I debated long and hard about posting this story on this blog. Because this is a HUMOR BLOG, and there isn't really a whole lot that's funny about having a baby. But in the end, I decided to go for it, for a couple of reasons: First, because it's a damn good story. And second, because I think it's important. It's important for everyone -- women, men, those who have never had children and those who have -- to know as much as possible about the true ins and outs of the whole process. And it's important that people realize that even if your worst-case scenario plays out, you will be okay (yeah, this story ends in kind of a worst-case scenario). Fear of childbirth is no reason to not have children. Fear of childbirth is no reason to take all the medications you can get your hands on during labor. Fear of childbirth is no reason to opt for a C-section if you don't need one. You don't need to be afraid.
I wasn't afraid, and things went south. And in the end, it was all okay.
Here's the story. Be warned -- it gets pretty graphic and it may change the way you think about me a little bit. But don't let that stop you from reading it. Just try not to complain too much afterwards.
Early labor started in the afternoon of September 30, not that I realized that’s what was happening. I was having what I thought were an insane amount of Braxton-Hicks contractions – they felt just like Braxton-Hicks, but I was having them every half hour or even more frequently. I was also having a lot of period-like cramps and they were getting pretty intense at times.
The period cramps continued all through the afternoon and evening, but I still didn’t really clue in as to what was happening. I convinced myself it was false labor and there was no way we were going to be having a baby that night. I finally figured out that maybe something else was going on when we went to bed that night. I was lying there playing games on my phone and realized the cramps were coming and going regularly – VERY regularly. I looked at the clock and realized that the cramps were at most 4-5 minutes apart. They weren’t lasting very long – maybe 15-20 seconds – but it was enough to make me panic a little. It almost seemed inevitable when my water broke at . I tapped Jesse on the shoulder and told him my water had broken, then ran to the bathroom to take a look at the damage. (Oh, and guess what -- I WAS WEARING AN ADULT DIAPER AT THE TIME so no mess was made in the bed! DING DING DING WINNNNERRRRRRR!)
Once it was assured that my water had indeed broken (and was continuing to leak out), we sprang into action. Phone calls were made; items from the list were gathered; Jesse took a quick shower; and then off into the car we went on our way to the hospital.
When we got there, I was taken into L&D triage to get checked out. They found my cervix dilated to 3cm and my contractions regular but brief. They were getting stronger though – they felt just like really really horrible period cramps; the kind that knock you on your ass whenever they hit. I hoped that all of labor wouldn’t feel like this, because I can handle a lot of different kinds of pain but something about the bottomless yawing agony of a bad period cramp just darts around my pain tolerance every time.
My mother arrived soon afterwards, as did our doula, and I was admitted to a labor suite. I was thankfully able to get midwife care, which meant I had an advocate for intermittent fetal monitoring and another person on board for my plan of a natural birth with no pain medications.
The contractions continued to get stronger and I spent a lot of time leaning heavily on Jesse and swaying rhythmically when they hit. I tried to get in the shower, but the water wouldn’t get quite hot enough so all it did was make me shiver violently. It didn’t help at all.
I tried sitting on the birth ball and swaying my hips in circles for a while, and while that felt fantastic, it seemed to be slowing down my contractions so we decided to try wandering the halls. Up and down the halls we walked, my contractions bumping up to a solid 7 on the pain scale and piling up one on top of another. They had started coupling up – one would start, peak, and then tumble 80% of the way back down, then hang out at that 20% level for a while before bumping back up to a second peak. It was awful. The worst part was definitely when the contraction would linger at that 20% level, because while that was manageable, I knew I wouldn’t get any real relief until it had risen to its second peak.
The pain was getting so bad that they decided to check me again at around . I thought I must be getting close to go time – the contractions were so intense I really didn’t think I could keep it up for much longer. I hoped I was in the transition phase of labor, since I know plenty of people say “just when I couldn’t take it anymore, I realized I was in transition and soon it would be time to push.” So the midwife checked me, and found … I was at 7-8 centimeters dilated. Maybe I was in transition, but if so, it was only just the beginning and I still had lots of these terrible contractions to go before I’d be fully dilated.
I wanted to quit. I wailed that I couldn’t do it. But everyone there – especially the midwife and the doula – told me I could do it, that I was doing it right now, and that I shouldn’t quit. So I kept holding on. I pretty much just quit paying attention to anything other than breathing through the contractions and trying not to push because I knew it wasn’t time. I kept staring at the little pictures on the side of the hospital bed explaining how to make it go up and down. For a good hour I just looked at the little stick figure next to the plus sign for raising the head of the bed.
But the urge to push was becoming unbearable. With every contraction, my body just wanted to push and it was taking every ounce of willpower I had just to hold back from pushing on maybe half of them. Through each contraction, my body wanted to push maybe 5 or 6 times. So if I only gave in and grunt-pushed three or four times, that was considered a victory. Also, I was peeing myself every time I pushed. EVERY. TIME. Thankfully I was wearing these mesh panties and a giant pad so the peeing myself didn’t really bother me. It just happened.
By the way, if you want to run the numbers on the peeing, let's see here ... contractions every 3 minutes, with uncontrolled pushing and uncontrolled peeing around 3 or 4 times per contraction. So I was peeing my pants somewhere on the order of 60 times per hour. Is that some kind of record??
After what felt like an eternity in the open knee chest position (which is supposed to help take the pressure off the cervix that makes the body want to push before it’s ready), the midwife finally checked me again and found me at 9 ½ cm. Awesome, almost there!!!
But they also did another check on the baby’s heart rate and found that it was low and getting lower. Not so great.
The labor suite started to fill with people – word was starting to spread that something bad was happening and there needed to be a lot of people at the ready.
They put me on oxygen and turned up the lights and rolled me onto my back. There were people everywhere and the fetal monitors were strapped onto me full time. I started to realize that something not good was happening.
There were multiple doctors in scrubs entering the room and I started to worry that this whole adventure was going to end in a C-section after all. I didn’t really understand what was happening; just that the baby’s heart rate was falling and they needed to get her out ASAP. The eastern European nurse kept getting in my face and ordering me to breathe deeply and slowly to get in all the oxygen I could. When she wasn’t in my face, I could feel my eyes darting around the room rapidly, not really seeing anything except the lights on the ceiling.
I had specified in my birth plan that I didn’t want to push while lying on my back, but there I was lying on my back. At the time, it was absolutely the most comfortable position I could imagine and it just felt right. This was a really big surprise to me. I mentioned something about pushing on my back not being part of the plan, but both the midwife and the doula assured me that if it’s what felt best to me, then it was the right thing. So I stayed that way.
The contractions kept coming and the midwife ordered me to push, saying she was going to try to pull my cervix the rest of the way open. Yep, she yanked it open another half centimeter while I was still not on any pain medication. But I didn't feel a thing -- my body's natural endorphins were better than any epidural could have been. I pushed and pushed, and everyone kept screaming that the baby was right there, RIGHT THERE and they could see her hair and I just had to push a little bit harder and we’d have a baby!
So I kept pushing and pushing, but she didn’t come out. And the heart rate dropped lower and lower. And the panic level in the room started to rise to fever pitch. At this point, there were no fewer than 15 people in the labor room with me – my three support people, the midwife, the nurse, plus at least two OBs, an anesthesiologist and team, a bunch of pediatric doctors and nurses … it was a circus.
One of the OBs told me that they needed to get the baby out immediately and in order to do that, they were going to give me an episiotomy (snip snip of the old perineum, aka "taint") and use the vacuum to pull her out. Apparently, the reason she wasn’t coming out was because she was sunny side up -- her face was pointed upwards instead of facing towards my spine -- which nobody had realized until then. That would explain the premature urge to push, and the coupling contractions. The baby wasn’t going to come out on her own, because with each contraction and each push, she was getting forced into a position that wouldn’t let her through the gates. So, episiotomy and vacuum it would have to be. And if that didn’t work, emergency C-section. They couldn’t use forceps on me because I hadn’t had an epidural.
All I could manage in response to this was “aw, man!” – in the same tone you might use when someone tells you the meter maid is writing you a parking ticket. Aw, man! An episiotomy and a vacuum-assisted birth? This wasn’t in the birth plan at all!
They took the end off my bed and gave me some local anesthetic on my perineum (since I still had not had any pain medication whatsoever while in labor), and then gave me the snip snip. Another contraction rose and all 15 people in the room started screaming at me to push. And then all 15 people started screaming at me to take a deep breath. And then 15 voices rose again in unison ordering me to push.
I pushed through a couple of contractions but the baby still wouldn’t come out. I could sense that my time was running out – that I was about 20 seconds away from getting the C-section I was so desperate to avoid. So when the next contraction rose, I listened to the 15 screaming voices and pushed as hard as I possibly could. Jesse said my face turned purple and my neck looked bigger than my head. I popped capillaries all over my body and a blood vessel in my eye from the strain.
And then it happened. I felt another pop.
The pop of a fourth-degree tear. The pop of my entire perineum just exploding.
But it worked. Her head finally came out, and then with one more push, out came the rest of her. And then she cried, and 15 people, most of them strangers, gave a loud cheer together. Audrey was born, and she was fine and healthy!!
My birth plan continued to go out the window, though. Because of all the drama and the danger, they clamped and cut her cord immediately so that the pediatricians could take her over to the incubator and make sure she was okay. She had a major hematoma on her head from the vacuum, and Jesse said she looked pretty bad in general. The cord had also been wrapped around her neck. So much for immediate skin-to-skin time.
But, she was fine – Apgar score of 9. And as soon as she was given the green light, she was brought over to me and placed on my chest. She was so gorgeous, with a big full head of hair. The midwife helped me get my gown open and we put the baby on my chest to feed, and she latched immediately and easily and suckled for a good 15 minutes. I was in love.
And it’s a good thing I had the baby to distract me, because my bottom was absolutely shot. The two OBs worked together for over an hour stitching me up. My vagina and rectum were completely merged together. When the placenta came out, I actually felt it brush against my rectum like a sloppy turd. It was gross. They had to stitch each part individually -- 4 different layers of stitches and repair. I tried to ignore what the two doctors were talking about, but I could hear things like “next we’ll repair the muscle” and just tried not to picture how much damage had been done to my down-below.
I finally had my first pain medication of the day (other than the local anesthetic before the episiotomy) while they were stitching me up – some nice narcotics in through my IV lock. It didn’t really block any pain but it did snow me out nicely and take the edge off the whole experience.
Not that I really felt any pain – I was actually cracking joke after joke at my own expense. One of the nurses taught me the word “vaganus” after I asked her if there was a word for what I had going on down there, and I laughed and laughed and kept teasing everyone about my vaganus. I told Jesse he was in luck because “you’ll finally get all that anal sex you’ve been after.” The nurses told me they were shocked by how good my attitude about the whole thing was – but I just said that I couldn’t imagine acting any other way. What’s the point in being hysterical? My baby was born, she was safe, she was healthy, and I got my natural vaginal birth. Sure, it didn’t go according to plan, but close enough.
Meanwhile, I think at least partly because of my good attitude, my bottom hasn’t been the least bit sore at all. In fact, I think I’ve been less sore than most women after giving birth, even though my vagina and anus ripped together into one giant opening. I can honestly say that my pain level has been consistently at a zero. A ZERO. Can’t beat that.
Anyway, now it’s over two weeks later, and my bottom has healed up perfectly. The stitches dissolved without ever feeling any pain or itchiness from it. I have no issues with incontinence of any kind. I can poop all by myself.
And of course, our little daughter is beautiful and perfect and life is good.
And for a brief time, I had a vaganus. I asked the doc the other day for the final tally on how many stitches it was, but it wasn't a very clear or easy answer. I guess repairing a 4th degree tear is a very complex job -- not just "20 stitches and you're done." He tried to explain it to me but I totally didn't understand a word of it. The end result was something like "ten stitches, but two of them were very, very long." So I dunno, maybe like ... 238497245 stitches total. Not too shabby for a natural vaginal birth!
But ain't she precious?
Oh, and in case this post was making you feel kind of sympathetic towards me and maybe you were thinking that I'm not such a dick after all, here's a picture of myself that I just took this morning. I had a baby 16 days ago. As soon as the ol' linea negra fades, I'll be ready to hit the beach. Well, okay, maybe a FEW more sit-ups first, but y'know ...
Suck it, haters.