During the nine months I was pregnant, I read scores of birth stories online and in books. I really feel it was helpful for me, as someone terrified of labor, to learn about all the different ways in which labor can occur. I am not sure my birth story will be able to help anyone else, and I promise to return to light hearted blogs about egg nog and chicken butchering very soon. 🙂
At five in the morning on November 15th, 2011 I woke up to a frigid house and dreaded the fact that I could not press snooze. It was Lucy’s birthday, her zeroth birthday. I was going to the hospital to have a baby. I was exactly forty-one weeks pregnant, and while I had expected her arrival weeks earlier, she decided she was too cozy in my womb and still had not moved south for the big event.
My husband, Mr. Pilver, and my son, The Max were joining me on my labor adventure. When everyone had woken, I showered and dressed. We grabbed the bags that had been packed weeks earlier and drove in the dark to the hospital. It’s roughly a fifty minute drive. During the drive I broke down, not for the last time that day. I bawled at the idea I was about to suffer through pain. Mr. Pilver had been talking for months at how labor, while ending with a bouncy beautiful baby, seemed as a hike where at the end of the trek you knew you were going to break your femur. And I knew from delivering my son ten years earlier he was right. You do get over the pain. You will heal. But the few hours of hellacious pain are not forgotten completely. I was terrified.
During my pregnancy I had educated myself as best I could with books and websites on labor and pregnancy. When I delivered The Max I had taken a labor class and felt I was totally prepared. First births were supposed to be long. I knew pain would be there, but we had watched videos of ladies who meditated through the process and I figured I could do the same. The Max came into the world the same as he has continued through the last ten years. Less than six hours of labor caught me off guard the same as his ferocious speed he has maintained since. I hadn’t used an epidural for labor with The Max. Even if I had wanted one by the time my midwife arrived, she said it was too late. I had to be okay with natural birth, because that was the only choice I had. Two hours of pushing and a baby who was stressed, not breathing, and third degree lacerations which kept me from walking comfortably for months. I was desperate this time around to do things differently, better.
At 7 am I checked into the hospital to be induced. I wasn’t so sure about the induction process, it seemed like Lucy should come when she was ready. However, my doctor said because the level of amniotic fluid can be insufficient after a certain amount of time, it was the right thing to do. Before they could start the induction drugs, I needed to have an IV drip of Penicillin. Therefore I was stabbed with a needle and so the antibiotics began. (I tested positive as a carrier of the Strep B virus, something that did not harm me, but could be deadly for a baby. The antibiotics were for Lucy’s benefit, not my own).
A little after ten o’clock in the morning the pitocin drip began. I was terrified. All the reading I had done on artificial induction had pointed that the drugs could cause the uterus to rupture. It was a rare, rare thing, but I wanted to avoid any yuk, and a uterus rupturing was an enormous yuk. I also knew that pitocin creates far stronger contractions than your body will give on its own. So, a higher level of pain was inevitable.
At noon, I was steadily having contractions every two to three minutes. Not a single one hurt. My doctor broke my water and measured my cervix. I was three centimeters dilated. Not bad. They increased the pitocin and we carried on as we had been. I didn’t want to lie down. I wanted to be upright for as long as possible and allow gravity to work its magic and move Lucy down into the birth canal.
Contractions continued. They slowly increased the pitocin level and I was sitting around with Mr. P, The Max, and both my parents. I was in no pain. This was too easy. At three o’clock the nurse, who was a dream of a nurse by the way-super kind and nice and explaining to me all the things I feared-measured me and told me I was dilated to eight centimeters. I flipped out, in a great way. If I was at eight, this meant that labor was almost surely nearing the end. I should have been near pushing and I had not yet had a bit of pain! I was gloating with pride that I had been laboring so easily and I figured I ought to be a poster-girl for a positive labor experience.
At four thirty I was still nearly painless and the nurse decided to measure again. Whoops, I was at six centimeters. Crap. Well, six was better than three.
At six o’clock that evening my doctor arrived. I had a great doctor, but he was and is a doctor not a comforter. There was never any amount of compassion in his tone. He was there to remove the human from the inside of me and bring it to the outside of me safely. The nurses’ job was to care about me. He was all business. I understand that there are doctors, midwives and doulas that will do a far greater job of caring and comforting for a patient. I knew my doctor was highly experienced in labor and I chose him for his expertise, not his personality. He measured me. I was at four centimeters, he said. I had spent almost eight hours in labor and gained a mere centimeter. I don’t begrudge the nurse for mis-measuring me, but I was instantly in the worst mood ever. Then he instructed the nurse to increase the pitocin to the highest level they felt was safe. After he left it was just my husband and I in the room. I broke into the most shameful sobbing tears of my life. Soon the pain, the most awful pain I have ever felt took over my entire body. I told Mr. P I wanted to go home and go to bed. I wanted to get a pizza and some root beer and lie on the couch and watch TV. I wanted to take a hot bath. I wanted anything but to be sitting there not making progress and suffering through chemically induced painful labor.
After my breakdown I pulled it together and began to work through the contractions. I was doing it well, might I add. I didn’t scream a single time. I closed my eyes and let out soft low moans. It usually took three moans to get to through to the peak of the contraction. The nurse placed her hands on my enormous stomach to make sure the contractions were not too strong. About an hour and a half through this process and I was spent entirely. It was so much harder than natural birth. It was so much more painful. The pain from pitocin radiates from your uterus into the rest of your body. My thighs were hot with pain. The doctor came into the room to measure. I was at five centimeters. He had been pushing for me to get an epidural from the beginning, but now he was almost insistent. He explained that my body would relax and not fight the contractions and after the epi was in place, I should deliver rather quickly. So, I reluctantly sent for the anesthesiologist. When he arrived I asked him to sit and talk to me. And for the next half-hour I grilled him, I am certain, as he had never been grilled before. I wanted to know everything about the process, how it would make me feel, all of the risk percentages, etc. Though I did repeatedly apologize for my neurotic attitude, he must have figured I was at least a little insane.
When I had determined the anesthesiologist was probably not going to permanently injure me, he carefully shoved a needle into my back and began the drip. Within two contractions I was no longer in pain. At all. Soon I was flying on a cloud of fentanyl. Just high enough to feel great but not too high that I was stoned. This lasted about fifteen minutes until I began to itch. “Crap, I’ll never be a junkie at least,” I thought. I began scratching my neck until I made a scab. The nurse brought yet another drug to counteract the itching. I asked her to not give it to me. I didn’t want any more drugs in my system. So, instead they gave me an oxygen mask to calm me down. For whatever reason, the oxygen worked beautifully.
I told the nurse to let my guests back into the room. When my sweet Max saw his mommy lying in a bed all hooked up to IVs and wearing n oxygen mask he became very afraid and started crying. It scared him to see mom like this. I held his hand and explained it was just to calm me down because I had been shaking. He didn’t completely believe me, but he wiped his tears away and sat next to me holding my hand protectively. It only felt like a few minutes after the epidural had been in place, though it was an hour and a half and I felt huge amounts of pressure on my cervix and pelvis. I called for the doctor and I was indeed fully dilated and needing to push. I was so grateful the time had finally come to meet Lucy!
Everyone went into the waiting room except Mr. Pilver. I fumbled through a few pushes before getting the rhythm of things. I could tell if I was pushing correctly by the tone in the doctor’s voice when he said, “Good!” Short, low pitched ‘goods’ meant I was not doing much good. High pitched “Gooooods!” meant things were progressing. Also, I could feel everything, painfully. I only felt pain in the birth canal, though, and not having to focus on contraction pain made it so much easier to think about pushing.
As she moved lower, the pain increased. When her head was crowning, I asked the doctor if I could reach and feel her head. When I was delivering Max I had been asked by my midwife if I wanted to feel his head as it crowned and I was in so much agony I didn’t want to do anything other than get that baby out of my body. Since I was so much calmer, I was able to actually enjoy pushing. Even with the pain and pressure. As I touched her soft head, she wiggled back inside me about an inch, I assume scared of what was outside in the scary world. The doctor, the nurse, Mr P, and I began laughing hysterically. It wasn’t the sort of laugh you expect to share while in labor. “This is how labor should always be,” I thought. This was good. The next two pushes were enough to bring Lucy into the world.
She was beautiful. I cannot say that in the right words to make you understand how beautiful she was. Immediately she was placed on my chest. Her skin was almost pure white from the vernix covering her body. Her eyes were the deepest blue and they were enormous and wide open. I looked at her whole face, and it was amazing how she mirrored her daddy’s looks. She was creating wonderful squeaking noises, but not crying. After Mr. P cut the cord, the nurse took Lucy to be cleaned off and dressed. When she was returned to me I called for my family in the waiting room to come meet my daughter. Max held her carefully, so proud to be a big brother. My parents snapped dozens of pictures of their newest grandchild. Mr. Pilver beamed with admiration for his little girl. When everyone left for the night, we were moved to a different room. We spent two days in the hospital. I didn’t sleep much. Lucy did not sleep at all the first night. I just held her and marveled at her adorableness.
One thing most people don’t think about is the after-pains of birth. Nursing hurts, walking hurts, even standing up is awful. I began having hormonal headaches and zingy-painful contractions when I nursed. My body was in so much more agony than during pregnancy. Also, you don’t shrink back to normal size overnight. I weighed myself on the morning we went to the hospital, stark naked, in the bathroom. When we arrived home I was anxious to see how much a baby, a placenta, and amniotic fluid would take off the scale. Logically, it HAD to be at least twelve pounds. Imagine my shock when I was only three pounds lighter. Nearly twenty-four hours of IV drips had plumped me enough to make me look like the Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. Max said I wasn’t fat, just squishy. Thankfully I shed the water weight in about a week and am now about ten pounds heavier than my original pre-pregnancy weight. It’ll come off, I’m hoping. Until then I have two pair of jeans that fit.
Lucy is fantastic. She really is a good baby. Thankfully she allows me to sleep enough at night, though she will wake every two to four hours for a quick meal. She’s growing so fast, I can already see differences in her three week old body. Her eyes are deep blue, but that can change. Her hair is growing so fast, which I hadn’t expected. Right now her locks appear to be a dark shade of red, but that could change too. Like any mother, I think my baby is perfect.
After years of fearing epidurals, I’m grateful I got one. If I ever do have another child, I will again attempt to labor naturally. However, if I feel as though the pain is too great for me to handle, I am certain I will call for the epidural once again. This time, will less badgering for the anesthesiologist.