As the end of my pregnancy with Georgie approached, I felt tremendously confident in my ideas about all-caps BIRTH–the conceptual, pluralistic, nebulous ideas about the kinds of birth experiences that should be afforded to all women. Evidence-based, empowering, unjudged. Freedom to make decisions and access resources without a shred of fear-mongering of any stripe (Your doctor only wants to cut you open! Your home birth will end in certain death! I know we just met but I have lots of opinions about your VBAC!) A climate in which women are presented with heaps of unbiased information but still encouraged to go with their guts. You know, just like perfect birthing culture.
But I felt utterly, totally ambivalent about my own birth, absolutely pulled in competing, mutually exclusive directions. In the weeks leading up to Georgie’s birth, I waffled back-and-forth about the kind of birth I wanted to have, about what parts of the experience I placed a premium on, about what mattered to me and what I would choose should a choice present itself. Did I want to wait until 42 weeks to schedule an induction? What if I didn’t? Did that mean I was putting my own discomfort with the anxiety of waiting above my trust in my body? And what if I did want to schedule an induction before 42 weeks? Did that mean I was ignoring the teeny tiny smidgen of evidence that tied birth after 41 weeks to an increased risk of stillbirth, without evidence of an increase in improved outcomes? And why didn’t anyone in my seemingly empowerment-based practice of medical professionals seem interested in discussing any of this with me?
After much moaning and groaning, phone calls with everyone I know who would listen, reading and rereading and then reading again articles and opinions and anecdotes, I did call my practice to change the date of my induction from 42 weeks to 41 weeks and four days– just a world of difference, I know.
In the end, it didn’t matter because, unlike with Winnie, I went into spontaneous labor with Georgie. It was utterly thrilling. My ability to wait– which, if translated into a physical size, would be like the speck of dust on the head of a pin made for the world’s smallest doll–was tried with every moment that ticked by after my due date. I was having lots of uncomfortable, unproductive contractions, the kind that didn’t lead to any sort of meaningful change. I was dilated a couple of centimeters, my cervix was soft, and so everything I could do to get the proverbial show on the figurative road was already done. Short of employing an honest-to-God method of augmentation, the changes my body needed to make were made–I just wasn’t in labor. I stayed up late at night, into the early morning, ostensibly “meditating”, which was really just willing myself to go into labor. The night before I went into labor with Georgie I got out of bed after hours of tossing and turning, took a long shower and sipped the world’s ittiest bittiest sip of castor oil. It was something I had told myself I wouldn’t do, the bottle still in the house and sealed from when I purchased it after going postdate with Winnie. I braced myself for a night of gastrointestinal distress – but it never came.
I did, though, wake up in the morning with what I thought might have been contractions. I woke up around seven to some rhythmic cramping, but I didn’t want to jinx myself and so I went back to sleep, willing my eyes closed and my mind quiet. Mike very kindly occupied Winnie without my asking until around nine (legitimately luxurious sleep!), at which point I could no longer ignore the increasingly intense contractions. I started timing them and they were rolling in about every four minutes, lasting just about a minute. This was a few minutes closer together than the interval at which I had been advised to call my doctor, but my water hadn’t broken and the pain wasn’t unbearable so I let Mike know that I thought we were having a baby in the near future, and we started gathering the last few items on our list and pumping Winnie up for a day of fun with the exceptionally kind folks who had offered to care for her. The contractions grew stronger and closer together, and the midwife who returned my call and endured my moaning thought we should probably start heading toward the hospital.
I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe I had gone into labor on my own, at just 40 weeks and 5 days. Somehow, despite the fact that we were “packed”, it took for-ev-er, or approximately one million lady-in-labor hours, to get the last bits gathered and get ourselves out the door. I finally lost it– after at least three entire minutes of patience– and decided I would walk Winnie the block and a half to our friends’ house to drop her off. By myself. In labor. I grabbed her bag and my keys and told Mike to come pick me up when he was done.
It was warm, grey, and gently drizzling outside. A few minutes before 10 on a Saturday morning, the neighborhood was coming to. Families headed to and from the playground with scooters and bikes in tow, a handful of folks sat and waited among the roses and clematis as the public library started unlocking its gates, community gardeners already hard at work in their plots, paper cups of coffee gripped in hands strolling up and down the block.
I stopped for a contraction outside of the house with all the gnomes, a helpful distraction for Winnie. We made it to our friends’ spot, at which point I panicked. I had left my phone at home. Their sweet dog, like so many dogs, hates the doorbell with the fiery passion of ten thousand suns. Making the dog bark might also make the baby cry. Which makes the adult humans have to address them both. Basically the ideal situation to create for our friends who were adding our kiddo to their workload and also for our kiddo to walk into on the day I’m all, BYEEEE SEE YOU IN A FEW DAYS! Walking back seemed like a million miles. Should I just scale the fence and throw rocks at the window? That most certainly wouldn’t disturb anyone. Suck it up and ring the bell, Guinn Anderson. So I did. The world didn’t end.
We clambered inside and I started giving totally unhelpful information about Winnie as another contraction started: “she eats…. FOOD. Please change…her…diaper. MOMMY IS FINE JUST FINE JUST LETTING MY MONKEY DO IT YOU KNOW.” Knowing Winnie was in good hands, I had to leave, get out and fast. I needed to move. I hustled back home, avoiding eye contact with every person I passed lest a contraction hit in the midst of a neighborly hello, contorting my face into that of the Hulk. A couple of contractions slowed me to a stop. I leaned and swayed and moaned, against a brick wall, a fence, an overgrown planter. I hauled up the stairs– to an empty apartment. Because I told Mike to come to me. And I didn’t have my phone.
I have long opined that having a library card is like being registered to vote- it opens an entire world of agency and empowerment, connects you to your community, and it’s terrifically free. We grow food at our library, pass our days at our library, check out books on books on books. Oh, and they have a phone. So I waddled through the front doors and up to the circulation desk. “Hi. I’m in labor and I need to call my husband. May I use your phone?” I called Mike, asked him to pick me up at the library, and briefly considered perusing the new acquisitions shelf. The librarian was over the moon about my labor, and called out her colleagues from the back office to wish me well. Mike swung up to the curb, our giant blue birthing ball taking up residence in the backseat. I hopped in, and we headed to the hospital.