My husband knew my wishes. He knew I wanted to go without the epidural, he knew I wanted a different kind of a birth than what I was getting. I looked at him dead in the eyes and said, “I want an epidural.” I saw him start to protest, I saw him think it was his job to support my previous wishes. I didn’t have time between contractions to explain how everything I had wanted was out the window. How I was trapped in a bed in a torture chamber with a nurse that had a falsely cheery voice, and how I needed help. I said, “This isn’t anything like how I imagined it would be. I want the epidural.” And he listened. Thank god he listened. He didn’t fight me, he didn’t try to convince me, he listened to me and it was one of the few times in the entire experience that someone did. In that moment I needed to be acknowledged. I needed to have some power over the situation.
When we told Wendy that I wanted the epidural she said the strangest thing, “Are you sure? You’ll need to go to an L+D room for that.” I couldn’t process that in the moment. Honestly, almost 9 years later I still can’t. Why would getting a private room be a bad thing? Was an L+D room one of my options this entire time? If that was an option why was I in the recovery room with all these moaning women? Why had my now-absent midwife okayed this? I would have asked for an epidural from the get-go if I knew that was my ticket into my own room! One of the many perplexing moments during this birth.
Before I went I was checked by some doctors (as my midwife had long abandoned me at the hospital). I was 4-5 centimeters dilated. The numbers meant nothing to me, but I’m guessing in retrospect that my progress is the only thing that got me out of the recovery room and fast-tracked me for an epidural. When I got to the room I went to the bathroom and sat on the toilet. I had my husband there with me and I remember wiping and seeing a lot of mucus and a little blood. The contractions that had me screaming while laying flat in the bed were still very intense on the toilet, but somehow they felt manageable. I had a flash of regret, a moment of thinking maybe I wouldn’t get the epidural. But it was just a flash. The new nurse assigned to me demanded I get into the bed. She was not nice. Not warm. Almost angry at my very presence. I listened, I had no fight in me.
Believe it or not, the epidural was the thing I was the most concerned about as I prepped for my birth. The idea of a needle going into my back was almost too much to bear. And even though this is a cesarean birth story, I can unequivocally say that getting the epidural was the worst part of the entire ordeal. The anesthesiologist had everything set up. My husband and mom left the room. The midwife had appeared, apparently someone had called to let her know I was getting pain relief, and she talked me through my contractions as the doctor inserted the needle behind me. I felt the needle. I felt it puncturing my spine. I jumped and screamed. “Are you feeling pain or pressure?” the doctor asked me, sounding more annoyed than concerned. “It’s pain!” I replied loudly. She didn’t care. She kept going. I wasn’t a person at that point. I was a back that needed a needle and my human emotions and reactions were getting in her way. Add her to the list of dismissive, horrible caregivers that I came across throughout this birth.
Once the epidural was in and I had relief from the experience I closed my eyes and rested. Everyone was still in the room. It was the middle of the night at this point. The contractions had kicked in around 11pm and now it was after 3 in the morning. I was exhausted. But every time I opened my eyes, the room was still full of people. The bright lights were on, the nurses, the midwife, and my husband and mother all had very serious faces. The medical team flipped me to my left side. I didn’t question it, I just rested and let them do their work, expecting everything to settle down and for me to be able to sleep for a while.
And yet they all lingered. And their expressions grew more concerned. No one was looking at me. They were all looking at the monitors. The midwife finally clued me in. The baby’s heart rate was racing and then dropping. There was a problem. He was going up to the 190’s and then dropping down to the 100’s. He was in distress. “I’m going to call the doctor and see if they can come in and take a look,” she said, pulling out her cell phone. Once again, at a critical moment this mysterious doctor was calling the shots for me and my baby on the other end of a cell phone. I didn’t want to wait for a doctor. I wanted my baby to not be in distress. I had sacrificed everything that I had wanted for my birth at this point to keep the baby healthy and I wasn’t about to end up not getting that. In one of the only other moments of this entire experience that I was listened to, I looked right at my midwife and said, “I want a healthy baby.” She called the cesarean on the spot and we started prepping for surgery.
I want to make something clear. I do not think that all that matters in a birth is a healthy baby. I know that a healthy baby is one that has a healthy, whole, stable, supported mother. When I asked for a healthy baby it was a request to at the very least, please leave the hospital with a healthy baby. Because everything else I had valued about my birth experience was out the window already. It was a reminder to the midwife that she needed to at the very least protect my baby more than she had protected me.