TRIGGER WARNING: There are a lot of really intense emotional details and graphic descriptions near the end so if a traumatic birth is a trigger, just be careful. I’ll warn you before it gets there.
This is the briefest account of Ray’s birth story I can manage. The timeline is messy and I don’t remember a lot of it. It’s true that you get some sort of one-time amnesia after delivery and you forget so much. But I think when it’s bad, you remember a lot more.
We arrived at the hospital at 7:30 pm October 15. I was so sure I was going to have him Friday evening. Brandon insisted it would be Saturday. I don’t know why I can’t trust his instincts, they’re better than mine. When I tested positive, he told me it would be a boy, and he would be big, and I would labor for a while and eventually need a c-section. I didn’t get a c-section, but I’m not sure things would have happened this way if they had known his size.
My cervix was checked at around 8:15 and I was offered a cervical ripening agent plus a Foley balloon. I said I would rather just try the agent and see what happened. My cervix was dilated to 3 on the outside and just barely opened on the inside. I’ve heard the balloon can be uncomfortable and can take up to 12 hours to dilate the cervix to 4 cm.
The medication was applied at around 9 and I started to feel some cramps. My nurse gave me an IV medication for the pain and we took a nap. They wanted me to try to sleep until contractions really started. Brandon slept on the pull-out and I fell asleep in the recliner.
I woke up positive I was dying. I couldn’t breathe. I forced air into my lungs and out of my lungs. Ok, I can feel that. I stopped forcing it, I stopped breathing. Ok, that was weird.
So I forced breath in and out again. And I stopped, and again I wasn’t breathing. I wasn’t getting dizzy, my lungs felt fine, I just wasnt breathing. I vaguely remembered having a kaleidoscope-style dream that involved some very strange images like really weird looking sheep and Mickey Mouse.
I was still forcing myself to breathe so I wouldn’t die. I thought about how much I hate Mickey Mouse. Like, seriously fuck Mickey Mouse. (I do not hate Mickey Mouse.)
I finally woke Brandon up because I didn’t want to die. He told me they wouldn’t give me something that would kill me. He went back to sleep. So I hit my call light. It took forever to find it, and it took forever for the nurse to get there.
I calmly explained to her that I felt weird, and that I was trying not to die, but if I fell asleep I would stop breathing. I went on and on about the experience I was having, and I was tearful but calm. She got me some crackers and said it happens sometimes, that it was a narcotic and people can react in different ways.
The doctor came in, we’ll call him Ned. He asked to check my cervix. Fuck off Ned, I’m having an acid trip! I calmly explained that I was having a bad reaction to the drug and I would prefer to wait until I felt a little better. I decided to stay up until it wore off, you know, so I wouldn’t die.
Except that’s not how it went down. That’s how I remember it.
I guess I was able to say I couldn’t breathe, and I felt like I had smoked way too much pot and I wanted to feel better. But mostly I just cried hysterically for god knows how long. It was awful. I was so scared. I thought my baby was going to come out high. I have done acid twice and mushrooms once and I’ve had a bad trip every time. But this was the worst I’ve ever had, and that’s not what you want on your baby’s birthday.
I tried to go back to sleep, but I still felt like I would die if I went to sleep so I just stayed up. I tried to enjoy my high like the nurse suggested, but it was just bad.
That all went down around midnight. I finally felt ok at around 1:15, and at my cervical check I was 5 cm and about 75%. I was feeling encouraged because I had responded really well to the ripening attempts and agreed it was time for pitocin.
I felt one contraction and requested the epidural. I had planned for an epidural right away and my nurse knew that, so she called in anesthesia. I told her that I had felt that one contraction, I felt satisfied that I’d had the experience, it hurt so I wanted to not feel that again.
I have been watching birth vlogs and it seems like it’s pretty common to labor, with epidural, for a long time, but not necessarily have a ton of pain. Then push push push, it’s hard work and there’s pressure, but not necessarily screaming pain. That was what I wanted. But you can’t always get what you want.
The epidural was applied at around 2 am and my nurse kept telling me how great I was doing, I was so laid back, I was chatty. Brandon had run our laptop through the tv and we were listening to 80s tunes on youtube. Typical friday for us. I was able to eat breakfast and have coffee.
The first anesthesiologist I saw had told me it’s never too late to apply an epidural. You can have one during transition. You can have one at cervical completion. She was in the middle of an epidural once, the mom said, “hold on, I have to push,” she pulled the catheter out, the mom laid down and within minutes had delivered her baby. She said if an epidural fails and you want to try again, they’ll do it if you can hold still.
After I ate and had my coffee is where the timeline gets dicey. I want to say I ate three times between starting my induction and giving birth, but it may have only been once. I’m not going to be able to say what happened when until the last 10 minutes.
They had given me a button to push if I felt like my epidural needed a boost. I tried to push it and the nurse said I had to wait for the light to flash green. The light indicates that I’m allowed to have a dose. I thought I just kept missing the dose because I wasn’t really paying attention to the button, so I never pushed it.
At around 7 cm. I started to hurt. But it wasnt like it started and got worse. It started off already worse. It was the most ungodly pain I had ever felt. What had been a 10 on my personal pain scale was now a 4. When I was asked to rate it I said that if a true 10 is passing out from the pain, this was a 9.5.
Normally if you labor without an epidural, the pain gradually builds through early and active labor and hits hard at transition, but along with the pain, you’re building endorphins and adrenaline to help cope. I went from pain free to transition with no warning.
They asked if I wanted to try a second epidural. I said, “get that guy in here now. I can’t.” But I did. I had to, it’s not like they can pause labor. The second epidural took about an hour and a half to get set up and applied, but it finally took.
They again went over how to boost the epidural with that button, and explained the flashing green light. I said it just never flashed last time so I figured the epidural was working. They said that’s not how it works, it should have flashed. So they brought in some equipment person, maybe a woman, to check out that button and why it hadn’t flashed.
THE BUTTON WAS FUCKING BROKEN.
At that point, I didnt even care that it hadn’t worked before, I wanted it to work now.
So we went back to jamming tunes, I know at this point Ned was checking me regularly and the best nurse on planet earth, Kelly, was keeping us entertained. When Kelly walked in the room, I knew it was party time. Let’s have as much fun as we can, do the work, meet our baby.
We were exhausted. I was pushing that button every ten minutes, Brandon might have taken a snooze. I remember people kept telling me during my labor, your husband is a great sleeper. So we had fun, we partied, and I was getting checked regularly.
I had a tiny bit of cervix left on one side, so I laid on that side. Getting moved from side to side with an epidural in is a huge ass ache. Baby was at a weird angle at one point, so Kelly had me lay as far onto my stomach as I could to turn him.
Ned checked me and said I was complete and baby was at 0 station, maybe +1. So I should do a few practice pushes to evaluate my technique.
The exact time I did the first practice push was 8:37 pm October 16. I asked if the 16th was baby day and they said definitely. That was a lie.
I guess my technique sucked. I pushed. And pushed. And pushed. I tried with my hands behind my knees for a while. Probably 2 hours. Kelly had my left leg. The person at my right leg was supposed to be Brandon but we both refused that idea. He was in charge of water and my green button. The person who ended up at my right leg was a med student we will call Tanner, because maybe that was his name, who knows.
A female doctor came in at some point to see which way baby was facing. That particular exam downgraded my previous 9.5 to a 9. When they told me later to try to get mad at a spot on the wall to push better, I told her to her face I would just imagine her because she sucked.
They thought he was in the right spot and I could keep pushing. The pressure was unreal. I remember so vividly trying to get him out so that pressure would be gone. I have no clue even now if the epidural was working at all because that was unbelievably bad.
They could see his hair now. He would start to crown, then go back in, then start to crown, then go back in. I think this was about when Dr Abbey came in but I really have no clue. She wanted me to try grabbing my heels, pointing my butt at the ceiling, and pushing from the top of my belly into my butthole.
I understood that. I wish somebody had just told me that exact thing sooner. Things got moving at that point. Push push push. Get mad. But relax your face. Keep your eyes open. Push harder Bree. I can’t do it. Yes you can. Get him out GET HIM OUT GET HIM OUT.
I had started my induction 29 hours ago. I had been pushing for 4 hours. My contractions were coming every 2 minutes or closer and I had rested for about 10 of them, maybe more but I don’t think so. I had ditched my glasses. I was soaked. My hair was matted to my head. I was so desperate for this to be over.
This is where it really turns. This is ugly, in case you need to stop.
His head was completely out. They’re yelling at me to push push push but this wasn’t like, yay, we’re happy, he’s almost here!! This was IF YOU DO NOT PUSH THIS BABY OUT OF YOUR BODY HE’S GOING TO DIE.
I’m telling them I can’t push any harder, I can’t I can’t I can’t. YOU HAVE TO BREE JUST PUSH HARDER. Then I hear: “oh shit.”
I was pushing as hard as I could, but I knew it was just not enough. I was not enough. Real women do this every day. Real women do this in their homes with no pain management. Real women do this more than once.
I was failing my baby. It was going to be my fault if I lost him. Because I’m a worthless, lazy human who can’t even work hard enough for 5 minutes to keep her child alive. He was going to die because I wasn’t trying hard enough.
They had pushed the NICU button. WHERE IS NICU?
Kelly was on top of my body. She was pushing my uterus, trying to get him out.
This is the moment I will never forget: Dr Abbey had her hand inside my vagina. While my child’s head was out. While they’re calling NICU. while they’re screaming at me to GET HIM OUT. While Kelly is bearing down so hard on my fundus it feels like my organs are going to split my sides open.
THIS IS NOT NORMAL. THIS IS NOT HOW BABIES ARE BORN.
They pulled him out and laid him on me for one second. He was not the right color. They took him to the NICU cart and I’m not sure how long he was silent but it was long enough for my life and my world and my heart and my soul to be completely crushed. Again. And this time I was not going to recover.
My second child, like my first, was born not breathing. My perfect child from my perfect pregnancy was going to die and I was going to die with him. Every second of grief I had felt with Terry for the last 728 days of my life filled my body. I did not want to live. I truly hoped that I would just bleed to death if I did not hear him cry.
I had failed again.
Kelly leaned over me, and I looked in her eyes, and I saw the concern in her face and I knew she was about to tell me that my shitty body had killed my baby because I didn’t push hard enough, because I didn’t dig deep enough to JUST GET HIM OUT ALREADY.
All I could say- I can’t do this again. I might have screamed it. I might have whispered it. I might not have even said it. Like most of this story, I really don’t know.
“Can you hear that?” Yes. YES. That’s my baby. He’s crying.
He was not dead. I didn’t kill him. He was alive. I DID NOT KILL HIM.
Oh my god. The relief. It wasn’t over, and it would be minutes before I knew he was stable. Hours before I knew he was being treated or what was wrong. Days before I knew I would be bringing him home. But the relief in that moment, when heard him cry, was enough to keep me alive.
The most recent pain I designated as a 9.5 was now 8 or 6 or less, it doesn’t matter because after the maneuver to get him out plus Kelly pushing on my belly, nothing else qualifies as pain.
People will tell you that you won’t remember labor. And I think if you have a straightforward deliver with a good outcome, it’s easy to forget. You probably should. The whole thing sucks. But when it happens like this, it stays with you. I had to dig deep for some of the details. And I’m sure I got a lot of it wrong. But to me, this is how I almost lost my second child.
The rest of the story is for another time. The rest of the story is really, really good.