August 10, 2011

by Ashley Weeks Cart

Exactly 27 months ago, precisely two days before Addison’s due date, I awoke at 6am to the twinge of my abdomen constricting and a rather noticeable pang in my lower back. After two hours of lying in bed, watching the stereotypical California sun creep through the French doors attached to our bedroom, I shook James’ shoulder and told him that it was starting. That same sensation had been occurring every 10-15 minutes for approximately 30 seconds each time during that two hour period. While the pain was notable, it was by no means debilitating. Its consistency is what clued me in to the shift from Braxton Hicks to the start of labor, however latent. I couldn’t explain the pain in my back, but since I’d never experienced proper contractions before, I assumed that that was part of the deal.

Fast forward to exactly one week ago, precisely two days before Courtland’s due date, I woke this time, only slightly later in the morning, at 6:40am to the very same sensation as I had two years prior. This time, I noted that I still felt pain in my back, but only on the right side. Unfortunately, this time I also knew exactly what that back pain indicated. A baby that was not entirely anterior.

Crap.

I also knew how very long I could be stuck in this limbo period known as latent labor, and I thought it best to get vertical and get moving in the hopes of urging past this stage more swiftly than with my first born. I debated whether or not to immediately drag my sister across the state of Massachusetts, for fear that the contractions might stop and that it could be days before I experienced them again. Ultimately, I made the call and Kimmy began her journey westward.

James cooked a big old breakfast, because if it was going to turn into the real thing, we both knew I’d loose my appetite and I needed as much energy as possible for what was about to happen. We then loaded up all of our busy dependents and headed on a walk.

It was a perfect summer morning in the Berkshires. Clear views of the mountains. Sun shining. I couldn’t help but reflect on the many stages of my life I had traversed on those very grounds as we walked that morning. This was the place where we had met. Where we had fallen in love. Where we were married. Where we are now building a family. And where I was going to bring our newest creation into the world. I had visions of us as two 20-somethings walking hand-and-hand, stupidly love sick and naive, among the very mountains where we now walked with our daughter, two dogs, and the anticipation of meeting our next child.

The dogs swam in the Green River. Sunny ran through the soccer fields. And I paused every 10-15 minutes to breath through the beginning stages of my daughter’s entrance into the world.

Throughout the day, I tried to stay busy. Dancing in the living room with Sunny (oh yes, a 9 month woman in labor can totally get down). Crafting (no one’s surprised). Throwing the ball for our dogs. Creating a labor mix. Kimmy arrived and we went out for milkshakes. We had a chiropractic appointment that afternoon, and my doula urged me to go in the hopes of turning the baby so that I didn’t feel any further back pain. The contractions started coming closer together after the appointment, every seven minutes or so, but the radiating pain in my lower right back remained.

Crap indeed.

My doula stopped by the house in the late afternoon and found the whole family seated on the porch, Sunny racing after the dogs, me and Kimmy photographing a future DIY tutorial for Green Eyed Monster, and James monitoring the activities of the dogs and toddler. We munched popcorn and a hunk of cheese. I filled myself with as much water as humanly possible. This time around, I was not going to let dehydration slow the labor process. Sunny nestled into Linda’s lap, and James and Kimmy rotated applying pressure to my back each time I experienced a contraction. Sunny would occassionally jump in to help, or simple comment, “Mommy’s tired.”

Well, kind of, kid.

To manage these contractions, I would simply stop what I was doing, bend at the waist and support myself against a wall, counter-top or person to allow for counter pressure to be applied to where The Sesame Seed was knocking my spine. These were easy. I could simply breath through each one, and I came out of each unphased. Dare I say, energized. Each of these contractions was a sign of progress. I just wanted them to hurry the heck up so I could finally meet this little girl.

I feared that it might be another full 24 hours before things got serious.

Friends brought dinner by the house, providing important sustenance for my birth team, although I refrained, as I was beginning to loose my appetite. After visiting for an hour or so, they packed up Sunny for the night, as we’d made the decision that it was best to get the toddler out of the house before things got intense (which I realized might not be until the wee hours of the morning). She was thrilled at the prospect of a slumber party and departed with a wave and a smile. My heart was so torn as I hugged her goodbye, knowing that that was very well the last moment I’d embrace her as an only child. My precious first born.

At this point, I should have realized that this was indeed the real thing. I’d been doubting it all day, but upon Addison’s departure, I had a sudden surge of energy, and refused to sit down or stay idle.

I demanded that we clean.

So Kimmy hauled out the vacuum, James the dust rags, and clean we did. We vacuumed the whole house, dusted everywhere, cleaned counter-tops, sinks, toilets, bath tubs, etc. Worry not, I did not have my hands in the bowels of a toilet bowl while in the throes of a contraction. I left the dirty stuff to James and took to sorting and organizing and putting away all the clutter of life with a 2-year old. Sunny’s toddler floor bed proved quite convenient as a contraction haven, as by this point, I was retreating to my hands and knees to rock through each contraction. Granted, while they were more intense, I could still just breath and rock through them and resume whatever I’d been doing prior to their onslaught immediately following.

After each room was sufficiently tidy, I started feeling particularly anxious and nervous. My doula re-appeared after a quick run home for dinner and coffee, and I began to panic that I’d hauled both Kimmy and Linda to my house only to have them stare at me while I muddled through hours and hours of lame latent labor. We watched an episode of “Madmen” and my contractions started spacing farther apart. I went through only 3-4 during the entire episode, and none of them were over a minute long.

Linda suggested that I go lie down and try to nap since I seemed to have some down time between contractions and they were rendering me still fairly energized and functional. I glumly retreated to the bedroom, demanding James come with me. At this point, it was around 10pm.

We curled up in bed together and I let loose my anxiety. I didn’t think this was really it. Why didn’t my body get its shit together? I felt bad that Linda and Kimmy were just stuck hanging out in my living room. Why did my body linger in this stupid limbo period for so damn long?

And then, SLAM!

A contraction started that buckled me into the fetal position and I had a flashback to lying on the hospital bed during Sunny’s labor, curled in that very position, on that very side, experiencing a very similar level of visceral pain. I found myself retreating inside, humming, literally buzzing my body through the waves of the contraction. I came out of it, breathing heavily, exhausted.

James rubbed my back and said, “Sweetie, that was 75 seconds long, and I haven’t seen you need to manage the pain like that since Sunny’s birth.”

But then there was seven minutes of nothing.

Then, SLAM! Another like the former. Only a tad longer. Again, I buzzed. Hummed. Retreated inside. I knew this pain. While it sucked. And was all-consuming. It didn’t scare me. It was productive. It was bringing me that much closer to meeting my baby.

After a half hour of managing these contractions in bed, they gradually began creeping closer together. Kimmy appeared. She simply said, “Linda and I have been listening to you, and she thinks it’s time to call Amy (the midwife) and let her know that we should be going to the hospital soon.” The sounds of my pain management were enough to clue Linda in to how very quickly things were moving along. I still had my doubts.

James called Amy, and as she answered, I was rocked with another contraction. James stopped talking to help me through and when he picked the phone back up, I could hear Amy say, “I just heard that. She’s really working. It’s time to get her to the hospital before that ride is totally impossible.”

And then transition happened.

I don’t remember transition with Sunny as I can only assume it occurred during and immediately following the whole-breaking-the-bag fiasco of her labor. At Sunny’s birth, my water was broken by a new resident that literally missed the first time. Yes, he missed. As though he were blind and the bag of bulging amniotic fluid sitting directly at the floor of my pelvis, the pelvis in which he had ample access, were a needle in a haystack. I DON’T GET IT EITHER. That man is lucky that I didn’t have the energy to shove my foot directly into his groin as I wailed, I don’t feel any water. Isn’t there supposed to be fluid coming out of me now?! LIKE A MOTHERFUCKING WATERFALL?!

His response? Oops, let me try again.

To this day, that unnamed resident is on my list.

Regardless, I know transition manifests itself in different ways for every woman and at the time I wasn’t even aware it was transition. But suddenly, I was freezing. Like I had been thrown into an icy tundra in just my underwear freezing. And I was pissed about it. Fucking pissed.

I was shaking and shivering and began furiously looking for my Uggs and a winter jacket. I NEEDED MY DAMN UGGS AND I NEEDED THEM NOW. At this point the contractions were coming fast and furious, so I rotated between freaking out about the unavailability of my winter apparel in the middle of August, to being doubled over, moaning and humming my way through the pain. I had three contractions getting from the bedroom, down the hall, to the garage. As I felt each one coming on, I would angrily proclaim “FUCK” before diving deep inside to manage the pain. Linda said the sudden frequency in F-bombs is what clued her in to just how far along I was.

This was going to be the worst car ride of my life.

James had located a pair of Uggs and a super heavy, Sherpa-lined hoodie to ease my hysteria about the cold and loaded me into the car. Just as he began pulling out of the driveway, I flung open the door and threw myself across the hood of the car to manage yet another contraction. At this point, Kimmy and Linda were devising a plan for who was going to follow us and be available in case, ya know, this baby decided to make her entrance at the Massachusetts/Vermont border. Kimmy said she had it. She was ready.

God I love that girl.

I sucked it up, loaded into the car, and confronted four contractions during that fifteen minute ride to the hospital. I don’t know how. I writhed and squirmed and hummed and scolded James for driving the speed limit.

Why did it feel like we were only driving 5 MPH?! GET MOVING! Now is not the time to suddenly be a boy scout on the road.

That is a loose interpretation of the sentiment. There may have been more expletives and nasty nicknames at the time.

We arrived at our quiet, little hospital just after 11pm. James unloaded me and my bag from the car, and the realization sank in that James was going to have to go park the car, and I was going to have to stand there, a laboring woman in her Uggs and Sherpa hoodie in the middle of summer, writhing on the floor of the hospital lobby while the lady at the info desk watched on.

It was quite the scene. As I buckled into a contraction, Info Gal sheepishly asked, Would you like a wheelchair, ma’am?

No. No I did not want a wheelchair unless it was a fucking time capsule that could catapulte me through this pain. But, thanks so much for asking.

Kimmy, Linda and James appeared and we began what felt like a trek across the Sahara to L&D. Three contractions later, we’d made it, we were in our room. The nurse was so laid back. So calm. So Vermont. She dimmed the lights, making the atmosphere surprisingly peaceful despite the onslaughts of pain. After helping me through one or two more contractions, my blood was drawn, a wireless fetal heart monitor and contraction monitor were tucked against my belly, and the water was run for the enormous birthing tub that I wanted to be in, and now. The nurse checked me and said I was at 8cm. SO very very close to 10. It could be five minutes or five hours more depending on how my body handled these final stages, but I was close.

Sinking into the bath felt amazing. I was still on top of the pain. I had my coping mechanisms and now the warm water engulfed my body and provided a level of comfort that I didn’t know was possible in such a state. Kimmy and Linda and James pressed on my back, dumped water across my belly and rubbed my shoulders, gently urging me on, congratulating my efforts, reminding me to stay on top of the contractions, to not let them take hold of me. While it was exactly as horrifyingly overwhelming and all-consuming as I’d remembered, this time I had experience on my side. Instead of crying out that I couldn’t do it, I just kept repeating that I wanted her to be here. I wanted to hold her. This pain was not going to kill me. There was an end. And the more I allowed myself to sink inside the pain and relax, the more productive my body and that little baby could be.

I was more aware of Courtland during those final stages than I ever was of Addison. I was so caught up in myself during Sunny’s labor that I don’t remember feeling her move or feeling her presence during the entire experience. Courtland I felt everywhere. She and I were going through this together and she would not let me forget it. After each contraction, as I would breath and prepare myself for the next, I felt her squirm and move, reminding me of why this was all worthwhile. That soon enough I would see that movement on rather than in my belly.

My midwife arrived and immediately checked me. I was already at 9.5cm. Did I feel rectal pressure or an urge to push yet? Um, yes, I felt like I’d been trying to shit a knife for the past four contractions and the last one I’d been fighting the urge to push knowing I was not yet at 10. She asked that I bear down at the peak of the next contraction to see how it felt. If it was more painful, back off. If it provided some relief, push into it.

On came the next contraction, and at its height, I pushed and POP! Yes, pop. I distinctly felt something pop inside me

Uhhhh, what?

Apparently that is what it feels like to have one’s water break naturally. No inexperienced resident blindly poking around inside you.

Up until this point, I had been on hands and knees in the tub. Now that I was ready to push, I wanted to have my legs to help brace me. I wanted to be sitting.

I flipped over, and while I know that they hauled out a mirror as I’d requested, I honestly never once looked at it. Because as I pushed through the next contraction and was slammed with the first taste of the “ring of fire,” I kept my eyes clenched shut, trying to block out the kind of pain that I’ve decided there is not adequate language to describe. It is a pain so very deep, so very visceral, that it should kill you. And yet, the moment your baby enters the world, the moment she leaves your body, it disappears. And you can not only breath and live to see another day, but you’ll be walking and talking and functioning just moments after.

Women are badasses, y’all. Bad. Asses. I dare a male body to survive that kind of pain with the grace and speed that the female body recovers.

It. Is. Amazing.

And here is where I tell my most shameless story of the birth, for after my first round of pushing, I heard Amy say, “Can you get me a net?” to one of the nurses. Apparently Kimmy and James thought she was making a joke. Like, Ha ha, I’m going to use a net to catch this baby in the water. But I knew better. Even in the depths of labor, I remembered the discussion I’d had with the midwives about water birth and the question I had posed, “What happens if I, ya know, poop the tub?” Because pushing is pushing, y’all.

I think we now all understand the need for the net.

So there’s that.

Kimmy has decided that I’m the Three Push Wonder, because that’s all it took to bring Courtland into the world. Six minutes. Three pushes. And there she was, sideways, just as the pain in my back had suggested, not quite Sunny Side Up like her big sister. I think the level of pain and the burning desire to hold my child (pun intended) provided unmatched motivation to make each contraction count. She was coming out. Now. And then there she was. So peaceful, so new. No great screams or wails as you see depicted in the movies. Lying on my chest, a head full of blonde hair. She was here. And I couldn’t stop repeating that sentiment. She was here. It was over. We had done it. In less than one hour from our arrival at the hospital, Courtland Whaley Cart had arrived, just before midnight, giving her an August 10th birthday.

While the pain of labor was as I remembered it, I have such positive and strong thoughts about the entire experience. Kimmy said she felt like the whole thing was so “zen.” That it was clear that I was in control and managing the pain and looking inward rather than screaming outward. While both Sunny and Courtland’s births started out so very similarly, in the early morning, two days before their due dates, the journeys to their arrivals could not have been more different.

The recovery has been far easier. My attitude forever changed.

This birth gave me back my confidence. It gave me back my strength. It gave me back trust in myself and my body.

Courtland, thank you for forever changing your Mommy in the most unexpected of ways. I cannot wait to see what else you’re here to teach us.