The date was February 7, 2017. Nightfall slowly crept through the small opening of the patterned curtains. I didn’t know what time it was. If you spoke to me, I ignored you. I didn’t even know who I was in those moments. Lying — no, writhing — on the hospital bed was my only hope for quelling the immense pain I was in.
God stood over me with the can of Raid and there I was, squirming around trying to survive. “Survive” was the only thought passing in and out of my mind. The nitrous oxide did nothing to take the edge off. I would breathe in with all my might only to breathe out the most austere sound that can come out of a human. I was 18 hours into my 32-hour labor. Nothing had gone according to my plan.
I thought back to just a couple of hours before, sitting in a warm tub. The water had enveloped me and my tummy so nicely, as if to say, “Relax for a while; it’ll all be okay.” While that feeling of relief was much needed, as I was dilated at seven-and-a-half centimeters, my contractions stalled to one every 10 minutes. When I had to get out of the tub, I was given a choice: to have my amniotic sac artificially ruptured, or to continue on dilated at seven-and-a-half centimeters. I didn’t know what to do. My birthing plan was known to all in the room. This was not a part of the plan.
I paced the halls of the labor and delivery unit with my boyfriend. I needed to get out of there, to hide myself away from others so they couldn’t see the look of panic and disappointment on my face. I had failed my own birth plan. That piece of paper was my decree not only to myself, but also to my child awaiting his entrance into the world.
I believed in myself to go on laboring naturally, but there were doubtful voices in the back of my mind from past encounters.
“What are you trying to prove?”
“Girl, you are crazy if you’re trying to have an unmedicated birth!”
“You’re going to be in the worst pain of your life.”
“What happens if the baby is in distress?”
That sacred sheet of paper with all my plans, wishes, and protocols were not some words to be tossed by the wayside. They were my most important covenant with my baby. I’ve always been strong, determined, and logical. When I hired a midwife, I didn’t think twice of how I wanted the birth to go down. The logical side of me thought of births that took place centuries ago, unmedicated and natural. I knew in my bones that I could do it. It was only until others started asking me about where I was delivering did worry start to rise. I felt like no one was on my side. It wasn’t that I wanted to prove how tough I was or how much I could go against the grain; I trusted that my body could do this on its own.
After returning to my hospital room, I decided to have my membranes ruptured. I wanted to get the ball rolling and see my baby. If I would’ve known the amount of pain that would ensue, I would have chosen differently. Standing in the shower did nothing. The nitrous oxide did nothing. I was in an insurmountable amount of pain like I had never felt. I wanted to cry, but no tears came — only a wailing noise like a wounded animal. It wasn’t until later that I learned my mother had left the room in tears.
At this point, my only focus was on survival. I had no thoughts, no emotions, no words. In my 18th hour, while screaming into the nitrous oxide mask, I heard a voice ask, “Do you want an epidural?” I couldn’t even understand the question. It was so far from fathomable that I forgot it was even a medical procedure. I took a few more breaths (and screams) into the mask before I turned to the nurse and said yes. My doula advised that I could get back in the tub, and I firmly objected. I had reached my threshold. One hour later, the anesthesia was administered and I came to life again. I’m not kidding when I say that it was the best decision of my life.
I used to think of my birth as a failure. All the time spent researching, trying to figure out the best method for delivery: delayed cord clamping, water birth, diffusing essential oils, and counter pressure techniques. I was upset that I didn’t follow through. But now I realize none of that really mattered. Am I really going to beat myself up forever because I didn’t live up to my birth plan? Of course not. Was I any less strong than I was before? Heck no! Now what kind of birthing plan would’ve given me this information beforehand? Zilch.
Our birthing plans and whether we stick to them are not what define us. It’s knowing ourselves and making autonomous decisions that do. When birthing plans fail, it’s a reality we as mothers have to face that we did not fail. Life just had other plans. It doesn’t matter how our babies arrive into this world. What truly matters is our our ability to trust our gut and go with the flow.