The Birth Story Part 1: I Didn’t Expect the Unexpected
Shelli, our doula, arrived at the house around 11:15 pm. It was probably too soon to call her over. I was having contractions around 4-6 minutes apart, and they were variable in pain. However, the doctor had said to call the office if the contractions were less than 5 minutes apart and I didn’t know what to do. Shelli said that that’s what she was here for and left her family to come help us start ours.
Things felt very much like I would have expected. I would feel a mild to moderate contraction, which I described to Shelli like my cervix was pulling apart or stretching, and I would try my darnedest to relax everything and take slow deep breaths until the pain went away. The contractions lasted anywhere from 30 seconds to over a minute and I found that the longer I went between contractions the harder and longer they actually were when I had them.
We put Dave to bed about 1:00 am so that at least one of us would have some energy for later. Shelli and I stayed up and tried a variety of positions and methods to both preserve my energy and get this show on the road. I took an hour long nap, but had to get up when lying down caused the pain to be too strong. I did figure-8’s around the kitchen and dining room while Shelli and I talked about life, liberty and the pursuit of celebrity gossip. (People, get a doula. It is way cool to have an experienced woman help you out mixing in the right amount of fun talk and coaching.) Shelli coached me through visualizations my cervix opening and the baby moving down into my pelvis. We tried some tailor sitting on some of my chairs and stools which occasionally lead to a massive contraction pain.
At this point, I was feeling that everything was going as planned. I felt that the contractions were coming more frequently. I kept making sure we called them powerful and not painful, and that they were certainly feeling more powerful.
About 3:30, I decided I wanted to go to the hospital. I was not in such a chipper mood by that time and Shelli was thinking perhaps I was 4-5 cms. I had wanted to arrive at the hospital right before transition (I think between 6 and 7 cm), but at this point, I just really wanted to go. We woke up Dave, called the doctor from our practice (not my primary OB, but fortunately, my first choice after him), finished packing up, and headed to the hospital.
Once we arrived at the maternity ward, I was having a hard time sitting down during the contractions. During the 8 minute or so drive over, I had two contractions that made me have to lift myself off the seat. Sitting on a bench or a chair just felt like too much pressure. They checked us in, asked a whole variety of questions, took the vitals, and wanted hooked me up to the monitor and proceeded to assess how much my cervix was dilated.
Here is where things took a big turn away from my expectations.
When I got on the labor bed, I became extremely nauseous. I had been feeling a bit sick to my stomach, but it hit pretty hard and I was able to give enough alert for some help before I threw up 4 times. Then, they wanted me to lie back on the bed, and I had an amazing pain in my lower abdomen. This threw everyone for a loop. Why could I sit up but not lie down? Where was this pain? It felt like my cervix. I could point to where it was, but apparently, it was not something that other women had a problem with.
The nurse in charge of the room asked me on a scale of 1 to 10 how I would rank these pains. Here is where I wish I wasn’t a psychology professor who specializes in research methods. I like the type of scale where someone asks a relative number. However, with these types of scales, it’s hard to know what is really being measured. Are they trying to assess how much more I can take (in that case, we were probably around a 5; I run marathons; I can withstand a great deal of pain and keep going). Or are they trying to assess how I compare with other women in this stage of labor. I also recalled my physical therapist from my first marathon saying that if the pain is a 1 or a 2 you can keep running, if it’s a 4 or above, you should stop the activity because you’re muscle is in danger of being injured. And no, I’m not kidding that this all went through my head before I finally said a 6. I think that most women would have called that pain a 6 although I felt like it was more of a 5.
Now it was time to check my dilation. I was so hoping that we were closer to 5 or 6 cm than to 2 or 3 cm. I really wanted to be moving along on this delivery.
The first RN could barely find my cervix. It was posterior, pointing backwards, meaning it wasn’t even close to being “ripe enough” for childbirth. Maybe something was mucked up about my cervix and it didn’t do the normal move from front to back, I thought, but it would still be dilated. She then announced that I was 0 cm dilated. Whaaaaaaaa? She called in back up. This woman also announced that nothin’ was going on. Nada. Closed shut like a trapdoor. They continued to do the monitoring and I must have dozed off because I was awoken by a RN straddling me in the bed to give one final in depth check of the cervix and who agreed that I was not, in fact, actually in labor.
After they told me I was 0 cm dilated, I looked at Shelli and said what I’m sure she considered to be an incredibly wimpy (or naïve or just stupid) statement: “They’re going to want to do an emergency c-section because I’m in labor and my cervix isn’t dilating.” She assured me that we weren’t at that stage yet.
The doctor arrived and gave the final pronouncement. No dilation. Not in labor. Actually experiencing prodromal labor A “very drawn-out latent labor that…is not only difficult to interpret but difficult to endure…[in which] uterine contractions characteristically drag on with little or no acceleration in their frequency or intensity and very little or no cervical dilation…the contractions are not usually overwhelmingly painful during this time, but they are strong enough to keep the woman awake and in need of some comfort measures. The greatest difficulty with this kind of labor is the exhaustion and discouragement that a woman feels…making mild contractions seem strong and the prospect of dealing with the ‘real labor’ yet to come seem overwhelming.” (Sears & Sears, 1994, The Birth Book, p. 202) Well, I didn’t have the Sears book with me at the time, but I can relate to that definition.
To provide some comfort to me at this point, and I believe to see if they could relax me into jump starting this labor, they gave me nubain. On my birth plan, I said I would like this intervention and that I would like to have it at half dose. I have no idea if they gave it to me at half dose, but I took it and it knocked me out for about 3 to 4 hours. According to Dave, I would awake during the contractions and moan but that the contractions were about 7 to 8 minutes apart and falling well below the “100” on the chart to be considered a real contraction.
When I finally woke up, they gave me the news that unless this thing started for real, they were going to kick me out. That’s when I started the “I can’t go home” chant, pretty much to no avail. We tried walking the hall, but I couldn’t walk during the contractions. I still felt really out of it due to the nubain, and I wanted the pain to stop.
At this point, I turned to Shelli and made the epidural plan. If this wasn’t real labor and I was in this much pain, then the goal would be for me to simply get to the earliest they could give me an epidural and take it. My goal was no longer unmedicated. My goal was to survive until I could get an epidural.
I was also feeling very embarrassed. Here I was an endurance athlete who thought she could endure pain and I wasn’t even dilated and I could barely stand it. Later, Dave and I remembered the woman ultramarathoner (i.e., who runs 50 to 100 mile races) who said that marathoning was completely different than childbirth because never during an ultramarathon did she ever shout out “Jesus. Fuck. Kill me!” But again, I had always assumed this was during transition. They were telling me I hadn’t even started yet!!
We arrived back at the room and they had my discharge papers ready. Our labor nurse reiterated that this was not real labor. During my protests that this really hurt, she kept insisting that yes, labor really hurts, giving birth to a child really hurts. But, in fact, I was not in “real labor” and “real labor” may not start for another 12 to 48 more hours. I may have to endure 48 more hours of the pain I was experiencing, but really, these were not the real labor pains. I would know when real labor started. When she told me “I would know when real labor started” I had some evil thoughts. First and foremost I really wanted to say, “Listen, you fucking bitch, this IS real labor and I know it!”
However, I didn’t say that. Instead, I thought 1) if this lasts for 48 more hours, I’m going to find a gun and shoot myself. But then I decided that would not be good for the baby, so I decided, along with Dave and Shelli, that 2) we would wait until my primary OB came on call at 6 (we hoped) and ask him to cut this thing out of me. At least, that’s what I was thinking.
I also felt very alone at this point. I was humiliated that I did not know what “real labor” was, and that I did not know my own body. I felt like the only people in the world on my side were Dave and Shelli and I questioned whether they were there for me only because they loved me and not because they really believed me. Dave says that Shelli completely believed me. She had seen the change in the amount of pain I was experiencing and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t showing more dilation. I was really clinging to the hope that I could hang on from 10:15 (the time they discharged us) until that night when my doctor came on call so I could get some help.
So we left the hospital. On the ride home, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I would have a “fake” contraction, moan, hold myself off the seat, and try to think about making it until the night. We arrived at home and Dave on the doula’s advice decided to draw a bath for me as a way to help me relax and maybe sleep. I went to the other bathroom to sit on the toilet because that idea was appealing. I had two more fake contractions while sitting there and actually fell asleep between them. Both Dave and Patches came to check on me and I told them I was fine.
Then, I felt something different. I felt something run out of me and looked in the toilet to see fresh blood. I used a tissue and saw more fresh blood. I remember when they discharged us that they said something about fresh blood versus bloody show. One was normal and I seemed to recall the other wasn’t. I couldn’t remember which was which.
Dave said that the bath was ready so I headed to the other bathroom and asked if there was something in our release sheet about fresh blood. He went to find the release sheet and I sat back down on the toilet, because, I swear, it felt good. I had another fake contraction and there was an explosion of blood and liquid out of me, into the toilet, out of the toilet, onto the floor, onto the bathtub and onto our purple bathroom rug. I looked in the toilet and there was bright red blood. I used a tissue and saw bright red blood. I threw it into the sink in case I needed evidence for the hospital because they still didn’t believe that something was really going on. I used another and another and another tissue, collecting around 6 tissues covered in blood to use as evidence.
Dave read the discharge sheet. What I was looking for was the section that says that if you see enough fresh red blood, “the same as you see during a period,” to call the hospital. The problem here, as with the pain issue, is that being a runner, I don’t really have periods. I haven’t had what most women would consider a “real one” in years (and years and years). I just don’t bleed. So any amount of red blood on more than one tissue is “the same” as what I’d have during a period.
For some reason, I wasn’t focusing on the fact that my water had broken, another good reason to call the hospital. I still was convinced that they wouldn’t believe that I was in real labor, or worse that something was wrong. It had only been 30 minutes since we left the hospital! I just knew they would tell me that I had to wait 48 more hours before I could convince them that I was in labor. I would bring the tissues with me if they wouldn’t believe me.
Dave decided to call our doctor’s office again and told the call service to tell our doctor that my water had broken and that I was bleeding. I somehow ended up in the kitchen. Another contraction hit. I could feel liquid pulsing down my leg as an enormous pain hit that I had not had before. I doubled over and grabbed the kitchen sink. Dave says that I began to pull the faucet off the sink. He was afraid that I would pull off the faucet and that he’d have to shut the water off to the house before we left for the hospital again. All I remember is Dave trying to pry my death-grip fingers off the faucet which was starting to actually bend in my hand.
The phone rang. I heard Dave’s voice crack as he said “OK.” He got off the phone. “They said to get back to the hospital.” I was frightened. I knew Dave, who is my calm emotional bedrock, was scared, too. After being home for 20 minutes and out of the hospital for 45, we headed back to the hospital.
Continued in Part 2
Continued in Part 2