Tuesday, January 31, 2012

This Doesn’t Make Me Feel Empowered

Anyone who follows me on Facebook, Twitter, or my excuse for a pregnancy blog knows that I had a plan for my birth. Not a ten page birth plan, mind you, but a plan for a new birth experience. The first time around, I was twenty-four, I had no community and no real contact with other mothers. Facebook and Twitter hadn't been invented yet, and I had yet to discover the world of the mommyblogger. When I was put on bed rest at 30 weeks, I was taken by surprise. Bed rest back then was long and depressing. Once I was able to get out of bed, all I wanted was to get the baby out. At 37 weeks, my doctor offered me that out and I gladly said yes. I was induced. After ten hours of labor, I didn't progress and they gave me a c-section. Recovery was difficult. It was long and painful. I'm sure I was depressed, and I still had no community. Fast forward six and a half years, I was no longer alone. I had friends to support me. I had other mother's to give me advice and I had the endless stream of Facebook and twitter. I didn't want to go into this birth uninformed. I wanted to make different choices. My choices. Informed choices. I read more about c-sections and decided I wasn't so sure that my first one had been entirely necessary. I wondered if I hadn't been induced that I would have progressed normally. This time, I wanted a VBAC. I wanted a doula, and I even wanted a natural birth. As you know, I fought for all three. I explained to anyone who would listen how important a VBAC was to me. To help the process, GG and I attended hypnobirthing where I learned how to breath, how to relax and how to visualize. We worked on birth positions. I loved it. I felt confident in my ability to birth without fear. I felt confident in my ability to breathe and relax.

After seven weeks on bed rest for contractions, and three weeks of waiting for my due date, my labor started on Monday, but was slow so we stayed away from the hospital. I moved from position to position: ball to edge of couch to staircase. While staring at the carpet of my staircase, I even felt sad that I couldn't do this all at home. We went to lunch. We even went to Guitar Center to buy GR his big Chanukah gift. As the day and night wore on, my contractions got further and further apart, so I slept at home that night. While it didn't start in full force on Monday, it certainly didn't feel like the false alarm of the previous ten weeks of contractions.

In the early hours of the morning, I heard GG's gym bag zip closed and the door shut. After staying with me all day and night the day before, he must have figured it was safe to drive the ten minutes to the gym. A few minutes later, I tried to get out of bed and, bam, everything was gushing out of me. My water had clearly broken and it wouldn't stop coming (no one ever warned me that your water keeps flowing until you actually give birth. That would have been nice to know). I froze. All these months and all this planning and I had no idea what to do. The contractions from the day before weren't there. I didn't feel any different, but now I had fluid--everywhere. I snapped out of my confusion enough to pick up my phone and call my husband. He turned around and came home. However, I still didn't know what to do at this point because I didn't feel any different. I had a plan for GR, but all of the sudden I worried that it was six in the morning. Despite my worries, I called GG's friend's mom to pick him up and then, I called my doula to meet us at the hospital.

Once GG came home and I gathered all of GR's stuff, I did what any normal girl would do after her water breaks: I took a shower. Yep, I didn't want to be dirty. While in the shower (as contractions started up again), I also decided that I didn't want to give birth without shaving my legs (Crazy of me).
We finally left the house around 6:30. My contractions started to become more intense, and the drive to the hospital was difficult. When we got to the hospital, GG asked me if I wanted to be dropped off and he'd meet me. Again, I didn't like the thought of going in without him, so I had him park the car, and I walked with him (and all my stuff) into the hospital. When we got to the hospital, the front desk asked, "How may I help you?"
As if the pillows and bags didn't give us away.

"My water broke."

So, they pointed us to the triage waiting room. I have a vague recollection of feeling the need to show off to GG how familiar I was with the workings of the triage waiting room. I have not asked him to confirm or deny this recollection. Due to my broken water, (can I say it like that?), I had no idea where to sit. So, I just sat. (gross). No one else was in the room. I filled out the sheet. GG put it in the folder and we waited. We became my nightmare scenario: no one comes to get you in triage. I really didn't want to have the baby on the floor. At some point, GG got up and wandered into the hallway, looking for someone to help us. When the nurse finally came to get me, she asked, "How much fluid are you leaking?"
"Um, it's all over the seat and the floor."

She didn't even bring me to the little room where they ask you if you're being abused; she just rushed me back to the triage room, alone, so she could do the initial interview. I was in triage for awhile where I learned I was only two centimeters dilated. I felt frustrated. Then, another nurse pulled the triage nurse into the hallway. They whispered about me. I decided they must have noticed I was scheduled for a c-section the next week, so I screamed, "VBAC!" into the air. I don't think anyone heard me. My frustration grew: I was still in the room alone, my gown was too small and things were starting to hurt. My water broke on its own, and I was still only two centimeters. GG came in at some point, and we waited and waited and waited.

When we finally got to labor and delivery, time became a blur. Nurse One was old and short with glasses and a mean face. She was the only questionable nurse for my entire hospital visit. She had to hook-up an IV right away because of my repaired heart defect. Of course, I was the queen of the hospital bracelets because not only am I allergic to everything under the sun, but you can only poke and prod and take blood pressure from my left arm. In her attempt to put my IV in, Nurse One blew a vain and my whole arm blew up into a giant bloody, bruised mess. She left soon after that and was never heard from again. Nurse Two, accidently gave me antibiotics that I was allergic to and had to change them out. I forgave her because she was sweet and cute. (I do believe in my wondrous state of labor, I may have told everyone that all the nurses and doctors were cute.) More importantly, after Nurse ONE, all the other nurses were kind and supportive of me and my desire for a VBAC. Luckily, the ob was not my official OB, but she was the ob that I had cried to and given many speeches to about my desire for a VBAC. I didn't have to explain anything to her. She was behind me through everything, and I am grateful for that.

At some point the contractions became intense. Unlike all the anti-hospital horror stories, they let me move however I wanted. I could stand, sit, kneel, bend over..whatever. However, (and this is the part that makes me cry), I was completely blindsided by the pain. All my hours of hypnobirthing, my relaxation and meditation, my birth positions, my obsessions with homebirths, my admiration of birthing pictures flew out the window. The pain in the sides of my hips was unbearable. I couldn't find a comfortable position. And more than anything, I couldn't breathe. All I could do was claw and grab at the side of my hospital bed and scream bloody murder and swear like a sailor and hyperventilate. I don't know at what point I started screaming for drugs, but everyone else from my doula to the doc to GG kept reminding me that I didn't want drugs, and I needed to find a way to relax. They were kind and I thank them for it. GG spoke quietly to me, reminding me of what I wanted. Again, I don't know how long this went on for, but I know I screamed that I felt I was being tortured. As they were telling me that I just needed to find a way to relax and breathe and get in that hypnobirthing mood, I was thinking, " I'm getting drugs. I'm getting drugs. I'm getting drugs." As the contractions came stronger and stronger, I could not breathe or calm down. Then, the words came to me, " I don't feel empowered!"
And I didn't. There was nothing empowering about screaming in pain. There was nothing empowering about not being able to breathe. There was nothing empowering about feeling tortured.

So, I told the doctor that I really did want drugs and they called in the anesthesiologist. Of course, it took awhile for him to come, and my contractions were still horrendous. I don't know how I got through the prep. I had to sit still at the end of the bed while having contractions. I had to be held still. At some point, one of the nurse's arms was near my face and GG had to push my face away, so I didn't bite her. And then, it was in. Finally, the pain subsided and a sense of calm came over me. And I was able to be comfortable and sit in the bed...and wait.
During the waiting, the nurses told me to sleep because pushing took so much energy. I listened to my birth mix on my iPhone and my hypnobirthing rainbow relaxation. I finally felt the calm hypnobirthing promised. I finally felt like the ladies in the birthing videos, except they somehow manage to feel the calm euphoria without drugs. I tried my best to sleep. I couldn't. I began to worry about everyone else's boredom: GG and my doula now had nothing to do.

At some point, the nurses came in to check on me and the baby. They were not pleased with her heart rate, so they made me move positions and put on oxygen. It helped. Dr. C came in to check my progress: five centimeters. I don't remember how she reacted at that point. She told me she was going to do a c-section on another patient and she'd check again when she finished. Time passed. The feeling started to come back. They upped my drugs. I texted my best friend. I combed out my hair.( I never comb my hair, but I had this need) Nurses came in and out, putting the oxygen back over my face.

When Dr. C finally came back, she checked me again. My contractions were waning; I was six centimeters and somehow, I'd gone from 100% effaced to 80%. My cervix was swelling and my labor was moving backwards. The baby's heart rate continued to decelerate then stabilize and decelerate again. At this point, Dr. C said I had two options: I could have a c-section or she could give me a small amount of Pitocin. Pitocin seemed like the best option, but GG, my doula and I discussed it first. GG wondered if I could keep trying without any Pitocin, but the doctor said because I'd been at six centimeters for four hours and I was swelling, it wouldn't be a good idea. So, we let them add Pitocin to my IV cocktail. A text to my best friend tells me that it was around 6 pm when I got the Pitocin, so it had been 12 hours since my water had broken. The Pitocin started to do its job and my contractions became more regular. The pain started to come back, but not in my hips. They upped my meds again at some point. Around 8:30, I finally called my parents to say I was in labor (another long story). My mom tells me now that I sounded very drugged. I don't remember feeling drugged. After a few hours, Dr. C came back in to check me: seven centimeters, but still 80% effaced and the heart rate was not looking great. At this point---and it gets graphic here folks--the only thing I cared about was the fact I could feel my catheter. It soon became my obsession. I felt nothing else and any time anyone walked in the door I had to tell them about the pain. I wanted them to take it out. It's all I could talk about or think about. I kept asking GG to come near me to hold my hand. Dr. C came back. The baby's heart rate was still decelerating. She said that she would check me one more time and if I was fully dilated I could push, if I was the same, I'd have to have a c-section. It had been almost 16 hours at this point. One of the nurses leaned over and said. "You're really lucky to have her. None of the other doctors would have let you go this long. She's really behind you."

I wish I remember which nurse it was. Those words were important to me. Dr. C checked me and I was exactly the same. I could tell by her face she felt bad, but it wasn't about me at this point. It wasn't about my dream experience or the dreaded recovery time, it was no longer safe for the baby. I'm sure someone with an agenda would argue with me that I could have kept trying, but that agenda wouldn't be in the best interest of my child. Agreeing with the doctor wasn't hard. I had to have the c-section. I didn't feel bad about it in the moment and I still don't feel bad.
That being said, my fears about c-sections were bigger than I thought. I was still freaking out about my catheter. My contractions were getting painful again. A new anesthesiologist came in and started worrying about my heart. He checked charts. He consulted. He told me he was going to add the drugs very slowly into my IV and keep a close eye on my breathing. As he added the drugs, my contractions got stronger, and I still felt everything. They started wheeling me into the OR, and I told him I could still feel everything. I insisted that I would not become one of those horror stories where the woman is strapped down but could feel her c-section. He looked at me and said, "if you can still feel when they are ready for surgery, I will put you asleep. I won't let you feel pain." Intellectually, I believed him, but my paranoia became overwhelming. I kept telling everyone in the OR that I could still feel my catheter. I was taken over by fear. They put oxygen on me and told me I was breathing fine, but I felt like I was being buried alive. The anesthesiologist kept asking if I could feel. I couldn't feel pain, but I could still feel my contractions. I couldn't stop freaking out, so finally he asked if he could sedate me. I wouldn't be asleep, but I'd be calmer. So, they put more drugs in my IV. My memories are foggy. I have no recollection of the actual surgery. I sorta remember feeling the pressure of her being pulled out. I don't remember her being weighed or tested. GG says she took a few minutes to breath. I don't even really remember touching her for the first time. I know I had to hold her as I was wheeled into recovery.

Recovery seemed like three minutes. The nurse was very kind. I was able to move my legs very quickly and for the only time for the next few days she nursed immediately.The next four days was a story onto its own filled with no sleep, tears, a list of indignities a mile long, and the kindest nurses I could ever ask for. I was so thankful that the hospital now allows partners to sleep in the room because I could not have handled staying alone.

Unless someone visited me, I told no one about my c-section or my drugs. Not that I'm ashamed, I just don't want to have that conversation. You know, the how-do-you-feel-about-all-this-conversation. I don't feel bad about the c-section. The drug part is harder. Every time I read a birth story now, I'm amazed that women do it without drugs. Every time I read a natural birth story, I have to stop. What makes them different from me? I know it shouldn't matter. I don't even know if it does. But I can't help but wonder what gives them empowerment and me pain?


  1. Every labor is different.....for each child you have, for each woman. I truly believe that the important part of giving birth is having a healthy mother and baby at the end. That's what's important. As an ex L&D nurse, and a mother of two, grandmother of two.....the expectations placed on a laboring mother are unfair. We all have different bodies, different babies, different pain thresholds, different labors and deliveries. If you're lucky, you will have the child for your life (although it's good if they move out when they're adults).....and labor and delivery are just a minuscule part of your time together. It helps no one-really- to have any regrets or guilt or bad feelings about the way you experienced yours. What matters is now....and every step you take with your child AFTER his/her birth. Mothers have enough guilt, responsibility and work placed n them that they Can't escape

  2. ..sorry...please don't put this burden on yourself. You are a wonderful mother and a fascinating person. You are raising amazing children.

    Be kind to yourself. You deserve it. Xoxoxo

  3. Hey - the key thing is that you informed yourself instead of being a pawn. With that information, you then negotiated the "reality on the ground" and made those choices that were right for you. That's a pretty smart way to go! It's the regret of being uninformed and feeling manipulated that turned me into the monster of a patient / birth advocate that I am today. I am so happy you have a lovely little daughter to raise. She is a treasure.

  4. Every woman and body and coping skills and baby and labor is SO nuanced and SO different, we really can't compare. I had similar feelings after River's birth - feeling like i failed because it hurt so damn much. But truly - it doesn't matter now. As you process and let go and let your heart heal, it will all be better. Thinking of you - and SO glad you shared! xoxo

    1. I'm glad I was inspired to write about it by others. It just brings the whole experience full-circle. It's almost nice to hear that everyone feels some sort of failure because it makes me realize that no one fails at the process.

      Now, on to adventures in breastfeeding...