WOW I’ve been away for a while. Obviously, I’ve been in over my head with a newborn, a toddler, wifely chores, full-time class schedule, and my own little business. A little behind-the-scenes peek at a few of my Facebook statuses would also clue you in to the health issues I’ve been having and the reflux my poor Clover has. Those are different posts, though. This is about my second birth.
My first birth was an unhappy one. My husband and I were all set to have a serene, natural, unmedicated birth, using Hypnobabies and the birthing tub we rented. We were seeing the only certified nurse midwife practice in the city, and set to birth at the only hospital that was “friendly” to their practices. When my water broke a day shy of 41 weeks, I was not only ready, I was flat out excited for the pain to begin. “This is what your body was made to do,” said so many voices in my head- the voices of birthing blogs, attachment parenting literature, Ina May Gaskin, Rikki Lake.
The rhythmic waves never came. Five hours after my water broke, the midwife suggested a cervical ripening agent to stay ahead of the risk of uterine infection. The drug- Cervidil- was inserted. An hour later, I began to experience “contractions”. They were stabbing pains, one after the other, reacting to movement, sound, anything at all. They weren’t, however, moving my labor along. I howled out with every one, for 12 hours. At some point, I realized that my need for rest was much greater than my need to forgo pain medication, and I asked for the epidural. Good thing, because somewhere around the 24-hour mark of my waters having been ruptured, I got a fever. Antibiotics were hung. But now that my body could relax apart from the contractions, progress was very fast. The baby began to experience frightening decelerations, and the midwife urged me to get her out, very soon. I pushed on my hands and knees after the epidural had been turned off for a couple of hours. I did this for an hour and a half. Convinced they were all lying to me, telling me my baby was crowning, I screamed at the top of my lungs and gave a huge push and out came Gwenna, whom I thought would never come, and she was whisked away for “aspiration.”
I felt that my body had failed me by not producing contractions on its own. I felt defeated by the unforeseeable reaction my body had to the Cervidil. I felt disconnected from my newborn, who did not escape the nursery for 4 more hours. I felt disappointed, despite my best efforts at optimism. My husband and I repeated the claim that the epidural saved me from a c-section. I don’t know if it’s true or not. Part of me believes it’s just an excuse.
And so this time would be different. I found a student doula. I taught Zumba throughout the pregnancy so I could keep my fitness level up. I researched even more than the first time. I knew that this time, my water probably wouldn’t break. This time, my body had already been through it, so I’d go into spontaneous labor, of course! How could she possibly stay in there with me doing the salsa three times a week at full term, anyway? We saw the same midwifery practice and were to deliver at the same hospital as the first time.
Right about the same time as my due date, I discovered signs of a kidney stone. I went in to the midwives’ office to have things checked out. One centimeter dilated. Group B Strep, positive. E. Coli, positive. The hours and hours of rhythmic, textbook contractions got me one centimeter. 20% effaced. That was crap… and so it was on the evening of my induction, at 41 weeks and 4 days.
And YES, I DID try every method of self-induction I could have possibly tried.
So, at the hospital for my induction, I agreed to the placement of a Foley bulb catheter. This would get me from 3-5 centimeters before we evaluated whether I would need Pitocin in the morning. The placement was painful, only because the midwife seemed to have a huge problem with placing. I was, after all, pretty much closed shut. I noticed the contractions begin almost immediately. Mild, but regular.
The midwife strongly suggested I take something to get some sleep before the hard work began. I was offered a choice of either Benadryl or Ambien, and I chose Ambien, because it sounded prettier. I asked the nurse if there was any difference in side effects between the two, and she shrugged. Thus began my hallucinations: blinking lights that turned into spiders, buttons on the bed that wouldn’t stay still. And then I got a little sleep.
When I woke up at 5 AM, I realized the bulb had fallen out. I also realized I was having frequent, regular contractions. I pulled out the breast pump and did ten minutes. Rested for a while. Ten more minutes. At 6 AM, the nurse came in with the Pitocin and annoucned that we would be starting the drip. I said I’d like to talk to the midwives first and assess the need, as well as walk around, be active, encourage the contractions. They were 3-4 minutes apart, 40-50 seconds long. She said, no, we would be initiating the process at that point. I was really shocked, stood my ground, and politely repeated myself: I was going to wait and speak to the midwives before starting the Pitocin. I had dealt with this nurse’s rude comments regarding natural birth and my daughter’s name, and now had to defend myself against baseless demands not made in my interest. I was ready for shift change at 7!
I met my new nurse, an angel, and my husband and I walked the halls. I found some stairs. I felt a little tired and the contractions were beginning to hurt- we went back to the room. I rested. The contractions slowed.
When the midwife arrived, we decided to start the Pitocin. The Foley bulb had apparently dilated me 5 centimeters, but I was still just 20% effaced. With the slowing contractions, I was convinced that my body had failed me yet again- so near 42 weeks, and not committed to moving the baby out. I was disappointed. I was giving in. But I was also hopeful that I could still avoid the epidural, with the birth tub available and my doula and my husband both present.
So, 10 AM, the Pitocin started. I began to take slow breaths through the contractions. I also started my nails, my makeup, my hair- Mary, my doula finished my hair for me (angel). It didn’t take long for me to have to focus through contractions. I decided at some point that I would rest as much as I could, and we turned on Hypnobabies tracks. I rested in a half-awake state through at least one half hour track- and that was the limit of my use of Hypnobabies during labor.
I remember a cumbersome trip to the bathroom- IV and pole in tow- and the end of my peace. Every contraction after that was moaning, breathing, squatting, opening, swaying, holding on to my husband. He says I really tired him out with the squatting. I wouldn’t know, because he was supporting my weight along with his! To work through the contractions, I did squats, rolled on the yoga ball, hung over the yoga ball (all fours), and looked wistfully at the birthing pool that my husband kept having hiccups setting up.
The baby was very difficult to track on the monitor. Her heart rate, when tracked, was beautiful; however, the nurse was very insistent on tracking the heart rate through contractions. This turned into her digging the monitor into my abdomen through contractions. I pleaded with her and cried and felt utterly violated when a struggle away from her proved futile, but her heart was in the right place. She was moving around with me, trying to help me maintain my freedom while monitoring the effects of the Pitocin, which can be dangerous.
I remember intense pressure in my tailbone, and I thought it might be gas or something, so I’d tighten up and fight the “opening” work my body was doing. I then remembered all the frustration I’d been experiencing over this baby insisting on being malpositioned- everything I tried from Spinning Babies to accupuncture would move her… and she would move right back into a position ill-suited for birth. It occurred to me that she could be posterior- backwards from the appropriate position, or head up- and her skull could be putting pressure on my tail bone. So I stopped fighting. With the next contraction, I felt her move down.
Every contraction after that, I felt her move down. This was so different from the first time, when I was feeling betrayed by my body and by the medicine which had promised to step in where my body had failed. This time, I felt the building strength behind these waves. This time, I felt the humanity in birth- specifically, the other human involved in the experience. I felt like I knew what was happening at every moment.
Eventually, even though I hadn’t dilated further from 5 centimeters in about 7 hours, the midwife told me I could go ahead and get in the tub. Considering the growing intensity and frequency of contractions, I would have been fairly upset if I’d have been denied the tub any longer. I climbed in with my bra on, intending to change into my bathing suit top. Then the bra was wet, and there was no point, and I had no energy to spare, anyway. The pictures of me laboring in the tub are pitiful… wet nursing bra and a band around the monitors.
The contractions were getting really rough, but I made sure to make each count, blossoms in my mind’s eye and peace in my breath. I thought my water broke just a couple of contractions into my time in the tub. I asked the nurse to assess. I stood up and the drips of fluid from my body came to a stop, so we assumed it hadn’t broken. But somehow, I really thought my water had broken.
Contractions ripped into me after that. I allowed myself to resign to the idea that this intensity was just normal at this point. The midwife said “This is what active labor looks like, you’re doing it!” And I just stared at her. I was looking for “transition”. I was hugely disappointed. After hours and hours of what felt like decent progress, and being told I had not progressed. Then the midwife claimed that I shouldn’t worry about transition- transition was just “so short”!
That was a normal woman’s birth, I reasoned. Short transitions were for women who didn’t have to be induced at nearly 42 weeks with their second births, who had some kind of progress at that point, who had entire labors which lasted less than the 7-8 hours I’d already been in active augmented labor, whose bodies weren’t broken. I didn’t believe her. I was convinced that I still had to move through transition, that my water would break and it would get even worse, that I would endure it all and in the end face a c-section because of lack of progress.
And yet, in the back of my mind, something told me it was almost over. That I was in transition, and moving fast.
I announced that I would like to be checked and if I hadn’t progressed, I wanted the epidural. And so they checked me. The midwife said I was 5-6 centimeters, but I was more effaced now. It sounded like a trivial amount to me, and I was losing the ability to “roar” through the contractions. They wouldn’t let go. At the peaks, I felt my head shaking, side to side, “No,” it said. No, this couldn’t be less than transition. And yet, I surrendered to the impossibility that the Pitocin was responsible for the overwhelming experience, which is what everyone around me seemed to believe.
The epidural required about half an hour of fluids before they could place it. The anesthesiology team swept into the room like a military unit securing a base- ushered everyone out, set firm orders for everyone. This didn’t mean insensitivity; no, the nurse anesthetist assured me I was during great as I roared through every contraction, shrieking at times. I could no longer breathe normally. As hard as I tried, I felt myself losing control, and the familiar pattern of breathing that comes along with hyperventilation set it. I was given an oxygen mask. The epidural was placed at about 6:30. Immediately after it was placed, I was checked, and found to be 8 centimeters dilated. The midwife confirmed that Clover was posterior. I knew what was in store for me with a posterior birth: greater chance of tearing, more pain.
For the next 45 minutes to an hour, I shrieked and writhed as I felt the contractions building in intensity. I felt the pressure in my pelvis. I didn’t stop to think what this meant. I kept asking why the epidural wasn’t working. The nurse anesthetist said it was just taking time, and I was progressing so fast it couldn’t catch up yet. They kept injecting drugs into the line. Finally, a different anesthesiologist was called. He gave me something different or something more, and within ten minutes, I was pleasantly numb. I would have been happy to have had half of that relief, or a quarter of it. But I had all of it, and I was very happy.
At 8 PM, I was checked. I was not only complete, but Clover’s head was crowning. My husband and Mary were retrieved from their errands and the midwife set up for birth. She told me to go ahead and push. I was extremely relieved that the epidural would not be turned off this time. I pushed. Then I laughed at something. The midwife said, “Laugh again,” and I did, and it counted as a push. And then I pushed one more time, and out she came. I caught her, brought her up to my chest, but paused halfway there to let the midwife unwrap the cord which had wrapped tightly, twice, around her neck. I gazed over my beautiful little one while we waited for the cord to quit pulsing. My husband cut it once it did.
Clover had turned at the very last minute. I had no tearing. My body pushed her out almost entirely on its own, while I was oblivious and numb, at 8:28 PM. Roughly an hour after I got relief from the epidural.
I’m a bit disappointed, but keeping Clover close after birth meant everything to me.
Maybe next time, I’ll have it all…