Joseph Kolbe’s Birth Story… An Exercise in Lost Control
My little Joey bug is 3 months old now, and I’ve sufficiently recovered from the emotional trauma that is childbirth to be able to share his birthday tale. Now I’m not into sharing super personal or gruesome details on the internets, so if you’re looking for some seriously disturbing mental images, you might want to hop over here. This birth story is PG-13 at worst, and even then only for the occasional use of adult language rather than graphic violence. So here we go…
I woke up for work on a Tuesday morning in late September with some light contractions, but nothing serious enough to merit staying home. Our little one was due October 7th, and although I was absolutely huge and measuring almost a month ahead (a flipping month!), neither we nor our doctor thought I’d go any earlier than our due date. We’d had a false alarm over the previous weekend, which was shocking as we were the most prepared and studied first time parents in the history of human reproductive history. Seriously. You know, the parents who read everything, take all the classes and cannot possibly encounter anything for which they are not supremely prepared. Right. So as we shamefacedly drove home from the hospital that Sunday evening, I vowed that we would not return until I was 6 centimeters dilated and ready to transition. And then, when we did return, I would be wearing my own fabulous little black “delivery dress”, repeating calming passages from Proverbs to myself during the peak of each contraction, and bearing freshly baked cookies to deliver to the nursing staff, along with individual copies of our meticulously detailed, bullet riddled birth plan.
Convinced that I was not going to make my targeted date of September 30th as my final day in the office, my two favorite coworkers took me out for lunch and pedicures at noon, insisting that if we didn’t go now, I wouldn’t be around to go at all. How true that would prove to be.
So there I sat, blissfully relaxing in a massage chair in a post-pedicure euphoria, a Smashburger extra-spicy-jalapeno laden baja cobb nothing but a delicious and heartburn-producing memory, when suddenly I had to get to the restroom. I mean, my toes were not even dry yet, but I was utterly convinced that I needed to get up at that very second and book it to the ladies room at the back of the salon. And so, shooting out of my chair with greater speed and accuracy than my pedicurist believed possible so late in the gestational game, I lumbered across the salon in my temporary foam flip flops, waddling urgently (but gingerly, mindful of my freshly painted toesies).
Arriving just in time, I heaved a sigh of relief at the minor victory of not wetting the pedicure chair. 5 minutes later, still reveling in that “just in time” feeling, it dawned on me that although I had been drinking gallons upon gallons of water these days, this was probably a different kind of water loss. Just then my delightful coworker Jenny knocked on the door and timidly inquired whether I was in labor or not.
“Ummm… actually… I think maybe?” I replied uncertainly. Muffled squeals and scuffling from outside the door and then…silence.
I’d been abandoned in the Snappy Nails restroom, and I was going to have to deliver my own baby using only a can of industrial air freshener and a commercial pack of 1 ply toilet paper. Not a minute went by, however, before my second coworker, Brigette, a seasoned veteran of motherhood who was herself with child, though far less obviously, appeared outside the door, calling to me in her heavily accented southern drawl,
“Je-neh-fer…you doin oh-kay?”
Opening the door, I assured her that, other than the massive water loss, I was feeling just fine… too fine, in fact, to be in labor. After all, I knew that nobodies water actually broke in public. That only happened to 1 in 10 women, or in the movies. And I was going to have a remarkably calm, controlled and textbook childbirth experience.
Undeterred, Brigette bundled me in paper towels and grocery bags (this was glamorous, people) and hustled me to the front door of the salon where Jenny met us, grinning, holding a bag of industrial strength pads the likes of which had not been seen since middle school health class.
“I didn’t know what else to do so I ran to the grocery store next door and, well, here!”
Still utterly unconvinced of the actuality of my predicament, I allowed myself to be bundled into the car and driven the 2 blocks back to our office parking lot, where we sat for no less than 20 minutes arguing about what to do next. It went something like this:
Me: “I’m fine, I can drive home”
Them: “No, you’re in labor, you cannot drive.”
Me: “But it doesn’t hurt.”
Them: “Jennifer…we’re calling your husband.”
Me: (whining) “But I don’t wanna leave a car heeeeere.”
Them: “Jennifer, we’re driving you home.”
At this point I probably should have accepted defeat. I mean, I was in no shape to go back to my desk at the rate I was leaking water (sorry, but no other word will do), and they were using my full name and threatening to call my husband. These girls meant business.
So we headed home, me in the passenger seat and Brigette driving my car, Jenny caravaning behind us in her ride, and about 45 minutes into the drive (did I mention I had a delightful daily commute?), I started experiencing serious pain. I called my poor husband who, at this point, had probably fielded half a dozen phone calls from me assuring him I’m “fine” and to “just stay at work until I say so”.
“Babe, come home now. Seriously, NOW.”
Upon arriving, he found me in our bathroom, candles lit and dripping wax all over the tile, trying in vain to practice some of the relaxation techniques we’d mastered. Jenny and Brigette were pacing anxiously in the living room, no doubt nervous about the way I’d gone from zero to 60 in a matter of minutes. Though I was still muttering about the birth ball, the rolling pin and the heating pad we’d carefully laid out for use during my long, home-bound labor, we ran out the front door, obnoxiously huge suitcase in tow, and booked it to the hospital for the second time that week.
One bonus from our previous visit was that all the intake paperwork was done, and upon arrival I was plopped into a wheel chair and wheeled directly to a labor and delivery room.
Despite my plaintive panting cries of protest that I “was not sick” and “could definitely walk by myself” (I was a Bradley-trained mother, after all) I was nonetheless delivered to our richly-apportioned LDR suite on wheels, and then quite suddenly, Dave and I were alone.
I made a beeline for the bathroom of our palatial suite and the giant, sunken bathtub I’d been envisioning throughout my entire pregnancy. 5 minutes of tortured soaking by candlelight quickly disabused me of the notion of a peaceful water birth, however, and I allowed myself to be led back to the dreaded hospital bed where I’d sworn I’d spend absolutely no time at all. At this point our doula, the one we had been planning on interviewing that very evening, called from Panera to inquire as to our whereabouts. 20 minutes later she met us at the hospital, where we hired her on the spot. Her presence proved to be one of the greatest blessings of our labor, which was so far nothing like we’d anticipated.
By 10 pm that night we were sure I was in transition. My contractions had been 2 minutes apart since the car ride to the hospital, and they were increasing in intensity. A truly terrible phenomenon which I would not wish upon my worst enemy, they were double peaked contractions, meaning each brought two high points of intensity rather than one, leaving virtually no time for recovery between them. In addition, I was experiencing back labor and was honestly convinced that someone was dragging a shovel down the inside of my spine, raking each vertebrae with its jagged metal edge. (We’d later discovery that baby was posterior, hence the crazy back pain) I reluctantly consented to an exam so that the nurse could check my progress, warning her that she had exactly 30 seconds before I would be writhing in pain and utterly uncooperative. Expecting to be told that we were in transition and minutes away from pushing, I asked whether our doctor had been called yet.
“Well, you’re somewhere between a four and a five, so it will probably be a few more hours.” She cheerfully informed us as another contraction slammed though my body.
All thoughts of natural childbirth exited my mind at that point as I yowled our “code word” for epidural use. I had made my husband promise that no matter how badly I wanted one, no matter how convincingly I pleaded with him or with the staff, I was not to be given an epidural. I wanted to do this on my own. But just in case things didn’t go as we’d planned, we’d settled upon a phrase which, if uttered, meant, basically, “give me drugs NOW.”
About 12 minutes after I started yelling “Portiuncula” (we are seriously dorky Catholics), the anesthesiologist of my dreams arrived and knocked me into 1999. He was handsome, efficient, and utterly in agreement with me that the music of Nora Jones was “terribly annoying” and that pumpkin spice lattes were, indeed, the best part of fall. Nodding and smiling as he adjusted my crack drip, he slipped from my room as I slipped into drugged relaxation, but not before calling my father to tell him that I was “wasted and listening to Dave Matthews” and that it was “just like college all over again.” Ahem.
Not my finest moments, those, but 10 hours later when I was still laboring, I was thanking God in heaven for modern medicine, and I was doing so often. And audibly.
Meanwhile, Dave, Jessica the doula and I spent the remainder of the night watching the Hills and listening to Taylor Swift on iTunes, because deep down in my heart of hearts, I am a 15 year old girl. Especially when I am under the influence.
I was hardly having the stoic, empowered experience I’d been envisioning. The experience I’d carefully crafted and prepared for. All of my dreams of a natural, uneventful labor had been destroyed. But in their place, God was doing something incredible in my heart … and through my body. At 9:45 am on Wednesday, September 22nd after 19 hours of labor and nearly 5 hours of pushing, our wonderful doctor gave one final good hard tug, slipped the umbilical cord from around our little one’s neck and placed a writhing, cone-headed little blue alien on my chest as the attending nurse asked Dave, “who is it, Dad?”
Dave looked and, choked with emotion, said to me, “It’s our boy…it’s Joseph.”
My heart exploded. Unimaginable joy flooded through me as I looked at our son, seeing him, knowing him after all these months of unknowing.
“It’s you,” I whispered to him, choking back sobs, “it’s been you all along.”
And boy oh boy, was he worth it. Every contraction, every push, every drip of the IV, every sleepless night, every pound gained…and every alteration to my plans, to my preferences…none of it mattered in the end, it turned out.
All that mattered was that our child was here, that Dave and I had been allowed into this mysterious and sacred fellowship of creation with God Himself, and that Joseph now existed because we had cooperated with Him. And it was so good.
And the epidural? Oh yes, that was very good.
I love you, Joseph Kolbe…and I couldn’t have imagined a better entrance for you myself.