My birth story begins as I am a twenty-year-old newlywed being told that when my husband and I are ready to have children, we will need help. Fast forward about six months as I am calling a local nurse-helpline to ask why I am still feeling like I am on my menstrual cycle when the bleeding stopped a week prior. The nurse’s first question was, “Could you be pregnant?” and my response was, “No. Well, I guess it’s possible.”
My pregnancy itself was pretty textbook. I gained about 40 pounds, experienced some nausea and had some swelling. I have to be honest, I didn’t think I would be married until I was in my thirties. I thought I would have problems conceiving and I always said I would wait until I had my first baby and had that experience before I decided if I wanted more children. So when it came time to have my firstborn, I really was pretty clueless. I attended breastfeeding classes and took a childbirth education class before birth, but my knowledge of labor was still limited to what I had heard, “It will hurt and you get pain medications to help with the pain.” This description is pretty much what happened…and some other things.
My labor began, while I was asleep. I had been sleeping on the couch for a couple of weeks. I was awakened out of my sleep because my back was hurting. I thought it was just hurting because I was pregnant, so I adjusted how I was laying and went back to sleep. Not too long after dozing off, I was awakened again by back pain. I remember thinking I should stay awake and pay attention to this pain. As I lay there in the dark, the pain came and went in the lower part of my back and I knew this was the real thing. I immediately woke my husband and told him I was in labor. We proceeded to get our things together to head to the hospital.
We arrived at the hospital around 7:00 a.m. and I was 3 cm dilated. I immediately asked for some pain medication and was given Nubain and went to sleep. The timing gets a little fuzzy, but I know I received another dose of Nubain, but I didn’t know that the doses after the first one are less effective, so not too long after switching to the official labor and delivery room, I asked for the epidural.
When I got the epidural they proceeded to give me a catheter, which I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be able to get up and go to the bathroom on my own because of my legs being too numb to walk. I also didn’t know that I would keep throwing up because of the medicine from the epidural, that the medicine could wear off like mine kept doing and that I would have “breakthrough” pain even with pain medicine. They upped the dose to a point where they couldn’t do anything else for me. I didn’t know or didn’t remember that the baby’s heart rate could fall after having an epidural like my baby’s heart rate did. I had to lay on my side and have an oxygen mask. I was scared, tired and wanted my husband to come back from getting something to eat because both of our mothers told him he should leave for a little while. All of this happened before 1:00 p.m., around this time I was actually 9 cm. And this is when the waiting began.
I stayed at 9 cm for HOURS. My doctor came and went several times. He had another patient in labor at the same time in another hospital, so at some point in the afternoon, he started talking about having a c-section. That is when my husband stepped in and began to tell him we were not having a c-section. So we waited and waited and waited some more. The doctor checked on us a couple more times and kept bringing up the c-section word and was seemingly pretty irritated that we were holding out on having one. Then at some point my nurse saw how determined we were to not have a c-section, so she stepped in to help.
The nurse had me push, while she stretched me to 10 cm. I didn’t know how much I really couldn’t feel until I had to push and it was so awkward. They tell you to push like you are having a bowel movement, but they don’t tell you what to do when you can’t push that way. So I pushed and my husband counted. In fact, he counted so loudly you could hear him out in the hallway. The counting got on our families’ (my sister, mom, sister-in-law, mother-in-law and family friend) nerves, but it was my saving grace. His loud-to-everyone-but-me counting helped me to focus.
At some point, I began to cry. My sister told me to stop. I didn’t know that it would’ve been okay for me to cry, so I did stop. I remember pushing so much it made my head hurt and eventually I flat out told them I would NOT push anymore. They proceeded to convince me to push again and even tried to bribe me. Well, the bribe worked. I told them I would push again if they would give me something to drink once the baby was born (I had only had ice chips since I had been admitted in the hospital. I didn’t know I could get so thirsty!) Eventually, the pushing became effective, but not without the help of forceps. I didn’t know that the imprint of the forceps and the force of pulling could cause a baby’s head to be pointy like my baby’s head was after being born around 9:30 p.m. that night.
There were many more I didn’t knows: he wouldn’t nurse that well because of the potential effects of the epidural; I wouldn’t get to hold him right after being born; I would start feeling so sad, lonely and panicky only two days after he was born; that I had some classic signs of a posterior baby. Yes, there were many “I didn’t know” statements throughout my birth story, but it’s okay because it’s my birth story. It’s okay because eleven years later when I had my second child, I did know. It’s okay because I feel like my birth story is still a good birth story because it is uniquely mine and only I can tell it. Well, my husband could tell some of it also, but you know what I mean…IT’S OKAY!
Pregnancy and birth are full of I-didn’t-know moments, just like Deborah’s story. Tell us, what were some of your I-didn’t-know moments? And, if you’d like to share your birth story with us, please visit our submissions page for details.
Deborah A. Allen is a mother or four (ages 14, 2 and 3-month-old twins), a doula and a wife of 15 years. Deborah is currently breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby wearing her twins, as she did with her previous two children. She has worked at a not-for-profit pregnancy help center, started a local birth networking group and mentored other doulas throughout her career. Her ultimate goal is to attend medical school to work as an obstetrics and gynecological medical doctor.