Henry’s Birth Story Part 2: Inferno

(You can read Part 1 of the story here.)

About four hours later, the balloons fall out of me. I’m now at six centimeters. The contractions are long past being ignorable. Nathan and I try to walk around the hallways but walking makes me feel miserable. Every time I have a contraction I hold on to something on the wall and collapse.

I have a new nurse now and she encourages me to try laboring in the bathtub. I love that. Laboring in the warm water helps me cope with the pain and relax. Nathan looks me in the eyes and says convincingly, “You’re doing it. You’re doing so well.” His encouragement gives me confidence. I imagine holding our son in my arms and focus on the breaks between contractions more than the contractions themselves.

But around 4:45pm things start feeling unbearable. I get out of the tub and go back to the bed to labor. I’m completely inside my head and breathing calmly. Nathan puts some lavender oil on me but I’m so inside myself I don’t even notice. I start shaking uncontrollably, and ask my nurse, “Why can’t I stop shaking?”

“It’s because you’re in labor. It’s normal,” she says calmly.

Then I begin feeling very nauseous and start throwing up. I feel gross and exhausted.

“You know, even though delivery is probably a little ways away, I’m going to get everything prepped for it,” my nurse says as she begins gathering some supplies. I think she knows that will encourage me.

I need to hear the word delivery.


The contractions keep coming and coming and I start to feel worse and worse. It’s not just the pain of contractions, but the nausea and the emotions and the complete exhaustion. As I’m squatting on the side of the bed, I start thinking, “I want an epidural now.”

At this point, I barely have any break between contractions.

Just another one and I’ll get there, I tell myself.

But as I labor, I become more overwhelmed with each contraction. I want an epidural for real. I tell my nurse in the most rational voice I can find: “I want an epidural. And I am not kidding. I won’t be upset at you later for letting me get one.”

My nurse has had two unmedicated births herself, and she’s supportive of me not wanting any interventions. So she’s a bit startled, but tries to process it with me. “Well let’s think through our options. You could try nitrous oxide which might take the edge off of them.”

“No, really, I want an epidural.” I know what that means: a dreadful IV, no more moving around, no more drinking water or eating (which I’m throwing up anyway), and continuous fetal monitoring. But I also know it hopefully means no more pain. Hopefully I can get some sleep before I push him out.

My nurse checks me and says I’m at eight centimeters. I feel so encouraged. I can start pushing at ten centimeters and I’ve read that going from eight to ten can go quickly.

I squirm through contractions as my nurse gives me an IV. Once my fluids are flowing, the anesthesia team comes to give me an epidural. As weird as it is to have a needle poked into your spine, getting the IV in my arm was much worse than getting the epidural.

The epidural starts working almost immediately and I could talk through contractions like my normal self. It is as amazing as I thought it’d be.


Not too long after getting the epidural, my nurse checks me again. I think she thinks I might be close to pushing, but her face tells a different story. She seems surprised.

Sensing her unease, I ask her, “How far along am I?”

She tells me she’s going to get a colleague to double check.

“Yes, she’s at six,” the other nurse confirms.

Six? Wasn’t I at eight before? My confused expression tells all my questions.

My nurse apologizes and explains that when she checked me before I must have been having a contraction, which caused the mix up. It is 10:30pm. I have spent eight hours laboring with no progress. All my hard work before getting the epidural feels meaningless. I’m devastated.

My doctor decides to monitor the strength of my contractions to figure out why I seem to be having regular contractions but not progressing.

She quickly sees that my contractions are not strong enough to change my cervix, so she puts me on Pitocin, a synthetic form of the natural hormone oxytocin which causes your uterus to contract in labor. I had wanted to avoid Pitocin if at all possible because I heard that it makes your contractions much more painful—but, since I already had an epidural, I’m not worried about that. I actually agree that it’s a good idea if it will help labor progress.


As nighttime sets in with my epidural of numb bliss and Pitocin giving me stronger contractions, things begin to go wrong. I develop a fever and have to have a blood test to determine whether or not I have an infection. I’m at a higher risk for infection since my water has been broken for over 24 hours.

My white blood cell count comes back slightly elevated but not enough to really concern my doctor. They give me some Tylenol in my IV and some antibiotics just in case of an infection. After a few hours, my temperature normalizes.

Then my baby’s heart rate becomes elevated. They try adjusting my Pitocin levels to see if that will help his heart rate normalize. It remains elevated for several hours but by early morning it eventually gets back down to a normal range. But I can tell my night nurse is still concerned—and so am I.

Throughout the night, there is discussion about getting my baby in a better birth position because he seems oddly sideways. And despite the epidural, I develop horrible pain as the morning approaches.

(Part 3 of the story is here.)

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