I was so convinced that I would go into labor at least one week early... boy was I wrong! I kept saying that if she was anything like her mother, she would never have the patience to stick around in such cramped quarters. And like most pregnant mamas, I was definitely growing tired of being pregnant and was eager to meet Emma and start my new life as a mom.
My due date (Friday, August 13) came and went - still no sign of little miss Emma. My sister who lives in California called on Saturday morning to share some bad news - my father was having trouble breathing and was taken to the hospital and was admitted to the ICU. Hillsy and I decided to take a trip into the city on Sunday morning to help take my mind off things. My father was a cancer survivor so I kept telling myself that he was going to be ok. By the time we got home from the city, my father's condition worsened and my other brothers and sisters (who live in Texas) were all making their way to California hoping to see my father one last time. My mother who was staying with us to help out with Emma's arrival rearranged her flight and was on the last flight back to LA on Monday night. My sister Cheryl called me on Tuesday morning asking if I wanted to say anything to my father, she was beside him and although he wouldn't be able to respond to anything I was saying, he would be able to hear me. Ten minutes later, my father was gone.
I think it's important to note that I wasn't close to my father. My parents split up when I was six and was brought up by my mother. Apart from birthday cards, I didn't really have much of a relationship with him. Surprisingly, the news still struck me hard and I spent the morning and early afternoon in tears. I had to gather myself together because I had what I was hoping to be my last doctor's appointment with my OB in the afternoon. I was starting to feel small signs of labor in the morning but didn't want to jinx it so I continued to ignore them and wrote them off as wishful thinking. My spirits were semi lifted when my doctor said that I was 1 cm dilated and that my cervix was finally in labor position. She also said it would be alright for me to take some castor oil if I wanted to. So I cooked up two eggs (scrambled) in a little less than one tbs of castor oil.
Two hours later, I began to feel contractions. They started at ten minutes apart lasting for about one minute. Hillsy and I decided to take a walk but had to quickly abort the mission. Our walk lasted for only ten minutes, my contractions were getting too intense and walking just made them worse so we headed back home. I attempted to watch an episode of True Blood but soon realized that the contractions were coming on even harder (still three minutes apart) and I was no longer able to concentrate on the show. I also noticed a tinge of pinkish blood when I went to the bathroom (aka bloody show) a sign that this was the real thing. So we headed downstairs to the living room where I spent the next 4 hours with my birthing ball. Hillsy began texting my doula and she arrived an hour later (I think). I remember being in a lot pain, what I didn't know then was that was only the beginning! We finally left our house at 1am and headed down to the hospital. I felt every single bump on the road, I remember thinking to myself holy shit this is it, it's finally happening we're going to finally meet Emma!
We pulled up to the emergency entrance and Hillsy signed us in, no one else was there so the whole process took less than ten minutes. I gave up the wheelchair and instead plopped down all of my belongings (overnight bag, birthing balls, etc) onto the chair. Although I kept having to stop every three minutes, finding the nearest wall to lean on; I just kept thinking gravity is your friend . Once we got to my room I was instructed to put on a hospital gown and was directed to lay on the bed so they can check how far along I was... with a confused look on her face nurse #1 called out to nurse #2 and requested that she have a go at it. I remember thinking, oh that can't be good. Nurse #2 was a little rougher than Nurse #1 - she claimed I was 3 cm dilated, then all of a sudden I felt a gush of liquid flowing out of me. My water broke! 3 cm? wtf? really? are you serious? that's it? I was dissapointed with their final assessment, with the amount of pain I was in I was sure I was much further along than that!! They then continued to stick me with needles (hep lock just in case, took some blood) and attached a wireless monitor to my bump. All I know is that once my water broke, the floodgates to hell opened up. My recollection of timing starts to get fuzzy at this point but let me assure you that when it comes to the pain - it's pretty F'n clear.
My birth plan was to skip the epidural and give birth naturally with as little medical intervention as possible. I was adamant about this and even told my doula and Hillsy that even if I beg for it, don't give it to me. Other than with my close friends, I rarely shared this information. When asked, I would simply say that my goal was to try and do it without the epidural but it wasn't out of the question. Knowing myself and my (in)tolerance for pain, I knew that I would need extra support and as many advocates as possible to help me achieve my birth plan, which is why we opted to have a doula.
Between 3 cm and 5 cm was intense. I began doubting myself and immediately started to hint at needing meds asap. My doula suggested that I get into the shower. My initial reaction? Lady, I'm in so much pain right now, the last thing I want to do is get into the freakin shower! I'm so glad that she was able to persuade me to hop in the shower.. Not sure how but the hot water on my back was a god send. The debilitating shooting pain in my lower back eased off a bit and I was able to deal with the pain for another hour or so. I stayed in the shower until the hot water ran out and the contractions started to intensify once again. My doctor arrived on the scene and wanted to check my progress, my doula requested a bunch of heated blankets from Nurse #1, quickly dried me off and helped me through the contractions on my way back to the bed. I was now at 5 cm and fully effaced. Just when I thought I've been through the worst pain of my life, my uterus began to laugh at me and decided to take me to the next level of pain.
At this point I was screaming, dropping F bombs, crying, begging, shaking, holding on to the bed rails for dear life. I was mentally defeated by the pain and I was begging my doula and Hillsy for some relief. No response to my request. Instead, my doula suggested changing my position. I tried every position possible, all fours, leaning on the birth ball, on my side, nothing was helping. I remember saying "guys. please. I can't take it anymore. It hurst so much, I really can't take it. I can't do it." I began to cry, not because of the pain but because I was so disappointed that I couldn't handle the pain and that I had failed my personal mission. I began shaking uncontrollably and started to hyperventilate, I was both mentally and physically defeated by the pain. My doula was trying to talk some sense into me, saying that she was going to ask my doctor to do another check. She claimed that my sense of defeat was a sure sign of progress and was convinced that I had opened up a bit more. Hooray I was now at 7 cm. but I was still dying of pain, still hyperventilating, still crying, still shaking. At this point, I was given a small dose of something to calm me down (I believe it was Stadol). My doctor explained that it wouldn't take the pain away but it would help me manage the pain for a little bit. I couldn't say YES fast enough. It felt like I was dozing in and out for about thirty minutes. It was definitely a weird feeling, I felt the pain but for some reason I didn't really care. I remember apologizing to my doula and Hillsy, sharing my disappointment about needing to take something for the pain. Then the drug wore off (felt like 30 maybe 45 minutes) and I was dealing with the f'n pain again. It's like waking up from a nice dream - soft billowy clouds of cotton candy with no care in the world then suddenly someone pulls the plug and you realize that you're actually in hell where your body is being tortured from within. I'm not sure how many minutes or hours passed but my doctor examined me again and announced that I was 9 cm dilated. I remember watching the sun rise over the hills and everyone began saying that it was time to push.
Pushing. A whole new world of pain. Just when I thought I had experienced the worst of it... oh yes, even worse than the hellish pain described above. My doctor said something about women preferring the pushing stage... oh I know she meant well but I remember thinking bullshit lady! What about this is preferable? I was exhausted. I didn't have any fight left in me. Telling me that I wasn't pushing correctly wasn't helping. Screaming harder harder harder harder at me wasn't helping. Imagining telling the young nurse, who I had assumed didn't have kids and had no clue what I was going through, to shut the F up every time she told me not to make any noises while pushing would've helped (but unfortunately I still had manners). I remember shutting down for a couple of minutes - refusing to push for the third time within one contraction. I almost wanted to lie and hide the contractions, just so I wouldn't have to push. It was an hour and half of pure torture. The contractions started to intensify and I felt like someone was ripping my insides apart and trying to turn me inside out. The pain seemed to permeate in my lower back/colon. Then something happened, I got my second wind, it felt like Emma was finally on board and was helping her mama out. The last five pushes felt the most intense. It hurt like hell but I knew the end was near and I was finally giving it all I had, the little I had left in me. Knowing that the top of her head was visible was all I needed to push me through the end. The pain was at its peak , they call it the ring of fire - what an appropriate name! Although I would argue that they need to incorporate the word machete in there somewhere. I like to describe this pain as trying to shit out a bowling ball out of your asshole. Emma also decided to come out with one of her arms out, so yes folks she ripped me good. Pushing the rest of her body out was a breeze compared to the last 17 hours, pushing the placenta out was a walk in the park, getting stitches for my 2nd degree rip without any anesthesia - not so nice. Little miss Emma was in a posterior position until the very last minute - the back of her head was pressing against my spine throughout labor which could explain the 17 hours of agonizing back pain.
I wish I had a much more pleasant story to share but it is what it is. I'm sure there are women out there with much rosier natural birth stories. I envy you. Am I proud of making it through without an epidural? YES. Hell yes. I couldn't have done it without my doula, without her I would've had an epidural as soon as I arrived. She was paramount in Emma's arrival and we couldn't imagine doing it without her. If you're in Jersey and looking for a doula email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Natural labor is often compared to running a marathon - there are those who become totally addicted to running long distance marathons like the NYC 25+ mile one for instance. Then there are those who successfully do it once, but are traumatized by the whole thing and vow never to do it again... that would be me. As proud as I am of my experience, next time I'm definitely asking for an Epidural AND a double shot of narcotics for an appetizer!
Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it to my father's memorial service and I guess I'll never know whether it was the castor oil or my father's death that finally put me into labor. I'm sad that my daughter will never meet my father but I recently realized that my stubbornness, my temper, my take no crap from others attitude and knowing exactly what I want out of life and going for it are all traits I've inherited from him. So in a way I've found comfort in knowing that even though I wasn't very close to my father he will always be a huge part of who I am. For this, I will always be thankful for despite of his shortcomings as a father and husband. Although I've only known my daughter for three weeks, I sense that she's already taking after her feisty fiery mama and lolo (grandpa)!
Happy Birthday Emma!
[Next up... bouts of depression, breast feeding nightmares]