Recently I read my sister-in-law's unplanned natural birth and my friend Jodee's sort-of-planned natural birth and I realized I never posted Aspen's birth from my perspective. You can skip this if you're male or it grosses you out or you really don't care. But for you childbearing women who like all the gory details (like me), here you go! (This is what I wrote in my journal)
This morning I called the birth center to see if they had room for an elective induction. They “invited” us in soon after 8am and I quickly showered and then did my makeup in the car so I felt attractive and capable. I made sure to wear my favorite earrings with turquoise, wood and shell beads because I knew I would be taking everything else off. We took Trey to the Watkins, Caeden to the Miners and Beckham all the way up to my parents' house because he was too sick to go to a friend's house. When we were almost there he threw up in the car. He was really not happy about us ditching him but my mom said within a couple of hours he was off the couch and doing much better.
When we got to the Birth Center we didn't have to go through triage (I really love that) and got started on my IV antibiotics for group B strep at 11am. The nurse, Sharon, was late 40s or so and just perfect. She was friendly and calming but also informative and down-to-earth. Carson and I watched a good movie while we were waiting for the antibiotic and then at 1pm they started me on some pitocin. My contractions weren't too painful and very irregular – I wasn't really “kicking in” to labor. They increased the pitocin and then at 3pm (4 hours after I started the antibiotics) Dr. Kovacs came in and broke my water. She had hurt her back earlier in the week and wasn't very friendly – not mean, just not really happy to be there. Even after my water was broken the contractions didn't hit me hard for about a half an hour.
Then at 3:30 I started to get a real taste for what labor without anesthetic was like. My mom was there and gave me some tips on letting your body go limp to relax and that helped a lot. I tried to visualize being in Cancun and swimming/floating in the warm ocean at sunset and that worked for a while but then the contractions became so intense that I couldn't really focus on something so external. The nurse helped me concentrate on my breathing and on melting into the bed and talked me through each contraction. That really was very helpful and I could close my eyes and focus on her voice and what she was telling me to do. A little before 4pm I was starting to panic a little in my head at the worst of each contraction, thinking 'why am I trying to do this without an epidural?' and 'I don't know how much more of this I can take' and so I asked if she could check my progress. When the doctor broke my water she said I was 5cm, 70% effaced and -2cm. I was thinking if I hadn't progressed much and it was going to take a few hours I would ask for an epidural. But I was at 8cm and further effaced, so I told myself I could do it and went on.
The contractions were so close together and strongest at the beginning, because of the pitocin. I had to focus so hard on relaxing during the contraction, and in between I could talk a little but the pain never totally let up. I tried laying on one side and then the other, but it was harder to relax my pelvis and legs while I was on my side so I just went back to sitting straight with the bed at an incline and that was the best. I was surprised that I didn't want to get up and try the tub or the birthing ball, but first of all I was hoping that I would be ready to push soon, and also there wasn't time between contractions to move that much, and honestly I didn't even want to do anything but lay very still and focus on breathing and relaxing. That was surprising to me. I thought I would want to listen to music and suck on some candy to take my mind off it, but I didn't realize that instead of distractions, I would want to focus. Carson put his hand on my leg and was talking a little and it made me feel comforted and I told him he could talk if he didn't expect me to answer!
I started to feel close to pushing and the nurse checked and said I still had a little “lip” of cervix against the baby's head on one side. She had me lay on my side and I didn't know if it was because she didn't want me to push because the doctor wasn't there yet. I was a little surprised about the feeling you always hear about, the “urge to push.” It seemed more like I just really wanted to get it over with. When it came time to really push, I had to make myself do it and it took a huge amount of effort. But back to laying on my side… I started to lose my focus because I was a little confused. I had to really focus on relaxing in order to prevent myself from being frustrated or making whimpering sounds, and it was easier when I was laying flat, so I rolled back over. The nurse reached up and pushed the “lip” of cervix past the baby’s head and I pushed a little bit. It hurt like crazy to have her touch my cervix but I kind of didn’t care because I just wanted the baby to descend so it could be over. The doctor came in and I pushed some during the next contraction but just relaxed during the one after that. The sort-of feeling of wanting to push went up and down. Then they put my legs up and told me to push for real. The feeling of the baby’s head pushing out my pelvis was so overwhelming. It was the same feeling I remembered having when I delivered Trey (by the time he came out the epidural was all but gone).
At this point I really felt like I was going to cry but it’s like I had to concentrate so much on pushing and not freaking out that I didn’t have time or room in my head to cry. That’s the crazy thing about the whole experience, it’s like it was all in my head, because I was mostly able to keep my cool and so the people around me had no idea what it was like on the inside. Anyway, I started to feel more confused and frustrated because the doctor wasn’t talking me through it the way the nurse had, and I shook my head no that I didn’t want the mirror because I couldn’t keep my eyes open and focus at the same time, so I didn’t know if I was making progress or not. Carson started to tell me “okay, we can see the head, you’re almost there! The head’s coming out, now it’s all the way out.” That helped a lot, and also the nurse reminded me to curl my head toward my knees and so I was pushing more effectively. No one was counting for me while I pushed and I was surprised to hear myself saying “6, 7, 8, 9, 10!” under my breath. As the head was coming out the doctor started telling me exactly when to push and then to stop, then push and stop again. My first thought was “What? Why would I want to stop? I just want to get this baby OUT!” but then I remembered that I didn’t want to tear like I had so badly before, so I listened and tried to do exactly what she was saying. Carson said she was pushing on my perineum around the baby’s head, trying to ease it out slowly. She might not have been very friendly or informative but I think she did a really good job.
After Carson told me the head was out I thought I would feel a relief from the pressure but if anything it was even worse, like I was about to explode. They told me to push again and the rest of the baby tumbled out and then I did feel a huge relief from pressure, which was almost immediately replaced by an intense feeling of being on fire on the inside. They laid Aspen on my chest and I looked down at her chubby body and swollen cheeks and said “We did it!” and thought ‘who is this baby? She doesn’t look like one of mine!’ They took her to the bassinet and the doctor kept working on me, pressing on my uterus and my perineum, which both really hurt! I started to feel shaky and had a hard time holding still and not wincing away from the doctor. I felt like all my support was gone because no one was talking to me and Carson and my mom were paying attention to the baby and I didn’t understand how it could possibly still hurt so much. I started to feel the pressure again and until the doctor told me to push, I had totally forgotten that I still had to pass the placenta. During my two painless deliveries the doctors just eased out the placenta without much effort on my part, but ironically for my two painful deliveries the doctors didn't seem to care how I was doing and had me push it out. By the way the doctor was kneading my stomach I think she had forgotten I didn't have an epidural. I started to get a little mad at her for hurting me so much but I didn't say anything, but I did ask for a local anesthetic for the sutures. I didn't have a natural labor because I love pain or hate medicine, I just wanted to know what it was like, and now I knew, and I wanted that percocet ASAP! I shook uncontrollably for a while, which I had always been told was from the epidural, but it's obviously just from the trauma of giving birth and the post-adrenaline rush. I didn't want to hold Aspen because I was still in so much pain and shaking so badly I would have dropped her. I didn't like that I couldn't enjoy my baby right away. I was worried that the hospital staff would think I was an uncaring mother and I wanted to say "I promise I'll bond with my baby as soon as I can sit still and think straight!" The nurse said I did a "good job" but now that I've heard that over 90% of unmedicated women scream through their deliveries I feel like I deserved a little more praise or some flowers or something (Carson). The good thing was that it was short, she was born at 4:45pm so I was only in serious pain for an hour and 15 minutes. It really was something else, though.
I think the reason women say it's hard to remember the pain of childbirth is because you have no reference for it. It's so different and more extreme than anything else you've ever felt in your life that it goes in the "other" category. It's just so amazing to me that that's how all babies were born before the past 100 years or so, and that's how maybe most of the babies are born in the world today. I have to admit that that's part of the reason I did it, to feel a connection with all the women who have gone before me. It seems like a little bit more of a miracle that women are made to conceive another person, carry and nourish it for 9 months, and then expel if from our bodies in such a painful and messy process! And also such a miracle that these days we can have pain-free deliveries in relatively clean environments with mostly healthy babies. If I have another baby I think I'll choose to have an epidural, because I would really be kicking myself in the middle of the delivery if I don't! But I'm glad I did it once, I really don't regret it at all.
If you've gotten to this point, thanks for reading all the gory details and I'd love to hear your thoughts on any or all of it!