by Katie Madden
I knew that I wanted to be a mother since I was a little girl. I spent all the time I could with babies: skipping church to volunteer in the nursery, babysitting, vacationing with family friends who had three small children. I was the youngest sister and the youngest cousin. There were really no babies in my family, so I sought them out elsewhere.
I was in a big rush to grow up so I could get married and have a baby. I will be sure to remind Lucy to take her time. I could have gone trick or treating one or two more times or enjoyed being a single 21-year-old living in a gorgeous loft apartment in Baltimore. But I had a plan. The faster that plan could happen, the better.
Of course I chose a job that involved babies. Right out of nursing school I took a job at Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in their postpartum unit. There was still a nursery in those days, so there were plenty of nights I would just sit and feed and hold little newborns. I knew I wanted one of my own and fast.
Joe and I got married in a hurry. We bought a house in a hurry and got pregnant in a hurry. Everyone told us we were going too fast, that we should slow down. But we were young and stupid and thought we knew it all. Well, I thought I knew it all. Joe was so smitten with me, he just came along for the ride on the Katie express.
I got pregnant on the first try. Remember, I was 23. Those are the prime baby making years for women’s bodies. I knew she was a girl. Or, I vehemently hoped the baby was a girl. I worried it was a boy since my husband is one of four boys, but I just knew I would have my own little girl. I remember the first time I heard her heartbeat at nine weeks. Fast, like a girl.
I was at The Birth Center then. I can’t remember exactly how I decided on The Birth Center. We were living in Philly at the time and I could have easily looked into the Bryn Mawr Birth Center, but for some reason I never did. I remember having a preconception consultation with Alissa, a midwife at The Birth Center at the time. We talked a lot at that appointment about me taking Zoloft. Ten years ago, it wasn’t known to be as safe as it is we now know it is. It was a risk versus benefit assessment and we decided the benefits of keeping me sane were worth the risk of the unknown. Perhaps that was the moment I knew The Birth Center would be where I would have my baby. It is a place where they take the time to talk out hard decision such as this.
At the 18 week ultrasound my suspicions were confirmed. She was Lucy. I think it took Joe a while to process the fact that he wasn’t having a boy. I think as much as I wanted a girl, he wanted a boy. But we agreed her name was Lucy, after his Babci (grandmother), a tough old broad whom we loved dearly.
I didn’t love being pregnant. I was really sensitive to smells and had a lot of nausea (but little vomiting). I was heavy, too, and as I got closer to my due date, the air got hotter and I got more miserable.
Despite my physical misery, I loved knowing she was in there growing. I would poke at her in my tummy and she would poke back. Joe said it wasn’t very nice of me to do. I did it anyway because it felt like we were playing. I read her children’s book aloud and played Dixie Chicks for her on our drive to work.
I took Peggy’s Hypnobirthing classes. Joe accidentally fell asleep during most of them (they are just so damn relaxing!). I practiced self-hypnosis while waiting for an hour for my glucose tolerance test. I listened to CDs (yes, CDs. On a Discman). I wrote out scripts for Joe to read to me while I was in labor. I said we needed something personal, not the generic scripts from the book.
I was due July 11, 2006. That day came and Lucy did not; I was HOT and DONE. So for some dumb and unknown reason, we went to Lancaster on my due date, played mini-golf, and ate at Bird in Hand. All terrible choices. I don’t think we made it through four holes of golf before I quit. As excited as I was to eat at Bird in Hand, I ate like three bites and I was full.
The worst part about being overdue is the thinking. I wasn’t so far overdue that I was worried about being transferred (after all, I had done a ton of fear release around a hospital birth with Peggy). I started thinking about whether or not I would be a “Hypnobirthing failure.” What if labor did hurt? What if I wasn’t quiet and peaceful? In those few days, I read Birthing from Within. This was a game changer. This book says, “Labor is hard work. It hurts and you can do it.” There is a lot of channeling your inner animal. Turned out, mine was a wildebeest.
July 15, 2016, one of my best friends from high school was getting married in Baltimore, Maryland. I was really disappointed I wasn’t going to be able to go. So, when I was still pregnant that morning, I decided we were going. Simultaneously that morning I had the first stirrings of labor–which I knew were stirrings of labor, but I ignored. I figured if I went into labor, I would just dance through it. It would help her come, right?
On the way down to my parent’s house in Columbia, MD, we stopped at Best Buy because Joe wanted to buy a CD. Walking around Best Buy I remember again having the thought, “Um, I think this is labor.” But I still wasn’t concerned. We would go to the wedding.
My mom and I went out to get a manicure and pedicure in preparation for the wedding. The nail tech asked if he gets a bigger tip if he put me into labor. “Yes!” I said. I got up to wash my hands mid-manicure and I distinctly remember having my first real contraction: “Holy shit. That’s a contraction.” After Braxton Hicks and “stirrings,” I felt my first real contrac–oh, wait–“surge.” I was calling them “surges” still at that point. I didn’t say anything to my mom. I had a number of sporadic surges as the tech finished my manicure and pedicure and some on the car ride home. We got back to my mom’s and I went to go lie down in my childhood room. I let Joe know what was happening and he started timing the contractions. Every five minutes. “What!? Every five minutes?? That can’t be right.” They were strong, too. I distinctly remember wondering why they were so damn strong and so damn regular so quickly. After a little more denial that I could go to the wedding, then a few more contractions which convinced me I could not, in fact, go to the wedding, we decided to make the 90 minute car ride home. I changed into my “labor outfit,” a shelf tank and stretchy pants, and I popped the “Rainbow Relaxation” Hypnobirthing CD into the car CD player.
It was really hard to be in labor in the car. I hear this all the time from moms and it is true. Five minutes or fifty minutes, it sucks. I bet that is what it is like to be strapped in bed in a hospital. If you can’t move freely you can’t cope and the labor is worse.
We decided to stop by The Birth Center on our way home to get checked. I was four centimeters. They did a non-stress test and sent me home. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but it was a madhouse there. Four moms delivered in the 24 hours before Lucy was born.
I stayed at home for the next eight hours laboring. Poor Joe. I wouldn’t let him leave my side. I just lay on my side moaning and demanding he keep talking to me. Soon he had to go off script and just start making shit up. It didn’t matter. He is such a strong, quiet presence. Really, if Joe is just in the same room as me I feel safe. We tried a few things like me sitting in the tub and using lavender essential oils. Our tub is too shallow, so I didn’t get the water effect. Joe used the nozzle to spray water on my tummy which worked until the hot water ran out.
By the way, this whole time I was just moaning. Like, bellowing. Like a wildebeest.
Somewhere around midnight, I started to bear down. I just felt an uncontrollable bearing down sensation. Joe wanted to go to The Birth Center, but I didn’t yet. “They will make me walk the stairs!” was all I could think. But somehow he managed to talk me into getting into the car.
The car again! Torture!! It was only a 15 minutes drive, but it lasted a lifetime. We got there and my Yellow Room was open. Amy checked me and I was eight. I would have a baby in no time. But I wanted to push on eight. And I wasn’t supposed to. Amy was nice enough about it, but she told me what I knew. Try not to push. Stubbornly, I stayed on my side and wouldn’t move, except to roll to my other side. Amy said I should get up and walk, but I wouldn’t.
Somewhere in there I was on hands and knees and my water broke and hit the wall. Joe likes to add the little tidbit that he stepped in it in his bare feet.
And then I was nine and a half. Also known as an anterior lip. And then I was an anterior lip. And then I was an anterior lip. From midnight to 4:00 am, I was an anterior lip that Amy tried to reduce, but it wouldn’t budge. She finally convinced me to get up. I took a shower and did deep squats in the shower.
Complete. Time to push.
I remember contorting myself into lots of odd positions to push. I don’t think I was the most effective pusher either, because Amy finally put me on the birthing stool to deliver. She put a mirror on the floor so I could watch Lucy’s head come down and hold her down there. It was so cool to see her bald little head (I knew she would be bald). It seemed like she would never come out. I was growling and pushing with all my might.
The thought that got me through the end stages of labor was about breastfeeding. I couldn’t wait to breastfeed her. It was even in my birth plan that I didn’t want anyone to help me. The moment would be all mine.
Now, what I know now but I didn’t know then is that birthing on a birthing stool is terrible for your perineum. It gets babies out and I guess it is good for crappy pushers like me, but it holds your perineum taught and leads to some nasty tearing.
I remember that last push. That moment was so painful. It was a different kind of pain. It snapped me into reality, out of labor land, and cut like a knife. That was me tearing. But, Amy told me to reach down and pick up my baby. I did. I reached down and picked up my hot, fat, wet baby girl. I held her up to my chest and her eyes were huge and wide open. “She’s beautiful!” I cried.
I don’t think I realized it at the time, but Lucy wasn’t breathing well. She certainly wasn’t crying. I remember hearing some wet breaths. I think they took her pretty quickly as I hobbled from the stool to the bed to deliver the placenta and have my vagina pieced back together. I found out later thatLucy needed a fair amount of help to start breathing. She got some positive pressure to open up her lungs. But she didn’t cry. Not at all. But she was pink and she had begun breathing well, so she was wrapped up and given to Joe as the perineum repair began. I don’t remember it being all that painful. Maybe it was the swelling, maybe it was the bliss, but I don’t remember it. I do remember, however, two additional midwives, Kathleen and Dorinda, coming in to look at the disaster that was my vagina. I had a second degree tear, which was no big deal, but my urethra had also torn. The midwives concurred that I would need a urinary catheter in place before they could stitch my urethra. You know, so they wouldn’t accidentally sew my pee hole closed.
I later also learned that I had had a postpartum hemorrhage. All of this made complete sense when we were told she was eight pounds, 14 ounces and 21 inches. I was proud of that fat baby.
Ice diaper on my butt, I was propped up and ready to get my baby back so I could nurse her. I remember fumbling with her at first. I felt like I was all thumbs and I couldn’t quite figure out how to latch her. “Oh,” I realized. “I am on the wrong side. I am on the mommy side, not the nurse side.” I got my bearings and latched her on. It was perfect.