I’d like to, in two parts, share my labor and birth story with you and show you how breastfeeding (and the dogma of this act) affected my new family. When a woman has a baby, her birth experience and whether or not she breastfeeds, has a significant impact on her bonding with her baby, her recovery (both mental and physical), and so many other things. I’m hoping that my story can inform others and perhaps give other future mothers a bit more reality in the ideological marketplace of labor, birth, and your little one.
My birth story began on November 4th at 7:30 pm, when I started experiencing waves of back labor. I hadn’t read about back labor in my pregnancy research (another thing I decided wasn’t something I would be a part of?) so I didn’t quite understand what I was going through, although I felt reasonably sure that it was some kind of labor. So, I did what I was told to do and started timing them. By about 3 am, early on Nov. 5th, the contractions had become less than five minutes apart, and I told my husband that we needed to head to the hospital. I was in utter agony. The contractions felt like my back was being set on fire. Strike that. If my back were on fire, it would have been less painful.
I have to admit, I was hesitant to go to the hospital even with my contractions so hard, fast, and painful. I never saw a mucus plug, my water never broke, and nothing was really out of the ordinary prior to 7:30 pm the night before, In fact, I had my mom and grandmother over that day to check out the nursery. Not to mention, I was only 39 weeks along, my due date wasn’t until Nov. 11th. For the past two weeks, my OBGYN gave me the unhappy news at each checkup: no dilation or effacing (i.e. no progress that labor was impending). Ultimately, it was the intense pain that drove me to go. I could not even sleep with how awful the pain was.
Once in the hospital (we had to enter through the ER since it was about 3:30 am by then), I was welcomed into triage on the maternity/L&D ward, where I continued to experience the worst pain of my life in the form of this killer back labor. The nurse did a cervix check and lo and behold, I was still not dilated at all. Needless to say, I felt like my body must be going crazy. How could I be having such horrible contractions and my body was literally not opening up to prepare for delivery? Another hour later, the same nurse gave me another check and the same confusing, terrible news of no progress.
I was administered a shot of Demerol (guess where they shoot you for this painful injection?) and told that they hoped that the drug would calm me enough where my body could begin to dilate (yes, the pain was that bad). An hour went by, and a new nurse began to do a third cervix check. Although she didn’t tell me right away, I think I was still locked up tight, because she decided to sweep my membranes while she was doing the check. This proved to be one of the most compassionate acts I would experience in the hospital. It was painful and very uncomfortable, and I remember her saying that I would thank her for this (she couldn’t have been more right), and when she was done, she announced that I was 3 cm dilated. I felt like I survived a battle.
After hours in triage, in danger of being sent home due to lack of progress, I was finally on my way to an actual delivery room. I was admitted into the hospital given an identification wristband.
My ordeal was far from over. My body still refused to progress. I was told that my contractions were irregular; they occurred in pairs, called coupled contractions (scroll down to “Back Labor with an Occiput Posterior Baby” and/or see here). This happens when the baby is not situated ideally in the birth canal, usually with the head resting on the tailbone of the mother. This is what causes that back labor.
I asked for an epidural pretty immediately after being admitted. The pain was horrible, and unlike what everyone preaches, my pain was not meaningful. Because my body refused to continue dilating and move closer to delivery, it was nothing but suffering. If you’re like me, your friends and family probably tell you (or told you) that the pain of labor is/was endurable because it amounts/ed to something- it was meaningful pain. My experience served as a delightful lesson that everyone who told me that either is lying about the activity of their own labor, or that theirs were simply totally uncomplicated. Either way, I never once found the agony to be meaningful or spiritual. Just agony. So I asked for it to be turned off.
I was given my epidural probably about an hour after being admitted. I felt the sting of the needle while they numbed the area of my back as I was hunched forward on my husband. I didn’t feel the actual epidural needle, however. About 20 minutes or so later, I felt like a human being again. It was wonderful to be able to think again. A short while later, my OBGYN appeared and broke my water with the scary-looking hook thing (which was completely painless) since that didn’t even happen on its own (again, my son wasn’t in an optimal position to enable this). Once I felt the rush of warm fluid, I felt a kind of expectant exultation, knowing that once the water was broken the baby had to be delivered soon. That meant I would be meeting my son in the very near future.
The exultation however would mark the beginning of a very long time.
After hours of only dilating one more centimeter (now 4 cm) amidst more contractions, I was put on Pitocin, a human-made synthetic Oxytocin, which is a hormone that does many wonderful things in the body, including initiating labor in pregnant women. I would be on Pitocin from the early afternoon of Nov. 5th right up until the birth of my son at 10:17 pm that night. The nurses would jack it up double, triple, and finally quadruple trying to get my body to progress to the full 10 cm needed for delivery of the baby. I stalled at around 7 cm that night despite the drug. My labor was taking so long that I had to get a second I.V. bag of epidural fluid because it began to wear off and the horrible Pitocin-times-10 contractions were beginning to re-shred my mind.
By then, I hadn’t slept since I woke up on Nov 4th and only had saltine crackers and ice chips to keep me going. Slowly, over the course of the evening, family began to arrive with smiles and patience, since the labor was going at a snail’s pace. Around 9:30 pm or so, I started hearing the dread news from the hospital’s nurses: I was going to need a C-section. Apparently, my cervix was inflamed and there was a kind of “lip” in the way of the birth canal. Waiting it out didn’t relieve the condition.
This was death to me.
Since the very beginning of my pregnancy, I knew that a C-section was the number one thing I wanted to avoid unless medically necessary. I had educated myself endlessly about what I could do, what the procedure was about, etc., all in the hopes to never have to be cut open to birth my son into the world. I literally spent my pregnancy fearing something like this may happen. And here it was, in the form of a sympathetic nurse with a child-like voice. After all the pain and time I had battled through: the catheter in my body destroying all semblance of modesty, the epidural needle in my back and painful I.V. in my hand, the amount of Pitocin pumped into me…all for nothing- so I could be sliced open.
I was told that I had about an hour to make my decision, which was hardly a “decision” at this point. It was between a C-section and possibly laboring for another 24 hours or more. By an hour’s time, my OBGYN would be back and able to do the procedure. She was apparently delivering another baby during this time.
I was in complete despair. My mother-in-law came in (she had an emergency C-section with my husband) with kind and brave words for me. I relaxed some but I was truly and honestly terrified of this surgery. I mean, you are conscious through the whole thing. Yeah, just in case you weren’t aware, mothers are only completely anesthetized for emergency C-sections, not for ones that you make a decision to go through. You receive a local anesthetic in which you apparently feel no pain, just pressure. When I hear that, I think “Yeah sure, doctor’s always call pain ’pressure’”. Just like when they are going to stick you with a needle and they say, “There’s going to be some pressure”, and all it really does is hurt. So naturally, I was horrified at the idea of this procedure.
Just before 10 pm or so, my OBGYN walked in and asked me how I’m doing. I told her that I wasn’t well, due to the fact that the nurses were telling me that I had to get a C-section and that I wasn’t progressing. She got quiet and somber-looking. She came over to me and started doing a cervix check. It took her no time at all to announce, after a bit of work, that I was 10 cm dilated and that she had moved over the inflamed parts of the cervix that was preventing my son from emerging. She said to me, “if you want, we can give pushing a try now.”
It took me no time at all.
After only about 15-20 minutes of pushing during contractions as my OBGYN carefully turned the baby as he worked his way out, he
was born. The relief was instantaneous. He was whisked away to get his standard “Apgar Tests” with his daddy, who happily photographed the first moments of our son’s life on Earth. Since I was still on the hospital bed, I couldn’t see it for myself, so those images are precious to me (hint hint, make sure someone does this for your baby too!).
The placenta came just a few moments later; I didn’t even need to push. I was surprised at how heavy the brilliant organ looked as my OBGYN held it up to place it into a specimen container. It seemed quite consequential after all. There is so much emphasis on the baby you are carrying, it is easy to forget this amazing bit of you that has been there from the beginning, feeding and caring for your baby perfectly.
After the placenta was taken, its long role completed, my doctor gently pushed down on my tummy, and a huge rush of blood came, splashing on the floor unexpectedly loudly, causing her to jump back in surprise. True story, I apologized for possibly ruining her shoes. I bet she thought that was funny. Or nuts. Or both.
It was 27 hours of labor and a second-degree tear.
After this ordeal, the breastfeeding culture of the hospital began to emerge full swing. Of course, since I was not only ready but very happy to be participating in this remarkable activity (I mean, what has more history than breastfeeding?), I jumped right on the bandwagon less than an hour after my son was born. Things didn’t go as planned.
With the nurse’s “encouragement”, what would become a harrowing ordeal involving breastfeeding gone wrong and dangerous dogma, began.
Stay tuned for part two of my labor, delivery, and breastfeeding story. You’ll find out how a faithful follower of nursing became a heretic…and more.