Okay, get a nice big cup of coffee for this one.
So I got a call on Saturday early afternoon from my sister S, who said she was having regular contraction-like pains. They weren't very painful, though, more like menstrual cramps, though they were time-able - one minute long every five minutes. We decided to reconnect a few hours later and see if anything had progressed. In the meantime I took A and T to the Hadley mall, where I bought some nice Old Navy things that were way on sale. I called again and her pains had gotten a little worse, but then they felt the same again, or something, but it was a Saturday so I said I'd drive down. I went home and finished packing and quickly top-stitched the crib dust ruffle thing and ate an Amy's pot pie and drove on down. I got to their apartment around 10 p.m. and it looked like S was in more pain than before, needing to bounce and rock through the contractions. Her husband Sc was busying himself in the tiny nursery room, finally making up the crib bed (he was superstitious about it) and turning on the Wet Wipes warmer and tidying everything up. I was in charge of writing down the times and duration of the contractions, which were remarkably exact: still one minute long every five minutes.
A bit later we decided it would be a good idea to try to sleep. At this point we still weren't sure if this was real labor or not. I tried to fall asleep but I just ddozed dreamily, a little anxiously. At 2:45 the hall light came on and Sc walked into the room, saying, "You know, I think we're expecting an alarm to go off, or a light to start flashing inside S's vagina, and it's just not going to happen that way. She's in a lot of pain, she can't sleep at all, so come on - let's go." And then he did his clap-clap! thing.
The drive over the bridge to Manhattan was quiet and easy. Poor S by this time was having trouble talking during the contractions, clinging tightly to the shoulder seatbelt. At the hospital Sc procured a wheelchair and we went up to a triage room on the birthing floor. They hooked S up to a couple of monitors that measured her uterine contractions and the baby's heartbeat, which was turned up loud so we could hear it reassuringly going shush-shush shush-shush. S was having a hard time. While waiting for a doctor to come in and see if she was dilated she barfed into one of those little vomitorium dishes. That was the first time I started feeling woozy and ill, which was my fear - that I'd be too incapacitated to help in any way. Thank god for pharmecuticals; I took a Xanax and in a few minutes I was ready to be helpful again.
Anyway, the doctor finally came and stuck her hand inside and said, "You're four centimeters dilated." Which means admission to the hospital. Which means this thing was gonna happen, and soon. No false labor here. Whee! They already were bringing up the epidural option, but Sc was following the agreed upon script of "Let's just get to another centimeter and see how we feel," trying to get her through it all without the drugs. We moved to the actual birthing room which was spacious and had soft lighting and cable TV and a CD player and an ominous wheeled metal bucket with a big red plastic trash bag under the bed. S was in a lot of pain, barfing again in the bathroom sink and hanging onto Sc during each contraction. I inflated her birthing ball and S bounced on it for a few contractions but finally she was telling Sc to shut up with the pep talk, she wanted the epidural. The anasthesiologist was this gruff, to-the-point eastern European man. He said things like "I can tell she is not going to make it without epidural" and when we were trying to evoke from him the possible risks he said impatiently, "look, would you buy car without air conditioning?" Good point - why live without a simple modern convenience? Unless you think air conditioning harms the environment and you're willing to live a very sweaty life in the summer, of course. So he gave her the epidural, which involved a tiny plastic tube being lodged in between two vertebre and then taped down very securely. The pain subsided and she was able to relax. I even took a nap on the pull-out chair thing.
A couple of hours later they checked her cervix and it had only dilated to 5 or 6 centimeters, so they decided to break the amniotic sac. The doctor (a woman in her mid-30s) took what looked to me like a wooden paint-stirring stick and gently jabbed inside my sister's wide-open hoo-hah. Fluid gushed out, a lot of it, and pooled around her butt where she was sitting (on some waterproof padding). It looked like pulpy pink lemonade, except, you know, more gross. S watched us looking at the fluid trickling out and laughed at how horrified Sc was and how fascinated I was. It was really cool, what can I say. They changed her padding so that she was dryer, but each contraction made more fluid gush out (getting bloodier each time, which was normal) so she needed several changes.
They also decided to give her a little oxytocin (note: not as fun as Oxy-contin) to start the contractions moving forward. They gave her a low dose, but it worked great - the monitor showed the contractions going off the chart. Unfortunately very strong contractions make the baby's heartbeat slow down each time, which is dangerous, and they had to give S oxygen at one point, and had her lie on her side to give the baby more room at another. But it was going fine.
Later, around 11:00 a.m., S was saying she really felt she had to shit (they call it "rectal pressure") which is a sign of it being time to push. The nurses were spoken to, and they offhandedly said "yeah, uh, tell us when you really really feel a lot of pressure." Ten minutes later, S still felt she really, really wanted to push, so finally we were insistent enough to ccall in the doctor. She quickly checked S's cervix, and the doctor said "Alleluia!" We were at ten centimeters, which meant it was time to push. It was go time for Team S!
Sc said "We don't know how to push!" and the doctor told us: Sc and I each grab a leg, pushing her knee up to her chest and spreading them open a bit (S said this felt good, and wasn't overly stretching her muscles) and we could also help her lift her head so her chin touched her chest. The idea was to help her form her body into a scoop shape. S would wait until a contraction, when we'd get into our leg positions and she'd take a deep breath, hold it for a count of ten (which Sc and I counted aloud) and push, then release the breath and quickly take another, so that there were three long breath-holding pushes for each contraction.
At first S had a hard time keeping the breath in for the full count of ten, letting air out around 7 or 8. The nurses brought in a big mirror on a stand so she could see herself and the baby, whose head was now peeking out a little during each push, in hopes that this would spur her on. But she took one look and said no, no, I don't want to look! "Take it away, it's freaking her out!" I told them, and they wheeled it away. Then a few minutes later something seemed to click in S. She said later it's when she decided to close her eyes and just focus exclusively on what her body was doing. She began holding the push past the count of ten. (During all of this I was wiping her forehead with a wet paper towel. Sweat was beading around her mouth and I tried to wipe it off but she said no, just do her head. A few minutes later, an oblivious Sc tried wiping her mouth and S said, "No - don't ever do that again!" Hee.)
Finally we could see the head even between pushing. A few big pushes later and the baby was crowning. This is when the mom feels the "ring of fire," when she's stretched open as far as she'll be getting. "Ouch ouch ouch!" said S. "It's the ring of fire!" I said. "It burns, burns, burns! The ring of fire!" She nodded. The nurses and the doctor went into a flurry of activity, making the foot part of the bed fold away, scootching S down so they could catch the baby more easily, and finally the bucket o' gore was put into position. Another big push, and the head came out, and suddenly the whole body slithered out in a gush of blood and gunk without another push needed. It was 12:32. I had been watching S's face so all I saw was the baby suddenly placed on top of S, this crazy new flailing wet creature, a girl, rolling its eyes around and making little noises, that had just then winked into existence. I saw S's face register complete and utter shock. HOLY SHIT! I instantly started crying in shock and disbelief and relief and oh. my. god. there's a baby here now, and it just came out of my sister. The doctor had said "Oh, she's pooping!" and I had assumed she meant my sister had pooped, but no - there was a big smear of tarry meconium (newborn shit) on S's thigh. It went well with the other gore now covering the entire lower half of her body. They asked Sc and then me if we wanted to cut the cord and we both said no, just cut it!
They took her to the warming table and they tried to get her a bit more awake and pink. They even called in the pediatrics team to "revive" her, though she looked plenty pink and was making noise and moving and all of that. Sc was looking scared though. Meanwhile the doctor was pulling gently on the rest of the umbilical cord, and S delivered the placenta, and they tossed into a metal bowl (which became filled to the brim with afterbirthy gore). S said after the placenta came out she felt the greatest sense of relief ever.
During this time they thwacked the baby on the bottom of her feet, they vigorously rubbed her all over, they picked her up a few inches and dropped her... Eventually, after about 15 minutes, they got whatever their desired result was, complained to the birthing nurses that this had not been an actual emergency, and left. The nurses bundled Lula up and gave her back to S., who upon holding her started bawling so hard she couldn't see. I got her some tissues and she kind of laughed at herself about it. She put the baby to her breast and got her to latch on for first drink. We just hung out like that for about 20 minutes. I kept going over to the warming table and poking at the short length of umbilical cord they had left on it.
Eventually I let my parents and my aunt in to see the new baby, Tallulah, 6 pounds 11.4 ounces. They had been waiting right outside of the door for the last hour and a half. Part of my job had been to give them updates and keep them at bay.
And then there were two full days in the hospital, which was its own trial of patience and endurance, and now the new family is home and trying to figure out little things like proper breast feeding technique and ways to deal with hemorrhoids and how to get some more sleep, possibly. Little Lula is adorable, as you can see from her blog photos. I had to fight Sc for the chance to hold her and burp her. It is hard not to wake her up in order to look at her cute skinny chicken legs and her baby-back ribs. She makes heart-melting little peeps and Cindy-Lou-Who noises. And she has great lungs for crying. Being an aunt is awesome so far.