by Elaine Chu

A year ago today my water broke, and thus began my entirely new life of joy with my daughter, Olivia.

It was a cold autumn evening like tonight, and Misha and I were eating a late dinner after our last birthing class. I was perched on the stool and suddenly felt a moist dischargešnot really a gush of water, more like a small leak. Enough, however, to know that my water had broken. I remember the immediate rush and excitementšit was beginning. I hardly slept that night, despite following my midwife‰s suggestion to drink some wine and relax. I felt so giddy and warm and excited. I don‰t know if I‰ve ever felt that way. Maybe on my wedding night.

By the next morning, I still didn‰t have any contractions. It was a beautiful, sunny fall day we took a walk around McGoldrich Park in Brooklyn. We called the midwife, and around noon, as she had instructed, I drank castor oil, took a nap, and awoke with some cramping. Misha kept track of the contractions, which were still pretty irregular. We were supposed to go to the hospital only when they got to be 5 minutes or less apart. They became more intense, but were still manageable; I was able to talk and watch a movie. But generally, it was more comfortable to walk around and stop and lean on a chair or table when a contraction began.

That night sleeping was more difficult. The contractions were worst when I was lying down, even on my side. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom, pacing and leaning on the towel rack, moaning with each contraction. Somehow, I think I learned to sleep in the 7-8 minutes between them.

First thing in the morning Jay (the midwife on call that day) called and told us to meet her in labor and delivery at the hospital, not the birthing center. My labor was labeled "risky of infection," because my water had broken so long before contractions began, and the clock had been ticking.

Moving to the hospital was a bigger ordeal than I anticipated. I really just wanted the peace and quiet of home. Instead we had bureaucrats, paperwork, unsympathetic nurses, and a pretty by-the-book, no frills midwife. My contractions became less frequent when distracted by the move. I was dilated only 1-2 cm when we arrived.

All morning I was on my feet, either leaning over pillows or walking the halls of the hospital to try to get the contractions going stronger. I needed to stop and focus and vocalize to get through them, but they remained at around 5 minutes apart for almost the entire labor. In between them I felt pretty relaxed and quiet, with Misha by my side, holding my hand. I remember listening to Shawn Colvin and Nascimento.

Finally, the midwife gave us an ultimatum: by noon if the contractions weren‰t stronger and I wasn‰t dilated significantly more, then I‰d need pitocin, my biggest fear. So we tried everything else: an enema (Oy-vay! Never again! Between that and the castor oil, I‰d probably been the cleanest I ever was); a warm shower, with Misha sucking on my nipples. After a fight with the nurse to get off the monitor so I could walk some more, I was dilated only 3-4 cm. So we brought on the pitocin. Jay made it sound like I wouldn‰t need a lot: the baby‰s head was sitting right on my cervix. Just a little bit to get the contractions going, and then my body would take over. Not.

After several unsuccessful attempts at finding a vein and feeling poked and prodded, I got hooked up to the IV needed for the pitocin. With the pitocin came the need to monitor the contractions and the baby's heart rate. Peeing meant unhooking from the monitor and bringing the IV with me. Psychologically, it was harder to deal with the pain, knowing that it was drug-induced. By somewhere around 4-5 p.m. it was taking everything for me to get through a contraction. Vocalizing was the only thing that allowed me to work through the pain.

Jay suggested that I sit in a rocking chair and try to conserve my energy between contractions. I don‰t know if that was a good suggestion or not; perhaps if I moved around the contractions would get stronger? And yet I didn‰t feel I could deal with stronger contractions. I was barely hanging on as it was. At that point, you don‰t second guess or negotiate; after so many interventions my instincts were already compromised and awry. So I rocked in the chair while Misha held my hand. Jay sat next to me watching the monitor like a TV.

Finally, Jay checked me againšonly 5 cm dilated. I fell into despair. When she suggested an epidural, I burst into tears. My picture of an ideal birthšwithout drugs, without painkillersšwas crumbling, and so was I. This was a huge disappointment.

Getting the epidural administered brought me close to losing it. Suddenly there were 3 or 4 people hovering around me, poking and prodding. I felt the needle going into my back as a contraction was starting. When suddenly they also decided to take my blood pressure during the contraction, putting pressure on the bruised veins where the IV was, I screamed to get the damn thing off me. Once the epidural kicked in, I fell asleep for a couple of hours.

When the epidural started wearing off, more anesthesia was given. Shortly after that, Jay checked me again. Finally, I was fully dilated and could push! But unlike the first epidural, which was a walking epidural, this time I couldn‰t feel anything from the waist down, so I couldn't push. So we had to hang out another hour or so until the anesthesia wore off a bit. (I still felt nothing, and to this day I feel that I "missed" the actual birth.) After 3 or 4 pushes, the baby's head crowned. I remember touching it, expecting that it would feel like a basketball, but instead it was this warm, wet, soft, mushy thing.

When the baby came out, I heard the cry, and after a pause of wonderment, Misha announced that it was a girl. She was immediately placed on my belly, all wet and wrinkled and crying. So small. So incredulous. Suddenly it was all over (and all just beginning) and I didn‰t quite have time to switch gears. Everything was still. There were no big emotions, no sense of relief; just a suspension of time and place. I was holding my baby and there were no judgments, expectations, or even thoughts. Jay put the baby to my breast, and she began sucking right away, and all was right with the world.

Olivia Lida was born on October 25, 1997 at 12:48 a.m..

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