Sept 8th, 11:45 am
Omar Sharif coached me through a couple of experimental pushes. Reaching his hand indecently high up inside my gooch, he asked if I could feel his hand. I could. He asked me to push against it, holding my breath, which I did, and he praised me. He told me to try again, this time smiling as I did so (because apparently smiling helps pushing? Is this why babies smile when they’re gassy?). I did. Then he left me to it, with the nurses to help urge me on. I couldn’t really tell when my contractions were happening at first, because of the epidural. The monitor on my belly gave the nurses a vague idea, and soon I began to recognize a tightening in my abdomen which seemed to correspond with the monitors. The nurses began to rely on my judgment rather than the monitors, because they said that even with the epidural, I would still be more accurate than technology.
So with each contraction I’d hold my breath and push until my face turned red. I was sure I was bursting blood vessels in my eyeballs. Perfect Husband held my hand and watched with fascination, encouraging me through each push. I guess my efforts began to be visible on the other end, because he began saying “Oh, wow, love, you’re doing amazing, oh WOW…” a lot. He seemed deeply impressed with my achievements. I would push as long as I could, and when I couldn’t hold my breath any more I’d collapse onto the pillows, huffing, and wait for the next contraction. They seemed to be coming every couple of minutes so I just had enough time to try and catch my breath before the next one would hit.
Then there was an expression of shock from the nurses.
“Oh, the catheter is out!”
They had put in a urinary catheter when hooking up my epidural, and apparently I had pushed so hard that I had pushed the catheter right out. Now here’s the thing – apparently they keep those catheters in by inflating a little bulb on the inside, to kind of serve as a plug. I had pushed it out, inflated bulb and all. The nurses had never seen that happen before.
To my relief, there was no pain. I could feel everything that was going on down there, and I could feel the slight tightening of the contractions, but absolutely no pain. I was so relieved that I’m sure it added to my ability to push – the freedom from fear.
After about half an hour (I think… I wasn’t really watching the clock, just gasping for breath and then screwing my eyes shut and pushing like hell) Omar Sharif returned.
“She’s a great pusher,” said the nurse in greeting. Then they told him about the catheter, and he was duly impressed. I worried about damage to my urethra, but he said I’d just have to work extra hard at my kegels.
He took her place at my bottom and took over coaching me through the contractions. He demanded two pushes per contraction – when I finally let out my breath, he’d tell me to take another one and push again. Perfect Husband continued to watch and encourage me, and his amazement and praise were really what got me to milk just that extra drip of effort from each push.
The head began to be visible, and Perfect Husband’s encouragement went up several more notches.
“Would you like a mirror?” Omar Sharif asked me, “some women like to be able to see their progress.”
I don’t think I actually said “hell, no.” I think I politely declined. But since I was feeling no pain, I was able to pretend that everything was sunshine and roses Down There, and the last thing I wanted was anything to give me a frightening reality check. Perfect Husband’s intrigued look as he stared at my progress suggested to me that I would not see sunshine or roses in that mirror.
An hour in, the doctor reached behind him and pulled a wheely metal cart with medical supplies closer to him. Then he got out some scissors, and suture material and laid them out neatly.
“I’m going to give you some lidocaine,” he said, approaching me with a syringe.
“What, no! I said no episiotomy!” I said in alarm.
He looked at me steadily in the eyes, and said, “I think that the umbilical cord might be around the baby’s neck. I don’t want to cut you either, but I am going to give you one more push. If you can’t get the baby out, I’m going to have to make the cut.”
Now, I wish I could say that the whole “umbilical cord around his neck” thing frightened me into giving a monster push through a surge of mother love. However, that part barely registered. It was those scissors that gave me my motivation.
So when I felt the tightness of the baby’s head against my vulva, I found that hidden reserve of strength which I had not yet tapped into, and pushed for that extra couple of face-reddening, eye-bursting seconds.
Sept 8th, 12:57 pm
There was a popping feeling, and a slither, and suddenly the doctor dumped a blue, gape-mouthed baby onto my chest.
I put my arms around him feeling the slimy warmth, and stared into two massive eyes that looked almost green against the smurf-like blue skin. His face was open wide, but there wasn’t much sound coming out. I looked at the toothless void and at those eyes and tried to recognize this person as mine. It felt very surreal. His skin was peeling off of his arms, legs and body in rolls. He looked like he had been badly sunburned, except he was blue instead of red.
“Whoa,” said a nurse, “really post due.”
“Make him cry!” the doctor said, “stimulate him!”
So I rubbed his neck and jiggled him a little, “hey, hey…” I kept saying, “welcome to the world… hi… hi… hey…” and I tried to believe that this was MY baby. I had been expecting generic squish-nosed, Winston-Churchill newborn, but this baby had a very distinctive little face, which made him look like a real individual, and it was no one I had ever met before.
He was whimpering a bit but I guess that wasn’t good enough. He was whisked away from me and taken to the other side of the room and placed on the warming table. My husband went with him, and stood in the huddle of people surrounding the baby. I couldn’t see the baby for the people, but I could hear his cries beginning to strengthen, and PH would occasionally look up from the baby to send me a serious but reassuring nod across the room.
It wasn’t until later that I would understand how serious the situation had been. The monitors had been pointed away from me, which I had thought inconsiderate but now realize was probably purposeful, so as not to worry the labouring mother. So Perfect Husband, the nurses and doctor saw what I didn’t know – that his heart rate had been dropping frighteningly. Apparently there had been worried whispers among the nurses, and that was when the doctor reached for the scissors. My husband told me that until that point, he had been working hard to protect my perineum, keeping pressure on it during my pushes. But I guess the drop in heart rate scared him into reaching for the scissors.
So I avoided the episiotomy, but of course I tore anyway. While the nurses continued to stimulate Babby and weigh him (3.8 kg, 8 lb 6 oz), Dr. Sharif came over and removed my placenta, then explained to me that there was “a little tear” which he was going to sew up now. He proceeded to camp down there with his needle and thread for half a frigging hour, stitching me back together.
Meanwhile, the nurse brought Babby (looking much pinker) back to me and laid him in my arms, skin-to-skin against my belly and draped a towel over both of us to keep him warm. She placed his head near my nipple in case he wanted to latch by himself, and after a while she showed me how to position him for breastfeeding and how to get him to latch. We tried a couple of times, but he didn’t get a good latch and didn’t seem particularly interested in getting one, either. He clearly had no idea what a breast was or why I kept shoving one into his face when he had just has such a rough day. So after that I just held him, and I looked at his face and tried to recognize him while Perfect Husband sat by my side and stared at his son.
He told me that the umbilical cord HAD been around Babby’s neck, but he got overwhelmed describing it and shook his head, not wanting to continue thinking about it. Suddenly nervous, realizing fully for the first time that there actually HAD been a problem, I asked for his Apgar score and was given a reassuring 8. The 52 hour marathon was telling on me, and I was feeling exhausted and a little confused. The adrenalin of giving birth was wearing off, and my memories for this time period are hazy at best. Thankfully, we have some videos. I look tired – near asleep – but Perfect Husband looks exhausted, but radiant. You could tell, looking at him, that he had gotten the hormone dose that seemed to have missed me.
“Does he feel like yours?” I asked him as he bent over the two of us, and he nodded mistily.
“How are you feeling?” he asked gently. I think he could see that I wasn’t in quite the same state.
“He doesn’t feel like mine,” I confessed, touching the tiny stranger.
“That’s okay, he will.” Perfect Husband squeezed my hand.
“Yes. I know.”
And I did know. I was disappointed that I wasn’t feeling that big gush of mother love. I would have liked to experience that. But I trusted that it would come.
In the meantime, I just held the baby and we looked at each other and I tried to get to know him… without falling asleep.
Read Part IV: The Aftermath