Sunday, January 31, 2010

This was not in the manual.

I had a friend go into labor at my house today.

She's not due for another two weeks, but today while playing with our two boys, she mentioned that she'd been having a lot of Braxton-Hicks contractions. I had remembered reading that if you have more than four in an hour, you should probably call your doc, or start timing them, as they may not be warm-ups at all, but The Real Deal. She and her husband decided to go home, get some things in order, then come back to spend the night with us. That way, if she DID have to go to the hospital, her 19-month-old son could just spend the night here with us.

When they came back, she'd been having brief contractions regularly, about every 10 minutes. They hadn't been lasting long, but they'd been coming almost like clockwork. As I watched her over the next hour, her contractions went from slightly uncomfortable to I-don't-want-to-talk-while-this-is-happening. And they were coming more quickly.

As I watched her breathe through each contraction, every rough thing about my own labor two years ago came rushing back to me. I remembered the pain, the tightness, the breathtaking sharpness of it. I remembered the way my body instinctively lifted up around the pain to tense against it, and how hard it was to fight to stay loose, to let the muscles work the way they should. I remembered the totally awful way every organ in my lower body was involved in the orchestra of misery, the way my bladder and intestines and colon suddenly acted like eighth-grade girls who hadn't been invited to the party, and started trying to steal the spotlight with their attention-grabbing antics, namely making me pee every 15 minutes and have terrible (and productive) diarrhetic cramps even more often. (NO ONE prepared me for that, by the way. Hollywood could do us all a favor and show us what labor is really like, in all those sitcoms and romantic comedies.) I remembered being in so much pain that I would throw up several times an hour, for the six hours I lasted before I asked for pain relief. I remembered not wanting to be touched, and simultaneously wanting desperately for someone to put their hands on me to take the pain away, and keep me anchored, because I felt like I would literally wash away with the surges of it.

And I got a little bit, just a teensy bit, jealous.

I know. DUMB. Can't help it.

Here's the thing. My own labor with boy ended in a surgical birth, one made necessary by the fact that I developed a fever that might have endangered our baby. For that reason alone, I don't regret a thing about the C-section. However, in the months leading up to that day, I'd done a LOT of reading, research and preparation to avoid having to resort to one. I'd read books on surgical birth, the rising rates of sections in the U.S., the fact that some may be unnecessary. I'd learned about the potential health effects of pain relief in labor on the unborn baby. And I'd decided that I'd do everything in my power to have our child naturally -- without unnecessary medical intervention. I got fired up about "taking back the birth experience." I walked. I breathed. I studied and practiced relaxation techniques. I interviewed candidates, selected and hired a doula to help us through labor. I got pregnancy massages intended to ease my body's transition into labor and delivery. I listened to soothing and empowering messages about my innate ability to deliver a healthy child.

And in the end, it didn't even matter. The circumstances surrounding the labor I had made all that preparation almost insignificant. I was sick with a cold when my water broke three weeks early, and that illness translated into the fever that made it necessary to operate to have our baby, despite twelve hours of light labor, six hours of augmented labor (read: Pitocin) with no pain meds, and a final six hours of augmented labor with a merciful and welcome epidural. I did everything I could to avoid it, and when it was clear it was inevitable, I accepted it and I don't have a single regret.

It's just that now, the doctor I know and trust has a policy -- once a C-section, always a C-section. He used to perform VBACs (or vaginal births after Caesarean), but not any more. So I already know that though I'm due May 17, my child will eventually have a scheduled delivery date sometime the week before that day. So it's entirely possible that I will feel nothing but the usual run-of-the-mill late pregnancy discomfort, go into the hospital for an appointment one day, and an hour later, be handed a baby.

Which is mine.

Holy smokes.

No last few hours of preparation, no transition to the idea of being a mother of TWO children through the test of labor, no story to tell about how or when my water broke, no gateway to the new phase of parenthood through the traditional and meaningful trial of suffering.

It's not that I want the pain -- it's just that I want the fullness of the experience. I want the few hours or so of wondering whether I'm truly in labor. I want the moment when we realize that it's The Real Deal. I want the nervous excitement of getting the previously-packed bag into the car and going off to the hospital, maybe in the middle of the night. I want the extra few hours of having to wait to meet a baby I am so ready to love and embrace and hold and nurture and cherish. The prize is so amazing, how could I want to rush the process? EVEN THAT stage, the breathing and moaning and suffering, is one you never get back again. And as I'm realizing now that my son is TWO YEARS OLD, those little phases are fluid -- tiny moments of quicksilver that slip away no matter how tightly you try to grasp at them.

It's been about seven hours since my girlfriend first had her light contractions here at our house. She's at the hospital now with her husband, and her toddler is sleeping upstairs. Through text messages, they're keeping me in the loop about how she's doing, and I know that her water broke in the room where she was admitted, and she's at 5 centimeters now, and she's getting an epidural. And as I reflect on all of that, I'm able to yank my head out of my ass where it's been firmly lodged, and focus on the fact that two of my dearest friends are having a BABY in the next few hours. That little bitty taste of jealousy? Gone in the knowledge of the power of what's happening in their lives -- the arrival of an already-beloved child.

In the end, no matter what day it happens, and in what way, my husband and son and I will get the same thing. So I'll shut up now, and do what I should have been doing this whole time -- sit back, take a deep breath, and open my heart up to God in gratitude for His generosity and His love. I'll ask for His protection over this coming child -- my girlfriend's tonight, mine in a few more months -- and for His forgiveness for my own short-sightedness.


gemmit48 said...

While you're doing your ordered countdown to your scheduled delivery, Baby may pull a Tim and show up 10 days early, before you've even pulled the infant car seat out of the rafters. Then you'll have to decide whether you should finish watching the movie before you do something about the contractions, but hopefully your hubby won't have you drive your own car back to his mom's house and then suggest that you should go out for dinner before going to the hospital (which was where I finally drew the line)!

Mike said...

You could always show up at the doctor's office 7-13 hours early and sit in the waiting room. Or, if your doctor's really cool, tell him that you'll see him on Tuesday, but not to tell you when the appointment actually is (Wednesday? Thursday?) so you can be surprised.

... Honestly? I got nothing. But I'm totally excited for you.

Kelley said...

I imagine you don't remember what happened all those years ago, but I had a VBAC when it was vogue to do so. It was Carter and he was 9 lb. 15 oz. A c-section with an epidural is the way to go. Really. KLOUD