It’s been three and a half months since I gave birth to my son Jude Andrés–by the way, I love that my phone now autocorrects Andres to Andrés–and I’ve been meaning to write up my childbirth experience because, you know, BLOG. But I haven’t had time because, you know, INFANT. And ACADEMIC JOB MARKET. So, be prepared for explicit details of my childbirth experience, and if you don’t want to read about it or see my bloody placenta, read no further! LOL
Monday, October 30, ca. 1:45pm
Around 12:30ish, my father-in-law Bill, who was visiting from Florida, brought us a Pizza Hut lunch because it’s one of the few things within a 15-minute drive from our house and because it was a third trimester guilty pleasure. Those cheese sticks, that pan pizza crust… *drool* Well, about this time (1:45pm), as my body was happily digesting my food, my contractions, which had been slowly ramping up in intensity and getting closer together over the last couple of days, suddenly started making me catch my breath and were only 5-7 minutes apart. And we lived 40 minutes away from the hospital. Atop a little mountain.
So, we did the only prudent thing: grabbed our keys and hopped in our brand-spanking-new SUV, which already contained our hospital stuff and infant car seat because preterm labor five weeks earlier taught us our lesson. We placed a towel on my seat as a precaution since my water hadn’t broken yet and we did not want amniotic fluid and such all over the new car’s seats.
Yes, I did lose my shit on some road construction workers before we got off the mountain because they tried to tell us we couldn’t drive either way down the mountain that we needed. Fucker, get the fuck out of my motherfucking way! I will fucking kill you! Can you believe the asshole had the audacity to me to calm down–“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to calm down–“… “Fuck you! I’m having a fucking baby! GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY WAY!!”
Fortunately for him, he stopped talking and waved us through to one of the roads down.
Less infuriatingly, I had preregistered about two weeks prior when John and I had toured the hospital so checking in was fairly easy. Although they had a new computer system so we had to redo a couple forms because yaaaay technology. SO HELPFUL ALL THE TIME. 🤣 This also meant that as we passed into the maternity ward, there was a group of nurses all standing behind the counter staring at a computer screen because they were all going through the new training. In fact, they were so concerned that we’d think that that meant that they had no idea what they were doing that at least five nurses told us in the span of an hour, “Don’t worry. I know how to deliver a baby. I just can’t work that damn program.”
Sure, sure. We didn’t step into a group of medical professionals set upon world domination, setting their plans in motion in plain sight under the guise of “new computer system training.” Riiight. I see you.
Anyway, after we said our “hello’s” to the cheery cabal of megalomaniacs, one of them took us immediately to a labor room to determine whether or not I did, in fact, need to be admitted. I had to pee in a cup, strip, and put on one of those cloth gowns that ties in the back. Here’s a picture of me in that gown, lying on the bed and waiting for the nurse to stick her fingers up my vagina to feel how dilated my cervix was.
I’m sure you’re wondering what those straps are over my abdomen: the pink one was monitoring my contractions and the blue one was monitoring the Rage Monkey’s heartbeat. Hilariously, the nurses were confused about whether or not I had broken my water yet because, apparently, Jude was so low and had so much hair that they could easily feel his hair through the amniotic sac that had not yet broken. LOL I was still dilated about 5.5-6cm and having regular contractions that took my breath away so they moved me to a swanky delivery room (and by “swanky,” I mean it had tasteful fake wood paneling over the cabinets). And we waited.
9:00pm or so
The doctor came in to see how I was doing, my cervix had only dilated to 7cm, my contractions had slowed back down and decreased in intensity. They thought I had been a bit dehydrated so the saline solution they put me on helped rehydrate me and calm my body the fuck down. The plus side, though, was that I was able to start the penicillin drip early because I tested positive for Group B Strep. In case you were wondering, undiluted penicillin dripping through an IV burns like a motherfucker. Like hand clenching, body contorting, yelling for the nurse burning. In fact, I think the burning of that was more intense than the burning of my stretching vaginal lips while giving birth.
Anyway, my doctor said that I had a few options because of the status of things and my history with the preterm labor:
1) They could send me home and have me return once my water broke and/or my contractions came back and were even closer together (2-3 minutes apart);
2) They could break my water now and see if I went into labor without the help of Pitocin; or
3) We could sleep on it in the hospital and then have them break my water in the morning if it didn’t happen on its own.
The understanding was that if my water broke and I didn’t go into active labor within an hour, they would induce me. Well, listening to my instincts and knowing my body–after all, the contractions were slowly building up again–I chose option 3. I was way past ready to get that Rage Monkey out of my body, but I wanted to be smart about it. Mama always said that a woman’s intuition rarely failed her so I listened hard.
And we waited.
Tuesday, October 31, ca. 12:30am
My nurse Victoria had just placed the monitors on my abdomen again in such a way that I was as comfortable as I could get sleeping on my right side. A couple hours earlier, John had gone out to get me a salad from the only place still open late on a Monday in our southern Tennessee city (Steak ‘n Shake) because both my doctor and nurse suggested I eat while I still could and try to sleep. I was going to need all the energy I could muster for the upcoming, hopefully unmedicated, birth the next morning. So I happily ate a huge grilled chicken salad around 10:30pm.
Fast-forward to 12:30am again: Victoria had said good night, as had John and I to each other as we both settled in for an anxious night’s sleep. Not five minutes later–seriously, it was probably more like 1-2 minutes–I felt what can only be explained as a head butt on my cervix from inside my body. It’s like the Rage Monkey, long since head down, decided, “Oh, you want to sleep? I THINK NOT! Muahahahaha!!” And that’s what happened. They were two such forceful head butts that my entire body jerked with the impacts, and as I was getting John’s attention because something weird was happening, there came a sensation like the bursting of a water balloon from inside.
“Go get a nurse. I think my water just broke.” Pause. John jumped up from the couch immediately and had crossed half the small room when liquid began pouring out of me, I mean gushing. It went everywhere.
“Yep, definitely broke my water.”
I was too stunned to remember to call the nurse with that frustrating dangling dojiggy on the hospital bed, but I did direct John to it. Nurse Victoria was just as astonished as we were. A couple minutes later, I was doing breathing exercises on a birthing ball because damn those active labor contractions were no joke.
“See? Now this is labor,” Victoria said. “I thought you were too calm before. See what I meant by it would move quickly after your water broke?”
I just nodded my head. Bitch, please. I believed you. Why do you think I didn’t choose Option 1 above?? I lived forty minutes away atop a fucking mountain. Would I have wanted to experience this on mountain roads with an anxious husband driving our brand-spanking-new car? Nope nope nope. I likely would’ve given birth in the parking lot of the hospital if we even made it that far, to be honest. Because I was only in active labor for an hour. Then came the pushing.
But first the salad made a reappearance. Had we known this was going to happen, I would’ve remained on my popsicle and water diet all night. Instead, I upchucked all of that meal. It was enough to turn me off grilled chicken and ranch dressing for a while (I’m better now). Luckily, I managed to keep it all in the two vomit bags they handed to me, which is more than I can say for the projectile vomiting that occurred when I had been admitted for preterm labor. So there I was, rolling, not bouncing, on the birthing ball, empty of all stomach contents, gripping John occasionally, yanking my own hair more often, twisting my wrists, bouncing my leg, controlling my breathing, and basically doing anything I could to get myself through each contraction. They were a minute apart at most.
“When is it too late for an epidural?” Breathe Breathe Breathe FUCK. No, wait, that’s what put me in this position to begin with. Ha! “I’m beginning to rethink that choice.”
Victoria very calmly turned to me from her squatting position on the floor–she’d been meddling with some cords on the monitors or something–and asked carefully, “Do you think you could sit still for it? You have to remain perfectly still.”
Bitch already knew the answer to that question. Fuuuuuck.
“No, definitely not,” I replied. I also said things like, “Fuck, I quit.” And “I don’t want to do this anymore.” There’s something about preparing to give birth to an infant that rendered me quite infantile myself. Don’t wanna deal with it. Make it go away. If I ignore it, like the pimple that decided to show up on my chin a few days earlier (cue eye roll), it’ll go away on its own, right?
To help ease my discomfort, we tried a different position: Victoria raised the hospital bed and asked me to lean my elbows on it, look down, and bend my knees. Bad idea! The discomfort was just a dull aching pain that was mostly pressure because the baby was so low, and I could feel it in my rectum. But it was a new kind of discomfort that was worse than when I was on the birthing ball.
At that point, I exclaimed, as classy as I am, “It’s in my butt. I feel it in my butt!”
“Okay! Okay, Carla, I want you to get on the bed. I’m going to check you again and call your doctor.”
Lo and behold, I was a full 10cm and the baby’s head was right there, just waiting for me to push. A horde of nurses and technicians and who knows who else came flooding in to prepare. Instead of stirrups there were these, like, calf-holder-thingies, and the lower portion of the bed angled downward so that gravity would be on our side. My doctor flew in, ready to coach me through the birthing process. It was going to be beautiful and wonderful and…
“Fuck! This fucking sucks!”
“That’s okay. We’ve heard it all. Just let it out.”
“AAAHHHHHHHHH!!!! HOLY FUCKING SHIT!”
“Okay, Carla, I need you use that energy to push, okay?”
I don’t remember how many ear-piercing screams I let loose–at least four–but I knew they weren’t helping. If anything, they would lead me to hyperventilate, but you know what? When a girl is giving birth for the first time and unmedicated, sometimes she needs to release all the air in her lungs in the loudest way possible. Okay? Eventually, though, I found my focal point to keep me from screaming, to hold my breath with my chin tucked down while I pushed with the contractions. Just keeping that focus, not to mention the actual act of pushing, is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, mentally and physically. And what was my focal point? The inside white of my doctor’s right eye (so to the left for me–makes sense because I’m left-eye dominant). I stared her down and hung onto every word she said as she coached me through each push and each breath. I squeezed Victoria’s wrist on the left of me but not nearly as tightly as I squeezed John’s hand and then bicep and then hand again on my right. I left bruises on him as proof of my birthing pain.
The kicker was the controlled pushing towards the end when the baby’s head was beginning to crown because if I pushed too hard, I’d be more likely to tear. Based on all the discomfort and pain I felt through that process, the burning of my lips stretching was the worst because it was the sharpest pain. The contractions were like a dull undulating pain that weren’t quite the sharp stabbing pains of lower abdominal cramping I’ve experienced occasionally on my period. It’s a sensation that’s really difficult to describe but it sort of reminds me of that full body discomfort that you get when nauseated and you’re unsure if you need to vomit or not.
No, the burning of the stretched lips was definitely worse.
Hilariously, my doctor used KY jelly to ease the stretching of my lips. I can’t remember if I said this aloud at the time, but I definitely laughed to myself and thought, “Hahaha, we were right to use lube for the perineal massages after all.”
“Here’s your son, Jude!” John said as he placed a small creature on my chest. I missed watching him cut the umbilical cord although I was vaguely aware of it happening. I was still panting a little, getting my breath back under control, and groaning in the aftershocks of having given birth. Because it was over! My brain was shuffling through emotions and sensations of relief, exhaustion, shock (fuck, I actually gave birth), pain, and emptiness (literal, not emotional–stuff was still coming out of me; it was a bloody mess down there).
It took me more than a couple seconds to get over the initial shock of knowing the sex of the Rage Monkey finally–a boy.
It’s a boy! I have a son!
I have a son?
I HAVE A SON!!
But there with Jude on my chest and John by my side–and that huge fucking zit on my chin–I couldn’t give two shits about what was happening below my navel, which was already sinking lower into my recently vacated abdomen.
“Did I tear?”
“A very little, but not in your perineum. You have just a couple very minor tears in your labia and that’s it.”
“Great.” Sigh. “While you’re down there, don’t forget to remove that mole like we talked about.”
“Oh, right. Absolutely.”
I had had a mole on my left outer labia for as long as I can remember, and during the pregnancy it had definitely grown. It was time for it to disappear, something I’d been thinking about for a few years anyway. (Aside: she had it tested, just in case, and it was a totally benign mole.)
Of all the stitches I had–and there weren’t many–the mole removal stitches hurt the most and stayed the longest. Go figure.
By the way, the afterbirth is hilarious to me, and it kind of tickled in comparison to, well, birthing a small human. They asked if I wanted to see the placenta before they tossed it, and I don’t think they were expecting my excited, “Sure!” LOL
It looked like a large bloody oyster.
Oh, yeah, and you see that knot? Apparently that leads to all sorts of bad things, like death, so they started calling Jude the “miracle baby” since he was never in any distress throughout my pregnancy or the birthing process. My theory is that it was a loose knot before giving birth, and the strain of the birth pulled it tight. But who knows? I’m not a medical professional.
So all said and done–from my water breaking to my pushing Jude out–it was a little less than an hour and a half. The first thing I said to John was, “I’m never doing this again. We’re one and done!” I don’t have the postpartum amnesia everyone talks about, but I have already thought about the logistics of a second one if I decide it’s something I’m willing to do again. I feel like, for me anyway, it wouldn’t have anything to do with forgetting the experience–it’s seared into my body and soul; how does one forget something like that‽‽ It would have to do with whether or not the benefit of having a second child would outweigh all the discomfort and pain I experienced for months before going through all that nonsense to give birth. I’m starting to wean Jude off my breast now, and he’s already mostly drinking formula. We’ll give him a “snack” of a 3oz of breastmilk that we’ve frozen for a month after I’m totally dried up, but after pumping in two different airport bathrooms, I’m done. I travel for work too much to keep this shit up. My breasts will belong to me, and me alone, again by late March. Am I willing to sacrifice my body and mind for over a year again for a second child when I’m closer to 40 than 30?
I don’t have an answer for that yet. I’m just enjoying the novelty of Jude and parenthood and watching John excel at and relish this role that he was always meant to fill.
AND I HAD IT EASY! That had to have been one of the easiest first birthing experiences ever. It was short; I had no excruciating pain (e.g., no lower back pain); I had super minor tears (apparently, the combo of regular Kegel exercises, perineal massages, and controlled pushing was the trick for me); I was up and walking to the bathroom with help within two hours of giving birth and walking alone to the bathroom four hours after giving birth. And I had the emotional (and financial and culinary) support of the perfect partner.
Also, a word to the wise: the immediate postpartum vaginal bleeding is intense. Like, blood splattering and dripping everywhere. Don’t even try to be modest or contain it as you change pads in the hours that immediately follow because that is a futile endeavor. I just joked when I realized blood had trickled down the bed, onto the floor, followed me to the bathroom, and splattered the floor and wall. From the bathroom with the door cracked a few inches open, I called to the nurses and John as I peed and changed my pad, wiping up blood as I did, “Wow, it looks like I just slaughtered someone when really I just brought life into the world. Funny how they look the same.”
Yep, that’s me: lack of modesty and morbid sense of humor. Fully intact. Both made my pregnancy and birthing experience much more tolerable… and kept the doctors and nurses entertained.
We moved into the recovery room a few hours after I gave birth, which was on the floor below labor and delivery so it was very quiet and peaceful. It was a baby friendly hospital so Jude stayed in-room with us (they don’t even have a nursery), and it was a spacious room with a mini fridge and a lot of natural light with a wall of windows. Even the bathroom and shower stall were nice. We approved.
And the bed was so much more comfortable than the delivery bed. We had super comfy pillows, thanks to my sister-in-law Brie, who had bought them for us the night before, and we were ready to finally nap at least.
Naturally, I was still on a post-birthing high and couldn’t fall asleep like these two could. The words of Mama, taken from my grandmamá who died before she could help Mama navigate motherhood, were ringing in my ears, which was appropriate because she was already on her way up from Tallahassee.
“You cannot stop in the middle of labor. The baby is going to come whether you’re ready or not. You just have to push through because, like life, there is an end to it.”
One thing that didn’t really sink in until about a month later was the idea that so many people, men and women, had told me over the years: “You’re never really ready to have children.”
Lies. All of it.
While the labor may have surprised me in its details and realities, I pushed through not only because I had no choice but also because I was more ready than I’d realized (aside: how women who’ve never been athletes and had coaches yelling in your face manage unmedicated births is beyond me–I drew on every ounce of my athletic training and discipline to get through the pushing). The truly hard part, of course, only started once we returned home with a newborn and Mama had returned to Florida. But guess what.
We were ready.