42 hours of back labor was actually pretty awesome

Guest post by Holly G
By: dchasteenCC BY 2.0

I had enjoyed an easy pregnancy without many of the usual issues, but as we reached the 40th week I was ready to be finished! We had decided to go with a midwife for our prenatal care and the birth, and also brought in a doula on the recommendation of a few friends. We also definitely wanted a hospital birth, so we made sure to choose a nurse midwife who was affiliated with the best maternity hospital in the area. I run with a fairly offbeat crowd, but having the baby anywhere other than a hospital was just not for me. I was hoping to not take any pain meds, but was fine with doing so if that’s how it went.

Keep it flexible, people said… that’s some of the best advice I heard!

Eight days after our due date, I woke up around 4am one morning with a feeling of tightness that came in waves. I remember smiling and thinking, “Okay, here we go!” I let my husband, Ryan, sleep for a couple more hours (he’d been relegated to the couch for a few months by that point) before letting him know. He got out his phone and used an app to monitor the contractions.

We called our doula, Whitney, and the midwife to give them the head’s up, and waited. That whole day I walked around the yard, stretched my hips and body, breathed through the increasingly intense contractions, and timed each one. Around midnight it had gotten to the point of barely being able to breathe through them and while they weren’t quite to the point that signaled the trip to the hospital, we decided to go anyway.

At this point I was in a LOT of pain, and nothing was helping. They checked me into triage, and had us there for a few hours and then ended up sending us home. I was not dilated enough yet, and although they acknowledged that I was most definitely in active labor, they had a full house (one woman even delivered right in triage) and I just wasn’t far enough along. But I was in so much pain that they offered a shot of morphine, which I reluctantly took on the advice of my midwife. This allowed me the only few hours of real sleep I got in my whole nearly two days of labor.

But boy, when it wore off… YOWCH! In addition to being insanely painful, my contractions were not doing what I was told they’d do — start coming on, building in intensity and then fading away in nice even waves — but instead vacillated wildly in terms of both length and frequency. Instead of trying again at the hospital we saw the midwife at her office. During the exam, she said nonchalantly, “Oh, she went sunny side up! No wonder you hurt so much… you’re in back labor!” Oh, indeed!

She was able to manually dilate me from 2 cm to 5cm, and sent me off to the hospital after calling them and telling them to admit me right away, no triage. I think of this time as the point where it wasn’t funny anymore. As in, for a while I could sort of grin and bear it as it were but now my world was just all pain. Whitney met us at the hospital, and once we were in the room she and Ryan tried to get me into the tub, but I couldn’t sit down and the hard bottom hurt my knees. All I could do was lay on my side on the bed clutching the sheets and yelling — and apparently cursing like a sailor, according to Ryan.

I have very little memory of this time. I was nearly incoherent with the pain, even after they gave me an analgesic. I was in a dark place. My contractions continued to be erratic; they came on with very little lead-up and would last for a minute or more with only 20-30 seconds in between. I was also totally exhausted and was falling asleep between them, which meant that all of my waking time was complete agony. They gave me pitocin to try and turn our baby girl the correct way, but I don’t think it did very much.

The nurse finally asked if I wanted an epidural. I still wasn’t close to delivery and we didn’t know how much longer it could be. I had hoped to avoid the epidural in large part because I despise being attached to a bunch of tubes and forced to stay in bed, but I couldn’t move from the bed anyway. I said yes. The anesthesiologist came in and was amazing. He worked quickly and efficiently as Ryan and Whitney helped me up into a sitting position. They usually wait until the lull between contractions but the one I was in wouldn’t let up, so they just put in the catheter as I was bellowing in my agony.

The blur and panic that had been my reality for the last several hours started to fade, and I could breathe normally and focus on what was actually going on.

And then the pain eased off. The blur and panic that had been my reality for the last several hours started to fade, and I could breathe normally and focus on what was actually going on. It was awesome! I could laugh, make jokes, talk to the nurse, have my parents come in to say hello, finally sip the water I’d previously refused to drink. I could still feel the contractions, but it was a feeling of tightness and pressure instead of feeling like I was being stabbed by multiple large knives all the way around my abdomen.

The midwife came in and checked me out, and said that I should get some rest before it was time to deliver. We were all exhausted, so Ryan and Whitney napped on the couch as I dozed in bed. A while later, I felt the very odd sensation of something trying to come out of my vagina. I told the nurse, but she said it was just a phantom feeling. I let it go for another few minutes, but it could definitely not be ignored. When the nurse looked, she got this stunned look on her face and started calling other nurses in!

Ryan and Whitney sprang up, and suddenly the room was filled with people. But it wasn’t something bad — just something very unusual. The amniotic sack was coming through before the baby, and apparently none of the nurses had seen this before. I was suddenly the cool oddity.

After that, it was on! Our midwife came back and broke the sack, and in the next hour I learned why she was the most respected midwife in the hospital. I pushed for close to an hour in 10-second increments as Ryan and Whitney held my legs. They offered my an oxygen mask, which I gladly accepted. We had our birth playlist playing in the background, and 42 hours after labor started, our Olive June was born to one of our favorite songs: Wake Up by Arcade Fire. I’ll never forget the feeling of awe as I felt that slippery little body for the first time!

Now when we tell people that I was in labor for 42 hours they always wince and feel bad for me, but I tell them that actually it was a wonderful experience! Yes, it hurt like hell but I feel like I got a pretty full spectrum of the birth experience, and the epidural allowed me to actually focus on having my baby instead of drowning in pain. I have wonderful memories of that amazing night, and can’t wait to chide my baby girl for going the wrong direction!

Comments on 42 hours of back labor was actually pretty awesome

  1. How beautiful…thanks for sharing 🙂 I felt the same way about my epidural- I went from a raging mess (and had already been in labor for 24 hours) to calm, relaxed, and able to actually be present for the birth. I also had an awesome anesthesiologist, who was so quick and reassuring, and an epidural that took away the pain, but allowed me to feel the movement of my baby and the pressure of pushing. Back labor is a beast!

    Also, what a great song to be born to!

    • After 30-ish hours of back labour I remember thinking I’d be ready and willing to marry my anesthesiologist on the spot, with my partner as a witness, if only he’d asked.

      • It’s funny you say that, because one of my husband’s favorite moments is when I told the anesthesiologist that “I’d marry you but I got a man” after the epidural kicked in 🙂

  2. I’m due with my first baby in July, and this story gave me so much peace of mind. I’m going in with the same mindset– hoping not to need meds but not opposed to them if I need them, either. Thank you so much for your beautiful story, and congrats <3

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience! My best friend just had her first child after 71 hours of labor without sleeping or pain meds! Pretty much my hero! I don’t know how you ladies do it!

  4. Thanks for sharing! This is pretty much the only birth story I’ve read that’s at all like mine (up to and including the midwife mandating that the hospital admit me after two straight days of labor!)

  5. This is almost exactly my story, as well, including the bit about it not being funny anymore. Thanks or sharing. When I had my second and they asked about my first, they dismissed my statements of 3.5 dys as pro dromal until insisted, “no really! Contractions every 10 minutes without breaks.”

  6. I had wanted to avoid an epidural as well, but having gone immediately into painful contractions at 9.30pm, so being awake pretty much all night to get to 3cm, I was so glad to take it as it allowed me to sleep – and actually be coherent when LJ arrived.

    Glad you are at peace with your labour, given it went different to your plans!

  7. “…the epidural allowed me to actually focus on having my baby instead of drowning in pain”
    This is awesome- I know there is a big push away from pain meds during labour in some circles but it is important to remember that they TOTALLY have their place and can make for a great experience! And labour hurts like a bitch, so if you need it, you need it 🙂

  8. Thank you for sharing! Back Labor definitely distracted me to the point where I couldn’t enjoy the birth process. I was fully dilated when we went to the hospital even though I had felt no uterine contractions (I think all the pain in my back trumped everything else). Mr Butt-First had to come emergency c-section, which was certainly not in my ideal plan, but our motto was “baby first”; Our/my wants and needs were second to his/her health and safety. I, too, was grateful for the epidural once I had it because it allowed me to be in the moment. And now I have a beautiful baby. Who can complain about that!?!

  9. Thanks for sharing! I just had my baby on Friday and so much of what you said was exactly what happened to me. Although my experience was not nearly as long as yours, it was very similar. Congratulations on your little one! 🙂

  10. hey! sounds soooo much like my baby’s birth 3 months ago! i was happy to read this and found myself nodding along to your story! 🙂 we went with a nurse-midwife in a large academic teaching hospital, too. (i really wanted a hospital birth because, as a physician myself i see all of what can go wrong in seemingly “normal” pregnancies/births, and wanted somewhere with a level 1 NICU, “just in case.”)

    i went into labor 8 days after my due date, too … SO ready for the little bug to be born! i also went into it with an open mind, hoping to see what my body could do first before heading down the epidural route. man, my story is EXACTLY like yours: went in after nearly a day laboring at home, not dilated, got the morphine, it wore off, and horrendous back labor ensued, as he was sunny side up. that epidural was the best thing in the world and i finally got some rest. (was glad to have chosen a hospital birth, too, as he came out blue/floppy, cord around his neck, required intubation and an overnight NICU stay. he’s totally fine now, but thank you, NICU!)

    so glad everything worked out well for you and you had a great experience. 🙂

  11. Oh my gosh. This! So much! I had back labor and had never even heard of it! I never got the contractions that I had been told to look out for, so when I finally decided to just go get checked, I was 5cm already! I ,too, tried to go without meds, but 30 plus hours in, I was done. I was exhausted and not focusing on my birth as an experience. It had become a trial. The epidural at least let me relax some and focus on what was going on with my body and not just the searing, constant pain.

  12. This story was very similar to mine as well! I was up restless the night prior and was feeling lots of pain in my back along with belly tightening all day. It progressively got worse and by 8 p.m. I was in a ton of pain. My water broke in the car and I managed to walk to triage while my husband parked. My midwife advised I was only 3 cm despite the fact that it felt like my spine was exploding (it was almost constant pain). The lady beside me was 6 cm (I overheard) and not making a noise; I felt like a wimp! I got sent home after a shot of morphine which just made my head spin. My husband put pressure on my back for two hours until I could barely breathe anymore. I have no idea what noises I was making as it hurt too much to scream or cry. I was 6 cm when admitted to the hospital and was wheeled to my room for my epidural. I can relate to the dark place/haze-pieces of my memory are missing from this stage. Everything was amazing once the pain relief kicked in; I laid down, rested, and 7 hours later (I could NOT have done more of that pain) I pushed out our daughter in under 30 minutes. I went home a few hours later and thought the whole active labour bit was so peaceful. I am due in a week and while hope it is not back labour again, would take the drugs again in a heart beat!

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