My daughter’s about to be nine months old; she’s been in the world the exact amount of time she was inside of me. Therefore, I think it’s finally time to share about that transition. I’ve almost recovered. Almost.
At parenting class, we went around the room and talked about our fears. Most were scared of labor. Not surprisingly, those were also the ones planning a natural birth.
Then there was me. Fear-free. “I’m Natalie. Epidural me.”
I didn’t pretend to even consider another way. Didn’t care how long the needle was, didn’t really feel the need to experience contractions. I wanted to be knocked out and since that wasn’t possible, I opted for the next best thing.
My pregnancy should have been an indication of things to come.
While my daughter was nestled all snuggly in
her bed my womb, her mother was anything but. The day after my due date, my OB scheduled an induction ten days later. Not on my watch! Or in my uterus!
I remember my friend telling me she went to an acupuncturist to induce labor. I booked an appointment the following day, was there at 10am, out by 11 and at 3pm my water broke.
Contractions didn’t immediately follow so I asked my doctor if I could stay home for a bit. That was the best (and only?) piece of advice from parenting class. “You’ll be at the hospital long enough. If you can, take some time at home.” So, with a level of energy and excitement I’ve never known, I cleaned my entire apartment, washed and blew dry my hair, packed and re-packed my hospital bag, watched some TV, ate a big ass bowl of pasta and sat and chatted with my husband about how our lives were about to change.
And then it was time to change them.
We drove calmly to the hospital as if we were heading to the store to pick up some bread and, upon arrival, paid for a private room like we were signing up for a snorkeling excursion on vacation. Everything was seamless, relaxed and calm.
Once in triage, I asked the nurse if I could have some last minute snacks. She agreed so I sent my husband for my favorite Starbucks (soy chai latte), sparkling water, a banana and a People mag, where I read about Kate’s bump before getting rid of my own.
I texted friends, called my parents and joked with the staff. I met with the anesthesiologist, a nice man who informed me once called, it would take him 1-3 minutes to appear and 3-5 minutes to get the epidural. Sounded easy enough. We agreed I should try to make it to 5 cm.
I was 1cm when I arrived at the hospital. 2cm came, no difference. 3, totally fine. By 4, I was white knuckling the hand rails of the bed and shouting expletives at my husband.
The nice man was called. I waited the the painful three minutes. No anesthesiologist.
Twenty. The sound of me screaming my head off.
Thirty. Quiet, brooding, seething anger.
Forty. If he doesn’t get his %#*@^(! *&(@*$% down here right &%(*@&^ now, I will ^&%@ his ^&*#%! %$*#@^!!!!!
What’s worse, my husband, by far the nicer of the two of us, was extra polite, patient and shy that day. When I pleaded with him to do something, anything: call someone, go out and see what was happening, set me on fire, he stammered, rationalized, did anything but take action.
"I’m sure they’re on their way." "I don’t want to bother them, they’re probably busy." "I’ll give them another five minutes and then I’ll go."
"I don’t have five minutes! Five minutes is the difference between us staying married or not."
I should’ve had my sister in there. She can be a real bitch.
Forty-five minutes. The evil man showed up. Apparently two other women called at the same time as me and there were complications with the first. I was number two. God Bless that poor third woman.
As I was sitting up, holding my husband’s hands, with a bare back, crippling contractions and a needle the size of Texas about to go into my spine, my lovely spouse decided it was the time to play the name game.
"Hey, do you know Dr. X? She works here, she’s a friend of my colleague’s and he told me to ask you."
Are you KIDDING ME?!?
Luckily, the epidural took and within minutes he was asking me if I “felt that” as he watched the monitor with off-the-chart contractions that mere moments before were sidelining me.
"Felt what?" I slurred in a drug-induced, deliriously happy haze. For the next hour or so, life was grand. I loved that nice medicine man. And everyone else in the world.
Then the itching began. Uncontrollable, head-to-toe, want to scratch my skin off itching.
The evil man was called. This time, he showed up rather quickly.
He informed me that some women don’t react well to the itching agent that’s in the epidural. He weaned me off a bit but I decided not to be removed completely as I would’ve rather clawed off my own skin than had to experience those contractions again.
So I spent the night scratching. And scratching. And scratching. While my husband slept.
Thankfully by 6am, I was 10cm and ready to push.
All told, up to this point, it had been a rather quick and mostly pain-free experience. What was everyone so scared of? Why didn’t more people have babies? Or more of them?
The doctor (Not mine, I transferred at 33 weeks and chose whoever would take me, my insurance and deliver at a hospital I wanted. The one who would and did, wasn’t available this particular morning so one of his partners, who I had never met, was on-call.) said the baby was so low, I should have her out by 7am.
Never give a very pregnant, about to burst, anxious, uncomfortable, exhausted, hormonal woman a time frame. The only thing that leads to is false expectations, disappointment and further fury.
Guess what? 7am. A half-hour of painful pushing later and no baby.
worse barbaric, inhumane and unethical, the doctor completely weaned me off the epidural. She said she wanted me to feel when to push. Now, everyone in that hospital including this stranger knew my stance on the matter. I’m sure even the janitor could have told you the crazy lady in 813 wanted to feel nothing. I, again, reminded her of my plan and she pretended to placate me.
I’d never done this before, didn’t know what was “normal” and what wasn’t, how much pain you should feel with an epidural vs. without or what to expect. I was also out of my mind at the moment so having a rational argument was out of the question. And we know how effective my husband was! In fairness, he was also overwhelmed and in uncharted territory.
By 8am, still no baby and a depleted mother. Not only did the doc give me an inaccurate timeline, she also was exercise instructor-ing me. You know those trainers who say “one more set” and then there’s ten? And you want to strangle them with your fitness band? That was her.
She’d say, “Ten more pushes” which translated to ten-hundred.
I don’t half-ass things. I’m either doing it or I’m not. And when I am, I’m doing it all the way. And, if I can, in half the time.
So when she asked for three sets of ten-second pushes and then a rest, I was giving her five sets with twenty-seconds.
If she’d been honest, I could’ve paced myself. But after twenty, thirty, forty pushes at full steam, I had nothing left.
I was discouraged, defeated, depressed. And terrified. Terrified that I actually couldn’t do this. My daughter’s head was out and it was too late to turn back. Too late for a C-section. Too late to decide not to carry or have a baby. I honestly didn’t know how I could move forward. I was convinced I was going to be the first woman ever with a baby stuck and my child would grown up half inside her mother, half out. “Next on National Geographic…”
With every push, she’d move one millimeter out and then, once I stopped pushing, slip two back in. It felt like an impossible task. It was the hardest and most daunting thing I’ve ever done.
And the pain was primal. I felt like was squatting in a village not in a prestigious, high-tech hospital in New York. My face was purple, vessels and veins strained, body limp and lifeless. My husband, who thinks I can do anything and generally looks at me with awe in his eyes, was doubtful. He didn’t say it but I could tell. For once, he was doubting me and I didn’t blame him. I was doubting myself. And the doctor. And anyone who ever has a baby. What a ridiculous idea.
The doctor kept asking if I wanted a mirror, to watch, sit up, some water, ice chips, a break… I WANTED. THE. BABY. OUT.
To add insult, there was a shift change right, smack dab in the middle of my labor and where did the nurses congregate? You guessed it… In my room.
"How was your night?"
"What’s the deal with the mom in 804-B?"
"Did you eat breakfast yet?"
And a dozen other things I can’t remember because I was a little preoccupied.
Ironically, the only thing I had requested (besides no pain) was quiet. I didn’t even want my sweet husband, bless his heart, to utter encouraging words. Anytime he tried, he was met with a “shh”.
But was anyone honoring my request? Of course not. After several minutes of dirty looks and paralyzing pushes, I spoke up.
"I’m sorry but can you please be quiet?"
Silence. Thank God.
But two minutes later, it started up again.
And, again, I politely requested for it to cease.
This little charade happened half a dozen times before I lost it.
"PLEASE. SHUT. UP." I screamed.
I realize these women do this every day, several times a day. To them, it was like brushing teeth. To me, it was like pulling them, one-by-one with rusty pliers. To them, it was just another baby. To me, it was my life- and hers.
8:20am. My husband and a nurse were called over to hold each of my legs. I’m sure he’s still traumatized. But he was a pro. The nurse? Not so much.
Every time I took a break, she’d disappear. And when it was time to push again, she was MIA. It was go time, the contractions were coming on strong, the head was out, my husband, the doctor and I were ready, hell even my poor little, helpless and trapped daughter was ready but the nurse, who was now whispering, quite literally, behind my back, was not.
More than once Ihad to remind her to do her job, ask her to grab my leg, tell her it was time.
After probably the third time, I shouted with everything I had left, “LEEEGGGGGG!!!!” It echoed off the walls and through the halls.
I think she got it that time.
At 8:38am our beautiful baby was born.
I have no idea how it happened. Those last few minutes are a blur. I honestly think I blacked out. When I came to, she was being laid on my chest, a hysterical, terrified mess. And it was THE moment.
Time to step up and be her mother. Be calm, soothing, comforting, reassuring and positive. Forget everything that had happened. And, just like that, I switched gears. I was no longer the patient, or the victim, she was and she needed me. Suddenly, I had all the energy in the world for my little girl. The pain of everything I’d just gone through, and being stitched up with nothing numbing me while she was in my arms, was nothing. The only feeling was love. Okay, and relief. Somehow she and I had done it. We were quite the little team.
I never saw that anesthesiologist or nurse again. But they could have been right in front of me. I only had eyes for one, special, tiny person.
I realize my experience is tame (and fortunate) compared to most. And, for that and, most especially, for her, I’m so thankful. Mainly, it was more humorous than anything, at least in hindsight.
And, not to be outdone, my departure was just as colorful as my labor.
I went into the hospital on a Thursday evening. By Sunday, I was being dismissed. But not before I took a long, hot shower. It was beyond time. And I wanted to leave the hospital at the hospital, if you know what I’m saying. So I scoured myself. For a good thirty minutes, I lathered and re-lathered. I soaped. I sudsed. I shaved. I stood and just let the hot water pour over me and my traumatized body. It was a great shower (Maybe my last good one to date!). So great, in fact, it was news-worthy.
The New York Fire Department was outside my hospital door. I opened it in my towel to see ten men in uniform staring back at me. My steam shower had been so hot and so long that it set off the alarm and the entire local fire department came.
What a way to make an exit. Or, in my daughter’s case, an entrance. It’s clear we’re destined to have an adventurous life together. And, so far, it’s been just that. May the excitement (and hilarity!) continue…