By Paige Brettingen
As I write this, my 8-month-old son Brice is sleeping peacefully next to me. My body is back to its pre-pregnancy state (minus some minor abdominal separation) and my memories of labor have *almost* reached that “selective amnesia” state. The joy I feel—a feeling that accompanies so many moments in the days now—makes his birth surreal. The labor—a blip of momentary discomfort that’s become overshadowed by holding him for the first time. The pain—a memory that gets foggier with each giggle and two-teeth grin.
Eight months earlier, I remember lying in this exact same spot, pouring over birthing books as though the more I read, the more I was ensured an “easy” labor. I suppose it’s the unknown that we new moms fear the most—not knowing exactly what a contraction is. Or when or where or if your water is going to break. With every unfamiliar twinge, my anxiety-ridden thoughts would surge. “Is this it??”
I had said from the beginning of my pregnancy journey that my baby would choose his birthday. If my baby decided his birthday would be two weeks later, so be it. As excited as I was to meet him (and to find out whether it was a him or her!), I was fine with waiting. And with a sort of pride, I sauntered into my 40-week appointment two days after my due date.
“You’re going to have to be induced.”
The ink on my newly printed copies detailing my “all natural” birth plan had barely been dry for 10 minutes when my ObGyn served me my first lesson in parenthood: Thinking you have control usually is when you’re furthest from it.
I nodded, dumbfounded, as the doctor explained my belly was measuring low—a fairly certain sign that I was losing amniotic fluid and that, at this point, the baby was better out than in.
“Better out than in.” That became my mantra of sorts as I slowly shed the expectations I had set for my baby’s birth, as I convinced myself that this was okay. Or rather, that it had to be okay. I didn’t have much of an option at this point.
I called my husband, Kris, and then my doula, Kerry, who was able to meet me at the doctor’s office for the “foley balloon” insertion—a device to make your cervix dilate and a lovely precursor to what Pitocin was about to feel like. At least one element of the “unknown” had been figured out. Unless I went into labor beforehand, 6 a.m. on Friday, September 18, was go-time.
I did take measures to speed things along. And between the acupuncture and the foley balloon, labor began at 5 p.m. that evening. I remember sitting in the car, waiting to pick up Kris from work, realizing “Ah, so this is a contraction.”
We went home, had dinner (a Greek salad was my “last meal” request). I got in the bath, trying to time my contractions, which were as intermittent as they were unpredictable.
Around midnight, I finally fell asleep. When my alarm woke me five hours later, I begrudgingly grabbed my phone and called the hospital. My contractions had stopped and labor had stalled. I was to arrive at 6 a.m.
Gown on, IV in, I lay on the hospital bed and gazed out at the sun starting to rise. September 18th was going to be my son’s birthday, I thought. And my nurse echoed that reverie: “Today is a great day to have a baby,” she said.
Spirits high, I took on each contraction as expertly as I could, according to all the birthing books I had read. I walked the halls in my gown, passing another laboring mom a few times. (We gave each other a consoling head nod only discernable to the other.) I did squats as my yoga class had instructed. I sat on a stability ball, rolling in clockwise and then counterclockwise motions. I envisioned the contractions as waves washing over me (per Ina May Gaskin’s books) and chanted “open” with each inhale and “up” with each exhale. I said an “Our Father” every other contraction (Fun fact: It times perfectly with each contraction’s length.)
Above all, I reminded myself: “I could do anything for a minute.”
That was until the Pitocin overtook my willpower. By 3 p.m., I felt as though my body was being ripped in half. I asked the nurse to check how dilated I was, praying that I was almost there. I could keep going if I knew I was almost there.
“Six centimeters,” she said apologetically. I cried.
Shaking, I turned to Kris and Kerry and whispered between contractions—which were somehow getting more violent, if that was possible—that I needed an epidural. I apologized for needing it, and they each told me I was silly to apologize. Looking back, I think I was apologizing to Brice for “failing” at his natural birth (as a caveat, that natural birth intention was before I knew how horrible Pitocin—here on known as the “devil drug”—can be).
The nurse came back to inform me that the anesthesiologist was in with a C-section. I would have to wait at least an hour. I let out a laugh-cry and pressed on.
Somehow, I made it. Moms. We’re warriors, I tell ya.
By the time I got the epidural and the sweet relief of numbness washed over me, I was so dazed that the next part is a bit fuzzy. But from what I can remember, my blood pressure and the baby’s blood pressure dropped suddenly. I was flipped over to my hands and knees, given oxygen and an injection of some sort, which thankfully fixed the problem. My poor husband was a wreck.
And after all of that rigmarole, I was suddenly nine centimeters dilated. My doctor instructed me to rest, which I gladly accepted, and watched with amazement as the screen tracked huge contractions without me so much as flinching.
By 8 p.m., I felt the urge to push. Or at least I think I did. Maybe it was just my impatience kicking in. But my water broke, so apparently that was all I needed to get my wish.
I gave those first pushes all of my gusto. And… nothing. And… still nothing. They asked if I wanted a mirror to see my progress. I agreed, thinking I was going to be able to see my baby’s head. They wheeled in a mirror that literally almost spanned the height of the room. I requested it be removed.
As hard as I was pushing, it seemed like nothing was happening. I started to panic. It didn’t help that the doctor and nurses were nonchalantly chatting while I, tomato-faced and breathless, was about to set a record for number of blood vessels popped.
I asked Kris to change the music, hoping that would boost my morale. He selected my “Labor Playlist” which immediately started playing “Come Get It Bae” by Pharrell. I now know that a labor playlist and a workout playlist should not be considered the same thing. “Change it!” I yelled. He switched it to the “spa sounds” I had also set up as part of my labor playlist. A symphony of birds started chirping. (Note: Don’t ever ask my advice about what to include on a labor playlist.)
Three hours. THREE HOURS of pushing later… the baby was making progress but his heart rate was dropping each time I pushed. I was given an oxygen mask and instructed to breathe deeply as soon as the pushing was done. I looked at the clock. It was 11:15 p.m. I had said that morning that September 18th would be my baby’s birthday, and I was determined to make that happen. I pushed when the nurse said, “push,” and I pushed when she told me to wait out certain contractions and rest. This was no time to rest, I decided.
At 11:22 p.m. my baby boy made his “Superman” entrance. (No, really. He came out with his left arm by his face. Superman-style, if you will. Which explains why I was having difficulty pushing him out. And, as you probably can surmise, I tore because of it.)
I grasped my slippery 6-pound, 12-ounce, 20-inch bundle of joy and pulled him closer to my chest, asking whether it was a boy or girl since I couldn’t see for myself. He latched immediately and I gazed at him in awe as he gazed back at me. I cried tears of joy, relief and gratitude to God for this miracle I held in my arms, for the inexplicable happiness I felt and for making me a mom. And I instantly discovered why women forget the “pain” of childbirth. I myself would do it a million times over again for him—Pitocin and all.
Brice Edward Brettingen, you were so incredibly worth it.