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Mind over matter: The birth of Charlotte Epidural

Mind over matter: The birth of Charlotte

"I had contemplated trying to find a doctor comfortable with not inducing me past 42 weeks just in case I made it that long—that's how much I did not want to be induced."

Charlotte Rose Weatherly was born at 3:52 p.m. on April 21 in a bright, sun-filled hospital room—a month early and not in the birth center, as I had planned so carefully. Her birth was preceded by three days without food and two-and-a-half days in the hospital, all set off by severe muscle spasms in my lower left back. Even the lightest touch, the bands of the non-stress test, would send me into fits of muscle spasms that would last for hours. The doctors had mentioned kidney stones, which I thought was absurd. I had never had a kidney stone before.

They finally found a tear in one of my ureters, probably from a small kidney stone that the baby was kicking around on. At least I had answers. I went to sleep that night, able to keep a small cup of chicken noodle soup and some green beans down. I had ordered a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as well but was a little frightened to eat it, so I saved it for later. A few hours passed—it was about midnight, and I woke up to a gush of water. I knew immediately what had just happened, so I grabbed the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and started scarfing it down before they told me I couldn’t eat anything—and I pushed the nurse call button. A flood of fears rushed into my mind.

 

I cannot do this. I haven’t eaten in three days. What if that muscle spasm starts up in labor, and my back breaks in half? What if I have to be induced?

(Side note: I had contemplated trying to find a doctor comfortable with not inducing me past 42 weeks just in case I made it that long—that’s how much I did not want to be induced.)

…  I shuddered. The nurse came in, and I explained what had happened. She scolded me in a mothering way. No one wanted this. She ran the tests, I called Kevin (who I had sent home to sleep on something more comfortable than the pull-out couch), and then I let my parents know. I mentioned being afraid because I hadn’t eaten much and asked her if I should order some food. She said I would be allowed to eat in the morning and calmed my fears of being put on the clock now that there was a breach in my amniotic sac.

I was instructed to go to bed and rest up and hopefully something would start up on its own. I knew I needed to calm my anxious mind, so I put some oils in my diffuser and started listening to my hypnobirthing CD. I woke up to the doctor coming in to check on me, not to labor. He checked me and was really confused because I was 95 percent effaced but not even dilated 1 centimeter, which is apparently the opposite of what usually happens. It was clear right away that I wasn’t going to get to eat, after all, and that I was most certainly on the clock. I had just wasted seven hours sleeping when I should have been trying to get labor started naturally.

Induction was the immediate next step. He started with one dose of Cytotec, and I was told to rest as long as I could. There were some contractions showing on the NST but nothing I could feel. Four hours later, he came back and gave me another dose of Cytotec and took Kevin outside to speak with him. The doctor basically told him a C-section would be happening if nothing picked up. I didn’t know this, thankfully. I was in my own very frustrated place. This was not what I wanted.

My nurse calmed me down and reminded me of what I already knew: “There’s a reason you are here. I know it’s not what you wanted, but you’ll know why sooner or later.” It was somewhere around noon that things finally did pick up—and they came hard and fast. I was tethered by an IV and the NST, and I wasn’t allowed to let the baby go off the monitor, so there went my freedom to move around and try different positions. I dilated to 6.5 cm in less than two hours with strong contractions that barely had a break in between them, and my mind started really messing with me.

How can I do this? I’ve barely eaten in three days. I can’t labor. I got induced; induction contractions are impossible to work through. That muscle spasm in my back is going to start up at ANY time. Then what?  

Fear finally won, and I told Kevin I wanted the epidural. He jumped up, eager to get it for me, so he didn’t have to see me in pain. My nurse came over to me and did exactly what I asked her to do when my mind was right. She just started encouraging me and telling me how awesome I was doing and how far I had come. She said she had ordered the epidural, so it would be there if I absolutely wanted it—but that I had to ask for it again.

I didn’t ask again. I did mention to her that I thought the baby was anterior, and I knew this would make it harder to get her out. I had done pelvic tilts religiously for weeks to keep her in a posterior position, knowing how much better it was, but after lying in a hospital bed for three days, the gravity of her head flipped her around to anterior the afternoon before. Jennifer tried to get me on all fours to help flip her back, but at this point I couldn’t do too much—and that position was not comfortable or even tolerable.

Kevin was right there the whole time. He even offered his hand to my mouth—not his most brilliant moment. I think I tried slapping him once but missed; he was probably trying to be funny. Somehow, and I had to ask about this later because I only vaguely remember being really irritated when they made me lift up to strip the bed, my hospital room turned into a delivery room. The bed raised and shortened, there were a couple other tables in there for who knows what, a humongous towering light, a bassinet, etc.

I kept moaning for my baby to come to me and screaming, “baby baby baby” when a really hard contraction came. I never noticed any transition. My nurse all of a sudden suggested we do some practice pushes. Oh, glorious pushing! What a relief it was to be doing something. We tried a few, and on the last one, she ordered me to stop pushing with a little panic in her voice.

The doctor was called and thus commenced a half hour of pushing with an audience standing behind the doc with front row tickets to my spread eagle misery and blood-vessel-breaking struggle. My husband was holding one leg, watching in horror and counting for me through the pushes. My overstaffed team cheered, and everyone told me I was doing great. At one point the doctor mumbled something like, “millimeter by millimeter,” and in my mind he meant that was how far I was getting her down the birth canal each time I pushed. I was convinced everyone was just patronizing me with their encouragements.

Apparently, it was actually that my skin just wasn’t stretching. She had been there for a while, but just could not quite make it out. When I felt like I couldn’t push any longer, I would stare out the window at the beautiful sun shining in and think to myself how nice it was that it wasn’t going to be dark when she would enter this world. The doctor let me push as long as he could, attempting to avoid yet another intervention he knew I didn’t want. But when her heart rate dropped to 80 and Kevin saw that, their eyes met, and Kevin gave him the nod.

 

One quick cut, one push, and I saw her fly out all at once, facing the ceiling just like I had predicted. I immediately started crying and reaching for her, and they gave her to me. I looked down at my baby, whose head was stretched out and lopsided with a huge dent in it. Her nose was squished to one side from months up against my pubic bone. I gasped, “She’s perfect.” I was probably the only one in the room with that particular word running through their heads. (Let’s be honest: She looked like an alien, but I didn’t care.)

They let me hold her and asked me to push for the placenta. Really? Aren’t I finished? He worked on it for a while and finally informed me that it wasn’t coming out on its own. The anesthesiologist explained to me that for this next procedure he would have to do a spinal tap. I just stared at him in disbelief and nodded to my daughter, who was being checked by the neonatal doctor by now. I thought, Seriously?! I just did that naturally, and you show up—and I have to get anesthesia anyway? He had another option. I truly don’t remember what it was, but there was risk of something with it.

At this point, I was so irritated at everything that I just consented, and they wheeled me back to the OR. With my numb, 100 pound legs strewn up in the air and a second doc called in because of how tough of a case I was, I lay on the table whimpering for my baby. It would all be worth it when I finally got to see her—and it was.

When the doctor came in to talk to us, he very gently explained that I would need to be very careful with myself physically and emotionally because I basically went through two births back to back. One unmedicated natural and one surgical. He said I was high risk for postpartum depression because everything that could have gone wrong did. He knew what I really wanted was the very opposite of what I got. “However,” he went on, “you should know that not taking the epidural did save you from an emergency C-section.” That was enough for me—that and having my baby girl in my arms.

The high from the birth carried me through until well after she started nursing, and the oxytocin took over from there. I was initially disappointed in how different her birth was from what I had prepared for, but then I realized how lucky I was, with all the complications, to be in the right place and to have a caring staff who truly tried to honor my wishes. It just didn’t happen that way, and interventions—in this case—were necessary.

I am on the other side now, thankfully. I am grateful for a sunny hospital room, for the nurse who gently convinced me I could do it, for my rock—my husband who would have willingly sacrificed a finger, and for my tiny daughter, who’s big blue eyes melt my heart every time they look at me.

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, to birthstory@pnmag.com. We’ll share it on our Birth Day blog and may even print it in an upcoming issue!