Editor’s note: We believe that all birth stories and all birth experiences matter. This post is part of an ongoing series of birth stories submitted by readers and fellow bloggers, featuring a diverse range of women and their birth experiences. Naomi came to the hospital twice before ending up with a c-section, and she has some advice to share. If you would like to share your own birth story, please visit this post to learn how. ~Olivia
If I could relive the birth of my first born again, I would do a few things differently. See, my doctor told me I didn’t need prenatal classes, and because I like to save money, I readily agreed. Women have been doing this for centuries, how hard could it be to breathe?
Hard, it turns out. Very, very hard.
On the night of my due date I felt a ‘pop’ in my abdomen like a balloon bursting. Immediately the sheets were wet, and I knew my water had broken.
“Babe!” I squealed to my husband. “My water broke!”
His reaction was not quite as I’d anticipated. “Seriously? Now? I was really looking forward to sleeping.”
I was too excited to take offense, and calmly told him that the contractions would start out slow and take awhile, so I’m sure he’d get some sleep. I put a towel down over my wet sheets and laid down, foolishly thinking I would get some sleep before the contractions kicked in. I had about 10 minutes before that dream was shattered. The first contraction took me by surprise. I hadn’t expected them to hurt quite so much right off the get go!
I felt like I knew how labour progressed: Slow, weak contractions, gradually gaining strength and becoming closer together until you’re in full blown can’t-walk-can’t-talk-want-to-hit-your-loved-ones active labour. Also, I was under no illusion that my first would be popping his head out in anything less than twelve hours from then. We’ve all been told how long first labours can last so I was ready to settle in for the long haul.
Three contractions later, I got the sinking feeling that actually, I didn’t know anything at all. Within an hour, my contractions had gotten down to 2-3 minutes apart and about a minute long. My husband nervously informed me that this was when the doctor said we had to go to the hospital.
I assured him that no, we did not have to go, there was no way the baby was coming that fast. I didn’t want to go to the hospital and be sent home. I wasn’t going to be one of THOSE women, convinced that the baby was coming when she wasn’t even in the second stage labour, so I refused to go.
At some point after this, I was in the tub and I was basically just not having a good time. See, what my “birth plan” failed to take into account is the necessity of having someone with you who knows how to help you manage pain. All that I had read disappeared right out of my brain and all I could think about was how much it hurt. At some point, my mom called, and then my sister, and both of them were able to help me breathe calmly when they were on the phone with me, and when you are relaxed and breathing the pain is much more bearable. I begged my mom to tell my husband exactly what she had said to me, and she gave him some advice on how to talk me down off the edge.
He tried his best for the next little while, but I was having none of it. I believe it was about 1 am that my husband called the hospital and spoke to a nurse. “She won’t come in!” I remember him saying. “She says there’s no way it could happen this fast.” The nurse spoke to me on the phone and realized immediately that the contractions were indeed very close together and encouraged me to come to the hospital. I relented, and off we went.
When we arrived at the hospital I could barely walk, but the nurses were all, “Get it together, lady,” and no one offered me a wheelchair like I’d seen on TV. I had to shuffle to the exam room, stopping every time I had a contraction, which at this point was like every minute.
When we finally got settled in, a nurse came to check how dilated I was. (This, for the record, hurts like a mother). Guess what, guys? I WAS ONE CENTIMETER DILATED. Yup. ONE. Not two, not three, not even one and a half. ONE. I nearly screamed, “I TOLD YOU SO!” to whoever would listen, but honestly it hurt too much to talk. They did give me the magic gas while I was there, though, which helped to regulate my breathing and actually slowed my contractions down for a time. They also gave me some sort of sweet nectar of the gods medicine and told me to go home and sleep. I snorted, thinking that would never happen, but I don’t actually remember the car ride home, and I DO remember waking up about 2 hours later, so I guess they knew what they were talking about.
It was the pain of contractions that woke me, but I didn’t wake up my husband because they felt mild enough (thanks to the drugs), so I just hopped into the bath for a little focused breathing. I felt more confident this time, having just had some professionals teaching me to breathe, so I was relaxed again and feeling like a hero who could totally do this.
Approximately 30 minutes later the drugs totally wore off and I was no longer feeling like a hero in any sense of the word. I was crying in the tub and screaming for my husband who emerged bleary eyed in the doorway wondering why I hadn’t told him I was awake earlier.
I told him to help me breathe and he really tried, but these contractions were now zero minutes apart. Like, actually one contraction was still finishing when the other one started. I realized after my second labour that actually this is just how my body works. A nurse commented that to be in active labour they want to see people having 2-3 contractions every five minutes and I was having 7. SEVEN. She was like, “It’s amazing – your stomach doesn’t even relax before the next contraction starts.” Amazing. Right.
So now we’re at zero minutes apart and it’s about 5 am and my husband was like, “Okay, let’s go back to the hospital” and I was all, “No. We are not going back to the hospital because I was 1 cm dilated and I’m probably only 2 cm dilated now.” And he was like, “But, um, they said come when they were every 1-2 minutes and you’re like… clearly having more than that. ” I just growled and lay in the tub moaning.
It’s all bleary from here. I’m not sure really what happened during this time except intense pain and wishing I could die. At some point my husband was like, “WE MUST GO TO THE HOSPITAL!” and so he said he’d take the dogs outside so they could use the bathroom and he’d be right back. I chose this moment while I was alone to climb out of the tub myself. However, once I got out I was in too much pain to reach a towel so I just stood there crying and shivering and feeling very lonely.
When my husband finally came back in, he dried me off and tried to get me dressed. Honestly, the thing with contractions is that they just overtake you while they’re happening. If they had been coming every 2-3 minutes, I could have at least put on one article of clothing in between each contraction, but nope, I’m the lucky “Your stomach never relaxes!” patient. I remember being hunched over the sink and my husband saying, “You need socks. It’s winter. Please just let me put on your sock when this contraction ends,” and me yelling “IT NEVER ENDS!” and him informing me that that isn’t possible. (And he would know, right, because he once watched one episode of Grey’s Anatomy.)
Somehow he got me dressed and out to the car, to commence the worst car ride of my life. Every single bump was agony. Sitting was the most painful position but you don’t have much choice when you’re in a car so I was stuck there for 30 minutes trying not to scream til we got to the hospital.
He parked right outside the doors but still no one met me with a wheelchair (TV has lied to me!) and I hobbled in. I remember they gave me a robe to go into the bathroom to change into (WHY ARE THEY NOT DOING THIS FOR ME?) and my husband went to park the car so again, I was alone. He had to help me when he returned because I couldn’t progress any further than my pants around my ankles.
Finally in the exam room, I was informed I was dilated to 8 cm. That was the best news I’d ever heard. 8 cm seemed close to the finish line, and they had delightful gas which helped ease the pain. I asked the nurse for an epidural and she said, “You’ve come so far honey! You don’t need one! You can do this without!” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s nice. Could I have one anyway? Or something?” and she patted my head and said, “I’ll go see what I can find.” I never, ever saw her again.
An hour or so later I was at 9 cm, and then shortly after that I guess something went wrong. I don’t really know. All I know is I was 9.5 cm and didn’t need to push, and they were telling me to push. So I pushed, apparently in totally the wrong way. It was my husband who told me, “Not like that, do it like you’re pushing out a poop!” How the heck does he know, anyway? After a few unsuccessful pushes that felt really weird because I definitely didn’t need to push, another doctor came in and yelled, ‘No no, don’t get her to push! If she’s 9.5 cm that last half a centimeter may swell if the baby’s head hits it.” Well, good to know.
After that I was informed I needed a c-section, wheeled into an operating room, and finally given my sweet, sweet epidural. I became really chipper and cheerful and remember joking with my anesthesiologist. Now that I think about it I may have been a little bit high from all the laughing gas I was sucking back.
Next thing I remembered was wondering why there were so many people in the room (it turns out there was a group of student doctors all taking a peek at the procedure, lucky me!) and then my son being held up above a sheet. They whisked him away for a few minutes as I guess his heart rate was pretty low. I remember not hearing a cry for what seemed like an eternity, and no one saying anything. He did cry, though, and turned out normal and healthy and totally fine.
My husband held him for a minute before placing him on my chest. I was wheeled to recovery, then a nurse smooshed my boob into his mouth and he latched like a champion. And I was all, “Huh. I guess you’re mine.” Very surreal.
So that was it. 16 hours from water breaking to babe-in-arms, which isn’t too bad as far as first labours go. If you can learn anything from my birth story, it’s get someone who knows what they’re doing to help you breathe, and bring your own wheelchair.
Naomi Thomas is a mother of two boys aged 2 and 4 and blogs about her mediocre parenting on her blog, Not A Terrible Mother. Her aim is to encourage mom’s to lighten up a bit and cut themselves a break, because we don’t need every day to be Pinterest worthy to have happy, healthy kids.