Wait, what? What did she say? There was just no way. This was my third baby. I had to be at least at a 6. Outside the window, the world was still dark at 6am. I felt a wave of hopelessness. Irrational, but there it was. I tried to make sense of what seemed like a grim outcome after hours of labor.
I recalled talking to my doula, Hillary, before we left for the hospital. "Your body might slow down during the transfer to the hospital." And something along the lines of "I'm guessing you are at 4 or 5 cm, which is a good time to transfer." I also remembered my midwife, Jewel, saying that if I came into the hospital at 3cm she would send me home to labor a little longer. So here I had been in labor now for more than a day, awake for who knows how long, and I had been given the worst number imaginable to me at that point in labor. I kind of wanted to cry. I didn't voice it, but that was the only (brief) moment I wanted to say, "Give me the epidural and just let me sleep."
I had read of women whose cervix regressed when they were stressed or afraid or changed environments. And my nurse at the time was unfazed by my seeming lack of progress. "I see this happen all the time," she encouraged. "A third time mom will go from a 3 or 4 to a 10 in a matter of a few hours." I think either the nurse or Hillary then tried to reassure me that during the trip to the hospital my body might have stopped or regressed so that I wouldn't go too fast and had a baby in the car (or on the side of the road, like a friend of mine). The other silver lining was that I was 80% effaced. I tried to glean a small measure of hope from that. It wasn't really working.
I had a little lie-down on the bed and pretended to sleep for about twenty minutes while Hillary and Wes just waited for me to pull myself together. I was tired. I wanted to rest. But I also wanted to have a baby. My mind kept thinking that if I was now only at a 3, it would be a whole day before this baby was born. I couldn't grasp the idea of it being only a few hours. So I was feeling really defeated. My midwife came in the room shortly thereafter, and I remember saying (semi jokingly) "Please don't send me home!" I think she laughed. She decided that before admitting me, she wanted to see if I could progress a little more. Hillary confirmed that I had indeed been in active labor at home and was making progress, and that things would probably pick back up soon. So Jewel left in good spirits, leaving me to get to work for an hour or so. I still just wanted to sleep.
At this point Wes was really motivated to get things going. He wanted me to do these deep squats during each contraction. I did NOT want to do that. I think we had a brief and heated "discussion" about this (which was mostly me whimpering and him trying to get things moving along). Finally I agreed. I mean, I couldn't just keep laying around on the bed with sporadic contractions. They had to get going again if I was to have this baby! Okay. Squats it is.
Now let it be said that contractions are never going to be comfortable. But squatting INTO a contraction is kind of the worst. It's also the best, because it puts tons of pressure on your cervix to make it dilate. So Hillary and Wes helped me do the squatting contractions 6 or 7 times. The whole time I would literally TELL my body (in my head, not out loud) two things: 1. That it was safe to go ahead and have this baby—I wasn't moving to a new location again. 2. Dilate, dammit! No, really. I was telling my cervix in my mind to dilate. I tried to visualize it, as well, like one of those lotus flowers opening (or whatever the books and CDs tell you to do). I can't remember if Hillary was doing the Hyp Birth prompts during all of this, because it was just all business for that one hour.
This is where things started to pick up. At 8am I got a new nurse, Kami, who reminded me of Wes's older sister (also a nurse), which was comforting. Jewel also came back to check me. I had dilated more than a centimeter in an hour, which she was happy with. We took blood pressure, finished admitting me, and they left me to take a walk around the hospital. It takes a large and laboring pregnant woman a little while to get herself together enough to go on a walk. I had to make sure I wasn't going to flash anyone for starters. I was hunting for socks and slippers. Then bathroom/drink/snack for motivation. So I think it was probably almost 9am when I finally started walking around our small hospital.
By now it was a bright and clear morning, and I could see Mt. Timpanogos out of the maternity ward windows, gowned in white against a blue sky. It was powerful and reassuring. The daylight gave me the energy I needed to press on. I had some really intense contractions out in the halls, and by now I was making focused, low sounds every time I had a contraction. Wes would place his hand on my forehead and I would lean into that, while Hillary put pressure on my hips, squeezing them together (which really helped). I stuck to my "favorite" position of leaning against a desk or chair (or the wall) and swaying. I remember feeling a gut instinct that I needed to go back to the room, so I just headed that direction. I was the only one in labor that day, so things were pretty quiet in terms of activity in the hospital. It was great to be able to focus and not feel distracted at all.
We were back in the room around 10am. I had just sat down on the bed to have another snack because I thought it would still be a long time before the baby was born. I had no idea of my progress (I had no concept of time at all, really). But as I started to take a bite of my energy bar, I had a SUPER big contraction. It wasn't like the ones I'd been having. The room got instantly very bright and vibrant. It was like everything had turned into HD mode. Things seemed to be happening in slow motion, like I could see things happening in some kind of animal mode like a hawk might. It was kind of wild. Wes was eating oatmeal, I think, looking relaxed. Hillary was over by the window probably taking notes on this whole process. The bedspread was a more vibrant teal than in reality. The lights were out but the room seemed bright. I was going into what I call "primal mode." The rational Lyndsay who can process thoughts and ideas moved quickly to the back of my mind, and some primal part of me completely took over at that moment. If you have read "The Host" by Stephenie Meyer, I think of it like that. I was there in my head, but I was totally being overridden by some other force that was in complete control.
I had read a birth story in the book "Homebirth in the Hospital" that said when you start sounding like a dying elephant, you know you are in transition. I laughed so hard at this (after the fact) because that is exactly what happened next. I was suddenly faced with this pain (is it pain? do we call it that? it was painful, but not in a way that caused alarm...), and I knew I couldn't run away from this pain. The only option was to move through the pain. I knew I had to come out on the other side of it. I even remember quoting 30 Rock (the last bit of rational Lyndsay that must have been left), about having to climb down into the darkness or the crevasse (see the end of this post for the quote). I think we even had a half-hearted giggle about that before I started in on another crazy contraction that took over my entire body. This was definitely transition.
By this point I was feeling an insane amount of pressure. And I was making those dying elephant noises through every contraction just to cope. I have no idea how women are quiet during unmedicated labor—it was just instinctual. I also don't know how people ask for epidurals during transition. That didn't even dawn on me. I knew I was close to the end, and I knew nothing was going to take away the intensity and pain other than just having this baby! I remember telling everyone quite urgently that I was feeling "a lot of pressure—like BABY pressure" and then my water broke (that had never happened spontaneously before). I kept feeling like I was going to have the baby any second, but no one else seemed concerned that was going to happen just yet. I was aware of people coming in with their game faces on, though. Jewel was in scrubs. The nurse had the draped cart with miscellaneous instruments at the ready. They wanted me on the bed so that they could check my progress. I was 8cm and progressing by the second, 90% effaced, and I was ready to push with every contraction. I had heard stories of women saying the urge to push is unstoppable. I couldn't have not pushed if the world depended on it. (As a side note, I went from 4cm to 10cm in 3 hours—just like my first nurse predicted!)
Jewel was great. She gave me some options for pushing, and I told her I didn't want to be on my back, but I couldn't get out of bed. So I decided to push on my side, which gave me the chance to pull against the side of the bed during each contraction for support (which later meant I was crazy sore in my arms and shoulders). I was not on board with having to push for a long time, so I decided I would just go for it. I was aware of Jewel and Hillary trying to help me focus my pushing, but remember rational Lyndsay was no longer present. So with each contraction I was just a gung-ho pushing dying elephant! Nothing glamorous about this, but there you have it. I remember saying "Guys, this really sucks!" and "I want this baby out!" But that was the worst of my ranting. Despite feeling completely out of control, everyone said I was doing great. Later I realized that I wasn't out of control at all, I was just surrendering to this force greater than anything on Earth. Jewel had to cut a small episiotomy because of my two previous episiotomies that just wouldn't stretch. But I didn't feel it because Lena was basically on the way out, and all I could feel was extreme pressure.
With a final push, Lena was born at 10:56am. No medication, no complications. The greatest sense of relief and euphoria in the world exists the moment after a baby is born sans epidural! I wasn't able to fully experience that with Finn and Maya. They put Lena right on my chest, and she promptly pooped all over me! She didn't cry much, and Jewel said that in her experience babies who don't have traumatic births don't always cry a lot. They let me hold Lena for a long time while they waited for the cord to quit pulsing before cutting. The placenta was delivered easily. They put warm blankets over Lena while we just looked at each other. She was so bright and beautiful with lots of dark hair! I'll never forget the way Lena's skin felt and smelled—so soft and new. I couldn't get over how alert and content she was compared to Finn and Maya. I kept telling her what a great job she had done.
Eventually they took baby Lena to weigh and measure her. 6lbs, 12oz, and 20 inches. I loved that there was no rush to bathe her or give her shots (which we opted out of in the hospital, anyway). We delayed the eye ointment so that we could keep looking at each other. Everyone was so laid back and respectful of our wishes. They handed her back with a diaper, but unswaddled, so she could nurse skin-to-skin. Her temp was a little low, so we doubled up on the warm blankets again. She latched on and nursed right away for 45 minutes! Everyone was amazed (but after that poop, baby was hungry)! Her temperature regulated, and after her big meal, they took Lena for a few procedures while Jewel stitched me up (numbed first, of course). Then I was able to get right out of bed! It was crazy to be able to get up and go to the bathroom only an hour after delivery. Granted things weren't pain free at first, but the recovery was so much quicker.
The emotions in the room were also much more intense during this birth. It felt more spiritual and elemental. It was also amazing that Lena seemed so present. Maybe that's just her personality, but I would sit in the bed with her on my lap and we would just stare at each other and talk for long stretches. She would look at everyone who came into the room so intently. She was very content from the beginning. And when I would tell her about how we had worked together on this birth, and that she had done such a great job, she would stare at me as if she knew exactly what I was saying. I am sure she understood every word. It was so special to just gaze at each other and remember one another. It's always amazing how new and familiar each of my babies feels when they arrive.
I realize I am exceptionally blessed and fortunate to have had such a wonderful birth experience. Any number of things could have gone differently. But amazingly I pretty much had the exact birth that we lined out in my birth plan! I am so grateful that I was able to "go out on a high note" with our last baby.
And now for some photos of my sweet baby girl on her birth day!
** Jack Donaghy: "Lemon, let me tell you a little story. It was 1994, and I was ice climbing when I fell into a crevasse and hurt my leg. There was only one way out, so fighting every natural instinct I have, I did the thing I hated the most. I climbed down into the darkness. And when I came back to camp, I went to the person who cut my line and said, 'Connie Chung, you saved my life.'"