This is not the birth story I wanted. Not even close. But it was probably the one I needed.
This being my third baby, everyone told me it would be quick. Everyone (even my doctor) predicted a short labor – two to four hours at most. But reality was a far cry from those predictions. It was long and painful and discouraging. I cried a lot. I cussed. I reached to the deepest places within me to find only bits of the courage I thought I had. It was as if God was saying the entire time, No my dear. You are not in control.
Margot was born at 4:17 in the afternoon on Thursday, April 10th. The ten or so minutes before her arrival were the most intense minutes of my entire life. Unrestrained, uncontrolled, unbridled, my body took over. She emerged fast, even faster than my other girls. In one enormous push, her head appeared, then I pushed again and pulled her up to my chest, crying out, “We did it Baby Marge.”
The twenty-four hours before her arrival were and still are so surreal. Wednesday afternoon, I took a short nap and played with the girls. I noticed some contractions coming on, but they were nothing out of the ordinary from what I had been feeling the past month or so. When I finally started to pay attention to them, I noticed that they kept coming, every six or seven minutes. They didn’t feel good, but I was still able to make and eat dinner and do some things around the house. By 7:00 that evening, I started to think that this was quite possibly it. Regular contractions for three hours straight and they were beginning to get closer together and stronger in intensity, too. We notified Phil’s sister, and asked her if she could come up for the night to watch our girls. We were pretty certain this was it and we’d rather be safe than sorry. By that point, I was having to breathe through the surges. They were coming now every four or five minutes and I was flushed with heat. I called the hospital and told them my status and they agreed that I should come.
We left the house and began the nearly thirty minute drive to the hospital. The contractions were coming faster now, and I was breathing deeply and making low moaning sounds to get through each one. In between, Phil and I talked about how we thought the night would go. I knew this was it. I knew our girl would be in our arms soon. I actually got excited about having a baby in the wee hours of the morning, knowing we’d have hours of alone time with our new girl until visitors could arrive in the morning.
We arrived at the hospital around 9:30 and walked ourselves to Labor & Delivery. They briefly checked us in and then sent us to a room. They wanted to monitor me to insure I was in active labor. I put on my pretty delivery gown and got hooked up to the monitors. I wasn’t thrilled about having to sit in bed, but this would be a good indicator of how fast my labor was progressing. After nearly an hour of fetal monitoring, the contractions had slowed. They were still coming and I still had to breath through them, but they had slowed down to every six or seven or sometimes even eight minutes apart. I was pretty discouraged. I knew it was because I sat down. At home I was up and moving and cleaning and making things happen. Even the nurse agreed that the “doing nothing” is what made my labor slow down.
After discussing it with the doctor on call, the nurse suggested that we return home. If I was in labor, it was the early stages. And if not, then I could get some rest. She told us to come back if my contractions got more painful and closer together, or if I had any of the symptoms from a list they gave me. I was completely discouraged and felt in my gut that we were making a mistake by going home. I knew this was it. I just knew it.
No kidding, ten minutes after we got all the way back home, the contractions got pretty intense. I began sweating profusely and shaking uncontrollably – both normal, hormonal signs of imminent labor. I tried to sleep but couldn’t. I ended up getting sick in the bathroom and saw some blood, which was enough for me to wake Phil up and go back to the hospital. I could barely speak I was shaking so much, so I had Phil call the hospital to let them know to expect us again. This is it, you guys. I know it. This baby is on her way.
As soon as I got to labor and delivery, they monitored my surges again. At first, they were every four minutes. Then, like a repeat of our experience just hours before, they slowed down. To urge my body along, I began walking the hallways. It helped some, but they still weren’t coming fast enough. I had been down this road before. I knew that if this baby was coming anytime soon, these contractions needed to start coming faster. Yes, baby girl was indeed on her way. She just wasn’t as in a hurry as we had hoped.
Around 3:00 in the morning they moved us to a delivery room. The contractions were still coming and they were still quite painful, but I knew we had a lot of work ahead of us. For several hours, I rocked back and forth on a birthing ball, stood, walked, sat up, laid down. I tried all of the positions in the books. The contractions were getting stronger and stronger, but not closer together. It was then that we made the decision to have my doctor break my water in the early morning. Surely this would get things going – REALLY going.
While we waited for the sun to rise, I told Phil to get some sleep while he could. Of course, as soon as he was out, the pain became consuming. I labored alone with Phil asleep next to me for a couple of hours. It was a mind game at that point. My thoughts were racing back and forth and all of the voices in my head were arguing with each other.
“There’s no way I can do this.”
“You have to do this. You were made to do this.”
“I don’t want to do this. I hate this.”
“You have prepared for this day. You are capable of bringing life into the world.”
“I want this to be over. I want to take a break. I want to get some sleep. I want to eat something.”
“You have done this twice before. Do not be afraid.”
“Look at him. Asleep. He just gets to sit there and have a new child delivered before him. I hate his guts.” (No, but seriously!)
I got over my hatred of Phil pretty quickly after the doctor broke my water. I needed him by that point. It was nearly 8:00 in the morning and my contractions were consuming me. I was still barely dilated. I was exhausted. And I knew we still had a long way to go. I needed him to hold my hand, to push hard on my lower back. I needed him to labor with me and convince me, for the third time in my life, that I could and would bring a new baby, our baby, into this world.
Things went like this for six more hours. SIX. The contractions were stronger each time, but still only five or six minutes apart. I was losing energy. I was losing faith. I was losing myself.
Around 2:00 that afternoon, the nurse and the doctor finally suggested that I start a bit of Pitocin to help things along. They gave me the option, of course, but felt that it may be the boost my body needed to get this baby girl out. I cried and cried at this news. I had been in labor for twenty-two hours by this point and was only dilated to three centimeters. I was exhausted. Dizzy. Starving. I couldn’t see straight. I had developed a fever. My head was pounding. And quite honestly, I knew that I couldn’t do it naturally if I had to use that devil drug. The nurse assured me that she wouldn’t slam me with Pitocin, but that they’d ease me into it instead. She still had confidence that I could do this without an epidural, but I just cried and cried because I knew how the story would unfold.
Not even two minutes after the Pitocin started dripping into my IV, the contractions picked up. They were sharp and focused. They began to get closer together. Things continued this way for a bit, and the nurse gradually added more and more to speed things along. Before long, I was gritting and grunting and moaning and mooing and doing everything I had trained my body to do to get through the contractions. I cried out in pain. I cussed. I prayed. I squeezed Phil’s hands as he held me through each surge. In that moment, I was lost. I reached to the deepest place in my mind, the deepest part of my heart. I looked myself straight between the eyes and saw myself for exactly who I was in that moment.
I was a mother. I gave my all. I did everything I could. I prepared and read and asked questions. I trained and planned and practiced. And here I was, unable to accomplish what I thought I could control. Here I was, facing myself in the reality of my own story, realizing for the first time that I had nothing to prove. I had nothing to gain. I had done it all. I was finished. This baby needed to come out. It was time to let go of trying to prove something to everyone else. It was time to let go of trying to prove something to myself.
Soon, I requested anesthesia. The contractions were slamming me and I needed relief. Like a bath on the inside, the pain faded. I laid on my side, tears dripping down my cheek, and found rest in the fact that my baby would be here soon. I had Phil turn down the lights and turn the music back on. Sigur Ros Pandora gave me rest as the nurse upped the Pitocin quite a bit. I could still feel the pain, the contractions, the slamming in my back. But it was bearable. The epidural provided the relief I needed to finish this task.
Twenty minutes later, panic took over my body once again. Something wasn’t right. I was sure of it. I couldn’t breathe. I was shaking, hyperventilating. It was time for the baby to be born.
Sure enough, my body had done its job. I was completely dilated and Miss Margot was finally in a hurry to meet her mama. This part is still a blur to me. I wish I had it on video so I could hear what I said or see what all was going on. My body was in charge by this point. I remember yelling that the baby needed to come out. I remember crying out that something wasn’t right. I remember saying that I needed to push. I remember not being able to breathe. The nurse sat beneath me and paged more nurses to come. They paged my doctor, too. I pushed when I needed to. I panted. I breathed. I cried. I yelled. The second my doctor entered the room, I pushed with every drop of energy I had left and Margot’s head was born. I reached down and touched her, gave one final push, then pulled her up to my chest and held her skin to skin.
She didn’t make a sound. She just opened her eyes wide and looked up at me, like she knew it was me all along. She grabbed on to my finger and held on tight and the two of us just stared at each other. I cried so hard for several minutes after her birth – so thankful she was finally born, so thankful that labor was over, so blown away by the power of childbirth. For the third time in my life, I had done it. I brought new life into the world. And it didn’t matter how long or how natural or how awful or how wonderful the labor and birth had been. What mattered was this baby, newly bundled, sticky and sweet, healthy and safe, staring up at her mama. She was here now. She was perfect. And everything was as it should be.
*Only later did I find out that she was born with the cord wrapped around her neck. The doctor tried to pull it over her head but it wouldn’t budge. A nurse quickly slipped two fingers between the cord and Margot’s neck and she was born a second later. Thank God she came fast.
**Margot means child of light. And that’s what this little baby is to our family. We gave her the middle name Joan, after my beloved Mimi, who passed away last September.