Trigger Warning: my birth was hard
Penelope was born at 7:33am on Wednesday, February 21. She weighed six pounds and four ounces and was 19 3/4 inches long.
The number one goal for Penny’s birth was a healthy baby. We achieved this goal. The second goal was a healthy me. We’re still working on this one. The third goal was as natural a birth possible under the induction circumstances. That, well…
We checked into the hospital at 6:30pm on the 19th. When we got there, I was about 1.5cm dilated and 60-70% effaced depending on the doctor, so the first course of action was Cytotec. The hope, of course, was that a round or two of that would get things going. Of course, the first thing that needed to happen was getting my IV line going, a process which took three nurses and an entire arm’s worth of blown veins to figure out. There was a moment during the first attempt, which I wasn’t watching, where I was so distracted that I thought they must have been done already, only to look over and learn that the poor nurse was blowing the shit out of my arm. Finally, they brought in the resident expert nurse on IV lines, this delightful, Dolly Parton-esque woman who squeezed my arm into the tourniquet, exclaimed, “Well there’s a juicy one!” and had the line and three tubes of blood drawn in under a minute.
The rounds of Cytotec, of which there were four, went like this: cervix checked. Progress not made. Cytotec inserted. Don’t move for an hour. Pee. Bounce on ball. Pace three foot circle because the monitors weren’t wireless. Get readjusted on monitors that kept falling off. Get checked. Progress not made. Cry. No sleep. Repeat x4.
After the fourth Cytotec and a membrane strip, I finally made it to about 3, which allowed us to move from our Special Care OB room to an actual labor and delivery room to start Pitocin. This happened at about 5pm on the 20th, so almost a full 24 hours after admission. They let me labor for a little while before starting that, so we paced the halls a bit and bounced on my ball, did some squatting and kneeling. Contractions were easily managed. After about an hour of this, the nurse wanted to get me going on the pit. She started me at 1, and I didn’t feel much for the first half an hour or so.
Before I launch into this part, I will say: I heard horror stories about Pitocin that I tried very hard to ignore because I also found good stories, but mine is not a good story.
When the Pit kicked it, it kicked in hard and fast. Extremely painful contractions came on about 30-60 seconds long, 30 seconds apart—one right on top of another. And they were not in the front hardly at all. I’ve met the dreaded Back Labor. I’ve tried very hard to come up with adequate metaphors for this pain:
Someone taking a sledgehammer to the small of my back. Having a hot fist in my spine twisting my vertebrae. Giles Corey being stoned at the gallows. White hot cattle prods from the inside out. 30. Seconds. Apart. To pee I’d have to make it through three or four contractions before even getting to the bathroom.
Counterpressure from my doula was the only thing that would even remotely help. And my god, is she tremendous. Such a steady, calming force who left my side for all of an hour during this entire ordeal. But they kept coming. Stronger, harder, and my animal brain completely overruled any sense of resilience I had in me at this point. By about 11pm, I was writhing in agony, sweating, shaking, screaming—I was someone and somewhere else. And the thought running through my head was purely, “I cannot do this. I am going to die.”
Which could only mean one thing: transition. Right?
Wrong. I’d made it to 5cm.
I wept. I wept and wailed. I told my OB, “What if I die?” I looked at my husband and my doula, trying to communicate without saying anything the abject terror running through me. And I said, “I can’t. I can’t.”
I’ll never forget looking up from the bed, feeling like a scared animal looking into the eyes of a predator, and seeing this halo of faces: my husband, all soft eyes and concern, the doula and her resolute strength, two nurses trying to tell me about productive pain, the resident standing back a little like he didn’t want to invade this horror space, and my OB, with almost a little resigned smile. Someone said, “Honey, get the epidural,” and we called the anesthesiologist.
That was one of the most dreaded options to me previously, but I think it ended up saving me from what does happen to a lot of women that we don’t talk about: PTSD related to their birth experiences. Getting it was easy enough—very little discomfort. Relief at all took a good 20 minutes with full relief maybe 45 minutes in. I was a new person. I could talk. I could rest. I wanted to eat (wasn’t allowed to, but this felt like a good sign to me).
The rest of the night mostly drifted by. The OB came in and broke my water, which was extremely cool—it felt like a little water balloon pop. The baby had some decelerations That were being monitored closely, but changes to my position seemed to help.
At one point, the back pain started to break back through the epidural and we had to call the anesthesiologist back in for a top off, which never actually worked. But, in a way, this was helpful. We did some practice pushing at 4am and I could tell when to push and what to do. We rested for a while and started legit pushing at about 6:45am or so. By then, the pain did really suck, but I was rested and determined enough to do it.
Muscling through unimaginable Pitocin contractions was not what ended up making this birth feel empowering. In fact, that made me feel completely ineffectual. What made my birth empowering was making the decision to get the epidural and being present for pushing.
Apparently, there was a point during the next 45 minutes where they were looking at a c section for me, but the OB said that the tenor of the room changed when we started talking about my athleticism, that a new determination took over. And it took over fast—she wasn’t even dressed yet when I heard a chorus of “Oooooh!!!!!” during a four-push stretch—the head was out. I wept between every push with the pure relief and joy of it. The doctor rushed back over and finished delivering her shoulders and body, which I felt every inch of, a sensation that can only be described as a warm slither. They put her on my chest, rubbed her down, the cord was cut, and she was adorably pissed. APGARs were good, 8 and 9, and we. Were. Done.
And she’s perfect. I say that totally objectively.