Sam was born in Oakland, California, (Go, Raaaaaaaiders!) in 2001 after 22 hours of labor. He weighed 9 lb, 2 oz. He was very cute. Almost immediately I made him bleed trying to cut his fingernails. And Alex and I almost got divorced while trying to deal with his first diaper change.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I woke up at 3:45 in the morning seven days before my due date. I was having minor contractions about five minutes apart. I let Alex sleep for a while before waking him up to tell him that we were actually, for real, having a baby.
We waited until 6 a.m. to call our doula, Erin. She asked us some questions, called in sick to work, and came over. She worked at a pizza place, which was awesome, because after Sam was born and she came by to visit, she brought pizza. Although it’s a bit awkward to accept pizza from someone you’ve recently expelled many bodily fluids all over. More on that later.
Erin’s big thing about advancing labor was that I should go on walks. Fortunately by the time she made me go on a walk, it was not the middle of the night or cold and rainy. But, to be honest, I may not have noticed any of those things. Because, guess what? Contractions hurt.
And when I have contractions I start four to five minutes apart. There is no every ten to 15 minutes for me.
So we wandered around our Oakland neighborhood. I remember three things from the two walks Erin made me go on:
1. There was a group of men sitting on a stoop across from the liquor store. They saw us walking for three minutes, stopping for two and quickly figured out what we were doing. I can still hear them good-naturedly shouting, “Walking the baby out, huh?”
2. Erin picked a large flower off of a tree and handed it to me. “Imagine your cervix opening like this flower,” she said. When we got home, she put it in a bowl of water where it sat until after we brought Sam home.
3. We went on a second walk, just Erin and I, while Alex took a nap. Yes, a nap. Anywho. Yet another Oaklander wandering the streets saw me and said, “You’re going to have that baby any day now!” Erin yelled back, “Probably today!” (She was wrong. Technically he was born the next day.)
When we got home, I threw up. And then spent a largely sucky afternoon in and out of the shower, on and off the birthing ball, and doing embarrassing naked things in front of Alex and a virtual stranger. Erin kept telling me to check to see how dilated I was. I kept telling her I had no idea how to do that.
I also kept waiting for her to tell me that it was time to go to the hospital. Over the phone my doctor had told me that there wasn’t any big rush to get me there. I think it was 6 or 7 p.m. when I finally asked, “So when do you think we should go to the hospital?”
“When you get nervous and insist that it’s time we go the hospital,” Erin said. Well, I think that’s what she said. I don’t exactly remember because I was nervous and was thinking that we really needed to get to the hospital.
I vaguely remember Alex taking a wrong turn on the way to the hospital and me having to correct him. I don’t remember much about getting to my room, but once I got there, I very clearly remember that we had the most awesome room in the entire Bay Area. It had a balcony and a jacuzzi bathtub. But the jacuzzi spouts on the bathtub didn’t work. You can’t have everything, right?
I think I might have been 7 centimeters dilated by the time I got there, although at this point I don’t remember exactly. I do remember some guy coming to take blood from me, which seemed a little bit like adding insult to injury, and then I took to the bathtub.
I’m sure there was a lot going on around me, but I was in my own place and I was staying there. We had decided to try to do the birth naturally, but were prepared to be flexible if I just couldn’t hack it. The nice thing about having Erin there was that the possibility of an epidural was never even brought up.
I don’t think it’s coincidence that the only time I had an epidural was the only time I didn’t have a doula.
Finally the nurse and Erin both insisted that I get out of the tub because they didn’t want me to overheat. Shortly thereafter they had me start pushing. It was not like I’d expected. I had assumed the doctor would be there and do her, you know, baby catching thing.
But it was just me and some assorted nurses, Alex, and Erin. Pushing was great for the first few minutes. It was fabulous to finally get to take some action. After the first couple of pushes, Erin hunkered down to see if she could see anything happening.
At that very moment, my water broke.
And by “broke,” I mean, “exploded all over Erin.”
She came up absolutely drenched. It was quite possibly the funniest and most disgusting thing I had ever seen happen all at once. I laughed hysterically for five minutes. That poor woman. She had to borrow scrubs from a nurse.
A scant 22 hours after my first contraction, 52 minutes after I started pushing, and probably five minutes after a doctor arrived, Sam was born. His tiny ears were the first thing I noticed about him. He was perfect. It was 1:38 in the morning.
I also have a very vivid (and much less cute) memory of the doctor showing me the other thing I delivered that day, which was my placenta.
For a first birth, for any birth, it was a good experience. I blocked out the pain of contractions almost immediately. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but I felt great. I remembered my friend C telling me how giving birth made her proud of the female body and the powerful things it can do. I felt that way too.
Alex and I got through that first birth—and that first diaper change— together. He was a champ through the whole thing, except for when he took his nap, although I guess that was okay.
He also went home at lunch time the day Sam was born to pick up some things, like the camera we forgot. On his way back, he stopped for barbecue. For himself. That was his biggest mistake of this birth. Forget a push present, I would have settled for some beef with a side of soggy bread.
But I did get this:
What I wrote in Sam’s baby book on the “Your Arrival” page, subheading “Distinguishing characteristics”: Every single thing about you made you special, unique, and beautiful. You didn’t seem to have any weird newborn blemishes, marks, or molding. Except your left nostril was squished mostly flat.