Disclaimer: this is a birth story, and for the purpose of clarity, rememberance, and usefulness to readers who might be pregnant, it might get a little gross. No promises. Do not read if you wish to stay clear of medical descriptions and possibly gross and/or graphic pictures. Do not read if you are pregnant and nervous about your birth experience, because I’m going to be transparent.
(I don’t have any pictures for this post because we were busy. Obviously.)
I had a large ziplock bag of ice on my crotch for the car ride, and it was the only thing keeping me at all sane or focused. Getting to our stuffed little green Honda with the carseat installed in back was very difficult, and there was wobble-running involved. I had to keep towels under the seat to prevent more cervical fluid leaking. I was in active labor and, truth be told, I really should have made the trek to the hospital sooner than I did. I ended up making it more difficult on myself.
Every piece of gravel our tires went over felt like a baseball bat beating against my lower body and reverberating all through me. Very close to our house there are train tracks and I held my breath and braced myself as we rode over them, as slowly as Alex could go while still trying to get me to the hospital as quickly as possible. He was strangely calm, but I expected that. He was focused. Halfway there, I started screaming. I remember being at stoplights and knowing that people in the cars beside us could see me and hear me very well, even with everyone’s windows closed, and I considered being embarrassed, but pain has a way of encompassing everything, including our core nature. I hardly had any shame left.
When we got to the hospital, Alex parked by the door and got me a wheelchair. I thought I might not make it even like that. Sitting down was awful, especially on that hard plastic. All of those bumps and the uneven floors… Don’t believe what people tell you. Wheelchairs are uncomfortable, and not fun. I know, I couldn’t believe it either.
Labor and Delivery was on the fourth floor, as I recall. It’s been a few months at this point, but at the time I was VERY familiar with making my way in. I had been there at least four or five times at that point. I don’t remember much about the trip up except that I was in massive pain and I do remember getting into the elevator and fearing the worst. Thoughts of it breaking flashed through my head. When I was about eleven I was trapped in an elevator, all alone. It was one of those super old ones that’s about five by five feet. I wasn’t scared or anxious about it at the time, and I had never given it much worry since, but every time I went up to labor and delivery I always thought “This would be the time. This would be the time it breaks on me again. This is when I would get truly stuck, like firemen rescue level stuck.” All while breathing through contractions. This time was worse, because the labor was like a hellish inferno in my crotch. I’m just being real, y’all. Although momentarily I did think “It would be almost convenient if the elevator broke down, because then I would be forced into a natural delivery, which is what I want.” But I can’t even explain how briefly this thought came and went. Immediately I thought “I can’t handle this at all, and I definitely can’t handle it without medicine or doctors and on an elevator floor,” which I would obviously have flung myself upon in anguish and writhing in pain. My second thought, almost simultaneous, was of the guilt variety: “I love my baby, I love this child, how could I for even a moment think it would be cool to deliver him on this filthy floor with no medical intervention and no emergency backup plan in case something goes wrong? I am awful. I am a terrible mother. This is a disaster why did I do this how did I think I could be a mom oh my gosh–” My third thought as I felt his hand on my shoulder was “I could do it. With Alex I could do anything. This pain is from hell, but Alex is completely and totally straight from God, and he’s here, they’re both here. I could do it.”
When we got to the desk, I don’t remember much, except being very furious that they were making me put on a gown. I was screaming. My contractions were still about a minute and a half to a minute apart and they were making me scream bloody murder. How dare these freaking monsters make me go into their stupid bathroom all by myself and take off my dumb clothes and put on their way dumber buttless hospital gown? “How freaking dare they? This is utter crap.” I was much kinder in real life. In this case kinder probably means that I didn’t say any of that out loud. This moment was not my finest. I pride myself on typically being pretty chill, but at this time I was super not chill. I was a having a hard time. I do not remember if they made Alex fill out the annoying paperwork or not, but history suggests that they would have, and I know that that would have caused me further angst.
I also don’t remember if I got a real doctor or a student in the checkup room. The checkup room! I don’t think they even believed I was in active labor, I think they just thought I was being a drama queen. Oh I am WAY more fun when I’m being a drama queen. Then one of the two doctor-y people (the one of whom I was certain was a student and who did not seem to know what to do with my screaming) started trying to check my cervix. Normally, you should understand, I am incredibly obliging. I let doctors do whatever they have to do. I don’t mind saying that I am a trooper and a class act in the being a medical patient sense. But a cervical exam at that time was too much. I didn’t even try to oblige. I just let him worry about it and hoped that it would be annoying enough for him that he would just give up. He kind of did, but he said that I was at five centimeters. Active enough for science, I guess.
My pain got worse, somehow. They wheeled me into the room directly across from the front desk. I was glad that it was so close, but I was also peeved that it was kind of in the middle of everything. I wanted a room away from everything, where no one could hear my screams. Honestly, I wanted to be in a castle somewhere in European mountains, where people are typically tortured and where no one would hear me. For some reason, this seemed important at the time. But not enough for me to think on it for more than a second. I was put on the table. Things were bad. Things were very bad.
My nurse was great. She was nice, but not too nice. She was in action mode. Efficient, to the point. I needed that. She made me feel normal about my pain and the amount of screaming I was getting out (even though she remarked later that she wondered how Alex hadn’t completely lost his hearing, and also she told me when it was all over that things had been unusually bad for me, even though she probably says that to all the girls). She was acting just as though she were checking me out at the grocery store. Talking at a normal speed, a normal volume, everything being normal. It made me feel reassured, because in my head I knew that they do this for a living and it’s completely normal and natural, but I was having a baby and that was completely alien to me at the time and I couldn’t help but feel like the only person in the world with my particular circumstance.
I think (I am sure) that I was hooked up to a lot of things. I kept telling myself “Hold out, hold out, go natural”. I asked for laughing gas, which was part of our original plan in case I needed something. A sort of first resort. I used it as best I could, but I found that I couldn’t breathe in the gas because I couldn’t breathe at all. Things just got worse.
I know I keep saying that things got worse, but I don’t feel as though I’ve fully communicated how bad it was. I truly thought that dying was just around the corner, even though I knew logically that I was not dying. There is no way to accurately describe my pain, but it felt, relatively, as though giant knives and swords were being run through me from the bottom and up through the top of my torso, and also like a giant hammer was pounding away at my pubic bone, spreading the bone, cracking it into bits, magically repairing it so that the process could repeat. At this point, I was sitting on the left side of the table with my legs dangling off the edge, and holding onto Alex for dear life. I know I must have screamed in his ear dozens of times and nearly cut off his circulation with my squeezing. But, then again, I don’t quite know what I did. I started passing out. Every time a contraction came it was just this horrible, excruciating, visceral buildup and a crescendo, or perhaps more like a climax. The climax would just barely come and I would feel the lightheadedness and see white and then stars and then black and blurs and my ears would go all whooshy and then silent. It was like my brain was saying “Okay, come on guys, enough is enough, she can’t take anymore. We’ve got to make her feel like she’s away from it all for a few seconds, or she might die.” Or maybe it was my heart saying “I can’t handle it, it’s too terrible! Save her! Save her!” Alex was the only thing keeping me on the table when I would pass out. He had to hold me up. And then the climax would hit and it would jolt me back into consciousness. And then it would happen all again, every sixty seconds, on a horrid loop. Alex later told me that I was screaming the word no a lot.
Please thank your mother. She is the strongest person you will ever know.
So yes, I felt like I held out for an eternity. The nitrous oxide just wasn’t working for me. When the man came in giving me his spiel about my options for medication and pain relief, he annoyed me so much because he was acting so normal in a way that just was stressful somehow, even though I am totally aware that that was just me being unreasonable and touchy at the time. I know he is probably a nice man. He told me so. He told me that he would soon be my favorite person, just like they always say. (He was right, of course. I loved him very soon after.) I just kept screaming, and I kept passing out. And he kept on talking, because he was legally required to do so, I assume.
Alex looked at me, a little uncertainly. I was groaning, and my face was scrunched up into what I must assume was a very ugly sight. “I think I need an epidural,” I gasped, very quietly. He made me repeat myself because I was so quiet. I had to force the words out with what felt like actual muscle strain. I felt no shame in my choice. It was either try something unnatural, or die a natural death. That is how I felt. I wanted so, so badly to crawl my poor little soul out of my body on its hands and knees and then to float somewhere safe, somewhere without the pain. The pain that I tried to describe, but can’t. The pain that was worse than migraines, worse than gallstones, worse than anything I could possibly imagine.
It was very difficult for them to get the epidural in. It took absolutely every bit of strength and concentration I had to brace myself against my husband and hold still long enough for them to put the needle in the right place. My body was spasming beyond anything I could control, but for a few seconds I finally was able to brace myself enough. I think that when you are given an epidural they have to sanitize your back. I felt nothing. Maybe they numbed it, but I wouldn’t know. I felt not air on my bare back, I felt no sanitization, and I felt no needle. All I could feel was everything else. I kept holding on clumsily to the gas mask and trying my best to breathe it in. My nurse kept instructing me on how to use it, as if repeating it would make me breathe better, or at all. I tried. I kept trying. She also kept telling me how to breathe, as if that, in turn, would help me to breathe better, or at all.
They checked my cervix again after the epidural was administered, but I really don’t remember them doing it, or even changing positions. I must have been on my back at that point, Alex to the right of me, holding my hand. They informed me that I was dilated to a nine and a half. I made them repeat it. I was a first time mother, and I had heard the stories. The first time can take even days of laboring. I knew it wouldn’t be days for me, but I assumed it would be longer. It had been thirty minutes since they had checked me last. A five to a nine and a half in thirty minutes. I looked at Alex then, I think, wide eyes, communicating silently “Isn’t that crazy?” and his eyes responded “Whoa, babe.” I knew that’s what he was thinking. The epidural was kicking in, I was gaining a tiny bit of sanity, and we were having our baby. Soon.
To be continued. (I know this is taking me forever but cut me some slack, this is detailed! Like I know none of you people want to know all of this, but you have to admire my dedication.)