Meeting Paige Cassidy
My pregnancy was a complete and happy accident. We were tempting fate by not trying (just practising 😉) but not preventing; all while living at my mother's until we could afford to buy our own home. I was eight weeks along by the time we found out and, better than we could have planned it, were moving into our very first home during my first trimester (those short of breath feels while shifting a sofa* were killer).
*I had an overprotective father in law and partner both making me not lift, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
My pregnancy was EXTREMELY easy. I had no morning sickness. I slept well and worked at my retail job until I was one and a half weeks away from the due date. As mentioned, I was quite short of breath for the first trimester and on/off throughout the remaining six months - because of this, my OB had some bloodwork done to see what my thyroid was doing. It wasn't coping, but it wasn't so bad I needed medication, and my BP was consistently good, so no one was too concerned. I carried small, and we were expecting a smaller baby. After our information classes, I had come to the vague sense based on the word of mouth reputation of epidurals rather than the actual fact in front of me, that I would avoid having one and I would have "tapped out" on my birthing experience if I had one. Like somehow bearing through it all made you 'The Mum.' My due date came, passed, and it felt like a bomb waiting to go off. It was exceedingly frustrating. All of my fears about the birth had gone right out the window and were replaced with impatience to meet our surprise baby (we didn't find out the gender).
At 40 weeks, I waddled into my weekly appointment, still fat and happy. My OB suggested induction, and they explained to me why this could be offered when there is nothing medically wrong. They said that the placenta begins to die from roughly 40 weeks, which is why they suggested induction. I agreed. I found some peace in knowing that if I didn't naturally go into labour that week, I would be holding my baby by the weekend. And, stubborn like her mother, at 40 weeks and five days bub was still refusing to arrive. I had no birth plan other than to go with the flow and to utilise what was needed as the need arose.
I checked in to the hospital at 5 pm, my OB administered the gel, I had some dinner, my partner hung around, and we watched the Olympics. A midwife brought me a mild sleeping tablet as I had to sleep in a birthing suite (that bed was built for workin' not snoozing!). I got ready for bed, nervous of the task ahead but with the help of the tablet was asleep by 11 pm. At 3 am the first cramps made themselves known. Like bad period cramps that make you need to use the bathroom, I was up and down for an hour before I rang for a midwife. She got me under the shower (nightie and all) and gave me some Panadol forte and rang my partner to confirm things were beginning. The waves of cramps were intense, consistent and steadily getting closer together. My midwife ran me a bath as the Panadol hadn't done anything and the shower was losing its soothing effect. The bath was lovely, but those pesky contractions were getting bigger, and I was losing the strength in my legs with each one.
Back in bed, I was examined and dilating at a steady pace, my plug came free, and once my OB arrived, my waters broke by themselves during a later examination. I tried gas, which made me uncomfortably lightheaded and gave me an unpleasant 'out of my body' sensation. Then morphine was the next step as I was wearing down on 4 hours sleep and the physical workload I was going through before we had even got to the pushing part. That was it, the comforting sensation I could identify. I was going to be sick. My midwife saw it, handed my partner a bag, and off I went. Unfortunately, it happened 4 or 5 more times, then an antiemetic and I was hooked up to fluids. By this point, contractions were about three minutes apart, and I was so exhausted I was passing out between each one. My partner and the midwives were amazing, but I was beginning to panic. We could all see it. Nothing had worked. It was time for the suggestion: epidural. I checked with my partner, wanting someone to tell me what to do. He said he'd support my choice and if that's what kept me comfortable to deliver our baby safely, then that was the right choice. I agreed without further hesitation.
We'd reached 7 am, and I was still struggling along, the 15 minutes it took for the on-call anaesthetist was both the longest and fastest I've ever known. He ran through the required "do you agree to this procedure" and "it may incur cost", and his words began to slur together in my exhaustion, but at that point I. Did. Not. Care. It gave me something to focus on. I was able to sit, legs dangling to the floor, giving my partner what must have been the most intense expression of concentration, panic and discomfort he has ever seen. I was asked to let the anaesthetist know when a contraction was coming and to stay as still as I could. It was the most gentle experience of the entire night. I felt a small pinch and a bit cool. And done. Then came the tape.
Have you ever seen three people juggle cords on one person in a confined space? It was time to laugh. I was already on an IV. The epidural tube ran another way, taped up my back and over my shoulder. And then I had to be hooked up to a monitor to monitor the baby's life signs. Baby, I might add, who was still being stubborn. The landing lights were on, and my body was waving bub in. But no. The effect of the epidural was almost immediate. I was calm. I could identify with what was happening. I was going to meet my baby! Initially, the sensation of my right leg going dead freaked me out, but they had put on compression socks which were so comfy I didn't want them off. My panic turned to excitement. But there was work to be done. I could tell a faint tingle and tenseness when a contraction was coming, so we pushed for a bit, getting into a rhythm but still no baby.
My OB had arrived shortly after I managed a couple of bites of cold, dry fruit toast and a lot of juice. The baby had not come down the bend to the birth canal where pushing would work. A quick examination later, the OB could feel bub's head and used the suction cup to try to get bub into position. The suction didn't work, and bub was still staying put (vitals were okay, but I could tell the OB was getting concerned). The next step was forceps. And by now I was glad that I was 'numb from the waist down'. My partner's face of horror as this small woman braced against the end of the bed and pulled. I couldn't bring myself to look. Time again to push! And then there was an intense pressure as the baby crowned. My OB offered for me to touch the head (I was, to be honest, a bit grossed out so declined). I did some guided pushing, and after a strange sliding sensation later bub was held up! She had a short cord that my partner cut before I could get some cuddles. I had a couple of tears and required internal stitches and also a few less externally. My placenta arrived without issue, but I didn't care about anything after that little bundle was placed on my chest and I was a Mum, and he was a Dad, and together we had made this glorious person. The last 12 hours didn't exist any more, and I was happy that an epidural had just been "my way" to meet our baby.
After the birth, I was a baby blue mess while my milk came in. We spent five days in the hospital, and I found moving around quite difficult. The epidural had worn off almost straight after they stopped the drip, but I bruised badly and could sadly now feel my stitches. Bub was a little yellow, so our last day included a jaundice test (which was negative) and recommendation to sit in some sunshine as often as possible. Salt baths were also a big part of my recovery. Aside from making me feel human again and giving me a tiny bit of much-missed privacy after having been rolled and checked for the last week, 1/2 a cup of regular old table salt in a piping hot bath kept any infection at bay and soaked those strange new aches and pains.
At our six-week check, the OB checked in if I felt good about the delivery; some women report feeling disappointed at not feeling the whole experience. And I did (still do) as it was merely transitional to the best part, our happy, healthy baby. I had, mid-labour, a happy laughing delivery room and I hope that helps others struggling with decisions about having an epidural or the guilt that seems to be associated with having one.