Drowning beneath the Waves (Beth-Ellen’s birth story, part 3)

The contraction pounded my whole being awake. The sudden intensity no doubt caused me to do exactly what I shouldn’t have done – to tense every muscle.

I was still breathing hard from the contraction that awoke me when a second slammed through.

From sleeping to drowning in three minutes or less.

Are you feeling lost? Maybe you’d like to read part 1 and part 2 of Beth-Ellen’s birth story

Daniel woke up beside me. Who could sleep through such intensity? I timed just a few contractions and sent a desperate text to my doula.

I needed her to come. I couldn’t manage these. They were at least a minute long, but some were coming as close as every two minutes. I couldn’t catch my breath in between, much less still my mind.

My doula called, heard my panting hello (I was between contractions just then), and suggested we head to the hospital.

We went through the list of last minute packing items – phones and cameras and chargers and popsicles. That is, I pointed to the list in between contractions while Daniel collected items.

I paused a dozen times on my way from our bedroom to the front door. Stopping to lean against the wall, over a chair, against the living room shelving, over the children’s play table. A voice in the back of my head reminded me to keep my vocalizations low, but all that came out was cries of agony.

My mother-in-law awoke (or did she sleep at all? The terrible waves started less than an hour after I’d tucked myself into bed.)

We finally made it out of the house and into the car, where I chafed at the seat and the belt – basically at anything. The washboard road and potholes we’d been hoping would put me into labor a week ago taunted me. Was this what you wanted?

In a brief moment between those terrible contractions, I noticed that it was almost eleven. This baby would be born on Christmas Eve, no doubt. Go figure. Babies in my family insist on being born on significant days.

Then the terrible thought intruded. What if we got there and I wasn’t progressing at all? What if I were dilated to two? I started shaking, the same sort of out-of-control shaking that had convinced me to ask for c-section with Tirzah Mae.

We arrived at the hospital, drove past the ER entrance, turned around and started through.

ER was swift and efficient. They were convinced I’d be delivering on my way upstairs to labor and delivery. Nevertheless, I refused a wheelchair, remembering the agony of sitting in the car during contractions.

It didn’t matter. I didn’t have any contractions on the way up to labor and delivery. Didn’t have any until they insisted that I sit on the examination table in triage to be checked and to check out the baby.

40% effaced, the resident announced. Dilated to 2 cm.

I could have cried, but a contraction began and I was sitting on that terrible table. I tensed my arms to lift my bottom off the table and the nurse told me if I wanted to have a natural birth (she’d had two, she told me, out of seven total) I’d have to learn to relax through the contractions.

In retrospect, her admonition was completely true – but, in the moment, all I could think was “I can relax – if I’m allowed to stand up!”

The baby’s tracing was normal. The resident suggested I stay an hour, walk the halls, see how far I’d progressed by then.

And so we did. My doulas were there now, so we walked in circles through labor and delivery. I caught them up on the events of the day, explaining to them that the contractions I was experiencing right now? About a minute long every five minutes or so? These were like the contractions I’d been having at seven this morning. Enough that I had to stop and manage them, but mild enough that I could even talk through them (so long as I could move around, of course).

If I was discouraged that afternoon, it had nothing on this evening.

I was going to be cut open again. My body couldn’t do labor. Given my mental state when I came in, maybe my mind couldn’t do labor either.

But at least I hadn’t progressed far enough that they’d suggest me staying. If there’s one thing I knew, it was that being at the hospital would erode my chances of a vaginal delivery even more.

So I walked and talked with my doulas, biding my time until the hour was up and the resident could send me home.

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