I was told that I would be in for a full day of monitoring, and most likely not in my room, but downstairs in the labor ward. I had not been allowed to eat anything since midnight of the previous night, but Em told me I could have some tea with lots of sugar in it.
The nice doctor came in to see me, and said it was indeed strange that my water had broke, and that it was better than yesterday now that I was dilated, but still not perfect.
So, after my tea, I was shown down to the salle de travail that I had visited during the hospital’s preparation class. The midwife who had followed me during my pregnancy, Mar, was down there. I was as glad to see her as I had been to see the Irish midwife, and told her so. We’d had a joke during my last prenatal visit, where she commented that my French was very good, and I had joked that the real test of my French skills would come during birth, where I would see if I continued in French or switched to English.
She administered a gel which was supposed to help dilate the cervix, and strapped the monitor on. I had brought my iPod, my cell phone to call your papa even though technically they were prohibited in the salle de travail (but oh my was I glad to have it,) and my knitting project, which were your booties. The monitoring lasted two hours, during which I napped, knitted, and listened to music.
Your papa arrived during the monitoring and kept me company. Once the two hours were up, I was permitted to go back to my room for an hour before the next round of monitoring. I asked the midwife if I could eat something. She said I should ask Em, but that it wasn’t a good idea to eat a lot. I was still thinking in my mind about these terrible maternity hospitals who don’t let their patients eat. ( I would shortly find out that there is in fact a good reason for it).
We went up to the room, and I ate a sandwich that we bought in the machine. One of the nurses scolded me, saying I shouldn’t have eaten it, and brought me an omelette instead. I still am not sure why an omelette was ok but not a sandwich, but whatever.
I had purchased some labor tea which contained, among other things, raspberry leaf, but I wasn’t sure, because of potential contractions, if I could drink it. Your papa suggested I ask Em, which I did, and she responded it was “pas contraindique’, no problem. She seemed to be more earthy than the other midwives, and more into traditional midwifery techniques, as she had commented on my birthing ball and seemed pleased that I was drinking raspberry leaf tea.
Almost as soon, it seemed, as I arrived, it was time to go back down for more monitoring. Meanwhile, they had arranged to move me to a different room on a different part of the floor. Your papa said he would move my stuff, then go back home to rest up for tomorrow. I hadn’t started any contractions yet, or gone into labor, and so we were still thinking tomorrow would be the big day.
Anotehr two hours of monitoring, by now it was about six. I asked once again if I could eat something. They had brought me an omelette and some vegetables, and Em said that I could eat half the omelette and some vegetables.
For the next hour, I sat on the birthing ball, rocking back and forth, and ate half the omelette, drank some more tea, listened to music. Then I decided to stand up to go to the bathroom, and suddenly, the question I had been pondering since getting pregnant, hell, since way, way before that even, was answered.
The question was, what does a labor contraction feel like?
And the answer was: oh wow, you mean it hurts THAT MUCH??
I nearly doubled over in the pain. Em came in what seemed like very shortly after I stood up, to take me down to the room for more monitoring. I told her I thought I might have to call my husband to come after all. She told me to take my phone (so glad I did!) and we could see.
She was ending her shift, and I was sad to see her go. She led me down to the salle, and I joked with her about how I’d always wondered what labor contractions felt like.
Mar came in, checked my dilation, strapped on the monitor, and at my request filled my hot water bottle for me. I asked her how long it was going to be, and she said we were “tout au debut”. And then, she left me, all alone, to weather the pain.
What can I tell you about the pain of contractions, son.
It was like surfing the big waves out at San Onofre State Beach down in San Clemente, in southern California. You would see the wave far out to sea, start to pull up. It gained momentum over the course of fifteen seconds or so. It got bigger and bigger, and then suddenly you were on top of it, up there for a few seconds, and then it started to diminish and roll back out to sea. Then you would wait for the next one. Not, of course, that I’ve ever been surfing to date, but I’ve been to enough big surfing spots up and down the California coast to know what it’s about.
There was no pain at all in between them, so it’s true you get a bit of a break, but those few seconds when you were on top of the wave, there was nothing I could do but close my eyes, tuck in my chin, breathe in and out, and wait for it to peak and roll back out.
A couple of months after your birth, I was eating a gelato up at Montmartre in the late summertime, and I started too fast and got a couple of seconds of brain freeze. There. Right there. That’s what a contraction feels like. It’s not a screaming pain, it’s a pain that tugs for a minute or so, makes you close your eyes and hope it will be over soon, and relief when it is over.
Oh, and son, I learned why they don’t allow you eat in hospitals when you are in labor. I was so regretting having eaten the omelette. I felt sick and like I was sure I was going to throw up. This really added to my discomfort. I mentioned this to Mar, and she said, mais oui, it’s not because they are mean that they don’t allow to eat, but it REALLY interferes with getting through the contractions. I would next time not eat. Or, just have some fruit. Nothing more than that. The water thing I still think is stupid though, I was really thirsty and definitely could have sipped some water.
After some time, I don’t know how long, I started to panic a bit. They really hurt! I stood up a few times, trying to get into a different position. And yes son, your mama did yell the f word a few times, at the top of her lungs, and it helped.
The blood pressure machine kept making this beeping noise, and various people came in to check on it. A nice young doctor (who ended up being the one who delivered you) came in, introduced herself, and fixed it, only to have it start beeping again. Then a cold woman, who didn’t introduce herself and who in my vulnerable state I took an instant disliking to, came in wordlessly and fixed it. Then she asked me what in the world I was doing with the hot water bottle. “Your back is all red!” she told me.
Well duh, lady. I was trying to get through the pain, hello? This lady turned out to be the anesthetist, and in hindsight I think she was really concerned about relieving my pain, but she had a funny way of showing it.
But I was really starting to freak out now, and I started to cry when she left. I was feeling very, very vulnerable. Here I was, in early labor, in a sterile room. I was really afraid they were going to try to push a caesarian on me or something. (They didn’t in the slightest).
I decided to call your papa to tell him that I really did need him there. He was so sweet, and said he would be right over. I also texted my friend M, with whom I’d been sending contradictory texts all day, and told her that unless she heard otherwise, she would need to come walk Emma the next day. Then I turned off my phone, because I needed to concentrate on getting through the pain in that cold, sterile, bright room.
And then a midwife came in, and she checked my dilation, and she told me that you would probably be arriving before morning. She said that I was at 3 cm, and then she suggested that perhaps it would be a good time to have an epidural.
Well, I had been planning on waiting to at least 5 cm because that’s what I heard was good in order to avoid stalling labor (well, actually, I had even wanted to try to avoid having an epidural, to which I say, AHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!!!). But the midwife said that, due to my blood pressure issue, an epidural would be a good idea because epidurals lower blood pressure. Which of course, in a normal birth situation, is an issue because BP can drop too low, but in my situation it would be ideal to lower my BP.
That just made a lot of sense, what she was telling me, and to be honest, son, it had been already about four hours or so that I had been having these contractions, and I just was really relieved that I could have an epidural. And so I accepted, and I don’t regret that, despite what happened next. Oh, I have to say son, even if everything was more medicalized than my ideal birth setting, I don’t regret anything. I think in this case, it was essential.
So the midwife said they would prepare to move me to the other room, the salle de naissance. I asked her how long she would be with me, as I was getting tired of all these different people changing shifts, and was relieved when she said she would be with me up through the birth. I was relieved because she seemed very nice, not outwardly sweet like Em, but I was comfortable with her. I asked her her name, and she told me it was Laur.