(Start with Part One)
The first hour or two after we got checked into the hospital was a weird period of acclimation. As I got connected to more and more equipment, the experience became more and more real. I got as comfortable as possible on the labor bed (with absorbent pads beneath me, since I was still leaking amniotic fluid), was connected to external fetal monitors, got my IV put in, had blood taken, had a blood pressure cuff put on, and was asked all the standard medical history questions by several students and residents.
Since my Strep B test results hadn’t come in yet — I’d just had the culture taken that afternoon — the staff treated me as if I had tested positive, and gave me an IV line with penicillin. I also got the standard hydration solution along with my Pitocin drip, which they started at one milliunit (and eventually ramped up to 14 milliunits over the course of my labor).
Once the initial hubbub died down, Aaron and I settled in to rest as much as we could. The blood pressure cuff automatically activated every half hour, but it surprisingly didn’t affect my ability to catch some Z’s during those few hours. Aaron attempted to relax in a squeaky and not very comfortable recliner.
We both managed to rest enough to take the edge off by the time the shift change happened at 7:00am. Cortnie was replaced by Karen, a motherly type who claimed to be “allergic to pain.” She unhooked me from the monitors and let me have my second potty break since I’d checked in, then helped me into a more comfortable position where my ass wasn’t falling asleep.
Karen reminded me to stay hydrated as much as possible, and to drink a glass of juice every hour or so to keep my blood sugar levels from dipping. So, I continued to try to doze as much as possible, and Karen brought me a glass of apple juice when I asked (about every other time she came to check in on me).
This whole time, first Cortnie then Karen had been slowly upping my dosage of Pitocin, increasing the frequency and intensity of the contractions. By mid-morning, they were more painful than menstrual cramps (and my period cramps can be seriously intense). Karen asked me to rate them on a scale of 1 to 10, but I felt like I didn’t have a frame of reference. I’d always thought that 10 should be “I Feel Like I Want To Die,” but Karen said to rate my 10 as the worst pain I’d ever felt.
What was my worst pain? Back pain? When was the last time I cried because of pain? I couldn’t remember, so I figured that I might be at a 4 or so. I guessed that a 7 or 8 would be where I’d start crying, so that became my arbitrary reference point.
Back in our childbirth class, the nurse had taught us different breathing and massage techniques to manage the pain of contractions. Finally, I reached the point where I needed to use those techniques. Aaron massaged my leg (the easiest part for him to reach) while I did some deep breathing. I experimented with the Lamaze breathing patterns, but found (as I’d expected) that counting my breaths Zen-style, one to ten, was my most effective method of pain management. I also used the focal point idea that we learned, either staring at one particular ceiling vent or at the whiteboard where Karen had written, “Congratulations Connor!”
Anticipating the contractions became sort of a game for Aaron and me — we’d be listening to the monitor, to Connor’s heartbeat, and we’d hear the signal grow not so much faster as stronger. A few seconds later, the tightness would begin. At some point, I started identifying the contractions as “surges,” like the more, shall we call them, earth-mother-y types do — and it actually helped change my attitude toward them. They became less painful and more straight-up intense. I visualized my cervix pulling open with each one — not blooming like a flower, mind you, as that’s way too hippie an attitude for me, but I’m all about the visualization concept. Maybe it helped, maybe it didn’t, but it was a nice distraction for my mind.
Around 11am, Aaron called his dad and my mom to let them know that I was in labor. We hadn’t wanted to call too early, especially since Aaron’s dad (now retired) used to work nights, so we’re not sure what his sleep schedule is like, and my mom lives one time zone to the west, so we didn’t want to call too early. No one was expecting us to be in the hospital already, three weeks early, so there was some confusion on the other end of the line (and concern on my mom’s part).
It’s a good thing we called to give them a heads-up when we did, because my contractions really ramped up around noon. I’d requested a birthing ball a couple of hours earlier, and I asked Karen to help me onto it the next time she came to check on me. I felt like it was time to get serious, like something had changed. I would realize later that this was transition.
In the childbirth class, I’d found that leaning over the ball with my butt sticking out was the most comfortable position; here, though, Karen actually sat me on the ball, leaning my head and shoulders forward onto the labor bed, which wasn’t nearly as comfortable. With each contraction, I felt like I needed to raise myself up off of the ball because of the pressure it was putting on my nether regions.
Each contraction got more and more intense. I started hissing through my exhales, then moaning, then nearly crying. Aaron tried rubbing my back during contractions, but I had to ask him to stop because it wasn’t nearly as calming as the leg massage had been. I also started forgetting to count my inhales and exhales, which made the pain seem worse.
At one point, while on the birthing ball, I felt a contraction coming on sooner and stronger than I’d anticipated, and I let loose a frustrated, “Oh, fuck!” I immediately followed it with, “Sorry!” It was an automatic reaction, but it amused our nurse Karen to no end.
Eventually, I came to a realization: I had a shit on deck. A particularly loose one, I could tell. It was distracting me from the other sensations down below, so I asked Karen if I could go take a BM between contractions. She very gently told me that it would be OK if I had a BM while I was pushing, that the nurses had seen it all before. I explained that it was really just RIGHT THERE, and it was really loose, and if I could just move my bowels, I’d be able to concentrate better on what was going on down there.
Karen agreed to let me go take a shit. “Just let it fall out,” she advised, obviously not wanting me to push quite yet. I stood up from the birthing ball, let her unhook me from the monitors, took two steps toward the bathroom — and a contraction hit. Dammit. I doubled over, clutching my IV pole for support. I was concentrating on standing up, so any pain management techniques were long forgotten. Once it subsided, I made it into the bathroom before another one doubled me over — this time, my yells echoed in the bathroom, prompting Aaron to call through the door, “Are you OK, honey?” I had another contraction on the john, another after I stood up, and another on the way back to the bed.
At some point during this insanity, Karen left to get someone to check my cervix, realizing that something had changed. When I got back to the bed, Karen asked me to lie on my back so the other nurse could check me.
That’s when the REAL pain hit.
The nurse had her gloved hand spelunking around in my parts as I yelled, and she got a perplexed look on her face.
“You’re complete,” she said, meaning that I was fully dilated and effaced, “but I’m not sure that what I’m feeling is a head.”
Oh, no. My heart sank.
One of the nurses in the room called Dr. Ward, the OB on call from my practice, for her to check me herself and confirm whether it was Connor’s head that was presenting, or something else. While we were waiting for her to arrive, I had another contraction, and I suddenly felt an immense pressure “down there,” and had a very definite urge to push. I let the nurses know, and they very vehemently told me NOT to push.
When Dr. Ward checked me, I swear it felt like it took forever, and that she had to have been wrist-deep up my vagina. That was the most pain I’d ever been in up to that point; I was clinging to the bedrail and yelling uncontrollably, almost screaming. Finally, she confirmed that, no, his head wasn’t presenting — that was his scrotum.
That’s when things got crazy.
(Continue to Part Three)