I was exhausted from the effort, so being told the cervical dilation had peaked at 8 centimetres and progressed no further was enough to have me feeling pretty stricken. What was happening? Or, more pressing (if you’ll pardon the pun), was what wasn’t? The very last word in indignity and discomfort was the regular inspection of progress down below – a more mortifying appraisal is hard to fathom. But beyond that, I really hadn’t reckoned on the startling reality of the birthing suite, which was that Llew and I were left alone much of the time. Who knew?!
Now, assistance was readily available just outside the door, and regular drop-ins by staff monitoring my progress (or lack thereof) meant we were constantly reassured of their existence and expertise, but I think we’d seen Dr F for a total of about ten minutes since I’d been admitted. He was not being idle; the man just delivers babies around the clock. Anyway, he’d already expressed surprise that the gas was my only pain relief when he’d popped in earlier, and had warned an epidural was on the cards if things didn’t start happening. I really didn’t want an epidural, and at the shift change, E stressed to the new midwife, M, that I really didn’t want an epidural, but M was clearly a seasoned midwife, and while I couldn’t begin to quote her now, I know she said something to E that amounted to, “Well, that’s all very nice, but she may not have a choice now.” Dr F had left it to proceed naturally for hours since his last check – I can’t remember how many had passed, four or five or more since his prior visit – and despite all those searing contractions, evidence of which had spooled out of the monitor for the past ten or so hours, there was still no dice. The “cascade of intervention” was about to begin, although I still didn’t know it.
I thanked E for everything she’d done for me throughout her shift, and then M went to call Dr F with an update and to receive his instructions. It was bizarre watching and feeling everything slowing to a halt, but they were watching the baby’s heartbeat along with the now infrequent contractions of lowering intensity, and Baby J was unperturbed by the lack of progress. The steady heartbeat suggested he was having a perfectly fine time in the lobby bar, and hadn’t even registered how long he’d been waiting for his table in the restaurant. Dr F was less sanguine – M returned with the news that they felt I needed an epidural and an injection of oxytocin, to get things moving again.
I started crying as M delivered this verdict – I’d endured all that agony for so many hours and now what? I was getting an epidural anyway? I might’ve had one right at the beginning and simply skipped the pain entirely, but I hadn’t wanted that – I’d wanted to experience this in all its visceral glory and guts. And yet here was the numbing needle, come to take my best-case scenario swiftly away. The anaesthetist E arrived and did her thing – and the move into a pain-free state seemed instant and total. I wondered then at my desire to forego the epidural if possible – suddenly, with all the pain gone, it seemed a crazy, masochistic option to pursue. Why on earth would you do it to yourself? For a long moment there, I no longer knew. But now, after the fact, part of me is glad to have been through it. Another part of me rolls its eyes and says, “Completely unnecessary pain – wake up to yourself, you moron,” but on the whole I don’t much mind the wasted effort. I like knowing what that pain is like – when it comes right down to it, I didn’t want my senses dulled, I didn’t want to be shut off from any part of the experience. This was the most bodily, animal event of my life; I wanted to feel it, and boy, could I…
They instructed us to rest while they were waiting for the oxytocin to take effect. Lights were dimmed and staff withdrew. Llew slept in a chair; I could suddenly comfortably recline on my side again, but no sleep would come.
I’m not sure how long we were left in the cool quiet of the darkened room before M reappeared and gently broke the news: the baby wasn’t reacting well to the oxytocin. Midwives are the self-proclaimed guardians of natural birth; you know things are serious when they say abandon ship. By the time M came in to tell us, she had already informed Doctor F of her concerns about the baby’s heartbeat, and so the course was set: they had to get the baby out. After all the stopping and starting, all the hours on the clock, all the pain and puff, suddenly it was systems go for an emergency caesarean.