Courtesy of Mariah MacCarthy

I Pushed For What Seemed Like A Million Hours And It Was The Worst

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There was never any question in my mind that I would get an epidural when I had my son. I never saw any reason to put myself through more pain than I absolutely needed to bear, and I have never regretted it. What I didn’t realize, though, was that epidurals can make you push for longer — a lot longer. That's in part because the drug is said to relax women's pelvic muscles, thus making it take longer for them to push.

As a result, I pushed for about three hours, which is almost twice as long as it takes most women to push during first-time labor. (The average is between one and two hours.) I know this not only because there was a clock on the wall, but also because there was a Law and Order marathon on TV, and it seemed like every time I looked up there was another episode starting.

The worst part was that I'd never really learned how to push. While my doula had arranged for me to take a free Lamaze class on Saturday, the doctors decided on the morning of that same Saturday to induce my labor. The nurses kept telling me, “Just bear down like you’re trying to poop,” and I thought, “I can totally do that!”

At first, pushing was a cakewalk, because they didn’t lower my anesthesia. So I just kept pushing and pushing with no pain at all. The top of my son’s head was apparently visible, and he had been barreling out of me all day. Not that much earlier, I’d dilated from two centimeters to eight almost without even noticing. So we all thought he’d keep being “feisty,” as the nurses said, and karate-chop his way into the world. We were taking bets on whether he’d come out before my amazing nurse Vanessa finished her shift in half an hour.

Courtesy of Mariah MacCarthy

At first, pushing was a cakewalk, because they didn’t lower my anesthesia. So I just kept pushing and pushing with no pain at all. The top of my son’s head was apparently visible, and he had been barreling out of me pretty much all day. Not that much earlier, I’d dilated from two centimeters to eight almost without even noticing, so we all thought he’d keep being “feisty,” as the nurses said, and karate-chop his way into the world. We were taking bets on whether he’d come out before my amazing nurse Vanessa finished her shift in half an hour.

"Let’s do this thing!," I kept thinking. "Let’s push this baby out! Go team go!"

After an hour of pushing with no real progress, they told me they were going to lower my epidural levels so I could feel myself push. Great, I thought. Let’s do this thing. At first, it was kind of nice: I could feel my contractions (which I hadn’t really been able to before with the epidural going full-force), and I really went for it. Every time the doctor had me push three times in a row, I’d go ahead and make it four. Every time she told me to take a break, I would volunteer to cut my break short so I could just go ahead and keep pushing. "Let’s do this thing!," I kept thinking. "Let’s push this baby out! Go team go!"

But as my anesthesia levels kept going down, my labor got increasingly painful. I was on pitocin, which strengthens and increases the frequency of contractions during labor, and at this point my contractions were less than a minute apart. By the third hour, I was moaning with pain and hurting so badly that I even vomited a couple of times. But I kept pushing. It hurt less to push than to just let the contractions course through me, so I kept pushing. Every so often, I’d ask someone to feed me ice chips or put chapstick on my lips. I pushed and whimpered and pushed and pushed.

After the third hour, my doctor said to me, “OK, Mariah, you’re doing great. We’re just going to stick a suction cup on the baby’s head and pull while you push.” She talked me through the possible side effects, which range from superficial head wounds to more serious hematomas, and the low risk of them happening, but my mind was already made up: yes, for the love of God, use the suction cup and get this creature out of me!

Courtesy of Mariah MacCarthy

Once they started using the suction cup, it only took a few pushes and my son was out, healthy and beautiful as could be. Honestly, if I’d known sooner that the suction cup was an option, I probably would have asked for it earlier, but I understand why they waited as long as they did.

Part of me also wonders what would have happened if I’d asked them to turn down the epidural sooner, but seeing as I still couldn’t squeeze my kid out even once they did, I’m not sure that would have solved anything. It’s also possible that they just had me push too soon. I don’t know if I ever felt what could have been described as “the urge to push.” All I wanted was for the painful awful contractions to stop, and pushing was the best way to accomplish that.

All this aside, the day of my son’s birth was one of the best days of my life. It was a day full of love and connection and bliss. Even though I lost the bet and I didn't deliver during my labor-and-delivery nurse's shift, she stayed with me the whole time. And when my son finally came out, she was the one who cut the umbilical cord.