11 July 2012

A Different Kind of Birth Story: My Kind

On the eve of Annaïs’ first birthday, I’m thinking a lot about her birth. People are pretty into their birth stories these days. There are entire blogs dedicated to birth stories. Jill used to send me links to particularly good entries. Until I had to break it to her how much I hate birth stories. And then she started sending me videos of women giving birth in the ocean. With dolphins. This actually exists, folks.

Most of the time people who write about their births have had candlelit, natural births at home in their organic bathtubs. Or they have dramatic stories of 3 day labors that end in emergency C-sections. I can’t identify with either side of the spectrum. I usually scan for the words “induced” or “hellish pain” to see if I’m interested. But no one really writes about those details.     

We have two identical baby books for our nearly Irish twin children. I’ve done a fairly good job of documenting the supposedly important things like “first blueberry” and "first bird" (so hipster). In fact, I ran out of space writing about Charlotte’s birth. It wasn’t organic, but made for a nice and tidy story for her to read when she’s older.

Annaïs on the other hand, has a blank page. I’m not sure I can spin her story enough to make it nice to put in print. Both of our babies were induced at 38 weeks. Electively induced. No one is dumb enough to write about that. Jill says inductions bring contractions from another universe. I cling to this statement because I’ve found it to be so true.

Jill checked us into our hospital room the day Ani was born and at the end of her shift handed us over to our personally selected labor and delivery nurse. (Proof Jill knew how to be corrupt even before she moved to Congo.) This nurse asked, “Ladybug, do you have a birth plan?” She thought my name was ladybug, for some reason. And that I was the type of person who would have a birth plan. I said my only goal was to be finished when Jill returned for her next shift. This gave me about 12 hours. Charlotte was born in 13, so this was not too lofty a goal.

I think my first mistake was believing all those tales, or reading too many birth story blogs about second labors being a piece of cake. Or at least easier than the first. I spent all morning waiting for my induced labor start. And then within about 3 seconds, I went from zero pain to actually looking around to see who was stabbing me in the uterus. It was bad. However I have some strange personality quirk that only allows me to share with Adam how I’m really feeling. Must maintain ladybug status with hospital staff. Must not show signs of weakness or pain.    

Soon after that person started stabbing me in the uterus, I decided to try laboring in the bathtub, mostly because of all those women who blog about the natural relaxing effects of water. I’m here to tell you they’re all liars. I’m pretty sure I cursed every mommy blogger who’s ever told me how great bathtub labors are. I started visualizing what I would write in their comments section. These weren’t nice things.

Then the nurse asks how I’m doing and I want to remain a ladybug. I say I’m doing totally fine and am really loving the bathtub. Then I’m pretty sure I shoot Adam a death look just in case he starts to think I’m doing "totally fine." She then asks if I’d like some sort of IV pain relief. “Oh okay,” as I’m only getting about 15 seconds between each hellish contraction. She tells me it’ll feel like I’ve had one too many margaritas. And it does. For about 5 seconds. I swear I could even taste the salt. Why don’t I drink more margaritas? After this is over, I’m drinking more margaritas. No more getting pregnant just so I can drink margaritas. (This is a promise I’ve kept.) 

Just when I think it’s not possible, my pain gets worse and I distinctly remember my thoughts. I count all the Congolese women I know and add up all their kids. How do they do this without air conditioning? Or stupid bathtubs. Or water. Oh and Western medicine. Or any medicine at all. And then I start to sympathize with anyone who's ever died a slow and painful death. These thoughts do not make the pain better.

Then I start scanning the room for something to kill myself. Nothing. Hospitals are smart that way. Adam tries to be nice to me. I rescan for something to kill him. Still nothing. Then I start to wonder why there aren’t more news stories about husband-wife murder-suicides during childbirth. Then I convince myself there is a major conspiratorial cover-up because this is surely a common occurrence. I make a note to look into this later.

The nurse comes back in and asks how I’m doing. “I’m totally fine.” Must keep up my ladybug-esque exterior. And then I ask for an epidural. Ya know, not because I need it or anything. She asks if I feel any pressure. Now I’ve read enough birth stories to know this is the trick question to see if you’re ready to push at which point they tell you it’s too late for an epidural. I feel the pressure so I know for sure it’s time to push, so I lie through my teeth and say, “Nope, no pressure at all. Baby’s no where near coming.” I want that epidural. I get it. It doesn’t work because it’s too late. Those damn medical professionals know what they’re doing.

Then I push for hours. In South Africa the nurse told me my doctor would only let me push for 20 minutes before she’d vacuum the baby out. “It’s more humane for the mother that way.” And that’s exactly how Charlotte was born. It was lovely. I put in my 20 minutes of work and then the doctor did the rest.

Ani also refused to be born and at one point my American doctor said, “I could vacuum this baby out, but…meh.” This is an actual quote as I was deep into my second hour of pushing. Thanks, doc.

At one point I glanced at the clock and saw Jill would be returning to work soon. We needed to get this show on the road. Finally after some pretty fancy maneuvers Ani was born. Babies are supposed to be born looking down at the floor. She was looking up at the corner between the wall and the ceiling. Hence the stuckness. And this is what her head looked like:

It’s a conehead on the side of her head. I’ve never even heard of this before. Jill says the nurses noted this in her file. I’m pretty proud of that. We showed this photo to a friend and she told us we really shouldn’t ever share it with people. In fact, we should get rid of it. 

Jill got to work about 15 minutes after Ani was born and took over as my nurse. She asked how my labor was and I wanted to cry to my friend, “That was the worst experience of my life. I already have PTSD.” But Jill looked so happy and professional in her pastel scrubs so I lied again and said it was "totally fine." I remained a ladybug and gestured to Adam rocking Ani in the corner.

Ani just a few short hours later...conehead resolving nicely.

And then I don’t really know what happened, but when the doctor came back Jill and I had turned the room into a “murder scene” to use his words.  I won't give details, but there were bloody footprints involved.

Then Jill took Ani to the nursery. When she cheerfully brought her back to me in the middle of the night to feed her, I was so tired I wanted to tell her to go do her own job. But again, I restrained myself and fed my baby.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my baby and it’s true that even after a hellish labor, you’d do it a million times over again for that love. I think when you’re in that deep recovery room sleep, they inject you with a chemical to make you feel this way. There’s really no other explanation for this phenomenon.  

For my third child, I plan on having a non-induced homebirth with Jill delivering the baby. And then I will submit my experience to a birth story blog complete with beautiful untouched, after-delivery photos. (Am I really the only one who retouches the after-delivery photo?) But I’m still not sure about the organic bathtub. And definitely will not be giving birth with dolphins.

Happy Birthday dear Annaïs. Worth every hellish contraction.


  1. Are coneheads inherited? Because Adam's was notorious in the nursery following 4 hrs of pushing - a "walk in the park" for me. "No thank you. No drugs for me. I'm fine, Nurse Ratched," says near-death, laboring, almost mother Gretchen. And even after 31 years, it remains a completely lucid memory. But, yeah, you're right. Never a moment's doubt about Adam being totally worth every hellish contraction.

  2. Love, love, love this! You guys are my favorite bloggers of all time :)So I need to know, who was the nurse that came up with the nickname ladybug?

    -Sue Schenkkan

  3. I totally had Laura Matheny take her for day shift..."Ladybug" is her signature nickname! SO happy you are reading, Sue. Love to everyone!

  4. I'm working my way back through Mama Congo posts after finding you a few weeks ago.
    I just wanted to let you know, this is almost exactly what my daughter's head looked like after our three day labour and three hours of pushing! She would not descend and they thought she might have the cord round her neck so took me in for an emergency c section, (after trying to get her out with forceps and splitting me every which way!) - but managed to get her out with forceps in the delivery room. She had an enormous cone head on the SIDE of her head, just like Annais, so must have come out at an angle. She also had scratches and a swollen eye from the forceps. I also lost a huge amount of blood and suffered three third degree tears.

    I was told afterwards that she was likely back to back when I was in labour which may explain why the contractions were so awful (I also vomited with every single contraction!).

    When you consider that I gave birth in the UK in a brand new maternity unit its a bit ridiculous... I consider myself and my daughter very lucky to be alive!

    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know you aren't alone with your side-cone-head child and at two Olivia Rose is doing pretty well ;)

    Victoria, UK


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