It was approximately 6 p.m. I’d been laboring about five hours, but it didn’t feel like it. Time didn’t exist. I was aware that it had gotten dark outside, but it didn’t matter. I labored on my knees on the bed. I labored on the yoga ball. I labored while slow dancing across the delivery room in Mike’s arms, moving to the sound of my own groans, gushing blood-tinged amniotic fluid all over the floor. I thought I should care about the mess I was making but I didn’t. I wanted to push. I felt like a wild animal. With each contraction I took a deep cleansing breath and groaned, growled, screeched, sometimes I laughed maniacally, uncontrollably. The contractions tickled some foreign part of my brain. I thought it was hilarious. I was in a trance, this was labor-land.
“Release your shoulders, breathe, relax into the contraction.”
“I can’t relax!”
“Yes you can. Breath. Release your shoulders.”
I noticed that when I listened to Mike and Brenda and released my shoulders, flowed with the contraction instead of against it, it was manageable, tolerable, and over fast. Only when I fought against it did it become unbearable. In between I could hear Brenda’s voice, “How do you feel right now?”
“Good, I feel good.”
“You’re always going to come back here. Remember that. You’ll always come back to this place where you feel good and you can rest, okay?”
“I’m having another contraction…”
“Deep breath, relax your shoulders, breathe…”
Bethany was back. The nurse from the night before. I was glad. Catherine was great, but Bethany was a soul sister. She stayed beside us, comforting, helping. I heard her voice, “You’re breathing so well, Trish. You’re doing great.” And Mike, telling me how strong I was, how proud he was of me. “Each contraction brings us closer to our baby girl. You’re almost there. You’re so strong.” And Brenda, constantly reassuring and reminding me, soothing me.
Brenda asked if she could call my parents, let them know how I was doing. I nodded. She brushed my hair, Mike rubbed my back, I labored on. I heard her telling someone (my parents, over the phone) that my contractions were right on top of each other, but it didn’t make sense. There was so much space between them. I could rest, sleep a little. She told me later that there was maybe a minute between, maybe less. But in the moment those forty to sixty seconds felt like room to breathe, to recuperate. I labored on.
Soon I was feeling the contractions in my vagina, not in my belly. I guess they’d slowly been moving down for hours, but I hadn’t really noticed. I wanted to push. Was begging to push. Brenda took me by the shoulders, snapped her fingers in front of my face and told me to get out of the trance, come back to Earth, she needed me to come back. She said later that she was concerned that the Cytotec was making me feel like I was further along than I was and she wanted to buy me some time. She heated up the shower and told Mike to get in with me. I’d packed him swim trunks in case we labored in the shower, but he didn’t bother with them. I loved that.
Mike and I climbed in together, naked, and I thought I shouldn’t get my hair wet, I’d just had it cut and blown out the day before, but then I didn’t care. Like so many other things, it slipped away. I wrapped my arms around his neck and let my head fall back into the stream of hot water, let it pour over my face and my hair, run down my back. The contractions were bringing me to my knees now, literally. I was a tiger in her den, yowling, shrieking, growling.
We stayed like that until I was so pruney I couldn’t stand it. Mike helped me out of the shower, helped my dry off, put my bra back on, I collapsed to the floor in a contraction, he helped me through it, got himself dressed while I made my way back to the labor-bed.
“I want to push!” I was belching like crazy, I felt completely out of control. Each contraction felt like something else taking over my body. I was an exhausted passenger. I could hear Brenda telling Bethany that she thought I was in transition, that we ought to have the midwife come in and check me. But the midwife, Pat, was busy delivering another baby so we’d have to wait. I labored on.
Finally, I don’t know how much later, Pat came in. She had to wait to check me, I wouldn’t let her touch me while I was contracting. “This is so much harder than I thought it would be,” I groaned between contractions.
Brenda answered, “No, it isn’t. You’re doing amazing work. Keep breathing.”
I was on my back, writhing against a contraction when Pat declared I was at 10 centimeters. The relief that flooded me must have been palpable. I’d been thinking, as she checked me, that if I wasn’t fully dilated I was DONE. I was over this. Completely. I needed a hamburger, rare, and a good night’s sleep. But I’d been given the green light, I was almost at the finish line. I was so happy I wanted to cry. Instead I started telling anyone who would listen that I was STARVING and I couldn’t WAIT TO EAT. I was suddenly so hungry I thought I’d die.
Brenda talked to me about how I was going to push, we were going to be slow and careful. The room had come alive with women rushing around, getting things ready. I asked what the carts with all the instruments were for and Bethany assured me they were getting ready for anything, taking precautions, I had nothing to worry about. I pushed on all fours, it felt incredible, I was finally participating in this crazy thing that my body was doing, but the baby didn’t move down. I wanted to move to a squat, so Bethany set up the squat bar and I pushed like that, pushing the baby down, down, down. In between contractions I’d try to sit back on the edge of the bed, but it was like sitting on a softball – her head was right there. Bethany called Pat back in to see my progress, the baby would be here any minute. I wanted to cry when Pat said, “No, she’s not ready yet. I’m leaving.”
Bethany stopped her: “Watch her labia when she pushes. She’s ready, don’t go anywhere.”
Pat told me to get on my back and fold my knees up to my sides, hold my ankles. I wanted to stay off my back so I felt defeated. Put my head in my hands and tried to collect myself. Mike and Brenda whispered reassuring things to me, encouraged me, reminded me we were almost done. I lay back and grabbed my ankles, pushed, pushed, pushed.
“I can see her head! Reach down, Trish, feel her head!”
Oh hell no, I thought. And then, I did it. I reached down and felt the top of my daughter’s head as it came from my body, soft and warm. I kept pushing.
“Push! Push! What you’re feeling is the ring of fire – you’re stretching to make room for the baby, you’re almost there!”
This was the part I’d been afraid of, the only part that scared me. But I didn’t feel anything except relief to be pushing and an incredible craving for a rare hamburger, still. God I was so hungry. Make that a bacon cheeseburger.
“I see her forehead! Keep pushing!”
“There are her eyes! I see a nose! Keep pushing! There’s her mouth! Her head is out!”
I fell back, exhausted, trying to catch my breath. The cord was wrapped loosely around her neck, Pat unwound it and then yelled at me, “PUSH!” As I pushed she pulled and suddenly she was out. In that second I was slammed back into reality, could practically hear the brakes squealing as my dream-like state came to a crashing close.
“Look! Look! Look!”
“I can’t see anything without my glasses!”
Someone handed me my glasses and there she was, wet and squalling, slimy and pink.
It felt like forever (Mike said later it was less than a minute), but they finally put our daughter on my chest. It was the most surreal moment of my life. There she was, hot, sticky, covered in blood and vernix, and then she pooped on my belly and we were both covered in so much goo it was remarkable. She cried and cried while I tried to catch my breath, comfort her. I rubbed her back, tried to get a good look at her face. I could hear Bethany directing Pat, “Don’t clamp the cord until it stops pulsing! She said no cord traction, no Pitocin…” Bless her.
Pat showed us the cord, which had stopped pulsing. It was tied in three knots. Three knots. “Your baby is a miracle. We only see this in still births.” I held the tiny squirming child closer to my chest. My miracle. Pat clamped the cord and Mike cut it.
They told me to push again and I birthed the placenta. It felt good. Everyone admired it but I didn’t see it. I didn’t care about anything but the child on my chest. I had a one degree tear which Pat stitched up in no time while Mike and I marveled at the creature who had already found my nipple and was having her first meal outside my body. A nurse washed me and brought me a tuna fish sandwich, which Mike fed me in bites. It was no bacon cheeseburger, but it was delicious.
No one bothered us again for about two hours. Brenda kissed us goodbye. Michelle snuck in to take photos but only stayed a moment. The labor room was dim and quiet, warm and lovely. It was just the three of us, a new family, our eyes wet with happy tears, our hearts brimming with love.