This blog post is the last of three where I reflect on what it was like giving birth and tell my story. In part 1 I share my feelings on my ‘no epidural’ natural birth. In part 2, I talk about my problem with the question, ‘how was it?’ Now in part 3, I spill the beans on how it all happened.
It started in the middle of the night. I went to bed around 11 pm on a Sunday and three hours later, woke up from an unmistakable warm gush. My waters broke!
Contrary to the movies, it doesn’t usually happen this way. For most women, waters actually break during labour, not before. But if they do, it’s go time!
I remember telling my husband to expect the baby ‘any day now.’ Just that evening, we had gone for dinner at Nando’s where no shit I said, ‘this is the last time we eat out without the baby.’ In fact, on several occasions I stressed the importance of getting enough sleep each night because you never know when it will happen… So you can’t say he wasn’t warned.
That’s why when at 2 am my waters broke 5 days before my due date, I was not too impressed to find out that my husband had not even gone to bed yet. He was still up in the living room all bleary-eyed playing video games…
There had been more than a few signs of labour over the past few weeks. Every night I was experiencing pre-labour contractions, which, by the way, feel just like strong period pains. Baby’s head was locked and loaded in position and I’d had a ‘show’, which I suggest you don’t google unless you’re pregnant.
By this point, I was also pretty sure that my belly had reached maximum capacity. I stopped weighing myself after I put on 20kg so I actually don’t know how heavy I got. What I do know, is that everything was swollen. I had Kylie lips, a Kim K ass and even my double chin had a chin. Simple daily movements like putting on shoes, standing up or walking more than 10 minutes had since become near impossible feats of physical endurance…
The beauty of those last pregnant days is that they get so uncomfortable that you start to ‘want’ to get it out. As in, you actually start looking forward to giving birth. Crazy, I know.
Leaking a silly amount of amniotic fluid, I broke the news to hubby who now started freaking out saying, oh shit this is really happening oh shit this is really happening. Took a quick shower, got dressed, did a last minute check over my hospital bag (more on that another time), and off we went in a disco* Uber.
*A disco Uber is when an Uber driver gets carried away with colourful LED strip lighting in the interior of his car, adjusts his sound settings to maximum bass, and is probably almost definitely also a drug dealer.
We arrived at the labour ward at 3 in the morning only to discover that none of their 10 rooms were available.
This was another nightmare scenario (see My Birth Story Part I: No Epidural) I had always dreaded. However, given that your first time in labour typically lasts 12-20 hours and because I was only having mild contractions, I assured myself that there was plenty of time.
In the waiting area, a nurse strapped me up to a machine that measures foetal heart rate and contractions while husband and I stared disbelievingly at each other.
Some moments or hours later, who can remember, a midwife came in to check for dilation. 1 cm, she said, reinforcing the idea that baby’s grand entrance was indeed hours away.
According to my hospital’s protocol, if your waters break, they need to induce imminently and, as per my request, begin the epidural. So that was the plan.
For a while, nothing happened. We waited and waited as the hours ticked by until around 6 or 7 am when the period cramps sensation started gaining in intensity, duration and frequency.
The previous midwife (before the shift change) explained that average dilation is 0.5 cm every hour, putting me at around 4 cm at 10 am. And since each examination risks introducing infection, midwife number two wanted to wait until 10 am before examining me again.
It was just after 8 o clock in the morning (five f***ing hours after we arrived, pardon my French) when I was finally shown to a labour room.
I don’t remember at which point the pain escalated, only that in the beginning I was ok and then some time before I was finally taken to a labour room I was not.
I remember finding the walk to the room a real struggle, but apparently, I wasn’t showing it. Scrunching my brow and making wounded animal noises to gain sympathy never really made me feel any better. So since I didn’t do any of that, I guess what they saw was akin to a Vegas-worthy poker face.
But everyone has their breaking point.
Finally inside the labour room, I watched impatiently as a midwife faffed about with the machines for around 30 minutes, coming in and out of the room still unable to get them to work. And George trying to help, launching into an explanation of how wifi works, and me feeling about to lose my shit but trying to stay cool.
Eventually she said that we’d have to change rooms. By this point, the pain was coming and going in serious waves and I was pretty sure that I was going to throw up. As I made the effort to hobble to the other room, I was perversely curious about whether or not I would even make it.
In between the contractions, I remember feeling really angry that nobody was helping me. It felt like the midwife and my husband were just standing there watching me without a clue what they should be doing. Like maybe they didn’t believe me, like they thought I was exaggerating the agony I was in…
Of course, I’m no expert, but nor was she. Only after the baby was born did she share with us the fascinating bit of news that our baby was in fact the very first baby she ever delivered. Congratulations?
This is the part where it all went tits up.
In terms of the pain scale, I could handle early labour. Heck, I could even handle active labour. What I couldn’t handle, is the stage of labour they call ‘transition’, which is when your cervix dilates to 10 cm and baby begins to make his descent.
But that wasn’t supposed to be happening, remember? At 9 am we were still waiting for the anaesthetists to come and give the epidural in order to start the induction to hasten the labour!
Each time my contractions picked up, my eyes sealed themselves shut and my head twisted backwards into the bed. It was a feeling like nothing I’ve experienced before. As if my mind was desperately searching for someplace to hide, a way out.
I was no longer in control, I was barely in the room. I made no Hollywood wide-eyed shouts and screams. Just a deep, guttural groan. And then I felt it, an indescribable pressure, something like an urge to push.
It was somewhere around 9 am when I realised as suddenly as an alarm waking me up that I must be much further along than this midwife thinks.
Even though I could barely speak, I somehow managed to convince her to examine me. After she checked me herself she called in a more senior midwife to confirm. 9 cm.
I had done the research, I had read the stories, I understood that it was now too late for an epidural. So had I prepared for this scenario? Of course not!
Fortunately, rather than have a panic attack or just curl up and die, my brain did what it does in tough situations. It started work on Plan B, aka, my only option.
I quickly thought back to the natural birth “pain relief” options from my antenatal class and asked for the gas, but after one breath on that thing I wanted to smash it in her face.
It smelled and tasted so bad, like a rancid meth lab. Worst of all it didn’t do a damn thing for the pain. I also found it really hard to inhale, obstructing the controlled breathing I was otherwise attempting.
As I lay there writhing like Emily Rose, the midwife kept insisting that I take the ghastly gas (I’m telling you I was this close). And repeating, ‘you’re doing really well, you’re doing really well’ (curls fist into tight ball…)
Enter the anaesthetists. Just as I was about to succumb and disappear into the pain abyss forever (or commit GBH), two angelic anaesthetists entered the room.
They tried to explain that I still had two options: epidural, which they strongly advised against, or a spinal. Since I was in no condition to think for myself, I went with their recommendation.
I felt like pushing, so chances were that he would be born before the epidural would take effect. A spinal, on the other hand, would provide instant pain relief. A spinal, they explained, is given as a single injection, but its effect is also shorter, lasting up to 1.5 hours, and can only be given once.
Next they explained all the potential side effects and risks, to which I gave my consent as willingly as a confession under torture. Then there was the small matter of keeping entirely still while they injected my back with multiple local anaesthesia before inserting the hue-mung-oo-us needle into my spine.
But no lie, the pain relief was indeed instant. Almost immediately, I felt myself pulled back into the room. Almost exactly like what an exorcism might feel like if demons possessing your body was a real thing.
During the next 1.5 hours, my contractions slowed down considerably, halting the labour process; but the pain was gone. Unfortunately, my contractions only returned as the spinal wore off.
By 10:30 that Monday morning, the spinal wore off completely. Once again my mind retreated back into that strange, dark place, leaving only the smallest part of me in that room.
There were now two midwives, and fortunately this new one was a lot more helpful. She brought me into a better birthing position but I was too weak to hold up my legs myself. Instead, she grabbed hold of one and ordered George to take the other.
Next, she instructed me to push as hard and for as long as I could with each contraction. So I began to push without any pain relief at all.
With each contraction she would shout at me to push harder, to push for longer, to keep going! I tried and then I tried even more. But everything I had to give I had already given. I held my breath and pushed as hard as I possibly could. And that right there was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I was exhausted, mentally, physically, and felt completely drained of energy, will, power, blood. The last thing on this earth that I wanted to do, that I felt capable of doing, was to push.
How can I describe it? Like I had been sprinting for hours, my lungs and legs collapsing beneath me, but somehow having no choice but to keep going. Or lifting a 10kg weight with my arm, easy at first but near impossible after 100s of reps.
There was no autopilot. No involuntary muscle spasm to do the work for me. I had to push. Me. Even as I burned, bled and tore, I couldn’t give up. Just one more push, just one more push, until finally, just before the clock struck 12, almost 10 hours since my waters broke back at home in my bed, my baby boy was born.
In hindsight, there are a few things I find weird about what happened…
- Was I really only 1 cm dilated at 3 am? That means I progressed from 1 to 10 cm in less than 6 hours… or did that first midwife somehow get it wrong?
- How did they not realise that my labour was progressing quicker than “the statistical average” that they insisted on sticking to? The machine was reading my contractions the entire time! I know that it was showing very strong and frequent contractions. They had to have known what that meant, and yet they did not make it a priority to get me an epidural.
- Why did it take so long to get a labour room, and when I finally got into one, suddenly two were available…. And why was that first room not set up correctly?!
- Why did the anaesthetists take so long to come?! Since my waters broke, I was supposed to be induced and receive an epidural. But they took forever to show up, and a doctor never came.
- Was it really too late for an epidural? Since a spinal often slows down contractions, it may have been better to go for the epidural after all. Maybe baby would have been born sooner than with the spinal, or he would have come after the epidural took effect…