I often wondered what I was made of—what was my capacity for pain, strength, joy, or love. Now I have a better idea.
On July 18th (11 days past my due date, 1 day prior to the scheduled induction, and 5 hours before what was supposed to be my last doctor’s appointment), I woke up shortly after 4:00am. As I headed to the bathroom to pee, a small amount of clear, odorless fluid started running down my legs, and I assumed my water had broken. “So, today, huh?” I asked my belly. I was already having contractions 4-5 minutes apart, which didn’t hurt at all; they felt like waves of tightness in my lower back and abdomen, but definitely different than menstrual cramps or the Braxton-Hicks contractions I had since month five. Everything I’d read said, “You’ll know when you’re in labor.” And I knew this was it.
I showered and waited out the rest of an hour to make sure it wasn’t a false alarm before I woke up George. He showered quickly, grabbed our bags, and we left for the hospital at 5:30am. Every night for the past few weeks, we had gone to bed whispering to each other, “Maybe tomorrow.” Except the night of the 17th—the induction was planned for the 19th, so we were prepared to wait one last, long day. Now we were relieved that Oliver was FINALLY going to be born. As we drove to the hospital, we observed this momentous passage with smiles and silent wonder at the idea that the empty car seat in the back would have a small passenger the next time we pulled into our driveway.
We walked into the Labor & Delivery unit right behind another couple at 6:00am. The woman looked to be in her early 30′s, very nervous, and clearly uncomfortable. Noticing me joke around with George as we waited, she remarked, “You’re so calm! Yours must be planned, huh?” I laughed wearily, “Not exactly…” And then we were both whisked into exam rooms. An OB resident checked me and found that my water had not broken; the fluid that came out earlier was a small leak, because my amniotic sac was slightly prolapsed through my dilating cervix. However I was immediately admitted because I was almost 5 cm dilated and 100% effaced. “You’re in active labor, honey!” the nurse proclaimed.
The first two hours went by fast. George and I were very excited and I wasn’t uncomfortable at all. However, another OB resident found that my amniotic sac was prolapsing a lot more by then; they needed to break my water and asked if I wanted an epidural started first. I took a couple minutes to think it over—I was REALLY disappointed because I was only 5.5 cm, I wasn’t in pain yet, and I had planned to let my body make as much progress as possible before I decided if/when I needed medication. I also wasn’t thrilled that I’d be stuck in bed once the epidural was started, but I also knew the contractions would get worse after they broke my water, so I chose to get the epidural at that time.
I was hunched over almost 45 minutes while the anesthesiologist tried to get my epidural working (three separate sticks and a lot of playing around with placement—thankfully needles don’t bother me!), but no matter how he adjusted it, I still had feeling everywhere except for a small area (about the size of my hand) on my outer left hip/thigh. He apologized, but I wasn’t uncomfortable yet, so I didn’t know what I was missing. A resident then broke my water at 9:15am. The contractions immediately started getting more painful, and I realized a little nervously that the rest of labor might be a lot harder than I thought.
George called my parents around 10:00am; they were waiting to hear how the doctor’s appointment went and what time tomorrow’s induction would be, and now… SURPRISE! But I still had a long way to go, so George told them he’d call with an update every few hours. They knew I didn’t want anyone hanging around while I was in labor, so while they waited at home, my mom called my sisters with the news and my dad paced the house.
The residents hoped that breaking my water would speed up dilation, but I only advanced from 5.5 cm to 6 cm between 9:15am and 12:45pm. They called my doctor, who had them start IV Pitocin at 1:00pm. The Pitocin contractions were closer together, longer, and TEN TIMES STRONGER. I could still feel everything, so the pain went from reallyreally bad to feeling like my body was being slowly ripped apart from the inside out, at the peak of every contraction. The Pitocin worked, though: I went from 6 cm to 8.5 cm in just one hour! I got to have a cherry Popsicle. Then they increased the Pitocin at 2:00pm and by 3:00pm I was almost fully dilated. Around this time they had to put an oxygen mask on me and an internal fetal monitor on Oliver’s head because his heart rate did not return to normal as quickly as it should after each contraction. This was primarily due to the severe pain I was experiencing, which was physically stressing both of us.
The massive amounts of fluids being pumped into me also triggered my bladder to feel full, so I told the nurse I needed the bed pan (since patients are not allowed out of bed while an epidural is in). She was skeptical that I could maneuver my lower half onto the bed pan. I raised my hips and lifted/wiggled both my legs to convince her that THE EPIDURAL ISN’T WORKING, REMEMBER? SO I CAN STILL FEEL THINGS DOWN THERE! and I knew I had complete control of my bladder, but she decided to use a urinary catheter instead. Being a nurse myself, I used to dread catheterizing patients—I understood it was embarrassing for them not to have this basic body function under their control—and now I was not happy about having it done to myself. But I WAS happy after they drained over 800 mL from my bladder. I didn’t want catheterized again though, so as soon as the nurse left the room, I slowed down my own IV fluid drip (an advantage of being a nurse, hehe).
The hours between 1:00pm and 4:30pm were the worst. I silently writhed on the bed while George sat by my side, rubbed my back and/or held my hand during contractions, and encouraged me gently. It was nonstop: contractions were coming every 1 to 1½ minutes, the pain was almost unbearable, and I remained in pain between the contractions as well. This was due to the nonfunctional epidural as well as the fact that the baby’s head was slightly angled against my cervix. The anesthesiologist kept coming back to ask me what I rated my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. I kept saying “8″ even though it felt like a TWELVE, because I knew he felt bad the epidural wasn’t working. I usually have a high pain tolerance, but this was just… beyond it. I felt like I needed a break, even just for a minute, to save up the last of my strength. Nothing relieved the pain—not different positions, not breathing techniques, not two boluses of extra medication through the epidural. George felt terrible that he couldn’t help me, but I knew there was only one way to make the pain stop, and that was to have this baby. I squeezed my eyes shut during every contraction and prayed to God to help me through. These were the longest hours of my life.
Although I was already dilated to almost 10cm at 3:00pm, the top edge of my cervix had a “lip” (curved part) in the way, so they waited an extra hour to see if that would open up—but it didn’t. My nurse and the OB resident decided I was just going to have to push the baby’s head past it. Another call to the doctor and I was finally given the ok to start pushing! My nurse removed the bottom part of the bed; with my legs bent at the knees, she held one leg and George held the other. I pushed for three 10-counts through every single contraction from 4:30pm until Oliver was born at 6:16pm. It felt SO MUCH BETTER to be pushing, but it was still painful and exhausting. The first hour was the hardest part as I pushed Oliver’s tilted head against that “lip” on the top of my cervix (OW). I am forever grateful to my wonderful husband and my awesome nurse who cheered me on the entire time.
My doctor arrived around 5:00 and other staff scurried in and out with supplies while I kept pushing. After a while I started to wonder if I’d need a C-section, and honestly, it didn’t sound too bad at that point. I felt like I couldn’t breathe with the oxygen mask on, and at 6:00 they let me take it off since I didn’t have much longer to go. But I just couldn’t catch my breath after all the hours of pain and an hour and a half of pushing, and I tearfully told George I couldn’t do it anymore. He squeezed my hand and said excitedly, “Yes you can! I see his hair!” and my nurse squealed, “You’re soooo close, Melissa, come on and push that baby OUT!” So I kept pushing as hard as I could, telling myself it’s almost over.
My doctor and I had discussed an episiotomy when she arrived earlier: the way things were going, I was likely to tear, so I’d decided to have one. But now as she was putting on her gloves and gown, Oliver’s head started to come out. “Hold on, hold on! Try not to push!” the nurse exclaimed with one hand on his hair. But it was physically impossible. “I can’t!” I apologized. And suddenly, there was Oliver’s head, the cord loosely wrapped once around his neck. They unwrapped the cord and suctioned his nose and mouth. One more quick push and the rest of his body slooshed out; they lifted Oliver up and laid him on my chest to towel him off. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t breathe, I felt like I was choking on the miracle of the moment and all I could do was lay my hand on my baby boy as tears ran all over my face.
George cut the cord and then the nurse took Oliver to a table a few feet away to get cleaned up, assessed, and measured. I heard everyone exclaim “Look at all that HAIR!” When the nurse announced his weight as 8lb 12oz, my doctor joked, “WHERE were you hiding that big baby, Melissa?” because my belly had never grown very big and she had estimated him over a pound smaller. Assured that I was ok, George went over to see Oliver and take photos. I silently mouthed the words “Is he okay?” He nodded back with a huge proud smile, and came over to me and kissed my hand. We were both shaking uncontrollably and speechless with joy. I paid no attention to the delivery of the placenta or the stitches I was receiving for a small 2nd-degree tear as Oliver was placed into my shivering arms. To hold him for the first time, to see his face and say hello, I couldn’t stop smiling and crying. All the months of worrying, the weight gain, the extra days of waiting, the intensely painful labor… none of it turned out the way I’d imagined, but it was all worth it now that I had this amazing, perfect little boy blinking up at me. I thanked God over and over for my husband and our healthy, beautiful son. It was by far the hardest and the BEST day of my life.