The Birth Story

Here is my account of Maggie’s birth. It was an incredible roller coaster in which our birth plan was, with our informed and occasionally eager consent, completely thrown out the window. Would I induce with pitocin again? Probably not, it got really intense really fast. Would I get the epidural again, even without pitocin? Absolutely, and I would get several and give them as gifts to friends and family.

Knowing what I know about natural birth and its advocates, some people will read this and see a tragedy of avoidable suffering and feel badly for me. Some of the people reading know Maggie had to be taken to the nursery immediately to be put on oxygen to resolve an issue of rapid breathing and fluid in the lungs and was not able to room with me at the hospital. This sounds a lot scarier than it was. I think it’s important to note that the drugs I took during labor did not cause her problem; it was a matter of the fluid not being squeezed out 100% in the birth canal, and happens more often in c-sections but occasionally in vaginal births. I felt horrible, awful guilt about being induced and taking the drugs until her doctors explained it all to me, and I shouldn’t have. It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. No birth plan is worth feeling that kind of guilt if you don’t, won’t, or can’t stick to it.

Most importantly, I went into every decision with open eyes, realistic expectations, and that I don’t feel a bit bad about how it all happened. It was nothing like we expected, and magical in its own way. My baby is healthy and beautiful and our labor together was truly awe-inspiring to me.

Friday, April 10, 7:00 a.m.: We are prepared for the 9am induction and decide to leave the house early to beat traffic. I have showered, put on a bright red kicky sports bra and shaved my legs, and I feel good. Empowered. Even with the imminent pitocin induction, I feel confident. Tom looks every inch the capable father-to-be. We head off to pick up breakfast and get on our way.

7:50 a.m.: Thanks to Good Friday, there is no traffic on the roads. We swing by Whole Foods to pick up a ration of high-quality snacks for us after the labor: proscuitto, fresh cherry tomatoes, sourdough bread, and cheese. I become utterly giddy at the prospect of choosing soft cheese. We pick out a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne to toast our new arrival (as of today, April 16th, we still haven’t opened it yet.) I text my family to tell them how Tom is selecting fine wine and cheese to celebrate our baby. My cousin Megan responds with “Tell him to stay standing for the birth. He won’t want to wrinkle his tux.”

9:00 a.m.: Admitting. Our nurse is super-supportive of the birth plan. Yay! They finally hook me up to the pitocin IV around 10, blowing out a vein in my hand in the process. For a while that pain is worse than my contractions. We are told they’ll increase the dose half-hourly until things get rolling. I am 3cm, 80% effaced.

10-1:55 p.m.: Trashy TV marathon on Vh1 Bravo. We don’t have cable so this is a rare treat for me. I am having definite contractions, but no more intense than what I have experienced at home. Because of the pitocin and whatnot, I have been strapped to monitors and an IV pole, the second of many divergences from the plan. At five of two I look at the clock and think “Seriously, it’s been almost four hours, when is this going to really get rolling?”

2:00 p.m.: Be careful what you wish for because BIG CONTRACTION HOLY SHIT. And we’re off to the races! After about twenty minutes I need all my energy to focus on my breathing. I use my color imagery and hold on to Tom.

3:30 p.m.: My adrenaline is through the roof and the hypnobirthing is becoming difficult to maintain. My body’s fight-or-flight response is to flee; every contraction inspires the need to jump straight through the ceiling. This is not surprising given my past reactions to pain. They are every two minutes. The nurse checks me. I am still at 3cm. I agree to the suggestion that my water be broken. I tell Tom I am ready for an epidural; if this is what 3cm feels like, I have no interest in what 9cm will feel like. He knows me well enough to say “Absolutely.”

3:45 p.m.: The doctor arrives. Tom tells me he held my hand but I don’t remember that part. All I know is the nurse has to lean her whole body weight on my shoulders to compress me while they insert the epidural catheter. Relief starts to come but my left side feels considerably more numb than my right. I lie on my right side and call my mom and sister to tell them that I couldn’t go all-natural like they did. My sister says exactly the right thing: “If I had had more time, I’d have gotten the epidural too.” The idea of being confined to bed, once so terrifying, no longer matters.

4:15 p.m.: The epidural fails to work on my right side, and what little relief I received on my right begins to fade. My left side is numb but my right is back up to pre-epidural intensity with no breaks in between. They call the anesthesiologist. He is in an emergency c-section and won’t be available to help me until 5pm at the earliest. I tell Tom that this wasn’t supposed to happen–if I was going to disregard my birth plan, I want results, goddammit. It seems so unfair to have happily pitched our plan and still be exactly where I was. The good news is that now I am at 6cm! Progress!

4:45-5:30: Tom tries to use our hypnobirthing to talk me through the surging transformation I’m undergoing. I tell him to shut up but apologize after the contraction passes. He continues to soothe me as I try to find my happy endorphin place, with varying success. There is a lot of focused breathing/groaning. Every time I remember the nurse is in the room I ask where the doctor is. Fortunately for her I don’t remember that often. As a stopgap, the nurses ask my OB if they can give me an injection of something that I will never remember that is supposed to help me not care about the contractions. This is the only part I actually regret–even at the half-dose my doctor grudgingly approved, the drug doesn’t work except to make me feel woozy. My doctor is on the way from her office and will arrive just after 6:00. One contraction is such that my bladder is totally overpowered, and Tom strokes my hand while they change out the pad underneath me. I am grumpy about my loss of control.

Somewhere in this time period I sign a waiver to donate the baby’s cord blood. I think this is the very definition of consent under duress.

5:30-5:50 p.m.: The anesthesiologist comes and tops off the epidural. My left side, still numb but capable of movement, goes even blanker. I try to wiggle my toes and get a twitch. My right side STILL ranks at “moderate pain.” I am topped off again.

6:00 p.m.: Ahhhhh. I have new energy. I feel bright-eyed. I babble like a drunk who’s just taken a mild hit of speed. I feel fantastic, alert and confident again. I tell Tom that given that I am the sort of person who will take to my bed with Vicodin for menstrual cramps, I am not sure why I thought I would make the all-natural plan work for me. The nurse inserts a catheter. I get the giggles and can make small talk.

6:15 p.m.: My doctor arrives and checks me. “Well! No wonder you were uncomfortable, you’re at 10 and the baby is at the +3 station! Let me scrub in and you can push!” While it wasn’t exactly all-natural, I give myself a pat on the back for making it 90% of the way without the benefit of a full epidural. I don’t care if anyone says I cheated–I at least made it that far.

6:30 p.m.: Tom gets misty and emotional, I start laughing. We’re going to do this. We make small talk between contractions. “Did you know Josh Holloway is here? The guy from “Lost”? His wife had their baby.” I am numb from the waist down but I am able to use the hypno-birthing birth breathing techniques to find a place to push into that doesn’t strain me. I decide the mirror would be cool and I watch the head slowly pulse back and forth.

The baby’s heartrate dips and threats of the vacuum come out. This is terrifying to me, and I redouble my efforts and the shift in the baby’s position resolves the problem. My doctor is thrilled with my baby’s progress. The nurse and the doctor cheer me on while I push. Even though it expressly states not to do this in my birth plan, I actually enjoy it. Go me! I am rocking the push. My bowels behave and I become irrationally pleased that my birth story will not include me pooping on the table as well.

6:55 p.m.: I put my fingers on the baby’s head. This is weeeeeeeird.

7:00 p.m.: The doctor tells me the baby is crowning and to push into the burning sensation. Thanks to the epidural I have no burning whatsoever. I get a second wind to push–the next few minutes feel like one long super-push. The doctor says “Your baby is coming, it’s coming!” The only thing I feel is the heat from the high-powered light trained on the area for the doctor. The nurse rips off the monitors and prepares a landing site on my stomach for our first meeting.

7:05 p.m.: Tom is crying and I am laughing with joy as he tells me “It’s a girl, a girl.” The doctor lifts a solid, chubby baby into the spotlight area. She has enormous cheeks. I repeat her name over again, “Maggie, Maggie” as she is placed on my torso. She is beautiful. We laugh and cry. We are a family.