How do I start this? How do I tell you that one of the best days of my life was also one of the scariest? How do I put into words the terror I felt after hemorrhaging on the bathroom floor after giving birth? How do I even make sense of it? I’ve been putting off writing this the same way I've been putting off washing the blood-stained purple robe I brought home with me from the hospital after my daughter was born. It’s been sitting at the bottom of my laundry basket for two months. Each week new clothes are piled up on top of it, and as I gradually make my way down the basket, I stop when I see it. Not today, I whisper. Not today.
I’m afraid to touch the robe because every time I see it, it reminds me that the last time I wore it, when I was laying in a puddle of my own blood. I should throw it away, I know I should, but I have this guilt about it because my mother got it for me and I used to love it. I used to love it, until it became a stain on my daughter's birth day. I can still hear the labor and delivery nurses joking with me that they wanted one. “Costco,” I told them, “My mother gets everything from Costco,” I said, as we all laughed.
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted things to be different than my first pregnancy. For some reason, when I had my first child, I only educated myself about what I'd do after I had her. I didn't think twice about having an epidural, or question my induction. I just didn't know anything, and on top of that, I didn't care to know. I just did what the doctors told me to do. This time around, however, I taught myself everything I could about all things pregnancy, including labor and delivery. I was a much different person than the woman I was when I had my first child, and I wanted to set goals for myself that I hadn’t the first time around. I watched documentaries about midwives, doulas, home births, and unmedicated labor and deliveries. I read books and talked with other mothers who shared their experiences with me. I armed myself with the knowledge I wish I'd known the first time around.
As soon as I stood up, I could feel the blood gush out of me.
I hired a doula and I did everything in my power to stay fit and eat healthier so that I wouldn’t get gestational diabetes like I had the first time around. I mentally, emotionally, and spiritually committed to having an unmedicated birth in the hospital, since I couldn’t have a home birth due to lack of midwives in the area we are stationed overseas. I even made a birth plan, something I didn’t do the first time around either. I wanted the whole “natural” experience as much as possible. I told myself I was training for a marathon, not a sprint.
I was 41 weeks and five days when I finally went into labor. I was in the gym on a Wednesday morning and my contractions made me stop in my tracks. I just knew something was different. What I didn’t know was that it would be the beginning of a very long journey.
At this point I was still hopeful that things would happen sooner rather than later. The pain increased with every contraction and I hoped that all of the walking was really helping me progress. I had no idea what was coming. How could I?
When you’re pregnant with your second child, everyone tells you that your labor and delivery will be fast. “Oh, my labor was only four hours with my second,” someone said, while another added, "We barely made it to the hospital in time when we had our second." I was hopeful, but in my head I really thought that the most I'd go through was probably 30 hours. That timeframe seemed reasonable after going 29 hours with my first, and you don't really hear of women laboring much past 30 hours often. I went home after the gym and decided to shower and rest, because I knew that if I could do that then it was way too soon to even think of going to the hospital.
After laboring through the rest of the day and night and not getting much sleep, I woke up in pain before dawn and decided to take a warm bath. I then messaged my doula telling her that I needed her to come over when she got up. I knew I still wasn’t far enough along yet to go to the hospital, but I wanted her there to coach me through the pain. By the time we made it to the hospital in the late afternoon, I'd already been in labor for more than 24 hours — and though I was in a lot of pain I knew I wasn't even close to pushing yet. Sure enough, all of the contractions over the last 24 hours had only gotten me to 4 centimeters dilated. After the doctor checked me, he told me to go get something to eat and walk around for awhile.
So off we went to have my last "big" meal, which I had to force myself to eat. Less than two hours had passed by the time we got back to the hospital, only to discover that my labor had progressed to almost 6 centimeters. We decided to check into the hospital and settle in. We made the halls our home, walking endlessly in a big square, my husband telling me jokes in the hope I'd laugh the baby out. At this point I was still hopeful that things would happen sooner rather than later. The pain increased with every contraction and I hoped that all of the walking was really helping me progress. I had no idea what was coming. How could I?
Hours and hours passed, and so did the laughing. By midnight I'd only progressed to 7 centimeters, and I was in some of the worst pain of my life. Time felt like it stood still. At one point, another mother-to-be was admitted and she delivered within four hours. I never heard her cries, but I know she heard mine. My pain was unbearable and endless. My body was exhausted. Even though the contractions were strong, my labor was stalling because I wasn't allowing my body to relax and let the contractions do their work. I dreaded every contraction because I didn't know how much strength I had left in me. I remember pleading with my husband and the nurses that I couldn't do it anymore. I'd been in pain for so long that my body would tense up with every contraction. I couldn't calm down. I couldn't relax. The doctors kept telling me that Pitocin would push things along, but I refused. I knew for sure that if they gave me the Pitocin, there was no way I could go further without an epidural and I wanted so badly to labor and deliver unmedicated.
I wanted this birth to be so wonderful, I wanted the experience other women had shared with me, but I felt none of the joy they described. Only pain.
But by hour 47, they discovered they hadn't completely broke my water. In fact, it hadn't broken at all. The doctors just assumed that because I was so far dilated and had been in labor for so long that it must have broken along time ago. But I knew better. When another doctor came in to check me, he discovered my water bag had been hiding in a more forward position, and when he broke it, my labor was able to progress to 8 centimeters. At hour 48, I couldn't do it anymore, and I requested a low-dosage of intravenous pain medication. I knew in my heart that if I didn't allow myself to have a break, everything was going to go south and I wouldn't have the delivery I wanted to.
The pain medication gave me the rest I needed, and I was finally able to relax a little more. By hour 49, not only had the pain medications wore off, but it was time to push. I'd been waiting for this moment for 41 weeks, five days, and 49 hours. And after only 30 minutes of pushing, we welcomed our second baby girl into the world, and I had never felt so much joy and relief.
All was fine, I felt great — better, even than I thought I would after nearly 50 hours of labor. I chatted with my husband and eagerly waited for my photographer to message me a sneak peak of the photos she had taken in the hospital. Then I stood up.
I opted to not have any Pitocin for the afterbirth because I wanted the contractions my uterus caused to do the work, and at first glimpse, that's what seemed to happen. My placenta came out and my uterus was contracting and going down, all as it should. I stayed in bed with the baby for an hour, nursing her, and having my blood pressure checked every 15 minutes, as was hospital protocol.
When the hour had finally passed, all I could think about was taking a shower and eating dinner. As soon as I stood up, I could feel the blood gush out of me. The nurse that was with me told me that it was normal. They insisted that a nurse be with me in the bathroom while I showered, and the whole time I was in it, I could feel blood continue to gush out. I showed the nurse, and again she told me it was normal.
She helped me dry off and get the stretchy hospital underwear on with the mammoth-sized maxi pad in it, and then I put my robe on. I was finally able to sit down and eat my dinner, and in that moment, the hospital gravy and rice was the most amazing thing I'd ever tasted. All was fine, I felt great — better, even than I thought I would after nearly 50 hours of labor. I chatted with my husband and eagerly waited for my photographer to message me a sneak peak of the photos she had taken in the hospital. Then I stood up.
They took off my robe and laid me down on the floor of the bathroom. I remember I couldn't really move, I could just feel, and what I felt was the warmth of my blood pooling underneath me.
Immediately, blood gushed from me, drenching the pad within seconds and gushing onto the floor beneath me. I told my husband to page the nurse as I waddled to the bathroom to try and pee and clean myself off, my husband following me just in case. Once again, the nurse told me the amount of blood spilling from me was normal. As I leaned forward on the toilet to try and pull my underwear up, I told my husband I thought I was going to pass out. I could feel myself fading out into the narrowness of my mind, as I faintly remember him asking me, "Are you sure?"
The next time I woke up, a male nurse was talking to me, saying my name and asking me if I could hear him. Apparently I'd come to and passed out three different times. My body was awkwardly crumpled in front of the toilet and out of my peripherals I could see the nurses and doctors amassing in my room. They took off my robe and laid me down on the floor of the bathroom. I remember I couldn't really move, I could just feel, and what I felt was the warmth of my blood pooling underneath me.
From then on, all I heard were voices, hurried instructions. They needed to get Pitocin in me ASAP. Even though my uterus had been contracting, it wasn't contracting fast enough and I was hemorrhaging. What I hadn't known when I developed my birth plan was that it takes a lot more effort for your uterus to go down after your second pregnancy, because your uterus expands bigger the second time around.
Everyone congratulated me on making it through all of that time without an epidural or Pitocin, telling me that I "deserved a medal." But I didn't feel that way, and they didn't know what I'd been through.
As I lay there on the ground, all I could think was, dear God, please don't let me die. I just had a baby. I went through 49 hours of labor. There are things I still haven't done. Please, God, I promise, I'll do whatever you want me to do. Just don't take me now. I could hear my new baby crying in the other room and all I wanted to do was be with my children.
They moved me to my hospital bed, and for the first time in days, I finally slept. I awoke to the baby softly crying. I felt alive again. I could move. It was such a relief. I was so happy to hold the baby, and she didn't leave my side the rest of the hospital stay.
It took a few weeks for me to not get upset when I talked about my birth experience. The first week was the worst. Not only did the long labor haunt me, but what happened afterwards did too. Everyone congratulated me on making it through all of that time without an epidural or Pitocin, telling me that I "deserved a medal." But I didn't feel that way, and they didn't know what I'd been through. I didn't want a medal. I just wanted to have my baby the way I had dreamed of and even though I did, nothing played out the way I expected it to.
It's been more than two months since I gave birth, and I still don't want to touch the robe. It creeps me out even when it grazes my skin, almost like when you feel a spider crawling on you. The skin on my arms prickle with goosebumps. I flashback to the blood: all over me, in my hair. Why did this happen to me? I wanted this birth to be so wonderful, I wanted the experience other women had shared with me, but I felt none of the joy they described. Only pain.
This birth has traumatized me so much that I'm not even sure if I can entertain the idea of having a third child, at least, not like I had before. Just the thought of being pregnant again terrifies me. Ultimately, what I am left with is a beautiful healthy baby, and though I will always be grateful that I didn't die right there on that cold bathroom floor, I think I'll always be haunted by my experience. All I can say about it now is that it is what it is. I know one day it won't feel so fresh, and it won't bring me to tears like it does right now as I type this, but that day isn't now. So I'll let the purple robe sit at the bottom of the laundry pile. When I'm ready, I'll deal with it. Till then, I'm going to enjoy my children.