I don't know about you, but I was rather stupid in my younger years. I assumed that my long labors and hours of pushing for my first two pregnancies were somehow my fault. I figured if I had been better at my job, (having the baby) then that part of the process should have been easier. For whatever reason I can't remember, I didn't have an epidural with either of my first two babies. Instead I had pain meds pushed through my IV. After talking with assorted women (good friends, nodding acquaintances, strangers in the checkout line at the grocery store) I decided than an epidural was the answer to all my problems. Everyone I spoke with assured me that, once they had the epidural, 1. there was no more pain; 2. a few pushes and the baby was out; 3. they thoroughly enjoyed the birthing experience.
Since my first two experiences were less than enjoyable, and since they were also only painfully hazy memories, I decided that having an epidural would give me the ideal birthing experience that all the books talked about. (In case you're wondering, I have since thrown those books away.)
Since this was going to be the ideal birth, I was not at all worried when the doctor said he was going to induce. Neither was I bothered when he chose to induce on Valentine's Day. In fact, I thought it was rather romantic that we were going to have our child on that day. Did I mention I was rather young and stupid at that point? And that I hadn't thought ahead to the fact that Valentine's Day forever after was going to be about birthdays and not about romantic getaways?
The only thing I didn't like was the fact that we had to be at the hospital at five in the morning. But since this was all going to go so quickly, what with the inducing at all, we could have the baby and still have most of the day for other things, right? I was even taking a different approach to labor. Instead of focusing on it (i.e. lamaze-style), I had saved a book I was dying to read for the hours I would be in labor. I could always get lost in a book, and I figured that would take my mind off the pain until I had the epidural.
The book worked for a while. I was in pain, but was still able to lose myself in the story. At least until the doctor came and checked on me mid-morning. He said I looked way too comfortable for the contractions I was supposed to be having, and then he told the nurses to push the Pitocin semi-aggressively. After he left, there was a little discussion among the nurses as to just what he meant by semi-aggressively. Judging from the sudden leap in pain intensity, they decided to focus on the aggressive as opposed to the semi.
In no time at all, I was dilated to 4, although the pain level made me believe I was at 7. It was clearly time for the epidural. The end of pain and the beginning of the end. After all, wasn't that what everyone said? Epidural, no pain, a few pushes, you're done. Being young and stupid (did I mention that yet?) I neglected to ask anyone how long their labors were normally. I think I just automatically associated epidurals with shortened, easier labors, although no one actually made that claim. And rightfully so. Here was where all my pre-conceived notions failed me.
And here's where Indiana Jones failed me too.
My fearless husband has faced down terrorists in Uganda. He's stared at the business end of an AK-47. He's almost capsized in a canoe during a violent storm on Lake Victoria. He's boldly gone into jungles in Africa where no white man has gone before. He's earned the nickname Indiana Jones.
Needles make him pass out.
With each contraction becoming more painful, I should have been able to cling to my manly husband while they tapped the needle into my spine and gave me the epidural. Instead, my husband was standing out in the hallway, turning white as a sheet at the thought of a needle being anywhere in the vicinity, while I clung to a nurse whose name I didn't even know. When the job was finished and all needles again packed away out of sight, Indiana returned to my side to resume his role as coach.
A little disgruntled, and more than a little out of sorts, I settled back on the pillows and waited for the epidural to take effect. Pain continued to hit me in waves for the next several hours, with very little relief in sight. This was not the pain-free uptopia I had been promised. When I complained, they told me that everyone responds a little differently to epidurals.
I wanted my money back.
Hours later they brought the anesthesiologist back in for a second tap and additional medication. (Indiana deserted me again to go stand in the hallway during the procedure.) Not only was the epidural not taking care of the pain, but it was also slowing the progress. Contractions were coming in fast and furiously, thanks to the semi-aggressive use of the Pitocin in my IV, but I was not dilating. When they tapped me the second time, I was only dilated to a 6. Many more hours passed before they finally declared that I had reached 10 and I could push.
Frankly, I didn't have much energy left by then, but this was supposed to be the home stretch, right? A few pushes and then we were done. That's what all those epidural-experiencing experts had told me. Of course, most of them also gave birth to normal, 6-7 pound babies as opposed to bowling balls. I probably should have factored that in.
The first few pushes made me realize something was horribly wrong. I couldn't feel any progress. In fact, other than the pain of the contractions, I couldn't feel anything at all. It seems that, although the epidural was a complete failure at numbing the pain, it had done an excellent job at numbing the muscles I needed to use to push. Sometime later I learned that epidurals work well for nineteen out of twenty women.
Meet Number Twenty.
After an hour and a half of pushing that did nothing but drain the little bit of energy I had left, my doctor examined me and said he couldn't let me go on any longer. He told the nurses to prep for a c-section. I was horrified that it had come to this, but then one thought took precedence over everything else:
Did this mean we could stop the pain?