It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the delivery room.
Approaching my first delivery, I tried to maintain as much control as possible. I scheduled an elective induction two weeks before my due date, toured the hospital where I would be delivering and carefully packed my hospital bag. On the appointed day, I woke up early to make up my face and straighten my hair, so I would be looking my baby-day best. At the hospital, I hooked up to Pitocin and later made use of an epidural. These interventions performed as they were intended to. Labor kicked off and quickly progressed under the influence of Pitocin.
As I reached the transition phase and started to feel truly awful, we called in the anesthesiologist. A successful epidural hushed the contractions, and I could relax until go time. About four hours after my labor began, I was told to push. However, with the epidural masking the downward pressure in my pelvis and an acute fear of public pooping holding me back, I was a wimpy novice pusher. It took two hours of halfhearted, ineffectual pushing before my mom (a five-time veteran) calmly looked me in the eye and said, “You have got to push harder, or you’ll need a C-section.” In my exhaustion, I was able to pull it together and push my baby girl out into the world. I was a tired, shaky, overwhelmed first-time mom, but my Charlotte was big and healthy.
In the hours that followed, I learned that despite my copious planning, or perhaps because of it (I had forced labor rather than waiting for it to come), I had torn badly and would need some heavy pain meds to get through the first week. It was agonizing to walk and sit. I survived the early weeks by sitting on a doughnut pillow everywhere I went, utilizing hemorrhoid pads and taking frequent sitz baths. Small complaints, sure, but not part of my ideal delivery fantasy.
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Fast-forward three years, and I was planning my second delivery much the same as the first. I would go with what I knew—a scheduled induction and an epidural, recovery come what may. This time, however, my delivery would not go as expected.
A few days before my induction date (a date I saw as carved in stone—I’d practically printed my birth announcements already), I went in for a prenatal massage. The masseuse, a big strong guy, did a great job relaxing the tension and loosening my hips. It didn’t occur to me that a massage could lead me into labor, but that’s just what happened. I dismissed the light cramping and discomfort that followed me throughout the day, but that evening after dinner, I was suddenly hit with hard contractions. I attempted to time them but soon found that the end of one contraction nearly connected to the start of the next. With my husband out of town, I called on my mom and grandma to drive me to the hospital. Before we’d even left the driveway, my water had broken, and I was throwing up (typical for me during transition). As my mom drove as fast as she dared, I crouched in the back of her minivan, trying not to push and praying my baby would stay put until I reached the more sanitary environment of the hospital.
We pulled up to the labor and delivery unit, and I was quickly wheeled in, only to sit moaning at the front desk while orderlies prepared a room for me. By the time I made it to a room and into a bed, the baby was ready to bust out. My doctor had not yet arrived, but an on-duty midwife manned the situation. She gently but firmly let me know that it was too late for an epidural, but the pain was almost over. She had me push, the only natural response to my body’s powerful insistence. I followed the urge, bore down, pushed twice, and voila!, baby boy Finn was born. The midwife congratulated me on a fantastic delivery. While I did require a couple stitches, I was out of bed and walking soon after. Although it was late at night, my energy was through the roof—delivering naturally was such a high! My husband arrived, and we talked for hours as I relived the exciting, unreal experience.
My recovery from birth number two was much quicker and less painful and called for less medication. I loved experiencing natural childbirth—although I never would have chosen it. The downside of such a quick delivery (about 20 minutes from my check-in time to the time of birth) was that my baby wound up in the NICU with fluid in his lungs. Fortunately, he was fine by the next day and all was well with the both of us.
My two very different birth stories have taught me that delivery doesn’t always go just as planned. (In fact, some might argue that it doesn’t ever go just as planned!) But sometimes, the surprise twists can turn out for the best. It was sad to have my husband miss our son’s birth, but it was so cool to experience it with my mom and grandma by my side. I faced some powerful pain when I was forced to do without an epidural, but I proved to myself just how strong I was and came away richer in experience and with a fun story to tell. Because I had to relinquish control over my delivery, I gained greater respect for my body’s innate capabilities.