Though my due date was actually February 10, as I'm sure we all remember, I'd stupidly and wrongly assumed that the baby would come much earlier. There were even a few times in mid-January where I convinced myself I was on the verge of labor. But as the days and weeks passed, I started to grow desperate. I tried to recall every detail about the day before Juniper was born, and every day I tried to do everything the same, like stepping backwards into footprints I'd already made in the snow. I had picked a fight with Jim that day and cried a lot. I had fish and chips for dinner. So for three weeks our lives were a lot like Groundhog Day with a lot of fighting, crying, and battered cod. Every morning I woke up more pregnant than the day before, with Sonny and Cher taunting me from the radio.
When I was about a week past my expiration date, one of the midwives in the practice I'd chosen mentioned castor oil. The next morning, at 5:00 a.m., I chugged a small glass of Diet Coke with two tablespoons of Castor oil mixed in. It was like drinking Aspartame-flavored Astroglide. Mmmm, Asparglide. After gagging a lot, I went back to bed, and woke up two hours later with the most urgent case of acute diarrhea I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The theory here is that all the intestinal cramping you experience shitting liquids can also cause uterine contractions to start. It's an act of sheer desperation, fathomable only to those women who would prefer spending the day sluicing out their colon to spending one more damn day gestating.
It didn't work. So of course, the next morning, I took more. My stomach, seeming to recall the previous day's gastrointestinal jamboree, sent it right back up the tube. Not being easily intimidated, a few hours later I took two more ounces that Jim mixed into a chocolate milkshake.
As Jim wrote, at around 2:00 p.m., I started to have regular, short, and not very painful contractions. I was terrified that they would stop, so I didn't sit down for hours, unless you count the toilet. At some point when we were out walking Jim said: "Hey, this is great! I bet we're home by tomorrow night with our son." I almost stuck his face in one of his annoying poetically-dirty snowbanks, I was so sure such blasphemous optimism would cause my contractions to evaporate.
And this gets us to where he left off. I'd finally progressed from 3 centimeters to 4, and by that time, the contractions were as powerful as I'd been wishing for them to be all day. After the midwife told us we could stay, I felt like I lost some of my sense of purpose. The thrill of actually progressing quickly wore off and all I was left to deal with was the pain. I couldn't talk much, and I was starting to feel myself fade in and out the way I had during Juniper's birth. Each contraction left me depleted, and I couldn't catch my breath between them. I knew I was only four centimeters, and still had a long way to go. As the nurse pointed out, "You've been having plenty of contractions, but your actual labor has only just begun."
I looked over at the soaking tub sitting in the corner. "It's huge," Jim had said when he first saw it. "I wonder how many gallons of chili you could make in there."
I knew I needed to get into it. The midwife warned that tub might slow things down or even cause the contractions to stop, but at this point I needed some relief, so I swore I wouldn't stay in the tub for too long and would get out if labor wasn't progressing. Jim filled the tub with water that was the perfect temperature to slip into, and as soon as I could I stripped down and climbed in. The relief was immediate -- I now felt relaxed and awake, and the pain actually started to go away between contractions, which remained as intense as they had been. In the tub, I finally had a second to acknowledge to myself that I really was in labor, and that the baby was on his way out of me and into the world sooner rather than later. I called my mom to tell her we were staying at the hospital. "I'm four centimeters," I said. "You can come now, but it still might be awhile."
When I first got into the tub, I had a hard time believing anyone would ever convince me to get me out of it. It felt that good. The contractions hadn't slowed. My bag of waters was intact. But after almost an hour in the tub, I had a pesky little urge to push and a new pressure with each contraction. I told Jim to give me just a little bit more hot water, closed my eyes during one last break between contractions, breathed, and told the nurse, "I know it's crazy, but I feel this urge to push." The nurse ran to grab the midwife.
"Get out of the tub," she said on her way out. "Now." There was a thin ribbon of blood floating in the water. I wasn't sure I had the strength or balance to climb out of the tub, put on a towel, and make it to the bed, but somehow, with Jim's help, I did it. He toweled me off and I remember the nurse commenting on the tattoo above my left breast. I was stark naked and didn't give this fact even the slightest bit of attention. I would be naked until long after my son was born and only then would I feel the need to cover up. I was in the world of pain and between pain. There was only that.
I crawled up onto the queen-sized bed, knowing the midwife would need to check my dilation. It seemed like the contractions were no longer stopping. There was no longer space between the pain. When I was sure a contraction had ended, I felt the dull certainty of her fingers inside me. "Nine," she said. I'd dilated five centimeters in less than an hour while I was doing something that made me feel so much better that should have slowed rather than hasten the process.
I remember their voices. I was on my side; my husband was next to me on the bed, a spoon. The midwife pulled open a drawer and pulled out her crochet hook in a sterile bag. "I think it might be a good idea to break your water," she said. Everything was calm suggestion with her, as if this birth was all up to me. I looked at her, wanting some actual direction, but only seeing an unflappable sense of service or duty in her eyes. She was there to guide me through this process, not force me. "Do it," I said, and then the plastic was in me, sharp yet distant, a twist, and the gush between my legs. The midwife broke my water, and it was almost over. But I didn't know that then.
Jim can tell the final part with much more clarity than me.
Onward to Part Three.