So many female bloggers out there have written blog posts about their first childbirth and on reading them, I was fascinated by the fact that although this process is natural and common, it will never cease to be one of the highlights in the life of people experiencing it. Intensely personal, unique to every individual and something that has never been felt before! Without further ado, here is an account of my experience that adds to all those voices that came before me since the time the first human beings walked the earth.
I’ll begin a month before our daughter was born when my husband and I had a heart-melting moment on meeting our nephew for the very first time. Barely a few hours old, he was curled up in my husband’s elder brother’s arms as our sister-in-law looked on happily. Many people say that the birth of a child is a sort of re-birth for the woman herself. I agree. For a re-birth, you need to die first. And those painful labor pains will ensure that this condition is almost met!
In my case, those pains built up rather slowly. My doctor had decided to artificially induce me on the predicted due date of 40 weeks since I had been diagnosed with the temporary condition of gestational diabetes (that was meticulously diet and exercise controlled) during the last trimester of my pregnancy. The evening before, I started to feel very mild pains, which I later realized were actually contractions. Because of the fixed date to induce me, my husband and I got myself admitted to the hospital in the morning. I was fitted with the two belts around my belly to keep track of the baby’s heart-rate as well as my contractions on monitors next to the hospital bed. Then they started me off with a cervical ripening agent since there was only minimal dilation. And so began Part One of the waiting game.
Around midnight, a quick check by the nurse revealed that even after 12 hours not much progress had been made physically although by now waves of contractions had begun to wash up on my shore. There they came, crashing into each other in rapid succession, hardly giving me a chance to catch my breath. My husband and I had done our fair share of homework by attending childbirth preparation classes at the hospital, reading up tons of information and practicing breathing techniques. Now was the time to put all that theory into practice in order to tackle those lightening bolts zapping away just above my backside. That’s a strange description of and location for a contraction, totally different from how other women describe it but that’s just how this process is – absolutely unique to every female body. So there I was, each new contraction sending me to hell and back, where the devil himself/herself seemed to be driving his/her pitchfork deep into my tailbone again and again. My husband scurried around me with pillows, towels, blankets and the birthing ball, trying to get me whatever shred of relief I could obtain while I rocked, swayed, heaved, deep-breathed and grunted through the pain.
And then we tried something that had been highly recommended to us in those classes. I stepped in for a shower and – I kid you not – out burst glorious sunshine through the shower-head. Sparkling rainbows and galloping unicorns! Chocolate rivers and perfume-filled gardens! The most soothing forty-five minutes of my life! I remembered the words of the mid-wife who had conducted the classes: “I am all for saving water in drought-wrought California”, she had barked like an army general whose commands dare not be disobeyed, “but if a woman in labor wants it, she gets all the hot water she needs!”
Alas, I could not spend the entire time under hot water, especially when the nurses were preparing to run the drug pitocin through the IV to help progress my labor and increase dilation. Thus began Part Two as we clocked in around 18 hours from the time of arrival at the hospital. In the meantime, a painkiller drug took the edge off some of the pain and kept me drifting in and out of sleep, giving me some rest. Still, after its effect wore off, the pain returned in incremental levels and both of us were back scurrying to counter it with different labor positions and regulated breathing. At one point when I was trying to lie down and close my eyes, I was jolted awake by screams from a delivery room nearby that almost pushed my heart out of my body! That woman next door was already at the home stretch and probably without any help from medication. Her screams were soon followed by that sweetest sound every parent hears – a full-throated cry of the tiny creature who has just taken his or her first breathe of air. In the neighboring delivery room I gritted my teeth and awaited my turn.
My doctor, who had been dropping in a few times to check on me then recommended that I go in for the big guns – the epidural. An anesthetist kicked off Part Three by completing the procedure that involved administering the drug through a tube inserted near the spinal cord region. Soon enough, I was numb all the way down starting from my lower abdomen. Anyone could have sneaked up behind me and stabbed my thigh and I would have barely thrown a glance in that direction. Under its effect, I was able to comfortably chat with my parents and in-laws who had dropped by to meet me.
The doctor had discussed various actions she would need to take in case dilation still had not progressed. Much as I dreaded them, soon came the time when she had to break my bag of waters and insert a catheter inside to measure the strength of the current contractions so that the dose of the drug pitocin could be adjusted to a precise amount. Waiting had become second nature to us by now. Our hopes climbed high every time a nurse came in to check my progress only to tumble down after she announced no difference in the number of centimeters of dilation for the past few hours. I began to prepare myself mentally to undergo any emergency procedure if the need arose.
It was now close to 36 hours since I had been admitted to the hospital. I dozed off at around 10 p.m. and woke up in sudden discomfort in spite of the numbness of the epidural. I asked my husband to put on a movie that was available on demand on the TV in the room. I struggled to focus on the screen until finally, a few minutes later, I gave up and told him to pause it. “Call the nurse”, I said, as I began to feel an incredible amount of pressure start to build up inside. The nurse checked me and to our immense delight exclaimed that I was now 9-1o cm dilated and could soon start pushing! By now, the pressure was getting intense. I began to shiver uncontrollably and was running a high fever. Medication and cold compresses were started off without delay and they called the doctor who had gone home. She arrived shortly to carefully monitor my condition and keep a close eye on the heart-rate of the baby who was now on her way out.
A team of three cheerleaders now surrounded me – the doctor, a nurse and my husband. I began to run the final stretch of the marathon to steady counts of “one, two, three, … and to the tune of each building contraction. On “ten”, encouraging yells of ‘push’, ‘push’, ‘push’, ‘push’, ‘push’ broke around me as I held by breath and did as they told. What did it feel like? Try to imagine a bowel movement that is the size of a rock coming out through the wrong hole! After about an hour and half, I could sense that the finish line was close and with one mighty heave brought home our golden trophy.
I grabbed the slimy bundle that was placed on my stomach but drew back as soon as I heard the doctor say, “wait, wait! Umbilical chord around neck!” She disentangled the baby and cut the chord (baby’s father did the honors of cutting off the remainder later). The emotional hubby predictably shed tears of joy as he deliriously pranced around the room while clicking her photos and returned to my side with exclamations of “I can’t believe how cute she is!” over and over again. Our newborn – an exact 2.0 version of my husband – was whisked off for an examination by a team of doctors from the neonatal unit. This was because the baby was considered at a risk for infections since I had been running a high fever during labor along with some other concerns. Fortunately she was declared healthy. Relieved that all was well, I chatted merrily with my doctor as she stitched me up since she had to perform an episiotomy. (Ouch!) However, the rush of excitement at the new arrival (and the painkiller medications) masked any discomfort and pain. I carried an enormous grin on my face that felt impossible to wipe off as I held her skin-to-skin against my chest and welcomed my darling little daughter into this world.