**I began (and did not complete) this post on January 7th**
My miracle baby boy Henry Patrick Shanahan was born on 12/20/2018 at 8:16 pm. Even as I type that, I feel a tremendous amount of guilt about the entire process….
Everyone told us not to go in with a plan, and not to have expectations about childbirth. I laughed this off every time because (I thought) we had NO plan aside from knowing I wanted an epidural. Bryan and I never were the type of people that had everything mapped out, and we had no official birthing “plan” in mind. I thought that I would be a go with the flow type mom in labor, and that I was ready for anything….boy was I wrong. It turns out I had expectations-and big ones. Those expectations, however, were only for myself.
When I arrived at the hospital to be induced on 12/19 I was already 5 days overdue. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I felt a certain amount of guilt about that. I assumed I would go into labor on my own…that my body would do “what it was supposed to do” in order to bring my son into the world. Re-reading that sentence makes me see how silly those feelings were, but they were also very real and laid the foundation for the wall of guilt that I would build during the next week.
It turns out I was already in labor and was having pretty regular contractions. I remember the shock of the nurses when they hooked me up to the monitoring machines and saw that I was in labor because I was so calm…and I remember the sense of pride that I felt. I was proud of myself for being tough enough to handle early labor without even realizing it was going on. I was proud that I was IN labor on my own. As the evening progressed I was not dilating, and they began a pitocin drip. By 7 am the next morning I was in active labor…and I was in pain, but it was bearable…and I was proud of myself. By the time the epidural was administered I was ready to go and feeling good about Henry’s impending birth. I was excited to show the doctors how tough I was, and how I would push the right way because I was an athlete and in control of my body.
By 7 pm everything started to spiral out of control, here’s what went down…
The epidural (given to me around 8 am) worked initially, but slowly began to wear off. I remember the feeling coming back into my legs and some serious pain around my pelvis. My nurse Allison (my angel) was very receptive to my feedback, and she brought the anesthesiologist back in several times to give me a “bump” (extra medicine to try to even out the pain). They even tried fixing the epidural at one point to no avail. Even with the pain I was still OK, and I was ready to proceed with a vaginal birth. Was it comfortable? Hell no…but I was tough enough to handle this, and I was going to have a vaginal birth. Here’s where the “plan” I never thought I had would begin to rear it’s ugly expectations.
By 7 pm I knew something was wrong. There was no longer any kind of relief coming from the epidural. Nothing was numb, but it was also intolerable. It felt like someone was tearing apart my pelvis. I had lost control of my body. All the breathing I learned, all the visualizations that we were taught in childbirth class, all the pushing I thought I would impress my doctor with flew out the window. All the expectations I didn’t realize I had were no longer reachable. I was screaming and writhing in pain with each contraction. It seemed like each contraction lasted for an eternity, and I will NEVER forget the shear terror that took over as I waited for the next to begin. My poor husband. He said that I jammed my face against the side of the hospital bed so hard that the nurses were afraid I was going to break my nose. I remember people trying to move me, and refusing because whatever position I balled into was the only way to get through the ever increasing pain. I remember screaming, and sweating, and shaking…wishing it would all end. The nurses knew that I was in a tremendous amount of pain and they did what they could for me. The anesthesiologist came in on 3 separate occasions to infuse fentanyl into the epidural but nothing worked.
**The completion of this post was written on August 9, 2019**
My doctor came to me and said that they could try to re-do the epidural and that it could take another 10+ hours, or they could perform an emergency C-section. I knew something was wrong, and so I screamed”get him out!”.
Then my doctor said something that still haunts me to this day….
“You need to get control. You were born for this, your body was made to deliver this baby.”
FUCK YOU. When I originally started this blog I was fully under the impression that I had done something wrong. That by electing to have the emergency c-section I was somehow weak. He never should have said those words to me. My husband has a different perspective on this. He thinks that was just our doctor trying to give me a pep talk…but it’s not HIS body, and it wasn’t HIS choice to make.
As it turns out, New Jersey has one of the highest c-section rates in the country. Whether or not this played a role in his decision to try to push me into a vaginal birth I will never know. What I do know is my body, and I knew that something was wrong.
It took what seemed like forever, again, for an anesthesiologist to be ready for me in the operating room and the unbearable pain continued. When in the operating room they had to insert the anesthesia in my spine in order to numb me for the surgery. They had to insert a needle into my spine while I was having excruciating contractions…and I couldn’t move or I might have been paralyzed. I am just going to let that sink in.
I remember a nurse holding my hands telling me that I can’t move…and then my angel appeared. Nurse Allison…she was supposed to have been off of her shift for more than two hours at that point, but she stayed to see me through the surgery. I will NEVER forget her. Somehow I didn’t move and the needle was in…later I found out I almost broke the hand of the nurse who was trying to keep me steady. Whoopsie.
When the spinal anesthesia finally kicked in and the pain stopped my body began to shake and I felt relief, quickly followed by intense guilt.
I had failed. I wasn’t able to do “what my body was born to do”. I remember apologizing over and over again…telling everyone I tried my best. The anesthesiologist at that time was so sweet, she stroked my head and told me there was nothing to be sorry about. When they took Henry out of me he was almost ten pounds and had a head so big he was caught on my pelvic bone. He also had the umbilical chord wrapped around his neck and was covered in meconium (poop),
Then the assisting surgeon said something I will also never forget. He said “I heard you apologizing and I want you to know you did the right thing. You could have pushed for days and he wouldn’t have come out. You were right to listen to you body because if you hadn’t your baby might have been in more distress”.
My baby, my miracle boy was here…but instead of feeling joyful, all I felt was guilt and shame. I wasn’t strong enough, I was tough enough, I had taken the “easy” way out.
I tell myself every day that this is not the truth, and for the most part I know it is not. I know Henry needed to get out, and that more time pushing would have caused him even more distress and who knows how many problems. BUT…there is still a part of me that wonders if I truly wasn’t tough enough. If I had just been a little bit stronger, could I have avoided everything that happened to my baby and the next 10 days in special care…Was my miracle baby boy on a CPAP machine and feeding tube because of me?
This is something I MUST process. I am my child’s champion and have been since that very first day that we met. I cannot continue to question my strength, or blame myself for what happened to Henry. This is where therapy comes in. My goal is to someday look back on Henry’s birth and see myself as a strong Mama who fought for her baby, and not as a failure.
I will get there.