We woke up the next morning early. If you’d call it waking up at all. Our sleep was interrupted dozens of times but I hadn’t really slept in weeks. If it wasn’t the heartburn, it was the pain on the upper right side of my abdomen. If it wasn’t that, it was having to pee every half an hour. Something always got in the way of my sleep. Lately, it had been the consistent period-like cramps that kept me awake.
At around 10 AM a doctor came in to give me a cervical exam. I was supposed to have had 12 hours of Cervidil. Normally, the Pitocin is given first thing in the morning. But since I had been admitted so late, my time was pushed back. Instead of waiting until noon, the doctor decided to come in a little early.
“This is going to be a little uncomfortable.” She said.
Now, I know I haven’t gotten to the end of this story yet but I simply must interject. In hindsight, this was by far the most intense physical pain I endured. She not only gave me an exam to find out if I had dilated any more since my previous exam, but this time she tried to “get things going” using a couple of fingers. It hurt. I let out a loud groan and tried to pull away. Nothing, not even labor, hurt quite like that exam. I suddenly had a LOT of respect for all those who go through a vaginal birth without using any drugs whatsoever.
It was at that very moment, I decided to have an epidural.
“You’re 2 centimeters dilated.” She said, tearing her gloves off.
“Only two?” I asked.
“But your cervix is 75% effaced. It’s ready.”
I had trouble hiding my heartache. I wanted a miracle to have taken place. I wanted to be much more dilated especially after all of those contractions I endured the night before.
“Even after that half hour long contraction? I’m still only 2 centimeters?” I said through tears.
“Don’t worry! The Pitocin will do the rest.” She reassured me. And then she said, “Welcome to labor.”
The nurse had already started the Pitocin through my IV drip. I had no idea how Pitocin worked. Was it like a gunshot? Would it immediately force my cervix to open? I got a little worried that I hadn’t yet had the epidural. What if my cervix started to open really fast and it hurt as much or worse than what she had done with her fingers?
“Are you going to be having an epidural today?” The doctor asked me as if it were the daily special at a fancy restaurant.
“Yes.” I told her.
She called anesthesia and left the room. The nurse continued to administer the Pitocin.
The nurse asked me, “On a scale 1 – 10, 10 being the most painful, how would you classify your pain level right now?”
“Ummm, well, I don’t know what 10 is yet, you know? It’s relative, right? If 10 ends up being really bad, then I’d say this is a two? If it’s not that bad, a 5?”
The nurse laughed. “I’ll write down a 3.”
A half hour passed and two men walked into the room. They introduced themselves to me as anesthesiologists and congratulated me.
“We understand you’ll be having an epidural today?”
“Yes.” I assured them.
They looked over the monitor.
“Michele, did you just feel that?”
“Feel what?” I asked.
“Well, you just had a pretty intense contraction and you didn’t even flinch.”
(Now, back up a minute. I don’t want people to think I’m some kind of tough guy. I’m not. But, I do need to say that I really didn’t find contractions all that painful and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t even sure what they were until I was admitted into the hospital. I thought contractions were the painful spasms you had down around your cervix. I found that pain almost unbearable. which is why I cried out whenever the doctor gave me a cervical exam. Contractions, I could have handled without an epidural. Dilating to 10 centimeters? No way. Some woman want to have a natural childbirth. And I respect them for that. But I’m not one of those women. I hope that all those who went through childbirth “naturally” will respect my choices as well.)
“I didn’t notice.” I told them.
They left the room to grab the necessary items. The nurse asked, “Are you OK?”
“I’m nervous.” I admitted. “I may have tattoos but I actually hate needles.”
She laughed. “Well, you got the Asian guy. He’s good. The Asians are always good.”
I cracked up. I felt reassured, like, Asians are really good at what they do! I’ll do just fine! And at that moment in time, regardless of how racist the thought was, I didn’t care. You could have told me he was an Aquarius and I may have asked him to leave. We Aquarians are way too flakey to insert needles into someone’s spine.
The doctors returned. It was time.
I moved into an upright seated position and dangled my feet over the side of the bed. I was told to hunch over and arch my back.
“Like cat pose?” I asked.
The skinny doctor laughed. “Yes, just like cat pose.”
“Grab a hold of Nurse Stephanie’s hands and squeeze. You’re going to feel a couple of pinches. That’s the numbing agent. Try not to move too much. If it hurts, squeeze.”
The needles in my back felt exactly as you might imagine. Eventually, the numbness took over and then it was time for the actual epidural.
I wish I could capture the way it feels to have a needle inserted into your back to someone who hasn’t ever had it done. But it’s downright impossible. The only thing I could think to say when TobyJoe asked me how it felt was, “It feels like someone has a metal rod and is inserting it directly into your soul.”
It made my teeth itch, my ears ring. It felt like nothing I have ever known. What made matters even more intense was it took three tries for the Asian guy to get it into the epidural space. I had to tell them where the “cold” feeling was. And it was cold! At the time, I thought they were pumping cold fluid into my spine and up into my head. Turns out, it was only my nerves.
“Right or left?” The skinny guy would ask.
“Right.” I’d answer, unsure of myself.
Finally, after three tries of inserting needles into and out of my spine they got it into a position they seemed happy with even though, later, during some pretty intense contractions, I’d realize that while my right side was entirely numb, my left had nearly all its feeling. This ended being a blessing in disguise, however.
They were finished. The nurse looked at me and said, “You’re about to experience an intense feeling of well-being.”
And that’s when the Fentanyl was administered. I was as high as a kite.
My mother and husband returned.
“HI!” I yelled out. “I feel WOOOOooooondeeerfulllll” I said, slurring my words. “The nurse gave me something.”
She laughed. “I gave her a Fentanyl drip. She’s going to feel wonderful for a while.”
Now, all we had to do was wait. The rest was up to the Pitocin.