The last time I suffered food poisoning was in Bangkok four years ago. Crappy street food with a crappy ex boyfriend – I remember crying in the hospital and vomiting nothing because there was nothing left to vomit. But then, black as it was, horrendous as it was, it was over in precisely 24 hours.
So when both Ralph and I got hit last Saturday night with something that was clearly not just indigestion, I figured we would just cancel our plans for the next day, call in reinforcements, and ride it out. 72 hours later, my stomach pains were worse, coming every ten minutes, making sleep very difficult.
“So this is what having a protracted labour is like,” I muttered to myself.
It’s not just food poisoning which makes me think about labour and delivery these days. I think about it at least once every other day – maybe every day. I can’t think about having another baby without thinking about this part too.
About two weeks ago, I had a dream that my lovely gynae was sending me in for an induction and I was pleading “No, no, not again, I didn’t like it at all the last time.” And then I woke up and lay in bed for ten minutes, horrified and relieved, remembering what it was like the last time, and also not remembering. Because it’s true what they say, you don’t remember pain. You remember that you felt it, you remember some of the thoughts that went through your head, but the pain itself is not something that you can grasp or recollect in any meaningful way, once it is gone. It exists only in that very moment as it roars itself into you. And when that roaring happens, only sharp fragments of thought make it through your brain. I remember a few of them:
“I don’t want my sister to go through this.”
“Someone said blinding pain. That’s exactly it.”
“My husband is yawning. Are you kidding me.”
“This is like vomiting in the opposite direction.”
So I only have the abridged version of Michael’s birth story, as I remember it.
My induction process started around half past midnight, at Mount Alvernia Hospital. The first cervix softening pill got inserted without me feeling a thing. “Wow, you’re good,” I complimented the nurse who was attending to me. She smiled and said thanks, and then told me that my cervix was essentially no where near ready. It wasn’t even tilting in the right direction yet, or something. Great. I settled myself down for a long labour. She’d earlier estimated I would give birth later in the afternoon, since this was my first birth. I would be given a second pill in four hours, around 4.30am, and then after that I would be put on the oxytocin drip to induce contractions.
Four hours later, the nurse came by again to insert the second pill. I am convinced that she took the opportunity to perform some kind of sneaky manoeuvre like sweeping my membranes or something, because instead of not feeling a thing this time, I felt like she’d grabbed hold of my cervix.
After she left, the pain didn’t, and I continued to feel bruised and achey for the next half hour. The pains got steadily worse and started to spread to my back, so I got up and started to pace and whimper. Of course I didn’t think I was in labour or anything, because it didn’t feel at all like contractions. After another 15 minutes of this, I started to notice that the “cramps” were coming and going in waves. That’s when I started to watch the clock.
My contractions were 1 and a half minutes apart. So I’d gone from absolutely zero labour to I AM IN LABOUR NOW, GUYS pretty much immediately, and it was totally knocking me sideways.
After that, everything became a blur. It all happened within a few hours. I remember asking Ralph to get the nurses. I said “Epidural”. I know I was hitting about a 9 out of 10, on pain level. A nurse came in to hook me up to the monitor, saying “But you have no contractions, we just checked you”.
I think it was only when my water broke and I was squirting amniotic fluid everywhere and thrashing about like a fish out of water that the nurses started taking me seriously. I got checked, and was told by a beaming nurse, “Congratulations, you are at 4 centimeters.”
I was given a gas mask to help me through the contractions, and I remember breathing into it like a scuba diver reunited with his gas supply and feeling lightheaded and not very much better.
By the time my (excellent) epidural arrived, I believe I was almost fully dilated. I can only guess, because nobody bothered to check me right before I was given the epidural. The anesthesiologist muttered to the nurse, “She’s already pushing.” I remember a nurse asking me why I was pushing, and “You’re not ready to push”. Which sounded like gibberish to me because whatever was happening to me was completely involuntary anyway.
Twenty minutes after the epidural was administered, my gynae sailed into the room like an angel, a picture of calm and confidence, checked me, and said “You’re ready to go.”
One hour of pushing and a vacuum later, it was over. Michael slithered out at precisely 9am, sunny side up, probably just as shocked as I was.
Resembling survivors from a shipwreck.
They say you forget the pain, once your baby arrives. That’s partially true. For the next few hours after delivery, I felt clear headed and in good humour, as if I’d just had a brisk swim in cold water. I was able to joke with my gynae who was stitching between my legs. But after the first rush of endorphins had faded, I was left with crashing hormones and some awful combination of shock, trauma and postpartum anxiety. For the whole first night, my eyes couldn’t close, and I kept seeing myself back in the delivery ward, reliving the experience over and over. I felt badly injured and irreversibly damaged, and scared. It took me a few days to really put my labour and delivery behind me and move on.
I hated giving birth. It was awful. But I think a big part of why I hated it could have been due to my body’s response to the induction. It reacted intensely and suddenly (before oxytocin was even introduced), and there were no warm up contractions easing me into active labour. It also meant that it caught all of us by surprise and I got my epidural just in time to push, which is pretty ridiculous considering I was in the hospital the whole time. Michael’s sunny side up position probably didn’t help matters either – painful back labour, more tearing on the way out, etc. Not to mention, he was huge, with a huge head. Sigh.
After this experience, my attitude towards epidurals has totally changed. Mine happened to be especially fantastic – it went in without me even noticing (although, you could have pulled my fingernails out with pliers at that point and I may not have noticed), it was just the right dosage to kill the edge of the pain without dulling the sensation of the contractions, and afterward, I could walk within a few hours. Most importantly, it helped me get the job done. I got twenty precious minutes of relative calm before the pushing stage, without the distraction of pain, which allowed me to catch my breath, regroup, and focus.
So, my birth plan for future births? Probably – nothing, essentially, except to expect anything and everything. And pray. I’ve found that what I used to be obsessed about (epidural or no epidural) has become a non issue for me. I currently couldn’t give two hoots if I had to use an epidural again or not. It just isn’t the point. What I do care about is getting out of delivery with a healthy baby and my own mental and physical health as intact as possible. Everything else is secondary, and just a means to the end.