I’m not sure what I expected labor and birth to be like, to be honest. I had been told by countless people that as long as I got an epidural, the whole thing would be easy-peasy. So I didn’t really have any “fears” about labor and delivery like I’m sure many moms-to-be do when they’re preparing for the birth of their first child. I was so persuaded that the whole thing was going to be no big deal, that I didn’t bother reading anything to really prepare myself. And normally I read about every last detail (like I did for every step of the pregnancy!) When asked if I would be taking Lamaze classes, I rolled my eyes and said something like, “People have been doing this for thousands of years without all this literature and coaching. I’m sure he will find his way out.” I’ve also never been a “crunchy” kind of girl. Natural-births and water-births and hypno-births were not even close on my list of considerations. Hit me up with a bunch of meds and I will be a-okay! The only thing I remotely feared was the actual needle in the spine thing. Pain and the threat of permanent paralysis were enough to make me sweat a little. But other than that, I think I half expected to waltz into the hospital, pop out a kid, pose for pictures, and come back home and cuddle with my new little bundle of joy. I actually packed a makeup bag and hair straightener to look cute for the pictures right after he was born.
I had no idea what was in store for me!
At my appointment the week before my due date, I had not dilated at all. According to my doctor, there had been some softening and dimpling of the cervix, but that was about it. I was so over being pregnant at this point- the heartburn and reflux and swelling and exhaustion and back pain (you get the idea!). So I asked, “So what’s the plan? Do we induce?” He explained that he would not induce prior to the due date because it doesn’t always work and since I was fairly anemic, it could cause some unnecessary risks (I think he said it could prolong labor and cause the uterus to work extra hard which wouldn’t be good given my circumstances). That being said, he did not really want me going too far beyond my due date either. One thing I was nervous about was going beyond my due date. I myself was 2 weeks late when I was born, and I could not imagine being pregnant for two more weeks with Harrison. If you remember, he was already measuring 6 1/2 pounds at 34 weeks (now I was repeatedly told by everyone how inaccurate those measurements can be, but I was not convinced it was totally off. I knew he would be a big baby… and my hips aren’t exactly what anyone would consider “birthing hips.”). Not to mention my blood pressure was creeping up and the whole anemia thing. So I asked about being induced on my due date, and my doctor agreed with that. So we set the induction for 2 a.m. on 1/8/18.
Between that appointment and the induction, there wasn’t so much as a peep from Harrison regarding wanting to make his entrance into the world. My parents came into town on Sunday ready to meet their Grandson the following day and we all went to bed, with Nick and I planning to wake up around 1. Of course we were too excited to get any sleep, so we just kind of laid in bed, showered, and killed some time watching tv. At 1:30 we were about to walk out the door and all of a sudden I turned to Nick and said I needed to go to the bathroom before we left. My pants were soaked and I thought my water had broken! So I checked and I had definitely lost my mucus plug and I was gushing clear liquid. I assumed that’s what it was! SO now I was a little more excited, because I figured my body was totally ready to deliver this guy. But I was not having any contractions (and I never had any Braxton Hicks contractions either), so we didn’t seem to be in any particular rush. It was raining the whole way to the hospital, but the parking lot was virtually empty when we arrived and we got a close space and made our way upstairs. I checked in at the front desk and we sat in the lobby for about 20 minutes. No one seemed to be in any particular hurry to bring us into a room. Another woman was checking in as well, also to be induced. A nurse came out to tell her she was actually scheduled for January 9 and they would not be able to accommodate her because they had a full floor with several emergencies that had come in. The woman was obviously upset about the situation and pulled out her appointment card from her doctor to show the nurse that her doctor had told her January 8. After being declined again, she picked up her bags and left, understandably frustrated. I can’t imagine getting all worked up to meet your kid, staying up all night, and then finding out you have to wait another day. Fortunately, they didn’t kick us out, and shortly after that, we found ourselves in a spacious room where they immediately hooked me up to an iv.
As it turned out, my water had not broken and I was only dilated about a centimeter. So the nurse started to administer the Pitocin and explained everything about the epidural. She told me I had to request it with enough time to give anesthesia time to get there (about 30 minutes) and that they wouldn’t be able to give it to me if I couldn’t sit up over the side of the bed. That’s a really hard determination to make when you’ve never been through labor before! I had no idea how fast everything would progress and when would be enough time. I thought they just gave it to you when you got the Pitocin. Below is me at about 5 am… Nick was sleeping 🙂 No epidural yet, and I was still feeling relatively ok.
There was a screen next to my bed that showed the contractions which was great because initially I couldn’t feel anything and had no idea what was going on. I started to get nervous that everything would turn on a dime, I’d be 10 cm dilated and in too much pain to get the epidural. But around 3 cm dilated I did start to feel them and it was awful! I’d heard that Pitocin can make contractions feel worse than if you go into labor naturally. Of course, I have nothing to compare it to, but the contractions were pretty intense early on.
I took this photo just after 7 am after having had the Pitocin for about 5 hours. I asked the nurse how close together the contractions were at this point and she said they were about 3-4 minutes apart. I was not enjoying them at this point and I already wanted the epidural but my doctor wanted to wait until I was dilated a bit more. A nurse brought me a giant ball to bounce on that was more awkward than anything especially when I was hooked up to the wires and computers. Getting up to go to the bathroom was also a challenge (and since I was still super pregnant at this point, I felt like I needed to get up every 2 minutes!) You had to unhook yourself from the wall and machines and drag the iv of Pitocin with you to the bathroom. I don’t know how many times I did that. Eventually I just stayed standing up because it hurt less than laying down. Finally one of my nurses was able to get the ok for the epidural and I was so relieved. The anesthesiologist came in. He and Nick apparently knew each other so they were chatting it up and it helped me to ignore what was happening. I never had to see the needle and I was so happy about that! I barely felt anything. Had I seen the needle I think my mind would have exaggerated the pain. The epidural helped a great deal initially, but by the afternoon I just felt a lot of painful pressure. The nurses came in to put me in awkward positions to try to move things along and I was just hurting so badly! I asked Nick to come hold my hand because it was so painful. One of the nurses said I shouldn’t be hurting and when she checked me again, I had dilated from a 5 to a 9 in about an hour. I was relieved that the induction had apparently worked but things were getting a little intense. When she realized how much I had progressed, they came in to re-up my epidural (thank God!)
At this point, I had stopped keeping track of the time. I had assumed we were getting really close to meeting our baby and we would be done with plenty of time to kick back, relax, and watch the College Football National Championship (I went to Alabama, and I had packed a cute baby blue Alabama hat for Harrison to wear during the game.)
At some point I was officially 10 cm and it was “go-time” but I was pushing and pushing and nothing was happening. I had so many different nurses coming in trying all sorts of strategies (my personal favorite was playing tug-of-war with the nurse using a towel). Y’all. Labor and delivery nurses are amazing. This one nurse absolutely blew me and Nick away with her effort trying to get Harrison out.
I had gone in with the mindset that I absolutely would never, EVER want a mirror to see what was going on down there. But after about an hour of pushing I thought it might help me. They kept telling me they could see his head so I thought if I could see it too it might motivate me or help me figure out how to push more effectively (side note, it isn’t pretty and it didn’t help; avoid if you can…). The epidural made it really difficult to figure out when to push because I couldn’t feel the contractions so I was relying on the computer screen. Nick was talking to my dad who said he should tell me Alabama was not doing well against Georgia in the game and that might stress me out enough to get the baby out. But even though it was the National Championship, football was now the furthest thing from my mind. The epidural started wearing off (As did my energy) and I could feel everything a lot more intensely.
Part of the issue was that despite Harrison’s head being in the right place, his body was way over on the left side of my body, so my pushing was getting us nowhere. Another nurse tried pushing him from the side toward the center as I tried to push him out. Can I just say, that might have been the most painful part of the whole process!
With every push, I thought, “surely we must be getting closer! Tell me we are getting closer!” But everyone just sort of shook their head. Every time the head came closer to progressing, he was met with resistance and slid back up. One step forward, two steps back. I was in so much pain and so exhausted at this point that I was just turning my head to the side to vomit repeatedly, not even bothering to make it in to the bag that someone was holding for me. My hair was saturated in bile. Thoughts of my makeup bag and looking cute for photos were long gone.
At this point I had been up for almost 35 hours and I hadn’t eaten before going to the hospital because I had forgotten to ask what the rules were when you’re being induced (and I remembered thinking that if I had to have an emergency C-section I probably shouldn’t eat anything). I was running on empty and honestly at this point a lot of everything was a bit hazy. I remember my doctor left the room and I kept trying to push but at some point the C-section call was made. I was freaking out and I could feel everything and desperately felt the need to push and they were telling me to stop pushing because they were going to have to push him back up so they could get him out surgically. Everyone left the room and I was kicking my legs not intentionally trying to push but I couldn’t really help it. But even that pushing that felt like what you imagine labor to be like was absolutely futile. Apparently he was stuck and there was no way to get him past the pubic bone that was holding him back. I’m pretty sure I was crying at this point. The next thing I knew we were in the OR and someone was poking me with a toothpick to ask if I could feel it. Apparently the epidural only numbed the left side of my body this time and I could feel everything on the right side. Meanwhile I still felt like I needed to vomit. Because the epidural wasn’t working they had to give me a spinal, so my doctor and a nurse helped me sit up and they each held one of my hands I assume to keep me from moving and try to calm me down since I was still heavily in labor. I was so scared to move and just wanted it all to be over with but I couldn’t help but think how kind and compassionate everyone was being. I had no idea where Nick was at this point in time (he later told me they made him wait outside presumably until everything was stabilized). Before I knew it I was back on my back and realized I had lost the ability to swallow. I’m not sure if it was the anesthesiologist or a nurse or who but they kept telling me it would pass and it was just a result of the anesthesia. In my head though, I was thinking, “NO you don’t understand, I actually can’t swallow I feel like I’m choking!” I was begging for water and they couldn’t give me any because of the risk of actual choking. I vaguely remember asking if the baby was ok and the nurse assuring me he was but after that I don’t even remember what happened. A few days ago I asked Nick where he was for the procedure and he said after they let him in the room he was close to my head and talking to me the whole time- something I have absolutely no recollection of. It all seemed to go by quickly but I swear part of me forgot why I was even there in the first place. I was just so wrapped up in the fact that I felt like I was choking to death that the fact they were removing a baby from my abdomen completely slipped my mind at some point. I had no idea when he was out. I was never actually unconscious but it sure felt like I blacked out. Recently, Nick was showing me videos of Harrison getting weighed and measured and I had no idea any of that was happening or that he was even born yet. I guess I was being stitched and stapled back together still begging (and being declined) water.
8 pounds 15 ounces and a huge head. Nick said after they pulled him out the doctor told him had he realized how big he was he would have recommended a C-section hours earlier but that I just didn’t look like I could have been carrying a baby that size. Of course I was oblivious to the weighing and that conversation… I was off in La La Land.
And then out of nowhere I looked up and someone was putting this precious little angelic face next to mine and Nick was taking a picture. Looking at this photo makes me so sad because that was the biggest smile I could muster. I had just envisioned that first moment with my child to be so different than how it turned out! I was shaking so badly from all of the anesthesia that I couldn’t hold him, which was devastating. That little cheek to cheek contact was all I got until I made it back to my recovery room.
After they put me back together they started to wheel me back to my room. I saw our families in the hallway and I couldn’t even say anything. Back in the room, I was still shaking but to my surprise the nurse handed him to me and I just cried. She emphasized how important it was that we had that skin to skin contact and the three of us were left alone to enjoy our time as a new family. At some point that night, Nick told me, “Alabama won.” I hadn’t even thought to ask! Apparently I missed a game for the books. I can’t wait to tell Harrison how he was born during that game (and made me miss it!)
The next day I wasn’t allowed to shower just yet so I just braided my hair to try to conceal the vomit and put on some makeup before we had visitors. Our families came by and got to hold the little guy and took lots of photos with him. That afternoon the nurse gave me some painkillers and I had to wait 30 minutes before going to shower. The bathroom was probably only about 10 feet from my bed but it might has well have been the length of a football field! Both of the nurses had to help me sit up and make it to the edge of the bed but I was moving literally an inch at a time to try to rotate to my left. When I finally got my feet on the ground and tried to move forward, the pain was indescribably worse than anything I have ever experienced and I really just wanted to collapse on the floor. One of the nurses walked me to the bathroom and was so incredibly patient getting me there. She said “you were the talk amongst the post partum nurses this morning… one of them was saying there was a lady pushing for three hours before having a C-section.” Now I had no idea how long was normal for pushing (according to google 1-2 hours is normal), but it had become immediately apparent to me that morning that recovering from both active labor and a C-section simultaneously was going to be miserable.
I was so relieved to have the vomit and sweat out of my hair and make it back to my bed. I didn’t want to have to move for a long time. Of course they tell you the best thing for your recovery is to start moving- walking around the room and down the halls. But it was not happening that day. Wednesday I was able to move about the room a little bit and by Thursday I managed to do a lap around the floor while holding on to the hospital bassinet. Each day got a little easier but I really had the best nurses I could have possibly asked for. The hospital likes to leave the babies in the room with you now rather than sending them off to the nursery (Which I think is great- more time with your new little one!) But at some points I was so fatigued that I was scared of him falling asleep on me and then falling off the bed or something. So one of the nurses from the nursery said she’d be happy to take him until he was ready to eat which was really helpful so that Nick and I could get some legitimate shuteye. The biggest problem for me was trying to sit up and lean over the plastic walls of the bassinet to reach him and putting him back in. Nick was staying at the hospital with me but I hated waking him up every time to move the baby for me (especially during the whole cluster feeding phase) so I would do my best to lift Harrison out and sit up to put him back- but it was really painful. I hadn’t really considered this aspect of taking care of him when we got home (We had a standard bassinet that was set up next to my side of the bed). Eventually we invested in a Dock-a-Tot so he could sleep in the middle of the bed and make it easier for me to lift him (I highly recommend this if you have a king sized bed), but if you’re not comfortable with co-sleeping like that, I’ve heard great things about the Halo swivel bassinet for moms who have had C-sections. I probably would have went with one of those had I had any idea I would be having a C-section. The recovery varies for everyone but I had a really hard time and anything that could have made it easier would have been greatly appreciated that first week when I felt like I was still being stabbed in the stomach every time I moved!
We were released mid-day on Friday. At that point I was ready to get home to my own bed (we’d been in since 2 AM Monday morning). By this time I was able to walk around the room and help pack some things up. We got Harrison dressed in his going-home outfit (this super cute blue sweater set with matching bonnet!) and waited to be discharged. When we finally got to the car we fumbled with the car seat. I was so worried if it was tight enough or too tight so I just sat in the back seat with him to make sure he was okay during the ride home.
I am so grateful that this baby made it to us safely despite the process of getting him here. I never thought I would be bothered by a C-section (my mom had one with my brother so it seemed totally normal to me). But in the days that followed at home, the whole experience started to weigh on me. I felt like such a failure for not being able to deliver him vaginally but I tried to counter those feelings with “all that matters is that he’s here and safe.” To some extent that’s true. But I have to wonder how much different my experience would have been had I been able to hold him immediately and not been shaking so terribly afterward. I started to understand those “crunchy” mamas a little bit more- the ones who swear off epidurals for the all-natural route. I was left wondering if I had gone without the epidural earlier, maybe I could have pushed more effectively in the first hour and had more success. I blamed myself for a lot of my decisions (the irony of the induction is that I was scared if I waited too long that he would be too big to deliver and I’d have to get a C-section!). I was left asking if my decision to be induced was responsible for the resulting C-section (inductions have a much higher rate of emergency C-section than labor that occurs naturally). Or maybe I just wasn’t as capable as the other millions of women who have successfully delivered their children without need for surgical intervention? I started to get anxiety about the future when I wanted to be present in the moment. I was googling whether C-sections can contribute to secondary infertility or whether I would have to have another C-section with a subsequent child or if a VBAC was possible- and which of those did I really want? My experience was partly so miserable because of the labor followed by C-section, but had I just had a scheduled C-section I’m sure it would have been much more manageable. Would I want to risk going through the same experience again? I think a lot of my anxiety stemmed from the hormone fluctuation that comes with having just given birth. After a few days of being home I was able to set aside all these questions and table them for the future when they’re relevant. With a clear mind, I was better able to enjoy life in the present with Harrison James and make up for that lost bonding in those first few minutes of his life. After all, babies don’t keep and I don’t want to miss any more precious time with this little love of my life.