As we prepare for little chick, I’ve been going over past labors and remembering things I forgot. Here are our birth stories. (If you are a man, you can run screaming if you like, I won’t be offended. If you are a woman, you may be saying “Yippety-skippety, birth stories! and if so, read on.)
When we found we were expecting our first baby, I didn’t know anything about giving birth. A friend of ours said, “Oh! You must try the birth center! You can’t get an epidural, but you can have a very natural birth in a homey setting.”
I had heard that an epidural is when an anaesthesiologist, in a bid to prevent future pain, pokes a very large needle in one’s spine. I hadn’t been excited about that idea anyway, so I decided to give the birth center a try.
When I walked in, flute-y, tribal music was playing – the kind you hear at interpretive centers in national parks. The walls had primitive art, and the waiting area was quiet, and full of colorful pillows. I was hooked. For the next several months I learned all about natural birth, and learned some of the philosophies of Ina May Gaskin and other midwives. I looked forward to a peaceful, unmedicated birth, such as generations of women had, if not exactly enjoyed, at least won through successfully.
A small bump appeared on the horizon a few weeks before the baby was due. Two young midwives faced me sheepishly in the office – I think they’d come in a pair for moral support – to tell me that since our baby was measuring so big, maybe I’d be better off going to the hospital for an induction, a couple of weeks early, so that the baby would not be TOO big.
At my next prenatal appointment, however, I saw one of the older midwives, a lady with long white and grey curly hair. She said, in so many words, “Harumph!” and also “Pshaw!” and gave me to understand that I should have no trouble giving birth to a big baby.
Not long after, the exciting day arrived. In the evening, I felt a litle contraction, and held my husband’s hand, and felt very brave. Then, nothing. So I went to bed. At midnight labor hit like a freight train. I tried to stand up, but fell on all fours on the ground. I knew that first labors could be from 12-24 hours long, or even more. There was no way I could take 12 hours of this! My husband suggested that I call the midwife. I did, and the conversation was something like this:
MIDWIFE: Are you feeling much pain?
MIDWIFE: You’ve just started labor. How about if you take a warm shower?
I timed contractions for the next three hours, gripping my husband’s hand so hard with each one that I’m amazed I didn’t break anything. Once I’d hit the magical mark of 1 hour of 1 minute contractions spaced 5 minutes apart, I said, “Let’s go!” At the hospital – we went there because I was sure I could not do without pain relief – the nurse said, “Can I give you something for the pain?” I said “YES!” But our midwife got up close to me and looked me in the eye, and said, “You can do this.” So I said, “OK!” I was beyond the point of being able to think very clearly for myself; but also they’d told me upon coming in that I was almost to the end of transition – the most intense portion of labor – so I knew the birth was not far off.
I wasn’t a brilliant student in school, but I was basically a straight-A student. What this means is that I did everything my teachers told me to do. At the birth center they told us to “employ vocalizations” during labor, and so, being a good student (oh my poor husband!) I employed vocalizations. Mine sounded more like those of a shot putter than of a gentle suffering lady.
When little man was born, they told us his weight – 10 pounds, 4 ounces. I hadn’t been aware that they made babies that big – but evidently they, or more pertinently, we do.
The midwife whom I saw for the first postpartum visit was the one with long white and grey hair, who had assured me that I could have a big baby. She peered over her glasses at me.
“I see from your chart that your labor was – ahem – ‘Fast and furious.'”
I smiled wanly. I hadn’t planned it that way!
Fast-forward two and a half years. It was October 1, the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. Our baby was late, according to the ultrasound due date (but not late according to my charting due date) so our obstetrician was getting antsy. I was afraid that my fears about the impending labor were holding me back, so I asked St. Therese’s intercession – “Help me to be brave during labor!” I took a long, long walk, then went home to bed. The next morning, after breakfast, I felt a steady abdominal pressure. The pressure kept coming, in a very rhythmic fashion. A lightbulb went on – this might be labor! I called my husband and our doula.
The pressure turned into pain, so I started to time the contractions. Soon they were getting painful enough to occupy all my attention, and I sat at the foot of the bed. Presently, what to my preoccupied eyes should appear, but my toddler toddling into the bedroom, bearing the largest kitchen knife in our house. How on earth he got hold of it remains a mystery. Thankfully, he just handed the knife diffidently to me, and went off to play. I set the knife down beside me on the bed, too afraid of impending contractions to budge, and thought of my poor husband. As if coming home to a wife in labor wasn’t bad enough, what was he going to think of the surreal scene of a wife in labor, armed, apparently, with a huge knife??
Our doula came and looked at my written record of contraction times. We decided, since the first labor had gone so fast, to go on to the hospital even though the contractions hadn’t established a steady pattern. As my husband helped me into our van, I heard our doula say, “I think she has two or three hours more to go.” I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t think that’s so…”
We got to the hospital and into registration. There was some delay in finding my chart. I sat with my eyes closed, when suddenly there was a terrific explosion! The waters broke spectacularly. All I could think of was that I had ruined their lovely reception chair, and I kept saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” Things suddenly began to move very fast. I was bundled into a wheelchair and raced down hallways. I had my eyes closed the entire time, and felt every bump in the floors along the way. We got to a labor and delivery room that seemed to be packed with people. There was just enough time to sit down on the bed. “Wait for the doctor!” they told me. Just as the on-call obstetrician was coming in the door, my obstetrician shoved his way past him into the room, and the baby was born. He – the obstetrician – was not happy with me. I had turned down an induction in favor of this hurried kerfluffle.
After a few minutes they announced the baby’s weight from the other side of the room – 11 pounds, 8 ounces. I did not believe the number for one second, but concluded that it was a product of post-labor delirium. As you have probably guessed, it wasn’t.
After that, everything was finished with great speed. The room emptied, and my husband, my doula and I were left looking at each other in bewilderment. That was it? All done? And here I’d been praying to be brave enough to get through labor!
Our “little” baby
Our last baby was eight days late, and oh, I was not being graceful about it in my mind. My wonderful mother-in-law had already been with us for over a week, and STILL the baby hadn’t come, and I was so ready for him to arrive!
On the eighth day, at last, labor started. My husband and I drove to the hospital. We saw snow on the mountain tops – it was a gorgeous morning. There seemed to be nobody else on the floor when we arrived – we’d gone to the hospital right away, hoping to avoid having an accidental homebirth. After about five hours we welcomed our second little blonde baby, this one a mere 10 pounds 2 ounces.
When we were in the recovery room, a kindly black nurse came in and introduced herself. She would be our nurse, she explained, and gave us the number to page if we needed her for anything. Then she walked around the bed to take a look at the baby. At the foot of his bassinet, she froze.
“That child,” she declared flatly, “is huge.”
She examined him, then turned to me.
“What’s a little girl like you doing having a big baby like that?” She checked me over, tsking over all the things that were not wrong with me, and saying “Girl!” as she went.
“Girl, you gonna have a whole team o’ haters out there hatin’ on you.”
I wasn’t sure whether she referred to the nursing staff, with childbirth battle stories of their own, or to the group of glassy-eyed, shell-shocked looking parents I met the next day, shuffling gingerly into the newborn care class. I guess news gets around fast. She consulted her clipboard.
“‘Are you planning to breastfeed or bottle feed?'” she read. “Breast- or bottlefeed, huh! What this boy needs is a steak. Got to call up Ruth’s Chris and see what they got on the menu.”
“I had a big baby, too,” she went on. “I got to the hospital, screamin’, ‘Get me my epidural! Get me my epidural!’ But they told me it was too late, and he was born natural. I never let him forget it, either. He six foot, now.”
So there you have it. We’ve been very blessed so far. I’m not taking bets on the next birthweight though.
UPDATE: My husband pointed out to me something which I had forgotten, which was that he had steadily maintained that our first child would weigh well over 9 pounds, but that nobody believed him. I think he was properly vindicated.