I've always been fascinated with people's birth experiences. Some people may find that strange, but it's something I've always loved reading about it. As my due date approached I knew I'd one day like to share our experience, so with some help from Robert [as he was the sane one that day], I wrote all about Cora's birth day, how an epidural saved my sanity and how we should stop being so damn hard on ourselves.
Before I start, I'd like to say I don't think I had a regular labour. It didn't go smoothly and I handled it as best as I could. But I think that's what we all do. I can't speak for men, but I know women are used to feeling pain and discomfort regularly so we deal with it and get on with it. Labour is the same, just on an unbelievably epic scale. In the end, a tiny human comes out of you so the prize far outweighs the experience ...
I was booked to be induced on Wednesday the 19th of October at 11 days overdue. I did everything I could to induce labour naturally before then; old wives tale stuff, asking for and getting a membrane sweep [twice] and walking close to 10km around the Phoenix Park the weekend before. But no, Cora takes after her father and was enjoying that little bit of extra time sleeping in.
I tidied and cleaned during my last two days of pregnancy. I wanted everything to be ready so naturally, I painted our bedroom. At 41 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I painted until 22:30 the night before I was induced. In hindsight, this was not a good idea as I went to the hospital the next day already tired. I woke up excited and nervous at 03:00 that morning and we headed to the hospital for my 06:00 induction appointment on only four hours sleep. We arrived and I was brought to my bed where I waited happily for the midwife to administer my induction.
As I was waiting, I began getting deep, period-like pains. At first I didn't think much of them until I realised they were very regular. I was getting these pains every 10 minutes. I wasn't sure if they were contractions though because I heard contractions start much farther apart at between 30 and 45 minutes apart. Sometimes even hours apart when you first go into labour. I had an hour of cramps before the midwife arrived to administer my induction. I told her I was already in labour, but as I was so far along in my pregnancy, they didn't want to risk my labour possibly stopping so they went ahead and induced me [with a suppository - I hope that's not TMI for you, but that's life].
This is where my labour differs from a normal and natural labour. I was already in labour when I was given a chemical induction. It was like my contractions were now on steroids. And I didn't handle it very well. A nurse friend of mine later told me in the States they give an epidural before inducing women this way as it's considered almost unethical not to.
My contractions progressed very quickly. Within about an hour my contractions were lasting 2 minutes long with just a 30-second break between each contraction. Sometimes I'd have 2 or 3 contractions back-to-back. Since my contractions progressed so quickly I wasn't coping very well and became incredibly anxious. I was taking Rescue Remedy to try and calm myself and deal with my anxiety and pain. Outside of labour it works for me within minutes, but this time it wasn't working at all.
My contractions quickly became so painful that I was using my arms to raise myself off the chair to relieve the pain of each contraction. It was exhausting. Little did I know it would be another 12 hours until I was admitted to the labour suite and a further 10 hours until Cora was born.
My original birth plan was to use the birthing pool; you're asked to make a birth plan when you're pregnant and a water birth was my ideal situation, but I'm a realistic person and knew it wouldn't go according to plan so I wasn't upset when I couldn't use the birthing pool. A midwife saw my water birth notes and suggested I try taking a shower to ease the pain. Between contractions, Robert helped me across the hall and I stood under the shower for all of 10 agonizing minutes. I cried my way through each contraction with no change to my pain whatsoever. Except, now I was soaking wet and hysterical, trapped in a glass shower stall.
When you're in labour, time is a very strange thing. An hour feels like a day and a day feels like an hour. Hours blurred into each other. At this point I'd say I had been in labour for 18 hours. The midwives placed monitors on my belly continuously at this stage because they were concerned with me only having 30 seconds [and sometimes less of a] break between contractions and the intensity of my contractions was quite strong. They gave me a pethidine injection to help calm me, but I don't remember feeling a difference. They next put me on a drip, as they explained to Robert, I was in a state distress [I have an extreme fear of needles and faint when I get them, but luckily I was a too distracted to care having a line put in my hand].
I soon entered the begging phase of my labour. I starting begging to be brought to a labour suite. This whole time I was sharing a room with 5 other women who were in various stages of pregnancy, but not in labour. I was increasingly aware of how loud I was getting with each contraction and I was acutely aware of the other women who were trying to sleep [at this stage it was night]. Me being so loud and keeping them awake was adding to my distress. Those poor women. I wanted to be brought to a labour suite so I could have gas and air and be as loud as I wanted without being concerned about other people. Actually, to be honest I wanted to be shot, but that's aside from the point. I discovered later that there were so many women labouring that night that there simply weren't enough labour rooms to meet the demand.
This went on for hours. I begged with every contraction. I began begging to the baby Jesus [I'm not even a religious person]. I began openly apologising to all the women who were trying to sleep. I couldn't see these women. They were all behind their curtains, most likely crafting shivs and plotting to kill me. Hours of monitoring and midwives trying to distract me went by. Eventually, at about 01:00 a midwife said there was a labour suite available and I was next to use it. They just had to clean it first. "I don't mind. I'll make my way over now. I'm very good at cleaning. I can do it myself when I get there", I said as I stood up to go. They laughed. I didn't.
I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of relief when I arrived in the labour suite. I calmed down and amazingly, I managed to relax. I was given gas and air and when I first took it, it was goddamn heaven. I remember describing it to Robert by saying, "it's like when you're on the bus home after a good night out". Whatever the hell that means! My relaxation didn't last long though as my contractions and distress returned and the gas and air no longer felt like they were working. I laboured on an exercise ball but because I had been awake for so long and was so exhausted, I was now falling asleep. Sitting on the exercise ball. I'd fall asleep for maybe 2 seconds, be woken by the midwife and Robert trying to keep me upright, and it would feel like I had slept for 10 minutes. I did this after every contraction. A heavily pregnant woman. On a ball. FALLING ASLEEP. This wasn't doing much for poor Robert's nerves.
I kept pushing myself to go without pain relief for long as possible. The midwives suggested I change positions to stay awake, so I got onto the bed and got into a squatting position. I think I lasted 5 minutes as the pressure and pain became unbearable. I was screaming a this stage "she's coming out! Oh god she's coming out!", so the midwife checked to see how far along I was. I was only 5cm dilated. That was it. I had reached my limit. I was only 5cm dilated after a day of intense contractions. I gave in and asked for an epidural. I say asked like I had some control over how I articulated myself. I begged to order an epidural. They informed me this wasn't the States and you don't need to order one [all my epidural knowledge stems from Teen Mom apparently], so within 5 minutes the anesthesiologist was in the room. Aka, the unnecessary nightmare of my entire labour experience.
Remember I mentioned my irrational fear of needles? I explained this [hysterically] to the anesthesiologist and he did not take well to this. "It's a very big needle and you're going to have to stay still for at least 20 minutes. If you move at all, I could damage your spine and you may not walk ever again." Just what you want to hear when you're in the worst pain of your life. I asked if I could try staying still during the next contraction so he could see if it would be still enough. "So now I have to wait for you?", he replied. If I wasn't in so much pain, I would have wrapped the bed around his face, but I was terrified that if I commented on how unbelievably rude he was, I wouldn't get an epidural. Robert later told me he felt the same way. We were terrified. I was so distressed about the whole situation, but I wanted that epidural more than anything. The anesthesiologist said he wasn't going to wait for me and asked if I wanted an epidural or not. I said yes and not to sound dramatic, but it was the most difficult few minutes of my life. It was the most conflicted, terrified, and the hardest I've ever concentrated in my life. I think I would have managed that situation so much better if that anesthesiologist wasn't such a complete and utter ass hat. Getting the epidural itself was not traumatising or painful in any way and didn't last anywhere near the 20 minutes he said. It was solely the unnecessary manner of the anesthesiologist.
At this point in my story I'd like to take a special moment to say, what the fresh hell is with the guilt that is associated with getting an epidural? I'm not speaking for all women when I say this, but I personally thought that if I had to get an epidural I was taking the easy way out. Thousands of generations of women were able to have children without an epidural, and I would be failing if I got one. In a weird twist, I don't view other women who get epidurals as failures. Just myself. Because, guilt?
Having said that, I got that epidural and I would have married that needle if I could.
There are three reasons I was thankful to have gotten an epidural. The first reason was that I was able to be me again. I was hysterical and irrationally stuck in a panic attack for close to 24 hours thanks to my super-human contractions. I wasn't able to take in how incredible having a baby is. Because it is incredible. Once I got the epidural I calmed down and was my normal self, shooting the breeze with all the midwives and being sarcastic within no time. Robert was also calmer. He was able to have breakfast and a nap. Once I got the epidural, I went from 5cm to 10cm dilated within 4 hours [vs. 5cm in 24 hours] and that is solely because I was so chill.
I laid in my bed on either side for an allotted amount of time as the epidural worked its magic, but I was still feeling pain and huffing on the gas and air. It wasn't until a class of student doctors came into my room that I was asked if I had used my clicker to control my epidural drip. A WHAT NOW. It turns out that wanker of an anesthesiologist didn't tell me about the clicker regulator because ... he was a wanker. When the student doctor handed me the clicker, I went at it like I was surfing 1,000 channels on a new television.
My epidural-drunk phone photo and the only photo taken during my labour. My glorious clicker.
I relaxed and slept for maybe an hour and before I knew it, the midwife told me I was 10cm dilated. I grabbed onto Robert and it was time to push. I gave 3 big pushes before the midwife said that Cora's heart rate was dropping between contractions, which wasn't good. They wanted to perform an episiotomy and get her out as soon as possible [aka, reason #2 why I was glad I had an epidural]. "Of course, absolutely. Do whatever needs to be done", I said calmly and positively. I've said since then, I don't want to think how I would have reacted if I was getting one without an epidural.
They did what needed to be done. Two more pushes and with the help of a ventouse [suction], Cora was out and being tended to [when my waters broke they were discoloured from her meconium so they had to check that she was okay before handing her back to us]. It was crazy. Robert and I both stared at each other. She let out the tiniest and most adorable cry and Robert and I were forever changed. It was amazing. It is the most surreal feeling seeing the tiny person you've been thinking about for so long.
Getting an epidural is a really strange feeling. You can feel your legs, but you can't feel your skin. Your skin essentially feels like you're wearing jeans; you can feel people touching you, but it's an indirect feeling. Does that make sense? Which leads to my third and final moment I was glad I had an epidural; because I had to get an episiotomy so early in my final stage of labour, it was a fair size. Yeah, it was uncomfortable for two or three weeks afterwards as it healed, but not to the point that I was in distress or upset. Again, it's something that happens and you just get on with it.
We spent the next few hours getting to know Cora and getting acquainted with my new inability to do anything. Family visited and when night came, Robert went home. That night I jumped at every sound Cora made and stared at the little human we made. Cora wasn't feeding well and slept for most of the night. The night midwife had been testing her sugar levels all night and they kept dropping. When morning time came, another midwife noticed Cora was very yellow. Before I knew it, she was being brought to ICU. They explained that she more than likely had jaundice, which was normal in babies, but not within their first 24 hours.
After Robert and our families went home, I went to the ICU to visit Cora. As I was trying to feed her, a group of doctors came to me. Cora's CRP levels [levels of infection in her body] were high. They explained normal levels were between 1 and 2, and Cora's CRP level was 17.2. They explained this could be because Cora had something wrong with her, but they didn't know what it could be. She could have meningitis, blood poisoning, be a different rhesus group to me, or have a bacterial infection. They were very concerned so they asked if they could do a lumbar puncture within the next hour to test her spinal fluid. It was the most helpless I've ever felt. I felt sick to my stomach. It was midnight and Robert was at home asleep. They took Cora to have tests done at 01:00 and I wandered the halls of the hospital bawling uncontrollably. I was responsible for this tiny person, and I couldn't do anything. Was it something I did? Something I ate when I was pregnant? If you can think it, I worried about it. I barely slept and was in hysterics for the next few days until the test results came back. I told Robert everything but we decided not to tell family about the tests she was getting until we knew the results.
Three days passed, rounds of anti-biotics and visits and monitors and beeping and finally on Monday afternoon we were told Cora's CRP levels were 2.3 and she could be released from the ICU. I think I nearly cartwheeled out the window. We told friends and family what happened [now that we knew everything was okay], and we took Cora home the next evening. We had been through so much that we weren't nervous about bringing Cora home. She had been a pin cushion for 5 days in hospital, so extra cuddles and snuggles and squeeing and photos were high on my list.
The following week we had visitors and well wishers and because I'm the way that I am, I wanted our apartment to be presentable [to my stupid levels of tidiness]. I didn't listen to the midwives constant advice to relax and let myself heal. I shuffled around the apartment and tidied and didn't listen. If you're reading this and about to have a baby; listen to the midwives. The next morning I was watching TV and started to get a contraction. I started to freak out. It lasted 45 minutes [non. stop.] and when I frantically called The Coombe Hospital, they told me I needed to take it easy. I did for a day, then returned to being on my feet. Can you guess what happened? I had another contraction except this time it lasted for 4 continuous hours. It took a third contraction experience for me to get it and to listen to my body. Because if you're dumb like me, you won't hear it the first few times.
I later asked at Cora's 6 weeks appointment what may have caused her CRP levels to be so high [we were so happy that she was okay that we didn't even think to ask at the time]. The doctor explained that it was something temporary and more than likely was a knock-on effect of my being in distress for so long during labour. My guilt level that day? Over 9,000. Cora was happy and healthy and progressing perfectly so I tried not to focus on it. I guess it was our first experience of a lifetime ahead of worry and guilt and questioning myself and crying and more worry. These little people, they make your heart explode and mind race. And I wouldn't change it for a second. Wait, maybe the unnecessary labour bit. Maybe that bit I'd change ;)