When push comes to shove

NOTE: This is a birth story, featuring the words poop, amniotic fluid, blood, cervix … you get the idea. So if it’s your type of thing, just skip this one and we’ll be back to keeping chickens and sowing seeds before you know it. I had to write it, though, because I feel almost as if it hasn’t happened if I don’t, and this is the place where I put the things that I want to be able to find later. Plus, I love reading birth stories. If you do too, then carry on!

At a certain point, pregnancy stops being cute.

No matter how smoothly a pregnancy goes, there is no getting around that in the final weeks it’s pretty heavy going. I was at the point where turning over from one side to the other in bed was the hardest thing I did all day, and was feeling increasingly sure that gravity was my mortal enemy. I didn’t say anything to Ali about it, but one morning at breakfast he said, “Don’t worry, you’ll poop her out soon enough.” I immediately took umbrage at his choice of words. “It’s not quite as simple as that,” I sniffed.

At around 3 a.m. on January 18, the contractions began and there was a small, intermittent trickle of amniotic fluid. I lay in bed, dozing through most of it, since it was not particularly intense, but I did download a contraction timing app and I recorded them as best I could – every ten minutes or so, throughout the night. They stopped at around 6. My doctor had told me that my cervix was thick, so I should wait a few hours after contractions began before letting anyone know about it. This made total sense to me, since Baki took 27 hours to be born and Kaya took 15; clearly, I have a body that likes to take its time. That’s why I slept through the night and got the kids off to school before I called the midwife, Saadet Hanim, to tell her that things looked like they might be underway.

Ali had to go and feed the chickens, cats and dogs in the garden. I didn’t want to sit in the car for hours with him, and he didn’t want to leave me alone, so I asked Saadet Hanim, if I could come to her house. She cheerfully agreed – she had just been telling her daughter in law the story of Kaya’s birth over breakfast. “Let’s go for a walk,” I said to her, referring to the hours long walk that we took through the parks of Antalya while I was in labor with Kaya, six years ago.

We got to Saadet Hanim’s house at around 10:30. Her son and his wife of six months were visiting from Izmir, and her daughter and granddaughter were visiting from two floors down. “There’s a baby in her tummy,” Saadet explained to Arya, aged two. Arya handed me her baby doll, and when Saadet Hanim offered us coffee, produced a tiny yellow plastic cup and presented it to me with great ceremony. Ali left for the garden, and Saadet Hanim said she would examine me after we’d had our coffee.

No dilation to speak of, she pronounced – there was a long way to go. Furthermore, she had fractured her foot, so she was unable to walk outside the house at all. It was driving her crazy, she said. “The worst torture of all for me is to have to stay home,” she sighed, ruefully. It was easy to imagine that it must very difficult for her to be so confined – she is a very active person, and an avid walker. We both sat for a moment regretting that we wouldn’t be marching through the streets of Antalya together that day.

Fortunately for me, her daughter in law was feeling stir crazy and wanted to venture out; she had had corrective surgery on her nose three days earlier and hadn’t been out of the house since. She was self conscious about venturing too far from the house with her nose bandaged and her face badly bruised, but we walked a few circuits around the park in front of the house. When she went back in, I said I’d walk a bit more and showed her that I had my phone so there was no need to worry. As I reached the edge of the park, my waters broke. Luckily, I had a big fat pad on, but it was full of liquid now,  so my walk became a mission to find a supermarket where I could buy some Depends disposable underwear; I had some in my hospital bag, but I’d left it in the car, so it was on its way to the garden along with Ali.

It was past noon when I got back to the house, my mission accomplished, and my Ob-gyn Dr. Figen was there. She had been in surgery all morning but was free for the rest of the day, so she had come to visit while Saadet Hanim’s son was in town. She cheerfully offered to examine me, and said I was two centimeters dilated, but not very much effaced yet. Still, it was encouraging progress. “We can go out for another walk after we eat, if you want,” she said, encouragingly, leading me back to the kitchen where Saadet Hanim was dishing out green beans, cauliflower and turkey to the cheerful and hungry crowd around her kitchen table for lunch. After eating, we sat in the living room chatting and drinking tea when it began to pour rain outside. This put off our walk for a while, but by around 2 it had cleared up and Dr. Figen and I ventured out.

It was overcast and cool after the rain, and it felt good to walk briskly in that weather – it had been fairly sultry when I was out on my own. We walked to the waterfront and watched the waves break against Antalya’s famous cliffs for a while, then walked past the old town and planned to take a proper walk there together some time. Dr. Figen dragged me across the street to a candy store, saying, “There’s something here I’d like to buy,” and she smiled mischievously over her shoulder at me as we entered the store. It was a roll of fruit leather stuffed with hazelnut butter that had caught her eye, and she bought a small box to take back with us, asking the man behind the counter to set two pieces aside for us to eat. We left the store arm in arm, eating the sweets as we walked, feeling complicit.

The wind was picking up and the sky was darkening, but our luck held out and we didn’t get caught in any further downpours. We did stop again to buy simit (sesame breads) – a bag for the boys and one for Saadet Hanim’s house. By the time we were nearing the house again, the contractions were coming every 4 to 5 minutes but only lasting about half a minute. I could feel them radiating down my legs, though, so they were getting stronger. Dr. Figen looked at her watch. “And hour and ten minutes,” she announced – the length of our walk.

Ali was back at Saadet Hanim’s house when we returned, drinking tea in the sitting room. We decided that he ought to go home to take care of the boys and we would meet at the hospital. I’d call him when we were on our way. He left shortly afterwards – it was about 3:30 by then. Saadet Hanim, her daughter, granddaughter, son, and daughter and law and I all sat in the living room chatting and drinking tea. Her 12 year old grandson came in and read jokes from the internet to us from his phone. Saadet Hanim said the she would examine me at four. Her daughter turned to me and asked me what the contractions felt like – both of her children had been born via C-section. “Birth is seen differently now than it used to be,” Dr, Figen had said. “Many women look at delivering babies as the job of the doctor, not of the mother. It is a service to be provided.” I wasn’t sure how to answer her question. The contractions felt like a hand closing inside me, like a rhythm gaining momentum, preparing to take me out of my mind and into my body.

Saadet Hanim took me to her bedroom to examine me and shook her head – only another centimeter dilated and still not very much effaced. She went back out to the living room to tell Dr Figen and I stood there, looking down at the pillows on the floor where I had lain to be examined. It was quiet in the bedroom, and suddenly I couldn’t face the thought of going back outside and sitting on the sofa engaging in polite conversation. I felt tired and a little lonely, without Ali or the boys. “It’s just going to get more and more uncomfortable from here on out,” I thought, and it made me so tired to think it that I gave in and just lay down on the floor, on my left side, with one pillow under my head and the other one under my right leg, in a position I’d seen in a book on birthing that had been labeled “active rest.” It made the contractions feel a lot worse, but I continued to lay there. I didn’t want to stand and I didn’t want to sit. Only laying on the floor made any sense to me right then. I lay on the floor and murmured words of encouragement to myself and began to faintly enjoy the growing intensity of the contractions.

Dr. Figen poked her head in, saying that she needed to visit a patient at a nearby hospital and that she would be back in about an hour or so. Saadet Hanim brought a heavy woolen blanket and lay it over me; the room was very cool, and she pointed out the heater to me in case I needed it. The blanket was nice – laying still on the floor, it had gotten cold. Eventually, it became too uncomfortable to be lying down, so I squatted a little, and stood leaning against the wall. I tried being on all fours but that felt awful — too much gravity at work on my tummy. The contractions were much stronger now, coming every three to four minutes and lasting about a minute each. I was having to vocalize to relax through them – high sighing sounds. I sighed breathily into the scarf that I was wearing around my neck.

Saadet Hanim came in. “It’s getting harder,” she said. I nodded. “It has to,” she said, sympathetically. “It won’t happen otherwise.”I just nodded, my face buried in my scarf. She examined me again – I was fully effaced she said, if not all that dilated. “I think I’d better call Dr. Figen,” she said. She was nearby, Saadet Hanim reported after she hung up. She offered to bring me her pilates ball; I had used it during my labor with Kaya, and I nearly made a lunge for it when she brought it back to me. I sat on it and it felt just wonderful. Finally, I was comfortable. Even the contractions at their heaviest were more bearable on the ball. I sighed, then moaned into my scarf. Saadet Hanim curled up on the bed. I bounced on the ball. I loved the ball at that moment and told Saadet Hanim I would happily marry it. She laughed and I realized that I was dreading having to leave the ball, could not even imagine getting up off of it. “We can take it with us,” Saadet Hanim said, seeming to read my mind.

By this time, I had a minute or two between contractions during which I could talk, walk, and function normally, but during the contractions I was completely preoccupied and unable to do much of anything except sigh and moan. When the phone rang I wondered how on earth I was going to make it all the way outside to the car, but those interludes made it possible. I made it down the hall and into the elevator before the next one came, then leaned heavily against the wall of the elevator. Saadet Hanim’s son was holding the pilates ball and told his mother to go in the elevator with me while he took the stairs down. By the time we got down to the ground floor, I was good to walk out front. It was windy and cold out. Saadet Hanim held the ball and scanned the street for Dr. Figen in her car. I leaned against the wall. Finally, she sprang into action, grabbing my hand and pulling me towards a car that had pulled over by the bus stop. I got into the car while Saadet Hanim put the ball into the trunk and we left for the hospital. I was moaning louder by now during the contractions, and unable to think much, or to talk at all except for in between contractions. Some distant part of me was noticing that the car was really very comfortable as I pressed one hand up onto the ceiling of the car and the other hand onto my forehead.

We were stuck in traffic. Saadet Hanim’s house wasn’t far from the hospital, but it was in the middle of the city. Dr. Figen had her hazards on, and she and Saadet fretted quietly about getting to the hospital in time. “Do you think she’ll have the baby in the car?” Dr. Figen asked. Saadet Hanim didn’t seem to think so. My moans were getting deeper – they seemed to be coming from deeper inside me. No, it was that they were descending lower into my body, down into my belly and out through my legs. “Do you feel like you have to poop?” Dr. Figen asked. “No,” I managed to say before the next one came. Saadet Hanim’s phone rang – it was her grandson. I let out a mighty moan and Saadet Hanim explained that the baby was on her way. She put her phone on speaker so I could hear the excited cries of both of her grandchildren. “The baby is coming now? She is going to see her baby soon??” As the contraction faded, I laughed at their excitement and noticed that we were almost there.

When we got to the hospital, Saadet Hanim sprang out of the car and someone brought a wheelchair. I sank into it as another mighty contraction hit, and felt myself being wheeled about. We stopped and it transpired that an ambulance had parked directly in front of the shallow ramp, so we were stuck at the curb. Some people had gathered to help lift the chair up on to the curb and I wanted to say that I would just stand up to make it easier but I realized that I simply couldn’t, so I stayed put, my face in my hands. The wheelchair lurched through the emergency room and into the elevator, Dr. Figen and Saadet Hanim in quick pursuit. I moaned as we went down, but luckily I had a brief reprieve as we got out of the elevator. Outside the delivery room, I saw Baki and Kaya sitting side by side, iPads in their laps. I felt a smile on my face and I called out, “Hi you guys! I love you!” as they wheeled me past, and Ali stood to join us. There was a nurse at the door and I told her I recognized her from somewhere.

Inside the delivery room, I noticed a bathroom. “I have to pee,” I said, as I took off my clothes to put on the hospital gown that another nurse was handing to me. The nurse I’d recognized was on her way out and she gave me a cheery wave as she left. “If it’s just pee, go ahead,” said Dr. Figen. ‘Then I will examine you.” I went into the toilet, my gown only half fastened, and grabbed some toilet paper. I tried to sit on the toilet but it felt all wrong. And I couldn’t seem to pee after all.

“I couldn’t pee,” I said, coming out of the toilet, still holding the toilet paper. “Never mind,” said Dr. Figen, gesturing to me to get on the weird delivery chair thing that I hated so much the last time I’d been here, giving birth to Kaya. It looked curiously welcoming this time around, though. It was covered in absorbent pads. They looked soft. I was beyond caring where I went – I would have stood on my head it they told me to. So I got up on the chair and put my legs up into the strange leg rests and Saadet Hanim told me to hang on to the bars at the front of the seat, no, not the ones on the side, the ones on the front. “Now push like you’re going to poop,” she said and I had a brief lucid moment of disbelief that we were all talking about this whole thing in precisely the manner that Ali had so offended me in. But the thought was swept away as I grabbed the bars and bore down, pushing hard. I felt the language center of my brain shut down as Turkish lost all meaning and I completely lost the thread of the conversations going on around me. All I could feel was a raw power building up inside me that needed to be released. I pushed again, distantly aware that I was making a sound, a deep guttural roar, with every push. I opened my eyes and saw Dr. Figen staring intently at something, her hands moving – massaging my perineum? I closed my eyes as another great surge of power built up inside me and clawed its way out of me. I felt a burning sensation, pushed again, and then heard everyone saying something. Ali was at my side, saying, “Breathe!” and I realized that was what Dr. Figen, Saadet Hanim, and the nurse were saying too, so I breathed, and they kept saying it so I kept breathing. Then they let me push again and Ali said, “She’s coming! I can see our baby!” and I gave another great push and felt something tumble out of me. “She’s here!” Ali said, and I opened my eyes to see a hand closed around a tiny leg, then a long body as the leg was lifted into the air and she was placed into my arms, eyes closed, warm and wet and, now, crying, and I was nearly crying myself. I said something like “Oh my God!” because I just couldn’t believe it. For hours and hours I had been laboring to deliver this baby, had carried her in my body for months, had seen her move on the ultrasound, had heart her heart beat, had felt her move inside me, but holding her at the end of all that was simply too much to comprehend. And my brain seemed to shut down again. I held my baby against my skin, Ali held me. I felt a warm gush of liquid over my chest and someone said she’d peed. I felt the placenta being delivered, felt blood, a slight sting as Dr. Figen dabbed alcohol on me. “No stitches needed,” she said, “just a few superficial tears.” I raised a fist into the air and cheered, and lay back and let them clean me up. My work was done.

Her name is Sema.