I used to be afraid of the middle of the night.
I never pulled an all-nighter in college, I am always the one to leave the party first and only on the rarest occasion have I seen the sun come up. I get anxious late at night and want to be asleep, safe. I always feel relieved when it’s morning.
Of course, all that changed six weeks ago. Now I am up every morning from 3am until dawn…the weest hours of the night.
But let’s back up a moment and go back to the morning of December 7th. I started getting what felt like menstrual cramps. I hadn’t had anything like this during pregnancy and noticed it but didn’t think much of it. I thought maybe I had had too much coffee (I never gave up my morning affogato) and was now going to pay the price on the potty. Sure enough I pooped soon after.
An hour later, more cramps and another poop.
I had heard that your body clears out in pre-labor so after round five (eek!) I starting packing my bags for the hospital. I still had it in my mind that we were days away (I was a week early) but I decided to do laundry and hit Trader Joe’s for hospital snacks and Recharge just in case.
By 8pm that night the contractions I had been having all day were officially painful. Matt started timing them and by [10:30] I had a whopper contraction that knocked me out. I shouted and cried and started to bleed. In the bathroom, I shook violently (a shot of hormones I found out later) and was cold and scared. (This was the only moment I was afraid during the labor.)
By 11pm the contractions were coming 3-5 minutes apart and were getting seriously painful. I was in polar bear pose and took deep yoga breaths trying to relax into the pain and not resist it. A friend told me that her mantra was simply “yes” saying yes to the pain and receiving it as much as possible.
By 1am counting contractions was getting tedious so we decided to go to the hospital. We were sure I was still at 1cm (we had heard over and over that new parents always go to the hospital too early) and they were going to send us home but we were excited we had something to do! A drive over the bridge into the city…
But when I was checked I was at 4cm and they admitted me. Hooray! We had timed our potentially harrowing ride across the bridge into San Francisco (usually riddled with traffic) perfectly. The still better news was that they admitted us into mythic ROOM NUMBER 2… those of you who know UCSF might have heard about it. It is an enormous birthing suite on the 15th floor with a panoramic view of San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge all the way to downtown skyscrapers. It was magical… like giving birth in the clouds. A room at the Ritz could not have been more luxurious (or expensive we discovered when getting our bill!)
The next many hours are a blur of pain and breath and nurses coming in and out asking if I wanted any pain medication. I was flattered when they kept saying, “You’re so calm! You’re not acting like 4cm, 6cm, 8cm…” (Note to readers: Pre-natal yoga saved my ass)
I remember being afraid that I wouldn’t be present during labor, but truly pain is the most grounding thing in the world. You can’t be anywhere but in the moment when you are in physical pain. Whenever someone mentioned the baby, I was like, “What baby?!” I couldn’t be anywhere but in the contraction I was in.
At some point however, the contractions were so close together that there was no break in between them anymore. I needed to take the edge off. Luckily, UCSF is the only hospital in the country that offers nitrous oxide. Laughing gas… hardly. I wasn’t exactly laughing. I could feel the pain of each contraction, but I cared so much less about it! I was one layer away from the pain, watching it more than being taken over by it. It was like watching myself and saying, “Wow! You’re in a lot of pain! You’ve never been in so much pain!” (Very zen right?)
Before I knew it, it was time to push… oh, and hang up the nitrous mask. NO!!!!! What I didn’t realize was that there was a learning curve to the whole pushing business. It took me a while to teach my body where to push and how. It looked hopeless at the beginning. Matt kept saying encouraging things like, “You’re doing great honey. The nurse said you’re SO close.” I kept saying back, “This is NEVER going to work!!! She’s lying to you!” (insert C-section fantasy here)
I heard a nurse in the distance say, “If you’re pooping, you’re pushing the right way!” Let’s just say I figured out how to push the right way.
Then the doula said, “Use every contraction as much as possible. Maximize each one by inhaling deeply at the top and using the energy of it to push the baby out.” It took me a while to figure out what she meant but suddenly it hit me. If I use every contraction as much as possible, I will have less of them! I turned around, grabbed the squatting bar and with an enormous growl and two pushes he was out!
I can already see that I as I write this I am forgetting how painful it was. My mind is already mercifully erasing each contraction, each hour spent doubled over breathing deeply… this is how the species continues to exist I suppose.
And really, the labor was nothing compared to those first few weeks. Those were the real challenge. I am still feeling traumatized by them! That will be the next installment…Let’s just say that after six weeks I am getting less afraid of the night.