Miriam is one week old today and over the past week we have been honing our skills in addition to getting our stories together as to what actually happened last Saturday night during the labor and delivery. Both Andy and I each had our own experience of the birth and getting the disparate pieces aligned into a single coherent narrative has taken a bit of time. Overall we were very pleased with all the people who worked with us and we were happy with the experience.
Andy had been leading Evening Prayer and mystagogical discussion each night of the octave of Easter (the eight days that begin on Easter Sunday) and I had been attending some of them with him. In an interesting way these eight evenings—focusing each time on one of the symbols of rebirth in Christ through baptism that took place at the Easter Vigil—parallels perfectly the time Andy and I have spent reflecting on and going deeper into the birth we experienced with Miriam. The more and more we tell our stories we are able to recall additional pieces and glimpse insights that would have otherwise passed us by. On Saturday evening we arrived at Saint Thomas More and celebrated Evening Prayer; once the faith-sharing discussion had started, I felt like I needed to go to the bathroom but ended up not coming back. Andy gave the group a question to discuss among themselves and came to the bathroom in order to check on me. Because I had thought I had only had a couple contractions in about 30 minutes, I told Andy to go ahead and finish the discussion so that we could go home. Several contractions later, Andy came back armed with a towel in case my water broke in the car and gently suggested that maybe we should go straight to Duke hospital. At this point, however, it had been a very short amount of time so I simply wanted to go home and lay down. In the back of the church I had been walking around, or sitting, but I really wanted to lay down.
As we made the 20 minute drive home Andy watched the clock in the car and determined I was having contractions exactly every three minutes! [Regular contractions every five minutes is considered a sure sign of active labor]. By the time we got home it was clear that we should go to the hospital; while I got my five minutes to lay down on the couch Andy rounded up the last items for the hospital bag, we both changed from church clothes to more comfortable attire, and Andy called in order to inform the doctor that we were on our way.
A very quick drive to Duke later, we went into the emergency room, where both the valet and the front desk staff recognized the urgency of the situation, although we sat through three contractions waiting for the staff to bring me up to the labor and delivery floor. Following another contraction in the elevator, Andy helped me change into a hospital gown and we were attended to by the triage nurses and doctor. One nurse commented “wow, that seemed like a strong one,” while they drew some blood and got me hooked up to a fetal monitor to measure Miriam’s heart rate. When the doctor came in, she discovered that I was over 9cm dilated [10cm is full dilation and indicates that it is time to push], so I really was very far along after only a couple hours.
So a bit after 10pm and at 9cm dilated, we finally made it to our delivery room. All of Duke’s delivery rooms have a jacuzzi tub in them, so Andy had them start the bath for me, as we had learned in our class that water could be one of the best ways of relaxing. Our plan for pain management had been to avoid the epidural if possible, but not knowing what labor pains would be like, it was hard for me to commit absolutely to such a choice. With things going so quickly, I was rather hopeful that I would make it on my own, so I did not object when Andy informed the doctors of our choice.
At this point my water still had not broken, so the doctor had told me to resist the urge to push until my cervix was fully dilated. I would say this was probably one of the harder parts of labor, because I felt like I was resisting the contraction, rather than being able to try to relax through it. Andy was by the side of the tub holding my hand and trying to remind me to breathe. Eventually the doctor decided that it was time for me to push, so we all moved very slowly from the tub to the bed. Andy and the nurse were working together to try to get me the six foot distance during the lull between contractions, but evidently I was moving quite slowly and so the nurse got the brunt of a contraction while I was standing halfway between the tub and the bed.
Once on the bed, the doctor decided that she would break the bag of waters (amniotic sac) so pushing could commence. The color of the fluid also could indicate if there was any fetal distress, the presence of which would necessitate a pediatrician being at the ready. When she pricked the membranes to release the water, I felt a huge relief that a lot of pressure was gone and the fluid being clear thus indicating no fetal distress was a huge relief of a psychological kind. The doctor suggested several positions for pushing; since in the tub and on the bed I had been most comfortable on my side, we tried a push or two from the side, but I didn’t like that, and I may have tried to kick the nurse when he grabbed my leg. I ended up on my back, with a nurse and Andy each on “leg duty.” After having to resist pushing, it took me a while to figure out how to actually push with the contractions. It was also around this point that I expressed my discontent to the nurse about the fetal monitor: as the baby was moving down, he was moving the monitor down my belly, and when he pressed it against me it hurt and I felt as though that pressure was causing the contractions. Andy reports that this comment made everyone in the room resist busting out laughing, but all I remember is the nurse replying that he didn’t think he was causing the contractions! Another amusing anecdote resulted from my knowing that April 18th was my great-grandmother’s birthday. As I also knew that it was late and possibly close to midnight, I asked Andy “if it was tomorrow yet,” such that he had to gently let me know that not only did he have no idea but also that I should probably concentrate on breathing!
Once pushing was going better the doctor invited Andy to look at the head at the height of the push so he got to see the hairy top of a head ready to come out. At this point all I remember is the doctor encouraging me to push longer with each push, followed by a rapid succession of: “here comes the head,” “push again for the shoulders,” and then “one more push and she’s out!” Andy said that she was pretty slimy, rather ugly, and gave him a bit of a start that she didn’t cry immediately, but of course after a few seconds I had a slimy pink screaming baby on my belly and the three of us got to hold that moment for quite some time. I vaguely remember looking up to see Andy cut the cord, but I couldn’t see Miriam very well from the angle we were both at. They put a blanket over her and I held her as she screamed and screamed! After a while Andy helped Miriam move to a position where she could try to suckle and Miriam latched on immediately. This was an amazing moment for me, since one of the benefits of not getting an epidural is that feeding immediately after birth can often go better, resulting in an easier time learning to nurse for both mother and newborn. With everything working so well only a few minutes after delivery I felt that I was already reaping the benefit of the decision we had made.
Once things were calming down a great deal of clean up was done by the doctors and nurses, including some stitches from some tearing during delivery. I certainly wasn’t unaware of what was happening, but having Miriam on my stomach nursing was a great anesthesia. Eventually when they were done with me, Andy escorted Miriam to the nursery where they weighed her and did some tests. The nurse helped me to the bathroom where I continued to get cleaned up and he scooped up all the linens and pads from the bed and got it back into a useable state. By the time Andy and Miriam came back, I was back in the bed and able to start processing all that had happened. Miriam and I snoozed while Andy went down to move the car and retrieve the hospital bag that had been left in the car in the hurry into the ER! When he came back we were able to start the picture taking extravaganza and post the previous post on which Andy and I had been working for some time.
The last week has now been quite a blur. The doctors and nurses who continued to attend to us were very nice and we got to go home on Tuesday morning. Since then we have been blessed to have many friends visit, bringing their warm wishes and a lot of great food. Miriam has been sleeping relatively well and she joind us to celebrate Mass at Saint Thomas More yesterday morning where she was greeted by many more happy faces.
In addition to delighting in our daughter Andy has, as one would expect from a pastoral liturgist and a recovering anthropologist, been analyzing things in light of rituals. As a rite of passage not just for Miriam but also for Andy and me, the birthing process indeed had its liminal stage (analogous to the catechumenate) of being separated from the world and its moments of reaggregation (analogous to mystagogy or the honeymoon), such as when I saw the outside world for the first time in three days when we left the hospital. When something as profound as being born (or reborn) happens to us we cannot simply go back to living as we had before, not just because things have changed but because we see the world differently. The octave that has elapsed since Miriam’s birth has given us the chance to begin seeing ourselves and the world through these different eyes, it is what Andy insists is our “new hermeneutic key.” Though we are by no means fully reaggregated back into the world in our new role as parents, Andy and I continue to tell the story of Miriam’s birth, a story that deepens our love for her and one another and the wondrous mystery of life with which we have been blessed.