Friday, August 8, 2014

How I Learned to Embrace the Pain: On Marathons and Childbirth (2/2)

Hi!  This entry is the second part of a two part series.  To read the first part, go here.  In this entry I tell my birth story!  Disclaimer - since I'm talking about birth, some of this is a little graphic.  


My birth story

At least the labor would build up slowly, I thought.  I'd have time to get used to the worst pains of childbirth.

Well, it sure did build up slowly ... at least at first.  My labor was 32 hours long.  I noticed the first contractions at 3am on November 6th.  I had contractions all day and a few "bloody shows" - if you don't know what this means I'll spare you the details, but let's just say it's a sign that labor is likely to be imminent.  

My husband got home from work and we talked about whether or not we were ready to go to the hospital.  We decided to have dinner at Chipotle and if it still felt real, and not like false labor (although it wasn't as if I could tell the difference) then at the end of the meal we'd go to the hospital.  It definitely still hurt and maybe even a little more at the end of the meal.  It felt like light to moderate menstrual cramping, with some wrapping around my back, but I felt surely that the consistency and duration of the contractions signaled the onset of labor. So we left, chatting in the car in between uncomfortable contractions.

We got to the hospital at about 8pm.  I have lower back pain, and when I had to lay flat on the hospital bed for them to time my contractions and listen for our son’s heartbeat, it felt nearly unbearable in a way it hadn't felt yet.  The exam they give to see how far dilated you are was also very painful for me, although many women say that it is not painful.  I was dismayed to find out that I was barely dilated at all.  It had been 17 hours since I had first started feeling contractions and they were getting longer and stronger ... And now I find out this whole thing is likely false labor!  I was scared.  If this is false labor, what is actual labor like?

Despite my doubts and discomfort, the unanimous recommendation was for me to go home and continue laboring where I was comfortable.  And it was a sensible recommendation.  “But I came in when they said I should,” I complained to the nurse.  “My contractions were five minutes apart.  How am I supposed to know when to come in for real?”

“They’ll have to be a lot stronger,” he said.  “How much stronger?”  "So strong that you can’t talk through them.”  I breathed that statement in.  It occurs to me now that it's kind of funny my husband and I were hemming and hawing in Chipotle about whether to head in.  The contractions already felt stronger than any kind of menstrual cramps I had ever experienced, especially when I had been lying flat on my back on the exam table.  I didn’t know how I was going to get through the next stretch.  

I started to get anxious, telling myself things like, “I can’t do this,” wishing I could scribble  “EPIDURAL” at the top of my birth plan in bright permanent marker even though I very much wanted to try to avoid one unless medically necessary.  “How do women get through this?" I asked the nurse.  "Does childbirth without an epidural actually work?”

“You know, there’s a major difference I’ve seen in the women who come in here planning for natural childbirth. The ones who succeed in their plans have something the others don’t,” he said as if he had repeated it to many expectant moms before me.  “It’s their attitude.”  He said that moms who came in focused and with realistic expectations were more likely to succeed in their desire for a natural childbirth.  I thought back to that twenty mile run.  Maybe I can do this, I told myself.  It won't be easy , but I can do this.  It’s all about attitude.  At that moment, something changed in me.  I decided that I wasn't going to blow off all those breathing exercises I practiced in prenatal yoga, and I was going to practice my positive attitude.  Time to get serious.

If you are unfamiliar with the differences between a midwife’s care and an OBGYN’s care, it might seem unacceptable to you that they sent me home.  You might then not be surprised by the next part of the story.  Yet, I still believe that it was the right choice.  I had been prepared to be sent home.  I didn’t like it, but I agreed with it.  It seemed only logical that it might have been another 18 hours to two days before I was in full on labor, like the midwife and the nurse suggested was most likely.  The only problem is that some things don’t go as logic dictates.  Most of the time your life doesn’t resemble a sitcom, but sometimes it does - I'd say almost having the baby on the highway counts as "resembling a sitcom." So how'd I get to that point?

The hospital was far from our house, about an hour assuming no traffic.  We chose this hospital because of their positive outlook on natural, intervention-free childbirth.  We left from the hospital to come home that first time at about 10pm and got home at about 11pm.  The passenger seat of a car has never been so uncomfortable as it was on that drive, as my contractions continued to get longer and stronger.  

We had hired a doula, an experienced, non-medical support person who helps both at home and in the hospital with emotional, informational and physical needs throughout labor.  I had been texting with her all day before leaving for the hospital the first time to update her on the progress of what I thought was labor.  She was going to meet us at the hospital, but I texted her to say we didn't need her yet because they were sending me home.  She told me later that she had gone to bed that night at 7pm because she wanted to be well rested for what she thought would soon be go time, but she had responded immediately and encouragingly to every text I sent her.  Three hours after I got home from the hospital, at about 2am, she sensed from my texts that the labor was progressing and suggested that it was time for her to come over.  I agreed and felt relieved.

The doula, Meg, was absolutely amazing.  She showed me positions that would help manage the pain, and provided encouragement to keep my mind focused.  I labored over a yoga ball.  I labored in the shower.  I labored while slow dancing with my husband.  I labored lying down in bed.  I was constantly moving, constantly seeking a position to lessen the shock on my body from the contractions.  Our doula suggested changes gently, and helped my husband to have more confidence and calm in supporting me, also.  

The day before I was doing light household chores in between the early contractions.  I might have even made cookies.  A contractor even came by to do some small repairs while my husband was at work.  "Don't mind me," I had told him.  "I think I'm having contractions but I'm doing okay and my husband will be here soon." He felt bad leaving me alone and would have driven me to the hospital, but I knew I had time.  We laughed as I said, "I bet you've never done work in a home with a woman in labor!"  If I had felt that afternoon the way I was feeling in my late night pain management, the conversation would have been different, and there definitely would not have been any cookies.

During the last part of my labor at home, my husband and I were laying in bed.  He got a much needed 45 minute nap while I tried to rest between contractions.  "I can do this," I told myself.  "Breathe and relax.  Your body can do this.  You are with people you can trust.  Relax." Somehow, although I am not by nature a relaxed person, in these very important late night moments before my son's birthday I was able to relax my muscles in those minute intervals between contractions and give my body some rest.  I didn't consciously remember any of my running experiences, but I credit them as being instrumental in giving me the ability to focus and relax during pain.  And to believe in the finish line even though I couldn't see it.  My husband - a great sleeper - was snoozing through my moans and I was too focused to be jealous.

At 6am or so, I felt a contraction that was much stronger than the others.  I opened my eyes.  Our doula, who had been resting on the couch in the other room timing contractions and listening to my moans to judge their intensity, came in the room and gently asked me how I felt.  "Do you think it's time?" She asked. I didn't need to hem and haw at Chipotle this time before making my decision.  As I got up and tried to walk through a contraction I knew with even more confidence that it was go time.  This was I-can-barely-talk-through-this-pain time.  There was a lot of slow breathing and maybe a little bit of snapping on our way out the door, but I was trying very hard to keep my cool.

Finally we were on our way.  Sitcom time!  I labored lying down in the back seat of Meg's car as my husband drove our car.  I couldn't ride with him because there was an infant car seat in the back, and there was no way I was riding to the hospital in the passenger seat.  The ride was very long.  It took us an hour and a half.  It is probably when I felt at my worse.  After relying on constant movement at home to lessen the pain, in these long moments I had to be totally present in it.  I couldn't do anything about it because I couldn't move.

At one point Meg asked me if I could feel the baby's head.  I reached down and felt something flat and slimy further down in the birth canal than I wanted him to be.  "Do you feel like you want to push?" she asked me.  Before that day I had wondered what this meant, this "pushing" thing.  I wondered if it would be obvious when "pushing" time came.  But these latest contractions sent me gripping onto the back of the driver's seat.  I couldn't help but bend my body with each rolling contraction, more intense than the ones I was managing at home. I knew what I was feeling.  It was the urge to bear down.  

"I want to push," I said through gritted teeth between contractions.  And Meg said firmly and in all capital letters, "DON'T."

The pain during the contractions was so bad that I wanted to scream, but I believed that if I lost emotional control I would lose physical control, too.  And I'd have the baby on the highway.  We were so close.  Maybe 20 more minutes.  All I could do was pray and moan as we drove through rush hour traffic.  At one point, she joked that there was an ambulance next to us on the highway.  “Is it for me?” I asked in a hallucinatory daze, believing I was saved.  “No…” she said quietly, and I seriously considered asking her to pull that ambulance over.

When we got to the hospital, I was nine centimeters dilated.  If you don't know much about labor and delivery ... that's um ... A LOT.  That's like the baby's right about to pop out. So I wasn't imagining David's head so close to the outside world back there when Meg asked me if I could feel him. I thanked God that I wasn't going to be sent home this time.

They worked me through the entry procedures in triage as fast as they could and got me into my special birthing room - the one with the birthing tub so I could have a water birth if I wanted.  “You did good,” the doula said.  I looked at my husband, who seemed to me to be beaming with pride at how well I was managing the pain, but if you ask him would probably talk more about his dismay at seeing me in so much distress.  I looked at my midwife.  “You’re almost there,” she encouraged me.

David didn't come right away.  While they filled up the tub with gloriously warm water I swayed with my husband.  I wanted in that tub.  Hot baths had always been a pain reliever for me and I couldn't wait to get in.  And when I did it was heavenly.  The contractions even seemed bearable again.  I could push now that I was in the hospital, and I could rest between contractions.  After awhile I heard a pop and saw an opaque, sort of slimy substance gush out from me into the filled up tub and I gasped in awe.  "My water just broke!"

I didn't have David in the tub. The incline of the edge I rested on caused me to lean back too far, so I had to pull myself forward with my arms to relieve the back pain that almost felt worse than the contractions.  The strain in my arms kept me from relaxing.  I asked to get out of the tub, and the midwife suggested that I try a birthing stool, which is kind of like a toilet except it has an opening from which to reach in and grab the baby as it comes out.  Well, the birthing stool hurt and I was still putting too much strain on my arms gripping my husband to hold myself up, trying to get my weight off of my sore behind.  We tried a different birthing stool and it wasn't any better.  Those things seriously need some cushions.

So we moved to the bed.  This special room, which was reserved for moms having natural childbirth (they could still decide for an epidural, they just had to transfer out to a normal room to get one - but I was too far along for that option anyway) had a nice queen size bed to mimic a regular bedroom.  I laid down half on my back and half on my side.  The talented and beautiful midwife, Nicole, like my own personal angel, supported one leg and told my husband how to support the other.  As the pressure was relieved from my sore spots I sighed in gratitude and got back to the business of pushing with renewed vigor.  The midwife, doula and my husband were excellent coaches.

All in all, I was pushing for about two hours, and I was running out of energy.  The midwife probably said for five different contractions (or maybe a lot more, who knows, I wasn't about to be counting), "This time you need to give me everything you got.  More than what you have.  One hundred and ten percent.  Push as hard as you can." I pushed as hard as I could, and I started to sense that there was a problem.  The midwife was spending what I thought was just a little too much time listening for the baby.  It finally came to the point where she brought out the E word ... Episiotomy.  I had read all about those and I knew that I didn't want one.  The midwife asked me what I thought.  "Let me just try pushing one more time." I did, hoping it would work, but no baby.

I looked at my doula.  "Do you think I should do it?"  She didn't hesitate and nodded firmly: "Yes."  I looked at my husband. "What do you think?" "Yeah, I think so."  These quick, unwavering answers clued me in to the fact that this was probably a necessary intervention, although episiotomies often aren't.  Apparently I have strong tissues.  I went against my birth plan and told the midwife to go ahead.  

The procedure went smoothly, and even the recovery went very well.  I couldn't feel a thing.  There was too much going on down there to really care anyway.  Later I asked how often episiotomies were done within my midwife practice.  Once or twice a year, between all four midwives and all three hundred plus patients.  Glad I didn't ask that one before the procedure was done!!  My midwife wasn't happy to do this procedure on me but she did an amazing job and I cherish that she let me work on my own before bringing it up as an option.  She honored my wishes and executed her role with skill and compassion.

David was born at 11am on the dot.  He came out on the first push after the cut.  It was such a relief, like taking a gigantic ... okay, there may be fellow teachers reading this blog who might be promoted to principals and want to hire me some day, so I'll leave that statement unfinished.  “We have a son,” I repeated over and over again in that familiar hallucinatory state of complete exhaustion.  I couldn't believe it, and yet somehow at the same time I believed it deeply.  I was a mom, all in now. 

And, still wanting the big family I wanted before my pregnancy but not sure about this whole childbirth thing, I declared, “Let’s adopt the other three.”

Our doula snapped this picture right after David was born.

One breath at a time

I found this other little creative writing bit from my college days that made me grateful that I’ve lived out some of the experiences that I have admired in others:

That point in the workout
Just when you’re about
To go over the edge
Soreness manufactured,
Pain like stretching,
Energy, motivation to continue,
For hours, or forever,
You can do anything.

To finish the marathon, I had to embrace the pain.  I had to learn my body's abilities so that I could push the limits during the training process.  I've never met anyone who hasn't agreed that giving birth is kind of like running in a marathon, and it's fun to have had both of those life-changing experiences in my history.
Marathon Finishers!  My husband and I after the 2012 Chicago Marathon
“There’s a big difference between marathons and giving birth, though,” my husband has told me.  “You have control when you’re running a marathon.  You can stop whenever you want to.”  True.  That baby’s coming out no matter what. And there’s no guarantee that things won’t get ripped or torn or broken on the way out.

And yet, I didn't tell myself any of those things during the labor and delivery process.  “You made my body to do this,” I told God at my doula's prompting when I prayed on that long car ride at 8 centimeters dilated.  When I couldn't string together words to make sentences anymore I simply breathed out the words “trust” between every contraction and “mercy” at the contraction’s peak.  Breathing saved my mind and my body during the whole experience.  One breath at a time, one after another.  Each breath helped me to trust in God and the people He had given me to support me in my son's birth.

Now that my child is over half-way through his first year I am already remembering my birth experience as a gentle one, even though I know that in the moment it felt anything but.  I am grateful for that, and hope that I can keep the lesson learned of “one step at a time, one breath at a time” in my heart when I go through the regular frustrations and challenges that parenting entails.  Getting David to sleep better.  Teaching him how to eat even though every day for the past week most if not all of the food has ended up on the floor.  Being on the clock twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. 

I’m just starting this parenting thing and I can already see how it is much like a marathon, only longer, and I will live it out for the rest of my life instead of just over the course of one morning of running.  So in the moments when it seems impossible, when I don’t imagine how I can go on or how the situation can possibly get any better, I will think back to that twenty-mile run and I will tell myself, “I love being a mom.  I love my son.” 

And you know what?  It gets more true every day.

In conclusion, I want to share my lessons learned from running and childbirth:
  1. Encouragement + Positive Attitude = Power!!!
  2. Something that seems impossible now can be possible with persistence and trust.  One breath at a time, one step at a time, one day at a time.

Thank you for reading my story! :)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing, Molly! I wish more women realized that their bodies are meant to do such hard work but their attitudes aren't always helpful. And Meg is fantastic. Loved her for the births of my two kids!