Burns Day 2012, January 25th, I was drumming my metaphorical fingers on all the desks I could find. My due date had been the 19th; another day or two, and they wouldn’t let me give birth at the Birth Center anymore. This risking out business was annoying! But that was where the bureaucracy won, and I was going to play along whether I liked it or not.
I was giddy with impatient anticipation. Felt like an amazon. Wanted haggis. Molly and I briefly fantasized about going to get the really good stuff somewhere in Jersey, but that wasn’t in the cards. I had itchy feet, though, and Molly is the platonic ideal of my traveling companion.
“Wanna go have dinner in Maine?” Do I!
Duckfat. I’d heard about it, but had never been to the Portland place with amazing-sounding fries. Two hours away is far enough to be a road trip, but totally close enough to get back if, you know.
This was it. Last chance to kick start labor and probably avoid a hospital setting. Mid-afternoon, I went to the store and got blue and black cohosh drops. I took some while parked outside of Molly’s workplace in Cambridge, waiting for her to come down.
At a gas station half an hour out of town, I went to the bathroom and stared at a tiny wet spot on my jeans. Slight incontinence is a common travel companion in late pregnancy, but this felt different.
Getting back, I said, “I think my water just broke.”
Molly stared at me. “Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure. There wasn’t a dramatic gush or anything, but yeah.”
“…Is it bad that my main thought is, drive faster?” We laughed.
“Bad, no! It’s why I love you.”
So we went on to Portland. I hadn’t thought to bring pads with me, and further didn’t even think to buy any at the gas station. So the moment we were seated at Duckfat, I said to our waitress: “So… My water broke, and I’m in labor! I’m totally fine, or we wouldn’t be here. But I need a pad. I don’t suppose you have any here?”
Her eyes got momentarily wider, but she kept her cool. “Congratulations, wow. Uh… *I* don’t have any, and the rest of the staff are dudes. Let me take a look in our first aid kit.” Moments later she was back with a big packet of gauze. “Best I can do.” It was good enough for the moment.
Dinner was delicious. Creamy soups, duckfat poutine (!!), duck rillettes, salad with duck confit. I had a blood orange and lemon curd shake that left me speechless. We texted Mark, who was at a company party. Molly posted pictures of our food, one of them captioned: “Tomato-fennel-basil, cream of onion, PS Vika’s water broke.” Our local internet erupted in good wishes.
The contractions started very slowly, sometime over dinner. After, we drove to a pharmacy and got real pads. The cashier at the pharmacy walked with me to show me where the bathrooms were. On the way there she suddenly called out, “Whoo! Hot flash!” I laughed and explained to her why I needed pads and a bathroom. We shared a sweet moment.
I drove us home. I wanted to see how far I could get, driving through mild contractions, and it turned out–all the way! Molly livetweeted, of course. We chatted about everything. We’ve had some great conversations over the years, but that evening’s was one of the best.
Got home in a beautiful dusting of snow, sometime between 11 and midnight. Mark was parked by my place, and we handed me off. Molly walked home, just down the hill. Mark and I went inside, puttered a bit, prepared things to take to the birth center when the time came. He snapped some pictures. We went to bed around midnight.
I got up at 2:30am with stronger contractions, and here things get hazy. The intensity of the contractions increased pretty rapidly. I tried to keep hydrated with water and tart juices (can’t stomach sports drinks), but couldn’t keep any of that down. Over the next hour I proceeded to get mildly dehydrated, which worsened the contractions and pushed them closer together, though I didn’t draw the connection then.
Around 4am we went to the birth center. The midwife on duty there, Laurie, wasn’t anyone I’d met before, and had easily the worst bedside manner I’d encountered in that place. She was displeased that we’d come, despite the fact that Mark had been on the phone with the center and we’d been told to come. She gave me an internal exam and used a speculum, which hurt like a mofo, and the entire time she was as gently disposed as sandpaper.
I wasn’t dilated enough, she said. A few centimeters. A non stress test showed no reason for worry, and an ultrasound confirmed that baby was head down. We should go and keep laboring at home. And, oh, drink lots more fluids.
Arrrrgh. Everything they tell you about how much it sucks to ride in a car while having contractions is true. And the pavement quality on Beacon Street between my house and the birth center is infamous with local bicyclists for its potholes. I felt every one, plus all the cracks in the road.
We went home at 6am, and the next several hours are a haze of pain and further dehydration. I might have slept a little bit. Throughout the night and morning, Mark was wonderfully supportive, but I don’t remember interacting much around the actual contractions — that seems to have been something I felt the need to deal with on my own.
He timed them, though. Things progressed, too slowly. There was a lot of pain. We talked to the birth center once or twice more, and were encouraged to stay the course. But at some point I couldn’t. Sometime close to noon I told him we were going in. He didn’t argue.
We got in around 12:15, and discovered that they couldn’t admit me unless they checked me again, and I was so dehydrated that they couldn’t check me until I rehydrated. So for the next hour and a half I lay on the thin narrow couch in the “family room,” a sort of tiny interstitial room, hooked up to an IV saline drip and trying with varying degrees of success to roll with it. Mark intermittently held my hands and made sympathetic noises, and was a generalized rock-solid loving presence. The contractions got bad enough that at some point I remember telling him, “I don’t know if I can do this. I’m close to giving up.” I was afraid, and later decided that this was the beginning of transition into the final stages of labor: often that time is marked by fear. But in the moment, of course, I didn’t remember that, and concentrated on my loved one and the kind nurse encouraging me to get through the rehydrating stage and find out where we really are, because what if we’ve progressed a lot? Would be a shame to check into the hospital with no need, since that’s a thing I wanted to avoid if possible.
Fair point, and the baby was doing just fine, so I kept on breathing.
Two liters of saline later they took me to get checked out. I actually started crying at the thought of another speculum exam. “No speculum,” the midwife on duty promised. I’d never met her either, but she was different from Ms. Mousy Sandpaper. She was solid and reassuring and full of warmth, and she helped me breathe more easily in the midst of labor. So when she mentioned a student midwife and asked me if it would be ok to have her along, I didn’t think twice. I love student medical practitioners. They’re sweet and brave and interested. And let me tell you: Kate ended up taking over the entire thing including my postpartum visits, and was amazing.
But that was later. For now, the senior midwife (whose name I no longer remember) checked me without a speculum. “Oh! You’re at 7.5 centimeters.”
Holy crap! Turns out my body had been laboring hard and productively. “Does this mean I get admitted?” Oh yes. Ohhh thank all the deities.
They took me to an honest-to-goodness laboring room. With a BATHTUB. I got to float in the warm water, easily the best thing to happen all day up to that point. My birth-center-provided doula was summoned (did I mention I loved my experience at the Cambridge Birth Center?), and spent some intense time with me getting to full dilation without pushing. She had to really work on me, there. The urge to push was strong with this one.
This whole time Mark was with me, being a rock star, best birthing companion I could’ve wished for. Later I heard that when he finally left us the next day, he sat in Molly’s kitchen and ate peanut butter straight from the jar for a while, recharging and staring off into space. Plenty deserved.
The midwife was covering both the birth center and the hospital delivery ward next door, so we spent some time waiting for her to come back and check me again. Ages later she came back, checked me quickly, and pronounced me fully dilated. But, surprise! The warm tub water was too cool for the baby to be delivered into, so they wanted me to come out.
I just looked at them all in disbelief. I remember feeling flickers of rage, but the whole thing was so preposterous—I mean, couldn’t they just turn on the damn hot water faucet?—that there had to be something I didn’t know. I couldn’t use words at that point, so I turned to Mark, who proceeded to be my lungs and mouth. Couldn’t we turn on the hot water? They answered him as they were hustling me out, so I didn’t catch the answer, but he told me later: no, they said. There wasn’t time. This baby was coming too fast.
Whee! Everything’s a blur. Here’s what I remember: they got me on the bed and put down some disposable towels. I think I pushed in earnest a total of four times. Then I had a baby.
I’d been admitted sometime around 2pm on January 26th. By 3:50 he was out. I was on all fours, and they put him on the bed under me. We stared at each other. He screamed with shock and indignation. I cried and laughed. Mark cried.
Everything they tell you about the pain disappearing into a haze on account of the endorphins is true. It was the best, cleanest high I ever expect to experience. Someone helped me turn around and sit, reclined, on the bed. They cleaned up my baby and put him on my belly. Sometime in there I delivered the gorgeous root structure of the placenta, which I had no interest in keeping but was fascinating to see. I had a tiny tear that didn’t need any stitches. They cleaned me up. Everything got a lot more quiet.
We rested. Babe-a-licious got checked out and pronounced perfect (7lbs 9.9oz, 21.5 inches). Nobody once suggested taking him out of the room: there was no need. I think I had toast and tea, courtesy of the lovely doula lady. We tried to get him to latch on with some success. Mark snapped some photos. We got a visit from Molly, ate sushi for dinner, drank a vodka toast to his arrival and a long and wonderful life, and picked out his name. Nico Alexander Zafrin. I called my mom. There was another exam (his blood is B+, by the way), and then we napped the nap of the smugly accomplished.
They don’t let you stick around for long at the birth center, and I didn’t feel like transferring to the hospital without true need. Around midnight we went home in a dusting of fresh snow.