All the women I know who have delivered a child have a war story. With some of them, they had C-sections after 20+ hours of labor. Some were so badly affected by the drugs that they were shaking too hard to hold the baby after it was born. I didn’t have too bad an experience, actually. I want to write it all down now while it is still fresh (1 week) so I remember it.
In my final week of work, my husband dropped me off at the office even though it was far out of his way. Unfortunately this meant I had to stay at work much longer than usual. I was terrified that I’d go into labor and my water would break or something when I was at work or before I was ready. I became more and more uncomfortable until I finally took maternity leave at 38 weeks (and I worked from home the day before.)
At 38 weeks 2 days I went to the OBGYN with my mom (my husband had a residency interview). I had a painful pelvic exam where I was told I had not dilated at all.
The next days were so uncomfortable that they were almost unbearable–and still in some ways because I was taking Rhinocort and had a functional nose, and because I was off work and could sleep, they were easier than the beginning of my third trimester when I couldn’t breathe. It was hard to get in and out of bed, hard to roll over in bed, and hard to walk as I was feeling a lot of what I can best describe as pressure in my pelvis. I wished I had exercised more and lost weight before pregnancy. My stomach was covered in angry black and red stretch marks that made me look like I’d been attacked by a tiger. The baby would spend hours at a time asleep and I was nervous all the time that something had gone wrong.
When I would Google “39 weeks pregnant” the first things to come up were all stories about stillbirth.
At 39 weeks 2 days I went to the OBGYN and had a pelvic exam where the PA told me to my surprise that I was 4 cm dilated and 90% effaced–no wonder I’d been feeling bad–but then sent me home. I went home excited and confused, wondering when I would go into labor. Then I read online that people, especially first time moms, can walk around at that stage of labor for weeks.
On Mon. Nov. 17 I ate a couple of slices of Papa John’s pizza that my husband had left in the fridge, and stayed up until 3 or 4 a.m. playing “Plants vs. Zombies II” on my Samsung Galaxy tablet, which was a wedding gift. The next morning–must have been around 7 or 8 a.m., Tuesday Nov. 18 (39 weeks and 5 days) I woke up and felt my first contraction. It felt like a bad PMS cramp or a diarrhea cramp. I told my husband, who was headed to work. He had a presentation that day and wasn’t sure what to do. The contractions were in front–I had no back pain–and they were irregular. These are often signs of false labor. My husband headed to work and called my parents to come.
My parents came. My contractions continued and I downloaded a contraction timer app and began timing. Around 11 a.m. they were on average about 6 minutes apart, and lasting 10-20 seconds, and they were pretty mild. I sent my husband a text message and told him that I was fine but he might want to come home early. I tried lying down, walking around, drinking water, etc. but the contractions kept coming . They were a lot milder than I had expected labor to be, and they were pretty irregular, so I wasn’t sure if this was it. I sent my manager e-mail joking that I was oscillating between being bored and panicked wondering if this was it and then finding it was just a bad doughnut I ate or something!
Around 1:30 p.m. I was very sleepy and wanted to take a nap. My husband told me to call the doctor first and see what to do. I really did not want to call; I was desperate for sleep and just wanted to keel over, but he told me I should. The doctors and staff were apparently at lunch and the call went to an answering service. The lady asked if it was an emergency and whether she should page the doctor on call. I said it was up to her and she said “OK, I’ll page the doctor.” My OBGYN secretary called me about half an hour later and put me on the phone with the nurse. She said “usually you wait until your contractions are five minutes apart before going to the hospital,” and then she said she’d confirm with the OBGYN and call back. I waited and waited, desperate to take a nap, but she didn’t call back and around 3 p.m. my husband came home early. I was now tired and really irritated as I had not been able to sleep.
At some point in the afternoon or evening, my contractions stopped–a sign that it was false labor, according to our birth class. I was really disappointed as I was tired of being pregnant. I sent my parents home. My mom was not convinced this was false labor and told me she suspected that I would probably have a baby that night.
I don’t remember much of the rest of the night. In the evening, I think contractions started again and this time every time I went to the bathroom there was blood-tinged mucus, which I had not seen in the 39 weeks and five days since my last period. But again, I Googled and found that “bloody show” might or might not be a sign of labor and therefore was meaningless as such. My husband and I started timing contractions. They were still irregular and still only in front. Finally around 1 a.m., I remember being in a lot of pain. It wasn’t excruciating pain but it was unpleasant enough that when lying in bed I’d curl up in the fetal position and pant. The contractions had finally reached the point where they were on average four or five minutes apart and a minute long. Somehow I still wasn’t convinced it was the real thing and I was more terrified of going to the hospital and having to either come back home, or getting IVs and all others sorts of nastiness, then toughing out a few more hours at home.
My husband called his dad (surgeon) and his dad told him real labor does not have to involve back pain. My husband decided it was time to call the doctor. The answering service guy was a jerk. He kept asking my husband who was the last OBGYN in the practice we’d seen. My husband didn’t know, since the last person we saw was the PA and he wasn’t at the penultimate appointment. I took the phone and answered the questions. A doctor called me back, very sleepy and sounding a bit annoyed. (Turns out he has four kids and his wife is an OBGYN also). I felt uneasy as the doctor on call was a man (my practice is all women, but shares call with another practice) whom I didn’t know. l told him that I’d been having contractions on and off since 8 a.m., that they were about four minutes apart and one minute long. He told me to go to the hospital and he’d call and let them know I was on my way.
I phoned my parents. I was now in real pain and very cranky. We stopped at their place and picked them up. The car ride hurt and I kept saying that I didn’t want to go to the hospital and that I was scared. We parked in the Emergency parking and I waddled to Labor and Delivery.
We were the only ones there. The desk lady asked me why I was checking in and I said I thought I was in labor. “Oh–are you Dr. X’s patient?” she asked. I said yes (apparently he had indeed called and let them know I’d come in.) Then I remember lots and lots of paperwork, despite having pre-registered, and getting a hospital bracelet or four slapped on me. I signed it all without having a clue what it was. I’d have signed anything at that point!
I stood and paced in the waiting room while the rest of my family sat, as sitting was becoming uncomfortable for me. At this point I was sleep-deprived and much more frightened of what was ahead than in pain. A Philips TV was blaring some late night show and I did my best to ignore it. My mom said something to me and I snapped at her to leave me alone. The desk staff told me a nurse would come and get me shortly. Another couple arrived; the lady’s last name was Gonzaga and she was very young. Unlike me they seemed at ease and she did not seem hugely pregnant or in any pain. I have no idea what they were doing there in the middle of the night. Comparatively I felt stupid being so frightened and uncomfortable and cranky.
I tried the water dispenser and the desk lady called out “it doesn’t work.” She let me into the delivery ward (the nurses have to let you in and out) where they had a water fountain and I came back with a glass of water. A nurse at the desk called out “take small sips or it’ll come back up!” I told her that was good advice, but really I hadn’t been nauseated all night.
The labor nurse finally came out and told me I could take one person back with me. My husband and I went to a small triage room with curtains for walls. It looked a lot like either a preop room or a room you’d see in the ER. The nurse told me to take everything off and put on a gown, and left. I left my bra and socks on. It was difficult and uncomfortable to get on the bed. She came and attached two monitors to my stomach, one for contractions and one to measure fetal heart rate, and apologized that I was so uncomfortable. I was happy to confirm via the monitor that the pain I was feeling were in fact contractions. She told me she would do a cervical check and I asked her to be gentle. She checked and said I was at 6 cm, that they were going to admit me, and that I was going to have a baby tonight. I was delighted and scared at the same time. I asked how long it would take to get to 10 and she told me (unless I remember wrong) that usually it’s about 1.2 centimeters an hour. It was probably around 2-3 a.m. at this point. At my suggestion, my husband called his mom to let her know we were in the hospital and also called my mom in the waiting room.
I had to stand up (my husband helped me put my shoes on) and walk to the delivery room. The nurse told me she would hold something behind me so not everyone saw my “goodies,” but honestly at that point I could have cared less. She left and came back a few minutes later saying that she had been assigned to be my nurse for the night. She asked me about an epidural and then told me she had three kids drug-free and I could manage it too if I wanted–not that she was pressuring me to or even encouraging me to. She asked me if I wanted a bolus of fluid now since she’d have to give me the full bag before the epidural. I was glad that I work in the medical field so I knew what “bolus” meant. I discussed a little with my husband, wanting to hold off as long as possible and afraid of the catheter and IV, but he suggested that I get the fluid and I agreed. I then had the second IV of my life (the first was when I had my wisdom teeth out.) I was really scared and in fact it was both painful and uncomfortable. At that point, because of the fetal monitoring, I was stuck flat on my back–a terrible position that made the contractions hurt much more. At some point I started shivering uncontrollably. The nurse told me it was because of the hormones. It may have been but I was also super-anxious and in pain. The nurse said she needed 20 minutes of data before I could sit up, and that only if the doctor gave permission to take off the monitoring. Then she left the room.
I don’t know how much time passed but by the end of the wait I was moaning. The nurse came in and said “it goes from bearable to unbearable really fast, doesn’t it?” I agreed, but really a lot of the pain was because of being in this scary place with an IV hooked up to me and a blood pressure cuff going off every few minutes whose wrinkles I later found were cutting into my arm, without my parents (who were still outside) and being flat on my back and not able to turn around and even look at the monitor behind me. The anesthesiologist was a geeky Chinese guy who talked in a robotic voice and seemed to have Asperger’s. I don’t know what he was doing to my back, but I was supposed to sit on the edge of the bed hugging a pillow and hunched over while he stuck in needles. The nurse sat in front of me. They told me not to move and I asked what happened if I had a contraction. “Look at me and breathe,” the nurse answered.
The anesthesiologist asked me a few times to tell him whether I was feeling the pokes in the left, right, or middle. Mostly they were in the middle. Whatever he injected into my back burned, and there was an awful alcohol smell (probably he’d cleaned my back off). And then it was over. After that I had to lie down. The feeling south of my breasts slowly lessened. The nurse placed a urinary catheter and it didn’t hurt; she told me I’d just feel pressure and that was true. I remember one of the side effects of the epidural was that it made my legs and stomach itch.
The epidural was light so I could still move my legs and still had some feeling. I had a “pain” button that I could push periodically. The nurse warned me that if I lay on my side for a long time, the bottom side would become numb as all the anesthesia would go down. And that was that; I lay there for a while watching the contractions on the monitor. Someone in another room started screaming loudly, which was a little strange.
At some point I sat up and knocked the fetal monitor off and nobody came, so I pushed the “call” button. The nurse came in and apologized that nobody had been with me for a while, and said “a lady came in near completion and the baby came flying out in about two minutes, so we all went to her room.” I guess that’s where the screaming came from.
At some point after I had the epidural, my husband called my mom and she came in.
The nurse then did a cervical check and said “you have no cervix left–maybe a little lip, but that’s all.” She was surprised that it went so fast. She paged the doctor and told him I was at completion with a bulging bag, and we waited for what seemed like an hour for him to arrive. Someone also brought in a portable ultrasound machine and the nurse told me that she wasn’t able to feel the head at the last check, though that could be because of the bag of waters, but the doctor just wanted to make sure that the head was down. This of course made me nervous, but I also knew the head had been down since week 34 or so and since I was told at 37 weeks that the baby had engaged i had no reason to believe it had flipped.
After what seemed like an hour the doctor finally arrived. He was someone I’d never met before, and in fact I’d never had a male OBGYN. But he was friendly and put me at ease, and anyway I just wanted medical care and didn’t care too much who was doing what down there as all the nurses were strangers anyway. He’d read my records and said “looks like you’ve had an unremarkable pregnancy, which in medicine is always a good thing.”
“You have a heroic pain tolerance,” he told me. “You’ve labored like a champ–it’s unheard of to come to the hospital at 6 cm!” (I don’t think that’s true, but it made me feel good. He ran the ultrasound over my stomach and said “here’s a baby head–here’s a baby eye socket, here’s a baby eyeball–the head is down.”
The nurse apologized and said “I couldn’t feel it,” and the doctor answered “you don’t have to tell me! I know it’s hard to feel.”
The doctor asked me “can I do a cervical check?” and I of course said yes, but he told me he always asks (which is nice.) At this point, since I had the epidural, the cervical checks didn’t hurt at all. Then he broke my bag of waters. I shuddered because I knew they use something called an “amnio hook” to do that and that was scary, but it didn’t hurt at all and in fact I didn’t even feel it. I’m told not too much water came out, since it all came out with the baby.
And then it was time to push, and the doctor left. My husband was a little nervous and asked the nurse “so do the nurses deliver the baby here?” (I think in other places the OBGYN will be there through the pushing phase.”
The nurse said “yes–we deliver up to the head and then the doctor takes over. Funny that the doctor.
They brought a huge Star Trek-style light down from the ceiling. Fortunately I’d seen it on the maternity ward tour we’d taken a few months earlier.
The nurse explained to me to push like I was having a bowel movement, three times with each contraction, as hard as I could, inhaling and then holding my breath on the exhale while she counted to ten. This was different than I’d read–I’d read that holding your breath can starve the baby of oxygen. I asked if there were other breathing techniques and she said no.
I watched the monitor to see whether I was having a contraction, but I could feel them also. The pushes showed on the monitor too, as small oscillations on top of the larger envelopes that were the contractions. At first I didn’t know how to push at all. The nurse would stick her fingers in to show me where to push–it didn’t help. She told me to grab the backs of my thighs and curl around the baby. I kept asking how long the pushing phase usually lasted and I couldn’t get a straight answer. I think I got scared at this point and my contractions stopped.
“You can’t have a baby like this,” the nurse said. She radioed the OB and said “should we give her Pitocin?”
He said “yes–start it at 4.”
A few hours went by. When I pushed, my husband was holding my left leg and the nurse was holding my right.
I again asked for status. The nurse told me that the baby’s head was right now being molded to pass through the birth canal, so these pushes were not as unproductive as they seemed.
A grey-haired lady came in when I was having a contraction and stood at the foot of the bed. “Sorry to interrupt,” she asked when I was done trying to push. “I’m a nursing instructor at X College and I wanted to ask whether one of our students could watch your delivery.”
Boy was it a bad time. I wanted to scream at her, but I just said “I’m sorry; I’m tired and I’m exhausted. Maybe if it were earlier, but not now.” And she was polite and left.
I apologized to the nurse, who said “don’t worry; they understand.”
When the nurse left the room, my husband both told me that the baby was indeed moving significantly down, so my pushes were doing something. At some point the nurse told me “the baby has dark hair!”
I again asked how much longer! The nurse told me “It’s hard to say, but a few more pushes like that one and you’ll have this baby out in no time!” When she left the room again, my husband told me that the head was intermittently showing with each push, but slipping back inside.
It was morning by this point. I had not slept much the night before. I had not slept at all this night. I was tired. I could feel the contractions through the epidural.
I told my husband I thought this baby was never going to come out. There was a TV at what a pilot would call 2 o’ clock high, and I could vaguely see the reflection of my pelvic area in the screen but I was too frightened to look and so was careful not to. Now I sort of wish I had, or asked for a mirror, but at the time it was too much.
And then it was time for a shift change, so the nurse changed and then the OB did. This was really scary for me.
The new nurse was an older lady. Often during contractions she had her back to me and wasn’t paying attention. After a few hours she had me turn on my right–and then when the fetal heart rate dropped, on my left. She said this would help to turn the baby in the right position. Being on my side was a lot more restful.
People told me I’d poop during labor and also that I wouldn’t care. Both were correct. I pooped. Three times, actually. The nurse was sweet and told me “that’s how we know you’re pushing right; you passed a bit of stool.” My husband said he knew because of the smell and also that the stools were solid. Yuck.
The new OB in charge was thankfully one whom I had seen before. When she walked in and my contractions slowed down again. The doctor said “doesn’t this always happen?” and the Pitocin was turned up to 6.
“How long has she been pushing?” the doctor asked.
I didn’t hear the nurse’s reply but it had been several hours. I was looking at them exhausted and like I wanted to give up. I was covered in sweat.
“Why are we on our side?” she asked the nurse.
The nurse explained that I was tired or something.
The OB said “if she’s on her side, she can’t push well. All of her energy is going into holding onto the bed [or something]. Turn her on her back again.” And then she left.
The nurse put me back on my back with some additional stirrups or something. They were uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable. I wished I could push in some other position. Being flat on my back felt worse than being in labor.
My mom was in the room making empathetic noises at this point. She looked really tired. I snapped at her that if it was so hard to watch then she should go home. She said of course she wasn’t leaving.
Anyway, the doctor walked in and sat on the bed and said she wasn’t leaving now until the baby was out. I came close to delivering the head and there was a huge buzz of activity and lots of nurses came in. The doctor got on her iPhone with her practice and was telling them she would not be able to make her 8:30 appointment when suddenly I was in a lot of pain.
There was this terrible stretching and burning sensation–I assume it was the head coming out–and I started crying “It hurts it hurts it hurts.” The nurse told me “it hurts because you’re about to have a baby.” I had no idea what that meant. A striking feature of my 24 hour labor was that it felt somehow surreal…at no point did I actually conceive that there was a baby coming out on the other side of it.
The doctor hung up the phone, jumped over, and someone told me to push again. My mom says she turned the baby and pulled it out. Several people said there was a huge gush of amniotic fluid that the baby had been holding back like a cork in a bottle. I saw that my stomach had deflated. I couldn’t see much else. They lifted my gown and put the baby on my tummy, as the nurse had told me previously they would do. She was so big and heavy.
“That came out of me?!” was my reaction–I was shocked! My husband took photos with his iPhone of him, me, and the baby.
The OB was down in my pelvic region at that point. She requested a face shield and told me to deliver the placenta by pushing once hard. I did and it came out with no trouble. “Whoa, what a big placenta!” she said and it went in a pan. (Google tells me this may have to do with Rh-incompatibility).
Then I heard her say “Anterior–no tear. Posterior–second degree tear.” She splashed around a bottle of some kind of clear antiseptic liberally, I think to wash off blood and fluids, and then I saw her needle and thread moving and her taking stitches. I don’t know if the thread was red or if it was my blood. Very quickly I was sewn up, and left in the postpartum room to recover for two hours. A team of nurses quickly cleaned up all the spilled fluid (I didn’t see this, but my husband and mom did) and weighed the baby. My shoes were under the bed and the nurse said I was lucky they didn’t get soaked.
I was desperate to get the IV and epidural catheter out which eventually happened. This anesthesiologist was a Caucasian guy, soft-spoken and very sweet and empathetic. He felt bad because there was so much tape to take off and it was stuck so well to my back–but I didn’t even flinch and he told me I was brave. (Epidural tape is nothing when you’ve just had a baby!) It didn’t hurt that I was still partly numb–and anyway I’m used to waxing.
I don’t remember much of the next two hours but I do remember they helped me get up and into a wheelchair, and wheeled me down the hall. My dad came in at some point. My family followed with the baby in a hospital bassinet, but the bassinet had a crooked wheel and kept veering off course so they were much slower. I was happy to see the room. The lady wheeling my wheelchair asked me where we were from. I said India and asked her where she was from (Honduras). She helped me into bed and said that I should call them when I needed to pee.
The next nurse who came in was African-American. She was doing her MFA online and told me she had two kids, and that this area was great for education. She was friendly; my husband liked her and my mom didn’t. I wondered why I’d need help going to the bathroom but apparently not only did they need to measure the urine, but after irrigating with a special bottle, there was a complicated assembly of disposable underwear, a huge sanitary napkin, an ice pack, and Tucks pads that had to be put together and worn. She was nice and ran the water so I could pee and then showed me how to assemble all this and told me I would be really really grateful for the ice packs once the epidural wore off (correct).
I think that’s enough for this post–the rest really belongs under “postpartum.” I will write about that later.