At my last midwife appointment, I was told that I should call the birthing center at 8 am the morning of my due date if I didn't go into labor beforehand. Given that Mateo is half-African, for some reason that made the due date extra important -- technically he should have come a few days prior to it. I still don't understand it, but that's what they told me. (ETA I have no idea what this is based on and have since googled it without success. I'd love links if anybody has info on this...)
So when the due date - a Sunday - rolled around, they had me come in and we all discovered there was no progress, nothing that indicated the baby was thinking of showing up any time soon. We set a date for two days from then, and the midwives hinted at the possibility of an induction.
Two days later, on Tuesday morning, when I woke up feeling exactly the same as always, I called the birthing center and they had me come in. As I had semi-understood there might be an induction, I asked if I should bring in my bag and tell The Boy to head on over. "No need," said the midwife on duty, Celine. "We're just going to do a test. It should take about two hours."
Confused, I headed to the maternite, where I was promptly hooked up to a machine that would track the baby's heartbeat. They put some sort of gel on my cervix that promoted contractions, and they monitered me for a bit. The good news was that yes, I could indeed have contractions and the baby could handle them well. The bad news was that none of it was leading towards much of anything on the labor front. After the two hours were up, they sent me downstairs to get an ultrasound, which was extremely painful for some reason. The tech kept pushing hard on my stomach, trying to get the baby to move. At the same time, my back was hurting quite a bit. Once the tech said everything was fine, I took my quickly fattening file back up to the midwives so we could decide on a plan of attack.
"Well, everything looks ok. If you don't go into labor by Thursday, you'll come back for another test -- more of the same. And THEN, if you don't go into labor by Saturday, we'll induce you."
By then it was past noon, and I was starving. I left the center feeling a little disappointed. I guess I had sort of hoped Tuesday would be the day, even though I wasn't excited about the idea of being induced. I called The Boy and told him I was being sent home. Called the parents and let them know there would be no baby that day. Called Kathypath and told her it might be another four days.
While on the phone with Kathypath, I started having really strong contractions in my back. As I had just been dismissed by the midwife, I assumed it was just the after-effects of the test, probably worsened by the fact that I was up and walking around. As I continued the conversation, however, I found that I had to hang up, as it was getting hard to talk through the pain. All I wanted was to be back at home and in my bed. I decided to take a taxi -- indulge a little bit -- as I was really starting to feel awful, but no taxis were in sight. When my bus passed by, I opted to get on it. Thank God some nice man offered me his seat. I spent the entire ride breathing in and out, focusing on relaxing. It was not easy to do. While on the bus, I started timing the contractions, and was surprised to find that they were regular and coming about every three minutes. Still, I assumed it couldn't be anything because the midwife has just sent me home.
Once I got off the bus I stopped in a bakery, where I was hardly able to order my food. "Is everything ok?" asked the baker. "I'm fine," I said, "I just ran some tests at the hospital and I'm in a little pain, but I'm ok."
"Do you need to sit down?" she asked, concerned.
"No, no... " I said weakly.
"When is the baby due?"
"It was due today!" I said, thanked her, and hobbled out of the store.
I climbed the stairs to my apartment with extreme difficulty, walked in, threw the sandwich I had just bought on the table, and collapsed on my living room floor -- spread out on all fours. All of the pain I had been holding in - since the now almost two hours since my departure from the center - went straight to my head, and I let out a moan while I arched my back and dropped my head down between my outstretched arms. I remained in this position, rocking back and forth, through several contractions.
This is not just after-effects, I heard myself think, and I knew it was time to call back the midwife.
I could tell Celine was skeptical when I asked her if it was possible that I could be in labor. "Wait until your contractions are 2-3 minutes apart and then you can come in. Take a hot bath or shower for at least half an hour. If you're still having contractions afterwards, then we'll see where we should go from there."
I called The Boy and told him what was going on. In the middle of the conversation, I couldn't answer him as a strong contraction gripped me. "I'll call you when I get out of the shower..." I managed to say.
Once in the shower, I completely lost my cool. I cried a little from the pain, and also from the fear I was experiencing going through this early stage alone. I also doubled over with each contraction. I tried soothing my back with the hot water, but I ended up feeling dizzy and borderline sick. After 15 minutes in the shower, I had to get out. I opted instead to kneel in front of my bed with my stomach and head on the bed. I don't know how long I was in that position, but my phone eventually rang and it was The Boy wondering how everything was going.
"We need to go in," I told him. "How long would it take you to get here to pick me up?"
He confirmed it would be between half and hour and forty minutes, and I said I would wait. I spent that time breathing and kneeling in front of the bed, just letting the time pass and feeling the contractions get worse. When The Boy finally came home, he knocked on the door, as he had left his bag with his keys in the taxi waiting for us downstairs. I couldn't get up as I was in the middle of a contraction, and over a minute later, I finally made it to the front door and opened it to the face of a very worried Boy. "God, I was beggining to think something had happened to you," he said, to which I confirmed that something HAD happened, but it would most likely keep on happening for a few more hours.
During the taxi ride, The Boy made small talk and tried his best to distract me. He was clearly on edge. I would answer him between contractions. The taxi driver was an absolute sweetheart, and I remember the weather was beautiful. I wanted to be able to say, "The day you were born, it was beautiful out, son." Occasionally, I caught the eye of the taxi driver in the rearview, and I found his energy oddly reassuring.
Upon arriving at the center, we were automatically admitted and I was strapped to a machine to moniter the baby's heartbeat once again. I was left in the preparation room to battle through the early stages of labor. Because the gel they had given me had obviously provoked something, they checked to see if I had dilated at all, and I was only at 1 cm. Celine said, "Well, considering three hours ago, you were at nothing, it means the contractions are working. But, you might be here for awhile. I'll be back."
By that, she meant in a looooong time.
The Boy sat and read his paper while I breathed. This went on for hours.
By six o'clock, I still hadn't progressed much, but they had noticed the baby's heartbeat was irregular and they wanted to keep an eye on me. Additionally, they told me that he was in a posterior position and that his positioning was most likely responsible for the intense back labor I was experiencing, and that I would have to try a variety of poses to get him to move. To add fuel to the fire, she said his head was turned. "You're still in the early stages, and you've technically been contracting steadily since ten this morning. I'd estimate you have anywhere from five to fifteen hours ahead of you, and we are going to have to keep you monitered the whole time because of the baby's heartbeat. So, I don't know what you were envisioning for this labor, but it's most likely going to be a little bit more medicalized than you would have liked. I thought now might be a good time to ask if you would like the epidural."
She didn't have to ask me twice. I was so tired, and the thought of another possible fifteen hours was torture. I hadn't been able to talk or focus on anything since noon. It was by then going on evening-time, so I nodded an enthusiastic yes. Celine told me to go to the bathroom and then to gather my belongings to switch rooms (from the prep room to the delivery room!). The anesthesiologist took his SWEET, SWEET time getting to my room, but whatever, he made it there eventually and brought me the greatest two hours of relief in my life.
Once I had the epidural in, I met the new midwives who would be taking over -- it was now the night shift's turn. In walked Benoit -- please note: that's a man's name -- and he said, "Hi, I'm Benoit, I'm going to be one of two midwives helping you tonight." I couldn't help but wonder if he should still be called a sage-femme if he's a man, but I didn't ask him that because I am sure he gets that crap all the time.
He checked me and I was at a six, so everybody started getting excited. Aude, the second midwife, came in and introduced herself, and after finding out how much I had progressed she exclaimed, "This baby's coming before midnight!!" I had never met either of these midwives before because I was never around at night. They looked like they might be fourteen, but they seemed capable and cheery and I didn't have a care in the world because the epidural was the coolest thing ever.
The Boy stepped outside at this point to go eat dinner with my parents and keep them posted. It must have been about seven at night? I don't know.
Meanwhile, I just relaxed. I even pulled out a book and started reading. That's how much I loved the epidural. I chatted with the staff. I made a joke.
Over the next two hours, Benoit and Aude kept coming into the room asking me to change positions. They were hoping the baby would get the hint. I tried lying on my side. Then I brought a leg up. Next they tried the birthing ball. Nothing was helping.
Crouched over the birthing ball, I started feeling painful contractions again. I mentioned this to Aude and she said she could up the epi, and I again agreed that that would be a great idea. I was excited that I could avoid this weird new pain I was feeling, because now the contractions weren't so much in my back as they were in my butt. Aude administered the epi and I waited for the impending relief, but then a funny thing happened: it never came.
I told Aude that the contractions were still quite strong and that I couldn't feel the epi at all. As a matter of fact, the contractions seemed to be getting worse each time. Meanwhile, my legs began shaking uncontrollably and I started feeling a little weird (I found out later that I had a fever). Aude checked me out and confirmed that due to the baby's position, the epi wouldn't help. The shaking legs (and fever) were side effects of the epi, but I would not be getting any relief from the pain. Neat.
Things start getting a bit blurry around this time. Benoit and Aude agreed that it had been a bad idea to adminster the second round of epi, as it slowed down my labor while but did little else. They then said they wanted to go eat dinner, and that I needed to just work through the pain while the baby made his way forward. If I needed anything, I could buzz them. Also, if I felt like I needed to push, I should most definetly buzz. The Boy came over to work through it alongside me, rubbing my arms and legs to comfort me.
I don't know how long I lay in that bed for, gripping the sheets Aude provided for me to de-stress. The Boy buzzed them two or three times because I think he was freaking out, but eventually they came back for good. I was propped up on a weird, long plastic thing for awhile and asked to practice pushing. Then I sat on a stool that had a hole in the middle, after which I was suspended from a bar, and then at another point I was crouching on all fours. They asked for each change of position and I obeyed, but it was all incredibly painful. I felt huge and not in proper control of my own body, especially since my legs were still shaking uncontrollably. With each position, I was told to push, but even getting the might for it was a challenge.
Eventually, Aude came forward and explained to me the situation. She didn't want to have to call in the doctors, but not only was the baby still in posterior position, but his head was also still twisted. This meant that things were going to be difficult. The biggest part of his head was going to come through horizontally. In other words, he was going to come out looking at my thigh. If you have a general idea of female anatomy, you can imagine why this is not a practical technique for a baby to employ.
"So basically," Aude continued, "This is going to be really hard. You're going to have to push like you've never pushed before, because his head is going to butt up against you like there's no tomorrow. You're in so much pain right now because he's right there, he's ready to come out, and you're feeling all the pressure of that. There's just this last, huge step to take. So when you get the urge to push, you have to maximize it."
By now I was on my seven zillionth position, but they eventually had me lie on my back with my legs on a bar, which I sat up to grip during contractions so that I was doing a sort of insane sit up. The Boy had long since started stroking my head and helping me through contractions, and I could tell that he was both nervous and excited. At one point, I started panicking, and Benoit and Aude talked me down, reminding me that I would need to keep my head on straight so that I could know when to stop pushing once the baby arrived. Between contractions, I said, "I know it's normal to panic-- I've read about this. I'm not really freaking out, it was a momentary thing, and has passed." I don't know if that reassured them or made them think I was batshit crazy, but from that point forward, I was able to concentrate.
Aude told me she could see the baby's hair, and she asked me if I wanted to touch it. I declined, mainly because I was in so much pain, and I couldn't imagine manoeuvering my way to get my hand in the right place. "Do you want to see it?" she asked, and I nodded. She pulled out a big mirror and angled it so that I could see all the gory details.
As soon as I saw that head - and the clear presence of hair - I understood what Aude meant. He really was RIGHT THERE. Through the next few contractions, I really, really pushed, and Aude, Benoit, and The Boy coached me through them. I was exhausted and sweating but I knew there was no other way. I know I was yelling or screaming but I was trying so hard -- I have never in my life exhausted so much physical energy in one go. And then suddenly, I felt him pass through and I heard them tell me to stop pushing.
"Reach down and grab your baby!" Aude said, and without thinking I snagged his slimy body up and slid him into my arms. I had seen this moment on television before, and had always thought that I wouldn't feel comfortable pulling up my own baby, but I was so wrong. Grabbing him was automatic, almost like a reflex or an impulse that I couldn't control. He was blue but not crying, but I knew he was ok. I looked at The Boy, whose arms I had nearly torn off just seconds before, and he was shaking and grinning. He took pictures of Mateo's first minutes. I have never felt such an amazing mix of emotions -- joy, relief, love, gratitude. Everything felt so pure; he was in my arms and was healthy. I could not believe that I had done it. It was all oddly simple in a way I wasn't expecting -- like it just suddenly made sense that he should be there with us.
We have the time stamps on our photos. Mateo was born at 00:12 (Aude just missed her self-imposed deadline) and the following photos are from his first few minutes:
One minute old:
3-4 minutes, pinking up:
5 minutes - it looks like he's smiling at me:
My parents, who had been waiting downstairs since the evening, were afforded a quick visit by the generous staff. I know the hospital made an exception so that my parents could meet their grandson, and I was so grateful to them for that. I was exhausted but so happy, and incredibly glad to be able to share a little of that with my parents, however briefly.
The physical damage from the birth was bearable. I got a fair amount of dissolvable stitches and then two other more serious ones, all of which Aude said was because of his turned head. Also, Mateo pooped on me on the way up, which I find hilarious. His head was deformed on one side because of his stubborness, but it looked completely normal by the following morning.
After my parents left, I was stiched up while The Boy went to give Mateo his first bath. When he came back, we were given a few minutes alone before I was shifted to a makeshift room for the night. We both just stared at him, and remarked a little on his features, discussed name possibilities. I don't know why, but we whispered much of our conversation. Mateo didn't make a peep, although The Boy confirmed he could cry when necessary, as he discovered while bathing him with the nurses.
The rest of my stay at the center was uneventful, although there are a thousand little details I hope I never forget. Staying up with Mateo the first night after he was born was one of the most frustrating experiences I have had, as I knew he wanted to eat but could not get him to latch on. Luckily, I was able to ask the staff for help. Repeatedly. I know I hardly slept those early days, but I also think some weird sort of adreneline must have kicked in, as I felt pretty damn good for the most part. The physical recovery was REALLY difficult for the first 48 hours but it, too, passed. I loved having visits and being surrounded by new mamas. The food was even decent. But these things, of course, always took a backseat to the awesomeness of getting to know my son and introducing him to others.
As I type this, The Boy is singing some song in Lingala to Mateo, who has been having a hard time staying asleep at night. He sleeps fine in people's arms, not so much in his own crib. Now, Mateo is sleeping on The Boy's shoulder, but we both know better than to put him down the second he falls asleep. It's hard for me to believe that he entered our lives just ten days ago. I'm just amazed by the whole thing.