The Epidural that Couldn’t
So it was 2 o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, and I felt pretty low. Castor oil hadn’t seemed to induce me, and I wished I had just gone ahead with the C-section the day before. At least then the waiting and wondering would be over.
I sat with my feet on my ottoman and read. I started having more frequent, slightly painful contractions. Brandt woke up mid-nap; I rocked him back to sleep, and contractions continued consistently. By the time I settled Brandt and returned downstairs, I thought, “I should probably start timing these.” I sat down to keep reading, now with my phone as timepiece. After a few minutes, I realized I was having difficulty A) keeping track of contraction times by memory and B) focusing enough during contractions to read. So I set my book aside and got pen and paper to record contractions.
And so on. When this pattern continued until a little after 3, I decided to call my doctor’s office. “Um, yeah,” said a nurse, “you’re going to the hospital.”
I told Aaron–who was with my dad working in the garage (yeah, we started a basement renovation the week of my due date, too)–that it was time to go. Flustered, he dropped what he was doing, dashed into the house, and grabbed the suitcase. Meanwhile, I readied to go at an ambling pace. I simply felt content to finally be in labor. I figured it would probably be long, so I didn’t feel the need to rush.
We arrived at the hospital at about 4:00 p.m. (We had to detour around a minor accident, which unnerved Aaron. I told him I wasn’t going to have the baby in the car.) In triage, a nurse checked my dilatation. 4.5cm. I had hoped for more progress than half a centimeter! My doctor (a different one from the day before; I see a practice with 5 doctors and love them all) did think I was in labor, but he suggested we give it another hour before admitting me. If I was admitted and then labor didn’t progress, I’d have to have a C-section after all, so we wanted to be sure this was the real deal.
Aaron and I paced the halls of labor and delivery for an hour. It got harder and harder to walk through the contractions. At 5:30, we returned to the triage room to check my progress. 5 cm. Only another half-centimeter, but my doctor thought it was time to admit me. We moved to a labor-and-delivery room.
At that point, the doctor asked if I wanted an epidural. I planned to have one, but I didn’t want to cause my labor to stall, so I decided to wait. My contractions were painful, but I could still breathe through them. I continued to labor for another two hours, and then my doctor came to check on me again. When he determined that my dilatation had only minimally progressed, he suggested breaking my water to speed things along. I was hesitant (my mom had her water broken with me and then had an awful labor), so I asked the doctor a few questions.
“If you were my sister,” he said, “I’d tell you to break your water.”
“Okay,” I replied. “Let’s do it.”
“Do you want the epidural now? It will get much more intense after this.”
“Yes, I’ll take the epidural!”
After my water was broken, contractions did indeed get much more intense. I moved to a birthing ball to try to get some relief. The nurse brought news that two other patients were waiting for epidurals before me, so it would be a while before the anesthesiologist could come. As the pain escalated, Aaron helped me to try different breathing and massage techniques to get through each contraction.
Finally, about an hour after my water had been broken, the anesthesiologist arrived. I sat on the edge of the bed to have my back prepped and the needle placed. I expected it to go quickly, based on my experience with the spinal I received for Brandt’s emergency C-section. Wrong. First, the anesthesiologist couldn’t get the needle in the right spot. Then, once the needle was inserted, the catheter wouldn’t go in. After trying again and again, he decided he had to move to a new spot.
“Relax,” he and the nurse told me. “Try to hold still.”
Right. That’s easy to do when you’re forced to sit in one uncomfortable position while your uterus tries to forcefully squeeze out a baby.
At last, the epidural was in. “How long until I feel relief?” I asked, as I laid back in the bed. I was told it would take up to 30 minutes, but that each contraction should start to feel less painful. The next contraction hit–worse than any yet. The next one–even worse. “Um,” I said, “it’s not getting any better. Every contraction hurts more.”
“Huh. Let me check you,” said the nurse. “Oh! You’re at a 9!” And she immediately started scurrying around to get supplies ready for delivery. “Don’t push yet!” she said. “Try to breathe through these contractions!”
By then, the pain was so intense I could barely focus. Everything in me wanted to push, but I tried to fight the impulse. When I asked if I would feel any effect from the epidural at all, the nurse said she thought my labor was moving too fast for the epidural to catch up. She checked me again.
“9 and a half! Just breathe through a few more!”
By then, my doctor was in the room, and everything was set for delivery. I made it to 10 cm. Aaron held one of my legs, the nurse held the other, and the doctor instructed me to hold my breath and push through each contraction. It felt so much better to finally have freedom to push! After only four contractions (about 20 minutes all told), my little girl was born at 10:10 p.m.
“She’s a big girl!” the doctor exclaimed. “Does she have a name?”
Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn Mae.
I got to hold her for a few minutes, and then the nurse took her for vitals. 9 lbs 2 oz, 21 inches long. During the afterbirth process (I had a partial 3rd-degree tear), I admired my girl across the room–her full head of light brown hair, her long, slender toes and fingers.
“You’re a rockstar,” my doctor said. “You did great, especially with such a big baby and with this essentially being your first time to give birth.”
As a friend commented later, I had nearly every experience possible in one delivery. A C-section turned into VBAC. Taking castor oil. An epidural, but in essence a natural birth. (By the way, the epidural never did have any effect beyond a slight tingling in one leg. I’m glad to know I can endure a natural delivery, but if there’s a next time, I’ll ask for an epidural sooner!) I’m so grateful to God for the whole saga–for courage to back out of the C-section, for a husband and friends who encouraged me as I waited for labor to progress, and most of all for the safe delivery of our sweet, healthy Gwenny. Our family of four makes my heart so happy.