Labor (Pains) Day: ‘My Pain On A Scale Of 1 To 10? What Kind Of Question Is That, Anyway?’

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It all started at 2:30 AM on a Monday morning when my water broke. Unfortunately, I had stayed up until midnight watching South Park, so I was not feeling particularly energized. I awakened my husband to tell him that my water had broken, and he sleepily replied, “Seriously?” I said, “Um, I’m pretty sure,” as my water broke again (apparently, this happens repeatedly throughout later). Within an hour, I was at the hospital, connected to various tubes and machines, and my husband was standing by with ice chips. Soon after I arrived at the hospital, my younger sister entered my room, equally tired, but thrilled that she would be missing her last class before Thanksgiving break.

The first eight hours weren’t so bad. We watched Saturday Night Live clips on my husband’s net book; I called my two best friends to tell them that I was in labor; I emailed people at work as though the day were completely ordinary. Then the doctor decided that my labor wasn’t progressing quickly enough, so she decided to put me on Pitocin. I had heard pretty terrible things about Pitocin, so I asked if I could have my epidural before my pain got unbearable. I got my epidural relatively quickly, and thought to myself, “Now it doesn’t matter how long labor lasts, since I won’t have to feel anything! Let’s make a 1980s New Wave playlist. I’m feeling festive!” Except… did you know that epidurals don’t always work? Sometimes they wear off; sometimes they only work on one side; sometimes they don’t work at all.

Within an hour, the epidural had completely worn off on my left side. Utter panic. I had never deluded myself into thinking I could get through labor without pain medication. The plan was: Get epidural. Continue existing until baby is out. There was no Plan B. The doctors tried to give me a second epidural, but the pain in my left side persisted. And it was getting worse. A lot worse. And I was only maybe three centimeters dilated. How would I rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10? What kind of question is that, anyway?

I’m proud to say that I never screamed or yelled at anyone, although I was completely unprepared to deal with full-blown labor pain. I couldn’t watch TV anymore after about five in the afternoon. My sister started writing a paper for one of her classes, and I tried to help her with the wording, but I couldn’t even make any conversation after about seven in the evening. I was only four centimeters dilated, so there was no end in sight to the pain. The nurses neither believed nor cared that my epidural was not working. They gave me zero props for not yelling and screaming. They did nothing to help or support me, and were rude to my husband and sister. All I could do was breathe and think “One squared is one. Two squared is four… …19 squared is 361. 20 squared is 400. (I was a math major in college.) Okay, I survived that contraction. Here comes another one.” I was at five centimeters at 10 PM. Only halfway through in 19.5 hours?!

By some miracle, I went from five centimeters to nine centimeters in two hours. Maybe, just maybe, I was actually going to give birth this decade. I had reached 10 centimeters by 2 AM. Finally, I was ready to push. I pushed with all of my might for an hour-and-a-half. Somehow, the pain lessened when I was pushing, and I felt revived. I was actually going to do it! The nurse could see the baby’s head! Unfortunately, every time I stopped pushing, the baby’s head went back inside of me. “I’m going to give you a break,” the nurse said. “I don’t need a break,” I told her, “I can still push! Let’s keep going!” But no, the nurse disappeared. About a half-hour later, she returned with the doctor who recommended a C-section. After all I had been through, I felt utterly defeated, so I agreed.

The doctor vanished to set up the operating room. She returned to ask, “You’re allergic to penicillin?” I replied, “Yes, I am.” “How allergic?” she asked. Were they going to ask me to rate this on a scale of 1 to 10, too? “What happens when you take it?” the doctor asked. “I don’t know,” I replied, “I think I got a rash when I was a baby.” “We’re having trouble finding another antibiotic,” the doctor informed me. I said what anyone in my position would say: “Look harder.”

Around four AM, I was taken into the operating room, and I’m pretty sure I had a shower cap on. They were going to give me a spinal block through the same catheter that my epidural was in. “Is this actually going to work? Because, you know, my epidural didn’t work?” I asked. “Yes, this will definitely work,” the doctor assured me. Soon after I was given the spinal block, my eyes BURNED! What was in this thing? “I’m going to throw up!” I announced. I was connected to a bunch of tubes and there were doctors everywhere, and before I knew it, I was barfing over my shoulder, all over the anesthesiologist.

The curtain of mystery was put between me and my abdomen, and the doctor decided to test my sensitivity with clamps before cutting me open. “I can feel that,” I told her. She didn’t believe me and continued testing. “Still feel it. Still feel it. I know you don’t believe me, but I can tell feel it.” The doctor assured me, “This spinal block will work.” Finally, I told her, “I distinctly feel the clamp on my left side right now. Please do not cut me open, because I can feel everything!” Miraculously, the doctor believed me before cutting me open, and my C-section was performed under general anesthesia.

I woke up… somewhere. My throat hurt because I was intubated. I was covered in random suction cups. My stomach hurt worse than when I was in labor. “The morphine is on its way,” a nurse told me. Wonderful. Then my family appeared out of nowhere. They had all seen my baby before me and were gushing over how adorable she was. I was in and out of consciousness, but I managed to read on the nurse’s clipboard that my baby had been born at 4:50 AM. The clock read 6:30. I felt like an eggshell, cracked open, robbed of anything valuable, and thrown into the garbage disposal.

If I could go back to when I first got pregnant, I would tell myself this: Don’t expect the hospital to protect you from a bad experience.