After 36 hours of natural labor at home, I wanted an epidural. In fact, even my midwife wanted it for me, in the hopes that it would help me dilate that last little bit. Apparently, when a laboring mom is very tired, pain relief can help the cervix continue to dilate.
Unfortunately, my epidural didn't help. After 5 hours at the hospital, I was no more dilated than when I first waddled in. Granted, I was significantly more rested after the delicious 2-hour nap I took, but I was still only 9cm dilated.
The staff OB recommended we start Pitocin. I objected. I preferred having a C-section from the start, rather than stress my baby out with extra strong, extra long contractions caused by Pitocin. Everyone around me disagreed, however. I asked the OB to step out so we could talk things over. Hubby, midwife, doulas, all of them discouraged me from getting a C-section without first trying Pitocin. Reluctantly, I gave in. It went fine for the first couple of hours.
Then we started noticing Alex's heart rate doing funky things. It was deceling after each contraction. Not in a way to cause mass panic, but enough for me and my the birthing team to get concerned. After watching his heart rate spike to nearly 200 bpm during and then drop to about 110 bpm after each contraction, I decided I'd had enough. I told the OB to stop the Pitocin. After 47 hours of labor, I was still only 9 cm dilated and I was ready for a C-section.
It was midnight on a Friday night and I was next in line for the operating room. The doctors on call were in the OR and anesthesia was either on rounds or in surgery. I, however, was starting to get uncomfortable again. My lower half had started hurting again and the bolus I was self-administering wasn't having the effect it should have. Suddenly, the discomfort turned into outright pain and there I was, 48 hours after the first contraction, back in unmedicated labor. Only this time, it f-ing sucked!
It's hard to describe in a way that sounds believable but, natural, unmedicated labor, is not that bad. When labor is experienced without medication from the start, the body has time to build up its natural defenses against the pain. The levels of these natural pain killers, endorphins, increase as the labor progresses, helping the laboring woman manage her pain. Don't get me wrong, unmedicated, natural labor is not a walk in the park for anyone but, it just isn't as bad as it's made out to be. I barely remember feeling any pain during the 36 hours that I labored at home.
Labor when my epidural failed, on the other hand, sucked in ways I cannot even begin to describe. It was raw. It was continuous. It sucked the breath right out of my body with every contraction and made me want to scream like I was being cut. Undoubtedly, the lingering effects of the previous hours of Pitocin were partly to blame for the excruciating pain but, likely, it was my low endorphin levels that most exacerbated the pain. That one hour of labor was the longest hour of my life as I waited for anesthesia to get back from rounds.
When they got to me, they said there was nothing they could do. I would have to wait until I was on the operating table to receive a spinal block for the C-section. I will never forget lying on my side on the operating table, curled up around my giant belly, gnawing on my knuckles while they inserted the needle into my spine for pain relief and anesthesia. When the spinal kicked in, I fell immediately asleep. The staff OB woke me before she donned her sterile gown to ask if I was ready to meet my baby. I was.
To read more about how to keep your labor progressing: 16 Ways to Help Labor Progress
Monica is a Certified HypnoBirthing® practitioner serving the Northern Virginia area, DC and some parts of Maryland. Her practice is called NoVA HypnoBirthing® LLC and she provides group as well as private classes.