The finer parts of the last hour of my labor are hazy. I spent the better part of that time with my eyes shut tight, pushing and screaming and fighting the last leg of the labor journey. At some point, as I was getting ready to push, or sometime just after, I looked to my doula and husband and proclaimed "Look! I'm a pink tiger!" They must have thought I was in some sort of laboring delirium, but I knew exactly what I was thinking. The pink lines that ran up and down my belly and sides were a part of me, and I was owning them and everything they meant to me.
When my pink tiger stripes first started to show up during the middle of the third trimester, I lamented their arrival. For two weeks, I looked into the mirror each night and repeated a mantra. Something along the lines of "it's all ok, these are a small price to pay for a perfect child." I don't exactly remember what I said to myself but it was meant to take away the power from the stretch marks and reaffirm the beauty of all that pregnancy stuff and the things that came along with it.
It wasn't until my son- my son!- landed on my stomach that those pink stripes actually became an emblem, a representation of the ten months I'd made a little home for this little human in my body and a reminder of all my hopes for him as he left that home and began life as his own entity. In that instant, I became a pink tiger - a fierce protector of this little person, his own personal tiger mama who loves him so deep, deep down to the core. Loves him so much that my skin had to stretch and strain to make room for this love.
I had been saying for days, weeks even, that I just wished I knew when to expect him to arrive. Granted, I didn't know for sure it was a him I was waiting for; but I knew that I just wanted to have a date to rely on. The waiting business was for the birds. When I hit 37 weeks, I told Chris that we could have this baby anytime now. Every day, I said 'maybe today!' Every morning, when I woke up, not in labor, I told Chris "not today!" I had the notion that I'd for sure go into labor at night, when it happened. I'd sigh, and pull myself out of bed, achy and heavy with it all, pull on one of the myriad jersey maternity dresses I'd worn for months already, and head to work, heavy with the knowledge that it wouldn't be that day.
As I left work every evening, for weeks, co-workers said "see you tomorrow… or not!" We all expected me to go into labor early, before my due date. I was huge, massive even. I was fully cooked and my indicator had popped. But the little turkey taking up residence in my uterus was not ready to come out yet.
As the weeks wore on, I said, aloud and frequently, that I just wish I knew a day to expect him. It would take out all the waiting and the frustration if I could plan on a date.
And of course, silly me, I did have a day, a time to rely on. That day that my midwives and the internet due date calculators had given me months before. The little guy inside had given me a time of arrival, and it was me that had chosen to ignore it.
August 8th. My due date.
Around 9 on Thursday evening, August 7th, it seemed as though my water had broken. I'll spare you the details, but it involved believing that things smelled of what the internets tell you amniotic fluid is reminiscent of (its sperm, people. sperm!), making Topher confirm that he thought so too, and a call to the midwives, who said, yes sounds like a leak in the water. I was told to labor at home until the next morning and call by noon if things hadn't gotten started by then.
HA! "Labor" at home. I slept like a baby Thursday night, had a contraction - just one - Friday morning, and called the midwives. I was to head to the hospital at 3 - 18 hours after my water broke - to get checked out.
I spent Friday morning bouncing on my ball, posting my out of office message, and trying to keep my mind off of the lack of labor that was happening. I called my mom and told her "today is the day! get here!" She called my dad back from work and they set off on the road to join us. Chris spent the time working on building a fence for our backyard
Two contractions later (hours apart, of course), we called our doula (and Peace Corps friend) Sam who joined us as we were heading to the hospital.
This is it! I thought.
This is it! We had texted family and friends.
This is it! The midwives told us based on what they knew.
I was looking at induction when I headed to the hospital Friday at 3:30. By 4:00, I was looking at extreme disappointment when a little blue line not appearing confirmed that my water had indeed not broken.
All I wanted was to be alone in the moments after the triage nurse confirmed that we were not in labor. I wanted to not cry and just be alone. Chris could feel it and had the grace to avoid looking directly at me. He took me and Sam to get doughnuts and they both politely let me put on a brave face.
To say I felt silly, dumb, all the adjectives you assign yourself when you make a mistake and get family and friends excited, is an understatement. At the time, it felt like the worst case scenario: think I'm in labor, tell everyone, tell work, and then find out I was wrong! I didn't know my body at all, in fact! To me, I had had the thing I wanted least to happen - I didn't know what labor was and I didn't know when it was really go time.
And, of course, that's when real labor began.
Friday evening found me in the shower, not crying over not spilled amniotic fluid, and it came swooping over me. A contraction! It felt ever so intense (ha!). And then another one, as I lay in bed, wrapped in my towel, not feeling sorry for myself at all.
And just as my parents pulled up, not disappointed that today wasn't the day, they hit their stride. Contractions every 7-10 minutes. I labored, laughing, smiling, in deep excitement that I may have actually gone into labor as soon as I gave up hope that it would happen.
The contractions continued through dinner, through a walk around the neighborhood, and through the night. We said goodbye to doula Sam around 9, and she reminded me that labor could pick up or slow down during the night - don't stress about it, she said! I was full of excitement, tempered with the reminder of false labor earlier that day.
That night was a night of crazy vivid dreams. I woke up regularly, pulled out of sleep where I was suddenly doing something very painful, only to realize I was in the middle of a contraction. And contractions lying on your side? They suck.
Very early Saturday morning, I woke up. I knew. This could make or break labor. I just knew it and I knew I could make it happen. So I took a shower. And that sure did speed things up! I downloaded a contraction timer and spent the next hour popping my hand out of the shower to start the timer, and stop it, start it and stop it. Every three minutes! I took labor to the bouncy ball and that's where Chris found me when he woke up a few hours later.
Chris meant to spend that Saturday continuing to build the fence in our backyard with his uncle John. As contractions continued, and didn't stop, he forfeited those plans. We ate breakfast with my parents, I labored through contractions that started to come every 5-7 minutes. We called Sam again and she suggested a good long walk. Walk I did, for a good 45 minutes. Very slowly, though, so it was really only just over a mile. And those darn contractions stalled! One good one as I started, and two cheapo ones as I walked on.
Sweaty and smiling, I decided it was time for another shower. Chris joined me upstairs and I asked him to be on standby to time the contractions as I showered. And this is where it got exciting, folks! Contractions got harder and came faster. Every 3-4 minutes they took over my focus and I began to moan through them a bit. It was glorious. I wanted to sit in the shower, so Chris dragged a makeshift chair into the shower (a cooler! on its side, with a towel draped over it) and I began a rhythm. Rock back and forth, standing, with the shower hitting my front. Sit, just on the edge. Stand, bent over the 'chair.' And, smack, contraction!
I was exhilarated. It felt like I was bringing them on, coaxing them forth, encouraging my body forward. It got more painful and I was so gratified. I sank deeply into the pain and I welcomed it. I was so grateful to be in labor, and really in labor. I had been begging my body to cause me some pain and it finally was and I knew it was good and true and exactly what it was made to do.
Which is exactly how labor felt. As if I, my body, my mind, was doing precisely what it was designed to do. It felt so right, and so good. Yes, it was painful and yes, in the middle of a contraction, I felt nothing but a desire to get through to the other side. But the pain, the desire to get through it, was a feeling of wanting to help my body do its good work - sway and moan through another, more intense contraction and we're one step closer. Closer to birth and closer to meeting our child.
For once, I wasn't in my head - I was in and of my body.
I sank and I sank and I sank, deeper into labor and I loved it.
Sam arrived and I had a stall. Laboring, essentially naked, in front of someone other than my spouse? Scary. Pink tiger stripes, exposed for all to see! I'm moaning, like those women in the movies, and I feel silly! All the thoughts swirled and my head starting taking over. Two hours of 3-4 minute spaced contractions stopped as the minutes ticked by…11 minutes before the next one. Then 7. And then I asked to be alone, to refocus and center.
And it worked. I left my head again, and got back into the rhythm. They grew farther apart, but longer and much more intense. No speaking through them now, not at all. I was so glad Chris had convinced me to ask my parents to get me the food I had wanted most - a smoothie. I had sucked it down while in the shower, and the sugar was coursing through my veins, powering me on. When we called the midwife around 2 PM, I knew we would be doing this today. I think we all knew - Chris, Sam, my parents. Not an hour later, my labor partners made the decision we were going in. It was hospital time.
And then, it became super painful and super fast. Pain, not starting down low and moving up, and around. No, now it was pain, shooting in my lower back. As if someone was smacking my in the back with a 2x4 again and again, ceaselessly. And five of these kind of contractions in the car, during the fifteen minute drive to the hospital. And two while walking to the elevator. And two while signing in in the maternity ward.
That second one, after I signed all the forms (those same forms I had signed excitedly the day before, sure this was it!), hit me and overwhelmed me and tears came and I lost my focus. I couldn't find a low moan, I could only gasp. I was scared, suddenly. So many people staring at me. And the pain! In my back! Make it stop!
Two more again as we entered triage to be checked and suddenly I let myself think it - what if I wasn't even a 5? All this laboring and now this crazy back pain - what if I still had so far to go? I had only wanted to labor at home as long as possible and show up at the hospital deeply in labor. What if my pain threshold wasn't going to bear it?
And then another contraction on the table but I was a 7! A 7! We all cheered, even the nurse. The relief was palpable and we all admitted we had been thinking the same thing - let me be at least a 5.
This was it - actually it. Really in labor. And still, my water had not broken.
I was officially admitted around 4 PM. I had asked the sweet triage nurse - Peggy - if there were any birthing rooms with the big windows and she found us the perfect room. The exact room Chris and I had seen when we toured the maternity wing the weekend of our birthing class. It felt right. And the excitement took over again, and those back contractions had nothing on me. I knew I could do it.
As I paced that birthing room, bending over the bed and swaying my hips as Chris and Sam applied counter pressure to my back, I relished that I was there, in the room where I would give birth. During one break between contractions, I walked away from the windows to a counter in the room. A counter where a plastic bag with hospital bracelets had been placed. And there, next to my name and date of birth, was a handwritten note. Three bracelets, all with the word 'male' written next to my stats. And that's when I found it out that it was sweet William who was pushing his way into this world.
A little boy. That moment was an eternity, and then I turned around.
I weathered a contraction and Sam and Chris watched my face. The pain was lessened by the new knowledge and as I came out of the crescendo of pain, I told Chris I knew a secret. I didn't want to ruin his surprise, but I didn't want to lie to him. Aloud, Sam guessed I had found out the sex. Slowly, I told Chris to walk over to the counter to see what I had seen. And then he knew, and there were tears in his eyes and we just looked quietly at each other, until another contraction pulsed through my back and we continued progressing through labor. Full of the knowledge that deep down, we had both known it was a little man that would make us a family of three.
Sam had been reminding me throughout labor that the intensity increases slowly but surely, to allow my mind to handle the step up in pain. Just as each level of pain felt manageable, the intensity increased. But it was ok because I began to know that that new level would soon become manageable too. I had gone into labor wanting to do it naturally, but knowing that if the pain became too much and began to inhibit progress, I would calm myself however I needed to keep it moving. Pain blocking drugs included. I'd hoped I wouldn't need them but I wasn't expecting myself to be a hero if it got to be too much.
And, of course, suddenly it just stopped being ok. Instantly, the pain was NOT manageable at all. I was done. Not two hours later and I couldn't do it any longer. I needed to vomit! No, I didn't. I needed the pain in my back to stop, stop, stop. I looked right into Sam's eyes, crying and told her I couldn't do it. I took a few steps, and I felt it. I felt William slip down, lower.
This is it! I said. And I meant it this time. I felt as though I needed to poop a bowling ball. Just what nurse Peggy had told me I would feel when it was time. Time to push!
There was a flurry of activity and suddenly I was back to that place of fear. I wasn't ready for this. I had barely labored at the hospital at all! We hadn't walked the halls, I'd had no ice chips. I wanted to pee. My midwife told me I could do some practice pushes while in the bathroom, as it was a good position. But I didn't want to. I wasn't ready!
I began to lose my breathing, to lose focus. The midwife, changed and ready for delivery saw it and just took me in her arms. Held me tight and told me, no nonsense like, this was it and I could do it. I didn't quite believe her, but I did gather some calm. And then I was on the table, eyes clasped shut, tightly closed. I labored bent backward over the elevated hospital bed but it wasn't working. I turned on my side, and tried so hard to find the reservoir of strength to push and push and be done.
There were a good number of people in the room as I pushed, but I heard two voices above the rest - one very clearly and the other through a haze. Chris', right in front of me, clear as a bell, encouraging and pushing me on. My midwife's, at my feet, helping me to know where to push, no nonsense telling me exactly what to do and how to do it.
Pushing, man, it did me in. If I labored like a champ, I pushed like a total loser. I mean, I did it, I pushed him out, but dang, if it wasn't the hardest thing I've ever physically done. I just did not believe I could do it. I couldn't muster the strength to push the way I was supposed to, chin up, breathing out, all energy and focus on pushing. I screamed, man, even though it took energy away from pushing. I breathed just to be able to survive and I did what I could to just get it done.
And when William finally emerged, the exhilaration was instantaneous. I could do this for hours! I could run for miles! I could smile forever! There is no feeling like it, and it was exactly what I thought it would be, and more.
The last part of William's birth is marked with some extraordinary bleeding, a placenta that did not want to detach and my midwife's hand going back up the way Will had just come out - three times! - to coax whatever remained out. Happily, morphine and time have a way of erasing the memory of this pain and I can say that I'd do it all over again, in a heart beat.
When Will had to be taken off my chest so that I could be tended to, Chris took our son, wrapped up like a burrito. He sat on the bench near the giant windows in our labor room, and spoke to Will, welcoming him to this world. A few feet away, I chattered on in my drugged up state, watching their every move. And William turned his little head toward me, toward my voice and we locked eyes. His dark, dark eyes caught mine and we saw each other, two separate beings that had existed as one for so long.
"Oh, I love you, I love you so much" are the words Chris tells me were my first for our son. And they are the ones that I repeat in my head, every day, over and over, as I hold him in my arms. Being Will's mama is more than the best - it is it, the end. A child is the corporeal manifestation of all the best things in life.
I love him, I love him so much.