Editor’s note: We believe that all birth stories and all birth experiences matter. This post is part of our ongoing series of birth stories featuring a diverse range of women and their birth experiences. Sarah’s achingly honest story documents the ambivalence and mixed emotions she experienced throughout her induced labour and delivery.
If you would like to share your own birth story, visit this post to learn how.
Giving birth was traumatic. Maybe it shouldn’t be, or doesn’t have to be. I tried my best to make it non-traumatic, but in these weeks that follow these are the words that ring in my ears: I did my best.
It was Easter. I was anxious to get it done with the second I hit 37 weeks. I had spent weeks, months, trying to numb the emotions I felt and ignore the ever-growing reality in my uterus. When I arrived, nothing was open. I mean, everything was open because it was a hospital, but there weren’t any people to check me in on any floor, and there weren’t any patients around for routine appointments or procedures and I felt like I was lost.
I walked down a long hallway and found a nursing station with 10-20 people in scrubs sitting around chatting and looking at their phones. The first person I made eye contact with said, “Hi,” and then went back to her phone. I told another woman I was scheduled to be induced and she gestured offhandedly, “Oh, she’ll help you over there,” to yet another woman.
I remember exactly what she looked like. She was pleasant but had no idea what she was doing. New? I don’t know. I didn’t care. I felt numb and dead inside. I had set my alarm for 7:00 am but been awake since 5:00 am. I was trying so hard to feel excited, scared, worried, anything, and just felt nothing. I felt like it took her forever to check me in. I was pleasantly surprised that she didn’t ask for the hospital stay co-pay upfront. Benefits of having someone who has no idea what they’re doing?
The first care team that was on shift sucked. The nurse told me I had gained too much weight. I wanted to chew her out, but I was trying to be positive and shit so I brushed it off. The midwife, after finding out I am bipolar, gave me a long talk about postpartum depression, told me a social worker would be meeting with me as soon as my baby was born, and said it was weird that I seemed so calm. I just wanted her to get off my bed. She was sitting by my knees, and I didn’t like how her face looked.
The nurse asked me what my baby’s name was (no name picked) and who would be there with me. (“Why is nobody here with you now?!”) She asked for my significant other’s phone number and when I said, “Hold on, let me check,” she said she was surprised I didn’t have it memorized. She filled out some kind of cheesy card/chart thing that was going to have my baby’s footprints on it and asked me what foods I craved while pregnant and what message I’d like to write to my baby. My heart was closed up. To the first question, I said that I just craved everything and anything, and after she pressured me, I said ice cream. For the second question, I said I wasn’t in that head space right now but after she pressured me I said, “I’m so excited to meet you.” I wanted her to get out of my room.
After two hours of I-don’t-know-what, the midwife came and gave me misoprostol. The midwife told me to prepare for a long stay because inductions usually take 72 hours at least. I told her my baby would be out in 12. I was being sarcastic, but the look in her eyes made me think that she thought I was crazy. I wasn’t right about 12 hours, but it sure didn’t end up being 72 hours.
They tried strapping me into the bed with a fetal heart monitor but after much complaining I got the nurse to attach a bluetooth device onto my belly so I could walk around and go to the bathroom. Every five minutes the bluetooth would cut out and everyone would come running into the room yelling at me to get back into bed. I hated it. The midwife checked how dilated I was and her hands hurt me so much I started second guessing my desire to not have pain relief during labor and birth.
After several hours they told me that I was having contractions, per the fetal monitor. I couldn’t feel anything. I was trying so hard to be positive but all I could be was dead inside. It was either nothing or immense pain. In my heart, at least. At some point, after my labor partners had arrived, the midwife attached a mechanical dilation balloon thing onto my cervix. The pain was immense but I breathed through it and squeezed the hand holding mine. It fell off twice. The procedure felt like it lasted forever.
After she said it was “done”, I felt warm and wet and asked her what happened. She looked kind of confused. I stood up and stuff poured out of me. She professionally said, “Oh, that wasn’t supposed to happen,” as my water dripped out all around me on the floor. She asked a nurse to test the liquid to make sure it was my water breaking. It was. She was unapologetic, or embarrassed, or uncaring, or maybe all three. She seemed undisturbed. I was trying so hard to be positive and brushed it aside. I mean, my labor partners were more upset than I was. All I could think was, good, maybe the baby will be out of me soon this way.
In the middle of the night, after the second dosage of misoprostol, I started having contractions. They were painful but I could handle them. I had someone with me but they were fast asleep. I wished they were holding me, but they weren’t, and I was afraid to ask for help. I breathed through it, sleeping in several minute increments. The bluetooth fetal monitoring device kept cutting out and I felt my blood pressure rise as everyone kept rushing in yelling at me for being out of bed each time I had a contraction.
The next day is a blur. At some point in the late morning, my contractions stopped being regular and they gave me an IV of Pitocin. After a few hours, the contractions started breaking me inside and out. I had so much support from my labor partners, but every contraction felt like the world was ending. I tried to psych myself out in the most positive way possible, breathing deeply and repeating my mantra, “I can do this” as I felt my body closing in on itself.
After what was probably a couple hours, but could have been as little as one hour or as long as eight hours, I was peeing in between a contraction and looked in the mirror and thought to myself, “The only way to get this pain to stop is to kill myself right now.” I was horrified. I asked for an epidural.
By the time, I had a nurse who I liked and a midwife that I didn’t hate. The nurse anesthetist came in to administer the epidural and the nurse held my hands and looked into my eyes and told me not to move and to keep breathing during my contractions while I had a needle in my spine. Those three minutes were sheer hell. The only thing keeping me from screaming was the hope of imminent pain relief. After the epidural was assembled, or whatever, the pain didn’t immediately go away but I felt a million times calmer. I laid down on my back in the bed and waited for the blissful numbness to hit.
I pushed away the feelings of failure I had for not being able to handle the pain, and tried to feel joy and appreciation for modern medicine and the pain relief it offers… but I still feel weak and guilty for not being able to handle it. I should have found a way to keep my blood pressure low. I should have argued with my OB-GYN about being induced early (after all, my only motivation for agreeing was that I hated being pregnant… what kind of mother would I be if I couldn’t even handle carrying my baby to term?). Whatever. I was so fucking tired and just wanted it all over. I tried to open my heart up but it was still locked shut and I gave up quickly.
The next couple of hours didn’t suck so hard. The nurses and midwife told me I was having very regular, strong contractions per the fetal monitor but I (blissfully) couldn’t feel a thing. Then I started shivering. I was freezing. They decided me and baby were showing signs of infection from my water being broken too early, gave me an IV of antibiotics, and took away all but one of my blankets. My heart was still closed up but I knew the end was near and the excruciating pain I had from Pitocin and no epidural was still so fresh that I was riding high on the pain relief.
I kept telling the midwife that I felt pressure and pain and an urge to push and asking her to check how dilated I was. The fetal monitor showed signs of distress, either too high or too low of a heartbeat (I can’t remember), and she refused to check my cervix because of the risk of additional infection. After however long, maybe an hour, I told one of my labor partners that it was too much and rang the bell. The midwife came, looked into me, and seemed shocked to say that the baby was already in the canal and it was time to push.
I don’t think I felt anything emotionally. I don’t know if I was high or dead inside or tired or what, but I just felt blank. Within a minute there were what seemed like a dozen people in the room ready to help me deliver. My SO was on a smoke break and ran up just in time. Some woman I hadn’t met yet was at my left, directing me on how to push. I gotta say, it felt unnatural laying on my back with my legs pulled up and a bunch of people staring into my vagina. I wished I had been strong enough to not have an epidural and give birth in a more… wholesome position.
It was all over so fast. At the time it felt like an hour, but they told me it was less than 10 minutes, possibly even less than five, and when I look back on it I don’t think I pushed more than four times so it couldn’t have been long at all. After two pushes the midwife told me I could feel the baby’s head crowning if I reached my hand down. I did, and it felt slimy. But I also felt my heart open up a little bit.
He was finally out. He looked so much bigger than I had expected for 37 weeks. They sat him down on my lower belly and he peed all over me. Not like a tinkle, but like a massive pee. I giggled. I think I held him for a minute or two before they took him two feet away and checked him for what ended up being an hour.
When I had envisioned this moment in the months prior, I thought I’d be outraged that the baby wasn’t placed right on me right away, but when I came down to it I didn’t care. I knew everything would be okay, finally. I could still see him. My labor partners stood at either side of his little box and stared lovingly at him. I reveled in how good I felt not having another human inside of me and watched them examine him and lower his temperature.
Finally, he came into my arms. I didn’t feel immense earth-shattering love like I had expected to feel, but I felt hope. So much hope.