Although I wanted to snap at the young nurse who had just let me know just how much harder my labor was going to get, I didn't have to. Older-wiser nurse cut her off just as she was telling me that I didn't yet know what a ten was going to be like by telling her to mark in my chart that I'd rather not be asked my pain level. If you want a sure-fire route to an epidural, try stopping what you're doing to manage your labor pain and thinking carefully about just how much pain you're feeling. If I had written a birth plan, I'd be highlighting "NO pain scale questions" in bright yellow.
After what seemed like an eternity, my required twenty minutes on the monitors were up and I was allowed to get off of the monitors and into the tub. Tiny as it was, that tub was heaven. It had a handheld showerhead, and I wasted no time in getting that thing turned up to the hottest setting possible and spraying it directly on my huge belly as I sat in the water. I can't even describe the relief. And that's how I survived... I closed my eyes and tried to pretend that I was in a big comfy whirlpool tub rather than scrunched into a narrow one. I wore nothing but a sports bra and my iPhone earbuds from then on out, not caring one bit about the parade of nurses coming in and out of my room, just like everyone says. My husband sat in a chair next to the tub, holding my precious phone, which was playing my Hypnobabies labor track, and leaning over to aim the stream of water from the showerhead on my stomach. He had a backache from all the hours he spent leaning over into that tub. He wins more points than he already had for the fact that he didn't complain about it one bit.
The whole labor process was such a mind game for me. As hippie as it sounds, I took all the advice from the yoga birth workshop I attended and from Ina May's Childbirth book about picturing your body opening up with every contraction. I thought about each one as a wave washing over me, and I tried to remind myself that the pain was purposeful and important and good. Not trying to fight against it was the key for me in getting through it. The more I could relax every last muscle in my body and let it do what it needed to do, the better I felt. I started out breathing deeply and slowly, but later found that shallower breaths felt much better. I gave up clenching my fists and my face and instead tried to lay as still as possible, concentrating on the feeling of the water spraying against my skin. I basically tried to trust my body and stay the hell out of its way.
Even though I didn't follow the program exactly and definitely slacked on listening to all the tracks that I was supposed to during my pregnancy, I leaned heavily on Hypnobabies during my labor. There is one technique in the program where if you feel you can't relax as much as you need to, you can ask your birth partner to press on your forehead, say the word "release", and instantly you'll find yourself more deeply relaxed. My husband and I were supposed to practice that technique in the weeks leading up to labor, and we found ourselves in fits of laughter more than once when we did. Somewhere around eight hours into labor though, I wasn't laughing, and instead whispering "help" which signaled my husband to press on my forehead just as we'd
half-assedpracticed. While he did that, I worked on pretending that I couldn't feel anything below my shoulders, and concentrated on the feeling of his cool hand against my face. Thinking back on it now, it seems ridiculous. At the time, it seemed life-saving.
My time spent in the tub was challenging, but I felt like I was doing a good job and that I was really handling labor well. Just about once every hour though (I have a feeling it wasn't quite that often but it seemed frequent), young nurse would pop into the bathroom and announce that it was time to be monitored. As soon as I climbed out of the tub (which was a production in itself), my whole body would be gripped with a strong contraction that I was never able to relax my way through. It was jarring, and those contractions felt absolutely terrible. Somehow they felt grinding, as if my body were composed only of teeth that were gnashing against each other. I'm sure it was the rude interruption of my zen-like bathtub state that made them feel so terrible, but terrible they were nonetheless.
During one of these interruptions, I decided that it would be a good time to ask about the strange feeling I'd been experiencing after each contraction. The pain would stop for a moment, and then I'd feel what seemed to be a small contraction again, almost like an aftershock. The second contraction was definitely much easier to deal with, but it was still a contraction. I started to ask older-wiser nurse about what I was feeling, but younger nurse heard me from across the room and decided to answer for her. "Couplets. You're having couplets. It just means you're not having a productive contraction pattern!" Then she smiled proudly as if she had given the winning answer on a game show.
|(If you look carefully you can see a little hill following a big hill... one of my "couplet" contractions.)|
Seriously? You're going to tell a laboring woman who thinks she's doing a good job that her contraction pattern (which she has no control over, thankyouverymuch) is not productive? I started thinking that all of that pain I'd been feeling was for no good reason at all, and it made the next few contractions just that much harder to deal with. What if I'm not progressing? I let my mind wander to the thought of a terrifyingly long labor, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with worry. Then something I had read in Ina May's Guide to Childbirth popped into my head. Your body is not a lemon. My body had successfully conceived, incubated, and grown a human over the past nine months. And it did that with so little conscious help from me. I didn't have to instruct my uterus to grow larger, tell the egg to implant or oversee the development of the perfectly four-chambered heart that we had seen on ultrasounds. Who was I to start doubting my body's abilities now? The full passage from Ina May's book reads:
"Remember this, for it is as true and true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body."
That nurse was not going to play a part in my labor story any longer. I ignored her from then on out and that was the last time that I doubted my body's ability to birth a baby. I took a deep breath and got back to the business of staying out of my own way.