By Linnea L.
I’ve written my birth stories before but I figured it was time for a bit of a more thorough and less sterile rewrite of how things went. I’m writing very frankly, so I apologize for the lack of polish I normally have in my writing!
I was 22 years old. I hadn’t yet been married a full year, and I was in my 39th week of my first pregnancy. 9 AM on Thursday morning, June 5th, 2008, I went in for my routine weekly check-up. When my doctor checked my cervix, we were all surprised to find that I was 4 centimeters dilated and 80–90 percent effaced! Everyone had always told me (with a bit of a condescending tone) that I’d know when labor was real, but there I was at the beginning of the active stages of labor completely unaware! The hospital staff — and I — couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed any of my early labor! That seems to imply I didn’t feel a thing, but the fact is that I had such intense ligament, cervix, uterine and various other pains throughout my pregnancy, that things like braxton-hicks contractions were exactly as painful as actual labor.
I started having them at 20 weeks, and they were crippling. My ligament pains were so sharp they brought me to tears, and I nearly went to the ER for them. So I suppose whenever real labor started, I just didn’t register it as any different than the normal levels of pain I had been experiencing for months on end. I had also been suffering from PUPPS for a week and honest to god I think itching that bad is worse than pain! I would have asked to be induced soon if only to be rid of the PUPPS!
I sat stunned while my doctor told me and my then-husband, Chris, that we were having a baby that day. That day! But I wasn’t even due yet and everyone said first babies come late! I didn’t know I was in labor and everyone said I would! But I hadn’t even had any bloody show! But, but, but! I went into a state of internal panic. We hadn’t brought anything with us, so Chris ran home to get the hospital bag (which I had thankfully repacked the night before, not that I needed half the stuff I brought) and got a hold of my mom, who also started calling people and got ready to come to the hospital.
I had expected to sit around timing contractions and relaxing through early labor at home like I was told “normal” women do. I was completely mentally unprepared for this new turn of events and my brain pretty much completely fritzed out. The weird thing is that Chris and I had been joking that morning about how funny it would be if I was dilated and ended up staying at the hospital after my appointment! Turned out that scenario wasn’t all that funny.
After Chris left, I was hustled off to labor and delivery. Katie walking me there is one of the few really clear memories I have of that day. I was in such shock and absolutely terrified to be in labor, and to be alone. Her familiar face was a comfort. Once I got to the delivery room I changed into a hospital gown and all I could do was sit there alone, shaking from fear and disbelief. I went to the bathroom and saw my first bloody show. Reality started to set in.
It felt like a lifetime, but Chris got back around 9:30 just before Dr. Human came in to break my water. My nurse interrupted, wanting to make sure I was okay with it first, but I think I would have just nodded and agreed to anything at that point. My brain was numb and I couldn’t think clearly. Contractions, once I started actually registering them as real contractions, were fairly mild at first. We walked the halls for awhile in between monitoring the baby’s heartbeat and my contractions. I tried to labor on an exercise ball from home and found it to be the worst possible position for me to labor in. Another careful plan thrown out the window!
After a couple of hours, contractions started to get more painful and I eventually opted for a shot of Stadol to take the edge off. My nurse checked my cervix directly thereafter to find I was dilated to 5 and fully effaced. Within the next two contractions, the pain skyrocketed, which shocked me. The Stadol did nothing for my pain, but made me feel horrible and drunk, in the worst way possible. The tiles of the floor looked wobbly and nauseating. I told Chris I needed an epidural ASAP.
They started a bag of water on my IV (Did you know you needed to get a full bag in before you could get an epidural your first time? I didn’t!). When that was done 45 minutes later they paged the anesthesiologist. I was already in excruciating pain and not doing well at all. I was vomiting, crying, my vision was blacking, I was alternatively pale and flushed, shaking, and delirious from pain. I was 100 percent certain something was wrong and was scared out of my mind.
The anesthesiologist couldn’t be found at first, and even when he was located, he ended up taking an hour and a half to get to my room! An hour. and. a. half. All that time I was in the worst pain I had ever felt in my life. By the time he made it, I thought I was literally dying. It’s funny to read that now, but goddamn that pain was intense. Thankfully, the epidural started working quickly. I simultaneously hated and loved that anesthesiologist for taking so long, but for giving me the relief I desperately needed.
We found out afterward that I was fully dilated and probably had been before I got the epidural. (I know now that you aren’t supposed to get one after you are that far along but I had only been dilated to 5 about 2 hours previous! My nurse actually suspected I was complete but purposefully didn’t check me until afterwards because of how poorly I was doing. No way could I have delivered in that state. She was amazing! I probably couldn’t have gone through with the actual delivery if I didn’t have the epidural, so she truly was an angel.) We think I may have been going through the end stages of transition while my epidural was being placed. Talk about a difficult time to stay completely still! I remember white knuckling Chris’ belt the whole time, the anesthesiologist continually telling me to stay still, and holding back a lot of less-than-friendly responses in my mind.
After I was finally pain free, I slept for about an hour while laboring down. The labor thus far had completely exhausted me and rest was very much needed. Unfortunately since I slept on my side, I ended up much more numb on that side than the other. Both sides were overly numb, really, but I had truly no feeling on my left side. I kept poking my own leg because the sensation was so bizarre. After that hour of rest I was woken and instructed to start pushing. It was interesting considering how little sensation I had in my legs — I needed help positioning my sack-of-potato legs — but everyone kept telling me what a good job I was doing pushing. I vividly remember the beeping of the warming bed as it turned off and the nurses repeatedly turned it back on again. That was the only thing that gave me any sensation of time.
After almost 3 hours of pushing, Dr. Human was concerned that the baby wasn’t moving down any further. It was only his steady heartbeat that kept me from an emergency C-Section right then considering my lack of progress. We tried suctioning him out once while I pushed but the suction cup slipped right off, spraying my doctor in blood. She then paged the OB on call, Dr. Killgore, to assess the situation and they confirmed what she suspected: the baby was sunny-side up, facing my belly instead of my back like he was supposed to be. That meant I had been having back labor, which explains why it was so incredibly excruciating! Now because of his positioning his head was stuck in my pelvic arch.
Somewhere around this time, multiple nurses had also filed in the room. I don’t remember it well at all, but I know the room was absolutely crammed with people. Maybe 5 nurses, 2 doctors, my mom and my dad (who got trapped in a corner in the hustle and bustle) and my husband. My original nurse stayed past her shift to get me through delivery. She was a great comfort and I was so thankful to have her there.
Dr. Killgore explained to us that we had two options: Forceps or C-section. This baby was not going to get out on his own. For the second (third? fourth?) time that day I completely panicked and started crying. The last thing I wanted was a C-section — I was terrified of it, way more than is reasonable really — so despite both Dr. Human and Dr. Killgore’s preferences, I opted to try the forceps. If it didn’t work, I would need to have a cesarian anyway so I wanted to exhaust all other options first.
Well, those forceps worked like a charm! One push while Dr. Killgore pulled him down below the arch and Rowan Scott shot out suddenly! Apparently they weren’t just trying to encourage me when they said I was a good pusher! Dr. Human had to catch him because he came out so quickly! Years later I’d figure out it would have been better if I had had a C-section due to the amount of damage I’d receive from the forceps, but for that moment I was just relieved he was out. And relieved I had no sensation.
He screamed right away and was sucking and smacking his lips to feed almost immediately. When they set him on my belly I first remember thinking how soft he felt, and then having an extremely bizarre sense of disconnection, wondering who this baby belonged to. I had had a grueling and exhausting labor, had been pushing for hours, and I was completely out of it. It had only been 10 hours since I was at my appointment. And he certainly would have been born more quickly if he had been positioned correctly. A fast first birth either way.
Everyone was amazed at how big he was! Both doctors had thought he was somewhere around 8 lbs 6 oz and Dr. Human started laughing when she weighed him! 9 pounds, 2 ounces! I am a fairly slim person, no taller than average — and Chris is average sized too, as is everyone on both sides of the family. To this day we do not know why we had such a ridiculously large child! I made a clumsy attempt at feeding the hungry giant and then they whisked him away.
It took a long time for me to be sewn up, but eventually they wheeled me into a recovery room. The nurses on staff then — different than before — refused to allow Chris into the room, which was terribly upsetting for me. No one was really explaining what was going on, but I was so out of it, I don’t know that I would have understood anyway. Best I can figure, they didn’t want him to see how bad things were. I had lost a lot of blood and the bleeding wasn’t stopping, so one of the older nurses started massaging my fundus. I felt like she was trying to push all the way through me to my spine. It was not pleasant. I didn’t know this wasn’t standard procedure and that they were worried about my bleeding. I came within a point of needing a blood transfusion. My fundus was kneaded and massaged repeatedly and I began to dread it. I had to take an iron supplement for my blood, and have a special diet, along with massive amounts of stool softener to counteract the inevitable constipation, considering how painful and potentially damaging having hard bowel movements was going to be with my tears.
It turns out I tore literally as badly as possible. All the way through the anal sphincter, as well as multiple other tears of varying degrees both inside and out. The damage was so bad that they left my epidural in overnight and refused to let Rowan room in with me. I tried to convince them to leave the epidural in the next day but they weren’t convinced. After it was out, I was put on hardcore pain killers, but the pain was still intense and not well controlled. Nurses packed diapers with ice to use on my nethers to try to reduce the swelling and pain, which was kind of hilarious looking back. I ended up having to stay in the hospital 4 days. I have almost no memory of the visitors, of which there were many. Between the shock, the pain and the meds, I was basically entirely mentally absent. In pictures I look like death on dope.
As for the aftermath, the contractions that accompanied breastfeeding were misery, but overall Rowan learned to nurse effectively very quickly. Not that breastfeeding was easy, but that’s another story. He had low blood sugar when he was born, so he also had a suckle cup from which he had small amounts of formula until he was stabilized. I had so much shaking after labor, and profuse sweating that first night. I don’t remember if I really slept or not.
I honestly didn’t realize my delivery was that bad, with the exception of waiting for the epidural, until people started commenting on it. (Our lactation consultant told us Rowan had an extra week or two to get back to his birth weight due to his “traumatic” delivery. Turns out he didn’t need it. He gained weight fast!) It wasn’t until after my second child that I realize how truly horrifying an experience it was, and that I likely had some PTSD from it. When we moved to Duluth and I started with my new OB, she told me Rowan’s birth story is the worst vaginal birth she’s ever heard of.
Recovery was torture. I couldn’t sit without pain for months even with a pillow, walking was awful, stairs and climbing into bed were the worst, bowel movements made me cry, and it was 6 months before I could even consider sex. Even then it was not enjoyable, to say the least. I remember the med staff telling me I’d heal like butter because of how soft the tissues are, but to this day — 8 years later — I still can feel the scar tissue. And it can still get irritated. I chalk that up mostly to my connective tissue disorder, but the severity of my tearing couldn’t have helped.
Unfortunately, Rowan was a horribly colicky baby. We secretly called him Demon Baby, though we loved him very much. It was one hell of a rough period. I barely slept for the next 4 months. We ended up co-sleeping (which was not something we planned) out of desperation, since he would only sleep while being held and rocked/bounced vigorously, or in bed next to me. I also developed severe postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, but was unable to identify either because they presented so differently than regular mental illness. It took 6 months to identify and start treatment, which is also when we finally got Rowan to start (occasionally) sleeping through the night in a papasan swing. Life improved significantly after that!
Thankfully my next birthing experience was wonderful, but I’ll always have the mental and physical scars of that first birth.