I’ve avoided recounting this story in my head from start to finish as best I could for the past two years. But as my impending due date moves closer and closer, thinking about my first and only experience giving birth seems to be unavoidable. Fair warning, this is not a beautiful birth story. I had flashbacks and woke up in complete hysterics for months after bringing Porter into this world.
A little background – Porter was measuring large, particularly his head, and large babies run in my family (birth weight is genetic I hear) so I wasn’t exactly confident I wouldn’t need a c-section. Actually, I was pretty certain I would end up with one – call it mother’s intuition? My husband is 6’5” and I’m not exactly a small human. But your birth canal is only so big right? How can you fit a giant head through there? I was told that some women are able to vaginally deliver twelve pound babies and that it really just depends on your genes and the shape of your birth canal. Since my mother had two c-sections because of her larger than average babies, why would I be any different?
Due to his size, I was given the option to induce at 39.5 weeks. I showered, blow dried my hair, curled it, had my nails done, brought the hospital bag – I was ready to have Porter. I got to the hospital for my induction, and the nurses were shocked at how little I was dilated, just two centimeters and my cervix was very hard – basically showing no signs of being ready to give birth. They cautioned me against doing the induction, saying that it would almost certainly be an extremely long labor and end in a c-section because Pitocin can only do so much. They told me that if your body and the baby aren’t ready, Pitocin cannot do the job on its own. I agonized over this decision because my gut was telling me that if I wait another week, he’s going to be too large for me to deliver. Ultimately, I chose to wait it out for the sake of Porter. If he wasn’t ready, I certainly wasn’t going to evict him.
Fast forward into week 41. I was doing the dishes in the morning and felt what could have been amniotic fluid running down my leg. It wasn’t a big gush of my “water breaking,” but I learned in my birthing class that even just a leak means you have 24 hours or so before being susceptible to infection. I told Ryan I think my water might be leaking, but maybe I’m just peeing on myself. I really wasn’t sure. For anyone reading this that hasn’t had a baby, that actually happens. When you’re THAT pregnant, you can literally pee on yourself and not really know. I called labor and delivery and they advised me to come in so they can check the fluid.
We headed to the hospital, but this time, we didn’t bring the hospital bags. I showered, but I didn’t wash my hair. I really thought it was probably just pee and that we were just playing it safe by going in. When we pulled into the parking structure, I joked, “what if we literally have our baby today.”
The nurses even thought it was probably just pee. Much to everyone’s surprise, the test proved that it was in fact, amniotic fluid. I was admitted.
Once I was hooked up to the monitor and settled in, my parents arrived and Ryan went home to grab our hospital bags. The nurses said I was actually starting to contract on my own. I thought it was funny because they didn’t really hurt. For the first time in my whole pregnancy, I thought maybe I was going to have an easier time than I’d thought. How comical in retrospect.
I wasn’t progressing on my own, and since my water had been leaking, there was a time limit on how long they would let me labor on my own because of the risk of infection. They advised me to take Pitocin, so I did and the contractions got longer, more frequent and much more intense. Ryan returned, my parents went into the waiting room (per my request) and I asked for an epidural. I think I was around five centimeters. My timeframe was pretty messed up at this point in terms of how long I had been there. I do remember that AN HOUR LATER, the anesthesiologist arrived to give me my epidural. Folks, learn from my mistake. If you plan on having epidural, request it before you need it. Also, Pitocin really does make your contractions more painful.
Now it was just a waiting game. I was in significantly less pain, although not numb like I thought I would feel. I still felt the contractions, but they were more bearable. They told me to try and rest.
That night I attempted to try and take naps, but it just wasn’t possible with the contractions and the nurses constantly checking on me and often forcing me to change positions. To add to my discomfort, the belly strap that monitors the fetal heartbeat I found to be extremely annoying. It hurt and the strap was itchy. My dilation was checked a handful of times. I wasn’t progressing very quickly. Then suddenly, I was at nine centimeters and it was almost time to push. At this point, I hadn’t even met the doctor that was on call yet. I asked the nurses to get her so I could at least meet her. Is that unreasonable? I had asked to meet her hours before, but she never came in. She finally showed up and seemed extremely annoyed that I had bothered her. I smiled and said it was nice to meet you and she sort of forced more of a smirk than a smile and said, “hi, you’re in good hands.” That’s about it. Then she left.
Finally, after 34 hours of hard labor, it was time to push. I started crying and before you judge, I had been up for two days at this point, not to mention I had barely slept in a week from the discomfort of being 41 weeks pregnant. I cried because I was both relieved and scared.
Pushing felt surprisingly good at first…like a relief. Even though I had an epidural, I could still feel the pushing. I pushed for two hours, but Porter just wouldn’t come down. He wasn’t even down far enough for them to pull him out using a vacuum. I asked if I’m doing something wrong. I started feeling like a failure. Why won’t he come down? “Keep pushing,” the nurses said. “I am pushing!” I yelled. Straight out of a movie. Why are you telling me to push when I’m clearly in the midst of a push? I had been pushing with all my ability for two hours with a splitting headache and no sleep. I mean seriously please shut up. (Apparently I get irritable I get after this long of shear misery).
(I found out later he was also not in the ideal position, but yes, his 100 percentile head just wasn’t going to fit through my birth canal).
Then suddenly, his heart rate dropped and continued to drop to a dangerous level. “Bethany, we’re going to need to prep you for an emergency c-section because the baby is in distress.” I fucking knew it. I looked at Ryan and literally said those very words. I knew this was going to happen.
This is where things start getting fuzzy. While they were prepping the OR, I started experiencing an insane amount of sharp pains in my lower back. Despite my epidural, I was in so much pain I can’t even put it into words. I literally started yelling. I’ve never been in so much pain to where all I could do was yell. I remember thinking that I just couldn’t continue in this kind of pain and I wanted to be knocked out. The nurse stuck her hand up my lady parts and was able to move Porter off my sciatic nerve.
I believe the next thing that happened was the resident anesthesiologist increased the nerve block on my epidural. The time came and I was wheeled into the OR.
My memory of all of this is so foggy and I don’t know if it was from the lack of sleep, or my mind’s way of blocking out bad memories. I remember being moved onto the operating table and being afraid they were going to drop me. After all, I had gained 55 lbs during my pregnancy and I felt like a whale.
There seemed to be a sea of people in the room. I remember seeing a large group of Asian people staring at me. I later found out that it was a group of medical students from China observing my surgery. This ended up being a big problem.
I remember feeling claustrophobic with the curtain just above my neck. I don’t get squeamish about blood, so I would have been more comfortable seeing them cut me open than having a curtain that close to my face blocking my view of everything.
Then I remember feeling pain. I don’t know when it was in the procedure, but it was towards the beginning. The resident anesthesiologist, Jennifer, gave me something, but instead of blocking the pain, I felt more dazed and out of it. The attending anesthesiologist was MIA. I continued to feel pain, Jennifer was gone and it took Ryan a while to find her. She was busy over with the students from China, sharing all of her knowledge with them, ignoring her patient. She came back and said “sweetie, you are just feeling pressure.” “No, I’m feeling sharp pains,” I said. She gave me more of a drug that is similar to valium I just can’t remember the name. This continued throughout the entire procedure and it became harder and harder for me to talk. By the time Porter was born, I was barely lucid. If hearing him cry for the first time wasn’t such a momentous moment of my life, I likely wouldn’t remember it. They handed him to me not knowing how much I had been drugged. Again, Jennifer was gone. I could barely hold up my arms. “I’m going to drop him!” I mumbled to Ryan as best I could. I couldn’t speak very well at this point because of the drugs Jennifer kept giving me. Ryan grabbed him and asked the pediatric nurse to take him because I couldn’t hold him. She obviously had no idea what was going on because she said in a rude tone “I thought she wanted skin to skin. Fine, I’ll take him.” Ryan went with Porter and I was left there alone because Jennifer was still off talking to the group of students. I remember tears starting to flow out, but I was too drugged to start full on crying. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I continued to feel excruciatingly sharp pains while also smelling my burning skin as they cauterized me. And that’s when I started passing out, then waking up, then passing out again, on and on. I started just praying that this hell would be over soon. I’m literally crying as I write this. It was such a horrible experience.
The surgery was over, the sharp pains stopped, I started regaining lucidity. I was in shock though. My focus and attention wasn’t on what had just happened to me, it was on getting to my baby and husband. I was reunited in the recovery room and immediately shifted gears into taking care of my boy. Nursing became my new focus and I blocked out everything else. My parents and Ryan’s parents came to see him. He was the focus, not me.
It wasn’t until the next day, in my more permanent recovery room, that my mom started asking me questions about my procedure. The more she asked, the more I was flooded with memories. I started sharing and it all just spilled out. I started crying, she started crying. The nurse, Debbie, overheard and asked if she had my permission to report this to her superior because as Debbie put it, “this is not right.” I agreed. I guess it went up the chain and suddenly the head of the UC Davis department of anesthesia was at my bedside, asking me to recount everything that happened. I told her, she started tearing up. She apologized and assured me that was not the way things should have gone and that she would be handling the situation with Jennifer.
I felt relieved to hear that my experience was unusually horrific because I had of course blamed myself. I thought perhaps I was just a major pansy, but I guess you’re not supposed to feel that kind of pain during your procedure and if you are, apparently the protocol is to put the patient out completely, not to continue to give them drugs that alter their state of mind. And apparently the anesthesiologist isn’t supposed to argue with you when you say you’re in pain, and they’re not supposed to leave your side. Also, the attending anesthesiologist is supposed to be present.
Just to add to my negative experience, I was told by the on-call resident anesthesiologist (not Jennifer) that I need to stop taking Norco and take only Ibuprofen just one day after my surgery. I was in tons of pain and the only drug that worked was Norco, so I couldn’t understand why he was urging me to stop taking Norco so soon. I insisted he write me a prescription so I could continue to take it at home until my pain levels decreased and even then, he only wrote me enough for two additional days. I found out later that my chart had indicated I was “medically indigent,” as in uninsured, which wasn’t true. Nurse Debbie told us that medically indigent patients are often treated differently in relation to pain meds because it’s common for them to have some sort of addiction problem (this is a whole separate issue in my opinion). Debbie knew the hell I was in and helped me discharge a day early. She was an angel in my hellish fire pit of a birth experience.
The most important part of this story is that Porter came out healthy and thriving. He nursed like a champ, ate often and is the greatest joy and blessing of my life. My experience is noted all over my chart and I’ve been assure this WILL NOT happen again. I have a new OB (not that my OB was even the issue) but I love her and she is sympathetic to my story and has even spoken to the attending anesthesiologist that was on staff the day of Porter’s birth. She actually remembers my case because she was in the OR for a short time, but had to leave before the surgery started. She later heard about what had gone on and was horrified. She has agreed to schedule a meeting with me and other members of the anesthesia team to go over my anesthesia plan. As one can imagine, I have some anxiety about doing all of this again in March.
Due to my experience, I’ve made the decision to go with a scheduled c-section. Baby number two is already measuring large and I have no intention of reliving my birth experience for a second time. A scheduled c-section gives me more control and thus eases my anxiety slightly, so let’s all just support each other rather than criticize. Sound good? xo
Photo cred: Ashlee Gadd Photography