The doppler happened to catch a slow fetal heartbeat the moment the midwife checked at our last Centering Pregnancy group. After a few moments, the baby’s heart rate went back to normal, but we were sent to the hospital to check on our sweet daughter. After an overnight stay deprived of dinner in a very uncomfortable bed strapped to very uncomfortable monitors, a crowd of nurses rushed in telling me to shift to various positions and putting an oxygen mask on my face. The screen blinks 65, 71, 68. In terror, I make an attempt not to hyperventilate, as I am aware that baby’s heart rate should be at least above 110 and ideally even higher. After an eternity of six minutes, the tiny one’s heart stabilized to a decent speed and soon the doctor and midwife stood before me explaining that they couldn’t send me home with the risk of something unspeakable happening. The next blur of sentences were about our options for an induction and the possibility of a caesarean section if the baby’s heart couldn’t handle labor. From the beginning of pregnancy, I had begun preparing for a drug-free birth. The evidence of the benefits of a natural birth is tremendous, so though I knew it would be one of the most difficult experiences of my life, I was determined to attain this birth experience. Thankfully the doctor and midwife were aware of my wishes so they assured me that we could try more “natural” techniques to make contractions begin. All of the sudden Maximos and I were in a labor and delivery room, but not in labor. It was a strange feeling to know we would hold our daughter in our arms sometime in the next day or two. Around 11:30am they inserted a Foley bulb that would dilate the cervix to four centimeters, which in turn causes some minor contractions. Shortly after it was in place, contractions began, as did the realization that this was reality. The pain was not extreme, but I did find that practicing for future excruciating pain with different breaths was helpful. I think at this point we were still working on a crossword puzzle. As the contractions grew more intense, I told Max to make me get up and walk every once in a while in order to make things progress more quickly. Eventually after a short break from contractions, the Foley bulb fell out and the midwife told me I was four centimeters. She recommended breaking my water as the next step in the induction. This initiated some real contractions, sending me into some sort of out of body experience where all I knew was pain, closed eyes, and Max’s voice in my ear. Those people who want to refer to contractions as “rushes” or “waves” are ridiculous, or just much stronger than I. I have never broken a bone or experienced any sort of physical trauma to speak of, so I had no idea what kind of tolerance I would have for labor pains. As things grew more intense, I tried to continue moving, but what I mostly recall is lying in bed. Sometimes I would venture to sit on the toilet since it didn’t put unnecessary pressure on my sitting bones, but usually when I sat there the fetal monitors would malfunction for some reason so the nurses would have to come mess with them, which was not pleasant in the least bit. Eventually I wanted to get in a tub of warm water. Here is where I believe I was in transition and began to really doubt my ability to have this baby. Maximos told me that this portion of the day was especially difficult for him. I had been using moaning and humming breaths during contractions and I can imagine how utterly unpleasant it sounded echoing off the tile walls and floor. Max kept the water warm enough and held my hand and told me I was doing great. I kept telling him I couldn’t do it, but he insisted I could. We had decided that he wouldn’t let me get an epidural unless I said the code words, which were “Go Dawgs.” I wouldn’t say those words in real life, so we were hoping I would do the same in labor. It was actually very helpful because I knew I could say, “I can’t” or “I’m dying” or even “give me an epidural,” but unless I said those two horrible words, Max would just encourage me to keep persevering.
I’ll just take a moment to say how wonderful Maximos was through all of this. He was basically the reason I didn’t give up. He was constantly in my ear telling me how great I was doing, reminding me to breath, taking breaths with me, rubbing my back. The three times I puked up my apple juice, ice chips, and popsicles (they wouldn’t let me eat still), he held the bag in front of my face. My mom had told me that he would probably do things to annoy me during labor, even if he was trying to help. There was one moment late in labor when he started popping his knuckles. I was only able to utter one severe “STOP.” The other thing that bothered me for some reason is when I would lie in the bed on my side and my back was to him. I always wanted him in front of me, even though my eyes were closed 85% of the time anyway.
Somehow with the help of my nurse and Maximos, I made it back to the bed and wanted to get on my hands and knees. Now the contractions seemed to be on top of each other, never giving me any relief, so I asked Max to get more help. The nurse transformed the magic bed so that my knees could be at a lower level than my hands, which felt a little better. She also rubbed my back for a long time and I forgot to thank her for that. Shortly after this she asked if I felt like pushing, to which I replied, “I don’t know.” I think on the next contraction I convinced myself that I did indeed feel like pushing, in other words, I wanted this to end. Now. So I told her I was going to push and various people filled the room but I only recognized the midwife wearing a gown and head covering. My groaning turned to uncontrollable screaming with each contraction, which frightened me a bit at the time. In normal life, I avoid raising my voice at all costs. I wasn’t even sure I had the capacity to yell before this experience. The pain was just so overwhelming that all I could do was yell and hold my breath, but thankfully Max kept reminding me of my need for oxygen, even when breathing seemed impossible. At one point I even blacked out, only for a moment, in between agonizing contractions. The midwife tried to feel for the baby’s head and I demanded she stop…I wish I had apologized for snapping at her but I suppose it wasn’t the first time that happened to her. Anyway, I could feel the head getting lower, but I didn’t want to believe it was almost over because I knew it was possible to be pushing for hours with a first baby. By some miracle, I only had to push for about thirty minutes according to our hazy speculations. Then, all of the sudden, she was there with us in the room. A gooey, screaming, purple Amalia was placed on my chest, when she decided it was a good time to empty her bladder. A little hat appeared on her head and I tried to form appropriate words. I heard Max beside me attempting to do the same. And all the pain of labor just faded to the background (for like ten minutes maybe). There’s no way to describe holding your child for the first time. It’s difficult to recall the details, but I know it was wonderful. She was beautiful, especially since she wasn’t too cone-headed because I didn’t push very long. I mean, really, she probably looked like a little alien as most newborns do, but she was beautiful to us at least.
Almost five weeks later, after sleepless nights, millions of dirty diapers, screechy cries, endless cluster feeds, and gallons of spit up, she is even more beautiful. I pray for a fulfilling life for her. I hope she will be stronger than me in every way.
Amalia Clarke DeLaurier
September 9, 2014
7 lbs. 1 oz.