I suspect the worst thing a soon-to-be parent could hear is that their son rates very low on a standard metric of health. Jake was surprisingly calm, considering, although he did drive like a singularly focused crazy person on our way back to the hospital. I didn’t mention it. He didn’t have the benefit of an intuition that said everything was fine.
A diagnosis of intrauterine growth restriction got us kicked out of the alternative birthing center and into the hospital. The baby’s measurements were less than the 5th percentile and our midwives’ consulting OB was very concerned. We negotiated a trip home to grab our things, promising to check back in in an hour. I tied my hair back, washed my face and put on the bear earings Jake brought back from Salt Lake. Warpaint and talismans.
We would start down the path of Cervidil, Pitocin, and IV drips, not the ideal we discussed in our doula-lead birthing class, but I would choose how to manage pain. My midwife would be there to deliver the baby, get me a room with a bathtub, and talk with me about mindfulness.
What I found most difficult turned out to be claustrophobia. The pain filled me up and, in that little cord-cluttered corner of the room where I stood and swayed, there was nowhere to release it. Women should give birth in big open fields or on mountaintops, surrounded by calm other women who have also given birth. The midwife and nurses were only able to check in on us intermittently because there were eight other women laboring in little hospital rooms at the same time, so Jake supported me alone (what would I do without Jake?). He massaged my back, brought me cool towels, and wrangled nurses.
Labor took too long and my wise, trusted midwife was replaced by a new one. She said I looked scared and not to be. Was I scared? Is that why there were no rests between contractions, just continuous pain? I should relax. I got in the bath. This was a godsend.
The bath was so restful that exhaustion blanketed me and I dozed between contractions. Each one would wake me, shocked and disoriented, and I’d have to remember where I was before I could send the pain through my feet and breathe. I was tired and struggling. When I decided to get an epidural, alarms sounded in the hospital and Jake wasn’t able to find anyone to ask. It came much later, and, as the anesthesiologists were leaving, my midwife (who turned out to be excellent) came in and told me it was time to push. How did I not know?
My blood pressure and the baby’s heart rate dropped. They gave us epinephrine and I used everything I had to push him through the birth canal as quickly as possible. There was a thunderstorm. I didn’t notice it, but Jake did and hearing it was there pleased me. When they placed our new baby on my chest 45 minutes later, the clouds had dissolved and the city six floors below was hot and flat. Our baby was an encouraging size, covered in hair, with big beautiful eyes that shone in the sunlight.
For days after the birth, epidural and claustrophobia notwithstanding, I felt strong and calm; grateful for the chance to push past a limit I thought I had, but didn’t. Annoyances like aggressive medical schedules, heel pricks, lack of sleep, and nurses who stayed too long and talked to loud couldn’t disturb the new inner calm at my core. I watched them and my reactions to them from a distance, sanguine. We had a baby.