Friday, December 02, 2011

the labor tale

I only had to wait 11 more days from that post. It feels like a lifetime ago.

Here I am on Friday, September 30.

On Saturday, October 1, I woke up before 4am with labor pains. I had been SO curious how it would start, and how I would know it was real. And when it started, I just knew.

The contractions weren't anything like the braxton hicks I had been feeling all summer. They were like cramps, lasting for maybe 10 seconds, maybe every 10 minutes. After trying to sleep through them for an hour, I just sat up in bed, played on the computer, and recorded their frequency. Garrett saw me awake, and in a half-awake daze said jokingly, "How come you aren't in labor yet?" - a teasing phrase I'd heard that week, as we were so eagerly waiting her arrival. I said, "I am." I'm not sure if it shocked him, but he didn't go back to sleep, and we actually watched some tv show at 5am. Later, I drifted back to sleep and we didn't get out of bed until 10am. I was still having only slightly painful contractions, and I had a list of things I wanted to do while they were still mild.

We took our final Saturday morning photo (week 40!), showered, cleaned the house, and finished packing the suitcase. But as I got active, the contractions became far more infrequent. A walk didn't help it continue. I worried that it would go away and not come back for who-knows-how-many days. This is what has happened to my sisters. The afternoon was calm, with only some increased activity when I lay down again...the reverse of what "they" say works to bring on labor.

That evening we were scheduled to go to Jake's for a party. I really hesitated about going. Jake lives out from the city center, about a 45 minute trip by metro and bus. I could tell Garrett really wanted to go. I was thinking all day we probably wouldn't be able to go -- indeed earlier that week when Jake invited us, I half-jokingly said I hoped we wouldn't be able to come -- I hoped I'd be having or have had this baby!! But as the contractions slowed down, we didn't call to cancel. By 4pm I was feeling blue. Part of me thought it would be reasonable for us to stay home, pop in a movie, and hope labor would progress. But I knew if we did that, and labor didn't progress, I'd be very disappointed and discouraged. We'd still be waiting for her arrival, and we'd have missed the party to boot.

It felt a bit like an umbrella situation: if you bring it, you won't need it. But surely as you leave it at home, it will rain. I had a feeling that if we went all that way, I'd end up in labor. But the way I saw it, that would be just fine! I desperately didn't want to wait any longer to see my baby. If going to the party brought labor on, perfect! If it didn't, well, at least we'd have the party as a consolation prize.

We left at 5pm, promising ourselves we wouldn't stay late, no matter what. Even if the labor didn't progress, I needed rest and sleep for whatever lay ahead. As we walked to the metro, the pains began a bit more. It occurred to us we could turn around, but I didn't want to jinx it. At Dejvicka, I had to sit on a bench through several contractions. We met up with a friend waiting for the bus, and I tried to look normal through contractions - though I imagine I had this constipated look on my face.

You see, for the past several weeks, when my baby would be technically "on time" after 38 weeks, I had been telling people she could come any day.... And you should see the look people give when they hear that. Like I might spew a baby in their faces within the minute. Sheesh! I think people are seriously afraid of a woman in labor, like it would be terrifying. I had a feeling it wasn't going to be terrifying right at the start. And I don't think I was terrifying at that party. But I didn't want people to know that I was in labor, because I thought they'd freak out. They'd tell me to rush to the hospital (as if the hospital would even admit me that early). So, I tried to play it cool. As best I remember it, I could still mostly talk through the contractions on the way out to the party. I could still walk through them. When we got there, things simmered down, and I only remember one really painful one.

We left saying, "pray she comes tomorrow!" but I don't think most anyone realized we really meant it would happen.

Again, things picked up on the way home. By about 9pm, walking home from the metro, I had a cramp that I couldn't walk through. (Aside: If that's when you start counting hours of labor, I had over 12. But I can't figure out when to start counting. For some reason when people ask, they seem to want your answer to be short: "How many hours were you in labor? It was short?" Why do they make that question leading? I feel like I'm supposed to be chipper about my answer. No, I don't think it was quick. But time was a blur. I don't know; it doesn't matter.)

At about 10pm Garrett called home. We told his mom I was in labor, we thought it'd be soon. I was laying in bed, trying to rest, but I didn't like going through it alone, so I got up to talk to them. At one point, in front of the skype camera, I had a bad one that I didn't handle so well. Nancy saw me and gave me some advice which really carried me through the night. (I didn't take any labor classes, so I really needed this.) She told me to choose something to focus on, to think of something positive. This really helped. All those labor tips sound really cheesy and stupid. They're not.

By midnight I was really miserable. I just wanted it to come fast. I felt like going to the hospital would help - it would at least be a step towards having the baby. At this point contractions were lasting about 45 seconds; not quite long enough to warrant the hospital, but I was tired of waiting. I think I managed to hold out till about 12:30am when I told Garrett to call my sister.

As we were driving along the river, Elizabeth said how amazing this was: she could remember the day I was born, and here she was, driving me to the hospital to have my baby. Pretty cool. I heard this, and have a vivid memory of it, but at the time I couldn't respond.

At the hospital, we went up into the receiving room. I had been there on Thursday; I thought perhaps my water was leaking. I wasn't received warmly, and I wasn't too excited about pushing the call button again. My fears were justified; the woman came out, and when I shook my head and said I didn't speak Czech, she told me rudely, that this is the Czech Republic. I should speak Czech. [How is this helpful at 1:15am, while I'm in labor?] I didn't bother use any energy to respond or even get annoyed; I just turned around to Garrett and sat down.

Garrett had to wait outside while I went in, sat with the monitor, and got checked. The doctor suggested I was not necessarily in labor (how?! when I'm in more pain than ever in my life?). He said I could stay, but they wouldn't admit me into a delivery room. Garrett couldn't come with me into the 2-person room they gave me; he took a taxi home. They said they'd check in 2 hours to see if progress was being made.

Once in the maternity ward, I had only good experiences. The nurse with long blond dreadlocks was kind and supportive. She told me to take a 30-minute shower. It felt amazing. But after it, I felt so bad, moaning in pain while my roommate who evidently wasn't in labor, was trying to sleep. The pain increased, and I lay there, curled up and alone, and felt like there was NO way I could make it to the end without pain relief.

By 3:30, when I was checked again, the cheerful nurse in dreadlocks told me I was doing fine -- without a hint of scorn the admission doctor had given me. Garrett, who had only just got home and hadn't been able to sleep at all, turned around and came back.

During those two hours by myself, I really felt hopeless about handling the pain on my own. When he met me, I told Garrett I didn't think I could make it: if it was supposed to get only more painful, I couldn't handle it. He said, "You can do it." And like a light switch, I decided I could. I did. But it was the most painful and difficult thing I've ever done.

I suppose I got to this room sometime at after 4am. I was sorry Garrett had to go back and forth and get no sleep. But I was glad they didn't put me in this room to begin with; that delivery chair was SO uncomfortable, and there was no bed in the room. At least for those two hours I had a more comfortable bed to rest in.

[In retrospect, I clearly should have stayed home as long as possible, which is what I had told myself I would do; in the pain, I changed my mind. Garrett could have slept, or at least rested. I would have been on our comfortable bed. And maybe the mean nurse and rude doctor would have believed I was in labor and been nicer.]

Garrett had to pay 1000kc to be in the delivery room with me...I know stupid, especially when the hospital encourages dads to be there, and certainly he's a help to the midwife. We joked that these shoe-socks cost 1000kc, because surely that's all the hospital did for him.

By the way, the labor room did seem offensively bright as in these photos, but shortly after these photos were taken, we turned off the overhead light and it was much better.

Last pregnant photo:

The midwife was very nice. I don't really remember the first one I had, but I remember thinking at 7am I was sorry to see her go and hoped the next one would be nice. And she was. She was great -- kind, encouraging, supportive, and not pushy.

I was having back labor, and the contractions I felt back there were far worse than the ones on my front. For some reason my midwife wanted me to lie on my side and it felt like the pain hurt a lot more that way. I'm really not sure why I didn't move myself, but I just did what she told me to: it was easier not to think about things, and certainly I didn't have energy for walking or much moving.

Mostly, in the last few hours, I remember flailing my arm out toward Garrett every time a contraction came and squeezing his hand with all the force I could. I'm quite sure I slept between the contractions. I have no concept of the time.

At 8cm, the midwife asked if I wanted them to break my water. I didn't. I really wanted it to happen naturally. Garrett says it was about 15 to 20 minutes later when it happened naturally. It was rather thrilling: even Garrett could hear the pop. That was probably about 8am.

Not long after that, the midwife told me it was time to push. I didn't have any drugs, but my exhaustion and sleepiness made it such that I was quite out of it. I didn't feel any different; I couldn't sense that I needed to push; I just did it. I guess I pushed for over an hour -- maybe close to an hour and a half. It was SO much more painful than anything before. I pushed and pushed, and her head finally crowned. The sweet midwife was excited, and told me I was doing great, and put my hand to feel her head.

But that was just the beginning. It took a long time -- with sleeps between contractions. Both Garrett and the midwife (and a doctor too, but I don't even think I consciously looked at her) were very encouraging. But sometimes I just shook my head and said I couldn't push through that contraction. I'd close my eyes for rest and the next thing I knew it was time again.

It was taking so long that the midwife wanted to give me IV of oxytocin to lengthen my contractions so I could get more out of them. At this point I was willing for anything that might help, and happy to not care and just take advice.

By the time the oxytocin was flowing, it was just minutes more. The midwife said I barely needed any. So whether my body was just finally ready for the final push, or the hormone helped, who knows. I just know that I got a sense of resolve and then, just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, I heard one of them say, "It's a girl." I opened my eyes and was amazed to see a baby, suspended between my legs. I wonderingly felt my flat belly. The doctor held her while the midwife clamped her umbilical cord and asked Garrett if he wanted to cut it. He stood up eagerly. And I just sat back and smiled.

Within moments she was on my chest, and I was meeting my daughter. The feeling is beyond compare.
The rush of adrenaline continued for those first two beautiful hours of her life while Garrett and I got to be the first to welcome Julie Anna into this world. The Czech hospital does this best: a baby is most alert for those two hours, before becoming the sleepy little newborn everyone else meets. They put the baby on the mama's chest immediately, for the physical touch and eye contact that is so important. The midwife helped us start nursing half an hour after delivery, just like all the books recommend. The new parents get to enjoy her in peace -- she was only taken by the midwife to be wiped off, weighed, measured, and bundled, all in the delivery room.
Garrett holding his daughter for the first time.
At 11:30, a nurse took Julie to be bathed and then put in an incubator to rest until her body temperature was self-sustaining. I was wheeled to the recovery room where I'd stay with Julie for 4 more nights. And Garrett went home to sleep. He'd return at 3pm, with a host of visitors (every day).

Julie Anna
Born 9:24am on October 2
7lbs, 2oz 19.6in

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