not to break the sac because i'm afraid it will intensify the pain. she says that it's in the birth canal at this point and won't do anything to increase the pain. a minute later there's a warm gush of fluid and a slight release in pressure. erin tells me that my pushes are more effective when i don't breathe out. so i bite my upper lip with each push, hoping to keep my breath inside to better harness the energy and strength provided by the pain of each contraction.

leila tells me again to push him under and around the pelvic bone, and i visualize a swooping chute. after a contraction, the next push feels different. it feels productive, as if i'm finally moving something along. leila tells me excitedly to stick with that push, do it again. pushing makes sense to me all of a sudden. i don't know what time it is, but they're getting all sorts of things prepared for his arrival. the pediatrician arrives with an entourage of three other people. they stand next to the warming unit, their arms crossed, chattering about c-sections and other distracting things.

our birth plan consists of two things: 1) do not offer pain medication/interventions, and 2) a quiet environment. erin comes close to my face and begins whispering instructions and encouragement. i tune out the obnoxious pediatrician. even matthew and my mom fade into the hazy background. i focus on her voice and on the pushing. i can smell matthew but i don't know where he is any more. everyone is disembodied. i want this baby out, i'm so sick of having him wedged somewhere up there. leila asks if i want to touch his head and i shake my head no. i'd rather not suffer the disappointment when his head slips back in after the contraction.

there's a flurry of excitement, i can hear it especially in matthew's voice, at a certain point in the evening. they tell me to do another push, so i begin working through 3 or 4 at a time instead of 2. the final push, however, is never quite as good, and they decide to give me oxygen in between contractions. i'm so exhausted at this point from pushing and writing a chapter and everything else that has been going on for the past semester. the pain is beyond reckoning at this point, but i know it's going to end soon.

leila tells me to follow her instructions during the next contraction. i push once, and there's a feeling of simultaneous relief and discomfort. the head is out. another push and the shoulders. one more and the legs. slippery, warm, and wet, a loud squall, and he's on my stomach. he's crying and has a fierce look in his eyes.

i ask what time it is.

it's 9.40pm, feb 22, 2009.


tureckajana said...

Congratulations! You´ve chosen a very beautiful name! He´s beautiful... It´s great to have a baby, you´ll see :-). I wish all the best to you, health at the first place (as I had many problems after I gave birth...).

tureckajana said...

Wow, I´ve finished reading now and I can see what I "missed" having cesarean section (I didn´t want it, it had to be because of my problems). It was painful and exhausting for you, but you´re clearly excited and proud of yourself that you made it and that´s how it should be :-).

Lucys Place said...

I'm feeling super fragile this morning after being awake since 1.30am (it's now 10.30am) so it's no surprise your post make me teary. You did so incredibly well, especially seeing as it sounded as if your pushing stage was reasonably long. I found going drug-free very difficult, but once it was over it was such a great feeling (and I will remember that for next time, if there is a next time!).

I hope you are really proud of yourself; you should be.

Viv said...

Such a well-written account, Erica! Do keep us updated on the recovery and how the first week has been.

And hello baby Leon!

profpam said...

Loved reading this, Erica! I am so very happy that you are a mommy now, and Leon is so beautiful.

I have to say that I get PTSD reading about your advisor. My major professor is just like that. "So what if you're in labor -- I want another four chapters!!!"

Stephanie said...


Just amazing.

(I can't believe you told your advisor you were in labor and he STILL wanted the chapter ... insane.)

jenny gordy said...

wow, what a story. i'm so glad you documented this! it's really interesting to read what it's really like to give birth. and in the future i'm sure you'll be glad you can remember it through this writing.

you are so brave! i can't believe you had to do so much of this alone. and in the middle of writing your paper! i'm so glad you're through that part of it and can focus on your precious little boy now.

Katie said...

Thank you for that. Wow. What a wonderful description of your experience. I'm doubly impressed that you wrote a whole chapter and gave birth to a baby in just one day.

melissa said...

Hello Leon ... you're absolutely perfect!

melissa said...

wow, congratulations and thanks so much for posting this. i am due in less than 3 months and just now trying to understand what labor and delivery will be like. this is so helpful.

Lena said...

wow, i loved reading this. you're a great writer!

sarahkeith said...

What a fantastic post! Thank you so much for sharing. This totally made me cry! Congratulations-- you did a fantastic job at the birth. You are my hero!

MrsEm said...

Now I'm all weepy.

genevieve said...

My goodness, congratulations Erica!!

Jonesie said...

Hello Leon!!! *waves*

lsaspacey said...

Brilliant story telling! Congrats on your little one.

Leanne said...

what a terrific story. i just finished reading it and am experiencing sympathy pains and exhaustion. you are so brave and strong for working alone all day. congratulations!

famapa said...

my eyes are welling up...
wow, well done erica, and so well written! most women seem to forget the whole experience so it was really interesting to read the "truth". and what a nightmare having to write those chapters on that very day! glad to know you're all doing well and I loved the dancing set of leon :)

erica said...

the experience is already receding a little in my mind, so i'm glad that i wrote it down when i did. i don't know how we manage to get through labor, but we do. and then, the sleepless nights, some worse than others, but after nearly two weeks of it, sleeping for 2-3 hour stretches seems almost normal. amazing how we adapt so quickly--though i won't say it's been easy or nice. leon, however, is very nice indeed!

Moya said...

This post is so eloquent and moving. Thank you for sharing all this with us. It's also the first writing I've read that really describes what childbirth might be like (obviously I have no first hand knowledge). It's an amazing testament to you and Leon. And you brought tears to my eyes.

And adding diss chapters to this--you are a superwoman.

Iheartfashion said...

Wow, reading this really brought back my own two labors, which went very similarly to yours. I did my laboring at home too, the second time with a 1 1/2 year old baby (not recommended), then went to the hospital for the final hour. Whew! Good for you and congratulations!

Stella said...


this is how i imagine labor for myself. painful. shitty. an experience that exceeds my pain 'scale' beyond my wildest imagination.

it reminded me of a post I wrote last year...

only im guessing the reward of your own child is much sweeter than a 10,000 dollar invoice for the diagnosis of 'most likely a ruptured cyst'.