We live ten miles from the hospital, which in New York driving speak means anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and change to get to the hospital. I cranked up the Bach on WQXR and moaned my lowest, calmest om-iest moans. I rolled down the window and let the rain and wind hit me in the face (highly recommended). I did not keep it together for the sake of the toll-taker. Sorry, dude– just bring life into the world and all.
By the time we got to the hospital, my contractions were two minutes apart, lasting about a minute. In case I’d been too charmed by the it-takes-a-village spirit of my local library, the universe sent a dozen DGAF construction workers to exit the hospital using all nearby doors while I was trying to waddle-run inside. New York, New York!
We hustled past the fancy water features in the hospital lobby, past folks in scrubs and white coats and suits and the like (I had changed into clean leggings on our way out– I’m not a monster!) to the elevator bank. I managed to not have a contraction in a packed elevator, which was pretty terrific. Just two more contractions, and I was in my labor and delivery room.
Here’s where my ambivalence comes back into play. After I was settled, my contractions slowed a bit, but continued at a pretty steady clip every 2-3 minutes. I was four centimeters dilated, but Georgie was still quite high in my pelvis. My doctor asked if I’d planned on getting an epidural, and my answer was a completely honest, “I don’t know.” I knew I could do it without an epidural, I just didn’t know if I wanted to. I was feeling pretty in control of my ability to manage my pain and energy, but I didn’t want to take pain relief off the table.
And then there’s this, which I hadn’t fully processed before this birth: as a kid, I suffered some pretty serious physical abuse. It impacts the way I deal with anxiety and pain– my fight or flight response is more of a FLIGHT! FLIGHT! FLIGHT! response. The flip side of this is that I’ve done a lot of self-work over the last fifteen years, which has given me a whole mess of tools and insight that I might not have had otherwise. That awareness, I think, contributed to my ambivalence– what message would I send to myself with the choices I was making? Was I telling myself that it was okay, that I had nothing to prove, that I was strong and capable either way? Or was I telling myself that I could handle the pain, conquer it and rise above it? I mean… yes?
When Winnie was born my grandmother offered me a wonderful piece of parenting advice, which I think applies beautifully in birth, too: don’t just do something, stand there! And so I stood. We’ll see, I said. We lowered the lights, turned on monastic chants and Hildegard Von Bingen, and started breathing into the zone. I think at some point I threw up.
Given that my contractions were so close together and Georgie’s station was still so high, my doctor suggested breaking my water. Looking back, I wonder if I should have consented so enthusiatically, but at the time I felt present and active in the decision. Plus, I kind of love that weird crochet hook they use to rupture your membranes. It appeals to the craftiness in me.
Rupturing my membranes revealed meconium in my amniotic fluid, which could have been indicative of fetal distress, or, more likely, just an innocuous indicator of the fact that my baby was post-date and, you know, when you gotta go you gotta go, even when you’re a fetus. But I forgot that whole innocuous bit and literally threw myself back into my hospital bed, wailing, “Do whatever you have to do to get her out!” Oh hormones, you so crazy.
Cooler heads prevailed, and my doctor reminded me that meconium wasn’t a problem on its own, that all could continue on its own time, though they did want to continue to monitor the baby’s heart rate and my contractions, so no roaming the halls for me. My contractions intensified, and Mike helped me to dig deeper through the breath and guided body scans. I stayed on top of the pain, but the contractions felt as though they were right on top of each other, a feeling confirmed when my doctor and a handful of others swiftly entered the room. It turned out my contractions were more than close; I was experiencing something called uterine tachysystole. On went the oxygen mask and I changed positions, while my otherwise reserved, keeps-her-distance doctor hopped on the bed with me and softened her voice. Everyone stayed really calm, but the pain and stress of what felt like one never-ending contraction were getting to me.
Earlier in the day, my doctor and nurses had been pep-talking me through the possibility of a medication-free birth: you can do it, they said, and I could! We had chosen our practice and hospital because they were supportive of unmedicated, low-intervention childbirth. So I had a good feeling that when my doctor suggested that we go ahead with the epidural to slow things down a bit and give me a chance to breathe, she wasn’t doing it because she was getting paid the big bucks by Big Pharma or had a tee time to make or was just really sick of hearing my version of Moanin’ with the Motets. I threw her a big thumbs up and called a time out.
The anesthesiology resident was soon in the room. Mike hadn’t been able to stay in the room for my epidural with Winnie, but this time I got to clutch his arms during the epidural insertion, which was terrifically comforting. I’m not trying to brag or anything, but the doctor said I had the best back positioning he’d ever seen. That’s definitely going on my résumé.
I regaled the kind doctor with tales of my first epidural during Winnie’s birth, which I’d dubbed “perfect”, “magical”, and “a game changer”– just really trying to set that bar way up high. The epidural did not disappoint– I maintained feeling and movement in my legs, I could move around in the bed, and I still had an awareness of the pressure, and eventually the pain, of my contractions. My contractions slowed down enough that everyone could relax, too. I was able to take a deep breath, gather my strength, and turn my attention to the real work of labor: the myriad juices, jellos, broths, teas, ginger ales, and spoonfuls of honey that the nursing staff and Mike had amassed for me. Clear liquids, for the win!
Mike and I spent the next couple of hours talking, reading, and updating family members. Our friends who were watching Winnie sent us adorable pictures of her visiting the coffee shop and sandwich spot in our neighborhood. We reviewed my labor support Google Docs (no joke– I had a whole folder). I instagrammed a few things, because why not?
On the advice of my nurse, I kept as mobile as I could in the bed. I wanted to feel as much as I could stand so that I could stay connected to the changes my body was going through as my labor progressed, and luckily my epidural was patient controlled analgesia, meaning that I could administer a certain amount of the analgesic via the epidural by pressing a button. Because I didn’t know when I would be ready to push, I tried to avoid pressing the button too much so that I could stay as present as possible.
My mom’s plane landed, and I told her to swing by the hospital on her way to pick up Winnie. I thought it might be a while, so I asked her to bring Winnie back up to the hospital. Hey, mom! I know you landed minutes ago in this crowded, complicated city, but would you mind swinging back by with my toddler? It’s just like, a train to a train, then a train to a bus or a train to another train. Cool, thanks.
I texted a group of friends to ask them to be on call for my mom’s direction questions (hahaha lol) which set off a wave of texts of, “no offense but are you crazy?” and “uh, do you just want us to bring her?” and “please–no–what–we will pick her up!” all of which had the subtext of “did they put that epidural in your brain, lady?”. My phone was buzz-buzz-buzzing while Mike drew my mom a diagram of the various transit options. “HERE!” I shouted, tossing my phone to Mike while I jammed hard on the button that controlled my epidural. “You two go out in the hall and figure this all out. It can’t possibly be as hard as having a baby, which is what I’m doing right now, and can you PLEASE TURN UP THE TAIZE CHANTS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD?!”
The contractions amped up, and the pressure in my tailbone was growing increasingly painful. My tremendously kind, insightful nurse popped in to tell me she was leaving, and I almost grabbed her arm and begged her not to go. The world’s most hilarious, gregarious, epically positive nurse had covered for her lunch break, but alas, no such luck now. At around 5:15, a new nurse came in, and started fiddling with the Pitocin drip next to my bed, which I’d been given along with my epidural, set at the lowest dose.
“Oh hi! Whatcha doin’?” I asked.
“Increasing your Pitocin,” she replied.
“Why?” I asked.
“That’s what you do,” she replied. (I am not kidding.)
“Do you have to?” I asked. (‘No,’ I thought.)
“Your doctor ordered it,” she said.
“Oh! Then can I talk to her? I’d really rather you didn’t increase it,” I said. BOOM. STILL GOT IT. I psychically high-fived our doula from Winnie’s birth, Jillian.
My doctor came in, and explained that since I’d been tolerating the Pitocin so far, they could increase it. I said I’d rather we didn’t, as the pain was increasing and also, you know, I don’t have anywhere to be, so let’s just let this whole thing work itself out, yeah? “Can we wait a half an hour?” I asked, at 5:20 p.m. We could, she said.
Things continued on an upswing, and I closed my eyes, centered, and came back to the breath again. Soon enough, things felt different. Like, different different. I called the nurses’ station. “Hi there, I, uh, I think I have to push? Maybe?”
My doctor came back in the room. It was 5:40.
“You think you have to push?” she asked skeptically.
“Yeah, but I mean, I feel like I could maybe hang on a little longer. It just feels different, you know?” She did not know. I did not know.
She checked my cervix. “You’re fully dilated,” she said– sweet!–“but the baby’s still pretty high. Do you want to try a test push?” Sure! Why not? I love tests!
Because I had pretty killer symphasis pubis dysfunction (I was advised to not do anything during my pregnancy that involved moving my legs in opposite directions, which is literally everything), my PT had advised a few different positions for pushing. But hey! This was just a test, just for funsies, giggles, kicks. So I just leaned back on my bed a little, and bore down.
My doctor, nurse, and Mike started cheering and coaching like I was about to set a world record for, ah, something or other. GO GO GO GO GO GO YOU CAN DO IT YOU’VE GOT THIS YOU’RE SO STRONG GOGOGOGOGO!
“Okay,” my doctor said, “I’m going to have you stop because you’re having a baby.”
The nurse hit a button on the wall, called for some other folks, and soon enough I was contracting again, and pushing like a madwoman. Despite having just started moments before, pushing was still the most thoroughly exhausting and draining physical work I’d ever done. About thirty seconds into my first push, I was overwhelmed. “I can’t do it!” I screamed. “You already did,” my doctor replied. “The head is out!”
And just like that, Georgette Beatrice Guinn Anderson was born, at 5:45. She went straight in my lap, and the doctor offered Mike the scissors, then reconsidered and offered to let me cut the cord. I deferred to Mike, and then sweet Georgie went straight on my chest. She wriggled and spontaneously cried, and everyone marveled at how gigantic my nine-pounder was (everyone except Mike and me, who couldn’t believe how bitty she was compared to the ever-expanding toddler at home!).
She is utterly, totally Georgie, and we’re so happy to know her!
There’s a bit of a p.s. to this story, where I hemorrhaged and was scared, where Georgie spent her first night in the nursery, but where everything was ok and the hospital food was remarkably good and then I came home on Winnie’s birthday and baked her a strawberry-rhubarb cake.
I’ll probably write that story someday.