Monday, 29 October 2012
I don’t like pain. I take Excedrin when I have a headache; I have prescription drugs for my migraines. I got 5 stitches in my index finger once, and I took Tylenol with Codeine. I’ve had surgery and accepted narcotic painkillers with open arms. Yet somehow, I didn’t think twice when I had to make the decision: drugs or no drugs during labor? My mom had three kids without an epidural. Also, I have a fear of needles. And, the more I learned about epidurals and the various other drugs offered during labor, the less appealing they sounded. There are a lot of risks, drawbacks, and uncertainties; there is no drug that makes labor easy. It’s difficult and painful either way. So my plan was no drugs.
My birth plan was: No drugs, no IV, no inducing if possible. I didn’t want to be hooked up to a bunch of machines, I wanted to wear my own clothes, and I wanted my mom and husband with me at all times. C-sections and episiotomies were to be avoided. I wanted to be able to move around and switch positions. I also had music and all kinds of things prepared to pass the time and help me relax. None of that was needed…But more on that later.
Part 1: Early Labor
In our childbirth class, they described the phases of labor, and the first phase was “early labor." It was the longest part of labor, they said. You’ll know when it’s happening, they said. You’ll have hours and hours of sitting around at home before you go to the hospital, with mild contractions in the neighborhood of 30 minutes apart, they said. This is the time you’re supposed to relax, eat a little, nap a little, etc. I did not get this chance. I didn’t have time to get used to being in labor, let alone relax and read a book. It could be that early labor for me lasted days, but it was so mild I wouldn’t have noticed. I just felt some cramps and Braxton Hicks contractions.
Part 2: My actual beginning—Active labor at home
In childbirth class, they said that only 10% of women begin labor with their water breaking. It doesn’t usually happen like the movies. 90% of women get contractions first. But, in the event that we are part of that 10%, we went over the following scenario: It’s 2 AM and your water breaks, what do you do? The answer was: check to make sure there’s no color or smell, and go back to bed. I asked the midwife how long I should wait until I go to the hospital, if my water breaks first and contractions don’t start. She said up to 8 hours. So, I was under the impression that labor would start slow and steady. That’s how it usually happens in the real world. First time mothers often labor for 20-35 hours.
I was part of that 10%. My water actually did break at 2 AM. And we went back to bed…Ten minutes later, I was hurting really bad. I got up and went to the bathroom, and I kept trying to time my contractions, but I couldn’t get a grip on them. Before I knew it I had been in active labor by myself for two hours in the bathroom. Toilet, shower, pacing back and forth, leaning on the counter. At 4 AM, I started freaking out. The contractions were coming on stronger and closer together and I was realizing that I was either in active labor, or something was wrong. Justin got out of bed and started timing contractions. I couldn’t get my mom on the phone. I was out of my mind. Eventually I did reach her by my step dad’s phone, and Justin started timing my contractions. Took another shower. At some point I was on the couch, being coached over the phone by my mom, while she was on her way to our house and Justin got together our stuff. For the record, I was pretty mean. I yelled the F word at the beginning of every contraction. I yelled at Justin in answer to all of his questions. I yelled at my mom at basically everything she said.
My mom got to the house sometime around 6, and there was some more labor on the couch, coached in person by my mom. I needed water, but it was impossible to lift a cup and drink from it, so HELLO CAMELBAK®! I somehow came up with this gem in the middle of a contraction. That was a very easy way to stay hydrated. I recommend it. Anyway, at some point we had to race to the car between contractions.
30 minutes of contractions on the bumpy, bumpy road to Norfolk. Yelling at my mom every time we hit a bump. Labor on the road is not fun.
I remember standing on the curb, leaning on Justin, for one contraction. Then quickly waddling to a wheelchair, and a really frustrating wheelchair ride to the delivery room.
Part 3: Active labor in the hospital
Every time I told a childbirth veteran that I planned on a natural childbirth, I got eye-rolls and meaningful looks, and basically no one believed me. In explanation, I realized that basically 3 out of 4 of the women who PLANNED on natural childbirth tapped out and got an epidural. That’s when I started to worry. One thing I can tell you for sure: You will never be in labor and think to yourself: “Oh this isn’t so bad, I don’t need an epidural.” Childbirth hurts. It’s not like any pain you’ve ever felt. Drugs sound SO good when you’re in the moment. You’re going to want one. I wanted one. But I had already resolved not to get one. So I didn’t. And that’s what it takes: you have to decide that you’re going natural, and just go natural. Giving up can’t be an option.
Anyway, back to the story…I was having serious contractions, and there was a nurse putting an irritating fetal monitor around my belly against my will. And making me sign papers. She was telling me what each paper said, but I was 6 cm dilated, I was not paying attention. I think by the time my midwife finally joined us, I had reached the transition phase.
Part 4: Transition
Transition happens when you’re about 8 cm dilated. This phase is known to make women angry. This is when they start yelling and saying things they don’t mean…I already did this. For some reason, I got nice during transition. I stopped cursing, stopped yelling, started focusing. I even said “fudge” one time instead of the expletive. I was wondering to myself why I said that…I spent a lot of time on all fours, more quietly getting through contractions. Falling asleep for two seconds at a time—I hadn’t had a decent sleep in two days. At some point a crazy woman came in and announced she needed to draw my blood. And I started crying. I don’t like my blood drawn on a GOOD day, let alone the second most intense portion of labor. The needle wasn’t a big deal compared to labor pains, but I was too busy to mention to her that I can’t have needles in my hand lest I get a giant bruise. So I got a giant bruise. It didn’t go away for over a week. It had to have been around 8:00 am when I started feeling the urge to push. I knew vaguely that I shouldn’t push unless given the go-ahead by the midwife, so I held back. It wasn’t easy, but it was instinctual. Apparently most people have a hard time doing this. I don’t remember anything about it except that I did it… I felt like I had to push, and my body naturally pushed, but I stopped it. They checked me and I was not yet 10 cm. They asked if I wanted to get in the shower and I SO wanted to, but they decided I should keep the fetal monitor on (ugh) so the midwife went to get the birthing ball (exercise ball). That felt like it took forever, but I eventually got to get up and sit on it, and it was pretty good. Under the circumstances. I was getting impatient, though. I asked if I could push yet; it was getting more and more difficult to hold it. I don’t remember who - the nurse or the midwife - but the last time I asked, she finally said NO but I was very close. So she managed to push the baby’s head the rest of the way through the cervix (ouch. But everything hurt at this point so I was just all business) and I was okay to push. The next thing I remember I was somehow back on the hospital bed on hands and knees.
Part 5: Pushing
Ouch ouch ouch ouch. I got the impression that transition was the most difficult part and pushing was a “relief”…What the heck ever. Transition was pretty tough. Pushing felt like I imagined it would feel like to be murdered. I felt like my vagina was on FIRE. It hurts. I’m sorry, if you’re planning on having a baby, I don’t want to scare you. But, be prepared: it hurts. You’re not going to like it, but it will make you love your baby even more. This phase can last 30 minutes or two hours. I was NOT going to do this for two hours. I had no drugs, I’d had no sleep, I felt every ounce of Westley Reese Amadeus, and I was getting him the hell out of me now. I pushed until I couldn’t anymore. I pushed more than I wanted to, and I might have pushed more than I should have to prevent tearing (truthfully I do not know to the full extent how this works).
Just so we’re clear, it does feel similar to the urge to poop, but it is different, and your body does know the difference. No, I can’t guarantee that you won’t actually poop. Obviously, it happens. But, the two top fears we women usually have are of tearing and pooping. Here’s the truth about them both. Unless you get an episiotomy, you’ll probably tear. It’s not as scary as it sounds. At the time, there’s so MUCH going on, you don’t KNOW what is going on. I didn’t realize I had torn until my midwife was sewing me up. And I didn’t even care about those needles after the trauma of pushing. When it makes a difference is during recovery. More on that later. As for the pooping part. I PROMISE, you won’t give a flying frick if poop, blood, flowers, or dancing leprechauns come out of there, because the reality is this: you are pushing a 5-10 pound person out of you. It’s hard and it hurts and absolutely nothing matters to you but getting him or her out of there. I am a modest person who enjoys my privacy, but I didn’t care one bit what was going on down there as long as my baby got out safely and quickly. Also, I had cleared most of it out several hours earlier anyway. You probably will, too.
Back to pushing…You won’t think you can get through this. You will want to give up. The good news is, you can’t give up. And you’ll get through it. You’ll be proud of yourself afterward, unbelievably proud. Here’s how it goes down: the contraction starts, and you push. You immediately regret this, but you can’t stop. You push as long and hard as you can—everyone will be spouting out instructions, so just do what they say. I screamed, bloody freaking murder. I didn’t expect what I felt. They got onto me and told me to make lower sounds, so I did. Then I pushed again, and screamed bloody freaking murder. Repeat. Contraction stopped, and I waited for the next one. This continued until I felt the baby start to emerge. That felt good for a second! Until the contraction stopped. What happened? I thought I felt him coming out, unless I was imagining things. I wasn’t. His belly got stuck. His BELLY. Despite my shouting pleas to “GET HIM OUT OF ME,” the midwife could not pull him the rest of the way out. “Push,” she says. I couldn’t. The contraction had stopped. I probably shouldn’t elaborate on how not fun this was. Eventually a contraction came, though, and I pushed like there was no tomorrow.
Part 6: FINALLY
And he slid the rest of the way out. Now, THAT felt MARVELOUS. I think I collapsed in relief and, I only know from a video I forced myself to watch, they plopped him on the bed in front of me while I was still on hands and knees. It was so, so worth it. I didn’t care about anything else. And he looked like me. Suddenly he was the only thing that mattered. Somehow I ended up on my back, my baby on my chest, and my midwife sticking needles in my lady parts. I am irrationally afraid of needles. If you are, too, take heart: I didn’t care about anything but the little person in my arms. Don’t worry about the placenta. You feel a contraction (no big deal), you push, it’s finally over and you feel all the better for it. I think we held and stared at the baby for maybe an hour before the nurse finally weighed him. NINE POUNDS AND SIX OUNCES, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Wow. And that, my friends, is why I tore through skin AND muscle, resulting in two layers of stitches. They call this a second degree tear. Believe it or not, it could have been worse.
Part 7: Why mothers pee with the door open
I had just had an average of 5 people in the room while I was on all fours with my nightgown hiked up and who-knows-what-madness was going on in my nether regions. When that was over, my nightgown was removed and I ended up walking right across the room naked to the bathroom. With a nurse supporting me. Once there, I couldn’t sit on the toilet, urinate, or get off of the toilet without assistance. I actually almost passed out. Did I care how many people had just seen me naked? No. You might. I did not. I was more concerned with how in the world I was going to pee. The first attempt wasn’t successful. I was pretty much afraid of everything down there. I read that some people like to bring their own underwear because the hospital gives you this baggy mesh kind that doesn’t fit well. You should still bring your own underwear for day 2 or 3, but on day 1, I didn’t want to mess with anything down there. The baggy underwear was just there to hold the pad and the icepack; to soak up the bleeding and stop the swelling and pain. I wasn’t walking much, so it was fine, really.
Part 8: Recovery
Recovery was tough. Your body really goes through it. It’s been one month and I’m still hurting. Not NEARLY as much as the first week, thank goodness. Now, future first-time-moms, you will be terrified at the prospect of pooping. Especially if you have stitches AND hemorrhoids. They don’t fully warn you about these. They suck. And they never fully go away. Anyhow, just take a stool softener (probably every day for the next two weeks) and let it be. It’s not that bad, as long as you just let it happen when it happen. Also, take all the ice packs you can get. We couldn’t find any of these later. Not the same kind, anyway. And ice is your friend when everything down there feels like it’s been through WWII. Sitz baths are uncomfortable, but afterward everything feels much better. Take a towel, roll it up a bit, and use it on the back of the Sitz bath to make it more comfortable. That’s the best you can do. I brought an i-home for the labor part, but it actually came in handy in the recovery room. Day and night we had music going to make us feel more at home, and it relaxed me during the night when Justin was sleeping and I was up feeding, and not having a clue what to do. The book was a nice thought, but I could barely get through a paragraph before something demanded my attention.
I didn’t want to sleep all day the first day. I was full of adrenalin and I just wanted to look at my baby. So I did, and when I needed it, I knocked out. Take advantage of the hospital. They allow you to get rest. Because…
Part 9: Day one at home
Is the second hardest day ever. You suddenly have no help but your husband and whatever family may or may not be there. There is no refrigerator right by the bathroom to hold your Tucks pads. There’s laundry to do, and dishes and baby preparation, and you can’t do ANY of it. At least, I couldn’t. Honestly, I could barely take care of my baby after all I’d been through, so that was my only job. Taking care of a newborn baby when it’s all you can do to walk to the bathroom, this is a difficult task. Also, it takes you twenty minutes to go to the bathroom, so make sure you have someone around to hold the baby for this. Also for Sitz baths and showers. Also for naps. Oh yeah, that’s the only time you’re going to get sleep from now on. I have a hard time forcing myself to nap. I should be napping right now; everyone else is. Naps are good. Go with it. Justin and I stayed up all night on the first night, and it was horrible. But eventually we got used to the fact that Westley makes a lot of noise when he sleeps, and you have to discern when it’s a “MOMMY, I NEED YOU” noise or a “I’m a noisy newborn” noise. Also, we started taking shifts. I got up to feed, Justin got up to burp, change, and lull to sleep. When Justin went back to work, my mom stayed over for a week. This was the best idea ever. I got some sleep, he got a full night’s sleep, and I finally started to learn the ins and outs of getting as much sleep at night as possible. But during the day, if the baby is sleeping, you should be sleeping. For at least the first month, this is a good rule.
Part 10: Conclusion
In the end, I got all the major things I wanted from my birth plan. I didn't induce, I didn't use an epidural or any other drugs, I didn't get a C-section. I didn't even get any real stretch marks (I used Bio Oil since the second trimester, so take with that information what you will). The little bumps in the road, so to speak, were pretty decent compromises. I am happy with my experience, all things considered.
My last bit is this: People offering to make you food? Take them up on it. This was helpful. I appreciate everyone who brought us food. They were the bomb. Bonus: you can make them hold your baby while you eat. They don’t mind. Babies are cute, and they really came to see him anyway. Also, keep something in the kitchen to eat that is ready to just grab and eat. A one-handed meal is helpful, too. I keep finding myself feeding the baby in the middle of the night while I myself am starving. Making a peanut butter sandwich is not possible to do one-handed, but you could always make one ahead of time…If you aren’t breastfeeding, disregard this advice. Well, you might still need a snack, but obviously if you want to lose your baby weight, you have to keep that in consideration.
I don’t have a graceful ending for this. The end of the story is this: There is nothing that could completely prepare you for labor and parenthood. The experience alone gives you the perspective. It really does change everything you are, and everything you think, and everything you do. I think I could write several more blogs about this. So I’ll end this one for now, it has gotten long enough.