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Week by Week

Carlan's Birth


Monday night, the 19th, I got up to let the dog out at a quarter to midnight. When I stood up (which, after my fifty-pound weight gain, was no easy feat -- why can't the dog learn that my husband can operate a doorknob, too?), my mucous plug hastily took leave of me.

Contractions started soon thereafter, and within the hour were three minutes apart and painful enough that I couldn't lie down, let alone sleep. At that point, I still had some vague hope that Carlan's birth would mirror my own speedy one -- my Mom's water broke one night right after Johnny Carson went off, and I was born by 6 a.m.

But 6 a.m. came and went -- pain, but no baby. Darrin (my husband) was wonderful. Attentive, reassuring, and a real whiz with the stopwatch.

At seven we called Debra, Dr. Debra Grubb at the Natural Choice Birth Center in Pasadena, CA, and she told us to come in to "get checked." It was cold and pouring rain, and by this time I'd completely forgotten about the poor old dog, still outside since midnight. (Thankfully, the neighbors eventually took pity on her and let her in their house.)

Debra said I was two centimeters dilated, and I began to get the picture that this was going to be nothing like my own birth, or anything like any of the experiences of my two-hour-laboring, oh-the-pain-wasn't-that-bad, I-gave-birth-at-home-while-finishing-my-second-novel-and-baking-cranberry-muff ins-for-my-midwife friends.

So we went back home. Janet the Doula came over. Her first suggestion was that I sit in a chair backwards, with a pillow to lean against -- which I did (immediate relief) and thought "what a great idea, having a doula, she's being helpful already!" Really, I can't begin to explain how wonderful it was to have her there. Just someone who had been through this before and could reassure us that each new and surprising development was normal, and with a million helpful suggestions about position, breathing, etc. She also was someone for my husband to look to for guidance and commiseration when I was being totally irrational.

Somewhere along about noon, the contractions had gotten to the intensity at which I started to make noise, moan through them. When I began to think I had to go sit on the toilet, Janet said maybe it was time to call Debra again. Debra agreed that I should come in, and we began to pack up the car again. Outside, as I had a contraction on the steps, then two more on the sidewalk, I realized that not only could I no longer walk or talk (well, not make sense) during the contractions, it was still pouring rain.

Back at the birth center, Debra pronounced me four centimeters dilated. This did not seem like much progress to me. There must have been little time for self-pity and deprecation during labor, or I would have got a lot more of those in. But pain always gives you something to do, I guess.

The day wore on into evening. We walked around the birth center I got in the hot tub, I got out. I was hot -- we opened the door, I was cold -- we shut it. Still pouring rain. At suppertime, Debra checked me again. "Five." Oh, great. I tried kneeling, leaning on a tower of pillows on the bed. From the video, I know I was wearing this striped muu-muu my mother had given me, and wagging my rear end back and forth through the contractions. (This is very funny in fast-forward.)

What happened for the next few hours falls into such low relief, it is difficult to pick out anything to describe. The rain kept up outside, Darrin kept me up, as it still hurt too much to sit or lie down. The pains kept getting stronger, and soon I was complaining that the pain did not ever go away completely in between. Janet reassured me that this was normal, a sign of progress. She called my parents for me, and later my mother would tell me Janet said that things were getting "pretty intense."

For the next phase of the ordeal this is how things would go: sit on the toilet and moan during contractions. Then up and walking around between contractions. I had been standing now for eighteen hours or more and my feet and legs were tired and aching. But there was barely enough time to register that complaint before it was back to the toilet, sitting backwards, leaning on a pillow draped over the tank. After a while, I began to really hate that toilet.

When I began to complain of having to poop, Janet ran to get Debra, and then the world fell apart.

"Six," Debra announced, and that was the end of me. I could have gone on if it had been nine, or eight. But six, only one centimeter of progress since suppertime, that meant the end of the world.

It had been too long. My feet hurt, I couldn't lie down, and I was nearly twenty-four hours' desperate for sleep.

Completely demoralized, I got back in the tub and lay there for what seemed like forever. This was the worst I had ever felt in my entire life. That's the only way to put it. The worst pain and the worst discouragement. Mind and body smashing on the rocks below all at once. I told Darrin that I didn't think I could do this. I was serious.

Debra had been studying for her boards on the couch in the lobby. Darrin called her in.

I wanted to impress upon her, and upon Darrin, that this was their problem, now. I had helped all I could, expended every ounce of every resource I carried, and now I was empty, depleted, so they would have to come up with some other way to get the job done... a Plan B, if you will. I tried to explain to Debra...
Me: "I can't do this."
Her: "But you already are doing it."
Me: "I'm going home, I don't want a baby."
Her: "Hmmm, that doesn't really seem like one of your options, at this point."

So I got out of the tub. It was without question the hardest thing I have ever done. Later Darrin would liken labor to having one's arm cut off, slowly, over a period of hours, with a dull, rusty implement. Like cutting your own arm off, I would correct him, pleased with the accuracy of the statement.

So it was back to visit my friend, the toilet. The first contraction after getting out of the tub made me scream. The sensation was something like the urge to throw up, but of course, lower down. Something exploding inside.

My water broke. This is where I really lose track of time. "Six!" and then the tub and then out and then the screaming and then "Ten!" They tell me it took about an hour. Once Debra confirmed that I was "complete," everyone started rushing around, getting things ready. Debra moved in, with her apron and her little flashlight. She kept saying happy things, like I was supposed to be excited, but I was just exhausted.

On the video, Debra and Darrin and Janet, and Sue, the nurse are laughing and talking about something. All I remember is Sue sitting on the floor with a receiving blanket at the ready, and Debra and everyone acting like this was the way things were supposed to be going. I, however, was thinking, are you people completely deranged? You keep saying good, good, and nothing is coming out! Well, something was coming out, but it wasn't a baby.

I wound up squatting for the pushing. Every pain would come crashing through me and I would squat down and try to push. Every contraction brought forth a flood of urine and poop and amniotic fluid. Chux pads were flying and Debra and Sue were congratulating themselves on having covered up the old four-poster bed that had belonged to Debra's husband's parents.

I was screaming bloody murder with each contraction. Darrin still claims that he is partially deaf in one ear. While squatting, I was holding onto him by the pockets of his sweatpants. His favorite sweatpants, which, I am sad to say, gave their all for the birth of our child.

Eventually, after peering beneath me during every contraction, her flashlight in hand, Debra said she saw some hair that wasn't mine, a long corkscrew lock with a bit of vernix stuck in it. The baby was coming! Yeah, whatever. At that point, I didn't even care.

I had no sensations that told me where the baby was inside me. I couldn't feel her moving, I couldn't feel a thing that meant anything. A new pain did eventually appear. It's amazing how many different ways you can hurt at once. A buzzing, bee-sting pain flared on top of the other pain and I tried to stand up, pull back from the fire.

Debra told me to stop pushing and maneuvered herself into a new position underneath me. Then the sharp new pain made me flinch and the baby tumbled out, all gray and purple.

It was 11:52 p.m., almost exactly 24 hours since I'd let the dog out the night before. I was honestly surprised to see the baby. I'd never even held a baby before, really, and I guess I didn't have a clear idea of what to expect. During my last month of pregnancy I'd had two dreams about giving birth. In one, I gave birth to a little gorilla like the one born at the L.A. Zoo a few weeks before. In the other, I gave birth to a dachshund. In my dreams, I was much happier about the dachshund than the gorilla. I don't know what that means. Well, as it turns out, it was a baby, a human baby. She's been a real easy, no-experience-necessary, you-too-can-be-a-mom! sort of baby.

And I have forgotten all about the pain. Looking back, I know it was the most painful experience of my life. But something really weird has taken place in my brain since then. A few days after the birth, I heard Darrin, talking on the phone to one of his friends, describe the birth as horrific. I was kind of offended, and told him I didn't think I would use the word "horrific." By the time Sue arrived for the home visit, I could have looked you in the eye and told you it wasn't that bad. And now, seven weeks later, I'm actually nostalgic for the birth. I find myself wishing I could do it again, so I could pay attention to certain parts that I was too tired to care about as they were happening. Bizarre? Go figure.

Alicia Vaughn



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