I don’t believe I have ever met a mother whose labor went exactly as planned. This wasn’t a comfort to me when I was preparing for the inevitable moment my twin babies decided it was time we meet, but I also kept telling myself that I would get through it just as many women had done before me.
My own great grandmother had delivered twins more than 70 years before my twins were due, so I drew inspiration from the strength I knew she had possessed. (Plus, you would think technology and the practice of obstetrics had progressed a lot in that time.)
Because the books I had read suggested my labor experience would be similar to my mother’s, I started and ended my research with her. In hindsight, I should have also queried my aunts on my father’s side because my experience ended up being more similar to theirs.
Almost everyone has a labor and delivery story. What makes them so memorable is they are each unique and, typically, unpredictable. For your entertainment (and perhaps some useful tidbits), here is mine:
Honey, It’s Time to Go
My due date was in mid-March. It was Monday in the final week of February when I hit week 37 of my twin pregnancy. Other than headaches that began over the weekend, most of the discomfort I felt came from the stretched out skin around my belly button and the weight of my protruding belly.
I was still working full-time, but instead of taking the subway, my husband had started driving me into the office, in fear that my water would break on a train. I was more worried about my water breaking in front of my colleagues, so my merciful boss gave me permission to start working from home that Tuesday morning.
Around midnight on Tuesday morning, I woke up to use the restroom (for the second or third time since falling asleep) and felt some pain I was not familiar with. Some women say they feel like menstrual cramps, but to me, it was a noticeably different source of pain. The sensation was nowhere near unbearable but pronounced enough to be noticed.
Rather than wake my husband immediately, I laid down in the living room and started monitoring the minutes in between each of these events. When they started coming frequent enough to make me nervous, around 2am, I gently shook my husband awake and calmly told him it was time to go the hospital.
My bag had been packed for a few weeks, so it did not take long before we got into the car and began marveling at the empty roads and bridges leading from Brooklyn to Manhattan. I took out my phone and sent a quick email to family, our closest friends, and my boss, letting them know we were en route to the hospital.
Along the way, I noticed that my pains had slowed in frequency, but I did not share this with my husband.
Problem Number One
We made our way to the appropriate section of the hospital, and I was taken into Triage for evaluation. To my surprise, it was my blood pressure that had the nurses closely monitoring me. I had dilated just a few centimeters, but I was not in the late stages of labor. Had it not been for my blood pressure, I probably would have been sent back home.
As they were wheeling me into my room three hours later, the doctor commented that my “blood pressure [had] earned [me] a bed.” I was starting to think that perhaps my headaches that began over the weekend were a sign that things had changed, but I had ignored them because I didn’t think they were abnormal in pregnancy.
The doctor on duty, who was not MY doctor, the one I had seen over the majority of my pregnancy, came into the room to discuss my condition. He said I had “gestational hypertension” and proceeded to explain where my current status fell in the range of things to worry about. I was one step away from pre-eclampsia, two away from eclampsia, something I feared since I was a teenager because one of my school’s teen moms passed away from the condition after giving birth.
They were going to focus on keeping my blood pressure stable at all times and would monitor my natural progress before making any other decisions. So much for my carefully written birthing plan. Not one person ever mentioned it.
Affirmation Number One
Despite having a pre-existing heart condition, I had never in my life experienced high blood pressure. To the contrary, my readings were almost always on the low end of the spectrum.
I could have easily started to worry, but I had vowed at the start of my pregnancy to do everything I could to nourish and protect my babies, even from my own stress. I knew it was best to remain calm, so I chose not to panic and did not let my mind dwell on worry.
Instead, I remembered to breath normally and kept telling myself the affirmation that had served me so well throughout my pregnancy: I have two healthy, beautiful twin girls. I have two healthy, beautiful twin girls. I have two healthy, beautiful twin girls.
As the hours passed, they would come in to see how much pain I was in, but I felt fine. The contractions I was experiencing were not very painful. I naïvely thought to myself, if this is what natural birth feels like, I can totally handle this.
Eventually, they broke my water (at least for Twin A) and later had to add water back in. (I don’t even know. I think I blocked a lot of this trauma out because I was still affirming that I had two healthy, beautiful twin girls. I could see them in my arms, and I knew they were going to be okay.)
Because breaking my water did nothing to advance my labor, they decided to give me Pitocin. At first, this wasn’t doing much either. The doctor joked that he was expecting to see me cry. They adjusted whatever they had to adjust (I didn’t pay that much attention) and waited some more.
I don’t remember what time it was in the day, but after many countless hours, I finally started feeling some genuine discomfort. At this point in time, the only pain that had been unbearable to me came from the examination the doctor had to perform to determine how dilated I was. I screamed, tried to wriggle away, and cried when it was over. (For me, it was the worst moment of the entire labor process.)
With the Pitocin kicking in, I started to feel uncomfortable waves of pain. The more time passed, the more painful every subsequent wave became. These contractions were not fun. These pains did not feel natural at all. I did not know how it could be humanly possible to endure this kind of pain.
My Second Affirmation
By this time, I had already discussed my wishes to avoid a cesarean section, and thankfully, this doctor was the only other one in the practice (besides mine) who was willing to entertain the idea of a vaginal birth. Twin A was very cooperative and had been head-down in the proper delivery position for weeks. Twin B moved around a lot more and was positioned completely sideways during most of my labor.
Thanks to my forward thinking, I had determined that this accommodating, experienced, versatile, fearless doctor would be on-duty until 8am on Wednesday, but that the doctor coming in after him would not allow a vaginal birth. Period.
To me, this was good news. It was still Tuesday, so there was plenty of time for me to avoid getting cut open, my absolute biggest fear at the time. The way I saw it, I was NOT going to lose this battle. I was going to get the vaginal birth I wanted. I thought it, and I believed it. It was one of those few moments in my life when I knew I was not going to take no for an answer.
In Goes the Epidural
When the pain started to get worse, the nurses suggested I get an epidural before the pain was too unbearable, and it would be too late to administer one. Furthermore, the doctor advised that, if for any reason during delivery they had to perform a cesarean, I would need an epidural anyway.
I waited a bit longer to see if I could tough it out, but I eventually gave in to worry. I did not want to wait too long, and I knew they had to wait for the anesthesiologist to come, which could take a little while.
I have heard so many other mothers say this before, and I came to understand what they meant: an epidural is so numbing that you will literally take a beating (or more) and will not feel a thing. Pain is non-existent. But so is any sense of touch in the affected region. For many women, that is bothersome.
When you are that numb, you cannot feel the baby coming down, you cannot feel your muscles move when you push. You really can’t feel anything. But your muscles and your brain still know how to connect and make the push happen. This is what I remembered when I was finally at full dilation in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and the doctor asked me to demonstrate my ability to push. I easily passed the doctor’s test, and minutes later, my husband and I were inside the Operating Room (O.R.).
Despite having a doctor who was going to treat my delivery as a standard vaginal birth, I still had to sign a form before entering the O.R. that basically allowed the doctors to make all the decisions regarding delivery. The form covered the possibility that I might successfully deliver Twin A by vaginal birth, but that the doctors could still make the decision, if necessary, to cut me open and perform a cesarean to deliver Twin B.
Although I did not like the sound of that possibility, I did not believe it was going to happen to me. I had envisioned a vaginal birth for too long. I also knew going into the O.R. that Twin B was now completely in a breach position, but the doctor had assured me this would not preclude me from avoiding the knife. He explained that he could either deliver her breach or turn her around to allow me to push when the time came.
Once again, I didn’t like the idea of birthing a breach baby, so I told myself that he was going to turn her around. (Maybe it was the epidural, but my confidence level was through the roof!)
I knew from my research that the O.R. was where I would have to deliver my twins. I knew there would be a lot of people in the room. I was so focused on being able to push my babies out, though, that I hardly remember more than three people other than my husband.
Two doctors were at the end of the table in front of me, and someone else was at my head monitoring my blood pressure. (She also adjusted my oxygen when I started feeling light-headed.) Everyone else was in the blurred areas outside of the little bubble I was focused on. (It also helped that I wasn’t wearing my glasses.)
Despite having some idea of what the O.R. would be like, I did not anticipate the flat, uncomfortable, cold metal table I had to lay on, and the unnatural pushing position that required me to bend my legs at a 90 degree angle while resting my feet on some padded stirrups.
In this position, I certainly was not going to get any help from gravity. (Isn’t that how they do it in the movies?) With my lower legs resting parallel to the table, I could barely bend forward at the waist. How was this going to work?
I dismissed these thoughts as soon as the doctor began to explain how to push. This was also different from the birthing video I had watched to “prepare” for this moment, but I decided to trust him.
Time to Push
With everyone in position, the doctor advised me to push with the next contraction. It was not an obvious sensation, thanks to the epidural, but I could tell something was happening each time a contraction came.
My husband’s job was to help support my upper body so that I could have a slight bend at the waist. I think he cheered me on once in a while, but my mind was so wrapped up in what I had to do that I barely heard him.
At one point, the doctor at my head tapped me to ask how I was feeling, sounding as though she had asked me a few times before. Apparently, my blood pressure was starting to spike. “Fine!” I managed to say before the next push. I have no other recollection of her after that.
About thirty minutes after I started pushing, my first daughter was born at 5:15am on that Wednesday morning. I watched as she came out and heard her cry following a brief (and scary) silence. Her team whisked her to the side and began the necessary tests.
My husband remembers this part more clearly than I do, but the two doctors in front of me apparently looked at each other, shrugged shoulders, and began the process of turning Twin B around. My husband also describes this part more graphically, but I didn’t see or feel a thing.
I was watching my other daughter, Twin A, now swaddled up and laying underneath what I assume was some sort of heat lamp. She was crying, and I wanted to hold her, but I couldn’t yet. My husband chose to remain standing to see what was happening to Twin B, so they wouldn’t let him hold her either. (Safety protocols required him to be seated in a chair.)
My heart was breaking, but I knew the faster I could get her sister out, the sooner I could hold them both. I was also starting to shiver and asked my husband if he felt cold too. I was covered in goose bumps. I was the only one.
Before my mind could wander and question what was happening to me, the female doctor, upon breaking my water (again) said, “I’m shaking hands with your daughter.” It was just the distraction I needed to hear.
Once Twin B was in position, the lead doctor once again told me I could push with the next contraction. It felt like an eternity had passed, and everyone was staring at me. I felt nothing, but I got the feeling I was supposed to. The doctor had another machine put in, one that would tell him when my contractions were happening. He now had to tell me when to push.
Although my body was not cooperating as well as I had hoped, my mind was still winning. I was ready to push again, and I wanted to get this 27-hour ordeal behind me. Nothing but my own fatigue could get in my way now.
I was never a top athlete and certainly had my ups and downs with fitness after high school, but I do believe that my slight and, perhaps, innate athleticism pulled me through to the weary end. My second daughter was born at 6:03am, forty-eight minutes after her sister. As soon as she hit the air, she let out a loud wail, and my first job was done.
I had two healthy, beautiful twin girls.
How does my labor and delivery story compare to yours? Any lessons or take-aways gleaned from your experience?