The last few weeks of pregnancy are pretty bad. Even when you’ve already had a baby, it’s hard to remember that they’re easier to look after while they’re still inside your body, because you have to pee constantly and your back hurts and your feet hurts and you can’t shave anything you used to shave without putting yourself at serious risk of slipping on a pool of your own blood.
As a result, when my midwife offered me a membrane sweep at 39 weeks, I told her to go for it. If you are unfamilar with the concept or execution of a membrane sweep, it’s like a normal pelvic exam but one performed by a drunk teenager with ragged acrylics. Your care provider sticks her fingers inside your cervix and swirls them around, pushing your amniotic sac away as she does so and breaking up the adhesions that connect the two. If you’re pretty much ready to go into labor anyway, it’ll jumpstart it in the next 48 hours, and if you’re not, you just cramp and spot and regret having said yes.
The next morning, I started having mild contractions. Generally, your signal to go to the hospital is when they’re painful, lasting about a minute, and coming every three to five minutes (if you’ve had a kid before, they usually want you to go in when they’re every five minutes apart, because things can get real far more quickly once your garden of mystery has already been laid waste by a hurricane or two.)
Now, these contractions were strange! They weren’t too bad at all, but right away they were coming every three minutes and lasting about 30 seconds. And this went on all morning. I would later discover this is pretty much textbook presentation for ROP, which is when your baby is facing your stomach instead of your back, and HIS back is to your right side. So you’re trying to get him out, but the part of his head that’s supposed to be stimulating your cervix to dilate is not ON the cervix, so not much is happening.
I went to the hospital. I was at 4 cm (I had been at 3 the previous day), and my hospital has a new policy that you need to be at 6 to get a room. Now, since I was positive for Group B strep (it’s no big deal, but you have to get 30 minutes of IV antibiotics every 4 hours until you give birth) they wanted to give me my first dose and let me pace around the nurses’ station for a few hours to see if my constant and increasingly unpleasant contractions were going to go anywhere. So I spent two hours (some of it sadly trailing an IV pole) reading Live From New York on my Kindle while clutching the wall and moaning every three minutes. Then they checked me and I was at 5 cm, and they said I could get a room because I was Making Progress. Room 4, to be exact, which is the swankest birthing suite and has a nice tub AND was where I delivered my daughter.
My entourage was assembled: my husband Steve, my mom, my doula, my doula’s apprentice, an OB nurse, and the world’s hottest midwife. It was the first time I’d met her (you get whoever is on-call), and she was so hot my heart stopped. She was so hot that Steve took his life in his hands and whispered: babe, is it just me or does our midwife look EXACTLY like Beckett from Castle? She was so hot I didn’t even kill him.
In addition to being, again, just mega smokin’ hot, my midwife was relatively new to being a midwife, and as such had boundless enthusiasm for the job. She was like the earnest new teacher in a movie. She climbed into the tub to check me so I didn’t have to get out. She rubbed clary sage oil on my pressure points. She told me frequently how beautiful and strong I was.
She ordered me a fruit and cheese plate from the cafeteria and placed each individual piece in my mouth while I labored in the tub.
So, basically, things were going pretty well. I was having bone-crushing contractions, my doula was doing counter pressure (this is the only thing that actually helps, it is the ONLY way to give birth without drugs, pay no attention to the breathing or visualization or whatever, you want a strong and sympathetic woman driving her elbow into your back and shoving your knees and ramming the bottoms of your feet during a contraction, trust me) and I was very confident that I was in the throes of transition and would soon be ready to push.
This is also when Steve fell asleep.
No! It’s okay, I told him to. There was a pull-out couch in the room, and literally nothing he could actually do to help me, so I said “why don’t you try to get some sleep?” and he said “I doubt I could!” and then instantly fell asleep.
Having now spent four hours in the tub, my midwife decided to check me. I was pretty sure I was at least 8cm, because of the agony.
I was still at exactly 5cm. MOTHERFUCKER, I said. MOTHERFUCKING CUNT MOTHERFUCKER. My doula put a cool washcloth on my forehead.
So, we had a lil council of war. My midwife, correctly, figured that the baby was ROP, and suggested that I leave the tub and go climb some flights of stairs to encourage him to get into a less bullshit position. So I put on one of those assless robes and a pair of shoes and she took me to an enclosed concrete stairwell, stuck a shoe in the door so I wouldn’t get locked in, and was all “good luck!”
So I began doing stairs. I did a whole bunch of stairs. After every two flights, I would have a horrible contraction. Eventually, this got old, so I tried the door. It did not open. This is because there were TWO sets of auto-locking doors between myself and freedom, and a shoe in only one of them. I banged. No one heard me. I did not have my phone. I climbed up a flight of stairs and banged on THAT door. No one heard me. I waited, alone, semi-nude, phoneless, contracting, picturing what it would be like to deliver my own baby in a concrete stairwell. No one came.
Finally, I descended all the stairs until I discovered a basement access door and escaped. I found a confused and blushing young man who escorted me and carded me into a staff elevator that spat me out back on my floor. Apologies were made.
I continued to contract, in agony, until four more hours had elapsed.
My midwife checked me. I was now at 5.5 cm.
“We have two options,” she said. “First, I can rub more clary sage oil on you. You can do more stairs. We can rebozo your belly. We can wait.”
I would like very much to hear my second option, I said.
“We give you pitocin and an epidural and see if it relaxes your pelvic floor and scoots him around some.”
I would like very much to have pitocin and an epidural now, I said.
It took them about an hour to get me my epidural, which was very unfortunate, as the MINUTE I psychologically checked out of natural childbirth, I could no longer really stay on top of the pain. It was no longer something I was VALIANTLY DOING, it was something I had to put up with until the needle-woman came to take it away. It was instantly a billion times worse.
(Steve is still asleep at this point in the story, by the way.)
The needle-woman came. She was not, unlike my midwife, very beautiful, but I will carry the memory of her kind face and capable hands to my grave.
“The first thing you’ll notice is that the pain will lessen. Then it will go away.”
That is what happened. It was a perfect epidural. I could move my legs. I could roll over. I could feel pressure, but not pain. They gave me a catheter, so I could pee without knowing it. It was wonderful.
An hour (ONE HOUR) after they gave me the epidural and cranked up the pitocin, my water broke.
An hour (ONE HOUR) after my water broke, my midwife checked me. I was completely dilated and ready to push.
“Steve,” I said, nudging his body with my hand. “Steve, we’re going to have the baby now.”
Steve woke up.
I pushed. I had the baby. I needed one stitch, which came off in my toilet paper two weeks later, briefly leading me to think I had a horrible black squiggly vagina-parasite.
I stood up with wobbly colt-legs and was wheelchaired to my room, holding my beautiful son. They took my catheter out the next day, and I still acutely feel its loss.
I am not sure I will bother not-getting an epidural again, but time will tell.
Thank you for listening to my story.
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.