As always, my birth stories are no-holds-barred. Proceed with caution.
Monday morning was a fun morning – my friends Marlee and Taulbee brought their boys over to play. We hadn’t seen each other in years, and it was great to catch up and meet their sweet little ones. The girls had a good time with their new friends, and it was the first time they were outnumbered by boys. Nap time came around as it does, thankfully, and later I would find myself supremely grateful that I took the opportunity to take a quick cat nap. When we got up from our naps, I took the girls outside to play – the weather was warm and I was ready to take advantage of it after all the cold and rain of the last few months. Because of how uncomfortable I was, I tried my best to just sit and watch the girls play, but that only works some of the time when you have littles. Scarlett had an emotional breakdown while we were outside – she cried and cried and cried and cried about everything and anything under the sun. I finally called James and let her talk to him, and that helped cheer her up. Eventually 5pm rolled around so I rounded the girls up and we headed back inside. I seasoned some ground turkey and formed hamburger patties and then put them in the oven to bake while I took the girls upstairs for a bath. They were so excited to splash in the tub and were two giggling, naked little things just enjoying life, the previous worries and tears forgotten. James came home and took over bath time while I headed back downstairs to work on dinner. When the girls came back downstairs I helped them get dressed in their pjs while James worked on finishing up dinner – I was so uncomfortable that James encouraged me to sit down while he put everything together. We sat down at the table for dinner and had a typical dinner – talked about our days, the girls frustrated us with their (lack of) eating, and we listened to the girls joke around and say funny things. As we sat at the table I kept getting more and more uncomfortable, I felt worn out and started to feel as though I had overdone it. At one point I said, “Oh, geeze, my butthole hurts!!” To which Scarlett duly replied, “What’s a butthole?” Parenting win.
After dinner I realized how grumpy I was so I went to our room and crawled in bed – I just hurt, through and through, and was emotionally at the end of my rope. I cried a few woah-is-me-tears and listened to the girls cry their own woah-is-me-tears. And then I cried a few tears for James who was stuck with three highly emotional individuals who were all crying for reasons that could not be fixed – it reminded me of a scene from Sense & Sensibility. All of our emotions were definitely running high. I text’d with Hayden who offered me words of encouragment. Then, around 7:45 I felt a painful contraction. I had been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions for literally weeks on end so I didn’t really think very much about having contractions. Ten minutes later I felt another one – Hayden suggested I start timing them. James suggested I skip watching The Bachelor (shock! horror!) and go to sleep instead. I tried to heed his advice and so I just laid in the dark for 30 minutes but realized I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. Plus, how could I resist finding out who Chris picked? My contractions varied from about 8 minutes apart to about 12 minutes apart, and they generally lasted about a minute. I let Jelena know what was going on and then hemmed and hawed about having her make the drive over from Atlanta. We had talked earlier in the day and she had said she was going to pack her bag that evening – apparently she finished packing it mere minutes before I text her about my contractions. It was after my third trip to the bathroom that I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, this was the real thing – one sign of labor is bowels purging themselves. At 9:30 Jelena decided on her own to head over, and I was glad she did – I was anxious about having her make the trip for nothing if I wasn’t actually in labor. I finished watching The Bachelor, not too surprised that he picked Whitney and grateful for DVR – the contractions were painful enough to require that I pause the tv so I wouldn’t miss one juicy second while they coursed through my body. #priorities
Truthfully, I was barely paying attention to the tv – labor has a way of making me turn inward and tune out the world. James had tried to get me to sit with him in the living room but I just wanted to hole up in our bed, quietly, on my own. Eventually, though, I began to feel a little restless, like I ought to be doing something but not sure what it was I should be doing. I walked around aimlessly for a while. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I just needed to double check things. I finally settled in on the couch by James with the contractions still coming 8-12 minutes apart. The rule of thumb is you head to the hospital when they’re 4-5 minutes apart for an hour – based off of that, we were a ways from needing to go to the hospital. Jelena arrived around 10:45 and we chatted and caught up a little. I had a few painful contractions and cussed my way through them – I found I had to stand up, bend over and hold onto the seat of couch while I moaned and cussed. I shuffled to the bathroom again – by this point, merely walking was excruciating. With each contraction, I could actually feel the baby being pushed downward. I have to give ol Blip credit, though, he (as it would turn out) was still rolling and punching in between contractions – I was grateful to have verification that he seemed to be doing ok. As I was finishing up in the bathroom another contraction hit and I started moaning through it – James came to check on me and found me with my pants around my ankles, toilet paper in hand and we just had to giggle. We’d been through this together before, we’ve served in these trenches, he was a veteran of the visuals of labor and birth. I finally panted out, “I think we should go to the hospital.” He had assumed we would leave immediately when Jelena got to our house, but I had delayed, explaining that my contractions were too far apart still. I think he was relieved when I finally suggested we go ahead and go. He grabbed the bags he had set out earlier and I painfully shuffled to the car and waved bye to Jelena. It was 11:40. I sent a few texts to friends at 11:42 letting them know we were heading to the hospital but before I could text everyone I wanted to, I simply lost the ability to bother with anything but my own pain.
I contracted every few minutes on the way to the hospital – “You’re having another one?” James would ask, worried. He knew what the short time between them meant. With my eyes closed I barely nodded my head. As he pulled into the hospital parking lot his cell phone rang – the midwife on call was calling back. He handed the phone to me as we parked. “So you think you might be in labor?” she asked. “Yes.” “Ok.” “We just pulled in so I’ll see you in a minute,” I said. “Oh, you’re here? Oh. Well. Ok. I guess come on up and we’ll check and see if you’re in labor.” “It’s my third baby,” was all I could say. “Ok, then. You probably know then.” I got off the phone and faced the task of getting out of the car – while some parts of my memory are crystal clear, I can’t vividly recall some parts. I do remember thinking that one of the worst parts of this entire ordeal was going to be the walk from the car to the elevator inside the front doors. Earlier in the night I had sat on the toilet and attempted to psych myself up – “Yes, Nevena, you’re in labor. You can do this. I know it’s scary and that you know how painful this is going to be, but get it together, woman, you can do this. You’ve done it before.” I had even mentally flipped through my birth affirmation cards. But the walk from the car to the elevator was daunting as hell, and I started to doubt myself.
With every labor I’ve had, I have a distinct memory of stepping out of the car and then having to pause for a contraction before I could continue my journey, and this third labor did not disappoint. As it passed I realized that the pain was never actually over – that it was hard for me to distinguish between the beginning and end of each contraction. I was in transition, and I knew it. That is one thing that would set this labor apart from the other two – I knew what my body was doing. I could feel it, but I could also understand what the pain meant, I could understand what my body was accomplishing with each new sensation. As I crossed through the automatic doors at the entrance of the hospital, I felt all the triumph I imagine a marathon runner feels at the finish line, and so when James asked if I needed a wheelchair I only briefly wavered before settling into the brown pleather. A nurse who appeared to be leaving at the end of her shift saw James struggling with bags and the wheelchair and graciously took over – “You in labor, hon?” she asked me. “How’d ya guess?” I joked, grateful that even in my pain I could find a way to make myself giggle.
We rode up to the third floor and they quickly put me in a room near the front, right by the nurses station. “Y’all are going to regret putting me in here, this close to everybody.” I meant that I was going to be loud but I don’t know if they understood that part. I crawled out of the wheel chair and started to undress immediately and reached for a gown, somewhat apologizing for not caring that I was stripping down naked without even a “hello” to the nurses. They began asking the typical questions – I can’t remember what all they asked but I answered some and James answered others. The nurses could tell that I was near the end of labor and asked several times if I felt the urge to push. “No, not yet.” The midwife finally came in and nonchalantly asked some questions – she had yet to grasp the immediateness of the birth. I had not met this particular midwife in any of my prenatals but I also didn’t really care who was in the room – she asked permission to allow a (male) medical student in to observe. I had met him at my previous appointment with a different midwife, and again, I didn’t care. I figured everybody has to learn somehow, I might as well be an interesting experience for him. The midwife finally asked if I’d like her to check my progress, “Yes! Please, yes.” A minute later she finally grasped what was going on, “Oh. You’re a good 8.5-9.” She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. “Ok, so what would you like to do – anything for pain?” A little confused, I asked, “But, I’m at 9. That’s too late for an epidural.” “Oh, no, we could do one if you wanted.” What? I thought this was a midwife. I was so confused. I had labored quickly and things were uncomplicated looking, and I was just about to the finish line – I could feel the baby working its way down, I knew I would be pushing soon, and I knew that it would take a while to both get the epidural set up and also take a minute for the epidural to take effect – and yet the midwife was repeatedly offering it to me? She was also telling me to breath in through my nose and out my vagina, so I felt like I was straddling both ends of the birthing spectrum with one medical professional slapped in between.
I have always struggled with making the “no epidural” decision in the midst of all the pain because, hello, it hurts. And that is a sure sign that things are about to get real: a laboring woman who was hoping for a medication-free birth starts dabbling in the idea of pain meds. I hee-ed and hawed over it, asked James his opinion, and finally said, “No, I don’t want the epidural.” “Well, ok.” So she offered to break my water, and I agreed to that. I felt the warm water gush and remember hearing someone say, “Nice, clear fluid. That’s good.” That meant the baby had not pooped in utero so was not at risk of inhaling any meconium. After she broke my water it got even realer. The pressure intensified ten-fold and I knew I was on the cusp of pushing. I can’t remember if I cussed or not – I find it hilarious that in the midst of labor, when I want to cuss the most EVER, I am worried about decorum. THAT is the time I worry about decorum, when the whole room can see all of my business and a person is about to coming flying out of me. But, you know, you just never know how a laboring woman is going to act. I’m guessing if I allowed myself to start cussing, that we would all be amazed at what would come out. Anyway, as the pressure intensified, I knew it was about to get to the hardest part – the part where I had to push. And, as always, I really didn’t want to. Not even slightly. Because, hello, let’s call a thing a thing. “No, I can’t. No. No. I don’t want to.” Thankfully the midwife offered some sage advice, “Well, if you don’t want to then don’t. It’s ok. Just wait till you’re ready.” A nurse who we knew personally was attending the labor and made mention of another Martin baby about to make its entrance in the world. Just to prove to myself that I can literally joke in any situation, I managed to say, “Well, I wouldn’t be so sure about it being a Martin.”
And then, a minute later when the pain got really bad, my favorite part – I said: “Please, just give me…give me… give me the thing. Give me the thing.” As I said this I gestured with my hand, mimicking a mask over my mouth. It was the best game of charades ever. No one knew what I was talking about. “Oxygen, honey? You need some oxygen?” “No. No. The thing. Give me the thing.” Silence. Frustrated with my lack of ability to communicate I finally managed, “Drugs! I need drugs. Please, just give me the drugs.” In my pain I had confused medication options; apparently I thought I was at the dentist – they could have given me IV drugs, but not gas. I wanted them to gas me, though. I heard someone say the IV drug name and then heard her go off to find some. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “I’m actually going to have drugs for a birth. Thank God. That’s a good call. Why would I not get drugs for this kind of pain. That would be so dumb. Ain’t nobody handing out prizes.” To which my body responded by deciding to push – once my body started pushing I felt like I was on a roller coaster I had no control over, that I had to go along for the ride and so I joined in with my body. This birth I didn’t scream, I moaned and yelled, but I didn’t scream – I screamed like a blonde starring in a horror movie when I gave birth to Ada. But this time it was more moan-like. I felt proud of that, for some reason, like it showed that I was more in control of the situation than scared of it, that I was using vocalizations to work through the pain instead of highlight it. I could feel the baby crowning and although I reeeeaaallly didn’t want to keep pushing, it was going to be worse to stop than it was to keep going. I heard the midwife say, “There’s a cord.” Which I knew meant the cord was wrapped around the neck. I knew that this wasn’t a great situation but that it also wasn’t the worst thing ever, that the cord being wrapped around the neck is fairly common. But I also knew that meant time could be of the essence. My first push had faded out and I heard the midwife encourage me to push again, which I did – then she asked me to stop and I said, “No!! I can’t stop.” And I bared down with all of my might, groaning and hollering “Mwaaaaaaaaaaaaah” and then I felt a gush and the sweet relief of release as the baby fully emerged out. As usual, my first thought was, “Thank GOD that it’s out! Praise Jesus. Hallelujah. Shit that hurt.” I was pleasantly surprised to hear it start to cry immediately which I knew meant the cord hadn’t strangled it, and I heard James cry out, “It’s a boy!” And then I heard, “And he’s peeing all over of you.” “I knew it,” was all I could manage – and by I knew it, I meant that I was so convinced that it was going to be a girl that it had to be a boy – that I am always wrong about the sex, and that all my “feelings” about what it is going to be are balogne. I opened my eyes and looked down at the wiggling little body on my belly and let the relief and shock and love wash over me. I honestly couldn’t grasp what had just happened. I had gone from making hamburger patties, to watching The Bachelor finale to giving birth all in the span of 6 hours. We arrived at the L&D wing at midnight and Gus was born at 12:38. It was a lot to take in. The fact that I had a son made the world stand still as I tried to catch up. I watched as James cut the cord – it didn’t take long for it to quit pulsing so we gave that new trend a whirl – delayed cord clamping. It took significantly longer for my placenta to come out than it had in my previous two labors which concerned me a little because that can mean hemmoraging is occurring, but it finally detached and I pushed it out – it felt so good for it come out, like the last of the pressure was finally released. And then came the fundal rubs – I almost punched a few nurses for rubbing on my belly so hard. I know the medical reasons for why they do those rubs, but it doesn’t make them hurt any less – the last thing you want done after you give birth with no numbing agents is for someone to push down as hard as they can on your stomach and keep pushing down, over and over and over. After the torture was over, I tried to nurse Gus a little and they eventually took him to be weighed and measured. He was a respectable 7 lbs even and 20″ long – the longest but lightest of my three babies.
Before I knew it, it was time for me to transfer to a different room so while James went to watch Gus’ first bath, I got to enjoy the process of going to the bathroom and being dressed by a nurse. I am forever grateful for nurses who will brace you as you wobble your way to the bathroom and will settle you down on a toilet before helping you undress and then take a bottle of water to squirt your tender lady parts clean right after you give birth. It is hard being a patient in that situation – to feel so vulnerable and to be literally naked as the baby you just birthed. But I also found myself pushing past that discomfort and I soaked in the beauty of humanity – that some people are called to medically care for others, and sometimes that means playing bullseye with essentially a squirt gun and a vagina. The nurses were all really caring and helpful and took care of me when I couldn’t care for myself. They wheeled me to the mother & baby ward, helped me climb in bed and I stayed there for the next 36 hours as we began to adjust to our third baby, and we came up with a name for him, and introduced him to his sisters and aunt and soaked in him yummyness and divinity. My favorite birth affirmation is this: “It is said that women in labor leave their bodies…they travel to the stars to collect the souls of their babies, and return to the world together.” I’m not sure that there is much truer in this world than that, and I am both humbled and emboldened that I have been able to experience that journey, that I have been granted the opportunity to usher greatness into this world of ours.
For anyone as obsessed with birth as I am, here’s what I managed to record about my contractions. They never became the regular 4-5 minutes apart. Birth is truly individual in nature (unless you’re having multiples).