Can Labor and Delivery be Pleasant?!
**I will preface this post by saying that I know no two labor and delivery experiences are alike. They are not always pleasant, and many (if not most) do not go as planned in some way. In fact, some end up downright traumatic for all involved. I realize that. There is no judgment here about the type of birth plan anyone chooses or has chosen for herself. This post is just about MY experience--how my labor and delivery went and how I felt about it.**
The day before I went into labor, my husband and I were hanging out at our community pool with some friends. I was feeling pretty good, my weekly stress tests and follow-ups were great, and I was scheduled to be induced four days from then, on my due date. (They don't usually like to let women with high risk pregnancies go past their due dates. My doctor definitely didn’t allow it, so we scheduled it for my due date since I wasn't dilating at all.) My parents were coming into town all the way from the east coast to help out and to watch our lovable, senior dog while we were in the hospital. Oddly, they were arriving a few days early just in case. It's a great thing they did, too, because I went into labor less than 12 hours after they arrived! If they hadn't arrived early, there wouldn't have been anyone to stay home with our pup. She’s a little higher maintenance these days, so I was really worried about making sure she was cared for. It’s funny how things work out that way. My baby must have known she had the green light to arrive because there had been no action until my parents arrived and then boom!
I knew from the beginning that I would have my baby in a hospital and that I would want an epidural. Again, I realize this is not for everyone, but it was definitely part of my plan. I did not want a C-section if I could avoid it. I wanted to experience a vaginal delivery if I could, but I would have 100% chosen a C-section if it came down to my baby's safe arrival. No question. I expected to go into the hospital the evening before I was scheduled to be induced, but my baby had a different plan, it turns out. At 4:30 in the morning, I woke up and felt a wetness on my PJs. My first thought was, um, did I just pee??? I was suspicious, so I did what any person would have done in that situation (probably): I did a sniff test. Definitely did not smell like pee! I was really calm for some reason, and I quietly woke my husband up and told him that I thought my water had just broken. It's possible I was slightly in shock, but I didn't feel like it at the time. I really just felt calm and tried to think about whether there was anything else I needed to pack for the hospital or leave for my dog. We called my parents at their hotel and waited for the triage nurse to call us back. We waited and waited but she never called back. In the meantime, my parents had arrived and we were just waiting, wondering whether we should go to the hospital or wait. After about an hour of waiting, my husband called the hospital again and they were surprised to hear the triage nurse hadn't called. It turns out she slept through the call. She came into my room later and apologized profusely. We headed to the hospital. I still wasn't 100% sure my water had broken at that point, but I WAS sure once I started gushing with every cough or laugh. I thought, yeah, that's not pee.
The drive to our hospital was only about 7 minutes, possibly shorter since it was so early in the morning on a Sunday. When we arrived, they took me straight to labor and delivery, rather than first to triage, because I was what they call "grossly ruptured." That means my water had seriously broken, rather than being some sort of slow trickle. From there, everything seemed like a bit of a blur. Since I had lost a lot of amniotic fluid and was barely dilated, they started me on Pitocin fairly immediately. Pitocin, if you don’t know, is a synthetic version of oxytocin, which is the hormone that makes your uterus contract during labor. It helps your labor progress when things have slowed down or just aren’t moving fast enough. There is concern for infection once the water breaks, so they don’t want that baby hanging out for too long in utero. They started me on a bit too high a dose and my girl's heart rate dipped too far, so they took me off for a little while and let me labor without the Pitocin for a while to see what would happen. After about half an hour, they started me back up on it, at a way lower dose, and increased it incrementally. That worked out just fine. My contractions started kind of slow and uncomfortable, but there wasn't a whole lot of pain. I would say it felt more like period cramps at that point. I stalled at around 4 cm and they had me sign a release for a C-section just in case. They were NOT trying to rush me into a C-section, but they wanted the release signed in case I did not advance and they needed to get my baby out. I’m grateful, because who wants to try and sign a stupid piece of paper in the middle of labor when stuff is hitting the fan?! At about 4.5 cm, I asked for the epidural. The contractions were manageable when they were a minute or so apart, but they started getting rather unbearable when they came more frequently. I do have a pretty high pain tolerance, but it was getting difficult to talk through the contractions. I could still handle them, but I asked for a stress ball if they had one. They tracked one down for me (I guess I was one of the first people to ask for one of those but they said it was a great idea!). I have had a couple tattoos removed, and that process is really painful, in my opinion. But the technician always told me to just focus on steady breathing and to squeeze the stress ball. Seriously, that advice helped me through my labor! Who would have thought that going through some tattoo removal sessions would one day help with labor?! I was in a good amount of pain by the time I received the epidural. I will honestly say that getting an epidural placed hurts. It really does. But it doesn't compare to contractions, so I didn't mind it at all. Almost as soon as I got the epidural, my contractions came SUPER hard--like literally off the chart hard--so I was very happy to have it. I felt nothing from the waist down, and it was humbling to be at the complete mercy of the nurses. I was like a flopping fish. From 4.5 cm, I advanced pretty rapidly. No need for the C-section after all. Before I knew it, it was time to push! I had labored for almost 16 hours at that point, but it felt like nothing by the time they prepared me to push.
I pushed for about 15-20 minutes. That was it! During the practice push, the nurse told me she already saw hair. So crazy! I will say that being pretty fit helped with the pushing, because pushing is exhausting. I was relieved I didn't have to push for too long. I do remember my nose getting really stuffy because I had to hold my breath and push. That was oddly uncomfortable, even though there were way bigger things happening at that moment. I just remember having a difficult time because my nose was so stuffy. So, after a few rounds of hard-ass pushing, I had my baby on my chest. Talk about surreal. MY BABY! Here's what I will say about epidurals (again, I realize they are not for everyone): I loved it. Pushing a baby out does not have to be painful. It wasn't for me. I had nothing to prove to anyone and I wanted this to be as pleasant an experience as possible. I had labored for several hours before receiving the epidural, so I didn't feel like I was rushing into getting it. The only weird thing was trying to figure out how to push when I couldn't feel my lower half. I really did have to focus my brain on telling my body where and how to push. And I did it!
All in all, my labor, from the time my water broke to the time I delivered my baby, was 16 hours, and those 16 hours FLEW by. We watched Hallmark movies the entire time. And all I could think about was eating. Since I didn't anticipate my water breaking in the middle of the night, I didn't eat particularly late. I had dinner at a normal hour and went to bed. And you can't eat during labor. They tell you not to eat before you get to the hospital just in case you need a C-section. I know plenty of people who break this rule, but I didn’t because it wasn’t even on my mind at 4:30 in the morning when I was preparing to go to the hospital. Once you’re there, all they can give you is broth. Of course they had to hunt veggie broth down for me because all they had was chicken and beef broth. Really??? Had they never even had a vegetarian deliver a baby there??? Anyhow, almost all I could think and talk about was the burrito I planned on having after I delivered my baby. You might think I'm being hyperbolic, but I am not; all I could talk about was my "tofusada" burrito from our FAVORITE place, Pancheros. The nurse actually wrote that as one of my "goals" on the dry erase board in my room. "Healthy baby, healthy mama, and Pancheros by 10pm.” Until I got my Pancheros, all I'd had was that one bowl of broth and cranberry juice and sprite cocktails.
I can confidently say that I had a wonderful labor and delivery, and even my postpartum recovery was great. I’m so, so lucky. I would wish a labor and delivery like this on everyone. However, my hospital has a LOOOONG way to go with providing vegan food to their patients. They were clearly scrambling. I'm grateful they came up with something, but I was sad to see that they really had no idea what to do. I'm hopeful that there will be more people asking for vegan food there in the future so they can step up their game. :) At least I didn't have to explain what vegan was (with the exception of the honey wheat English muffin they brought me in the morning; however, in fairness to the hospital, not everyone knows that honey isn't vegan AND some vegans choose to eat honey).
Next week, I'll write about the first few weeks at home with a newborn! One thing I can say is they certainly aren't easy. But they are worth it.