[Because this has ended up being long-winded, I'm breaking it up into two parts. I also need to, uh, finish writing the second part. ]
Tuesday, November 18, 2008. I worked from home all day, trying to wrap up some last-minute things. I optimistically told my supervisor that I would be in on Thursday (my last official day of work). to drop off some files, and that she'd see me then, "unless of course, the baby decides to do something else." I had a backache on and off all day, and wondered whether that meant what I thought it might mean.
Seth's parent's had arrived in town the day before. They came over to the apartment on Tuesday night for dinner. Seth and his mom embarked on putting together the changing table and the co-sleeper. I was feeling quite insistent about having those DONE at this point, because the nagging backache was still present, and I thought I was beginning to have some actual contractions. I had told Seth about the backache earlier, but we decided not to tell his parents, because we didn't want them getting too excited over something that might not be it. Seth and his mom were busy for a couple of hours putting everything together. I puttered around and unpacked various baby-related accessories from their boxes and put them in our bedroom and on the shelves under the changing table. I was having occasional, irregular stronger contractions, ones that I really had to breathe through. When I was in another room alone, I experimented with breathing and changes of position to see what might make me feel better. I was dying to tell Seth, but again, I was afraid of being The Girl Who Cried Labor if this wasn't it and the contractions petered out in a couple of hours.
Seth's parents finally left around 11:00, and I could finally tell Seth what I was feeling. He was excited, and said we should call our doula, Heather. I was more hesitant, not wanting to assume this was it. I called Heather at 11:30, and told her I'd had a backache all day, and that I was having what I thought were some irregular contractions. She advised me to do what I was thinking about doing anyhow - take a couple of Tylenol for the pain and try to get some sleep. [Several days later, when recapping all of this with Heather, I said I'd really had to breathe through the contractions at this point, and that I was occasionally getting on my hands and knees. She exclaimed,"You didn't tell me that! I wouldn't have told you to take Tylenol and go to bed!" I reminded her that I had a tendency to understate things, and that I didn't want to be wrong about it being actual labor. Heather just shook her head.] I did take Tylenol, and try to sleep, because I knew I would need all the rest I could get if this were the real thing. It was hard not knowing if it was for real, and how long it would take.
I didn't get much sleep. Contractions were coming perhaps every 10-20 minutes, and again, it did take a lot of concentration to breathe through them. I was also arching and curving my back in bed, like "cat - cow" in yoga, which seemed to help. I tried to just relax, rest and snooze between them, but I'm not sure how successful that was.
Wednesday, November 19. At around 5 or 5:30 I simply could not lie in bed any longer. It was too uncomfortable. I decided to get in the tub to see if that would make it easier. I ran a hot bath, and lay in the tub for a good hour, rocking my hips back and forth gently in the water with each contraction. Either I woke Seth up or he woke up around 6:30 - I don't remember. The contractions were definitely stronger and more regular. He wanted to call Heather and our midwives, but I wanted some actual data on the contractions before calling them, so we'd have something useful to tell them. Groggy with sleep, Seth got the laptop, and sat on the floor of the bathroom using the Contraction Master website to time the contractions. They were coming anywhere from 10 to five minutes apart, and were all lasting about a minute. We timed for close to an hour, and then I got out of the tub and made our phone calls.
I could hear something in Heather's voice as soon as I called her. "I'm so sorry, but one of my other clients also went into labor. She's 11 days overdue, and she's further along. I can't believe this - it never happens! I'm going to call my backup, Suzanne, and have her call you. She'll come to you if you want, and I'll come to you as soon as I can." It was in our contract with Heather that if, for some reason, she could not be present, she would have a suitable doula backup. As soon as I got off the phone, Seth asked with some anxiety "Is she going to help us?" having heard my end of the conversation. "She's calling her backup, who will call us." There was nothing to be done, and it wasn't worth getting upset about. We would just have to go with it and trust this person. I then called the midwives at the birth center. Helen, the midwife on call, called me back. She said it sounded like I was in active labor, but that it was a bit too early to come to the birth center. I could come in if I wanted to, just to be checked, but the odds were that they would send me home. I didn't want to have to get in the car and submit to the uncomfortable internal exam just for some information that might not be terribly useful, so I declined. I'd labor at home (well, our temporary home) until it was really time to go in.
The contractions were getting more intense. I was kneeling on the floor, and bending over a chair to cope with them. Suzanne, our doula backup called me at around 8:30. A second before she called, I'd had one contraction that was suddenly longer and more intense than all the previous ones. Before that, I had been thinking that I could cope for a while longer without doula support, but after that contraction, holy crap, I definitely wanted Suzanne to come as soon as possible. We had scheduled our cleaning service to come that morning, and before that contraction, I had thought (far too optimistically), oh, we can just go for a walk around the neighborhood while they clean for an hour. But no way, not after that one intense surge. We called to cancel the cleaning service. They understood.
Sometime in here I knew I should try to eat something so I had energy for what could be many long hours of labor. I couldn't think about chewing, so Seth made fruit & yogurt smoothies in the blender. I figured that if I felt nauseous, a smoothie also wouldn't be so bad if it came back up (nice logic, eh?).
Suzanne arrived around 10:00 am, and put us right at ease. She told us she'd been a doula for about five years, that she had done a lot of births at the birth center, and that she taught classes there as well as teaching a Bradley class in our neighborhood. She was just so calm and competent, and we were so glad she was there, because we were amateurs at this labor thing and didn't know what the hell we were doing. I was still on my knees, resting my head on the sofa, and with my next contraction, Suzanne did some kind of fabulous deep lower back rub that felt soooo good. Contractions were crazy, because I was just totally consumed by them for the minute or so that they lasted, and they took all my concentration to breathe and rock through them. Then, in between, I felt completely normal, and could sit down on the sofa or floor and carry on a real conversation. Suzanne helped me slow my breathing through each contraction, and try to stay on top of it. She also got out her rice beanbags, which she heated in the oven and placed on my lower back to ease the pain of each contraction - also really great. I was really feeling the contractions in my lower back, and worried that the baby had flipped "sunny side up." Suzanne said that was just the way a lot of people felt contractions. It was so comforting to have someone there who had been through labor with women lots of times before and who knew what would make me feel better. Seth tried rubbing my back also, and he got pretty good at it, but honestly, not as good as Suzanne. The contractions were coming pretty steadily. Both Suzanne and Seth were right there, rubbing me and helping me to breathe and telling me I was doing great.
Around noon, Suzanne suggested that we try to eat something. Seth and Suzanne had lunch, and I managed half a banana. I kept trying to sip water and stay hydrated. I felt strong. We tried using an exercise ball to see if I could sit on that and labor, but there was no way - I just could not sit on it, and felt too much pressure in my lower parts. Back to hands and knees. Around 12:30, Suzanne threw out some options. We could try to go for a walk to keep labor moving, or we could try going to the birth center to see if I was far enough along to get in the labor tub there. I wasn't sure I could walk around, so we decided to call the birth center to let them know we wanted to come in. Seth spoke to the midwife on call, and she cautioned us that I needed to be at least four centimeters dilated for them to allow me to stay at the birth center. Suzanne was confident that I was at least that far - I was in good active labor, and she would bet that I was five centimeters.
Now, we just had to get there. The thoughts of (1) walking, and (2) riding in a car were near to unimaginable. Seth had loaded most of our bags and birth accessories in the car earlier, so we were pretty well ready to go. Somehow, I got my coat and shoes on, Suzanne stuffed some just-heated rice beanbags into my pants to soothe my aching lower back, and we walked out of the apartment. Suzanne advised me to sort of sway as I walked, in a staggering, drunken conga sort of motion, to ease the contractions, and to sway my hips when I stood. It did help, and I managed to walk to the elevator, hoping I didn't have to walk this way in front of too many people.
There are only about 20 or 30 residents in this new apartment building that we are staying in. We never, ever run into anyone in the elevator. Except for THIS DAY, of all days. Incredibly, the elevator stopped at a lower floor and a woman got on. It took her about five seconds to look us up and down, and exclaim "Oh! She's in labor!" I grinned (grimaced? snarled?) and said "Uh huh!" Since I was breathing heavily and shifting rapidly from foot to foot and visibly very pregnant, it was either that or I really had to pee. The woman looked kind of flustered at that point, and accidentally got off on a different floor than she meant to. She then almost halted the elevator to get back on and go to her intended floor, but wisely thought better of it, and stepped off to let us continue our journey to the parking garage.
I had no idea how I was going to ride in the car. Sitting was not possible - I just felt too much pressure in my nether regions. Seth and Suzanne had figured it out though, and Seth set up the car for me. He moved the front passenger seat all the way forward and put a towel on the floorboard of the back seat so I could kneel on it, facing backwards, and bend over the bench of the back seat. I crawled in and started to sway my hips side-to-side for all I was worth, because I knew it was the only way I was going to make it through the car ride. The birth center is only a fifteen minute drive from the apartment, but it was an eternal-feeling fifteen minutes. Damned if they were going to send me home again; I knew I could not take this car ride again.
I staggered/swayed/conga-ed into the birth center and into an exam room where midwife Lisa Ross was ready to check me. I couldn't sit or lie on the table, so she let me kind of perch on the edge while she did an internal exam. "Seven centimeters." Yes! I felt like I had just nailed a fast split time in a race, or scored a goal in an Ultimate game. I think I actually did a fist pump. I was kicking ass at this labor thing! They were going to let me stay and get the hell into the birth tub!
[For Part II of Helene's birth story, click here.]