At 7pm on June 21st, the Bay Area’s Highway 280 and the surrounding hills were bathed in a misty fog that had not yet obscured the golden pink hue of the sky. As my husband and I traveled the now familiar path to the hospital, I could not help but think of how fitting it was to be driving down the highway at this moment to begin the labor and delivery of the baby who would be named Cielle Rose*. Her name can be translated from French as ‘pink sky,’ and the sunset cast a sense of inevitability.
I would be 42 weeks pregnant as of June 22nd. We were heeding the warnings of the doctors to not go too far beyond the due date. I had resigned myself to being induced even though it was not what I really wanted. For the entire duration of my pregnancy, I was gearing up to have a completely natural labor and delivery if I could.
I had watched The Business of Being Born, a movie that Ricki Lake was inspired to make after her disappointing birth experience. The movie is one that nearly every woman I know who has had a baby or is pregnant has seen, and its message of skepticism towards hospital births and the “business” of being born had inspired me to try a more natural approach. We hired a doula, a sort of labor coach who would be by my side through the labor process, and who would help me ask for time and give me her perspective if I needed it. I had taken the Bradley Method courses, which focus on learning pain alleviation skills that your husband or birth partner can help you do, hoping to gain as many tools as I could since I planned to do it without an epidural. In an ideal world, I wanted to have a birth without induction, drugs or surgical interventions.
I had been having irregular contractions for the last two days, so I was hoping that once we arrived at the hospital, I would learn that I had progressed and that I was free to labor without induction.
No such luck. I arrived. They checked. I was 0 cm dilated. In other words, my cervix had not begun opening. Two hours later, they implanted a small pill in my cervix to begin the magic of jumpstarting labor. I tried to sleep, but the contractions were getting stronger. Four hours later, they implanted a second pill, and that really got things going, though irregularly. Induction usually means opening the cervix first and then using an IV of pitocin, a hormone that is meant to stimulate contractions in the uterus to get things going. Once I knew I was getting induced, I accepted that I would have to go the drug filled route at some level.
I was ready to face the pain of labor, especially with all of the tools I was armed with. The pitocin got my contractions going steadily and very close together on the lowest dose. After an hour or so of getting the pitocin, the nurses thought it would be best for me to take me off of it since the contractions were intense, regular, less than two minutes apart and my cervix was dilating quickly. I was having a hard time getting through them with such little rest. My doula had arrived, and she was helping me through the pain of each contraction. The shower turned out to be my best friend throughout the entire labor. I used it liberally and often though getting to and from it turned out to be pretty tough.
It took me about twelve hours to get to 6 cm dilated, and then things moved quickly to 9 cm. The intensity of my contractions grew, and I was elated! I thought that I would be pushing the baby out soon, no problem. Enter the doctor. She said, “Sometimes people stall out at 9 cm.” I thought, “She’s crazy! I’m going to have this baby any minute now.”
Four hours later, I was still at 9 cm dilated. The nurses were checking my dilation often at this point and monitoring the baby carefully. My comforting shower became a pain in the ass because when I entered the shower, the monitor stopped tracking the baby’s heart rate. One nurse in particular was adamant that I have that monitor on constantly. All I could think was, “Bitch, you come and try to do this with no pain medication. I need this shower.” Yet her commands were made from afar and administered by her minions. If only she had taken the minute to tell me that because I had been at 9 cm for so long, they really needed to make sure the baby wasn’t stressed. I would have been more forgiving and understanding. She waited until I had been at 9 cm for six hours to give me the explanation, and my doula had to push her to understand why this was such a necessity.
It was at this six hour mark that everything started to become more intense. I was still at 9 cm. From what the doctors and nurses were finding in their cervical checks, it seemed that the baby was moving back into my uterus rather than heading out. And nothing was changing except that I felt like pushing. It was getting harder for me to endure the contractions without pushing. For another long hour, I continued trying to get through each contraction without pushing, knowing that it would cause my cervix to swell and create an emergency situation I did not want to take part in. Each time a nurse or doctor came in to check my dilation, I hoped against all hope that the little bit of my cervix that was holding back would open up. I was exhausted.
Enter the epidural. I could not say no to it. In fact, I could not wait for it. I asked desperately how long it would take for the anesthesiologist to arrive and calculated that I would have to go through two more contractions and perhaps a third while he did the procedure. At the same time that I could not wait for the epidural, I allowed myself to feel the disappointment. Of all the things that I did not want to have to go through in labor (1) induction, 2) drugs to help move the process forward, 3) epidural and 4) c-section), I was now at three out of four. I was so in the moment that I did not wonder for a second whether I would have a c-section. I wanted to push this baby into the world if I could.
Three hours later with no progress, I had to face the facts. Either I would be extremely tired, with a uterus that had been at work for nearly 30 hours and trying to push a baby out…and who knows how long it would take for my cervix to get to 10 cm? It had already been 9 hours. Or I would have a c-section and be done. No guarantees on the health of the baby, except for the fact that she had no issues throughout the labor process.
For a total of four procedures I didn’t want to have to go through in order to have my baby, I had all four, not counting an epidural (which would only be an option if I had a vaginal birth). Eleven hours after reaching 9 cm, the c-section was in progress. I had been counseled by the doctor on call, my personal doctor and the doula that this was the best option at this time. My tears flowed as I acknowledged the necessity of it.
They wheeled me into the OR on the Labor and Delivery floor. The anesthesiologist explained that he would be giving me a full epidural and adding some pain medication to the mix. They prepped my body and lifted the curtain between my head and torso. I could hold my arms on my chest or rest them on the crucifix-like arm slats that extended from the bed. I chose to lay them out as if I were a plane or on a crucifix. I was submitting myself to the last thing I did not want to do. And then my husband came and joined me.
They tugged and pulled at my body. I tried not to pay attention. It seemed like an interminably long time before I heard the baby cry. Tears filled my eyes as I experienced the joy of hearing my baby. Then I saw them take her very lily white body to the crib where they cleaned her a little and allowed Jonathan to then bring her to my side. I looked at the perfect little face and wept with relief and happiness. I kissed her, and then Jonathan took her to the nursery where they would bathe her and wait for me to get into the recovery room.
As they stitched me up, the doula joined me. But she could not ease my anxiety of being put back together and sewn up after a major surgery. I felt each tug and push. I heard the suction and the doctor’s conversation about children’s college choices and I endured each moment wishing for it to be over quickly. The doula’s attempt at relaxation covered me like a blanket, but I was shivering from the intensity of the drugs and the fear.
The blue blanket was lowered, and they said that it was finished. The doctors and nurses helped lift from the surgical bed to the hospital bed, and then a couple of the nurses rolled me into the recovery room, where I lay with the doula to my right and the Irish nurse who had helped administer my induction pills two days before and had now helped to deliver my baby. She tried to comfort me in her nurse way, with more pain medication, fluids, and kind words. But I was afraid and alone after everything.
When I saw Jonathan again I was relieved, and I asked to see Cielle. He returned to the nursery and brought her to me. Another nurse helped me prepare to nurse her, and as she lay on my breast and began to breastfeed, I could not believe that this was the girl whose foot kicked my left rib, who squirmed in my belly when I was sitting in large groups, and who I prodded when I needed a reminder that she was indeed there. Tears of wonder and amazement filled my eyes. Was the overwhelming emotion diminished by the pain medication? I don’t know. If it were, my lucid emotions would have made me sob.
*The French would detest me for giving my child a name that is a common noun and unsanctioned name. ‘Ciel rose’ means a sky tinted red or pink in French, evocative of twilight. They would hate me more for misspelling her name (I think this every time I spell it out) since I’ve chosen to feminize it for the American audience. Names are truly cultural. And one of the beauties and clusterf*&%^s of the American culture is that we can make up names!