I’ve always known that I wanted to have kids, but things changed when I realized that I was actually going to have children of my own someday. It was maybe four or five years ago, not long after that I got married, that I became really interested in the pregnancy and birthing process. I was nowhere near ready to actually get pregnant yet; it was still an abstract concept, yet a concrete plan to me. While I’ve always gone through different titles and labels in my life – wedding planner, college student, wife, etc. – MOTHER was one that I knew for a fact that I would possess one day.
It was when this change occurred that I began educating myself on pregnancy and birth – I watched all the videos, including the Business of Being Born. I remember being frustrated at the medicalization of what I consider a natural human experience. The c-section rate in this country is so high, and while my opinions about pregnancy and birth have evolved over the years, my desire to avoid having a c-section at all costs has been a constant.
There have been other medical interventions regarding the pregnancy and birth process that have made me angry as well. It’s no secret that I’m a firm believer that our bodies are MADE to have babies and that we are not sick or disabled. This is a natural process, and we deserve to have a natural experience if we so choose.
For the majority of my pregnancy, this natural process was one that I chose. I practiced natural pain management techniques, researched how to avoid unnecessary medical interventions, and made it clear to my health providers that I wanted as natural of a birth as possible. I wasn’t opposed to drugs to help deal with the pain, but I didn’t want an epidural. Honestly, it was the thought of an epidural that freaked me out more than anything. And induction for any reason other than medical necessity was pretty much out of the question.
I didn’t need to be induced; he would come when he was ready. But as the days came and went without any signs of impending labor, I found myself getting stressed. I had no idea when he was going to make an appearance; family members were trying to make plans regarding his arrival, and I knew that I had a wedding only a few weeks after my due date. I was getting severely uncomfortable, and nights were not my friend. I found myself crying nearly every day, wondering when I would finally get to have my baby. I worried about the pain, counting every single kick and contraction. I was so focused on actually giving birth that I was making myself sick.
It was in these last few weeks that I realized it. Yes, I had gestational diabetes, which was medically relevant to my pregnancy, but otherwise, we were both doing great. I had no reason for intervention or worry.
I’ve always had terrible anxiety; this is no secret. It’s been relatively well managed for over a year now with medication (which yes, I continued to take throughout my pregnancy), but I was about to put myself through a new experience, something vastly different from my everyday life.
It took me a long time to recognize, and accept without guilt, the fact that my anxiety was a completely acceptable medical part of my pregnancy and birth experience.
It was Thursday, February 11th that I found myself in labor and delivery at the hospital on the monitors. This wasn’t unusual – because I had gestational diabetes, I’d been having bi-weekly monitoring since the end of January. Remi’s heart-rate hadn’t peaked the way they wanted it to, so while everything was normal, they still wanted me to get some additional tests done. I had never met the doctor on call that day, and I knew as soon as I met him that we were not going to mesh well. Sure enough, while his bedside manner was definitely lacking, it was his by-the-book treatment that really angered me. I was 38 weeks and 3 days at this point and had been deemed “non-compliant” because I didn’t always bring my blood sugar log to my appointments (I disagreed with the way they managed gestational diabetes in patients).
Oh so casually, he said he was putting me on the schedule to be induced the next Wednesday. There was no conversation about why I needed to be induced, other than that because I was non-compliant, they couldn’t actually know how well my GD was being managed. Also, he was nonchalant in the way that he suggested that there was no reason to continue a pregnancy past 39 weeks. Needless to say, I told him fuck no and we got the hell out of there.
Our Monday monitoring appointment was fine. Everything was still perfect, but I still found myself entirely overwhelmed about when things would get started. Honestly, I couldn’t function. I was so focused on WHEN that I forgot to tell myself that HOW was important too.
I met with my OB on Wednesday and brought up the fact that the doctor in the hospital wanted to induce me. She had never brought it up with me before, but this time, we had a discussion about it. It wasn’t that she was opposed to induction – quite the opposite, actually. I had just made it clear to her that I wanted a natural birth experience and there was really no medical evidence suggesting that I needed to be induced.
Once I brought up the idea with her, however, being induced changed from absolutely not to perhaps. She talked about the pros and cons and how it would work. There was no “let’s put you on the schedule.” Instead, she let me make the decision on my own. At this point, I knew that my anxiety was becoming an issue. I had recognized the medical and mental reasons why inducing might be a good idea. I just had to get rid of the guilt that came along with it. By the end of that appointment, I was on the schedule to come in at nine o’clock the next morning to start the process.
That afternoon was one of the calmest of my pregnancy. For the first time, I KNEW what was going to happen, and I just let it go. I came home and cleaned the house and did the laundry. I made sure his nursery was ready and our bags were packed. When Robert came home from work, we went out to dinner where I had a nice glass of wine, and we saw a movie. My anxiety was gone. For the first time in weeks, I could just enjoy my pregnancy. I could savor those last few moments as a family of two. I could start processing the fact that the next time I would be home, my womb would be empty, but I would be a mother.
Robert went and got us Chick Fil A for breakfast the morning of my induction. I took a long, hot shower and made myself as comfortable as possible. And then we left.
As much as I would like to be able to give specific details about my induction, it was kind of a blur. The doctor that I didn’t like was at the hospital that day, but I actually did that for a reason. He would start the induction, but it was unlikely that he would actually deliver.
I was administered Cervadil in the morning, which stays in the cervix for twelve hours. Basically, I dawdled that day. I was having mild contractions, but nothing too severe. My mom and mother-in-law came up that afternoon, and we had Greek food for dinner.
At eleven o’clock that night, the doctor came in the check my progress. The medication wasn’t meant to start labor, but rather to soften my cervix so that I could dilate and my body could prepare for labor.
When the doctor tried to check me, however, I was in so much pain that I nearly crawled out of my hospital bed. My cervix was so tender that I literally started crying out in pain. AOnd I was only one centimeter dilated.
The tried to start Pitocin, but my IV wasn’t working. So they had to take it out and try again. Another big cause of anxiety for me is medical intervention, so this was actually a big deal. I always knew that I could potentially deal with the pain – it was the medical processes that REALLY freaked me out. Needles, catheters, internal monitoring – that was enough to throw me into a panic attack. And that is exactly what happened.
The second attempt at an IV didn’t work either. At this point, I was nearly sobbing in frustration and anger. I was angry at myself that I chose to go through this. I was scared that all of this meant I was going to get a c-section. I was frustrated with my body that it didn’t want to cooperate.
They took a break from trying to get the IV in, and I went in to use the bathroom. As an introvert, I need time and space by myself to process things, something that wasn’t really afforded to me up until that point. I had family and my husband and a team of doctors and nurses that were going in and out of my room, telling me what was going to happen and what I needed to do. In the silence of that hospital bathroom, however, I was able to look in the mirror and tell myself that I could do it. I could do this. Birth was what my body was meant to do; it didn’t matter so much anymore as how the baby got out, only that he would. And I needed to trust my body, my doctors, and the process.
The third attempt at an IV worked, and I was even able to let them put it in my wrist (which I had never managed before – I always asked them in previous hospitalizations to put it in my forearm because of my needle aversion). They started the Pitocin, and the wait was on.
I slept decently that night. I was getting some contractions, but nothing regular. By six in the morning, I was tired and they were starting to hurt, so I got a dose of Fentanyl. Let me tell you, that’s the happy stuff. I was so woozy that Robert had to feed me breakfast. I don’t even remember my dad coming in to see me, only that I woke up and he was stroking my elbow. I smiled because I knew my family was there for me, regardless of what might happen, and then fell promptly back to sleep.
I got a new doctor that day, another that I’d never met before. I was nervous that I wasn’t going to like him, but he was AWESOME. When they checked me again, I was still only one centimeter dilated. He explained what was happening, and gave me options. I could go home, or we could continue onto the next course of action.
I chose to power through it. Home sounded nice, but I was already hooked up. My delivery room was big and comfortable. I had gone into the hospital ready to have this baby, and I wanted to have him. To some, it may seem like there was reason to believe that he wasn’t ready to come, but I was ready to have him. And you know what? That’s important too.
He started me on my first dose of Misoprostol, which is an oral medication meant to ripen the cervix. I would get twelve hours of that medication, at which point we would see what happened. Once again, I wasn’t dilating at all, so he inserted a foley bulb, which is basically a catheter in the cervix to try and jumpstart dilation.
After the Misoprostol, I was once again given Pitocin to try and begin contractions. By this time, it was Saturday morning. My birthday. I had been in the hospital for over two days. My doctor was there that morning, and I was starting to get excited about the thought of having the baby on my birthday with my own doctor.
But Remi had other plans. I was still only one and a half centimeters dilated that afternoon. My options were getting limited.
In an attempt to manage my anxiety, I was given a combination of Ativan and Fentanyl while my doctor broke my water and put on the internal monitors. I slept for a few hours but woke up to some serious contractions. We were officially in business.
As I mentioned before, the idea of an epidural had always been out of the question. But as my contractions started getting worse and the past few days caught up with me, I was exhausted. Once again, I was frustrated and my anxiety started getting the best of me. I have no doubt that in another circumstance, I likely could have managed without an epidural, but this was the circumstance that I was in. I decided to go for it.
My anxiety had been explained to all of my other nurses, but for some reason, this one didn’t quite get it. My doctor had approved my request for another dose of Ativan to get me through the process, but apparently that was never communicated to this nurse or my anesthesiologist. As they prepped me, and I realized I wasn’t going to be given my medication to get through it, I had another panic attack. The nurse basically told me she wasn’t going to give me something every time I asked for it, and I pretty much had to yell for them to stop so that they would listen to me. Robert took them out of the room to explain the situation, and the nurse came back with the Ativan. I got the epidural, which was not nearly as terrible as I anticipated, and let it kick it.
It worked like a charm. There were a few times when the button just wasn’t doing the trick, so the anesthesiologist had to give me a little bit more juice (with that miracle drug, Fentanyl, included – which, let me tell you, might be a new favorite. Dilaudid had always been my go to, but we might have a toss-up now).
By eleven the next morning, I was ready to go. The beginning of my delivery was much calmer that I anticipated. You always see the room filled with doctors and bright lights and all that jazz, but it was just me, my husband, my mom and mother-in-law, and a very nice but subdued nurse.
I pushed for two hours, but they were some of the shortest hours of my life, honestly. Because of the epidural, I was able to focus on pushing rather than the pain. Instead of screaming, I withdrew myself and curled around my baby as I pushed. I don’t know that I made a sound during those two hours. It hurt, yes, but it was more the effort that wore me out. I’m thankful for that. I found myself in a rhythm of three pushes per contraction. Though I couldn’t stand because of my epidural, I was able to push in different positions. My mom curled around me, supporting my back and one of my legs. Robert supported my other, and I was able to look at him while I pushed.
I asked everyone if he had hair. I remember crying when they said yes.
Just as I started to think I couldn’t do it anymore, the doctor came in. I knew it was time. He slipped out of me, and they placed him on my chest. He was slippery and purple and perfect. I cried, but he didn’t. After only a few seconds, he was taken away so that they could give him oxygen. I remember the nurses calling for NICU to come, but there was no panic in their voices. While it was terrifying, it was also somewhat peaceful. My body had done exactly what it was supposed to do, and he was here. I was a mom.
Remi Allen Duff was born at 1:20 that afternoon, Sunday, February 21st.
Unfortunately, I did tear and the doctor stitched me up. Remi was placed back on my chest, and he latched on fairly quickly. I vaguely remember asking my brother to bring me a cheeseburger and Dr. Pepper. Everyone met the newest member of the family, and then I was taken up to my new room for the next two days.
I spent a total of five days in the hospital – three and a half in labor and delivery and two in postpartum. My dad, brother, and mother-in-law left that evening. My mom stayed until Tuesday. She actually smuggled in a beer for me on Monday night, which was funny to me.
It’s going to take a lot of time for me to process everything, but as I look down at my sweet boy, I know that it was all one hundred percent worth it. My labor was in no way easy, but it was MY experience, and that’s all I wanted. I wanted to make the decisions, and let my body do the rest. And honestly – I think being in the hospital for so long at the beginning actually helped with my delivery. Instead of being anxious over every little detail, I was able to let go and let be when my actual labor started.
He’s absolutely incredible, just in case you’re wondering. It’s surreal to know that my body created such perfection. It feels strange knowing that I’m empty, and somewhat bittersweet now sharing him with the world. But I love him, and my family is exactly where it is supposed to be at this moment in our lives.