I found the birth of my daughter, Ivy, to have been traumatic. I was hoping for a more granola experience as promised by the Business of Being Born DVD. However, nothing really went according to plan. I had been told to create a birth plan with the understanding that it was more like a “birth idea”. Basically, the experience of childbirth is a wild card no matter how low risk you were when you first got knocked up.
I started having contractions on a Wednesday night. I was unable to get any quality sleep that night, because the labor pains were too much. On Thursday, I continued having contractions. They were more mild during the day but started to pick up in intensity toward nightfall. I used a heating pad to weather the storm while hanging out at a good friend’s house. The conversation was a nice distraction from the regular waves of discomfort coursing through my uterus.
That night, while eating a midnight snack in between attacks, I felt a gush of liquid stream out of me. Yikes! I knew what that meant. I woke up my husband, Derek, in a tizzy. “My water broke! I think we have to go to the hospital”. Turns out it was a false alarm. They completed a swab and didn’t find any evidence of amniotic fluid present. I was only 1.5 centimeters dilated (you have to be at 10 to push a baby out). We were given the option of walking the halls for an hour to see if I would make any progress by doing so. No dice. Pacing the maternity ward did nothing to hurry things along, and so, we were sent home.
No sleep that night either. The contractions were quite intense. I spent an hour sitting on the floor of my shower, letting hot water cascade over my pregnant belly until it ran out. My cat, Emily, was my doula. She followed me around the house looking concerned while I wailed out at random intervals.
The next morning I had a clinic appointment. I tried to maintain my composure while checking in. My façade was fooling nobody. “Are you okay?” asked the lady behind the registration desk. “Just having contractions” I quipped. “Well, that’s good!” she replied. “Yeah”…but I wasn’t convinced. After 2 nights without sleep and plenty of pain to boot, I was getting very discouraged. I had already decided that I hadn’t made any progress overnight. My contractions had been painful but not all that different from the evening before when we were sent home from the hospital. I started to cry, feeling rather hysterical, in front of my midwife. I explained that I hadn’t slept in 2 days. I was so confident that I would be in labor forever that I hemmed and hawed when she asked if I wanted to be checked again. “I really don’t think anything has changed.” “I would be very uncomfortable sending you home without at least checking to see where you’re at.” “Okay,” I relented.
“You’re at 3 centimeters, so I’m admitting you. We can break your water to try and hurry things along and get you an epidural so you can get some rest.” I explained that I had hoped to go without an epidural and would rather labor awhile to see how things went. She was understanding.
Once checked into the labor room, all dignity goes immediately out the window. There are regular cervix checks, unflattering mesh underpants with monster pads to be worn, and gushing “fluids” of all kinds onto the bed, the floor, my clothes. Derek was a rock during the entire experience. The only strike he gets was for constantly asking me “Are you having another one?” when a contraction would take hold. When you suddenly get very internal, have your eyes closed, and are breathing heavily…I should think it was perfectly obvious what was going on. In any case, once it was established that I was indeed “having another one”, he reminded me to breathe and was a comforting presence.
The whirlpool bath was my safe haven. My contractions were still very uncomfortable, but more manageable when surrounded by hot water, jet streams, and relaxing white noise. My left arm draped over the side of the tub where my IV hep lock had been placed. My right arm was terribly bruised from the 2 veins that were blown during previous attempts at placing said IV. I looked like a battered woman and certainly felt that way. As a child, the scariest part of childbirth in my mind was that you had to get an IV put in. Ha! An IV is like a pinprick compared to the hell of uterine contractions. Of course a prepubescent child could not possibly have any clue about things of that nature.
We were checked in around 10:30 in the morning. My water had been broken to speed up my contractions. After laboring for another 4 or 5 hours, I had had enough. I went onto my smart phone to do some research on the pros and cons of epidurals. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Pain relief wins! “I’m ready for an epidural,” I told my nurse with confidence.
The anesthesiologist brought me some forms to sign and my wonder drug. “You should still feel pressure, but you shouldn’t really feel your contractions after about 15 minutes.” “Okay!” I smiled, feeling very content with my choice to give up on my plans to have a “natural” birth. Sorry, Ricki Lake. I just don’t get it. I know the experience of childbirth has been purported to be magical for some women warriors, but I would never use that word to describe what was happening within my body. My innards felt like a battleground that I couldn’t run away from. Perhaps the fact that I hadn’t slept in 2 days and was making ridiculously minimal progress had something to do with it!
The anesthesiologist delivered on her promise. I felt the pain melt away and suddenly I had hope again…and an appetite! I had brought snacks for Derek and I but wasn’t able to bring myself to eat much before this point. Everything I brought (trail mix, crackers…) sounded disgusting to me. Instead, I had sipped on an Orange Gatorade for my “lunch”. I was put on a clear liquid diet after getting my epidural, but that was fine by me. I was really excited to drink chicken broth and eagerly awaited the arrival of my dinner tray while watching The Simpsons. It was about 7:30pm when my tray arrived. I happily noshed away on cherry gelatin and then attempted to “rest” (see: impossible).
After the epidural was in full swing, my midwife once again checked my progress. “You’re still at 3.5 cm,” she told me with a sympathetic tone. Holy shit! My contractions had gotten more intense since my water bag had been artificially broken. What the hell was going on in there if I wasn’t dilating?! After learning that all of that time and pain had been for naught, I was more sure than ever that an epidural was the only way to go at that point. I mean, seriously, how much longer was this going to take?
Forever, actually. Well, okay, only several more hours. But it FELT like forever.
Pitocin was started when the epidural slowed my progress. Ugh, the “P” word that pregnant women of all stripes dread. It’s one of the most common drugs used to induce labor or speed up a stalled labor. After 40 weeks, I had started to panic about when I would want to be induced. Up to 41 weeks in a low risk pregnancy is considered quite safe, but things get a bit murky between then and 42 weeks. I did a ton of research to try and come to the best decision, weighing the pros and cons of induction with waiting for nature to take its course. In the end, I didn’t have to be induced. However, that nasty drug still found its way into my IV sooner than I had hoped. Pitocin is also routinely given after birth to stop postpartum bleeding. I knew this and was fine with it. My goal was simply to avoid the drug during labor since it has a reputation of causing contractions that are more intense and closer together, sometimes causing fetal distress. Of course…this is what happened in my case.
My labor team was great with respecting wishes. I could have stood my ground and refused the Pitocin but at this point, I was putting all of my confidence in their knowledge and skills. I didn’t have the energy to argue, and I was getting very sick of being in labor by this point. The plan was to start me on a very low dose and to monitor my baby via scalp electrode (another doohickey I would have been happy to avoid…oh well). I was started on 2 units of Pitocin, and things were looking up when I had dilated all the way to 6 cm within an hour. After that, my labor stalled yet again, so they bumped up the Pitocin to 4 units. Every so often a few nurses would tag team the task of moving me from laying on one side to my other side. At one point, things got very serious and scary. There were some hushed, urgent voices to bring more people into the room. I could hear my baby’s heartbeat slow to an unusually low rate. I laid there feeling like absolute shit, barely able to move the lower half of my body and with an oxygen mask attached to my face. Suddenly a nurse said “Let’s get you on your hands and knees!” trying to sound reassuring, but more or less giving away the fact that things were not going well. Fortunately, once I got into a hands and knees position, her heartbeat normalized after a little while (though it felt like an eternity). The Pitocin had to be stopped since it was stressing my little peanut out. So once again, labor stalled…
I started to experience back labor that was horrendous, the worst physical pain I’ve ever known. I moaned, I cried, I held onto the bed railing as though it was the only object keeping me grounded during a passing tornado, and I dug my nails into Derek’s skin (poor guy). The only thing that made it bearable was a heating pad and strong counter pressure applied to my back by an OB nurse, an angel by the name of Beth. Her technique was fantastic. Whenever anyone else tried to step in, I wanted to scream. Although, Derek got the hang of it eventually. My baby was sunny side up, and the epidural did not fix the pain that went along with her malpositioned body. For the last 4 hours of labor, I had one repetitive thought: “Just cut her out of me!”
I had been in labor for days with no sleep and little progress to show for it. The back labor caused me to vomit profusely, all of the liquids I had happily slurped down just a couple hours prior, gone within a few minutes of heaving.
I was stuck at 9 cm for the last few hours. My midwife and nurses reassuring me that “You’re almost there. Just a little bit longer”. I never questioned their confidence. However, I did wonder how the hell I was supposed to summon the energy to push a baby out of me when the pain of my back labor combined with sleep deprivation made the idea completely out of logical reach.
Meanwhile, the back labor intensified and I never made it to 10 cm. My sympathetic midwife finally asked the question I had been waiting to hear “Do you want me to call in the surgeon?”
Jesus Christ, yes. I wanted that very much. Of course, when you fantasize about the type of birth you’d like to have, very few aim for invasive abdominal surgery. But it’s all relative. “How long does a C-section take?” I inquired, amazed at the notion that this hell was actually (finally!) about to end. “About 45 minutes”
Fucking Sign. Me. Up!
And so I was to have a C-section for failure to progress. More paperwork. Blah blah blah…serious risks…blah blah blah…where’s the damn anesthesiologist already? I said I’m fucking ready!
Being carted through the halls gave me flashbacks of watching ER. I was wheeled into a freezing cold room and given the spinal. “I feel like I can’t breathe”. “That’s just the anesthesia making it hard to feel yourself breathing. Your oxygen levels are fine. We’re watching them.” I felt fairly reassured but really did not enjoy the sensation and found it hard to not focus on my perceived hyperventilation.
My legs went numb and felt icy. The spinal spread all the way to my fingers, making them numb. “You got a good spinal!” I was informed based on my level of numbness. Well, that’s nice I guess…
Ivy Linn was pulled out (“born”?) at 4:37am, on a Saturday morning at exactly 41 weeks gestation. I heard her cry and my heart soared. She had passed meconium in the womb, so her nose and throat needed to be suctioned out. Because of the urgency of the situation, delayed cord clamping was not in the cards. Birth plan idea #? out the window.
She was brought over to my chest for some skin-to-skin. A wiry little thing at 6 lbs, 1 oz, she was pale with huge blue eyes that seemed to peer into my soul when I met her gaze. “Oh my God, I LOVE HER!”
I had prepared myself for whatever feelings I might/might not feel when I finally met the tenant of my uterus. I knew that some women fell instantly in love and others formed a bond with their babies more gradually, and I had given myself permission to not feel guilty if that were the case. Totally unnecessary preparation. I was totally in love…and terrified. Opening myself up to loving someone so much that it hurt put my anxiety into overdrive. I had racing thoughts and felt like I was on the cusp of a nervous breakdown. How will I ever sleep again? What if something terrible happens to her? Who is allowing me to be in charge of a human’s health and happiness? Ahh! Help!
My midwife told me in a follow-up visit that when they were putting my uterus back (um, gross!) that it was positioned in a “weird place”. I thought of the anatomy of a car whose engine was tucked away in an inconvenient space under the hood. Who the hell decided to put that there? No wonder Ivy was never fully engaged in my pelvis…and the contractions had gotten stronger but to no avail. I was advised to opt for a scheduled C-section on the next go-around (should there be one).
My baby blues were strong during the first few days. I had trouble talking about the details of the birth. When Ivy cried, I cried, feeling helpless. Eventually we discovered she was starving, because I wasn’t making enough colostrum to meet her needs. A nurse informed us that smaller babies often try to “catch up” by eating a lot. We were able to supplement with donor breast milk (awesome!) until our allotted stash ran out and we had to turn to formula. This made me feel like a failure as a woman. I couldn’t birth my own baby nor meet her needs. Even though I knew I was being unnecessarily hard on myself, the hysteria created by my hormones and insomnia prevailed. One night during our hospital stay, Derek brought Ivy to the nurse’s station to give me a chance to sleep. Instead I balled uncontrollably.
Sleep was illusive during the entire hospital stay. There were bright lights streaming from the charting computer and call light system, crying babies and heartbeat monitors discernable from nearby rooms, and a constant parade of staff at all hours of the day. I was tethered to so many devices that finding a comfortable position was impossible. I had an IV in my arm, an oxygen monitor connected to my toe, compression pants that made me sweat, and a catheter. If a nurse wasn’t coming in to check my vitals or turn off an IV alarm, then a pediatrician, person from environmental services, my midwife, visitors, a plebotomist, or OB GYN would be sure to pop by. Someone would disturb the peace at least every 2 hours. I slept a total of about 3 hours over the 4 days that I was hospitalized, getting more insane by the minute.
On the day before discharge my blood pressure was high for the first time since getting pregnant. I knew it was from stress and lack of sleep. I started to worry that they weren’t going to let me leave although I seemed to have been more worked up about it than they were. The next day, we were sent home to care for our human all by ourselves.
I was given instructions on specific symptoms to look out for. My hypochondria was all too happy to adopt its newest member. Over the next few weeks, I’d fret over everything. I was sure I had an infection and Ivy had hypothyroidism (due to borderline/inconclusive results that prompted a second blood draw).
I grieved over my loss of control, all of the disappointments between my birthing expectations and the harsh reality I was forced to endure. I recognize how lucky I am that we got our healthy Ivy out of the deal and as any parent or cliché sentiment can validate, it was all worth it. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be lining up to give birth again any time soon…or ever.