“i’m never doing this again”

…is what I said during labor while giving birth to Giles. And here I am, three months away from doing it all again.

Which seemed like a good time to finally finish and share this birth story comic.

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pushing

holding back

This comic is actually from an assignment in my Comics Studio class. Our first meeting was this past Tuesday, and one of the assignments I gave was to make a comic from first person POV about a moment that changed your life.

Giving birth was a huge life-changing experience for me, in so many ways. This one little moment could be lost in the rest, but I come back to it again and again. I thought I was working as hard as I could. I’d been in labor for so, so, so many hours. I’d already been pushing for an hour and a half at the point the nurse said this to me (and I still had two hours to go).

This feeling of holding back– I have it when faced with jumping into water from a high place, rafting, doing anything that involves physical risk in that way.

Sometimes I think I am brave. Other times not.

I didn’t understand how to push, how could I, having never done it before? No one really tells you what it’s like, and even if they try it’s impossible to understand until you feel it. But I did feel that “pulling back at the last second” thing the nurse chastised me for. I pushed and pushed right up to the edge, and when it felt like the pain would break me I backed off.

How do I learn to push through the unbearable pain, through to the other side? I just do it, I guess.

i pushed a baby out of my body

What follows is my birth story. I don’t hold back, so just be warned (re: blood, guts, poop, pain). I like reading this kind of stuff, and read a lot of birth stories while pregnant, but some pregnant women find them scary, so only keep going if you are comfortable with this kind of thing. I’ll be straight with you: it was really hard and really painful and really long, but it all ends up okay with a beautiful baby and everyone healthy.  

On Thursday May 5, 2016 at around 5:30pm, I started having contractions.

Only I didn’t know they were contractions. We had just left my OB’s office where she’d done a cervical exam and had said that I’d experience some cramping afterwards. So I assumed what I was feeling were just cramps from the exam. They started as we were walking through the parking lot to the car, and weren’t too bad at first, kind of like mild menstrual cramps. They happened every few minutes right from the start, which is one of the reasons I didn’t even consider them being contractions. I thought contractions started much further apart and got closer together as they progressed.

Greg dropped my sister Phoebe and I off at home while he went to a bowling event for one of his coworkers. We lay on the couch and watched Broad City, both of us so tired. The cramps kept coming, still a few minutes apart, but steadily getting more painful, I tried breathing through them. The whole night is kind of a blur to me. There was a lot of pain, crying , screaming. At some point later in the night I said to Greg, “I know I wanted to try labor without the epidural, but I want ALL THE DRUGS. Even if I tell you I don’t want it when we are at the hospital, tell them to give it to me anyway.” Greg helped me through each bout of pain, breathing with me and helping me into different positions. Neither of us slept all night.

From Greg’s POV:
“I got home a little after 8pm and started making mac and cheese. Your cramps didn’t seem as bad to me at the beginning.

I think your sister left around 9pm when your dad came to pick her up.  We talked about how you weren’t having contractions and even started timing them. Even though they were coming at regular intervals they were so close together we thought strong cramps from exam. I called the doctor around 9:30 and asked if there was anything we could do. He suggested hot shower or to come in. I think we started The Daily Show at 9ish and Juno at 9:30ish, by the end of it the cramps were pretty bad and we knew you couldn’t sleep so we put on 27 Dresses. Great movie.

Cramps worse and worse. We put on Amy Schumer around 1:30am and kept pausing it because cramps so bad. [Anna here– I was crying and screaming through them at this point, saying “I can’t do this,” and “What is happening to me?”] By that time you were going to hands and knees because of pain. We talked about hospital and you agreed to try a hot shower around 2am which definitely helped. We were in the bedroom from 2am to 5am with pretty constant contractions every 5min or so.

During that time there were general discussions of going to hospital and while you were in pain you agreed but the car ride scared you after they stopped [The hospital is a 30 minute drive away, and I was scared to try riding in the car with all the pain]. At 5:30am we agreed to go. I grabbed the bags and got you dressed and we called the hosptial again. I missed the first time you said you were ready and you had to lie down on the kitchen floor again on the chair [At this point the best position was on my knees, leaning over the seat of a chair, rocking, in order to get through the pain]. Once you got enough strength you got to the top of our stairs and then the landing and then the car. The seat warmers helped a lot but you still had several contractions on the way there. We got to the hospital right around 6:30am.”

I still didn’t think I was really in labor. At some point while we were still at home I texted my friend Shana (who is a doctor) as well as my primary care doctor, Bonnie (who is also a friend), and they were the only ones who told me this could possibly be early labor. But even as we checked in at the hospital ER I thought they were going to send us home, saying these were just cramps, despite the fact that the pain was so strong and this had been going on for 13 hours. Because I didn’t know I was in labor, I wasn’t really able to use any of the techniques I’d learned to help with contractions. Also, there was no room in my brain for anything but the pain.

At the hospital they checked us in really quickly, and seemed to recognize that these were definitely contractions. A nurse pushed me in a wheel chair to the assessment room, it was a little after 6:30am (now Friday May 6), and the shifts were just about to change. We got a really nice nurse and student nurse who would be with me for the majority of the experience. They put belly bands on me to monitor the baby’s heart rate and my contractions, which were still very painful and happening every few minutes. The nurse needed to check my cervix, and I wouldn’t let her because all this pain had started with a cervical exam the previous afternoon, so the idea of anyone’s hands going between my legs at this point was terrifying. The nurse was so kind, telling me that she was very gentle when doing these exams, and that she really, really needed to see how far along I was. Finally, in a brief moment between contractions, I let her check my cervix, and it turned out I was 5cm dilated! We were staying at the hospital and I was having this baby. We told her I wanted an epidural as soon as possible.

We were then moved to a different room, the labor and delivery room. The anesthesiologist came in and administered the epidural, which took a while. There was a lot of set up, and I was still having those dang contractions every few minutes. He kept telling me to keep still, that this was a delicate procedure and if I moved I would mess it up. This made me very nervous. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, Greg on one side holding my shoulder and hand, the nurse on the other side holding that shoulder and I rested my head against hers. She whispered things to me that I don’t remember now, but they were very comforting. I was nervous that the epidural would hurt, but it didn’t. It was about 9:45am by the time the anesthesiologist finished and it started to kick in. That’s also when Phoebe and my dad arrived. Phoebe stayed in the room with us and my dad went to the waiting room, where he’d later be joined by his girlfriend Wendy as well as Greg’s parents.

Once the epidural started working I felt great. I’d been having contractions for about 15 hours at this point and felt exhausted by both the intense pain and the lack of sleep. Now I finally had a break, feeling no pain. My legs and feet weren’t numb, but felt heavy and tingly. I could relax. I felt like this whole birth thing was entirely possible now. I could do this. Phoebe read to me from a Cosmo magazine, she and Greg took turns going to get snacks and check in on the family in the waiting room, the nurse checked my blood pressure, temperature, and contractions (which I couldn’t feel at all). The baby’s heart rate was our background music to everything, and he sounded strong and good. At some point the doctor came in, one of the OBs I hadn’t met yet. He introduced himself and seemed very nice. I was happy with everything.

After a while the doctor came back to check my cervix. I was still only 5cm dilated, and he said he might have to break my water himself if I didn’t progress in the next couple hours. The nurse inserted a catheter to empty my bladder, which was very full, and after that I quickly dilated to 7cm and my water broke on its own. I didn’t feel it break– we only found out once the doctor came back to check me and under my blanket was a bunch of bloody fluid and my mucus plug. I continued progressing on my own, with the catheter in as well as IV fluids which had been started before the epidural. Phoebe and Greg took turns feeding me ice chips. By the time I was 8cm dilated I started feeling the contractions again, first just as pressure and quickly it turned to pain. It was about 3pm now, and our sweet nurse was leaving at 3:30. Somehow I thought I could be pushing this baby out by then, since I was so close to 10cm and feeling those painful transition contractions.

The contractions got stronger, and were lasting longer. The shift change came, and our new nurse came in. The student nurse who’d been with us all day was on until 7. Around 4:30pm I started feeling an urge to push along with the contractions. It felt like I had to poop really badly. The nurse told me not to push because I wasn’t 10cm yet. The contractions were really hurting and I started crying a little. Phoebe and Greg stood on either side of me, holding my hands, I squeezed theirs hard. I tried to do the breathing techniques from birth class, trying hard not to push. Finally at 5pm the nurse checked me and said I was 10cm and I could push when I felt the urge. I thought I was almost done. I figured the pushing part took around 30 to 90 minutes, according to what I’d read and learned during pregnancy. Soon I would be holding my baby. We were almost there.

As soon as I was allowed to push, it was harder to recognize the urge. The nurse said, “Push into your bottom,” which I did, and poop came out. She said this was good, that it meant I was pushing in the right place. I pooped about seven times at least, probably more. It seemed like all I did was push poop out. As more time went by the pain got worse and worse with each contraction. I couldn’t even really rest in between because my legs were shaking with the effort and the pain. The nurse kept telling me to relax my legs, to use all my effort in pushing and not in straining my legs. I knew I needed to do that, but could not relax my shaking legs even with people holding them up for me. I kept pushing every few minutes with the contractions, trying not to yell out because they told me not to, that I needed every ounce of energy for pushing. I started to hate the nurse, but every time she left the room I called out to her to come back. I knew that I needed her to get this baby out. Phoebe and Greg kept telling me that I could do this, that I was doing great. I did not believe them. I looked into their eyes, pleading for help, and each time they said, “You’re doing great” I just looked at them like, “Yeah, right.” The nurse told me to believe in myself. When I asked, “Can I do this?” she told me I had to work hard and push hard. This did not inspire confidence in me. At one point she asked, “Do you do meditation?” and I said, “No. That doesn’t work for me.” She then said, “Well, maybe try some of that.”

The doctor checked in sometimes, only for a minute. He would look at my progress, I would plead for help from him, and he would just say, “You are doing it, you need to focus, push harder.” Time felt infinite. Every second stretched on for days. At some point, everyone around me had started counting to ten with each contraction as I pushed. Phoebe and Greg were counting very loudly, and the nurse told them to be quieter and I yelled, “No, I like it!” I needed the counting. It helped me get through each push. I kept saying, “I can’t do this!” and I really believed it. It was taking too long. I didn’t understand how it could take this long to get my baby out. How long had I been pushing? I cried, “I am not this kind of woman!” I could not do this, it was too much pain. I couldn’t handle it, I wasn’t strong enough. Someone had to get this baby out, and I didn’t know how, but it had to be without me. Clearly I wasn’t doing it right. The doctor came in and I begged him to help me with tears streaming down my face. “I know what you’re asking,” he said, “but it’s too soon.” I stared into the nurse’s eyes, I was so angry with her for telling me to “push better” and at the same time I knew I needed her. My arms were being pulled forward as I pushed now, so my belly squished up to help with the pushing. For a little while I pushed on my hands and knees, which helped somewhat, the baby got down a little further, until I couldn’t hold myself up anymore, so I moved to my back again. I was sweating, sweating, sometimes someone put a cold washcloth on my forehead. Everything hurt in a way I never knew was possible. It was so intense that it’s hard for me to think about, even now. I told Greg, “You’re doing the next one!” (meaning the next baby) because I knew I could never withstand this again, if I could even do it now. I started a mantra in my head: Push. This. Fucking. Baby. Out. I wanted help, why wasn’t anyone helping me? I knew I had to push better, to let go into the pain and just push into it. But I just couldn’t do it. I wanted a break. I wanted it to be over. Around 7:00pm Bonnie came in. Her energy was just what we needed at that time. She massaged my hips and joined in on the counting. I stared at her like I stared at the others, pleading with my eyes for help. She said encouraging things just like Greg and Phoebe, and told me I was doing it, that I was really close. What did everyone know that I didn’t? The pain was too much. I was trying so hard and didn’t understand why it wasn’t over yet. The nurse yelled, “Stop fighting it, Anna! Relax your legs and push!”

At 8:00pm the doctor came in and said I had two options. Have some pain medication that would stop labor for an hour, then push for another hour after that and if the baby wasn’t born then I’d have a c-section. Or he could get the forceps and he’d pull while I pushed and we’d be done in ten minutes. “You’ll still have to push and it will be very intense,” he said. I knew I wanted to choose the forceps and I looked at Greg, Phoebe, and Bonnie, searching for a sign that this was an okay choice. They all nodded. Greg and I had some kind of quick conversation to confirm that it was okay with him, that this was the choice we both wanted. Very quickly the forceps stuff was brought in, as well as the respiratory team and everything else needed for once the baby was out. I pushed at each contraction as the doctor prepared the forceps. The contractions felt almost on top of each other. When the doctor was ready he told me not to push, and he put the forceps in which hurt like hell. From my perspective they looked like metal salad tongs. The baby’s head was really close. At each contraction I pushed and the doctor pulled and it hurt a thousand times worse than the impossible pain I’d already felt. At one point the head was halfway out, the worst pain splitting me in two, ripping my whole body apart. Phoebe and Greg saw the head and said enthusiastically, “Keep pushing! The head’s almost out!” and the doctor yelled, “No! Don’t push without a contraction!”

Somehow I pushed the head out. Somehow I pushed the slippery body out right after. Pushing that head out was unexplainably painful, and I don’t understand how it happened or how I lived through that pain.

I saw the baby, my baby, lifted out of me after three and a half hours of pushing. His arms reached up, his hands with these long, long fingers. Phoebe cut the umbilical cord and I shouted, “Take a picture!” The doctor and nurse pushed on my belly to get the placenta out and it hurt so I cried and yelled. The baby was out but there was still so much pain. The placenta slipped out like a giant jellyfish. “It looks like a brain,” Phoebe said. I shouted, “Take a picture!”

They cleaned the baby and wrapped him up and handed him to Greg. I wanted to hold him so much, and I wanted the pain to be over. The doctor was stitching me up from a second degree tear. The stitching hurt a lot and felt like it took forever. He kept telling me to relax my legs but they were shaking and I couldn’t. Bonnie held one leg and the nurse held the other. Another nurse was putting a new IV in my arm for fluids (I’d knocked the other IV out during all the pushing) and Pitocin to help my uterus contract, and she was telling me to hold still. All this poking and stitching and pain and I was doing my best to keep still but all my muscles were shaking. I gripped Phoebe’s arm, looked into her eyes and said, “I just want the pain part to be over.” “I know,” she said. Then I said, “Is Mama here?” and she said through tears, “Yes, and you remind me of her so much right now.” The nurses pushed my belly to get more gushes of blood out.

I looked at the baby in Greg’s arms, saw him looking down and the baby looking up, their eyes focused on each other. Greg was crying. It was beautiful. I said, “The name– what do you think?” He said, “The one we– yeah, that’s it.” I said to Phoebe, “This is Giles Fox Moriarty-Lev-Howard.”

Finally they were done working on me. Finally the baby was in my arms, skin to skin. “We did it,” the doctor said. “Thank you,” I said, really meaning it. Now it was just Greg, Phoebe, Bonnie and the nurses. The student nurse who’d been with us all day and whose shift ended at 7:00 had stayed and extra hour and a half to be with us until the end, to see the baby born. I thanked her. I looked at Greg. We all marveled at this perfect, beautiful baby. I asked for pain meds (I think as soon as the baby was out I started asking for some kind of pain relief) and someone brought some eventually. At some point a nurse told us that she’d gone to the waiting room and informed our family that the baby was born and everything was okay. Phoebe went out to talk to them and came back with everyone’s phones to take pictures. Then she fixed my hair a little for me, helped me look presentable. The nurse gave me a diaper full of ice to help with the swelling, and then gave me a nursing tutorial. Then my dad, Wendy, and Greg’s parents came in.

Giles Fox Moriarty-Lev-Howard (aka “Smokey”) was born on May 6, 2016 at 8:28pm, weighing 7lbs. 12oz., after 28 hours of labor, 3.5 hours of pushing, and a forceps delivery. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was also the best day of my life.

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colorado

It’s possible you’ve been wondering why I hadn’t blogged in a couple of weeks. Well, I was away on a trip. I went to Denver with my mom to visit some family. Denver is where my sister and I were born, and where we lived until I was thirteen.

When I’m in Denver, I feel something I don’t feel anyplace else.

It starts in DIA, which is my favorite airport. When it was first built, my aunt (who was a travel agent at the time) took me on a special tour there before it was open to the public.

at the airport There are other airport memories too.

rocky mountains

As soon as I step outside it’s the air. It’s not a smell, exactly, but how the air feels. And the sky is so big. Colorado is the only place I can fully stretch out my limbs.

Maybe there’s something to having a birth home. It’s where I’m from, where I was made, the first home I ever knew. I grew to my full height in that altitude, it’s the only place I was ever a kid. The mountains to the West were how I knew where I was.

denver

 

And Denver, the city. The skyline, the way dusk is. I’m not really sure what it is. I thought I knew while I was there, but I didn’t write it down and now I can’t quite grasp it. I guess it’s home is all.

denver sunset denver sunset 2 Home feels like a complicated issue for me. (Maybe it is for everyone.) It’s my little studio apartment by the river. It’s the cinema where I work. It’s my parents’ house. It’s New York City. That place I lived in San Francisco for two months. It’s my family. It’s laughing with my sister. It’s wherever I am? And it’s also Denver.

I did a lot of drawing while I was away, and will post those sketches soon.