Well, my little baby will celebrate a birthday yearly. Archer came just two days before his due date, on March 9th. I had been working my whole pregnancy, and the Sunday before I gave birth was the first time I had to call in due to a long day of practice contractions and not being able to sleep during the day (I work night shift). Luckily, I felt better the next day, and went in to work as normal, not knowing it would be my last shift.
Silas was on spring break that week, so when I got home from work, exhausted, I had to stay up to take care of him. No worries, I had planned for this. We played in the morning, watched some TV so I could rest, and I napped during his nap. Still, getting to bed that night was a wonderful feeling, even if I had been having trouble sleeping for ages now.
Sometime around six, I woke up and realized I was having contractions. I don’t know how I knew these were different from practice contractions, but they reminded me of period cramps and seemed somewhat regular, though I was half asleep and not about to time them. An hour later, as Smiley got up to go to work, I told him I was contracting a little.
“I’m not going to have the baby any time soon,” I said. “But we’re going to have a baby today.”
We went back and forth for a while and he decided to stay home from work. My contractions were only every five minutes apart and not terribly painful, but I practiced breathing through each one. I went into the play room and put music going on the computer, ready to spend the morning at home. I asked Smiley to see if his mother could be on standby to watch Silas when we needed to go to the hospital and through some communication error, he ended up inviting both of his parents over to our house. As in, they got there within an hour or so.
I wasn’t ready to go to the hospital at all, and my contractions were still spaced out at five minutes apart. But being at home felt awkward now, though it was no fault of anyone there. I went to take a long shower and spent some time in the bedroom away from everyone, but I wanted Smiley to be there with me. So I hung out with everyone for a while, making some soup to eat and trying to decide on the next step.
Eventually I did have to go to the hospital to get some antibiotics because my GBS swab had come back positive, so Smiley and I decided to head out. Still, it was a gorgeous day, so I had him take us to the park so I could walk before going to the hospital and to take one last pregnancy picture with me wearing my favorite maternity tank top.
I knew it was still too early for the hospital. I didn’t want to get to the hospital and be told to go and walk! We walked around the entire park. It was hilarious; typically I’m the one telling Smiley to walk faster, but even at his slowest pace, I was barely keeping up. And when a contraction hit, I would try to walk, but my steps would falter and all I could do was motion for Smiley to come and let me lean against him. It wasn’t very painful, but it was definitely enough to stop me from walking.
We were lapped more than twice by office workers taking advantage of the good weather during their lunch break, but I didn’t mind. We passed a group of coworkers having a baby shower. The food smelled so good.
When we walked over the little bridge, the spray from the fountain in the lake misted over us and that felt wonderful. Finally, after about an hour, we got back to the car. Getting in the car might have been the worst part, because I would have a contraction every time I sat down! But it still felt early, so Smiley drove to a smoothie place along the way to the hospital and I got a peach smoothie. That was good and I felt better about going to the hospital then.
The hospital parking lot was packed. I joked that we should just go home and I’ll have the baby on another day. We ended up parking down a level and walking over and up to the labor and delivery entrance. My contractions were still relatively far apart and I worried it was still too early. But when the nurse checked me at triage, I was five centimeters dilated, so it was off to a room for me.
I got a two-for-one special – a new graduate nurse and her preceptor. They got me set up in my room, and, after a disastrous attempt at a hand IV from the new nurse, her preceptor put an IV in my wrist. I felt bad, because I know how nerve wracking it is to learn IV skills, but the IV in my hand was making me cry from pain! And her preceptor kept asking if I was having a contraction. I was like, well, yes, I am contracting also, but the IV is what is making me cry!
So eventually, they got my dose of antibiotics going and left me and Smiley to our own devices. Smiley set up a Bluetooth speaker so that I could listen to music off of my phone. Perfect. I meandered around the room, trying to find a comfortable spot to labor at. I put the bedside table at a comfortable height and leaned over it during contractions. Smiley nearly killed me by reading the labor support tips and acting them out – it turns out that laughter is cruel during contractions!
My nurse came in to monitor my contractions and baby (yay for intermittent monitoring!) and asked me to rate my pain during the peak of a contraction. Hmm… 7/10. There was definitely room for it to get worse, but at the same time, ouch. I focused during every contraction, breathing slowly and thinking that I was one contraction closer to meeting my baby.
I also requested a yoga ball and stuck it on the bed so that I could be on my knees and lean over it. Good. The contractions were still manageable, though I found myself focusing on other sensations to get through some of them. The graduate nurse commented that I was doing all of the things that she had been told are good for women in labor to do and I wanted to be like, heck yeah, I’m a labor superstar. I’m glad I didn’t say that out loud!
After a while, the doctor came to see me – my doctor wasn’t on call today, so I got his partner – and it was ok. He asked how I was doing and I said, “well, I’m not dead yet, so I think I’m doing ok.”
I, uh… I don’t think he got my humor. He asked me what I meant and then explained that as long as I didn’t mind continuing like this, I could keep laboring for a while longer and then they would check me again. Sounds good to me. I asked my nurse if I could get into the tub for a bit.
Smiley filled the tub for me while I moved around the room. I found that lunging during my contractions helped manage the pain, so I clung to the towel bar and lunged for all I was worth until the tub was full. I could feel the contractions further down and reaching into my thighs. I remembered with Silas how my hip and thigh bones had felt like they would splinter out of my body, but I wasn’t having that sensation. I figured I still had a ways to go. So much for a faster labor. I had been contracting for just over ten hours at this point.
The warm water in the tub felt nice. Anyone who has heard me rant about tubs knows how much I hate them, and honestly, I think tubs hate me too. I hung out in the water for about thirty minutes, singing along to my music and holding Smiley’s hand during contractions. The nurse came in to let me know that I would be monitored again in about thirty minutes and I nodded. I figured at that point I would get checked again and we would go from there.
However, tubs are evil and I think my next labor will be tub-free, because within the next five minutes (if that), something changed. Out of nowhere (well, ok, I was in labor), I started crying, tears just flying down my face as I sobbed that I had no clue what I was doing and what was I thinking that I could push out a baby without any pain medication and that I was incredibly, impossibly scared. I told Smiley I wanted to go home, that I was done, that I wasn’t going to have a baby today.
He helped me out of the tub, giving me encouragement. When I asked him later if he was surprised by my change of emotions, he shrugged and said that he could tell I had been in a lot of pain.
“You can’t not have the baby now,” he reminded me as he helped me towel off. I cried and hung onto the towel bar during a contraction, trying to lunge through the pain and hoping that it was sturdy enough. In the back of my mind, I knew that I must be hitting transition and I tried to remind myself that this wouldn’t last forever. But it was too late.
I had been wearing my own clothes to labor in, but now I asked Smiley to give me a hospital gown. And then I slunk to the bed and pushed the call bell, completing my transition from woman in control of her labor to scared-shitless patient lying helpless in the bed. I’m sure when the graduate nurse came in later, she was looking at me like I was crazy. After all, hadn’t I been breathing through my contractions just ten minutes ago when she was in the room last? Hadn’t I been upright, walking, using the yoga ball and listening to my music? Hadn’t I done everything I could?
The charge nurse rung my room and asked me how she could help, and I heard the most pathetic voice coming from my mouth: “Can you please send in my nurse?”
After a minute, the charge nurse came in. I had Smiley at my side, putting counter pressure on my hips and she asked me how I was feeling.
“I don’t know,” I replied, always full of honesty. “I don’t know what I need right now. I was doing ok, and now I’m not, and it just hurts too much. I don’t know what to do.”
She looked at me and I looked at her, crying and unable to do much else. Finally, she said, “Why don’t we check you and go from there?”
I nodded. I realized I would have to move so she could check me, but the thought of moving was terrifying. Still, I managed to lie back just enough that she could do what she needed to do and she announced that I was ten centimeters with a bulging bag of waters. There was no pain relief they could give me because it was too close to the birth. She went to call the doctor, and I lay on the bed, struggling to breathe during my contractions. I had one hand grabbing the bed rail and another hand reaching above my head, holding the mattress in a death grip. If it sounds awkward, it was. But between that and Smiley giving me massive amounts of counter pressure on my hips, I was managing to not scream constantly.
The doctor arrived and confirmed, ten centimeters, and I was frantic. I kept crying, “please, help me. Please, please, please.” I kept repeating, as if it would make a difference, “It’s just a little too much. Please. I could deal if it was just a little bit less.” But it didn’t matter. I was about to get the medication-free birth I wanted, in the worst possible way.
I know with Silas’s birth, I had never really felt an urge to push. Well, with this birth, I felt that urge and then some. I could feel Archer’s head fitting through my bones, the feeling of his skull against my pelvis, and the urge to push was so intense that all I could do was scream louder than I ever thought I was capable of as I felt my bones shift out of the way faster than bones should ever have to move. It was a sensation of being setting on fire and being split open all at once and as I shrieked in pain, I wondered if I would be lucky enough to pass out as my body pushed so strongly that I thought my insides were coming out.
The doctor broke my waters after that contraction, and for a brief moment, the pressure lessened as I felt the warm water gush out in time to my contractions. The warm amniotic fluid was almost a relief. But that relief was followed by the realization that now the baby’s head was the only thing I would feel.
There were new nurses with the change of shift, and of course the doctor was still there, and everyone was telling me to push, to pull my legs back and to push as I screamed. The baby’s heart rate was dropping and I watched out of the side of my vision as they got a scalp electrode ready to confirm it was the baby’s heart rate and not mine. Someone put a bag of oxygen over my face and that was a small but welcome relief. I concentrated on taking deep breaths and that was my focus as my body continued to push at times and rest at others.
I tried to help. But I couldn’t hold my legs, and I couldn’t move. After one contraction, the doctor said I was doing good, and I tried to explain that I wasn’t doing anything, and that if he was just saying that to be encouraging, it wasn’t going to help, because I couldn’t move any more than I just had.
There had been so many things I wanted to do differently with this birth. I remembered how dehydrated I had become during Silas’s labor, so I had told Smiley to make sure to offer me water and juice and he had done that beautifully all day. With Silas, I had ended up with an episiotomy and bilateral labial tears, so I had wanted to try squatting for this birth. But I couldn’t even begin to move into a squatting position and no one was about to help with that (to be fair, I don’t know if I could have done it with help either).
Pushing was a new form of pain, but I guess it was better because I was no longer screaming in pain. Now I was just staring up at the ceiling, breathing in oxygen, and hoping that each contraction I felt would be the last. At times, they told me to stop pushing or to start pushing… it didn’t matter. Whatever my body was going to do was all that would happen that this point. I tried to help again, but it was a miniscule effort. Everything hurt way too much and I just wanted to crawl out of my body and make it stop.
I could feel Archer’s head against my perineum and I could tell it wasn’t going to be a fast process. Maybe if Silas’s birth had been different, I would have tried for longer, but I couldn’t deal with the pain of crowning on top of everything else when I knew that with an epidural and 45 minutes of perineal massage, I hadn’t been able to avoid the episiotomy with Silas.
“Just cut me,” I said, over and over. If nothing else, at least I felt like I had consented to the episiotomy.
It is a testament to the pain I was feeling that I felt absolutely no (additional) pain when he cut my perineum.
Suddenly, the doctor was holding up my baby, a purple little thing covered in vernix, scrunched up face and a head of dark, dark hair. APGARS 9 and 9. The baby was put on my stomach and I tried to focus on him, but everything was still hurting so very much. I pulled at the arm of my hospital gown, wanting to get the baby up to my chest and skin-to-skin. I’m pretty sure the doctor did delayed cord clamping, because they told me the cord was too short for that right away. About two minutes later, they cut the cord and helped me put my sweet baby on my chest. I still couldn’t focus on him, but I tried. He was already bobbing his head about on my chest and I kept saying, “Just wait a moment, sweet baby, just wait a moment and then I can help you.”
After a few more minutes, I delivered the placenta. Much like when the doctor broke my water, it was a very warm sensation and much less painful than delivering the baby! It was almost soothing, in fact, and there was a wonderful sense of relief afterward. I asked to see the placenta and was glad to see that it looked intact and healthy. Thank goodness!
Well, I had the episiotomy and tore again, so the doctor had to spend some time stitching everything up. He did give me a shot of lidocaine for that. He said something about me having an amazing pain tolerance to which I looked at him like I was normal and he was the crazy person who just did a natural, pain-med-free childbirth. I didn’t define a high pain tolerance as shrieking so loudly I probably gave the nurses ear damage. He said that during the last part of pushing, I had been so calm and quiet.
I asked him and the nurse if they were patronizing me. I felt horrible. I felt like I had just been an out-of-control patient who the nurses had come in and tried to placate with their horrible statements of, “You’re right. I don’t understand the pain you’re going through” and the unsaid additions of, “But you chose to do it this way” and “it won’t get better until you have the baby, so shut up, stop crying, and try harder.” I could hear it in the tone of their voice.
And at the crux of it, as I helped Archer latch on to my breast, that was what I felt. Horrible. There were so many things I wanted to do differently with this birth. With Silas, I had gotten the epidural. I had thought that was a failure on my part. So this time, I had been determined to go pain-med free. And yet, that ended up feeling like a failure on my part too. And worse, after Silas’s birth, I had been ready within minutes to face the idea of another pregnancy and another labor. But after this birth, I wasn’t.
I don’t understand how an experience that so many women could claim as empowering made me feel like a failure. My first night on postpartum, I slept for a bit once the adrenaline of the birth wore off and pure exhaustion took over, but on the second night, when I tried to go to sleep, all I could do was cry quietly as that last half hour of my birth replayed over and over in my mind.
I thought I had done everything to have a good birth. I had never expected it to be pain-free (maybe next time I need to actually look into HypnoBirthing), but I had expected to be control of my body. I never expected it to go from manageable to unmanageable so quickly, especially since I had been contracting all day! I guess in the back of my mind, I had thought I would be able to get pain medication if I “really needed it” and hadn’t really prepared for a scenario where I was progressing quickly.
It’s a couple weeks out from the birth now, Archer is just under three weeks old, and he’s doing amazing. Nursing is going incredibly well, he seems to sleep a little better at night than Silas did (though I won’t hold my breath), and he’s just absolutely beautiful.
I’m still healing from the birth, but I’m hopeful that it will get better. I haven’t been crying as much and I don’t get as panicked thinking about the delivery as I did when I was in the hospital. I’m still having a hard time dealing with the fact that my pain medication free birth did not leave me feeling like the hundreds of birth stories I had read. I don’t feel empowered or capable, I feel fear and doubt, but who knows.
Maybe next time will be better.
Silas's birth story is also available for your reading pleasure.