Episode Five: Trance

Over the next few hours I lost all sense of time. All that remains in my memory are snapshots of intense sensation and emotion. But this was the labor AC and I had prepared for. At last. The contractions are getting stronger and I need to lie down and be quiet for them. There are definite peaks and valleys too. I had hoped that labor contractions would be like riding a bike up a steep hill–after rounding the roughest part, I could coast down. And they are, except that I lack any control of the process. The contractions ride me up and down those hills and all I can do is hang on. In the throes of the pain I cannot speak, but in between contractions I rest and talk softly with AC.

I lie on my side cushioned by pillows. Someone puts a cool wash cloth on my face.

Every now and then a nurse or Lori asks me to rate the pain on a scale of 1-10. 7, I croak. I dislike speaking now.

AC reads to me. A few poems. A relaxation script I wrote about my time in the French town of Cassis. AC tears up. I am unable to speak, but I reach out and touch his hand. After so many years this man still moves me. I have a moment of clarity where I know that I am in the right place with the right person.

I have to pee. Lori and AC help me get up and drag Fred the IV stand into the bathroom. I sit on the toilet seat, but my body no longer remembers how to operate my bladder. Lori runs the faucet. The tinkle of running water is supposed to remind me how to urinate. I find the sound annoying. Everything grates on my nerves but I am unable to vocalize anything. I manage to pee. A contraction comes while I am on the toilet, and it blots out every other sensation. I lean my head against AC and it passes. I don’t want to get up or move ever again, but they convince me to leave the toilet seat and go back to the bed.

Sidelying position is wonderful. I can rest between the seismic tremors. I think I even fall asleep. Thanks to the contraction monitor, AC and Misty know when a contraction is about to take me. These are good contractions, Misty says. Strong and regular.

All I can think about is getting through the waves of pain. Misty suggests that I moan with each contraction. I don’t want to, but I try it and it does seem to help. I remember that Misty said that women can successfully navigate labor if they have a ritual in place—moaning, rocking, etc. with each contraction.

AC and Misty stand on either side of me and compress my hips together while I moan. The pressure helps enormously. When the pain rises I moan loudly and then feel their hands squeeze my hips in until I crest the hill and float back down to brief nothingness.

We do this routine over and over. I have to concentrate so hard.

Somebody suggests that I try laboring on hands and knees again. I am nervous to try because of what happened to the baby’s heart rate before. But on hands and knees my hips and back are more accessible to AC and Misty. They adjust the bed so that I can sort of rest my head on a pillow. The hip squeezing works great, but I am unable to rest between contractions in this position. Cranky, tired, unable to speak. Somehow I communicate that I need to lie on my side again.

I feel like I might throw up. Misty finds a small bucket for me. Eventually the nausea is swallowed by the uterine quakes.

Can’t speak. I am folded within myself. I no longer exist. Only the tremendous contractions. I firmly believe that the only thing keeping my body from flying apart are AC and Misty’s hands compressing my hips together. The contractions are coming faster. One time my hip squeezers are slow to get their hands on me and I feel *wild* terror that I will not be able to hold myself together. I mean that literally–that the force of my uterus will shatter and scatter my bones all over the room.

The contractions are relentless now. I can no longer microsleep in between them. Will they just slow down for a moment so that I can rest?! Please? This is where labor is nothing like riding a bike up and down hills: I can get off the bike and walk it up the mountain if I have to. Or I can drop the bike altogether and curl up in the grass as I did once in Ireland. But the womb will not stop. Panic. This is serious now. Holy shit what have I gotten myself into? I don’t think I can do this anymore!

Wait. Wait. Could I be in transition already?

We had learned in our childbirth classes that one of the hallmarks of transition, the stage between active labor and pushing, is the laboring woman’s belief that she can’t do it anymore. Women in transition also vomit, get the chills, and generally feel like they’re going to die. But fortunately transition is short, usually.

I have no idea what time it is or how long it had been since Lori broke my water. But surely it’s too early to be transition. I still had 6 cm to dilate at the last check.

But I REALLY don’t think I can keep going. Am I psyching myself out? Do I think I can’t go on because I KNOW that’s a sign of transition which means I’m almost through the worst?

Of course I can’t vocalize any of these thoughts. I may have said, “I can’t do it anymore” to AC, but I’m not sure. All I know is that I want the pain to stop. I ask myself if I want drugs. I consider saying our “safe” word to AC. Our Bradley instructor told us that she and her husband had a safe word—something that she could say other than “Give me drugs” that would let him know that she had decided that she really wanted drugs and that she wasn’t just mouthing off. Their word was “hotdog,” which we found hilarious. For lack of a better word, we too adopted “hotdog.”

Could I say “hotdog?” Do I really want drugs? NO.

But damn this is too much.

I start to feel something different. Like I’m having a bowel movement. Great.

It doesn’t go away.

“I feel like I have a piece of poop sticking out of me,” I say crankily. AC and Misty check. No, there’s nothing there.

“Well, it feels like I need to push.” Again, I believe it’s too soon for that, and that this is just wishful thinking. I want to be at the end of this stage of labor so badly.

Lori says, “Let me check you.”

I have no memory of this cervical check at all. Just Lori’s words: “Yep, you’re 10 cm. Time to push. Let’s meet this baby.”

4 Responses to “Episode Five: Trance”

  1. AC Says:

    Wow, babe. Touching, and very much inline with my recollection of how things went (and how you described them shortly afterward.) Well written. I’m glad you’re creating these.

  2. bkmarcus Says:

    Yeah, me too. What AC said.

  3. Ideefixe Says:

    I have read this post several times (in fact, I’ve read all of them several times) and each time I am moved to tears by the end. Thanks for sharing.

  4. MyraD Says:

    It IS amazing how vividly women remember their birth experiences. We are hyper-sensitive and intuitive during that period. Penny Simkin did a study about birth memories and wrote a paper titled, “Just another day?” where she outlined the high degree of acuracy in memory retained about a woman’s birth experience. Women in nursing homes who could not even remember what they ate for breakfast could go on and on telling her detail after detail about their childbirth experience.

    It is a blessing to be able to remember our births so well! Carolyn, your birth was amazing.. You are a very strong woman.


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