Monday, April 5, 2010

The Birth of Helena

A little over 7 months ago...

I was 3 days past my due date. I woke up at about 4:50 AM feeling strange, but that was pretty much a normal feeling for the entire last month of my pregnancy. It was late August and I had spent more than a few warm, summer nights up until well past midnight with contractions and general "weirdness." I would try to move things along, rolling around all over the floor with my pilates ball like some kind of sad cirque du soleil reject, or marching up and down our little country lane, so pregnant I looked like I had swallowed a watermelon whole and then eaten 50 lbs. of bacon and a milkshake.

At exactly 5 AM I started having contractions. Not a big deal, because I had been having them for weeks. But these felt different. Normally the contractions started out pretty weak and then gradually became stronger as the day wore on, finally becoming strongest when I climbed into bed. These started off strong. I had the feeling they meant business. "This is it!" I thought. "THIS IS IT." I called my friend April to come pick up the boys.

I paced the length of the house, timing contractions that were quickly becoming stronger. The boys rushed around, gathering all of their necessary items like 10 teddy bears, 500 legos, and 3 shoeboxes full of old corks. I didn't bother to intervene because I was too busy leaning against the table or the wall, realizing I was going to definitely be pushing a human being out of my body that day.

I wasn't moaning and groaning or yelling. I wasn't huffing and puffing. There were no lifetime-movie worthy dramatics going on (yet), and I had the feeling April and Donn were both wondering if this was really it. I thought maybe it would be helpful if I started shouting every time I had a contraction, or maybe flailing my arms or banging my head on the wall, but alas I could muster no such shenanigans. I just stood still and tried to become a sea of calm every time I felt another one coming on.

By 6 AM we were in the car on the way to the hospital. It was overcast and cool outside, a very typical English summer day. The radio was playing some annoying BBC Europop. I think it rained for a little while. I don't remember what Donn and I talked about during the drive. I just remember feeling focused and freaked out at the same time. Like maybe how a lemming feels before it makes the big leap.

When we reached the hospital I knew there was no turning back now. My day was going to get much more painful and disgusting from here. But I knew that somehow, by the end of that day I would have a daughter. I tried to focus on that and not on the fact that my insides were trying to strangle me. I waddled my way through the parking lot and into the front door where a man directed us to walk halfway across the world to where the labor and delivery unit was. I was actually glad to be walking because the contractions were easier to handle when I was up and moving.

Once we made it to the labor and delivery unit, the midwives gave us the hairy eyeball for not calling first. Technically, the policy at the hospital is to call first and then they will evaluate somehow, magically over the phone, whether you are actually in active labor. I had skipped that part because I didn't want to mess around trying to convince someone over the phone that my contractions were the real deal.

Things moved remarkably slow once we got to our room. They didn't even ask me to put a gown on right away. I think the midwife suspected I wasn't really in labor. It seemed like no one was taking me seriously because I wasn't wailing and rending my garments. I suppose it would have been useful if I had done that right away, but I was too busy trying not to have a heart attack or wet my pants.

We waited about an hour in the room, just Donn and I. I told him to put in the CD I made for the delivery room. It was all classical music that I carefully selected to be soothing/awe-inspiring/perfect to hold a new baby with. But I only chose one really cheerful song, because I didn't want anything that would be annoying. That song was Ode to Joy and I was hoping that it would play the moment Helena entered the world. If I were making the soundtrack for my life, that's how it would go. However, I have no idea what the hell was playing at that moment because of all the screaming. Someone was screaming. It might have been me. It might have been Donn screaming as I ripped his ear off. But we're not there yet...back to the muzak.

The first song came on. Donn said, "Hey, this is the song from the killing scene in Platoon." And I said something along the lines of, "Oh, blargity blah, uggggggg....never seen Platoon." Then he shot back, "What?! You've never seen Platoon?! That's one of the best movies about the war in Vietnam." And I laid there half-dead feeling like I very well might be starring in the killing scene in Platoon. So I said, "There are too many movies about Vietnam....rrrrrAAAAARARRRGG!" And that ended our discussion about Platoon.

Finally the midwife came to see how dilated I was. I was afraid I would not be dilated at all and she would tell me to go home and that I was a dummy. However, she assessed the situation and announced that my baby was barely being held in there because I was dilated to 8 cm. I was so relieved! Even though I knew that meant things were going to get very crazy very soon.

My only pain control option at this point was something the Brits call "gas and air." It is some kind of mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide. I didn't need it right then, but about an hour later I was whacking Donn on the head and telling him to bring me some gas and air...or a crowbar to just put me out of my misery.

The midwife came in and gave me the mask to put over my face so I could huff my gas and air. She explained how to do it properly so that it "feels like you've had a glass of wine," at which point I almost gave up completely because a glass of wine would do me about as much good as a hug. But I gave it a chance. I huffed away into my mask and it made these weird gasping noises, so naturally I felt like Darth Vader. A big, fat, miserable, dying Darth Vader.

I had been waiting for my water to break on its own, but it wasn't happening. The midwife had offered to go ahead and break it for me and I finally took her up on the offer. Anyone who has given birth knows that things get a lot more intense at this point. Anyone who hasn't given birth, please take my word for it. I was so impatient for this part to be over, I kept asking the midwife "WHAT'S GOING ON DOWN THERE?! IS SHE COMING OUT YET?!" And she would reassure me that no, not yet, it's only been 30 seconds since I broke your water so just GIVE IT A MINUTE!

About 10 minutes later there was a lot of screaming and some grabbing and pushing and pulling and just like that, Helena was born. She was handed directly to me, screaming and perfect with an unbelievable amount of dark brown hair. I couldn't believe that she was here. All those months of pregnancy and waiting were over, just like that. I had three kids. I had a daughter.

The midwife told us her name means light. She hasn't stopped shining since.


Iota said...

Hi - I've just found your blog via British Mummy Bloggers. I have two boys and then a girl, like you. I'm a Brit, but living in the US at the moment.

Gas and air - yes, the best thing invented since a gin and tonic, and it doesn't give you a hangover. Which makes me wonder why you don't go to a bar and get given a mask and a cylinder, instead of a glass. They should definitely market that stuff.

Aunt Becky said...


amanda said...

Oh, how I love a good birth story. Thank you for leaving the crumbs for me to find my way here. What a wonderful narrative. And now, what a wonderful age. I have 3 myself and it is an amazing thing.

Linsay said...

Gas & Air! Wonderful stuff. That together with an epidural is how I got through childbirth.
Great birth story.

bumblingalong said...

Laughed so hard on the "gas and air/glass of wine" comment, turned to little sobs when you said "I had a daughter".

Beautiful post.

mama p. said...

I had quite a similar birth- and only a few days earlier!

The platoon bit made me laugh so much, reminded me of my husband
Ah those military men

Jenny said...

Thank you, I need to hear good birth stories in the next few months. This most certainly was.