I sat in the hospital bed, decked out in my gown, hooked up to IV antibiotics, answering questions as the nurse typed information into the computer. I was four days overdue, six centimeters dilated; the baby was coming tonight. I was not feeling much pain yet … what I was feeling was dread.
I’d given birth twice before, and the second time had done so without medication. My second child’s birth had gone beautifully, with no complications and a very quick recovery, but I remembered transition & pushing as being horrifically painful. I was confident in my decision to forgo medication again, but now that the moment had arrived, I was, very simply, afraid.
I wasn’t afraid that there would be complications. I did not fear that labor would stall, or that the baby would be badly positioned. I didn’t think things would go awry and require an emergency C-section. I was just afraid of being in such pain again.
And so I sat. Over the previous four hours of early labor, contractions were mild, slow, and irregular when I was sitting down; they intensified and came more closely together whenever I moved around. My OB – having checked me at her office, and knowing things would move quickly – arrived at the hospital shortly after I did, and immediately suggested that I start walking. I felt slightly ashamed of my fear as I feebly suggested that I wait until the dose of antibiotics was done. My doctor was surprised, but assented.
When the nurse unhooked me from the IV, I dutifully got up and started walking. Immediately my pains got worse – still not terrible, but worse – and labor sped up. It was probably only twenty minutes before I got back onto the bed. I started shaking, which I knew was an effect of the adrenaline that was surging through my body as I approached transition. I leaned forward onto a birthing bar (like this) as labor intensified. I started to close my eyes during contractions, and to groan through them as Pete massaged my back.
When my OB checked me again, my water broke, and immediately labor became more painful again. I ended up lying on my left side, gripping the bar on the side of my bed. I felt locked into place, totally unable to move. When the time came to push, and my doctor told me to pull back on my right leg as Pete held my left, it seemed to take an immense amount of strength just to let go of the bar and move my arm to the side before beginning my death-grip on my leg.
And then I began pushing.
I can’t find words to describe the pain, and I’ve struggled to find words for another sensation I’ve had while pushing. During my second child’s birth, in addition to the pain, I experienced pushing as being out of control. In one sense that’s accurate, as the contractions came over me in waves that were totally out of my power. But it was more than that, and having experienced it again now, I think I felt like I was falling. Rooted into this sweaty, painful place, unable to move except to push, but feeling as if I were falling, continuously, the entire time I was pushing.
Anyway. So there I was, pushing, and screaming my way through the pain. For the most part, I was not thinking coherently, but two thoughts crossed my mind. The first was, fleetingly, a friend for whom I’d decided to offer up my labor. The other coherent thought I had was of Jesus.
I couldn’t have articulated any of this at the time, but I thought of how desperately I wanted the pain to end, how desperately I wanted a way out, but there was no way out. Of course, once the baby was born the pain would stop, but at this point I couldn’t see ten seconds into the future. There was only now, and only pain, and there was no way out. And I thought of Jesus, and how, during every moment of the Crucifixion, there was a way out. He could have disappeared from the cross and from the pain, but he didn’t.
And I was in awe.
In reality – outside of the “only now, only pain” – my labor was mercifully short. We were at the hospital less than two and a half hours before the baby was born, and the real pain was almost all in that last hour. And in the end, of course, Rachel Marie Timler came into the world. And of course, of course, of course, it was all worth it.