So, it's been over a month since Eli was born, and ever since that beautiful, wonderful day I have wanted to get a chance to share my birth story. My hope is that it can be a help to other women who are sitting on the epidural fence, or even just an encouragement to women who are feeling apprehensive in general about giving birth. Hopefully I can get my story out on paper (ish) before the details get fuzzy in my brain.
I had always joked about my birth pain management method. I told people that I was planning on showing up to the hospital, walking backwards into the OB department with my shirt held high in the air yelling,
"Get the big needle! I feel something!!" As Eli's actual due date drew closer, however, I realized that this was little more than a joke, and that I needed to come up with an actual birth plan post-haste. For someone who has been pregnant as many times as I have, I had very little understanding about what choices I had and what the benefits of those choices were. It was time to get to studyin'. I read the usual BabyCenter articles and searched the forums online, but the information I gathered made my answer about as clear as mud. BabyCenter seemed to say, "Get the epidural. The doctors know what they are doing. It will be easier on you and the baby. Easy is better." But so many comments on the forums I kept reading seemed to contradict these ideas. And those comments came from moms. Actual women with actual bodies who had actually done this giving birth thing and lived to tell the tale. So, stuck with nothing concrete and feeling that the big day was rushing toward me without waiting to see if I had it all figured out, I did what any 21st century mom-to-be would do: I took my problem to facebook.
It seemed clear that the most trustworthy people to take advice from were actual moms. And it seemed infinitely more clear to me that the only moms I wanted to hear from were moms that I knew were real and that I could actively compare myself with. There is no way of knowing if SweetMama332 on a BabyCenter forum is actually a world-champion kick boxer with a pain tolerance as big as my house, but it is actually possible to hold myself up against the women on my friends list and see if I think I can do it if they could. So I posed my question. The response was FABULOUS. So many women encouraged me that it was possible to have a natural childbirth. Possibly the most helpful comment of all led me to a documentary on Netflix called "The Business of Being Born." It's less than 90 minutes long, and it is not only informative - it's inspiring. As a disclaimer, I have to say that I disagree with what the documentary says about doctors as a generalization, because my doctor was someone whom we trusted implicitly, and who we knew would never recommend a C-section because it was dinnertime or push for some other intervention because of convenience, but the rest of the film was very informative.
So Ryan and I talked and we decided that we would try for as natural a childbirth as possible.
As the weeks progressed, sonograms showed that Eli had a little problem with his kidneys and the doctor said that it would continue to get worse the longer that he was in my hormone-infested uterus. She got approval for an early induction based on his condition, and we scheduled it. It was really hard for me to reconcile the idea of induction when I wanted so desperately to have a totally natural childbirth, but I also knew that waiting any longer when I knew that his little kidneys were only getting worse would stress me out so much that it would be unhealthy for all of us.
We showed up at the hospital at 5pm on Wednesday night, and before we went to sleep, the nurse placed the Cervidil. I was already dilated to a 2 and 60% effaced, and Ryan and I hoped that the Cervidil itself would put me into active labor and we wouldn't even need the Pitocin.
No such luck.
Cervidil did almost nothing, and at 5am, we started Pitocin. About an hour later, I had contractions that were between 1 and 3 minutes apart and lasted about a minute. They were not very painful, and Ryan and I walked all over the OB department all morning long, pausing only to switch to the birthing ball and bounce a little before going back to doing laps around the nurses' station. By lunchtime, my contractions were much stronger. Ryan and I had to stop walking with each one and do this very strange labor-slowdance until it was over. I still wouldn't call it "pain." It was some very serious "tightening," but not yet "pain." But being up and out of the room, moving around, was exactly what I needed. I felt like I had some control over everything, and it was a welcome distraction. I would have gone crazy if I had been stuck in the bed. The doctor came back around 1:30 to check me again and see if I had dilated any further. Before she arrived, Ryan and I talked and decided that if I wasn't dilated to at least a 4, we were going to take the hint from mother nature and go home and maybe try again in a few days. It turns out, I was at 3 and 90% effaced. THREE?! I was so disappointed, and as I took the breath to say to my doctor, "Well, it looks like my body isn't really ready afterall. I think we're going to go home," WOAH -- my water broke. And I cried. A lot. Suddenly, there was no maybe. We were going to have a baby today. Clarity is a precious, precious thing. I didn't have to make any more decisions about when Eli would come into the world. All systems were go. There was no turning back. Baby day was here. I will never forget that feeling. Second best feeling in the world. (But, of course, the first best feeling in the world hadn't happened yet, so in real time, it was the BEST feeling in the world.)
Well, the childbirth classes and books don't lie. Contractions get MUCH more painful once your water has broken. Ryan and I were finally in the heat of it. We walked a couple of laps, but it became clear that it was time to move this party into a more private location in very little time. I could no longer just breathe long, slow, deep breaths and sway to get through those contractions. I was in full-fledged, screwed-up-face, really-loud-exhaling, finger-squeezing labor. The birthing ball was my BEST FRIEND. I sat and bounced on that thing the whole time. Ryan was incredible. I could NEVER have managed HALF of labor without him. My contractions were coming right on top of each other. The pain was bad, but we had a pretty good rhythm going - Ryan coached me through each contraction and helped me relax my body in between, and I felt like I MUST be progressing quickly by this point. There was NO WAY that contracting like this for this long didn't have me dilated to at least an 8 by now!
The doctor came around 6, and I was progressing MUCH more slowly than I had hoped. I had dilated to a 4, maaaayybe 5. She stayed in our room from here on out, though. (I told you my doctor was amazing.) We took it 30 minutes at a time, but around 8 pm I had made a decision. If I wasn't at an 8, I had to have something for the pain. My contractions had been a minute or less apart for HOURS at this point, and a lot of them were coming with just seconds in between. I had come to a point where I could no longer relax my body between contractions, and I was so exhausted. What I wanted more than anything was to pause the labor for a couple of hours so that I could sleep. It turned out I was at a 7, and I knew that even if I progressed a centimeter an hour, I could not endure 3 more hours like the last hour. I opted for a shot of Demerol, and I am so glad that I did. It didn't touch the pain, but it forced my body to relax in between contractions, and that was what I needed. Just a few seconds of breathing time in between to get back into the moment and take back control over my labor and my body.
After another hour or so of laboring, it felt like pushing time. It wasn't. I was at a 9 1/2.
Seriously?! A few more contractions went by, and finally I could push. We got about 3 good pushes in, and things got serious. Eli's heart rate dropped while I pushed, and when I stopped pushing, it didn't come back up right away. Since I didn't have an epidural, my doctor had the nurses call in the scrub tech and anesthesia provider that were on-call, and we moved the whole party to the operating room in case she had to get him out with forceps. I will admit, for a few minutes I was hysterical. I begged her to just do a C-section and get him out of me, but she was very calm and very patient, and told me, "No, honey, you're going to push this baby out."
And I thought: "Seriously, no pressure. My baby is not tolerating pushing well, and frankly I don't even know if I'm doing it right. Please just cut him out of me and let's be done with the whole deal!"
But she didn't. And Eli stopped screwing around with his heart rate and I got to start pushing again. And the scrub tech and anesthetist basically got called in to be extra moral support, because we didn't need them.
Pushing is awesome. It hurts - a lot - but it's wonderful. Finally something you have control over! I pushed for about an hour, getting some serious encouragement from everyone in the room, especially Ryan. He whispered in my ear the whole time, telling me how close we were to holding our boy.
And at 10:27pm, my beautiful son was born in the operating room. And I cried. A lot. And I'm crying again now, as he snores on my chest and I remember the most magical and wonderful moment of my life. It didn't go exactly according to plan, but it was perfect, and I wouldn't change one single thing about it.