Anyone who's ever known a mother has heard a story of a labor/delivery that seemed to go on forever. 8 hours...12 hours...24 hours, but some how I managed to be in labor for - FOUR DAYS. Yep...it's true!!!
"How is that possible?" you might ask. Well, the short answer is -- because I was an idiot. (so you can just stop here if you're a Reader's Digest-type)
I'm an overachiever by nature, so when I was pregnant, I was going to have an A+ delivery.
None of that hours of messy, painful, unattractive, unfeminine, screaming and carrying on stuff for me...I was going to have The Mother of All Deliveries. Calm, serene, maybe some candlelight and a little Mozart (supposed to be good for the baby's brain).
I read EVERYTHING I could about giving birth, books, websites, pamphlets...you name it. I actually wrote (and this is hysterical to me in retrospect) a 3-page "birth plan". For the record "birth plan" is an oxymoron. There are things you can "plan" for -- and then there is birth. Which does with you as it damn well pleases.
After weighing all of my birthing options, I decided to go the "Hypno-birthing" route. Hypno-birthing is basically a method of self-hypnosis that helps you manage your contractions, so hopefully you are not writhing in pain -- and carrying on like a complete lunatic.
My husband and I went to about 8-weeks of this training with three other similarly clueless couples (ALL of whom had never given birth before...hmmm... ka-winky dink? I think not.) Anyway, as part of the technique I had to look at this big picture of a pink flower... a chrysanthemum or something. We were told to think calming, relaxing thoughts and breath very deeply. And true-to-form I went to my classes and I did all of my "homework". I was very committed to the process and I got REALLY good and putting myself "under".
The Hypno-birthing teacher took every opportunity to share with us with tales of the great evils of the medical profession. Her loathing of doctors was palpable. She portrayed a dark conspiracy of OB/GYNs who'd give you a C-section, just so they wouldn't miss their tee times.
She told us of all of the "dangers" to the baby and mother from C-sections. She told us how epidurals were baaad...very baaaaaaad for mother and baby. She told us how inductions were baaad...very baaaaaad for the mother and the baby.
She also took it for granted that ALL of us were breastfeeding, because only a really selfish (or ignorant) woman would rob her baby of the many benefits of breast milk. Her opinions and agendas went on and on. And I bought into everyone pretty much hook, line and sinker. Like I said, I was an idiot.
Before I new it I was in my 9th month and 9 days past my due date. Late one Saturday night I got this weird crampy feeling, not too painful but it definitely got my attention. I was up all night and I started timing the contractions (I wasn't even sure that's what they were, maybe they were Braxton-Hicks). They were happening every 15 minutes or so. The doctor had said that I should call her when they were about 7 minutes or so apart, so I wasn't there yet. So I waited....and waited.. and waited...I used my Hypo-birthing breathing, I looked at my pink flower picture and I spent most of Saturday night and all day and night Sunday waiting to see if the contractions (if that's what they were) were going to get worse or closer together.
By Sunday the cramps were definitely worse, but still no closer together, but surely this couldn't go on indefinitely. I figured it was just a matter of hours before the contractions would be 7 minutes apart and I would call the doctor and go to at the hospital. But they never did. They stayed the same.
By Monday, still not believing that I was REALLY in labor, I drove myself to the doctor. The doctor did an exam and said that I wasn't dilated enough to be in labor yet and that the contraction were still too far apart. I told her that I'd been up for two nights now, because I was so uncomfortable. But she assured me that I wasn't ready yet. Besides, I had driven myself to the doctor's office...and apparently you can't do that when you're really in labor.
This went on all day Monday and all day Tuesday. The pains never got closer together, but did get more and more intense and painful. By Tuesday night it was really unbearable, I looked at that picture a lot and tried to stay calm. I bit my lip a lot, I grabbed on to the back of chairs to brace myself, but the contractions were still about 10 minutes or more apart. I called the doctor and said, "Listen, I know they're not seven minutes or less, but I have been up since Saturday night and I'm in a lot of pain."
So they told me to go to the hospital. The doctor on call (one of my doctor's partners whom I had only seen once during the pregnancy) checked me out and said I wasn't dilated enough yet and the contractions were still too far apart, but that I could stay in the hospital. Whew!!
I had planned to have a doula which I think is Greek for "G-d's greatest gift to a woman in labor". This woman was a saint. She arrived about an hour after I got there and stayed with me until the bitter end.
For the next 26-hours I labored in the hospital. I never slept. I just breathed, looked at the picture of that stupid flower, went in and out of a hot tub (it's was not as much fun as it sounds, believe me), tried to walk up and down the hospital halls -- anything to get things moving in the right direction. But they never did. I went through three different doctors (none of them "mine) who tried everything to get me to have a "normal" delivery.
- They broke my water
- They gave me Pitosin to speed up the contractions
- Apparently, I had something called,"tetanic contractions". Normal contractions typically last for less than a minute. Overachiever that I am --- mine lasted for about 5-minutes on average. (At the time I thought they were saying, "Titanic contractions" and I remembered how that story ended...)
- Groups of residents came in with senior doctors, pointing at screens and speaking in hushed tones -- they looked very interested in what I was going through. (By the way -- that's never a good thing, having doctors looking amazed and curious. You want them bored and yawning. What the hell were they doing in there anyway? Didn't they have a tee time to make?)
- And then about 20 hours into it, they recommended an epidural, which I begrudgingly accepted. But, I felt like a total failure. Even that didn't go smoothly, they tried and couldn't get the needle into my back. I swear. Finally, they had to get a stronger needle -- a little tip for girls who workout, most doctors are NOT used to dealing with muscular backs. "Geez, you've got a lot of muscular development in your back". "Thanks, Doc. Good to know. How's about you grab a bigger horse needle and we get the show on the road here?")
But once they got the needle in, WOW...that was some serious pain relief!!! Presto -- Gone!!!
After almost four days of really being in pain -- I wasn't anymore. I wanted to find whoever invented the epidural and kiss their feet. For the first time since Saturday night, I was able to sleep (for a whole 45-minutes).
But even with the pain gone things still weren't progressing normally it was looking clearer and clearer to me that a C-section was in the offing. Truthfully, by that point I didn't care, I was so drained and exhausted from the pain and the lack of sleep. Besides, this epidural stuff rocked! I figured they would keep me numb and I would still be awake and able to see my baby being born. BUT SURPRISE...
The epidural was just starting to wear off and they were getting ready to give me another dose when my son's vitals took a turn for the worse. They had been monitoring him all along for any signs of fetal distress and things were fine up to that point. Then all of the sudden I must have sent off some silent alarm in the nursing station, because it seemed like the entire hospital came rushing into my room.
They all started yelling at me to get on all fours on top of the bed, which instantly turned into a gurney. I later learned that this is what they do when they are worried that the cord is wrapped around the baby's neck, causing "cord compression".
I was trying to get on all fours on the gurney but my legs were still numb so they flipped me into position and tried to hold me there. Staff was all around me, pushing the gurney and running down the hospital corridor along side of me. My Doula was right next to me, holding me in that position and calmly saying like an angel..."don't worry, everything is going to be alright".
Within a minute I was in an operating room with an anesthesiologist leaning over me with a Mickey Mouse nose. But the funny thing was, at this point I was calmer than ever. I honestly didn't care if I lived or died. I wasn't frightened at all. Whatever happened, I knew that this ordeal was going to be over in the next few minutes. I calmly and quickly told the doctors leaning over me about my allergy to a certain medicine and the history of bleeding problems that is in my family -- and with that I was out.
I woke up later alone in the recovery room. I could hear the nurses making small talk to one another. I asked what I had (I didn't find out the baby's sex in advance)-- and I heard a voice from somewhere say, "you had a boy". I asked if I could see him and they wheeled me up to the room.
My husband was up in the room with my son and my parents. My parents live at least 2 hours away, so I figured I must have been out for awhile. But the truth is, my parents were so freaked out during this whole ordeal that they had (against my "orders") driven to the hospital and were waiting in their car in the parking lot. (Now that I'm a parent I understand that completely. If it was my kid I would have done the same thing.)
Then they wheeled my son in. All cleaned up, swaddled, sleeping, wearing a silly blue hat and looking well...kinda like Papa Smurf. And they handed him to me...I held him and I was crying a lot. I'm not exactly sure why, but I was a mess from the C-section pain (they had me on a morphine drip), not sleeping for four days, the 26-hours in the hospital, the laboring at home before that, my hormones being outta whack...everything. But mostly, I was so grateful and relieved that he was okay -- and that I was alive to see him.
Honestly, I'm not sure what the moral of this very long story is. But I do know that if I had it to do over again. I would have been A LOT more vocal and insistent that there was MORE medical intervention...A LOT SOONER.
I wouldn't have tried to control my pain. Something tells me if I had been dropping F-bombs left and right things would have moved a whole lot faster. Labor is not the time for good manners or being quiet and controlled.
I also would have had an epidural right away -- for sure. Yes, I know there are plenty of horror stories about epidurals, but there are also horror stories about natural childbirth...I think I just told you one.
If I had been more proactive and open to more medical involvement, I believe that I would have been in labor for a lot less time and that I might have been able to actually see my son being born.
I also think that many women who have C-sections feel like failures because they didn't have a "real delivery". But, the truth is if I was delivering my son while going across the country in a covered wagon, both he and I probably wouldn't have survived. I'm very grateful to be living in a time where I had the option of having a C-section.
So if you are having a child, I recommend you tune out other people's opinions and agendas -- even mine.
Do your own research and talk with your doctor about options. Availing yourself of medical interventions which can make you more comfortable and ultimately save both lives is nothing to feel guilty about.
Give yourself permission TO DO WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO do to make the experience as pleasant and comfortable for BOTH mother and baby. Rather than having a single "birth plan" (which I can almost guarantee you will not pan out) give yourself a whole host of "birth options" that you feel comfortable using.
I think society places a ridiculous amount of pressure on women to "do it the right way" when they deliver. That's ridiculous. The "right way" is whatever way makes it as tolerable and safe for you and your baby.