Note: not for reading if you don't fancy hearing about a birth process - it's not full of graphic details, but has some detail!
Two years and a bit later and I’m driving with C in a taxi over the 59th Street bridge in labor again. Though the first time arguably I wasn’t quite “in labor”, as my water had broken but contractions hadn’t yet kicked in – I’m not sure when labor officially begins. Anyway, this time there were contractions. They had started while I was walking with Mum and JNH down 30th Avenue in Astoria. Mum had just arrived off the plane from the UK an hour previously and we had been looking forward to a week of relaxation, getting organized, spending time with JNH etc. before CMH’s due date. Clearly that wasn’t to be.
They began as a gentle rhythmic whirring from the back to the front of my body, a distant rumble. Like a machine that had been lying dormant for a long time slowly grinding back into action. I didn’t say anything at first, just observed the sensation as we bought salad ingredients from Elliniki Agora Fruit and Vegetable, and spanakopita from Athens Café.
When we were back at the apartment, by which time the fact that yes, these were contractions, was sinking in, there was a torrential rainstorm. The rain was still falling as C and I got into the taxi and it drove us to Mount Sinai Hospital on the Upper East Side: Mum was thrown into the thick of things with JNH's bedtime routine (such as it is). When we approached the hospital I was struck by the view looking West down 99th Street to Central Park. Time froze momentarily as I looked at it. At the end of the street were the blackening silhouettes of trees against the by now post-storm evening brightness of the sky.
I was lucky and got a delivery room overlooking the park. As night fell the features of the park were rapidly effaced by the pedestrian crossing light closer by as it changed from white man walking to red man standing and back again. The machine in my body was grinding more rhythmically and intensely and so it remained for three or four hours. Deep breaths in, then concentrating on getting all the air back out. C was there, patiently supporting and no doubt thinking oh-my-god-here-we-go-again.
A wonderful nurse, N, guided me on. We had between-contraction conversations. Among them she mentioned how she’s volunteering as a doula for a 16 year old who is going through the process of pregnancy and labor alone. N hopes the girl’s labor comes when she not on her nursing shift so that she can be there (a friend is also working with the same girl so hopefully one of them will be present). She said 16 year olds often cope much better with the whole thing than older women. Partly because they’ve crammed in less “knowledge” and are more likely to trust the process, and because they’ve been exposed to fewer stories about what can potentially go wrong.
Then came a second phase. My doctor arrived and did a second check to see how far along I’d progressed. Baby’s head was far down, she said, but I was still only 3cm (out of 10) dilated like when I’d arrived at the hospital and – this I was well aware of – my water hadn’t broken yet. I’m pretty sure it was that CMH’ and my body weren’t yet in sync. He was more ready to arrive than my body was to release him.
My doctor presented options. During an experience so momentous you hope for clear instructions and a sense of what to do. But as with so many other things, you’re faced with decisions and are never quite confident you’re making the right one – especially as nowadays in modern hospitals there are so many different paths to take and supposed motivations for taking them.
Options she suggested were for her to break my water to get things moving, to give me an epidural so I relaxed more, or to send me home to keep laboring there for a while. None of them felt right. In particular the going home one – I couldn’t imagine getting dressed let alone getting into a taxi. We decided just to stall for a while. I’d walk the corridor for 40 minutes, go onto the monitor for 20 and we’d see where things were at.
Over that hour the machine in me went into full gear. I remembered that now from JNH’s labor: N described it has hitting a wall. You think that you’re getting into the flow of things when boom suddenly it’s much more difficult. I swung between determination to move everything faster – including visualizing water falling – and frustration and tiredness just wanting the whole thing to end. The key is remembering and trusting that the machine is your body and it knows what to do.
At the end of the hour, suddenly whoosh my water broke like a bucket being emptied from inside of me then within five minutes I had to push, leapt, for some animal instinct reason, onto all fours, and CMH was born, before my doctor made it back into the room (one of the Mt Sinai resident doctors made it in time to catch him). C, who saw, said he did a kind of somersault.