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“Pitocin is basically a torture device. There’s a dial for them to turn it up to induce labour and it just keeps getting worse.”
“Oh don’t worry about vaginal tearing. All the other stuff will be so blindingly painful, you won’t even notice the tearing.”
“I was screaming so loud, the nurses down the hall thought I was being murdered.”
These are just some of things other mothers have told me about labour a few days before I gave birth. To say that it scared the crap out of me, is an understatement. Little did I know, what they warned me about wasn’t really the thing I should’ve been worried about. What I should’ve been worried about was far worse and lasted much longer. But before I get to that, let me just back up a bit and tell you about my birth experience.
My Birth Experience
Unlike most births, mine started at a funeral. My due date happened to be the exact same day as my father-in-law’s funeral. So, on top of coping with losing his father, my husband was also learning how to become one himself. Luckily, I didn’t go into labour that day. But the very next day, my doctor said I needed to be induced since the baby is LGA (large for gestational age) and it would be risky to go too many days past my due date.
When it comes to birthing a baby, there’s a lot of “hurry up and wait”, and after 2 whole days, an excruciating and bloody induction, during which the medical intern nearly put in the wrong catheter (they use something called a folly catheter, which is a thin rubber tube with a balloon at the end of it to dilate your cervix. It’s supposed to be quick and painless. It was neither), I was finally transferred into the birthing suite.
No one ever told me that once you start labour you’re not allowed to eat any solid foods. This is because in case things go south and you need to be rushed into an emergency C-section, they don’t want you choke to death on your stomach contents when they pump you full of anesthesia, which could cause nausea.
Idiotically, the last meal (which I shall refer to as “the last supper”) I had before active labour was McDonald’s. Had I known that was the last time I was going to eat anything for the next 2 days, I would’ve ordered something a lot more satiating, or at least consists of real food.
“Ok, so now we’re going to start Pictocin,” said my nurse as she turned up the dial on an IV drip “Your contractions should get more intense, but it’s going to be very gradual.”
I shuddered at the word “Pictocin” and tried very hard not to freak out.
But then, after being on pictocin for 2 hours and not feeling much pain, I started getting cocky. All those years of childhood beatings and my wolverine-like pain threshold is finally paying off! I thought, congratulating myself.
Famous last words.
Once they broke my water, I wasn’t so cocky anymore.
A friend of mine once compared contractions to a bad period. Another said it’s like having 20 bones broken at once. For me, it was neither of those. The contraction felt like being stabbed in the cervix repeatedly with a miniature sword. Blinding pain doesn’t even begin to describe it. Wanderer gently reminded me that now would be a good time to ask for the epidural. The idea of having a sharp needle inserted into my spine wasn’t my idea of fun, but better than the alternative of “screaming like I was being murdered.”
Turns out the epidural, while scary (they have the nurse and your husband bend you forward and make sure you don’t move while inserting a needle into your spine) wasn’t bad and was over quickly. I didn’t have time to ruminate on the possibility, though tiny, of becoming paralyzed if anything went wrong.
After I got the epidural, I could breathe normally again. Sure, I couldn’t feel my legs. And sure, a nurse had to come and empty my bed pan every 3 hours, but the pain was reduced to just a strong pressure and I was even able to get a few hours of sleep!
I was feeling re-energized at this point and ready to get this baby out.
Unfortunately, fate had other plans for me.
“I’m sorry, but you’ve been at 7cm for the past 6 hours and it’s not getting any better”, the doctor told me. “This baby is too big for your body. We’re going to have to do a C-section.”
No one quite prepares you for the moment where after 20+ hours of labour, you’re told they have to cut the baby out of you.
When they finally wheeled me into the operating room, I hadn’t eaten, showered, or peed normally for days.
The operating room was cold, full of sterile bright lights and white coats. I counted no less than 6 specialists. One was there just to suction the baby’s lungs in the rare case he poops in the amniotic fluid and accidentally breathes in his own feces. Yup, that’s a thing.
“Whoa, this one is a squirter!” I heard one of the surgeons exclaim as he cut into me. I was suddenly super grateful there was a blue sheet blocking the “bloody crime scene” that is my lower body from Wanderer’s view. I was lying on my back, arms stretch out on both side of me, connected to an endless number of IV tubes and monitors.
The anesthesiologist turned a dial way up on my IV and then suddenly the room was spinning. What little I ate—a spoonful of soup and some apple juice—made an appearance as I proceeded to puke my guts out. I also started shivering uncontrollably. My teeth were chattering so loudly it drowned out all the other sounds in the room.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, there was a loud wail, and I heard the surgeon say “congrats! You have a baby boy!”
You know how people say “I cried tears of joy when my kid was born?” and they thought “this is the happiest moment of my life”?
Well, I threw up when my kid was born and my first thought was “oh shit. What the hell do I do now?”
It was also at this moment that the sheet hiding the part of my body with my guts hanging out decided to fall down. I give Wanderer a tremendous amount of credit for not screaming his head off at what he saw. He would later tell me he was “screaming on the inside.”
What followed was a blur but I was told it would take another hour to deliver the placenta (which Wanderer describe as looking like a bloody octopus) and stitch me up. I wouldn’t let them put my newborn on me for skin-to-skin because I was still shivering uncontrollably and ice cold like a corpse.
They announced his colossal birthweight of 9 lb and wheeled me into the recovery suite. It would take a full 12 hours for the room to stop spinning and for me to feel my legs again. Luckily my baby was not interested in anything but sleep during that time so thankfully I had some time to figure out how to stand without violently throwing up.
In Asia, we have something called postpartum confinement ( 坐月子), which sounds like a punishment for mothers, but is actually the opposite.
You see, birth is pretty traumatic. Your body and your mind gets beaten up and while you’re surviving on 2 hours of sleep and trying to recover, you get handed this shrieking creature that you now have to care for 24/7. To quote comedian Louis C.K “it’s like you’re drowning and someone hands you a baby.”
That’s why in Asia, there’s a whole month dedicated to a mom’s recovery. You get fed a concoction of herbs and bone broth that speeds up your healing process. Plus, there are family members or hired help to take care of the baby and take care of you.
But in the western world, you recover for a day or two in the hospital and are sent on your merry way to take care of your screaming mc-screamer pants on your own.
By the time I was discharged from the hospital, it was 3 days later, I still hadn’t showered (because of the C-section I wasn’t allowed to) and was wearing a mattress-thick adult diaper that was continuously soaking through with blood.
Oh and I’d also slept a grand total of 5 hours in all 3 days, on account of the fact that the first day after surgery a nurse comes to check on you every freaking hour. This is on top of your newborn needing to be fed every 2 hours and the other newborn in the ward taking turns at having a shrieking contest with your newborn.
I was so thankful to be home after all that and to finally be able to shower and sleep. Unfortunately, after losing that much sleep and running on pure adrenaline, my body completely lost the ability to stay asleep for more than 2 hours and would jolt me up in bed and force me awake even when Wanderer was watching our baby—aka “Little Matchstick”—so I could sleep.
Luckily, my doctor prescribed me some sleeping meds, and told me to “pump and dump” to avoid contaminating my breastmilk. After that, I finally was able to stay asleep.
No wonder so many mothers get postpartum depression. It’s not just a hormonal thing. It’s emotional and mental exhaustion. You’re filled with thoughts of “is this my life now?” and every day feels like groundhog day.
Lucky for me, I only felt this for 1 week. After the sleeping meds kicked in and we figured out a system, Wanderer and I were each able to get 6-7 hours of sleep a night.
I have said it many times and I’ll say it again. Thank goodness for financial independence. After carrying a massive baby for 9 months, being in caregiving jail for 3 months and coping with my father-in-law’s passing, a 20+ hour labour, an emergency section, and losing the ability to sleep, I am so grateful neither of us also had to deal with work on top of ALL that.
Anyhoo, so after that traumatic birth story, let me get back to what I said in the beginning. The thing that the other moms should have warned me about, wasn’t labour.
To quote comedian, Ali Wong: “Breastfeeding is brutal. It is chronic physical torture… Breastfeeding is this savage ritual that just reminds you that your body is a cafeteria now”.
The first time I watched “Hard Knock Wife” I couldn’t relate to any of this, but now I know.
As traumatic as my birth experience was, I’d rather go through it a hundred times just to avoid the even bigger trauma of breastfeeding.
But that’s a story for another time.
For those of you who went through it, how did you feel when your kid/kids was born? How was the experience? And for those who haven’t gone through it, on a scale from 1 to 10, how much did that story make you want to get your tubes tied/get a vasectomy? Let me know in the comments below.
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