I went back and forth on whether I wanted to share our birth story. On one hand, it’s very personal. On the other hand, I’m a writer and sharing things is what I do. On the other hand (I have three hands in this scenario), I LOVE reading birth stories. What made up my mind for me was that several of my friends have wanted to know the details of our experience, so I figured why not share it here? If you want the true nitty-gritty and the embarrassing details, you’re going to have to talk to me in person, but here’s most of the story! Warning: there’s A LOT of cervix talk, so if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the blog post (you know, that old saying).
I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled on my due date, and part of me thought, “Maybe she’ll check me and I’ll be so dilated that I’ll have to go straight to the hospital!” But I didn’t feel different, and I definitely wasn’t feeling contractions. Then on the way to my appointment, I turned on the radio and the Usher/Alicia Keys song “My Boo” was playing, and I thought perhaps that was a sign. You so rarely hear that jam on the radio in the year 2016. It had to mean good things.
I typed and erased a bunch of boring medical details here, but the short version is that my doctor said we should probably induce labor. That night. Although I thought I was mentally prepared for this, I definitely wasn’t. I mean, H. and I had dinner plans with a friend that night! I left the doctor’s office and cried on the phone to H. because I was so scared; I’d heard so many horror stories about induction (spoiler alert: this isn’t a horror story!! So keep reading!) and although my doctor assured me that she would do everything in her power to avoid a c-section, she was honest that the chances of a c-section are higher when you induce.
I went home and grabbed my bag and sat around for a few hours, panicking. I gave Merlin a lot of attention because I knew it wouldn’t be the same after the baby was here. I ate a chicken sandwich and a lot of watermelon (it was in the fridge and I didn’t want to waste it, but in retrospect this was not the most filling pre-labor food). And that evening, we checked into the hospital.
One of the suckiest parts was getting my IV put in. I know that sounds weird, because isn’t labor much more painful? Sure, but you don’t get an epidural for an IV, and it took THREE NURSES and SIX TRIES to get the needle in. After a lifetime of nurses telling me how good my veins were, all of a sudden I was feeling very vein-insecure. At one point, one of the nurses said, “That’s gonna leave a bad bruise, sorry,” and she was right. I ended up with multiple nearly-black bruises on my arm (which is still not that bad, all things considered).
The labor induction was a two-part process. First, they put in a “cervix ripening” device (I warned you) that was just supposed to….well, ripen my cervix (ew). But what it REALLY did was jumpstart labor and freak out the baby, so they had to take it back out. Which was…not fun! The on-call doctor was a man and when he initially put the thing in, he said, “Has anyone ever told you that you have a hard to find cervix?”
“Um…what?” I asked.
“Your cervix is very difficult to locate,” he said.
No. No one’s ever told me that before, because my doctor isn’t a psychotic weirdo who wants to give me a complex about my cervix. And also, HOW MANY PLACES COULD IT BE? Sorry my cervix is making it difficult for you, bro!
Anyway, a nurse took that thing back out of me, and she was much nicer but still talked about my (apparently) elusive cervix.
At this point I was feeling my contractions, which meant that the night of sleep I was supposed to get…didn’t happen. The contractions weren’t terrible by any means, but they were noticeable. We were able to watch some terrible television, including a Hallmark Christmas movie (it was Christmas in July, y’all!) about a woman who came back to her small town and ended up directing an elementary school musical. The nurse was definitely skeptical about our viewing choices, but I didn’t care.
Eventually, my contractions got worse. Much worse. They went from “manageable cramps” to “not-that-manageable cramps” to “me telling H. I couldn’t do this anymore.” Here’s where I should point out that I always knew I wanted an epidural. Obviously it’s a personal choice and every woman should do whatever she feels is right for her baby and her body, but I’ve always known that a medicated hospital birth was what I wanted. Many people say that they want to be fully present for the birth and that’s why they don’t use medication, but for me the epidural allowed me to be fully present by greatly reducing my anxiety about pain. I know A LOT of people who had medication-free births (I don’t like to use the word “natural,” because my birth wasn’t “unnatural”), and they all loved their birth experiences so I knew I didn’t NEED an epidural. Then again, I don’t need a second donut and I’m still eating it. The point is, I wanted an epidural but I wasn’t dilated enough yet for it.
Then yet ANOTHER doctor came in to break my water and hopefully get this show on the road. But, big surprise, something about my body was weird there too. This was, by far, the most uncomfortable part of the entire process. I don’t know if it was the doctor’s fault or if it would’ve been painful no matter what, but I could hardly stand it and when he said, “Well, I wasn’t really able to break it but I did snag it, so hopefully the water will trickle out,” I wanted to puke. Like, please dude, get the job done while you’re in there.
But it was fine. Then, blessing of all blessings, I was dilated enough for the epidural. Hallelujah. The anesthesiologist was an extremely nice, soft spoken tall man who reminded me of Zach Woods, who I find to be a very comforting on-screen presence. I did not feel the epidural at all, and the anesthesiologist was so understanding and kind and I liked him much more than any other man I met that day. Maybe part of that was because he didn’t touch or comment on my cervix, but I guess we’ll never know. 20 minutes later I was feeling the sweet, sweet relief of modern medicine and I even got to sleep a little bit.
Then the contractions came back with a vengeance. Well, they were always there, but I started feeling them again. I made my nice anesthesiologist come back. I kept pressing the “more drugs” button. Nothing worked. I felt like I had intense heartburn that made it impossible to think about anything else. H. tried to get me to watch Sherlock but I couldn’t make myself care about Benedict Cumberbatch at a time like this.
At one point my dad wandered in (my wonderful parents showed up at the hospital at like 9 am and hung around ALL DAY) and H was trying to explain to him the monitor that showed my contractions. They marveled over it and my dad said things like, “Huh, looks like there’s a big one happening right now!” I was like, “YES. I’M AWARE.” Then I was gripped by a wave of nausea and I yelled “GET OUT OF HERE I’M GOING TO PUKE.” (I did not puke).
FINALLY the nurse said it was time to push. Thank God. I was nervous about it because I didn’t know HOW to push. Maybe that sounds silly, but I’d never had a baby before so I didn’t really know what to do. But it turns out that it was pretty instinctual.
The nurse asked me if I wanted a mirror to see what was happening and I was like, “Oh, I’m good, no thank you.” But when I glanced up at the turned-off television, I realized that I could see a perfectly clear reflection of everything that was happening, in all its bloody glory. “Whatever you do, don’t look at the TV,” I whispered to H. Of course he immediately turned and looked at it.
The nurse closed the TV cabinet.
I kept hearing the strains of “My Boo” in my head as I chewed on ice chips and kept pushing. I was seriously afraid I was going to burst a blood vessel in my eye or grind my teeth into powder, but Baby H. was staying in there, refusing to get past my pubic bone.
This was what I was worried about, because I’d heard a lot of stories of babies that got “stuck,” went into distress, and then a c-section was necessary. I really didn’t want to have to recover from major surgery in addition to taking care of a baby, so I asked the nurse what I could do to get him out of there.
“Do you want to try tug of war?” she asked.
Tug of war was exactly what it sounds like. The nurse had a sheet, and she pulled on one side of it while I pulled on the other and tried to push the baby out. It felt ridiculous and I was afraid I would let go and send the tiny nurse flying across the room, but after only two contractions’ worth of pushing, Baby H. got past my pubic bone.
This was when things really got crazy. There were three nurses, my doctor, the doctor who only had unkind things to say about my cervix, and a medical student in there, all of them staring directly at me. I’m an extremely modest person normally, but I DID NOT CARE. I wouldn’t have noticed if Barack Obama walked into the room, made a rude remark about my cervix, and walked out again. Literally all I cared about was getting this baby out. The epidural was blessedly effective, but I could still DEFINITELY feel my contractions and they DEFINITELY felt terrible (more like being sick than actual pain).
This part of labor was maybe the most exciting time of my entire life. Imagine a room full of people literally cheering you on as you attempt to bring a brand-new member of your family into the world. It was amazing. With every push, Baby H got a little bit closer to being out. Then his head was out, then his shoulders, then they were ripping off the top of my hospital gown, then he was on my chest, pink and purple and gooey and beautiful.
I thought I would cry when he was born, but I didn’t. I was just overwhelmed; that he was here, that he’d been in there the whole time, that I’d done it. If you’re considering a medicated birth and wondering if you won’t feel that sense of “empowerment” that people talk about with unmedicated birth, let me tell you: I felt INCREDIBLY empowered with my epidural-assisted, full-of-interventions, regular old hospital birth. I’ve done a lot of things I’m proud of in my life, but I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like this before. It seemed unreal (and still seems unreal) that I DID IT.
The nurse told us that he was tall and that he looked like his dad, both of which were true. We told everyone his name and he held onto my finger, his grip already so strong. I just couldn’t believe he was here…sometimes I still can’t believe it. The little person I’d dreamed and wondered about for nine months as I worked and walked and sewed and wrote. My pregnancy was very easy physically, but very difficult emotionally, and there were so many times that I worried he’d be absorbing my sadness or anxiety. But here he was, the little guy who’d been with me the whole time. Absolutely perfect.