It’s faint, but I can still see the dot on my wrist where the IV was inserted. It reminds me of how recently I gave birth even though it already seems like a memory in my distant past. When I think back on it, it’s more like remembering a dream I had about having a baby.
In the months leading up to the due date, I tried not to have any expectations about how horrible or not so horrible the labor experience would be. One friend’s advice was to ‘expect the worst’ and let myself be pleasantly surprised if the event turned out to be any better than my anticipated worst. I didn’t take her advice, but even if I had, my mind’s ‘worst’ at that point wouldn’t have come close to what I actually experienced.
Now just calm down. Before I frighten all of you potential parents into a life of childlessness, let me just say at the start that it’s true, what they say about labor. Once you see your son or daughter the pain doesn’t matter anymore. When you lock eyes with the person that you’ve been carrying for nine months it all becomes immediately worth it. All 36 hours of it, in my case.
It all started around 12:30 a.m. on Sunday the seventh of October, Piper’s actual due date. I was lying in bed and felt a sort of ‘pop’ in my abdomen. I knew at that moment something more significant than some trapped gas would be coming out soon. Sure enough, I started having very mild contractions a few minutes after that. I didn’t wake Dave at that point because I knew it would be at least several hours before we needed to think about going to the hospital. I gave Dave the news the next morning, and my water broke shortly after I announced that the birth of our child seemed imminent. We opted to stay home from church and see how things progressed. By 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, the contractions were quite painful (at least compared to any pain I had previously experienced), and I felt like we should go to the hospital to see how things were moving along. Our dear friend Ally was kind enough to drive us. It turned out I was only 2 centimeters dilated, and we were sent home after an ominous warning from a midwife who told me, “It’s going to get a lot worse than this.” I wish I could say she was wrong.
After annihilating a large order of french fries and attempting to focus on a movie (Dumb and Dumber if you’re curious), I passed the evening struggling through the worsening contractions with the help of a tens machine, mostly while lying in bed grasping at the blankets as each wave of pain washed over me. By 4:00 a.m., I felt I had reached the end of what I could (or wanted to) handle with no pain relief, so we called a taxi and headed back to the hospital. I was now 4 centimeters dilated, which was good news! That is just enough to be considered in ‘active labor’ and therefore be admitted.
Before going into labor, I decided I would try to make it through with no epidural if possible, but wouldn’t rule one out completely. By the time I was at 4 centimeters, I had no doubt that I wanted someone to stab me in the spine and pump pain relief into me as soon as possible. Sadly, I was informed that the anesthetist was in theatre [the OR] and wouldn’t be available for at least a couple of hours. I knew this was a possibility, but when it became my reality, I panicked, which probably made things worse than they might have been. They started me on gas and air, a mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen (aka laughing gas). It’s the most popular form of pain relief used during labor here in the UK. I was only supposed to use the gas during contractions, but I remember thinking to myself, “They would never give me control of something I could kill myself with.” So, I wouldn’t let it go. It didn’t stop the pain, but it made it feel more like maybe it wasn’t really me experiencing the pain. Kind of like an out of body experience. The good news is that it did provide some relief, if only mentally. The bad news is that when you inhale too much gas and air it makes you throw up, and throw up I did. Three times according to Dave. I also remember thinking, “I’d rather barf all day than feel this any more than I have to.” Bye bye, french fries.
I was eventually moved into a private room (I had previously been in the prenatal ward separated from other women in labor by only curtains). For more than four hours, I sucked down enough of that stuff to gas a blue whale. Dave said this was the worst part for him to watch since I wasn’t acting at all like myself, and I was in a lot of pain while occasionally barfing. I imagine that would be rather unpleasant to witness.
After being at the hospital for nearly six hours, I was finally ten centimeters dilated. It was go time. It was also the time the illusive anesthetist showed up to give me an epidural. The midwife who would deliver Piper tried to discourage me from getting one at that point since she believed it wouldn’t be long before the baby was here, but after so many hours of agony there was no way I was turning it down. After another 40 minutes or so of poking around at my spine I eventually got my epidural. Ultimately, I think it was a good decision for me, despite the fact that I had come so far in the process without it. It was now 10 a.m. on Monday. Mentally and physically, I was exhausted and needed a break. The epidural was a good one in that I could still feel the contractions when they came so I knew when I needed to push, and push I did. For two hours. By the end of hour two I was spent. When the midwife told me to push as hard as I could, I knew my body didn’t have much left to give, so my hardest wasn’t enough.
Although Piper had made some good progress down the birth canal (the top of her head was visible and we knew she would have dark hair), she wasn’t rounding the final bend, so it was decided that she needed a little help. A doctor was called in to use a vacuum extractor to help Piper out with some gentle suction. I have to say, at this point, it did not feel like I’d had an epidural. I was shocked by how much pain I still felt during those final moments. They also had to perform an episiotomy (Google it if you really want to know), which I felt more than I would have liked, but certainly not to its full extent.
But then, in a moment, Piper was out and on my chest. I’ve never felt such a flood of relief. All I could think was, “It’s over. I did it.” I spent the next few minutes staring down at our daughter, trying to calm her spirited cries and thanking God that the ordeal was over. It was the most surreal moment I’ve known. During the next 30 minutes, as I was being stitched up, I felt very little, apart from complete awe and relief.
The three of us got to stay in the room where I gave birth for a couple of hours with occasional checks from the midwife. That time was a huge blessing. I was able to sleep for a little while, and Dave and I got to have some quiet time with Piper and try to absorb what had just occurred before being moved to the labor ward with all the other moms and babies.
Ah, the labor ward. Basically you are put into a room that you share with about five other moms and their newborns. There are curtains you can pull to separate your bed from the others for privacy. Before going into labor I dreaded this scenario, but I ended up finding it quite pleasant and very interesting. It was almost like sharing a room with a bunch of soldiers who had just been to battle and were recovering from their injuries. I found it comforting to know that other women who had just gone through the same thing surrounded me. Even their babies crying during the night just reminded me that I wasn’t the only one dealing with the demands of a newborn. Not to mention, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep even if I’d been in a private room and Piper hadn’t made a peep all night. I was in the hospital for four days after Piper was born waiting for her to finish a course of antibiotics she was put on. It’s a routine precaution taken when the mother’s water has broken more than 24 hours before the baby is born. I spent most of those nights running on pure adrenaline, sitting up cuddling Piper or just watching her sleep and thanking God for the miracle that she is.
Those four days were a real blessing to me. I was able to get extra help and advice from the midwives (priceless for me as a new and inexperienced mom), and I was forced to do nothing but rest and get to know our daughter. And I enjoyed the way the day ticked through a predictable routine. Someone would come dispense painkillers at the same time everyday. When lunchtime came around one of the midwives walked the halls ringing a bell. Tea was always offered at around 3 p.m. After I had been in the hospital for a couple of days, I was given a private room. The first time I cried was my first night spent in my own room. It was lonely!
I had Piper on Monday and we got to take her home that Friday. I have to say that I never could have prepared myself for the physical and mental demands of labor. My body was taxed beyond what I thought it was capable of – racked with pain, stretched, poked, prodded, cut and stitched over nearly two days. Even thinking back on it now is a bit scary, and I’m so relieved that it’s behind me. But I’m also amazed by how fast my body has recovered. God’s design of the female form is incredible. I’m barely two weeks postpartum, and physically I feel very much like my old self (apart from some needed ab-toning work). Giving birth to Piper was the most wild, exhausting, fascinating and ultimately rewarding experience that I’ve ever had.
Send us your birth story! Whether you had a home birth, hospital birth, 37-hour labor or emergency C-section, we’d love to read the tale of your little one’s grand entrance. Write up your birth story (click here for tips on getting started) and email it, along with a few photos, firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll share it on our Birth Day blog and may even print it in an upcoming issue!