At 11:08-ish p.m. on April 2nd, I felt a funny, crampy feeling in my lower abdomen. Chalking it up to excitability, I snuggled closer to Patrick and tried to sleep. But the crampy feeling came again. And again. And yet again. So I started to watch the clock. At 11:38, I woke Patrick and told him I thought I might be in labor.
Alina gently nudged me and said, “Patrick, I think this is it. I think it’s starting.” I snapped half-awake and looked at the clock, 11:38. “Okay. I said. Let’s time the contractions to see how far apart they are.” Alina was sure this was it. She started a bath. The contractions were coming at 8 minutes apart, lasting about 45-60 seconds. By 12:15am April 3rd, we were moving in the here-comes-the-baby! way that makes you feel like your brain has been dipped in boiling water, but we were trying to keep cool.
I was sure something was going on, but I was also wary of the possibility of false labor, since a number of friends had warned me that they had false labor with their second births. My labor with Max had started slowly and the contractions were much milder, so I didn’t recognize this as labor. Plus, my water hadn’t broken, which it did with Max…. I was pretty confused but, again, I knew something was happening– just wasn’t sure what.
We called Bunica and Gary and told them we thought Alina was going into labor and were dropping Max off soon. Then we debated whether or not to go straight to the hospital after dropping Max off or coming back home and laboring there rather than spend 6 hours laboring at the hospital.
I had all these romantic ideas of taking a midnight walk along the Black Warrior River, composing a labor letter for Micah, watching the stars on a blanket, etc. After all, Patrick and I had prepared for this. We were ready. We had a PLAN and 10,000 little labor aids to boot! Josalyn had concocted a special labor massage oil for me made from lavender and clary sage (you can get your own at Everyday Indulgences in Tuscaloosa), we had all kinds of massagers, tiger balm, muscle rub, favorite verses– my mind still reels when I look back on all the preparation Patrick and I had done for this birth.
I remember my brain running circles around my hands; Alina was strangely calm. Focused. She actually told me a couple of times to relax a little bit. Thank God she had taken such care in packing the hospital bag. I asked several times if we needed anything else and she stood waiting for me saying, “Everything is fine. We’ve got all we need. Just grab the Max.” I scooped Max from his bed and put his sleeping, dead weight body into his car seat. We drove over to Bunica and Gary’s and I rubbed Alina’s back as we went. She wasn’t saying much.
It got very intense very fast. By the time I got into the car, my contractions were taking all my attention. I kept telling myself, “This is good. Just go with it. Your body is doing its thing…”
While I talked to Gary about our debate on when we’d go to the hospital, the contractions really started hitting Alina. She went outside on the porch for some fresh air.
Suddenly the small-talk seemed distracting to me. Gary and Patrick were joking about something, and I just needed to find a dark place to sit still and quiet for a moment.
When I went out to join her she was on her hands and knees. She wasn’t making a sound. When I leaned over to massage her lower back, she was shaken from her intense focus on her own body by my hands. “Does this feel okay?” I asked. Without saying a word she reached around and grabbed my hand to force it to an area on her lower back that my hands were just missing. She pressed my fingers into her back and her hands went back to the ground.
I remember not wanting to talk….
Gary asked if she wanted a glass of wine. I can’t remember if she had any or not.
Not a rivulet…
By the 6th or 7th contraction, each one putting her on her hands and knees, head down, with purposed breathing, Alina was ready to go. “Where?” I asked. “Home or the hospital?”
“Anywhere. Let’s just go.” Gary asked me if I wanted some single malt 10 year-old Scotch. I said sure and Alina said she’d be in the car.
I just needed to go– Scotch was the furthest thing from my mind… I realized that I had started fighting the contractions rather than just surfing them, riding them out. If I continued to fight them, it would make labor more difficult, so I really wanted to just be still and practice riding a few.
The door closed and I realized it wasn’t the best idea to take the swig but I said ‘Cheers,’ as Gary toasted and gulped it down. Alina was in a sort of fetal position when I got in the car.
The contractions made me feel like a little worm on a stick, being twirled around– the only thing I could do was try to enjoy the view and breathe in a way that distracted me from the pain. I wasn’t very helpful to Patrick because he kept asking questions and I refused to speak or answer.
We decided to drive towards the hospital and call Dr. Bolton on the way to see what she thought about going straight the hospital or giving Alina time to labor where she wanted.
Dr. Bolton answered after two rings. I could hardly recognize her voice since at was 1:00am and she was obviously asleep. “Dr. Bolton? We think this is it.”
“How’s she doing,” Dr. Bolton asked wearily with a drive to attending us.
“Her contractions are 3-5 minutes apart.”
“Go to the hospital, I’ll meet you there.”
After hanging up with her it hit Alina and me just how crazy it was to think of going anywhere else. Another contraction was hitting Alina. I put my hand on her back and she swooshed my hand off of her. She didn’t want me to touch her. She stayed slouched over, head down, and breathed heavily with each contraction all the way to the hospital. Alina didn’t ask me to touch her again until we were in the delivery room. Since we were already headed in the direction of the hospital, driven by our common sense, we pulled into the DCH Northport Hospital parking lot around 1:15am.
As soon as we pulled up, another contraction started. I couldn’t believe how intense this had become in so little time! Patrick came to my door to open it, and I made the mistake of getting up at the wrong time.
Alina got out just as a contraction sent her reeling into the side of the car. I popped the trunk to gather bags. After the contraction Alina waddled briskly away from me towards the hospital.
Patrick says “waddled”, I say “sprinted in a graceful, pregnant, laboring way”. Whatever your word choice, I waited for the contraction to end, took a deep breath, and raced towards the hospital hoping to make it to a chair before the next contraction hit.
I hollered, “Do you want this bag?” holding up a bag with Micah’s baby clothes. She turned and said, “I don’t care!” and turned back towards the hospital. I closed the trunk, wrapped my body in bags, and trotted after her.
Poor Pat. He was so sweet. And confused. Neither of us had any idea….
We had to enter the hospital through the Emergency room entrance since the entrance to the “Women’s Pavilion” (maternity ward) was closed and locked after 9pm. The only point Alina and I would be separated until Micah’s birth was when the security officers took her around to seat her in a wheel chair. She was smiling up at me when a nurse wheeled her through emergency room doors. We raced to the Women’s Pavilion which seemed to be located around 15 corners and down 9 quarter mile hall ways.
Another contraction started just as the little old man guarding the doors tried to find the best wheelchair for me. He was talking about this and that, trying to choose a “fine wheelchair”, when I just threw myself into the closest wheelchair to spare him the continued monologue. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good when a woman is in labor.
We checked into WP304 at 1:27am. A nurse named Ashleigh came into the room. She was warm and caring towards Alina, focusing on her needs rather than her duties as a nurse. Alina had barely settled into the bed while the nurse was working on getting a fetal monitor onto her belly when Alina said she felt gassy. The nurse swung her head around from the Alina’s belly and sort of stood there awe-struck. She regained her composure and stuttered to Alina, “Okay, well that’s fine. Don’t push yet. Let me get this monitor on you. If you feel anymore pressure you just let me know and I’ll check you.”
Alina asked for my hand as the next contraction came on. I walked around to the side of her bed to take her hand. She squeezed hard. “Relax, honey. Try to relax yourself to help Micah come out.” I was amazed at Alina’s ability to do this, to relax her body and focus on letting the contraction move through her body. After this contraction, probably the 4th or 5th after we were checked into the room, Alina told the nurse she felt like pushing. The nurse finished strapping the monitor to Alina’s bulging belly and checked her cervix.
It was quiet. She looked up wide-eyed. “You’re ready!” Alina and I shot alarming glances at each other. “Press that button over there and call for help,” the nurse motioned with her hand to the call button. “Wait. What do you mean she’s ready?”
“She’s 10cm. But I want to get another opinion just to make sure.” Nobody said much more. The nurse and I were standing on either side of Alina and her bed trying to support her as best we could with encouragement and hope as each contraction came on. Another nurse came in and got the same ‘holy-cow’ expression except she pressed the call button and said, “We need to get this room set up for delivery asap.”
Alina was beginning to come to the edge of frantic. She felt enormous pressure but was being told she couldn’t do anything about it. When Alina asked to use the bathroom the nurses all about restrained her and said, “No, no, no. Just don’t push. Dr. Bolton is on the way.” There was 30 minutes of disorder from the nurses and heavy contractions from Alina. She would ask about Dr. Bolton every other contraction. I could only hold her hand, rub her back, and help keep the monitor strapped to her belly every time she changed positions.
And boy did I change positions! Like a wild animal– I can’t think of any pose I didn’t strike on that narrow hospital bed! I couldn’t believe the next step was the pushing part. There wasn’t even really a question of trying to get an epidural. Natural labor is much easier when robbed of the obvious temptations because everything happens so fast. Heck, I didn’t even have to get the mandatory hospital I.V. (they like to have a line to your blood supply just in case). So I moved around. And chewed on ice. And was amazed by the power of these contractions to “get the job done”.
Dr. Bolton came into the room at 2:00am. Alina’s eyes lit up when she saw Dr. Bolton. “I feel like I have to push!” Dr. Bolton had an armload of supplies. She was moving towards a table to put everything down. She slowly turned around, cocked her head to the side, and as casually as can be said to Alina, “Well go ahead.”
“You mean I can start pushing?” Alina said unbelieving.
“Sure. Go ahead.” Dr. Bolton turned back around and tended to setting up her things.
Alina’s first few pushes were…well, adorable. Now don’t think me an insensitive, uncaring male. I know they hurt her. I know it wasn’t easy. But Alina had no clue how to “push.” She scrunched up her face and made an effort for a couple of seconds and stopped. She did this maybe 3 or 4 times before the real pushing began.
He’s right– I had no idea. Every time I pushed, it would hurt a little more and I would realize– “Oh no, she’s really going to come out! And it will be painful.” So I pushed halfheartedly. And then…
Then all adorableness left the room. There was only agony, intensity, and a body full of such purpose that I will forever admire my wife for her will and power.
At this point I will let Alina talk of her experience of sending Micah into this world. I actually feel like I would be opening the curtain on a sacred moment. But it’s really Alina’s story to tell. I was only her shoulder when she needed it. And I held the monitor on her belly while she moved. So I will say this though: Alina pushed for almost one hour and she was never in one position for more than 5 minutes. Two or three contractions and she was moving her body into another position or to another part of the room. She even sat on the toilet for a few contractions. I hope she doesn’t mind my saying so, but she reminded me of my parent’s dogs when trying to nest themselves into the couch–turning round and round and round and then settling in. Or, for Alina and little Micah, “bearing down.”
I remember Patrick’s encouraging face– his hands holding my leg, watching my progress with Dr. Bolton, constantly telling me, “Tha’;s it baby, you’re almost there!”
I remember Dr. Bolton telling me that I could touch her head. So I did. And then she was palpable, soft and fuzzy, so I pushed harder.
I remember when Patrick started to cry– after she crowned– and then suddenly, she was there, purple and screaming (really more like hollering, to be colloquial). And nothing hurt anymore. And she was beautiful. And my beautiful beautiful husband was crying and taking photos. Or cutting the cord. Or talking to Dr. Bolton about the placenta. I am SO MUCH smaller a human being without this man that completes me, this man that fits me to a tee, this man that helps me climb every mountain.
In short, it was short. And sweet. And amazing. It felt more like rock-climbing K2 (with all the attendant adrenaline) than a medical experience. I am so grateful…