Enduring an unmedicated natural birth was one of the worst experiences of my life. Traumatic. Excruciating. Horrific. Ten months have passed since I gave birth without drugs and the awful experience still sends panic through my brain and discomfort through my groin.
Childbirth without an epidural was never my intention. Some women plan for a drug-free labor, prepping for months on breathing methods and visualization techniques. I am not one of those women. Give me the damn drugs. Then give me some more.
I’m not some sort of weenie. I can tolerate some level of pain. With my first baby, I was in active labor for over an hour before calling for an epidural. I had been induced, but wanted to experience how true labor felt. I told myself that I’d labor for at least an hour before getting the drugs. I huffed and puffed my way through contractions for 58 minutes. At minute 59, I demanded the anesthesiologist. Once the epidural was inserted into my back, the party began. Total game changer.
Birthing my second child was similar in that I was once again induced, but I didn’t mess with trying to breathe through the insane pain that is active labor. I had one contraction and summoned the anesthesiologist.
Much like my first two children, my third child was also induced. A young nurse named Mandy, who was a month out of nursing school, was assigned to me. An inexperienced mother might have become worried to be in the hands of such a green nurse. Not me. This wasn’t my first rodeo. Wasn’t even my second rodeo. I was a baby machine and felt well prepared for birth.
When I’d dilated to 4 cm, my fledging nurse gave me one drop of Pitocin to induce labor. “Tell me when you want to call the anesthesiologist,” she said, offering me a labor ball covered with a hand towel to sit on. I’d never sat on a labor ball, so I gave it a ride. I sat down on it, bare bottomed, and gave a little bounce.
“I feel like I have to poop,” I said.
Mandy spun around.
“I think I—” Whoosh. “Shit! My water just broke!”
The wetness soon covered my legs, the ball, and the floor. Mandy rushed over and asked me to stand and walk to the bed.
“I can’t!” I screamed. I couldn’t move an inch. If I moved I might shit my baby right on the floor. I started sweating immediately. Pain swelled around my bulging belly through my back. The feeling of having to poop intensified. I felt the extreme pressure of a baby’s head pushing down my vagina.
My husband started supporting my body as Mandy ran out of the room like a rodeo clown being chased by a bull. She came back seconds later with a nurse who looked like she had conquered a few bulls in her day. I needed that nurse now.
“Kimberly,” the veteran nurse was leaning over me. “I need to check you.” Mandy and my husband rolled me back on the ball like they were slowly rolling out dough. My new expert nurse didn’t even do a finger check to determine how far I was dilated. “Mandy! Get the floor doctor!”
My heart beat wildly, uncontrollably. I started hyperventilating. Mandy ran out of the room while my new nurse and my husband slid me onto the hospital bed. There was no break between contractions. I couldn’t see straight. I couldn’t breathe.
“I need an epidural!” I shouted, “I can’t do this! I need an epidural!”
My eyes were beginning to blur. Every inch of my body was throbbing in pain. In part delusion, part hopefulness, I asked if the anesthesiologist was close.
“Kimberly, he’s coming,” the veteran nurse lied. “But you’re going to have to start pushing soon.”
I responded with a scream so loud, I’m sure every laboring mother on the floor cringed and gave their epidural dispensers an extra release.
Mandy returned to the room later, I think. I never actually saw her again. She probably quit and is now an accountant. At my feet, an on-call doctor appeared and greeted me.
The room swirled with panic as people rushed to get into position. My mind and body moved out of sync. My body, seized with pain, had started the process of birth without waiting for my mind to catch up.
I had pushed two babies out before. I knew what I was supposed to do. During the birth of my second child my doctor had praised me for having a “model birth,” done exactly as it’s suppose to be done. Now I was unprepared and uneducated on how to give birth naturally. My focus shifted solely onto the unbearable pain; I couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t concentrate on pushing. Screams and sweat poured from me.
The veteran nurse grabbed my hand and got within an inch of my face. “Kimberly, you are going to need to breathe and control yourself now. Look at me. Look at me!”
I couldn’t look. I couldn’t breathe.
“Kimberly, look at me!”
I looked. She had a tiny diamond nose ring.
“Bear down and push. Ready. Go. 10, 9, 8…”
I screamed through the entire push, staring at her nose ring. I’m sure my husband was there in the room somewhere. I don’t remember seeing him. It was an out-of-body experience. I wish I had been out of my own body, actually.
My fingers ached as I clenched the bed sheets like a handle on a roller coaster. My biceps stood at full attention. My vagina radiated like a firecracker about to explode. My lungs shrieked at an incredible volume as I cried out again.
For centuries, this is how childbirth has been. Women are some tough motherfuckers.
I felt every inch of my daughter pass through my body. Her head escaped with a release of pressure. Bony shoulders went through with a jab. Legs and feet slithered out like worms through fingers.
They laid her on me, as tears trickled from my eyes — but I couldn’t enjoy the moment. I was still in shocking pain. I couldn’t focus my attention on her because my skin crawled and my muscles were flinching. I was shaking and clutching my daughter so tightly the nurses had no choice but to remove her from my arms. Besides, my job was not yet done. The pain would continue to come as I pushed out the placenta.
Ten minutes had passed and now my personal OB-GYN ran into the room. The show was not over, folks. Time to be stitched up. My doctor spread numbing cream around my vagina, but that was like using a spray bottle on a house fire. It didn’t help. Poke, poke, poke. I felt the stitches going in one by one. It felt like she was pinching and pulling every inch of my privates with pliers.
“Owww!” I screamed at her.
“Kimberly, look at me. Breathe,” Nose Ring returned into my eyeline.
“She’s hurting me!” I retorted as if my doctor, just feet away, couldn’t hear me or see my seething face. I don’t know how long the suturing lasted, but it felt like an hour.
New nurses came in and cleaned me up. Mandy, having been scarred for life, was probably down in HR handing in her resignation. Veteran nurse Nose Ring most likely left to get a stiff drink. She deserved it. Within an hour, I felt like I had run a marathon. Simultaneously, I felt exhausted, thrilled, energized, and traumatized. I cuddled my baby and walked around the room totally in love. My husband kissed me and said he was proud, albeit scared of me.
“I felt like I was watching The Exorcist,” he half-joked.
I’m sure an exorcism doesn’t hurt that badly.