There was so much focus on creating a birth plan.
"How do we feel about delayed cord clamping?"
"Vitamin K Shots?"
"Do I want to wear my own clothes during labor?"
"Isn't it going to be messy?"
"I don't know!"
After going over all the options and templates, again and again, I felt like I had a pretty solid vision for how I was going to give birth to my baby. I would labor at home for a good while, go to the hospital when it got intense, then push out a baby and come home. Hard but doable, right?
I wanted to try to have an unmedicated birth. I wanted it to be natural. I wanted to connect with the other women who had given birth before me through the act of giving birth, and I was excited. I wanted to be a mother, and I wanted to feel the power that so many write about in books like Ina May's and blogs like Birth Without Fear.
It seemed like everyone stressed I should really try at wait to go to the hospital until I thought I couldn't be at home any longer. The choice of when to leave my home was treated as a pivotal point of many unmedicated "success" stories. They stressed that laboring at home would be way more comfortable and less stressful, and I could move around as much as I wanted, instead of being tied to a hospital bed.
I thought I would want to eat because labor takes a long time. I thought I would want to sleep in my own bed, and pee in my own toilet. I felt really at ease. I was nervous. Who wouldn't be nervous for the birth of a first baby? But I was also feeling really ready.
The one option I didn't spend much time thinking about, ended up being how my daughter decided to start her birth process.
(And no, not surgery. I always knew surgery was possible.)
The way my daughter came into the world was very, very slowly. It was so slow. So slow, that there wasn't any sign, other than me feeling contractions, breathing heavily, and being super uncomfortable, that anything was even happening.
And lo and behold, it has a name.
My birth story started with prodromal labor.
Prodromal labor is when it looks and feels like labor, but the cervix doesn’t change. My feelings were real, but to the medical world, I was not in labor.
I started feeling contractions in the middle of the night, and I could breathe through them, but I couldn't sleep. Every 9-7 minutes, until morning came, and then they backed off for a bit. I started my day. I ate. I showered. I showed the contraction log to my partner, who had happily slept through them all. And we got excited for them to start back up any minute!
And then they didn't start again until night again. And still, I had contractions, but I couldn't lay down this time, every 7-9 minutes, for less than a minute. And again, when morning came, they went away.
Were they Braxton hicks?
Did I do too much?
Was I dehydrated? Probably yes to all of those, but hindsight is 20-20.
They just kept popping up and then taking a break. Starting and stopping. I went to my 40-week appointment hoping my Doctor would tell me how close I was and that it would almost be time to go to the hospital. But when my cervix was checked, she said I was still at 1 centimeter.
So they sent me home and told me to rest.
I tried. I was really tired.
But the contractions started again, and they didn't stop. They got closer together, ranging between 4-6 minutes. So I moved when I needed to move. I took bites of food when it was put in front of my face. I peed, I walked, I sat, I bounced, I laid on my side, I took a shower, I contracted over and over.
I have a hard time being objective about the level of pain I was in because I was so tired. I would fall asleep between contractions and then be jolted awake. I stuck with what the books said about labor progress and stayed home because I was still contracting every 4-6 minutes.
This lasted for two days. When the third morning came, I was desperate and told my husband we were going to the hospital.
I was done.
I was over labor.
I was over birth.
I was not prepared to be in labor for 4 days. Even if this wasn't "real labor," I was done.
We went to the hospital, we went into triage, and after all that, I got what I thought was horrible news: I was 3 centimeters dilated. 3. I was so sad. So defeated. So angry. And it just didn't seem fair. I was trying to do everything right, and my body wasn't following the plan.
They asked if I wanted to go back home and continue to labor there, and I said, "hell no. I'm done."
My Doctor was at the hospital that morning and came in to talk about my options.
I could be admitted, have an IV line set to rehydrate me, and that might help labor progress.
I could have Pitocin to help make my contractions get stronger and closer together, to encourage more cervical change.
I could get an epidural and sleep, which may help my cervix dilate.
I could have some IV pain relief that might allow me to sleep for a few hours.
I could have my bag of waters broken and have the baby's head press against the cervix to help encourage it to open.
Or I could have an elective cesarean.
I looked at my husband and just cried.
There were too many options. I was too tired to pick. I wanted someone else to take over making the choices, and I just wanted to be taken care of for a little bit.
I just sobbed. No one told me I could be in labor for 4 days and be driven to what felt like madness.
Sleep sounded so good. So, so, good.
I said, "I want to sleep. How can I sleep?"
So I chose to get an epidural.
As soon as that medication went into my back, my eyes dropped. My husband said they had to wake me a couple times to take vitals and blood pressure, but I don't remember any of it.
I slept. And it was glorious.
I woke up 4 hours later.
I changed positions.
I drank more water.
I went back to sleep.
They would come in and check things and I would answer some questions, and then roll over and go right back to sleep.
Around 2pm, my Doctor came in and asked if I wanted to be checked to see how things were going.
I laid back and waited, and she looked up at me, smiled, and said, "Are you ready to meet your baby? You are complete. Let's get the room set up, and we'll get going. Has anyone talked to you about pushing?"
The room jumped to activity, and I just stared at my husband. It went from 0 to 100.
Nurses were calling people.
A cart was set up.
My Doctor was getting a gown on.
The bed morphed into a half bed with footrests.
A light came out of the ceiling.
My room was a Transformer.
And then someone told me to push like I was pooping. So I did. And I did again. And again. And then all of a sudden she was there! I was holding her, and she was perfect!
With all my reading, all my planning, and all the encouragement I had from my family to have this baby on my own, I don't know why my labor was so drawn out. I'm sure there are those people who would say I didn't need the epidural. I'm sure some may say I just needed a different position, or different mindset, or different whatever.
But I know I had villanized getting an epidural. I had thought that people who got epidurals just didn't try hard enough. And now I'm ashamed of those beliefs. I needed the relief that came from having that medicine, and I needed the sleep.
My plans changed, and I changed, and I am proud of the work I did at home. I'm proud of asking for help. And I'm no less connected to those wise women before me.