They say the beauty is in the journey, not the destination. However, I firmly stand by my belief that in the case of childbirth, it is truly the destination, and for many, not the journey. For nine months, I dreamt of a completely unmedicated labor. I took the classes, I read the Bradley Method books. I played out every scenario in my head, and by the time my nine long months came around, I was ready to go to war with the pain I would surely experience. Having been a semi-pro dancer most of my adolescence, stress fractured tailbone and dancing on two broken toes included, I was convinced I could deal with the pain through the power of my mind and breathing. I wanted so badly to do it as women had done for centuries and centuries before me, completely on my own, because my body knew what to do. However, when my due date finally arrived, and Isabella (my one-year-old daughter) made it clear she had no intention of coming out, my plans drastically changed.
I can’t say that my labor was a disaster, because at the end of my 24 hour labor, my beautiful 8 lb 8 oz, 22 inch long baby girl was placed healthy and breathing in my tired arms. When my due date came and passed, the ultrasound measured my baby too big to go on, and an induction was planned. This did not phase me; surely I could still accept the pain as a natural and normal process and talk myself through it.
I arrived at the hospital at 7 am and they administered the pitocin, and offered me an epidural to get me through the pain. I kindly declined and explained I will be delivering my daughter today with no pain medication. Finally after some brutal pelvis cracking contractions and no progress in terms of dilation, they broke my water. It is this point exactly where in my uterus holy hell broke loose. For six hours I was breathing and shaking and vomiting through my back-to-back contractions. I listened to my ambient music on my iPod, I breathed, I pulled deep inside myself.
I had been laboring in back to back contractions for six hours now, I was exhausted… I didn’t know how I was going to get through nine more centimeters.
I had enough time in between contractions for a breath of air in, and a breath of air out, before it overcame me like a shockwave of agony. I thought from all I had read that I must be transitioning — I’m almost there if the pain is this bad now, it means I’m almost there. The nurse checks how far along I am, and devastatingly I am only a centimeter. How could this be? I had been laboring in back-to-back contractions for six hours now, I was exhausted… I didn’t know how I was going to get through nine more centimeters.
They did the routine vitals check and it appeared that I had a high fever. They administered antibiotics through an IV in my other hand. This is a let-down for two reasons: 1) there goes my plan of changing positions for pain management and 2) it’s one more medicine in my system. I had wanted to do this all on my own. My heart sinks, I am sweating, sick, weak and tired. I look into my husband’s face and tell him if it took six hours to get to one centimeter, I don’t think I can do this. Disappointed, and in pain I tell the nurse I need an epidural if I am going to make it. I felt guilty for this for a long time.
Finally after the epidural slowly spreads through my legs and stomach I am able to sleep. The best sleep I had in a very long time. I wake up and now it’s dark, I can’t tell what time it is, but I know that I feel so much pain it jolted me from a deep sleep. The contractions are back, and they are as intense as ever, back-to-back-to-back, just enough time to take a breath in between. I call the nurse, and sure enough my epidural had run out during a shift change.
It is 12:45 AM and there is an hour wait for the anesthesiologist. I think I am going to die. Instead I throw up on my husband. (Poor guy, this makes twice since I’ve been here). I keep breathing in out in out, center myself and let the pain wash over me and through me. Finally the man of the hour with the epidural arrived, and gave me another dose. Something goes wrong though… I could feel every contraction, every Earth-shattering, gut-crushing contraction, but I couldn’t move my legs.
I jolted up in bed: I knew it was time — my body was telling me what to do.
I kept pushing through and pushing through. Luckily this time around I really was almost there. 2:00 AM rolls around and I felt the pressure. I jolted up in bed: I knew it was time — my body was telling me what to do. The nurse checked me and sure enough I was finally a full ten centimeters! I started to push and indescribable pain shoots through my tailbone and up my back. I kept pushing with my inner she-warrior, with all my might. Finally the contraction is over and I fall back into the hospital bed, almost falling asleep between each push. It hurts so bad, but finally the pain feels like it has a purpose, and I know I am almost there.
At this point my daughter was through the pelvic bone, and sunny side up. I had gone through back labor and knew I could go through the rest. I was almost there. They are able to turn her right side up as I keep pushing her out. I could see her head — she had so much hair — and I pushed so hard again. They told me I was doing so great, I was almost there, but then three hours pass. The doctor tells me it is now or never. If I push any longer, the baby will be in great danger. They presented me with two options: an emergency c-section or an episiotomy and vacuum assist — neither of which sounded easy or comforting. I was exhausted from three hours of pushing with all of my might, the incredible pain of back labor and pushing and I broke out into tears of desperation. I told my husband I can’t do this and he held my face and told me how strong I am and that I could.
I felt like I was trapped and that it would never end. I told them to do the episiotomy and do it right then — I needed to be done. The pain was so immense that in hindsight, I felt as if I was looking down on myself in the bed. It was so amazingly painful and joyful at the same time as they pulled her from my body with my one last push. I felt as if my insides collapsed and my soul had been pulled from my body as I fell back and breathed in.
They placed my daughter on my chest and my emotions spilled over; the joy, the exhaustion and the wonder took hold as I realized the tiny thing kicking me in the ribs for so long is a real-life baby and I was finally holding her. My husband grabbed me and kissed me, so much love and emotion: it’s a second in time I’ll never forget. As fast as they handed her to me, they whisked her away to be assessed by the NICU team to ensure there are no complications from the vacuum assist. I stared at her across the room, my gigantic beautiful little girl… with the little breath I have left, I said “Hi baby” in absolute wonder that she was actually here. She turned her head to look at me, her dark gray eyes wide open and staring at the direction of my voice.
…I was in such euphoria and was so stunned that I didn’t feel the hour of stitches it took to fix me. I suffered a fourth degree tear that day, but it did not matter.
This moment will be the one I remember as I lay on my deathbed. This is the moment my reason for living and I, her mother, looked at each other for the first time. I was so in awe and in love, that I didn’t feel any pain anymore. I looked down in shock to see a giant sewing needle and thread and my doctor’s hands covered in blood. I don’t feel it because my girl is here. Finally they place her in my arms, and I was in such euphoria and was so stunned that I didn’t feel the hour of stitches it took to fix me. I suffered a fourth degree tear that day, but it did not matter. The 24 hours of horrific pain — I would do it again, in a heartbeat.
Now, as she is my best buddy, my better half, my partner in crime, my everything, I realize, it didn’t matter how she got here — but what matters is that she IS here. Birth plan aside, nothing went “right,” everything went “wrong.” But the minute she got here, I knew that nothing was wrong with the situation because she is with me now. Lesson learned: the journey kind of sucked, but the destination was the utmost beautiful gift that changed my life forever. That day I learned to let go a little, and to forgive myself when things outside of my control did, and will still, happen. The important thing is: no matter how you get there, where you get is what matters when it comes to the birth of your child.