When we arrived at the hospital at 3:30am Monday morning, we were alone aside from one car that came speeding up to the front doors at the exact moment that I was staggering through them. From the drivers seat leapt a dazed young man who tumbled onto the curb, whipped open the car door and began to unload the distressed passenger contained within. Through the back window I could see the unmistakable form of a laboring woman, curled like a snail on the backseat with her rear end thrust in the air, fingers gripping the headrest, not particularly inclined to exit the car and face the long journey up the elevator and down the corridor to labor and delivery.
Like me, the woman remained utterly silent, five miles deep within herself, anchored at an untouchable depth by a pain that threatened to tear her into two separate pieces. I paused for one tiny moment, recognizing a bond between us that could not have been stronger if it had been forged in a furnace. And then, just as quickly, because I am a wretched soul even in my most selfless hour, I set my sights towards the elevator at the end of the hallway and lurched forward, palm slapping the wall as the contractions sank their grappling hooks into my back. Sisterhood be damned. Nobody was getting to the anesthesiologist before I did.
It was half past four when the epidural finally went in- a spinal and an epidural at the same time, my reward for an hour's worth of incessant, pathetic begging. (Why be stoic when desperation pays; that's always been my motto.) The enormous needle with its bee sting juice and the catheter tube sliding up against my spine would have felt frightening under any other circumstance, but in this moment it was a trifle, a mere messenger of the exquisite relief that was about to come.
Almost immediately, a warmth began in the bottom of my feet and spread deliciously upwards, as if I'd turned in my old legs and received a new set, fresh from the drier. Every muscle in my body went slack for the first time in days as the room swam into sudden focus. "Roxy!" I reached for her hand. "Roxy, you've offered me so many wonderful things these last few hours," I said, referring to all the sips of water and cold peppermint scented washcloths she'd laid across my forehead. "And I haven't been quite able to answer or say thank you. I'm sorry about that."
(Roxy looked at me with the same expression that Suzie Rose had worn seventeen years before, moments after I'd emerged out of the mountains after having been lost for two days. Suzie was my math teacher at Adventure Quest, and had been the woman who rang the police after our little hiking crew had failed to return. Sitting in the search and rescue headquarters, frostbitten and burned, my charred feet in a bowl of water, I'd turned to her and grimaced, as if about to deliver terrible news. "Suzie," I gasped. "I'm so sorry: my math homework is going to be late.")
At that moment, the midwife appeared in the doorway- not Melissa, or Lisa, but Angie. I'd labored so long at this point that Lisa's shift was over, leaving me in the warm, capable hands of the third and final midwife from the birth center. (Although I was in the hospital, the midwives have privileges and transfer with you to continue care.)
"I'm hoping that this baby gives you a little time to rest," said Angie, crouching down to speak to me at eye level. "I'd love to have you get some sleep, because you've been at this for days now, and pushing takes lots of energy. But the truth is, the way you're looking, she'll probably just come right out."
I nodded and smiled at Angie, wholly content with the options placed before me. After all, I'd only come to the hospital to get pain relief. The baby felt like a bonus.
I know some women might feel devastated to be in my position, having to leave the behind their dreams of an unmedicated birth behind with the infinity shower and the quiet peace of the birth center, especially after getting so very close. Accepting an epidural feels to many like a stinging dose of defeat.
Not this girl!
There were many reasons I wanted to attempt an unmedicated birth; chief among them had been curiosity, plain and simple. I honestly wanted to know what it felt like. Now I knew, and there I was in the hospital bed, attached to monitors and machines, wires and tubes, but the relief of the epidural was almost too overwhelming to be believed, and it coated the entire experience in a warm glaze of coziness and well-being. (I even I inquired about more drugs- In for a penny, in for a pound I always say. But it was too late in the game for narcotics, even if I had needed them, which I didn't.)
I settled in for a nap, hoping to grab just enough sleep to give me the strength to make it over the finish line. My birth team curled up in chairs and on the floor. I felt a twinge of guilt, watching them assume their uncomfortable positions- Dave was face down on the linoleum- while I lived it up on the robot bed, numb from the waist down. Then the nurse pressed a syringe of Visteril into my IV, and I passed out.
When I woke up a few hours later, I was, remarkably, depressingly, still pregnant. Angie checked me and reported no change. So I did what one does under such circumstances- I drank a little bottle of sprite and ate a few spoonfuls of jello. There wasn't much else to do.
With the sunlight dimmed and flattened by window shades, the room remained in a constant state of twilight. Dave drank a cup of coffee from the cafeteria. I told my famous Harry Potter joke. The doulas kept busy tucking me into various positions on the bed in nearly the same way that I mold newborns into different poses during a photo shoot. They flipped me from side to side and wedged exercise balls under my knees. They kept this up for hours. I wondered how two people who had been up all night could remain so industrious.
By now I'd been examined and studied and catheterized, I was even on a steady drip of pitocin to strengthen my still-steady contractions. All of these things were introduced to me gently and without pressure, but I agreed to them readily. Why not? I couldn't feel anything, I couldn't even see anything past my stomach, it was truly a no-man's land down there. I was totally disconnected from my body- I was a head in a bed. What a relief it was, to get a break from myself in that manner.
Noon came and went, and Angie offered to break my water. She reached for the amnihook and then I saw her pulling, and pulling, with all her might she pulled, with both arms, until finally she fell backwards accompanied by what I imagine was a great gush of amniotic fluid but again, I couldn't see or feel anything. "My word," she said, grabbing a towel. "That was certainly a robust membrane."
I felt oddly proud, hearing that.
Angie's hand disappeared back up inside of me . "Yep, she's right there. And she has a ton of hair, I can feel it. Should be very soon now."
By now, a clear pattern had established itself. It went like this: it was determined for whatever reason that delivery was imminent.
Delivery then proved to be not imminent.
The afternoon wore on as all around me machines hummed and beeped and sketched out a mountainscape of contractions- still strong, still regular, but utterly pointless. At one point it seemed as if I was even dilating backwards. "It kind of feels like you're at an eight now-" said Angie, looking baffled. "I'm sorry, you're really, really hard to check."
Finally someone rolled in an ultrasound machine to check the baby's position, but nobody in the room could make out what was what. It appeared she was still posterior- maybe. Apparently, babies have to be pressing their heads just so against your cervix in order to advance you that last bit, and mine was not positioned correctly. Her heart rate, however, remained perfect, as it had been for days. She was a happy soul in there, inside her broken but still robust bag, luxuriating in the ample amount of amniotic fluid that my body kept replenishing for her.
Angie and Brooke, my labor and delivery nurse, determined that the best thing to do would be to invert my bed so that my legs were resting higher than my head. They arranged me thus and left me there for an hour, hoping that the baby would float upwards, out of my pelvis, and use the extra space to flip into a better position. Everybody seemed very upbeat about this situation. Everyone except me. Lying inverted, with the blood beginning to pool in my head, I took quiet stock of the situation.
We'd been trying to flip this baby for three days. I'd been at nine centimeters-maybe-eight for well over twelve hours. I was as lose and numb as I'd ever hope to be. Again, my intuition spoke very clearly, although at this point it could have merely been the voice of reason.
Your baby is not going to come out. She would have come out by now. She knows something you don't know, she's made her position very clear, and it's time you listened to her.
I motioned for Roxy and Jesse and Dave to gather around me. "Folks," I said, still upside down. "I'd like to ask a few questions about cesarian sections. I'm not scared of them, because I was born that way and I'm great. But I'm also a cocky idiot who never bothered to read up on them. Tell me, do they really take out your guts and pile them next to you on the table?"
From my three companions came a chorus of gentle admonitions. Let's not go there yet! No reason to think- No of course they don't pile your- where did you hear that?
How grateful I was for those three, who were trying so hard to help me avoid capping off three days of labor with major surgery, at the sake of their own sleep and sanity. But I knew at that moment where my destiny lay. And when Brooke and Angie entered the room just a few beats later, Angie knelt down next to me and said so very kindly, "We may want to talk about cesarean birth."
And I thought, ha! Told you so.
After such a long, long labor, Angie explained, my beleaguered uterus would soon run out of steam. The baby's position, whatever it was, was obviously not compatible with a vaginal birth. She pressed a button and summoned an obstetrician to my bedside, and we discussed our last option before surgery. "What I can do," explained the OB, herself very pregnant, "Is reach my hand inside of you, grab the baby's head, and try and twist her into a better position."
"You hand? Your whole hand?"
"You're whole entire gigantic adult human hand?"
"MY GOD," I said, "Does that ever work?"
"It works sometimes...but only when the mom is totally, completely relaxed."
Well that settled it. I studied the OB's kind, open face, folded my arms across my chest and said, "I have never, not once in my entire life been totally, completely relaxed."
I let that sink in.
"Not even when I was a baby."
The OB nodded. "Alright then. Cesarean it is." Then she turned to walk out, paused, and then added, "I think you're making a very courageous decision."
As soon as she left the room I felt my confidence flicker. I looked back and forth between Roxy and Jesse, wishing one of them would make the decision for me. "I mean...If that is the one thing that could stand between me and a cesarean, I may as well try it....right?"
The OB appeared again at my side. "Do I have to be at ten for you to do that thing...that thing with your hand?" She nodded. "Well you may as well check me, then. Because if I'm not at ten, then I won't even have to make this decision."
She checked me. I was a nine- still a nine after all this time. And swollen. She looked sympathetic as she delivered the news, and I waited for the crush of disappointment and fear and failure to land heavy on my chest. But it didn't. I truly, honestly, could not have cared less at the moment, so long as something brought about a resolution to my situation. The show's gotta end at some point. "Well then!" I announced to the room. I reached for Jesse's hand. "Put me under the knife."