Rowan Elizabeth Petres: Birth Story

Rowan Elizabeth Petres, born Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 9:10 pm at home (as planned).
Thumbnail image for IMG_0654.JPG
This is how it happened.
Thursday was the first day of my maternity leave from VCU. At the midwife’s the day before, the baby was fine, at +1 station, dilated 1 cm. I was fine, other than swollen feet and Because of house construction, we were hoping she’d wait till her due date of August 12. Seemed entirely likely, with nothing other than Braxton-Hicks contractions and the usual late pregnancy discomfort going on.
Thursday morning I woke up around 8, and by 9am was having low abdominal cramps in a band all the way around my body. Like bad menstrual cramps, I thought, and aren’t these the kind of contractions that can continue off and on for days? Sure. No blood, or any other more graphic indications that this might be labor. I called Nancy (the midwife) to let her know, and she said just keep tabs on it and chill out. Ok.
The cramps continued intermittently all day. Thursday was the day that the guys came to move all the furniture that had been stacked up in one room upstairs back downstairs, as the first floor was finally fully wired and painted, and ready to be occupied (now, there’s still trim to paint, and molding to put in, etc, but it’s good enough for the moment). So I was helping to direct the furniture moving, and carrying lamps around, and deciding what should go where. All the while having these cramps which were certainly painful, but not debilitating.
The day continued a little chaotically. We had a Ground Zero Dance meeting at the house during lunch. Furniture moving went on. My “cramps” went on.
By sometime after 5pm, the downstairs began to look like a livable space, and Rob and I decided to run to Lowe’s for an air conditioner, to make it even more livable. We stopped by an ATM first, and then headed to Lowe’s. At some point during this outing, I decided I should start keeping track of my “cramps”, and discovered that they were coming about every 15-20 minutes. Hm.
We got back to the house. Rob started installing the AC. I sat down on the couch in the newly (re)constructed living room. But the pain made me restless. I got up, walked across the room, and my water broke. Rob was on his way out the door to get the AC to put in the window and I said, “My water just broke.” I’ll never forget the look on his face as he paused by the door, asking, “You’re having the baby now??!?” He was disbelieving, and somehow thought I must have peed by mistake or something.
So he brought towels while I called Nancy, who said things would speed up now, and to call her in an hour with a status report. Kat (our dear friend, who was planning to be with us for the birth) happened to call just as I was standing there dripping onto the floor, and she came over within what seemed like five minutes.
Rob, meanwhile, heroically finished installing the air conditioner. When Kat arrived, the two of them sprang into action setting up the inflatable birth tub upstairs, and bringing birth and baby supplies up from the basement, where everything had been stored to keep out of range of construction dirt. I had discarded my clothes after my water broke, and saw no need to put any more on, so I roamed around our upstairs “den” while Rob and Kat worked furiously. The contractions did indeed speed up (quickly!) and get more intense. I started using one corner of my grandmother’s old couch to lean on, treading my feet back and forth through each one.
When we called Nancy after an hour, I think my contractions were under 5 minutes apart, possibly under 3 minutes, and I was seeing a little blood. She said I was starting to dilate, and that she’d come by 8pm (about another hour). Within that hour, contractions got more and more intense. I clung to my couch-corner and just kept my little jog-in-place going, and I think I was making some noise through the peak of each one. They were so clearly wave-shaped – rising, peaking, and falling away in intensity.
Some time before Nancy arrived, two or three contractions in a row amped up in intensity and had me wondering if I could hack it for much longer. Fortunately, by then Rob and Kat had gotten the tub full of nice warm water and I climbed in, forgetting that Nancy said to wait until I was about 7cm dilated. Who the hell knew how dilated I was, anyway?? The warm water took the edge off, and I labored in the tub for 10 or 15 minutes more till Nancy arrived.
She laughed when she saw me in the tub and said I looked like a little girl caught being bad. No worries, she just checked the temperature and we added a little cool water so it wouldn’t be too hot for baby.
Within maybe half an hour of her arrival, Nancy checked me and said I was 9cm dilated! This was amazing. I had been psyching myself up with the knowledge that first labors were usually pretty long, and things could go on and on, and here we were not 3 hours past my water breaking, before which I hadn’t even realized I was in labor.
I must have begun pushing around 8:30pm. The first contraction during which the baby moved down into the birth canal felt like a car engine, like a huge wheel churning inside me–the most powerful sensation I had ever felt. And then pushing, well, as everyone will say, it feels like having to poop, but magnified about 1000 times. I pushed for 40 minutes, hanging onto Rob and being coached by Nancy.
The baby’s head crowned, and there was a pause, and it seemed like she might be a little stuck, but the next push (I think) sent her shooting out of me all at once–they had a light down in the water, and I saw her rush out, and Nancy said, “Reach down and pick up your baby,” and I did! I felt her weight in my arms, and the cord running from her into me, and I saw her face, and of course all the pain vanished immediately.
Nancy checked her out while I held her, leaning back into Rob. They put a little hat on her and wrapped her in a towel, and we just stayed where we were for maybe 15 minutes, till they got me out of the pool and onto the birthing stool for the placenta to come, which it did easily.
Then we moved over to the futon, and I held Rowan, with Rob sitting at our head, and there was lots of happy talk and laughing while Nancy weighed her and checked me, and we all started getting to know her. I can’t remember the order of things, but I nursed her some then.
But when Nancy checked me she found I had a fourth-degree tear–the baby had had one arm raised up by her head as she came out, and that did a number on me. Nancy decided to call her backup doctor, who is also an old Petres family friend. And that blessed man came to the house at midnight, and decided he could do the stitching here rather than taking us all to the hospital, for which I am profoundly grateful.
The stitching took an hour. There was some minimal local anesthetic (not possible to numb the whole area completely), and Nancy kept feeding me red wine (I don’t drink at all, so all had decided that wine would be plenty strong enough) through a bendy-straw. She held one leg, her assistant held the other, aided by Kat, and Rob was at my head, while I stared straight up into his eyes and told stories, at the prompting of Nancy, who kept me talking the whole time with questions like, “How did you guys meet?” and “Tell us about your trip to Africa.” So I did, telling stories through the pain, which was severe and far worse than labor. And our doctor worked away, sitting on a little Chinese footstool in front of the futon on which I lay, with a construction light rigged up on the back of a chair for the surgery light. It was all very 19th century and intense.
My mother had arrived just after the birth, and she watched the baby while all this went on; I think I heard her crying at intervals during the surgery.
But as soon as it was over, I was fine. And we all rested, with great sighs, and Rowan was with us, and the house was filled with love.