Every labor and birth is different, just as every baby is different. I hear stories of some births and am completely mystified by how a woman could be standing in front me explaining her birth using phrases like “relatively easy.” Excuse me? How does the earth not begin spinning backward when you put the words easy and birth into the same sentence? Congratulations, you’re an asshole (said lovingly but saturated with jealousy), but truly congratulations (unicorn).
What is to follow here is the long story of the labor and birth that I endured. I do not believe you will find the word easy anywhere. Unless I decide to say something like, “it would have been so easy to punch Ian in the face when he fell asleep during my labor.”
Due Date for the little pipsqueak: February 1st, 2015
This was the first day (7 days late…) anything even seemed like it might be happening. There I was at the gym doing Wall Balls (throwing a medicine ball up against a wall and catching it-repeat) when I felt a gush of fluid come rushing out. One would assume my water broke and so I was off to see the midwife. After getting scientific about the fluid it was decided that my water was still intact. What was that fluid? Who knows; that’s the world of pregnancy, where the strangest of things falls into the normal range. However, from that point forward the contractions that I had been experiencing over the past several days were now becoming more noticeable and consistent.
Once you go far enough past your due date a stress test is required so I relinquished some time lying in a tiny room with a huge belt on my belly. All was fine and I set off on a hike later that afternoon.
Late Monday night we went into the Birth Center around 12am. How do you know when to go in? I have no idea. Ian made the decision for me when I began having contractions that made him cringe.
Before labor began I thought that the big pilates ball was going to be my best friend but actually being in labor made me want for nothing but hard surfaces. Side-lying on the hardwood floor in the Birth Center was the only thing that was remotely comfortable at the time.
The contractions weren’t getting any more intense or frequent so around 9am I went back home. What’s the deal, baby?
The contractions were manageable (not to be ignored, but not the most excruciating pain of my life, yet) most of the day until about 3pm. From that point forward most contractions were so strong that I was yelling loudly and a few of them actually made me ball my eyes out. I didn’t know I had the capacity to cry like that until this magical moment in life oh, the miracle of childbirth.
At one point the little pipsqueak had moved and managed to pinch a nerve in my groin area. This meant that whenever I had a contraction my leg would give out completely and an intense pain would accompany the leg collapse. Fantastic. The upside is that this phenomenon only lasted for about an hour. Is that an upside?
The midwives came to the house to pay me a visit around 8pm to check on my progress and Ian was very relieved to have people there that could do something more than look at me with eyes the size of saucers. My contractions were 5 minutes apart and lasting for 50 seconds, good times.
For some reason, the door jam became my new best friend. I was pressing my forehead against it while pulling with my hands on either side in a seemingly desperate attempt to tear our house apart. I was yelling so loud that the neighbors probably thought Ian was killing me in slow motion over several hours. He briefly saw one neighbor outside and they asked him if I was okay. “Oh, she’s great! Why do you ask?” No really, he gave them the obvious news that I was in labor. No secret here! The midwives thought it was about time to get back to the birth center around 10pm, as the contractions were 2-3 minutes apart consistently.
The 15-minute drive to the birth center seemed incredibly long and I now realize why women get upset by being jostled around while in labor. It promotes a new contraction and who the hell wants more of those?
At some point of laboring in the Birth Center, it was determined that the baby was Sunnyside-Up. The brief explanation I was given is that the labor and pushing stages would take much longer if the baby remained Sunnyside-Up (head down, face up) and so they wanted to try getting the baby to flip over. The midwives were not allowed to manually turn the baby so we tried side lying, hand and knees positioning, even crawling up a flight of stairs! Nothing worked and the contractions remained close together all through the night.
Did I mention this was all back labor? Which I believe is defined as A condition in which the body tortures itself to an extreme degree with no advancement in the laboring process.
The most “pleasant” portion of my labor came in the hours I was able to spend in the tub. There is something about being in water that takes a bit of the viciousness out of each contraction. Unfortunately, the main goal was to flip the baby and hanging out in the tub wasn’t helping that process so I had to get back out.
Ian kept falling asleep throughout my labor and I was completely baffled by that because for me time and space were completely absent and replaced with pain. The honest and unedited version of my thought process was, “How the —- can you be sleeping right now? Are you ——- kidding me!?” However, I was less capable of words during labor so my communication came in the form of repeated sharp shoves to jolt him awake. He would spring right back into action as if he was never sleeping, men.
By 7am Ian was growing more concerned for me because I could not get, and had not gotten a break (including the fact that I had not slept since Sunday night) from the contractions and I was not progressing. Pipsqueak had been stuck at 4 centimeters since seemingly the beginning of time. By this point, the contractions were on top of one another and there was no longer even the briefest of breaks. We were all in agreement that the baby needed to be flipped and in order to do that I had to transfer to the hospital.
This was not my favorite news because I was hoping to stay far away from the hospital during my birthing process. I’m not afraid of hospitals, in fact, I’ve spent quality time working in and being a patient of hospitals. That also means that I knew the level of care I was getting from the Birth Center was about 1,000 times more personal than what I would get at the hospital. Regardless, here I went.
At the time of transfer I had been having strong contractions for 32 hours and according to the midwives calculations I was laboring in some form or fashion for 60 hours.
I was admitted into the hospital around 8am having had the speediest check-in of all time. When you’re having extremely intense contractions in the lobby you get much quicker service. I don’t remember much, but I do recall the receptionist staring at me speechless for a moment but then asking me to fill out a form. The midwife came swooping in from behind and said, “No. We’re not doing that, we’ve called ahead for this transfer, hit the button for the door… now.” It was like open-sesame.
I was given some sort of IV narcotic upon admittance and it was unbelievable to have a brief moment of relief from the contractions!
Next was an Epidural, which wasn’t what I wanted but I was busy laboring and couldn’t advocate for myself. The midwives were stuck outside of the room at the time so no one was there to help guide my care and Ian was so far outside his element he didn’t know what the hell was going on.
It felt strange to let go of the anticipation that a contraction would happen at any second. They were still happening but I couldn’t feel them at all. I appreciated the relief, but I didn’t like the feeling that I had no idea what was happening with my body. They also broke my water while I was busy not feeling anything.
Then in true hospital birthing fashion, I was started on Pitocin (an inducing medicine) because my contractions were now “irregular.” I tried to tell the nurse I didn’t want it or think it was necessary because my contractions were still very strong and close together. She didn’t care the slightest bit and began adding the medicine. I cannot say enough how much I wished that my midwives had privileges in the hospital, but once the transfer happened they could only transition to a doula role.
I told the nurse I could feel the contractions (and it was pretty damn obvious) and that they were really strong and extremely close together. It was amazing to feel the distinct difference between a natural contraction and a Pitocin saturated contraction. If felt much more violent. Electric almost.
If I have an epidural (that I didn’t want to begin with) why was this so intense? At this point, the anesthesiologist came into the room and questioned the nurse on why she had the Pitocin at such a high level. It was pretty obvious the contractions were non-stop and strong. She hesitantly dropped the level back down. He added some extra medication and left.
At 2pm the baby’s heart rate dropped and everyone hit the panic button. A flood of medical staff entered the room. They threw me on oxygen and I was on all fours on the bed to get Pipsqueak’s heart rate back up. After a few minutes, things returned to normal.
Once the craziness settled down the doctor attempted to turn the baby manually but was unsuccessful. Manually flipping a baby is a really non-descript way of saying that this person attempted to use both hands to flip a human being over inside of my body. If you’ve been following this story closely you’ll have noticed that I was still feeling the pain of my contractions even though I had an epidural. The pain associated with trying to flip the baby was, to sugar coat it, horrific. Envision abdominal surgery free of any numbing agents.
Not too long after the attempt to flip the baby, I noticed that there was an unplugged cord that had been resting under my pillow. When I questioned what it was supposed to be doing the response was, “Whoops. That is the cord for your epidural.” It had been disconnected potentially for hours at this point, which explains a lot. From here on out the medical staff stopped pretending that the epidural was working.
Attempt#2: The doctor tried to turn the baby at 6:30pm and was again, unsuccessful. It would be nice to imagine these attempts lasting 30 seconds and not for a full 5 minutes through contractions and all, but that just wouldn’t be realistic.
Attempt #3: Around 7:30pm they tried to turn the baby again. Finally, they were successful in turning Pipsqueak over, what an incredible relief! The threat of having a C-Section (which, for the record, the very first thing the doctor said to me was “you need to prepare yourself to have a C-Section”) was all but removed with Pipsqueak in the proper position.
Things advanced much quicker from that point and not too much later I was beginning to push.
Most of my pushing was done by lying on my side. They had given me a bar to push against with my legs, which was fantastic but they took it away almost immediately because it wouldn’t be convenient positioning for the doctor (because we wouldn’t want to make the doctor uncomfortable). The midwife and one of the nurses were kind enough to hold up one of my legs for me. I pushed as long and hard as I could during each contraction because not pushing was even more painful. There was one nurse who insisted on pushing against my stomach to feel for when the contraction was coming (because your stomach gets really hard during a contraction) rather than looking at the monitor.
It’s important to note that I was wearing a stupid monitor around my belly because I was required to, along with other cords and IV’s that were mandatorily attached to me. I didn’t want any of this junk because it all felt very confining, but these were the rules of the hospital. Needless to say, I felt pretty pissed off every time this woman was pushing down on my stomach causing me more pain unnecessarily when she could just look over at the monitor, so I forcefully swatted her hand off of me countless times.
Time went on and I was pushing like nobody’s business when I felt the peak of excruciating pain (which I’m guessing was the crowning of the head?) and I let out a blood-curdling scream, which to my knowledge is the first time I’ve made that sound in my life. By this point, Ian had been placed in a chair to become a spectator to this momentous life event, which was about all he could do at this point anyhow.
Everyone in the room was saying, “You’re there!” and “You’ve done it!” but I was still in an incredible amount of pain so it was quite obvious to me that the baby still was not out. In a pain riddled panic, I began yelling for them to, “GET IT OUT! GET IT OUT!!!” And about one minute later Pipsqueak was born.
Pipsqueak was born around 9:30 p.m. with the cord wrapped around the throat, (which we didn’t hear about until the next morning, but apparently it happens more often than you’d think) but otherwise okay.
The final count on time spent laboring was:
A span over 4 days
72.5 hours of laboring
45.5 hours of intense and close-together contractions (That’s more than a full work-week)
The midwife offered to make me a copy of my chart because as she said, “it makes for some interesting reading and is several pages long.” I think I will take her up on that. I felt somewhat consoled when she referred to what just happened to me as a “warrior birth” because it certainly didn’t feel easy.
I’ve definitely had my fair share of painful experiences in life, what with all the injuries/surgeries I’ve endured… but this? This experience sits atop all other painful experiences. It’s more painful than a severe staph infection, getting hit in the head with a baseball bat (which was an accident but nonetheless happened), physical therapy, smokejumper rookie training, long pack-outs with 100lbs on my back, or a half marathon on a tough course combined. There simply is no equivalent to enduring this pain. Since I’ve done some of the toughest work in a male-dominated profession I feel comfortable saying that men give themselves credit for being much tougher than they actually are.
Fellas, you’ve got nothing on childbirth.
I tried to envision what it would feel like before it happened to me but what my imagination could conjure up came nowhere near reality. The best way I can describe a hard strong contraction to you would be: A sharp gas pain like you would feel if you were about to have severe diarrhea, only you were not allowed to relieve that pain. That mixed with the worst period cramps (men, you are out of your depth here) possible. Then take those pains and multiply them by 20 or 30. You could throw in some knife stabs to the abdomen and an incredibly intense feeling like a bowling ball is coming out of your butt as well. No joke, I held my butt cheeks together with my hand for at least an hour because the sensation was so intense that I simply couldn’t believe nothing was coming out my butt.
After this incredibly long endeavor, there was a tiny human. I had truly lost sight of what all of the pain was leading up to. Pain like that only allows you to focus on the pain. But the doctor called out, “it’s a girl!” and I was truly surprised (I highly recommend this route if you’re going to have a kid). To be honest, after she was pulled out of my body all I felt was relief. It didn’t even occur to me to ask the gender or to see the baby though I’m sure that given a few minutes I would have remembered what I was doing there. Before I knew it she was plopped on my chest; this wet, naked, long-bodied, big footed, long-fingered, fur-coated, cone-headed little girl with wide-open intense looking eyes. Ian was amazed and I was still in disbelief that I actually made a human with my body.
We named her Ani Sasha after two women with integrity, strength, compassion, intelligence, and fierce independent streaks because we hope for her to be all of those things.
At the moment immediately following childbirth I never could have believed how much more pain there would be to follow. I believed wholeheartedly that I made it to the other side and it would be smooth-ish sailing from this point forward. I was so, so wrong. But that’s another story for another day.