I wrote this as a .doc in a birth related Facebook group of which I’m a member. It seemed appropriate to re-post it here.
While our birth story was not traumatic in any way involving surgery, unnecessary interventions, or prolonged healing… it was certainly tough and is something I’ve been processing on and off for the last thirteen months. It didn’t really hit me until about five months post-partum… in the immediate aftermath, I was just so happy to have my baby and so happy the birth was finally OVER that I was able to just roll with it. Since I started really allowing myself to process the experience, I go through days where I feel good just having lived through it and days when I feel kinda shitty about the whole thing.
I won’t get into the whole blow-by-blow of all 47 hours of labor. Suffice to say, it was long. This was the only real *problem* with labor, but for me… it was a HUGE problem.
I have epilepsy and was thus a high-risk labor to begin with. My pregnancy went fine – I only had one seizure and an increase in my medication dose fixed that right away. I had very much planned this pregnancy and had my meds as fetus-friendly as possible long before we actually conceived. Any worries I had about side-effects were assuaged at the 19wk ultrasound when we were quite happily told that we had a perfect fetus with a 1% risk of birth defects.
Still, I knew that I was at risk for seizures during labor. I couldn’t birth at home safely or even in a birth center. I even “risked out” of seeing a midwife for my pre-natal care – I was able to see a CNM, but only with alternating appointments with an OB. Thankfully, my OB was fairly hands-off and her only intervention was to bug my neurologist about increasing my medication when my blood levels seemed off. I was also lucky enough to see a neurologist who specializes in women’s epilepsy and worked specifically with childbearing women through pregnancy and nursing.
This is where I should mention that one of the major complications of the intersection of epilepsy and motherhood is that lack of sleep is a HUGE trigger for seizures and for me specifically, it’s my biggest trigger. This and newborn life aren’t really compatible – especially with breastfeeding as the issue isn’t so much cumulative hours as consecutive hours. I was advised to supplement with one bottle of formula and get a four-six hour stretch of sleep with someone else taking the baby, which is exactly what we did. I was specifically advised not to pump so that I would be able to make it six hours without getting engorged.
And one of the reasons I followed this advice to the letter was that I neglected to follow my instructions regarding labor. I was told by my neurologist that in the event of “extended” labor, I needed to get an epidural at hour 12 to avoid triggering a seizure. I totally ignored this as I just didn’t want to hear it. No other reason. I just didn’t WANT to get an epidural. And I’m stubborn.
At hour 34, I knew I’d pushed it too far. I could feel my pre-seizure warnings coming on full force and knew I had to get to the hospital. Thankfully, my birth team included my mother – who used to be a labor & delivery nurse herself – so she knew EXACTLY what to say to the triage nurse to get me seen the SECOND I walked in the door. I was seriously admitted within ten minutes of entering the hospital driveway, a feat my doula had never seen before. (It should be mentioned that this was at Women & Infants hospital in Providence, which is huge and was VERY busy that night.) The OB who admitted was very kind in telling me that I had no choice – I absolutely had to get the epidural and sleep.
At hour 35, I had a seizure. My seizures are petit mal and it wasn’t terribly interesting, but it did of course put me at risk for more seizures which could be a really, really huge problem for both me and the baby.
At hour 36, I got the epidural. A full 24 hours after I was ordered to do so.
We all survived and after 47 hours of labor and five hours of pushing, I delivered my son vaginally. He was positioned sideways, which accounts for the prolonged time in finding his way out. Amazingly, even with the epidural on for nearly twelve hours, I never needed pitocin and had strong contractions every 3 minutes for the entire duration of labor.
I don’t really have lingering issues surrounding the birth specifically so much as just issues about high-risk delivery. I envy mothers for whom home birth is even an *option* and feel angry and defensive when I see home birth advocates saying that home birth is just as safe as a hospital birth. No, not for everyone it’s not. I quite often feel like I have to justify my epidural that I was indeed *ordered* to get it and not just because an OB wanted to speed things up, but because without sleep, I was at risk of having seizures that might not stop and would potentially deprive my baby of oxygen, not to mention wreaking havoc on my own brain. Truly without the epidural, I would have had to get a c-section and the only reason I didn’t end up with one in the first place is simply because the hospital was too busy that night and I ended up fairly low on the priority list (though obviously if sleep hadn’t worked and I’d had another seizure I would have been in the OR within minutes).
Now I’m at a point where I’m starting to think about the next time around and I’m realizing I’ll have even fewer options. Since I’ve already had a seizure during labor, it’s almost guaranteed that it will happen again. I will probably have to go into the hospital earlier and may not have a choice about waiting to get the epidural.
I feel like a lot of mothers out there just have no idea of what a high-risk delivery means and that sometimes, an intervention isn’t a choice made by “the system” but rather is a truly protective measure for mother and fetus. I feel like in the sort of AP/breastfeeding communities especially that a natural birth is held up in higher esteem than a medicated birth and I really, really hate that because I feel like I fall short and there’s absolutely nothing I can do to change that. I don’t think I’ll ever have a natural birth – I’ll certainly never birth outside of a hospital.
So, there’s my own baggage. Just wishing that there was a greater understanding in mothering circles of what a privilege it is to have CHOICES about birth in the first place, even if it doesn’t turn out the way you plan.