~ This is a continuation of Part 1 ~
It was the corner room. It was the same room used during our tour of the hospital. It was stale and bland, as expected. It was nothing special, even though it was about to become center stage for the most beautiful show of life: the birth of our son.
It seemed so close, so attainable, when I slipped into my gown.
It got so real, so quickly, as I crawled into the bed.
We’re going to meet our baby soon.
That is what I thought.
The doctor on duty was delivering babies left and right, through emergency surgeries and vaginal births, welcoming lots of girls, some boys, and even twins. Though I was advised to check in to the hospital by 5 pm, considering all the blessings born around that time, I quickly became low priority. I had to wait.
I had a second dinner. My butt was already numb from the rigid bed. My nerves were palpable. Each hour that passed stacked my anxiety against me–the anxiety of the unknown. Could I do this? Could I be induced and deliver a healthy baby? Could I physically and mentally do this? Everyone around me seemed positive.
But my view of the road ahead was dark.
It wasn’t until 9 pm that the doctor was no longer a phantom. Four hours after I arrived, she finally made her appearance in my room. She looked alert and accomplished, which was refreshing considering the whirlwind of births she’d tackled over the past 4+ hours. I had never met her before that moment, but I was told by my nurse, Amy–whom I adored–that: if you’re going to be induced, she’s the one you want for the first step.
According to Amy, she had never witnessed a patient that did not go into labor on her own after this doctor placed the cervidil.
“It’s kind of like a tampon that helps continue to ripen the cervix and get things soft,” she explained. “My hope is that after she makes the insertion, your contractions will pick up naturally by morning, and there will be no need for pitocin.”
Amy was badass. Her words and her positivity fueled me. She was totally in my corner, and she was all for sticking to my birth plan as much as possible, despite the need for induction. Hearing there was a good chance I could skip pitocin was music to my ears. I needed to hear that. It gave me hope.
After Dr. V inserted the cervidil, it was time to wait…and to sleep. Amy offered me sleeping pills, which I quickly declined, even though she assured me they were safe to take.
“You really need to rest tonight,” she said, adding a blanket over my legs. “Tomorrow is a big day.”
We had set goals. They were written in red on the dry-erase board at the front of my room. Amy’s shift would end Friday evening, so the goal was to have our son before she left. She wanted to be there, and I wanted her there. She was like my superpower, my kickass cheerleader, and I didn’t want to do it without her.
Though she insisted, I still refused the sleep aids. I had never taken any before, so I didn’t feel like introducing anything new into my body that night. My hope was that I would be fine without it, but as Amy dimmed the lights, as I watched my husband curl up on the couch and my mom threw together a pathetic makeshift “bed” on the floor between us, once again, though I tried to focus my thoughts on meeting my son for the first time, I could not shake the feeling that the night ahead would be rough and the journey ahead looked dark.
My eyes did not stay shut for more than a minute the entire night. My mom did not sleep either. I shifted left…I shifted right…each time one side went numb, I shifted to the other. All night, I listened to the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor. All night, I adjusted and readjusted the straps across my belly each time I moved. All night, I watched the hands of the clock move by the light of the machine monitoring my contractions.
How did women sleep with that machine on, with its constant beeping and dispersing the storybook of my body’s activity? I obsessed over the slightest dip or rise in baby’s heartbeat; I obsessed over a change in volume or pace of the beeping. For hours, I stared at that machine, and my blood pressure became erratic as my nerves escalated while watching. How could I sleep?
“Alyssa, you need to sleep,” my mom said as she appeared in the glow of the machine light. “You can’t keep looking at this.”
“I can’t help it,” I said, trying to take deep breaths to calm myself. She began rubbing my forehead, the way she did when I was her baby girl, the way I soon would when he was in my arms.
“Do you want me to see if I can turn the sound off? Would that help?” she asked, checking over the machine. She clicked something, and it went silent. “Is that better?”
I panicked a little. “I don’t know…” I didn’t know if I could do it. I was obsessed, but in looking at my sheets, I was doing just fine. Baby was fine. My nerves were the only thing out of control, so she was right: I needed the quiet.
But still…I did not sleep. I watched the shadows under the door as nurses shuffled from room to room, witnessing and having a hand in so many births. The Notebook had already played three times over in the night, and I had maybe paid attention for two full scenes.
By 5 am, I started to feel it: I started to feel “crampy,” as Amy said I would. I was only 2 cm dilated when they last checked, so I prayed that at the very least, as I sat there, all night, watching the tick, tock, tick, tock, that maybe, hopefully, things were moving…progressing…changing.
“How are you feeling?” my mom said, as she rose from the hard floor.
“Crampy…” I said, as she wrapped a blanket around her arms and came to take a look at the sheet that piled up in the night.
“It looks like you’re contracting,” she said.
I could feel it. I was definitely uncomfortable. Something was happening, and I welcomed it. After the most mentally painful night of my life, I was hopeful that the physical pain was coming because I knew it meant I was closer to meeting my baby.
The door opened.
“How did you sleep?” said Amy, placing a few items on the table next to the sink. She was bright-eyed and upbeat, as usual.
“Not at all…” I said, a little ashamed to admit. I was terrified of how a sleepless night would affect me, in labor, if I went into labor that day. I wondered what it would take to get through this, and did I have it? But when Amy didn’t respond, didn’t look me in the eyes, I knew…
It was going to take a superwoman.
Thank God they let me eat breakfast. I needed all the energy I could get. I chose eggs, scrambled, and they were surprisingly good. After breakfast, I saw I had a new doctor: Dr. M. I had met him twice during my prenatal care, and I liked him. He came in to remove the cervidil and do a cervical check to see how much progress I’d made overnight.
“This may be uncomfortable,” he said, and I took a deep breath.
I writhed and moaned in overwhelming pain. It was as if his hand was covered in shards of glass. My knuckles went white as I clenched the bars on each side of my bed, and my head flew back as I churned, tears pouring down my cheeks. My mom and Stuart looked down at me, terrified.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said Dr. M. “Almost done.”
And once he was finished, my whole body melted, and I exhaled obnoxiously in relief, as if I had just survived an exorcism.
“About 3, 4 cm dilated,” he said. “But everything is soft. So that’s good.”
I could barely look at him, as if he was the devil. Why did that hurt so much? He said usually it doesn’t, but some are just more sensitive as they thin out. I was an unlucky one, I guess. I never wanted to experience that again, so I made sure to reiterate that I wanted minimal interventions, as stated in my birth plan. He and Amy nodded.
I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed that I was only at a 3, maybe 4. But Amy and my doctor kept me positive.
“Hey, you’re almost fully effaced: that’s good,” she said. “And here’s the other good news: you’re contracting, all on your own. Right now, I don’t see any need for pitocin. This is good. This is what we wanted, so now, it’s all about getting through the contractions today, one by one. Feel free to walk the halls or do what you need to do. You won’t need to be hooked up to anything right now, so take advantage and move around during labor as much as you want. I’m here if you need me; I’ll be checking in all day.”
I was thrilled. No pitocin. It gave me a tiny burst of energy, which I desperately needed. It fueled me for the morning. I tried not to think about how much energy I’d wasted overnight, how much I’d wasted writhing in pain just then. It was what it was, and there was nothing I could do about it. The entire day was ahead of us.
It was just me against my body now.
Just me against the contractions.
“Hold on,” I said, letting go of Stuart’s hand, stopping in front of the window to grip the ledge. The sun felt warm on my face through the glass as I rode the wave of pain that took over my entire body. “Uffda…”
“How ya doing?” he asked, rubbing my back.
I was hungry, starving actually. I was trying not to let that ruin me. I was impressed at how well I was doing. It was noon; I’d been laboring since the early morning; and I genuinely felt like I was kicking ass. I was doing this thing, and I kept my eyes on the precious prize: our son, coming into the world. I was going all the way.
“Pretty good,” I said. “Let’s keep going.”
“You’re doing so good, babe,” he said, taking my hand again as we turned down the hall to pass the check-in desk where I grinned at the nurses for the billionth time, shuffling past, the rubber pads on my socks grazing the floor as I dragged my tired feet along.
I was in control, but I was in pain. Stuart saw it; they saw it; I felt it. But I was taking it head on, one by one, and walking through each contraction. Sometimes I had to stop, to ride it out. Sometimes I squeezed Stuart’s hand a little harder or gripped his shirt. But I was handling it.
When we got back to my room once again, my mom took over for Stuart. They took shifts shuffling the halls with me.
After a few rounds, my mom and I stopped down the same hall at the same window. This was a big one. I closed my eyes and bent forward, leaning against the window ledge with all my weight. This was a big one. I think my toes went numb. At the highest height, I pursed my lips and closed my eyes tighter, wincing, breathing in deeply and holding the air until I thought I might burst. Then it began to fall; I was on my way down…
The air released from my lungs, as the doors opened at the end of the hall. I turned my head, opening my eyes to see, still leaning against the ledge. My doctor and a nurse in their powder blue scrubs were walking in my direction.
“How’s it going?” Dr. M. said with a smile as it took half my energy to straighten my spine and stand up again.
“It’s going,” I said with the little breath I had left.
“Good; it’s good to see you on your feet…that’s good,” he said, and they continued on their way.
As soon as they turned the corner, I felt another contraction coming on. I felt my stomach rapidly grow hard, and I slumped back over–this time, all the way over, until my forehead was resting on the fist I made with my hands on the ledge. I could barely hear my mom telling me to breathe through it in my ear. It was getting intense. The breaks between contractions were clearly getting shorter and shorter. My energy level was clearly declining. I was holding on, though. I was doing it.
“Alyssa, you are doing amazing,” she said to me. “I am so impressed.”
She, like me, didn’t think I could make it this long. She was all for me getting an epidural, if I wanted it, but she respected that my plan was to go without, if I could, though I didn’t rule it out. At that moment, I hadn’t thought about an epidural once. I didn’t feel like I needed to. I was too busy fighting hunger and fighting contractions. I was impressed with myself too, and it was good to hear out loud that I was doing amazing. Somehow, someway, I’d found her.
I’d found my inner superwoman.
My stomach was eating itself. I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Give me the trail mix,” I said to Stuart.
When the nurses left the room, I was sneaking food, mostly nuts and bits of dark chocolate. I had to. I couldn’t take it anymore. The hunger was unbearable. I hadn’t slept for about 36 hours. I hadn’t eaten for about 7. I needed food. I needed energy. I had also reached the point where I was faced with a big decision.
My water was still intact.
We had hoped it would break on its own as I labored all day, but it did not. I had felt a gush or two, but when they checked, it was likely just pieces of my mucus plug. But they were concerned about meconium; after all, the next day I would be exactly 42 weeks. The likelihood that our baby had “pooed” in the womb was pretty high, so they wanted to be prepared. But having the doctor manually break my water was not part of my plan. I knew the risks involved. I knew the pain that would quickly unfold afterward. But after I gave it some thought, I just went with it; I gave in because I had this feeling, baby needed to come out soon, and I had this feeling, my energy would soon run out.
I dreaded what was coming. I tensed up, and once again, I wailed and jerked as he checked my cervix and then swiftly pierced my bag of water. I expected a massive flood, a gush that would crash onto the floor. But it was just a slow, warm leak.
I was afraid to look at the pad underneath me…I was afraid it would be green, full of meconium. When Amy and I looked, nausea ensued.
“It’s OK,” she said. “There’s some meconium, so we’ll just be prepared for it when he’s delivered. He will be fine. Relax.”
There would be a special nurse in the room to take him in case he aspirated upon delivery. I was nervous about it for the next several minutes, until I didn’t have time to be.
“Alright, you’re about 6 centimeters,” Dr. M. said. “Now that your water is no longer intact, your contractions will likely become very intense, very quickly. Just keep us posted if you need anything, and we’ll be back to check on you in a little while. You’re doing great.”
He left the room. Amy changed the pad on my bed, and she and Stuart helped me to the bathroom, where I nearly passed out as I sat on the toilet.
The real show had just begun.
Maybe an hour later, the intensity had skyrocketed. My contractions began taking a toll on my body, on my energy level, on my mentality. I was beginning to break.
I paced the room.
I slung my arms around Stuart’s neck,
and I swayed,
and I moaned.
I let go of him, and within one step, I was leaning into something, anything–the bed, a desk, a person–to battle another contraction.
They were breaking me. I was trying not to crumble to the floor.
“Why don’t you try sitting?” my mom said, pulling out the padded rocking chair. “You’ve been walking and pacing; try sitting.”
I think I had two more contractions just on my way to the chair. As I lowered myself into the chair, my bones melted into the firm cushions, and my elbows dug in to the arm rests as I rocked, back and forth, while exaggerating each inhale and exhale. As the next contraction came on, I wiggled and squirmed and groaned in the chair. I could not sit still. I could not find enough seconds to simply touch comfort, just for a tiny moment, to recuperate ever so slightly. The waves were too close, too painful, too powerful, and I was drowning.
When I looked up at Stuart, he saw something in my eyes had changed. They were wide with terror. He knew and I knew: I was breaking.
I truly did not think the moment would come, when the pain would take over. I had powered through this far, and I truly believed I would go all the way. But something had changed, in just a moment. All of a sudden, I felt paralyzed. I could not sit there and fight.
“I can’t,” I muttered. “I can’t…”
“You can do it; you’re doing great,” Stuart said, as I took his arm and pulled myself up out of the chair.
“I can’t…” I said, as I stumbled toward my bed. He helped lift me into bed, got me situated. At that moment, more than ever, it was the most uncomfortable bed in the world. I laid back, anticipating the next contraction. I remember thinking: I wasn’t ready.
I grasped and squeezed Stuart’s wrist, harder and tighter as the contraction climbed…climbed to its peak…and I was thrust into a panic.
“I can’t! I can’t!” I repeated loudly,
thrashing my head side to side,
looking up and looking down,
grabbing at Stuart’s shirt,
pulling at his skin,
holding on for dear life,
not knowing what to do,
how to breathe,
how to survive this.
I had an eerie vision of myself jumping out the window.
“I don’t know what to do with myself! I can’t do this!”
The pain was untouchable. I could not beat it. As I came down from the contraction, I could not forget the look on my husband’s face: he was terrified. He didn’t recognize me. The pain had possessed me. The pain had taken control of my entire being.
The pain had won.
It was no longer a matter of what I wanted. I had to. I had nothing left to give. I knew, if I went on like this–no energy, no sleep, paralyzed in pain–I would not be able to deliver my son.
And so the word appeared; it was there, in my mind. I hadn’t seen it all day, but it showed up. I didn’t fight it; I just surrendered.
“I need an epidural,” I said to him. “I need it.”
He brought his eyes down to my level and looked at me. “Are you sure?”
I was grateful, for a fleeting moment, that he cared to ask me that; he knew how much I wanted to go on my own, and I fell in love with him again, just for that. But he knew, and I knew: I needed it, to make it however many hours that were still ahead of me. I needed it for delivery.
I had to.
“Yes, I need it,” I said, without hesitation. “Hurry.”
And he ran out of the room.
My body crashed back into the rigid bed. For a moment, I remember I was standing outside my body, watching myself.
I watched as the pain devoured my superpowers.
~ continued in Part 3 ~