I was forty weeks pregnant, and I felt like something was wrong. Not necessarily wrong with the baby, but my body didn’t feel right. My normally petite, dainty feet looked like they belonged to the Michelin Man’s wife, my normally low blood pressure (90/60) was 145/104, and I had an excruciating, sharp pain on my right side which I later found out was my liver dying. Also, all the air felt like it was being squeezed out of my lungs, so I was having trouble breathing. I hadn’t slept well in weeks because of heartburn which would wake me up every night at random intervals, choking me on my own searing bile and gasping for breath. I tried using an incline pillow, but I’d still wake up sputtering with burned, acid-washed lungs and no sleep. So, for the last month or two of my pregnancy, I “slept” sitting up in a recliner. I’m sure that did wonders for my circulation.
Needless to say, I wanted to give birth right away, so I asked to be induced. It turned out later that I’d made the right call because, unbeknownst to anyone, I had developed HELLP syndrome, a serious and sometimes fatal condition (to both mother and child) which is only curable by giving birth. We didn’t find out about the HELLP until later, though. It pays to trust your instincts.
So my hospital birth adventure began.
At 5:30 pm or so, my OB inserted a quarter tablet of Cytotec into my cervix to help it ripen, because apparently it wasn’t ripening on its own quickly enough, though I was 1 cm dilated already. Cytotec also helps initiate contractions. I felt some mild contractions after a while, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.
After about three hours of this, I had dilated to 3 cm. I thought this was great because it hadn’t been that long, and if it kept up being this relatively pain-free with such progress, well, the baby would be out in no time.
It actually was a little more work than that.
By 6:30 am the following morning, I’d only progressed to 6 cm and I was in considerable pain. I still had all the discomforts I had before, but now I was also in full-blown labor.
For those of you who have not experienced full-blown labor, allow me to illustrate it for you with an analogy: You’re running on a treadmill. The treadmill is set to a speed that is faster than you are comfortable running. You weigh 30-50 pounds more than usual, so this running thing is even harder on you than it would normally be. You haven’t had a full-night’s rest in weeks, so you’re already very tired, and you have no choice about the speed of the treadmill. While you’re running and thinking you’re going to pass out or die from exhaustion alone, someone electrocutes you in the stomach at fairly regular intervals with an electric cattle prod. The more you get cattle-prodded, the stronger the electric shock gets. You don’t have time to recover from one electric shock before another one is administered to you.
(You do have a choice about whether or not to be on the treadmill at all. Here’s your alternative if you choose not to do the treadmill: You will be stabbed in the spine with a large scary needle that paralyzes you from the waist down, hopefully not permanently. Your belly will be sliced open in order to remove your baby from your body. This surgery will require you to be separated from your sweet baby — the same sweet baby you’ve been dying to meet for nine months as he/she gestated inside you — for several hours starting immediately after he/she is born. After your baby is out and you’re stitched (or stapled) up, you’ll have to endure painful recovery from major abdominal surgery for weeks, perhaps months, possibly incapacitating you as you re-learn how to move the lower half of your body and assimilate the delicate art of keeping your precious newborn alive.
Knowing all this, you choose the treadmill and fervently hope it all works out without ever having to go the alternate route.)
I’ve read a lot of birth stories, and before going through the experience myself, I always wondered what labor and delivery would feel like. Most stories say that labor hurts or feels like “really bad menstrual cramps.” Some describe it as an “all-consuming pain.” I told myself that if/when I’d experience it, that I’d try to put it into words as it was happening in a way that anyone, female or male, would understand. The treadmill/electrocution analogy does this fairly well. It also describes pretty much exactly what it felt like for me.
To continue with the story:
There was some indignant yelling. And moaning. And some throwing of various things, like pillows and blankets and one sweaty hospital gown. And some grabbing and impotent shaking of bedside rails. Also, some cussing, which I will not repeat here.
To try to speed things along, my OB decided to break my waters. I think she used a needle, but I’ve heard it’s more like a crochet hook. I didn’t really get a good look at what instrument she used — I had other concerns at the time — but I can tell you it was very small and thin, like a sewing needle. She broke my waters after I’d gotten checked at 6:30 am and was determined to only be at 6 centimeters.
Incidentally, “getting checked” to see how dilated you are is no walk in the park. It’s not like someone shines a flashlight up your hooch, takes a quick gander and goes, “Yup, 6 centimeters dilated.” For some reason, that’s what I used to think it was like.
It’s not. In fact, to check you, OBs and nurses don’t use their eyes at all. They use their fingers and they estimate how dilated the cervix is based on their sense of touch.
Or in my case, they use their entire arm. At least, that’s what I could discern from what it felt like and from what I could see of the (small) amount of arm that was still outside my body whenever I’d get checked. Also, I should note that “getting checked” involved a fair amount of time commitment, as well as pain and discomfort. Using one’s sense of touch isn’t nearly as fast as, say, looking at something. So each time I got checked it took maybe 2-3 minutes, which at the time felt more like 20-30. (Time perception gets pretty distorted when you’re being electrocuted in the stomach while running on a treadmill.)