This got really long! I promise it's mostly interesting.
Sometimes, when you've had a hard birth with your fourth child, a birth that lasted thirty-nine hours and took everything that you could imagine from you, what you are really hoping for is an even longer labor with your fifth child. Forty-eight hours with a scary hemorrhage and you have everything you've ever dreamed of!
I haven't written about the birth because I don't really want to revisit it, I want to get as far away from it as I can, and if you know me and my feelings about birth, that should shock you. But it's true! And that's precisely why I need to write about it. There is no better way to retrieve something and squeeze every redemptive moment out of it than to put it on the page. So here I go. A warning, I will talk about the bleeding at the end of this story, so if you are sensitive to that, just stop reading right after Isaac is born.
The days leading up to Isaac's birth are oddly surreal, in retrospect. We were staying with friends in Chiang Mai, our sole job, it seemed, to wait. We played with kids, celebrated Leafy's birthday, welcomed my parents and because of our quick exit from Pai, I wore the same three things day after day after day.
We went to the Chiang Mai Night Safari and fed tapirs and birds, twice. We played Zooloretto, once while I was in labor, I think. It seemed we were surrounded by animals, by zoo animals, by the children, pretending to be animals, by birds and snakes (I took a picture of one I saw on a walk through the neighborhood and Chinua yelped when he saw the picture- "Rae! That's a banded krait!" It's a dangerous one.) and elephants in real life and in the drawings YaYa worked on every day. It was an animal birth. (It's a tradition with us- naming our births.)
So why did my labor take 48 hours? I'm pretty sure it was because of my uterus, which is delicate, with a severe case of performance anxiety. Do you remember that Looney Tunes episode where the frog never sings when people are watching it? As long as the one guy is there, he sings and tap dances, "Hello my honey, hello my baby, hello my ragtime girl..." but he becomes mute as a clam if anyone else is around.
My uterus is just like that frog.
I gave birth in a private hospital in Chiang Mai, and the nurses were absolutely lovely. When we first came in, one walked over to me and measured my contractions by holding her hand ever so lightly on my belly and counting by watching the clock.
"Chinua!" I said. "Look at this! It's so human! No machines!"
I was at four centimeters and contractions were every five minutes. My doctor came and checked me out and pretty soon I'd advanced to five centimeters! "This baby will be born before midnight!" she said.
I can't tell you how wonderful I felt, sitting on the birth ball under the hot water of the shower, breathing through contractions throughout that night. It was so blissful. I meditated and in my meditation I was in a field, flowers opening all around me, with every contraction. Jesus was with me and I hung around in that blissed out field feeling like the happiest girl in the world, so happy with my body and my baby and my wonderful uterus.
At around 3:00 in the morning, I decided to lie down and try to get some sleep. Didn't want to exhaust myself, no need for that! When I woke up at around 5:00, my contractions had slowed so much that they were almost gone. My mood took a swift turn for the worse. NOOOOOOOOO!!!! is something like what I thought. In my labor with Solo, I had to walk and walk to keep the contractions coming. They would stop if I lay down, and the result was exhausting.
This is not what I wanted.
The doctor came in and said that I was still at five centimeters (!) and she thought my water had broken. So leaving and coming back another day wasn't an option, we needed to get the labor going. She suggested pitocin. I've never had pitocin before, because my water has never broken before the very end of labor, and after some discussion with my husband, I decided to go for it. With an IV. Which is my worst nightmare-- I'm IV and needle phobic and though I can handle it when I'm sick, I don't want to muss up a perfectly good labor with having yucky things stuck in me.
When the nurse came and put the IV in, I got very nauseous and had to breathe through it. Chinua had gone out to find some food, so I was by myself and in tears and I thought, Girl, you have got to get it together. Now. I looked at the IV pole that was now stuck to me like a parasite. The IV pole looked back at me. All in the mind, I thought. I'll name him.
When Chinua came back in, I introduced him to Baxter. Baxter was a tree who had been transformed into an ugly IV pole by something evil, I wasn't sure what- I didn't flesh it out that far, and he had been sent to help me. I could now sit on the birth ball next to Baxter, and imagine myself back in that field, with Baxter the nurturing tree. When I went to the bathroom I had to get him over the weird bump on the floor in the doorway. "Come on, Baxter," I said, urging him. "It's fine in here." I became very tender with him. Bless his heart.
The thing with the nurses? Where they would count contractions by placing their hands ever so lightly on my belly? That got old pretty quickly, and the froggishness of my uterus showed itself, because when a nurse politely held her hand on my belly, a contraction wouldn't come. We stood together awkwardly, like two acquaintances who are waiting for a late mutual friend who is the only reason they're together at all. I smiled, slightly embarrassed, apologetic. "I just had one," I would say, smiling and smiling, just making excuses for my frightened uterus. The nurses would turn up the pitocin and leave.
Eight hours later, the pitocin drip was up so high that it was making me go out of my mind with pain. I was lying on the bed crying, and when the doctor checked me, I was. still. at. five. centimeters. This was now more than twenty-four hours into my labor. My doctor frowned into the distance, thinking hard.
"I don't know why..." she said, gently. Then she told the nurses to take me off the pitocin. "It's stressing her out," she told Chinua. "It's not working."
I said goodbye to Baxter, who had turned out to be a bit of a jerk anyways, and fell apart and had to pull myself back together again. By this time I'd had two hours of sleep in about 30 hours or so and that starts to get hard. We called a woman who lives in Chiang Mai and does labor support, like a beautiful, tall angel. She drove over and came bustling into the room, all energy, with pomegranate juice, and told me to start climbing stairs. I told her I didn't want to climb stairs. But she insisted, and we rigged up a two stair step stool which I climbed up and down again and again. The purpose of this was to shift the baby's head so the position would help my cervix open. I rallied myself again, got myself under control, (Girl, you have got to get it together. Now.) and climbed up and down. All night long. I walked, showered, prayed, and climbed, while Chinua got some sleep.
By that time, I had made my home in the words,
"Have you not known? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him to has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for Yahweh shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:28-31
I clung to those words. His understanding is unsearchable. From then on, the progress went like this: about one centimeter every four hours or so. You know, nice and easy. There was talk of c-section mostly from me, and every time we talked ourselves out of it because Isaac was doing fine and we were making progress. Chinua was amazing in this. He encouraged me in all the right ways. If only I could last until the baby was ready to come. Chinua and I started calling to our baby. "We love you... come out..."
Finally, finally midway through the next morning, when I was about hallucinating with exhaustion, I came really close to being able to push, and the doctor told me, "your water never broke!" Ha ha ha. Ahhhh, so funny. This was after three shots of antibiotics, since it had been over twenty-four hours since we thought it broke. She broke it for me, and labor got quite intense then, enough for me to start shouting for the opiates (the only pain med option).
"I don't care if I can't stand up," I told Chinua very sincerely. "I can't do this anymore."
Fortunately, the doctor told me I needed to push. I hadn't felt the urge that we were waiting for, and this was the first time in all my births that I hadn't felt the urge. I tried pushing, and it was very hard without that strong urge. "I cannnnn't," I said. But they told me they could see his hair, so I rallied again (Girl, NOW!) and pushed with all my heart until Isaac came into the room at 2:37 in the afternoon and broke our hearts for love. He was covered in vernix and was another Leafy look-alike, and he didn't cry until the nurses rubbed him like they were curry-combing a horse. I told them to stop it and give him to me, and I held him and he nursed and those first two hours are the very best thing I have ever experienced, with each of my children it is so magical. I was on a high, exhaustion forgotten, ready to fly over mountains with my beautiful baby.
(This is not what Isaac looked like during those first two hours. He was still naked and I was naked and we were all cuddled up and I wouldn't let anyone take him for a while, not to bathe him or help me get dressed or anything.)
Chinua told me over and over that I was more amazing than he could believe. I really needed to hear it! So tired and oh, just so tired.
Baxter was returned to me, a drip of pitocin because this was my fifth baby and sometimes it takes a little help to get that uterus contracting enough to close up shop and go back to being a little-used organ that chills out all the time. I had gushed quite a lot of blood and they didn't want me to bleed too much, but they asserted that I didn't need it anymore, pretty much right away, and they took Baxter away again.
Chinua came back with my parents and the kids, and we all adored Isaac together. My favorite thing was when Solo and Leafy were standing next to me, looking down at their brother for the first time, and Solo said to Leafy, his voice full of excitement, "He moved his nose!" like Isaac was a kitten or a goldfish they were watching. I was moved up to the fourteenth floor and introduced to my new room with all its comforts. Everyone left to go home, and Isaac and I got ready to spend the night together.
The only problem was that I was gushing blood. The first couple of times, when it happened when I got up to go to the bathroom, the fourteenth floor nurses told me it was normal and I was like, hmmmm, but I said okay. But then I was rubbing my belly to massage my uterus, and it was soft and squishy, not hard, like a grapefruit, like they say it should be. Danger! And I still gushed blood any time I shifted position. I was so tired, and tempted to simply go to sleep and hope it would get better, but I remembered that with Kid A, it hadn't gotten better, not at all. So I called the nurse, and again she said it was normal, but then she massaged it herself and oh the blood. So then there were six or so nurses all speaking Thai and I couldn't understand and the blood wouldn't stop coming and I started shaking really hard and I borrowed a phone to call Chinua. He said he'd come right away. The labor nurses came up from labor and delivery and one of them massaged very, very hard, while the other one reached back up the birth canal and pulled out handfuls of clots. They kept putting the clots into a large plastic bag, and the bag got more and more full. Still, no one would explain whether I would be okay and I was shaking and crying. Finally I got my doctor on the phone and when she understood how scared I was, she said, "No no, you have to calm down, you're going to be fine, they have it under control." Baxter came back and stayed for a good long time.
They returned me to the labor room for observation, because the nurses on the fourteenth floor weren't exactly trained for that kind of work, and I hung out there for a while, telling the two nurses who had massaged and pulled out clots for half an hour how thankful I was and what good nurses they were. I asked them to please return my baby to me. They did and I cuddled up close to him and kissed his beautiful head and was so, so thankful to be okay. Chinua came and stroked my hair and it was all well. All finished and all well.
(All of these photos are courtesy of Chinua and his iPod touch.)