The following is Unexpectant co-creator Stephanie’s first birth story.
I remember the instructor at our childbirth class saying, “Don’t believe those stories about women who are only in labor for 2 hours with their first child…those stories are LIES!” It just goes show that you should take anything that a childbirth instructor tells you with a grain of salt because I am, in fact, one of those mythical women.
The only thing that saved me from not having my first child in the backseat of a car somewhere on Lake Shore Drive was Group B Strep. I tested positive for strep a few weeks before my due date, and was instructed to go directly to the hospital as soon as my water broke so that I could get IV antibiotics and make sure the baby did not contract the bacteria during delivery.
At about 1 am the week before my due date, I woke to use the restroom and on the way back to bed my water broke in spectacular fashion. At this point, I was experiencing light, completely random and uneven contractions. I had something to eat and made some tea. We made a few obligatory calls and began a leisurely 5-mile trip to the hospital. I had a few contractions in the car. I could talk through them and didn’t feel really put out by them. I felt a little silly going to the hospital and began to worry about how long I might be there, roaming the floors with that rolling IV tower attached to my arm, waiting for things to move forward in a textbook fashion – just because of that darn group B strep. I strolled into triage, had a normal discussion with the woman at the desk, filled out my paperwork and waited to be called.
In triage, I was hooked up and related my story. On the monitor, my contractions were still uneven and fairly mild. A quick swab for amniotic fluid to validate that my water had broken and I would be admitted. A snag. The test came back inconclusive. They waited 10 minutes and did it again. Inconclusive. Perhaps my water didn’t break they suggested. Sometimes toward the end, women get incontinent and that can be mistaken for membrane rupture. No, I did not pee my pants. Three bath towels I told them. Three full-sized bath towels were needed to clean up the massive puddle on the floor of my bedroom. My arguments did nothing to change their minds so my husband and I talked about having him running back home to retrieve the evidence. The triage nurse suggested we just wait for 30 minutes or so to see how things progressed. If my water really did break, I should begin to get more regular contractions soon. I was 5 cm dilated when I was first examined and that was definitely a good sign (but not good enough apparently). So we waited. The contractions started to get stronger, but were still uneven. I started to daydream pretty intently about being admitted, getting situated, getting into my zone and maybe even that epidural.
I should pause for just a minute to explain that I did have a birthing plan, which I highly suggest, even though mine was pretty flexible. I knew that getting an epidural too early in labor could cause progress to stall. It also paralyzed you, and left you basically bedridden and I had no intention of spending 6 or even 12 hours paralyzed in a bed, so I had gotten it in my mind that I would power through to 5 cm and then all bets were off. I had no idea what to expect and didn’t want to limit myself to one option or another.
So back to me and my husband, just hanging out in triage, now going on two-and-a-half hours. My contractions were uncomfortable, but I could breathe through them and recover in between. I was now 7 cm dilated, which finally convinced the doctor on-call that they should probably admit me, even though they never did get a conclusive test on the amniotic fluid. By the time I got to the room, everything around me started to blur. My contractions were suddenly coming fast and were serious. Someone was trying to get my IV in but they couldn’t. She finally called someone else over to do it after the 7th try or so. In a complete fog, I’m pretty sure I must have asked repeatedly for the epidural. They assured me the anesthesiologist was coming, just as soon as all the basics were set up. When she finally showed up, she just read me a bunch of paperwork and made me sign a form which was just a release form. I still had to ask for the epidural she informed me. When I was last examined in triage, I was 7 cm and conventional clinical wisdom will tell you that you can generally estimate about 1 hour of labor for each cm, which, in my haze, I calculated as 3 more hours at least. There was no way I was going to make it another 3 hours. “I would like the epidural. Please. Now.”
The anesthesiologist said she would prep and come back, and I heard her take a call on her walkie talkie that another patient was asking for her. “How far is she dilated?” – “3 cm” said the voice. And she disappeared. Everyone disappeared except for one nurse who was still entering information into the computer. I had a really unbearable contraction and afterwards the nurse said softly, “If you have another one like that, I would press the emergency button.” The words barely came out of her mouth before the next one hit and I yelled at my husband “HIT THE BUTTON!” By the time the attending on duty answered the call, I was already pushing. About 2 minutes later, my son was laying on my chest. It was 5:13 am. I had been awake for about 4 hours, at the hospital for 3, and in my labor and delivery room for less than 30 minutes.
So what are my thoughts and tips? Well, I guess if your water breaks at home, bring the evidence. No one ever told me that might be an issue. Also, people have asked me if I would get the epidural for my second. I guess some people would prefer to avoid my experience at all costs, and just want it to be as painless as possible. It is true, at the very end, the pain was intense, but it was so quick in my case (less than 10 minutes?) that it is impossible for me to say I would have preferred to be laying paralyzed in a hospital bed for who knows how many hours instead. I do believe that my ability to walk around and stay active contributed to how quickly everything went, and I also have serious concerns about what effect the epidural has on the natural progress of labor. But I am the type of person who prefers to just get things over with in general. I would definitely try to make it as far as I could again, no doubt about that…but the anesthesiologist and I might need to have a heart-to-heart at the get go about her choosing someone else who is only 3 cm dilated over me. ????