Romper

I Was Too Terrified To Push During Labor

When I had my first child, I was one of those moms you love to hate because I experienced my perfect birth plan. My contractions started at midnight and I labored at home until 5 AM. We got to the birthing center  at 5:30 AM, where I continued to labor in a jetted tub, in a candlelit room, with only my wife by my side. My wife was flawless. She knew what I needed, when I needed it, without me ever having to say a word.

My labor progressed smoothly and I pushed for about 45 minutes in total. There were several moments that I broke down into tears and said, "I don't think I can do this!" My wife reminded me how powerful I was. My midwife assured me that I was closer than I knew. I rallied.

My son was born 7 and a half hours after my labor began. When he was on my chest for the very first time, I wept with relief, pride, and instantaneous, boundless love.

My labor was hard. It hurt. I felt helpless at times. But overall, I couldn't have asked for a better experience and I reflect on those hours as a time when I was unstoppable, fierce, and beautiful.

Courtesy of Rae Steward

Throughout my second pregnancy, I regularly reminded myself that I was not guaranteed a similar experience. Anything could happen and I didn't want to be blindsided by any complications that might arise. I thought I had accepted the possibility that my second birth might be different than my first, but looking back now I hadn't considered that I might feel totally differently about it.

Much like my first birth, my contractions started with startling force. I labored at home for two hours before realizing just how intense my labor had become. My wife careened down the streets toward the hospital. I told her, "Slow down. We have time." We walked into the Emergency Room entrance and the pain literally brought me to my knees.

I was taken to Labor & Delivery by wheelchair and I felt like I was going to come out of my skin from the pain. I was starting to panic. The L&D nurses began asking me intake questions. Was my address the same? What about my insurance? I could barely form sentences and just kept saying, "I need you to check my progress."

I could tell that the nurses thought I was just another frantic, laboring mom; that I didn't know how bad it was going to get and that I was freaking out for no reason. My wife spoke up for me, repeatedly telling the nurses, "You need to check her." They simply responded with, "Oh, we'll check her soon. Don't worry."

Then something shifted. It didn't feel right. I hadn't ever experienced this sensation before and I had no idea what was going on. My wife took one look at my face and yelled, "CHECK HER RIGHT NOW!" After a midwife I had never even seen before came in and reported I was at 9 cm, the nurses turned into blurs of blue scrubs running around the room. My water broke – something I didn't experience with my son — and it was so unexpected that it scared me more.

I yelled to no one in particular, "My water just broke!" The pain overtook me and I went limp. My entire body was suddenly covered in a cold sweat and my legs were shaking uncontrollably.

I yelled to no one in particular, "My water just broke!" The pain overtook me and I went limp. My entire body was suddenly covered in a cold sweat and my legs were shaking uncontrollably.

I heard the midwife say, "Turn on your left side. Your baby is in distress." I was paralyzed with pain.

"I can't," I said.

"Well, you have to," she responded. "For your baby." I felt hands gripping my clammy skin and rolling me to my side.

I started saying, "I need nitrous. I can't do this. Please give me nitrous." The midwife asked, "Have they told you how to administer it? Do you understand what you're asking for?"

"Yes. Please just get it."

"Well, it takes awhile to set up. Why don't you just push the baby out?"

If I hadn't been completely incapacitated by the pain, I would have punched her. My wife's voice boomed over me, "Why don't YOU just get the goddamn nitrous?!"

My body suddenly wanted to push. "I think I'm going to start pushing."

The midwife just said, "OK."

I was terrified to push. No one was checking me, no one was keeping me updated. I felt totally alone, apart from my wife's steady hands cradling my head. I had never been so terrified in my life. This was so starkly different than my last experience. I didn't feel unstoppable, fierce, or beautiful. I felt weak, abandoned, and angry. I could barely muster the energy or courage to push. Luckily, I only had to push two times before my daughter was born.

Courtesy of Rae Steward

A nurse handed me the nitrous mask a split second after the birth was complete. I took one long, slow inhale with the mask held up to my face.

The nurses put my daughter on my chest. My wife immediately started weeping, but I didn't. My daughter was beautiful, but she didn't feel like mine. I didn't feel like anything.

My daughter was beautiful, but she didn't feel like mine. I didn't feel like anything.

I looked at the clock. We had been at the hospital for a total of 20 minutes. I showered and dressed myself and was taken to a different floor. The hospital staff at the nurses' station kept saying, "This is so strange. You just went in that room 30 minutes ago and now you're leaving showered, and dressed, and with a baby." I agreed. I didn't feel like any of it had really happened.

It took me weeks to connect with my daughter. She was gorgeous and sweet and I cared for her around the clock. But for a while, I didn't feel like her mom and I didn't know why. Eventually, the disconnect faded away and one day I looked at her and knew we would be just fine. And we are.

Courtesy of Rae Steward

My second labor was nothing like my first: while I'd spent the birth of my first child in a state of bliss with my wife, as we'd planned, my second was marked by terror, confusion and, above all else, pain. I'd felt totally disconnected from my own body and, worse, from my child. Yet as harrowing as the experience was, I'm glad I went through it. It reminded me that we can plan all we want, but nothing in life, least of all childbirth, ever adheres to our plans.