Hi! This is long. Whoops. If you’re not into melodramatic sobbing and labor carnage, please enjoy the GIFs and the TL;DR version down at the bottom. (But you really should read the whole thing.)
At 4 a.m. Sunday, June 22, eight days after my estimated due date, I laid in bed and cried because I was a failure and I was never going to go into labor.
Each passing day seemed to increase my likelihood of another c-section. I didn’t want to spend an extra night in the hospital away from Kenzie, and I really didn’t want to spend an extra month recovering. (Others may recover from c-sections more quickly than I did, but I had a deep ache in my gut for what seemed like E-VER.) With a prior section, my doctor wouldn’t induce, so my only hope was to go into labor on my own.
Well-meaning friends and family called and texted. Baby yet? Any signs? Told me they’d had c-sections and were grateful for them. That baby would come when she was ready. That their mom gave birth at 43 weeks! And everything turned out just fine!
Every day we said, today, SURELY.
We came up with outings and activities to entertain the toddler. We went to every park and splash pad in a 20 mile radius, and on that Sunday the 22nd we drove across town to a county fair. I figured the farther away I was from my hospital, the more likely I’d be to go into labor and have to give birth in a first aid tent or poultry barn.
I tried so hard to go into labor.
I had been having mild, irregular contractions for days that would go on for an hour or more and then just fizzle out. I had been drinking that godawful raspberry leaf tea since week 32 or 33. Taking daily walks of 2-3 miles. Rolling and bouncing on an exercise ball. Eating all the spicy foods I could stomach. I even tried castor oil at 41 weeks. (Just in case anyone out there is not well-versed in the old-timey labor induction tricks, the idea behind castor oil is that it helps you shit by causing contractions of the smooth muscles of your bowels. Since the uterus is also a smooth muscle, it can cause contractions there as well. But if your body is not READY to go into labor, all that turbulence will just make you shit your brains out for nothing. Naturally, the result for me was nothing.)
I had an appointment for a non-stress test and ultrasound Monday, June 23 at 9 a.m. and I knew we’d have the c-section talk again. I was running out of time, so on Sunday night I decided to try the castor oil again. But I didn’t have any of the GI ‘effects’ I’d had the first time I took it, so I don’t really think it made a difference.
Early, early labor
I had a few contractions while watching TV and they became more regular as we were getting ready for bed. Probably every 10 minutes. I decided to stay up and start timing them if for no other reason than I had installed a fun contraction timer app on my phone and I’d be pissed if I never got to use it. #priorities
I bounced on the exercise ball and read a book on my Kindle, and quickly the contractions increased to 4-5 minutes apart and then 2-3 minutes. At first they were very mild and I could bounce through them, but within a couple of hours I was getting down on all fours to breathe. (I thought at the time these were pretty strong contractions. LOLOLOL. I had no fucking clue.) Just after midnight, I got in the shower and husband spoke with the on-call doctor. Then we were off to the hospital.
I made it up to L&D, signed some papers I didn’t even read (while on all fours) and then got fisted by a nurse in a chilly triage room. I was only 2 cm dilated but 80% effaced so, not too shabby. The nurse said ordinarily they’d give a person the option of staying or going home, but since I was a week late and a VBAC, the on-call doctor asked me to stay until my own doctor came on at 8 a.m.
At 2 a.m. or so, I was checked into a LDRP room and spent the next five hours chatting with my husband, listening to music and having contractions on an exercise ball.
When my doctor came in and checked me, I was happy to learn I’d progressed to 4 cm. But around 9:00 a.m. I noticed the contractions had started to fizzle. They got farther and farther apart and finally just stopped. Again, ordinary protocol would be to just go on home. But at 41 weeks, 2 days, time wasn’t on my side. My doctor gave me the okay to get off the monitors and traipse around the L&D floor for a while to try to move things along. If that didn’t work, he said, he could break my water and give me a very small amount of pitocin.
We did laps for 30 minutes, and of course nothing happened.
I guess breaking a 41-week-old half-empty bag of water is a lot harder than breaking a 40-week-old full bag of water because he had a hell of a time doing it. It hurt like fuck and the sheets were spattered with blood afterward (PICTURE IT); and it was all for naught. An hour later, still no contractions.
Really, real labor
As scared as I was of pitocin (see: Kenzie’s birth story), it seemed like my last chance, so I agreed to do it. They assured me it would be a very small dose, nowhere near what I’d had last time. And although everyone was nice enough to never say the word c-section, I knew that’s what it would come to if the pit didn’t work.
Holy fuck, did it work.
Within an hour, I was having the worst contractions of my life. Every other contraction I’d had until then was just a tease, a tickle. I tried to relax as best I could to let the contractions do their job, but after a couple of hours I started panicking every time another one would come on, and instead of breathing through them I was fighting against them. My nurse stayed in there with us and at one point I looked at her and my husband and I said, “I don’t think I can do this.”
They had explicit instructions not to talk to me about epidurals until I brought it up myself, so they just exchanged a glance and didn’t say anything. I had no desire whatsoever to go med-free through the entire birth, but I wanted to at least get over that 5 cm hump.
I asked her how much longer this could possibly go on and she said as long as an hour per centimeter, or more. I did the math and then said fuck it (and expected the pain to somehow miraculously go away that minute). My nurse got shit into action fast, but I still had to work through another dozen or so contractions before I was pain-free.
When the anesthesiologist came in (probably not even 10 minutes later), I was on the bed, naked from the waist down, on all fours, squeezing my husband’s hands to a pulp and making animal noises.
Thirty minutes later I was telling everyone how much I loved them.
I had actually made it to a solid 7 cm before the epidural and things progressed quickly after that. The only snag here was when I began feeling the contractions again on my right side. Mildly at first, and then just as hard as before. They re-dosed the juice to my spine and when the nurse checked me again at around 9 p.m., I was at 10 cm and the head was waaay down at a -2 station which is med lingo for “practically falling out.” I looked at my husband and squeezed his hand and cried some more because we were so close to finally meeting our new baby friend.
At 9:44 p.m., Codie shot out of me in six pushes like a bloody, 6-pound, 12-ounce cannonball.
You guys…IT WAS SO AWESOME.
I’d asked for a mirror so I could watch the carnage and what I remember most vividly is when the top of the head was just beginning to poke out, the skin of her scalp was all loose (kind of like a big, hairy testicle). I later realized it was because those soft spots were allowing the skull plates to flex inward. Science! I’ll never forget the sight of that wrinkly little head. It was incredible. After her head came out, the rest of her just kind of tumbled out behind it and she started screaming almost immediately. The first thing they did was lay her on my chest. Cue: More sobbing.
So I know everybody has their own ideal for giving birth and some people believe that feeling all the pain allows them to participate more fully in the experience, and that’s fine. Not judging. (For once!) But for me, it was absolutely because of the epidural that I was able to soak in and enjoy all of the fine details of the delivery without the distraction of terror and agonizing pain. I feel so lucky that everything turned out the way it did. I got the labor and delivery I wanted, and most importantly I got another sweet baby who is healthy and perfect. (Albeit a little dry and flaky from being in there for so damn long.)
I’ve also got a bunch of stitches to help me remember it all. Having your baby shoot out of you is nice but it does have some drawbacks; namely, not allowing your skin to gradually stretch out before the baby comes through. I tore in four places, and while none of them were 3rd-degree, a couple were what my doctor referred to as “unique.” (I’m still afraid to look.) They hurt like fuck, but I think in the long run I’ll still prefer them to the c-section.
I went into labor. Labor stopped. Labor started again. Labor sucks. Epidurals are awesome. I pushed out a baby and it was funsies.