Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Agony in the 37-Week Garden

I've had the happy experience this week of becoming a proud auntie not once, but twice over, to a fine niece in New Jersey, and a fine nephew in Cincinnati. With these blessed events, along with the arrival of my nephew Robert in February, it's left to me to bring up the rear of the Baby Boom of 2017. I'm glad that my sisters-in-law are delivered of their nine-month ordeals and now get to hold their squishy sweet babies, but now that they've given birth, I  feel free now to write about my own impending labor without giving them undue worry in their last days of pregnancy.

I'm right at the 37-week full-term mark, but I expect to have three more weeks to prep for giving birth. I've been reading Susan Windley-Daoust's The Gift of Birth, a spiritual meditation on the Theology of the Body as reflected through labor and birth, and following her guided exercises. (You can read it for free online here.) I've been resting a lot lately, strangely comforted by this study that claims that the nine-month threshold for human pregnancy is dictated not by relative head-to-pelvis side, but by the metabolic limit of human ability:
Instead, gestation is determined by energy. Studies of mammals show that during pregnancy females reach their species’ “metabolic ceiling,” the upper limit of the amount of energy they can expend. In humans, the metabolic ceiling is 2 to 2.5 times the baseline amount of energy needed during rest. Dunsworth and her colleagues say women reach that limit by their sixth month of pregnancy. Then at nine months, the energy demands of a fetus go beyond this metabolic threshold. “Extending gestation even by a month would likely require metabolic investment beyond the mother’s capacity,” the team writes.
I've been around the pregnancy block a number of times by this point, so the milestones of late pregnancy aren't foreign to me. Some things are new and pleasant: never before have I had the flawless skin that supposed to be part of pregnancy, but it is some consolation for the aches and pains of the third trimester that when I look in the mirror, my face approaches poreless perfection. (My hair is marvelous, too.) They say that once a woman reaches a certain age, she must choose between a nice face and a nice ass, and right now I have a good basis for hoping that the rosy glow of my face distracts from the increasing girth of my lower half.

The front half of my lower half, along with the last occupant.

Also, my PUPPP has cleared itself mostly up. Just as the experts don't know what causes it, they don't know what makes it go away, but my itching has almost entirely ceased, and for that I'm most grateful.

Some new experiences aren't so pleasant.

The other night, I was leaning against Darwin with my arms around his neck, my stomach providing a rather large buffer between us, and despite whatever innocuous conversation we were having, a creeping anxiety began to tingle along the nerves in my fingers. After a moment I identified it: I had been in this position during a number of increasingly painful contractions during my last labor, and my muscle memory was responding in panic.

This isn't the only time this has happened lately. As we were sitting through the end credits of Wonder Woman, apropos of nothing my breath started coming faster and waves of anxiety washed over me. I felt flushed and panicky, out of proportion to what TS Eliot called the "objective correlative". Why? I had had a passing thought of going into labor, maybe a twinge or a cramp or some flashback, and although I could move and talk normally, it took fifteen minutes for the tension and the nervy tingles to subside.

I'm not afraid of dying while giving birth. I'm not afraid that I'll have to have a c-section for some reason, though I'd much prefer not to go under the knife. I'm not afraid of an adverse outcome. I rather expect things to be uncomplicated and straightforward as always, ending up with a snuggly little baby in my arms. I've had lots of practice relaxing and breathing during contractions. No, I am cravenly afraid of the excruciating pain. When I've tried to express this to friends, several people have said, "You've done this six times! What do you have to be worried about?" People, think. A man who has been on the rack six times is not eager to get back on a seventh time. I have a lot of experience with the standard progression of labor, and it almost always gets much worse before it gets better.

We give birth, or we die. There's no way through but out. I know all this. I'm no stranger to having a baby. Out of my six births, five have involved grinding, miserable contractions, culminating in the terrible moment of the baby tearing your body apart as you give birth. Perhaps this time will be better. Perhaps I'll try my first epidural. Perhaps lightning will strike again, and I'll have another painless labor. But my body is gearing itself up for the long ordeal, and each weird but painless Braxton-Hicks contraction or gas bubble or shift in internal pressure reminds it that the storm is coming. 

I handle the panic attacks the same way I'll handle the contractions: breathing, counting, praying. Even Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemani, so I think I'm allowed to be increasingly anxious about my own lesser impending passion. There's a lot of toil to go before I get to say, "It is finished."


Jenny said...

I am avoiding thinking about labor for as long as I possibly can. I am unduly nervous about the prospect of a C-section. Sitting in limbo, waiting to see what this placenta does is not my favorite.

Praying you have another magic, painless labor. It was in July. Maybe it's the weather?

Finicky Cat said...

I had one painless, magic labour, too, out of six. The fourth one. Haven't tried a seventh yet. I think your Gethsemane comparison is spot on. (Darwin, stay awake in the garden with her!) What is there about excruciating pain NOT to dread? So glad to hear the wretched PUPPP is fading at least.

Why does everybody get all solemn and quiet and respectful about Veteran's Day - but Mother's Day is saccharine and tedious? Where are the monuments, people? Where are the wreaths and doffing of hats and two minutes of silence? Humph. Here, take a pink carnation instead.

That picture of you and the previous passenger is beautiful.

Amber said...

I'm ordering my birth supplies today and thinking, "Am I seriously doing this again??" Thanks for mentioning that book, it sounds very interesting. I was paging through some of the beginning w/ the PDF version and I think it would be good for me to read also.

Great picture and caption, btw.

Julia said...

Gosh, but I love to read your posts!

I had an experience recently that was as akin to a PTSD flashback as possible: a neighbor's teen wigged out, and the shouting and uncertainty of whether there was danger or not -- along with the subsequent arrival and extended ordeal of getting the teen out of the building on a stretcher -- brought me right back to when I'd had to call 911 on my son. I was impressed at how visceral and physical the memory was.

Like you, I breathed my way through it. It is the beauty of many Catholic prayers that they lend themselves to being breathed. My favorite is the Divine Praises, which I say one per breath. There is something extraordinarily beautiful about aligning one's body with prayer, in making every breath one with the Holy Spirit.

That said, it seems only fair that you should have a relatively painless labor. I'll talk to Our Lady about it.

MrsDarwin said...

Thanks, Julia! That's quite a compliment, coming from you.

I'm so terrible at responding to blog comments, but thanks all for the support. I am feeling much better since the OB seemed so sure that I wasn't going to pop this weekend. I guess I can put off thinking about it for another week, right? Avoidance is a powerful psychological tool -- why spend the mental energy fearing what I don't have to fear yet?

The OB also said he thought I'd go quick when I go, so I'm holding on to that. I don't know why, since my last labor was only five hours, and it didn't start getting excruciating until the third hour, but somehow the voice of authority comforts me. It will be over soon...

And congrats, Amber! I'm pleased somehow that we're delivering at the same time again. When did we last track each other -- seven years ago? Sheesh, the time flies.

Son Mom said...

Just wanted to mention because my oldest children are a little older than yours that I know when my oldest kids were born the thinking was that epidurals slowed down labor, so you should hold off on getting one. But a number of studies in recent years have shown that epidurals do not slow down labor, and there should be no restriction on how far dilated a woman should be before getting one. Not to be an epidural pusher or anything :) I had my second without any pain meds and did enjoy being able to hop up quickly after birth, but overall was profoundly thankful to have epidurals with the third and fourth.

I will keep you in my prayers that you have a smooth, easy labor and delivery! Hang in there - I know with my pregnancy in my late thirties I really noticed how much more exhausted I was than with previous pregnancies.