All morning I’ve been imagining The Onion-style headlines that would appeal to women who’ve faced the uncertainty of giving birth. You know, headlines so obvious and wry they’re hysterical to those of us who’ve been there: “Local Woman Can’t Predict When She’ll Go Into Labor” and “New Study Reveals Ina May Gaskin, Birth Guru who Claims Labor Can Be Beautiful and Orgasmic, Full of Shit.”
Yesterday I was in for some routine testing at the hospital when the nurse got nervous. “Do you know you’re having contractions?” she asked. I did not; I was chilling in the chair with the contractions monitor on, drinking an Izze, excited to spend time with B, who had taken the afternoon off. We’d just come from a meeting with our midwife, Gwen, and were planning to do some shopping as soon as I was finished. A trip to prenatal yoga, dinner out, an evening doula meeting (yup—we packed it all into one day), and home to bed. I’d been looking forward to it all week.
But then there was a doctor at my side telling me we should go upstairs to check my cervix, make sure I wasn’t effacing or dilating.
Going into labor? At 36 weeks? When I wasn’t feeling a thing? Of course, if I was honest with myself, I was having some Braxton Hicks, and yes, they might have felt a little stronger than before, but still—
No, I thought to myself. No, no, no, no no. And then: I’m not ready.
And then: panic.
I am not good with uncertainty; I am not good with change. I always think, in times when I don’t know what’s going to happen next, of a line from a Mark Halliday poem that goes, “I am not at all a Hindu, I’ve never been a Hindu/I want to keep things—” The thing about birth, though, is that you don’t get to keep anything, really; not necessarily your dignity, and certainly not your general belief that you’ll know what comes next. And not your schedule; you don’t get to keep that. To wit: the shopping trip, the dinner out, these plans were aborted as I sat in triage with a bag of IV fluids dripping into my arm, my eyes glued to the contractions monitor, trying to remember everything I know about giving birth, trying to stay calm, trying to not feel guilty for having been more than a little dehydrated (which, apparently, can cause contractions).
“I think they’re slowing down,” B said, and then there would be another one, and we’d both feel that same sense of panic.
The thing is, at 36 weeks, this baby is really almost quite to term. If I did go into labor, they probably wouldn’t stop it. The baby would (likely) be fine. I would (likely) be fine. But somehow, despite knowing about the vast uncertainty around when labor will start, I’ve been holding tightly onto my last four weeks: my last four weeks with my Triangle Family, before we become a square; my last two weeks at work and finishing up the writing deadlines I’ve made for myself; and most significantly, my last two weeks to process both the difficulties of what happened when I gave birth to L and the confusing feelings of having wanted this all these years but now, faced with it, feeling afraid of the change. Because a lot of old dark feelings have been welling up, a lot of anxiety and trauma and sadness and I’m just not quite ready, emotionally, to hop back in. I realize I may have to, but I’m not quite ready to.
“The contractions have spaced out since we put in the IV,” the nurse said after a while, and I felt a wash of relief. There they were, on the monitor, looking less like seven Golden Gate Bridges stacked end to end and more like some gentle, rolling midwestern hills. “The midwife says you can go home,” she continued, and we walked out of there shaken and fragile but not, at least, in labor.
At ten p.m., back at home, B pumped up the birthing ball and I packed a hospital bag. Just in case, I told myself. Just in case. It’s a good reminder to get our ducks in a row. The emotional stuff, I can’t predict when that will be resolved, but at the very least I can have my bags packed and my car seat installed and my birth plan written.
And I can remember that this is the great reality of childbirth and of everything that comes after: there’s no predicting. You just have to stay in the moment and take what comes.
I am not a Hindu; I like to keep things. But I also have to let them go.
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