I have very few and limited memories of specific details from my labor. I remember the sun coming up. The beautiful view from my window. I faced this amazing sky bridge that climbed like a modern art piece from the right of my picture frame window off to another amazing structure mounted on a hill. To the left of that the panoramic view swept beyond the immediate buildings to reach the farthest corners of Portland. Fog rolling in and the sun rolling up. The sun was the only que I took when it came to telling time. Time stands still when you are laboring. The whole "3 minutes between contractions" means jack squat when you zone in and forget your name and all words. I knew though that as the sun was rising that the time was soon for this baby to come. I felt relief. I felt it coming.
Now this is a memory, so who knows how precise this memory is, but that doesn't matter one iota to me. The windows were huge and the light so beautiful as it came in the room. Again, my memory wasn't as if I set up a tripod camera and shot video. It was as if my head were reeling, blacking in and out of the here and now. It was wobbly and unsure. Now, this memory is no longer laced with the pain I'm sure I was screaming through.
Pain is very impermanent. It's almost like dreams. The memory of pain starts to slip away almost as soon as it ends. It isn't because of healing, that takes time. It perhaps has something to do with that fine line between pleasure and pain. Both are so imminent and fleeting. They are never here to stay and never easy to define. I can only recall the pain now as if I were a third person describing it. Even my still discomfort from stitches is manageable and forgettable. You'd think being in the "pain" of labor I would be alert and aware. I was neither. I was even absent and transcended. I was never floating above or outside my body. Inside, my mind curled itself into the tiniest furry ball, like a kitten napping lazily and never to be awoken easily in the darkest corner of my internal self. It wasn't in distress. It just let it's natural sleep cycle roll over itself and set in for some essential mental hibernation.
My pain tolerance is high. Huh. I knew this, but it is surprising when it happens. Never broken a bone, had a severe cut, or even a surgery. Sprained my ankle twice. Those do really hurt. Though when I think of it, the pain is equal to what I experienced the weekend of Grace's birth.
What did I think about when I was thinking? Well, lots of the word "no." I most often was just pleading with the contraction and resisting the pain. When I breathed deeply and grunted deeply, the contractions were easier to handle. I know I confused everyone around me though. However, I didn't know so until after the delivery and everyone was recounting the heroing tale of my rite of passage into motherhood.(Funny, you don't feel like you are a hero. You feel like you are on a shit journey that takes forever and hurts real bad. Like Frodo. Sure he got mead afterwards in the shire, but only he knows that is a poor reward for the experience. It's the experience itself.)
It was also a funny time in my head. Though I never laughed or smiled during labor. That would have been external. This voice in my head that makes me laugh now was casual and she was just observing the whole ordeal very nonchalantly. Like the little angel or devil on my shoulder wrapped in one.
For example, I thought of quite a few Finding Nemo quotes while I was waling or groaning, but mostly while I was meditating and breathing to find that happy place where pain just slipped away and became "pressure" and napping was an option to forget my rapidly, though at the time it seemed laborious, approaching union with my daughter. In the bathtub, said place of this escape from the reality of the 9cm pain, I was able to block out most senses except some touch. Feeling just the water jets, feeling my right foot tap the jet for one and half hours, and feeling Kris spray my leg with the rather tempermental shower head hose. I'd think my meditation through the contraction, "You have to give in to get the baby. Give into the pain. It's not pain. It's pressure. Open cervix. Open and out." Mostly though I saw the words in my head, "Give in. Get baby." The angel/devil version of myself said something hilarious, when I now laugh to think of it, of the word "Escape." But pronounces "Es- Caw- Pay" like Dori in Nemo. I would say it Dori style over and over.
When people would tell me to breathe because I'd be holding my breath in fear of the oncoming contraction, their "just keeping grunting/breathing/moaning" would prompt that casual narrator in my head to say "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, what do we do? We swim, swim." I didn't giggle then. Funny I can remember that so much better than I can the pain.
The one pain that I can still remember, because the remnants of it still linger in my anatomy due to some typical, common, annoying tearing. "THE RING OF FIRE!" When I felt her head crowning, I thought that was the worst pain. I was wrong. It was her escaping my fragile and oddly stretchy, elastic feminine parts that prompted the very kind nurse to encourage me through "THE RING OF FIRE!" "It's just the ring of fire which means you are so close! You are so close! Such a strong momma." That's what she called me. Strong momma. And though I said few words the whole process, I do believe I caved and whimpered, "The ring of fire?" "Oh yes honey," she said. "That means this baby is almost here. Just a few more pushes."
I didn't imagine Nemo crossing through that ring. I think I was just like him. Scared of this ominous and, well, fiery threshold that was our rite of passage into adulthood. He braved this ring, with everyone lit with fear and distress at the challenge he was about to face. And he leapt through, finding it was rather easy. In fact, nothing like what he thought. The fear gone. Replaced with purpose and with resolve and pride. Now, although he clearly felt no real pain like I did by passing an 8lb 11oz baby out of his vagina in 14 hours of labor and 45 minutes of pushing, I think you get my point. I didn't imagine the other side. What would the other side of the ring of fire look like?
Well, she was covered in blood, a little blue, but entirely cute and entirely mine. My eyes wide with adrenaline, my pupils dilated and my hands shaking, I had my baby from my inside lay on my belly on the outside. I was naked to a room of 7+ people. My stuff all out there for everyone to see. I'm not in the least bit bashful about it. It was beautiful. Ideal. That room was filled with love and the tears of people who loved a baby I'd made and they'd never met. In fact, I don't know if that room exists anymore. It felt ethereal. Like it wasn't quite in this dimension. Surely if I can't remember how I got there, then I'll never find my way back. Naked in my skin, I was also revealed in my vulnerability, my instinctive strength, and my lack of almost all awareness. It can be described in one word. Trust. It had been that way since I went into that room. It was safe. It was like checking into a room in heaven. It overlooked this impossible bridge that surely I'd imagined from a memory of a post modern painting that I subconsciously willed into my dream as a metaphor for the passage I took that day. My bubble of a room overlooked the cityscape of a waking city that for me felt quiet and restful. Not empty, just resting. It was waiting for Grace Emily Rihanna Grow Schuff to be delivered. I could never make my way back to that room since, like a fairy tale, I lost my bread crumbs or in fact never had any. I can look at Beth, Emily, Kris, my nurses, my Obs, and say "and you were there. And you were there too." Was it really just a dream?
And now I know what is on the other side of that ring of fire. No more pain. Barely a memory of it. I remember my husband's touch. My sisters crying. And the bridge of my baby's nose. The one I feared I'd never get to see or kiss. And poof. There she was. And like Nemo, the challenge to get to the other side was from then on a fading memory and one that can't scare me anymore.