Nothing can really prepare a first time Mom for childbirth.
I had experienced Braxton Hicks contractions during my pregnancy, which felt like a tug-of-war rope was in my stomach and teams from each sides were pulling it, making it twist tighter and tighter. It was uncomfortable but not intolerable. Neither of these came even close to the agony of back labor contractions or the pushing phase of my labor and delivery.
On Saturday around 9:30 PM I started feeling back labor contractions.
I was in bed and unable to “take it” lying down. If someone had hit me in the lower back with a baseball bat, the radiating pain that intensified following the blow is one way to describe how my back labor felt. I got on all fours like I had practiced during prenatal yoga and tried to breathe through each wave. It woke up my husband. I went to the guest bedroom and spent the rest of the night pacing the room, arms pressing in to the bed, body folded in the shape of an “L,” laboring there. My contractions were all over the place in terms of length and time apart. The longest stretch of “sleep” I got that night was one hour and 38 minutes.
On Sunday morning at 6 AM, I took our dog Ritz for a 1.5-mile walk.
I stopped several times with my hands on my knees to breathe through contractions. I had an 8:30 AM COVID test appointment; past due, I was on the induction schedule in two days. Pacing the crowded waiting room, my contractions continued. I labored on an off the rest of the day, grateful the PGA Championship was on as a welcome distraction. My husband rubbed my back, and Ritz knew something was up and also tried to comfort me. By 9:30pm, my contractions were consistently five minutes apart, lasting for a minute, for an hour. We called my doctor and headed to the hospital about an hour later.
By Monday morning, I had not slept for more than a couple hours at a time since Friday night.
In the wee hours before sunrise, my husband and I walked the hospital halls, me pausing to lean over for lower back rubs during contractions. After sunrise, I started Pitocin to supplement my progress, my doctor broke my water, and by the time the anesthesiologist came in to administer my epidural, and I was crying, shaking, whimpering in pain with each contraction. Everyone who said Pitocin made it worse was obviously right: the pain was off the charts intolerable. The epidural de-intensified the pain; I was able to feel waves of contractions at a fraction of the force from earlier, and apparently slept for a couple of hours.
Around 3 PM, I started pushing.
One of the nurses told me that my baby was sunny side up but that my doctor can sometimes turn the baby. “That’s great, where is he?” I demanded hotly. I didn’t understand why he wasn’t there and I started to have a negative thought spiral (this is hard for me to admit, but I did.) The narrative I kept saying is that it “wasn’t going to work,” that I wouldn’t be able to push baby out, and that I would need a C-section.
If I’m being honest, I thought I would have a C-section all along. I had all these sketchy reasons: my sister had C-sections, as did one of my sister-in-laws, and when I had knee surgery my doctor didn’t think the patellar tendon section they cut would even fit as my new ACL because it was tiny. Plus once I had a doctor who informed me that I had a tiny uterus (she should see it now!) so with all of this rationale, I always just assumed that eventually baby would join the world via C-section.
Finally my doctor arrived.
I made some angry remark wondering where he had been and asked him if he can turn the baby. He explained that baby was stuck trying to pass under my pubic bone. I was alarmed and worried that baby would get hurt. I pushed hard and cried. I had no idea how much longer I would be pushing but I was EXHAUSTED and felt like the epidural was wearing off. I made a “just cut me open” type of comment. My doctor said the baby was too low for that now.
Damn right baby is too low I thought angrily, all of my pushing obviously paid off. I still didn’t believe I would be exempt from the C-section club but I pushed hard anyway. Suddenly, more people were called into the room, but I wasn’t there, I was mentally somewhere else, trying to envision baby moving downward unscathed, tuning everyone else out. If they were going to have me keep pushing, then I was going to just go with it.
Finally, I could feel baby moving lower.
Holy shit. It was going to happen! Claps of thunder roared outside the window and at 5:41 PM, in the mist of a ceremonious summer storm, I pushed baby out and held my breath as I waited to hear baby's first wails, music to my ears. “What is it?” I asked. “It’s a girl!” cried my husband. I felt a rush of emotions: relief, accomplishment, and amazement.
The famous Henry Ford quote, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right,” comes to mind. Thanks to all my un-scientific rationalizations, I thought I couldn’t deliver a baby without surgery. But despite this belief, I was still going to try like hell anyway. So if I had to offer my own take on this quote, it might go something like this: