While being checked for progress that third time, the thought that was running through my head was "please at least be a seven". That was my magic number, the line I'd drawn between feeling like maybe I could get through this and feeling like I couldn't. I was absolutely elated and energized when my midwife told me I was "a good eight". Eight! Eight sounds so very close to ten. I was thrilled. Things were about to change though, as eight also means the transition stage of labor.
My contractions quickly started to feel very differently than they had all day. I had been finding a way to get through the earlier contractions, mostly by relaxing, breathing, and escaping somewhere else inside my head. That was quickly becoming impossible. I'm not going to lie. Transition sucks. It was by far the most intense pain I've ever experienced. I'd try to describe it, but I really think I've blocked it out. I was lucky to still have breaks in between contractions, but they were becoming shorter and shorter, allowing nothing more than a quick catch of breath.
I survived by sitting on the end of the bed and staring into my husband's eyes. Getting through this part of labor was so much more active for me. No longer could I just will my body into a trancelike state. Now I had to fight to stay on top of the pain. I shifted around uncomfortably, held on to my husband's arms, and made a whole lot of noise. Along with the tightening pain that I'd be experiencing all day, transition brought with it an indescribably intense feeling of pressure. There was just no relaxing against it. My Hypnobabies track kept playing in my ears, but now it seemed laughable. I'd reached a place where it couldn't help me.
Later my husband would say that I was staring so hard at him that he thought at one point I was trying to transfer my pain through my eyes to him. I knew I was kind of acting like a crazy person, but in that moment he was my rock and I just had to trust that he knew his sane wife would return some day. For now he would have to handle the crazy version. Thinking back about this part I just cannot imagine having any one else in the room besides my husband. I needed to feel like I could do, say, scream anything I wanted to, and the only person in the world who I can trust at that level is my husband.
Once again my mind went to the epidural. I didn't care about the deal I had made with myself about my progress; I was too desperate for some relief. I asked my midwives if it was too late to get one, and they said that I could get one any time I wanted before ten centimeters. Okay then! It was settled. I would like to stop feeling this, thank you very much! But it wasn't that easy. It would probably take close to an hour before the anesthesiologist could get there, they told me. Also, while the epidural would take away the pain sensations, it would do nothing for the pressure. I have no idea how true these statements were. My midwives were after all trying to do what I'd asked them beforehand to do: help me have a drug-free birth. They told me that every single woman asks for an epidural during transition. I demanded to know how much longer this was going to last. They of course told me that there was no way of knowing. I kept demanding anyways. The older midwife finally told me that it was very unlikely that it would last more than two hours.
I somehow found a new resolve then, and with my husband's steady gaze, found a way to get through each contraction, one at a time. As I put each one behind me, I reminded myself that there really is no memory of pain. In the brief moments between them, I didn't feel any. It also helped to think about the fact that that contraction that had just ended? I would never feel it ever again. My midwives suggested that I walk around, but I looked at them as if they were crazy. I also had no interest in getting back in the tub, knowing that I wouldn't be allowed to actually give birth there (hospital policy), and not being able to bear the thought of climbing in and out of it again.
After about forty-five minutes, the pressure I was feeling intensified yet again. I yelled out and told my midwives about it. They let me know that it was normal during this stage of labor, but it felt distinctly different to me. Just a couple of contractions later the feeling turned into a searing burn. A comment about that sensation brought on a flurry of activity in the room. My midwives put on gowns, the nurses wheeled over a tray of instruments, and someone asked if I wanted a mirror. My progress was checked for the fourth and last time and my midwife confirmed that I was a ten and ready to push!
I don't think I've ever been so excited. I'd progressed from eight to ten in just under an hour! I think everyone in the room was surprised that things had moved so quickly. It was a rough hour, but now it was over. It was the only part of labor that I will not try to tell you was bearable. It wasn't, and yet, I did. I felt so proud and so accomplished. I had gotten through the worst of it and I just couldn't believe how close I was to meeting my baby. I was given the option to reach down and feel my son's head, which I did. Such a strange and amazing thing, touching the top of his head. They wheeled over a huge mirror, but I have very little recollection of seeing much of anything. He was so close, they told me, "two pushes and he'll be out!"
Let me end the suspense right here- it didn't go that way at all.
Part 6: The Scary Stuff
Part 7: He's Here!