Note: There is some talk of discomfort and bodily functions in this post. If you don’t like reading about pain and pushing out a baby, move on along!
7. Push It Real Good (and Hold for a Count of Ten)
The room was quiet. Nurses wandered in and out, checking the bleep-bloop machines. Janet asked intelligent-sounding questions and sent nurses to go get things. She taught childbirth classes at this hospital and had an air of calm authority. If I roused and needed to roll over, she and John helped me roll over.
We had a huge picture window in our room overlooking the Manhattan rooftops. There is a special kind of cloudless, amber light in Manhattan during the winter, especially when it is very very cold. As dusk settled the sky turned periwinkle and then midnight blue. Lights glowed inside the buildings far away.
At one point I started to feel stressed and overwhelmed. I started to cry, missing my mother. Before leaving the apartment I had packed her pink silk scarf in my purse. It’s been over a year since packing it, and I’m still carrying it.
Also, giving birth at this hospital was a tough choice, for I had been present for a traumatic event here. Eight years prior my boyfriend collapsed of a massive heart attack while we were out for a walk. He died as the ambulance was pulling into the emergency room. And now the baby was coming at the same hospital, on the anniversary of that event. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening.
By late afternoon Dr. B had gone home; her partner, Dr. S, came to take over. After my first miscarriage Dr. S was the one who had performed the D&C in the hospital. Back then I had sobbed uncontrollably as she had promised, “I’ll see you again, to deliver your baby!” And here she was.
I had dilated a bit while sleeping, but not fully. However, we were now more than 24 hours past my water breaking, and that was their timetable for getting the baby out. Also, I was developing a fever.
“We are going to start you pushing now,” Dr. S told me. She said it with a grim determination, as if we were about to try to pull a truck full of live chickens out of a muddy ditch.
The troops assembled: Janet, John, a nurse, the doctor. I received instructions. Janet cradled one of my knees and John took the other, bringing them up to my chin. I curled up and bore down. We did strings of three pushes, each push a full ten-count.
I had done semi-ridiculous physical training for years prior to getting pregnant — contorting in various positions with kettlebells, punching people in the face and body, being punched — but nothing had prepared me for pushing. After the first round of these pushes, I had a very clear thought: “this is bullshit.” I didn’t feel in control. It put pressure on my back and neck. I wished I could hover over the bed, or squat.
To late for that. No retreat, no surrender. We did a few rounds. The machine indicated when I was contracting. I watched the faces at the foot of the bed as all eyes turned up to the monitor, then down to my vagina. I started to be able to feel the contractions, so I got into the habit of rounding up the crew ahead of time to assume their positions.
Time went by. The doctor had to duck out now and then to check on her other patients in labor, and came back when I needed to push. She started placing two fingers inside me and pressing down hard on my perineum. “Push toward my fingers!” she said. Her fingers burned. I started to hate her.
I may or may not have complained about not being able to get leverage, but they brought in a metal bar that attached to either side of the bed — not unlike the bar-lever that comes down over your head when you go on a ride at an amusement park. John and Janet propped my feet up against the bar. More sensation was drifting back. I was able to lean in more deeply as I pushed.
Someone came up with the bright idea of having me push for four rounds at a time instead of three. Later I was told that my third push was always the best one, and they wanted to ride that wave for at least five counts if not ten. For me, the third push was always fueled by annoyance at those persistent burning fingers and (what I perceived to be) being yelled at. The fourth push became one of abject spite.
And what about the baby in all of this? He was hanging tough, no signs of distress. His head started coming down. And then went back up. And down. He was playing peek-a-boo with us.
This went on for a long time. Surging pain in my back; burning fingers in my vagina; painful neck and upper body as I curled and bore down; three pushes and then the dreaded fourth half-push; a bunch of puzzled faces as the baby slipped away, back up the canal.
I felt a vibe of impatience in the room. Or it might have been my own impatience. Either way, I was exhausted.
“I don’t think this is happening,” I said. “I’m calling it. Time for a c-section.”
Later I learned that I had been pushing for three and a half hours.
They started getting me ready for a c-section. That meant getting the anesthesiologist back. It was probably between 9 and 10pm.
Everyone else took a break. They turned down the lights and I was more or less alone lying on my side on the bed. The contractions had come surging back in full force. I closed my eyes and swam in them.
Unlike the pitocin contractions — which resembled how I imagine it might feel to get hit in the lower back with a spiked club — the natural contractions had an arc, a breathlessly painful climax, and a bottoming out. My mind’s eye imagined a dark forest. I lay on a bed of decaying leaves.
When I remember the labor, this is the shimmering moment. Just the baby and me. I wondered if it would be possible just to push him out now, in secret.
8. Let Me Roll It (to the OR)
Lying in the dark, I called out to John. I asked him where the anesthesiologist was. Finally, she came. They rolled me to the OR very quickly after that.
It was very bright and there was a whole team assembled. This reminded me of the D&Cs after the miscarriages, and the later (and ultimately successful) egg retrieval — you suddenly meet a squad of friendly people whose job is to cut you. The curtain went up in front of my face. Having seen numerous birth stories on TV, I knew this was normal. Nonetheless, I completely lost my shit and started screaming for a halt.
I asked the anesthesiologist for something to take the edge off. She said she could, but I wouldn’t remember anything.
Everyone says you will “feel pressure” as the baby is being delivered, but I experienced it as violence, being thrown by a wave and spit back up out of the sea, only to be thrown again.
And then we heard a cry.