At forty one weeks and five days pregnant, I’d done some kumbaya-natural birth acrobatics to better position Willa, which resulted in the feeling of someone farting somewhere in my cervix, followed by a release of fluid and blood.
I guessed that this sensation had been my water breaking, but the presence of blood and its quantity surprised me. The dark red stain on our couch made me glad we’d splurged for the performance fabric. As a newlywed purchasing the couch, I’d imagined more glamorous spills— think toppling glass of red wine versus bodily fluid cocktail—but at least the couch wasn’t ruined.
At any point in pregnancy, blood is not usually a good omen. Drew called the midwife’s office on the phone for next steps, but I knew at this point we’d be going in. First time moms are encouraged to feel like their insides are exploding before they arrive at the hospital. The past weeks had been a game of chicken for my pain tolerance, various sensations qualifying or not qualifying as labor.
The nurses who administered my non-stress tests in the hospital applied the term “Braxton Hicks contractions” to both the mere visual tightening of the skin on my stomach and piercing pains that stopped me in my tracks. I heard the phrase “You’ll know” more times than I did as a single evangelical Christian in my twenties. And after all the starting and stopping, teasing pain, I was going into the hospital on a technicality. As in technically, my couch cushion was covered with blood, and technically, I couldn’t feel the baby moving anymore.
I was unsure if I was sitting or standing as my mom moved my limbs for me, inching a pair of black leggings up my calves to replace my wet nightgown. I watched Drew and my mom bustle around me from miles away, trying to watch my present situation with as little detail as possible.
Patches of Drew’s conversation with the midwife floated across the distance, “Um, she said it felt like someone farted in her crotch…” God bless that man, I thought. I wanted to help communicate the feeling, the stain on the couch, and the motionless baby so that they’d know it was real, that I wasn’t just making it all up.
I was transported back to my days as a kid feeling like a fraud on the exam table at our family doctor’s office. Though I was feeling sick as a dog, the nurse would hold up the beeping ear thermometer and announce that my temperature was 97.9 degrees. Now like then, I didn’t want them to think I was weak or lying or exaggerating.
I didn’t want them to think I was weak or lying or exaggerating.
Drew must have communicated the situation well enough, as I was now being helped to the car, then set on top of a towel on the front seat. We turned onto the path back to the hospital, well-worn from all the visits and tests required of a post-term baby. We met every stoplight and backed up four way stop along the way. As my body rocked forward at another halting stop, I recited the string of numbers from our birthing class over and over in my head: 5-1-1.
These were the magic natural birthing numbers to avoid a medicated birth. I should stay at home until my labor sustained a pattern of five minutes between one minute long contractions for at least one hour. Going in before this established labor progression placed moms at risk of pressure to induce. Best to wait and keep your distance from the fly by night anesthesiologist with his spine numbing juice.
I felt simultaneously repelled and drawn by the medical metropolis.
But here I was, headed to the hospital on my drop cloth, having to disregard the plan altogether. I felt simultaneously repelled and drawn by the medical metropolis. My suspicions and training as a birth vigilante made me afraid, but my fear made me desperate for the monitors and sensors that would tell me that Willa was still with us. So we crawled on down York road, rushing out of the gates of the green lights and halting suddenly with the next block of stopped cars. The condensing and releasing traffic carried us along.
Amidst the other concerns, I knew that with the blood and fluid, a twenty four hour timer started ticking. Early in my pregnancy, they found traces of group B strep in my urine. One in six women carry strep B, and since it was found in my urine, I never got a fighting chance to binge on yogurt and probiotics prior to my third trimester swab. My natural birth allies assured me these precautions would prevent a false positive.
Having strep B in your nether regions was just one of many things with conflicting narratives among birthing philosophies. Things get reputations for being a real thing or not a real thing, a legitimate consideration for the safety of you and your baby or an elaborate myth perpetrated by lawsuit weary hospitals and C-section happy doctors.
Regardless of its seriousness, I’d tested positive for it, and with my particular practice, that put certain limitations and stipulations around Willa’s birth. I’d need antibiotics through an IV port and the actual birth could not take place in the birthing tub. In addition, in the unlikely chance that my water broke early in the birthing process, I’d have twenty four hours to deliver.
When we arrived in the birthing ward, I skipped the triage room altogether. A nurse with a tinkling charm bracelet led me to the tidy birthing suite I had dreamed of since I first looked up the hospital before we were expecting.
The delivery room was large with an impressive birthing tub featuring all kinds of jets and buttons. In the advertised pictures, a pair of white slippers were laid out on a mat in front of the tub, like the set-up at a mid-luxury hotel. On the side of a tub laid a packaged fish tank net for scooping up unsavory items that surfaced in the tub.
Once in the room, they ushered me quickly to the bed where I lifted my shirt for the application of the cold jelly that went under the monitors. The blue and pink elastic bands were stretched across my bump and the monitors were tucked in place.
And then it came, the sweet percussion of Willa’s heart, fast and strong, muffled only by the tiny occasional movements of her body. I looked up to Drew and my mom and began to weep with relief, tapping my foot on the bed to the beat of our daughter’s heart.