I never wrote a birth story for my son. This is supposed to be Peri’s story, but her story starts where Lewis’ left off.
I prepared for an unmedicated vaginal birth and it all went wrong. I wanted to go natural mostly just to see if I could do it. I also got a bit caught up in the “Business of Being Born” kind of hype and really wanted to avoid that “cascade of interventions” that leads to C-Sections. I really, really, really did not want to have a C-Section.
I started having contractions a few days past my Tuesday due date. I labored at home, mostly at night because my contractions would stop in the morning. This went on for 2 days and then my water broke on Saturday after a long restless night of contractions. Once my water broke the pain kicked up to this whole other level. I could immediately tell a difference because things went from uncomfortable to stop-talking-to-me-because-I-need-to-focus-to-deal-with-this-pain. We headed to the hospital where I was admitted around noon and found to be 5cm dilated. Even though I knew labor could be wildly unpredictable, I was excited to be almost halfway there. I was relieved that the pain I had been experiencing was productive. If I had been feeling that level of pain and been told that I was 1cm dilated, I would have seriously doubted my ability to have an unmedicated childbirth.
I continued to labor without drugs mostly relying on my HypnoBabies training to stay relaxed and refrain from screaming. The pain (not “pressure” as the HypnoBabies lady tried to make me think ha!) was real and intense. It was also somehow manageable. I tend to think that if something hurt that bad I would be unable to resist screaming and hollering. I didn’t scream. Maybe I have a high pain threshold? Maybe I just internalize my pain and get quiet instead of screaming?
While I labored, I remember telling The Mister that I could handle this so much better if my back didn’t hurt so much. If only I’d had a clue what that back pain really meant! By 4PM, I was 9cm dilated but the baby was still up high. My doctor was not very happy about this. He let me know that my contractions “just weren’t cutting it.” He stated that I needed to be complete and ready to push by 6PM or we would need to explore other options. It’s funny because out of a group of 5 physicians, I got the doctor I thought I wanted on call. I figured he would be more old school and less likely to be one of those scary docs that are quick to cut. I was wrong. I started to get really stressed out.
In my exhaustion and at my doctor’s urging, I consented to Pitocin since I was clearly failing at labor. I was freaked out by the notion of Pitocin augmented contractions (worse than normal ones) so I got an epidural. I had already mentally consented to a C-Section anyway based on the doctor’s negative energy. If he was going to cut me anyway, why shouldn’t I get some drugs?
The epidural brought relief but not as much relief as I expected. The contractions ceased to be an issue, but the required catheter was very uncomfortable. It was internally irritating and I still felt like my bladder was full. I asked the nurse if it was working and she assured me that everything was in place and functional. It was so annoying to feel like you have to pee and be unable to get up to relieve that urge. It’s doubly frustrating when you have a contraption installed that should be handling that problem. I wanted that thing out so badly!
The clock struck 6PM and they upped the Pitocin because there was no more progress, I was still at 9cm. The doctor checked for swelling or a cervical lip that might be holding things back and neither was present. You can guess how this story ended when no real progress was made an hour later. I was at 9cm, +1 station and my doctor said something to the effect of “we can be here all night doing this and then his heart rate will drop and we’ll have to do a C-Section anyway.” My son was tolerating the contractions fine and was in no danger. This wasn’t an emergency situation. I could have held off. But I was sleep-deprived and discouraged so I tearfully consented to the surgery.
The Mister tried to talk me out the procedure because he knew this wasn’t what I wanted. We took these uber-crunchy childbirth classes and he later told me that the situation unfolded just like our teacher said it might. He could see it happening and felt powerless to stop it. He felt like the doctor was not interested in what was going on at all and just seemed to be rushing things along. He was actually angry with the doctor on my behalf. He wanted to fight for me to have the birth I wanted, I just wanted to give up. I was surprised to learn all of this later because he wasn’t really all that invested in the whole childbirth process other than having a healthy child.
So my fear of having a C-Section became my reality. It was a case of “failure to progress.” They eventually wheeled me into the OR after 8PM (no rush because it wasn’t an emergency), pumped up the drugs, turned on the bright lights and that was that. My son was in the sunny-side up position which explained the back pains I felt. This is not an impossible delivery position, but it can make things take longer for first-time mothers. Some OBs don’t like it when things take a little longer than the textbook delivery schedule. Mine certainly didn’t.
It annoys me that my C-Section was likely unnecessary. It annoys me that I kind of gave up under the pressure instead of trying a bit longer. I think that having a doula (The Mister was very anti-doula) or even a helpful nurse (my second shift nurse sucked) would have made a difference. If someone had just said, “Hey, your back hurts? Maybe the baby is sunny-side up and you should try this position to turn him around” the outcome may have been different. I hate feeling like I wasn’t given a chance to let things happen naturally when there wasn’t any danger to my life or the baby’s life.
This is why I now feel that having a provider (or birth assistant) that is truly supportive of your goals is extremely important if you feel strongly about giving birth a certain way. If you mention that you want to give birth without drugs and your doctor laughs at you or wonders aloud why you would do that, get another doctor. The doctor might not be in the labor room for most of the process, but he has a large role in driving the birth process. When you are tired and focused on dealing with pain, you don’t need your provider making things harder with negative energy and ridiculous time clocks for labor.
The surgery was not what I wanted, but the recovery was not as awful as I imagined. I was walking the hospital halls the next day. I was off pain meds at home after one week. The worst part of the experience was emotional. I do not recall much of my time in the hospital. I vaguely remember Babs and DiscoDiva visiting. My mom gave me a Pandora bracelet (something I’d always wanted) and I totally forgot that it ever happened. When she reminded me about the bracelet months later, I was shocked.
The loss of these minor memories pales in comparison to not being able to remember the first time I saw my son. None of this affected our bonding at all and I never thought it would, but I truly regret not having that moment. The first time you lay eyes on your child should be special if possible. To have that moment unexpectedly stolen without a really good reason sucks.
Even though I had a “good” (e.g. no infections, no rare side effects) recovery, recovery from abdominal surgery is still very unpleasant. I couldn’t sleep lying down because it hurt my incision. Getting up from a reclining position hurt my incision too. I was exhausted because I was a new mom and I was taking drugs that make you tired and I couldn’t sleep comfortably. Not cool.
This caused fallout in relation to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding in the beginning is tough and can be painful while you and the baby learn how it all works. The pain meds I took made my son very sleepy and this made nursing even harder. He lost too much weight during our 4 day hospital stay and I was talked into giving him formula. As he greedily sucked down that bottle of ready-to-feed Similac, I cried because not only could I not deliver my baby, I couldn’t feed him either.
When I got home and off the meds, the situation didn’t improve much. It hurt when he latched. It felt like fire. I remember rocking in my chair in the dark nursery with tears streaming down my face as my son latched on and happily nursed. I just couldn’t take anymore pain. I continued to supplement with formula and I decided to exclusively pump.
In my exhaustion, I didn’t take the steps to make exclusive pumping fully successful (e.g. pumping around the clock like a crazy person). I had to go back to work at 6 weeks and I never produced enough milk to not supplement with formula. I pumped 3x a day at work + an extra session at home just to get 9oz which was not enough. My later efforts with Reglan, Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle, and a hospital grade pump didn’t help much. Breastfeeding ended in 4 short months when I caught a cold and the little supply I had dried up. I was kind of glad because all of that pumping to get so little milk just didn’t seem worth it.
I had all these ideas in my head about how my birth would go and I would successfully breastfeed would be and none of that came to pass. I still occasionally feel some disappointment with how things unfolded. However, now that he’s almost 4 years old I can see that none of that matters – although I do sometimes wonder if his asthma issues could be attributed to his surgical delivery. I love that boy more than life itself and him being mostly formula fed doesn’t matter in the least bit. I don’t feel like my C-Section means I didn’t give birth (some women feel that way). I wasn’t traumatized by my experience. I just didn’t want a repeat performance. Since I only plan to have two children, I wanted a different experience for my last child.
I got it!
To be continued…