Chicken Patty is my second baby and my sweet middle child. Well, he’s not that sweet. But he’s charming as heck and you’d love him, because he’s hilarious and you don’t have to raise the little hellion. His birth story is all about an epidural that didn’t work but made me feel empowered and grateful for the experience.

On a Monday morning at 37 weeks, I woke up and got into the shower, and started seeing what I can only describe as a light show in the shower. There were beautiful lights flickering all over my peripheral vision, and I knew that was not a good thing. I was a bit short of breath. Given that I had only rolled out of bed, stripped down naked and stood there for a few minutes, this breathlessness felt worse than routine prego fat lady stuff. I didn’t feel terrible, but I definitely didn’t feel exactly right.

I rushed through dressing, backed my Rav 4 out of the garage, hit the side mirror against the garage door frame, and tore that off. As I pulled out of the driveway, I remember thinking that if something was wrong with this baby, I’d end up feeling stupid for stopping to assess the broken side mirror. I’m a little … ahem … dramatic sometimes.

Gestational Hypertension = Induction = Cranky Mama

I rushed myself to the doctor, and sure enough, my blood pressure was sky high. Well, I don’t actually remember how high it really was, and I’m prone to exaggeration, so who knows? But after lying still for 20 minutes, it returned to a level only slightly higher than normal. I peed in a cup and it revealed some protein in my urine. It was looking like possible pre-eclampsia. Given that I was already 37 weeks, no one seemed overly concerned that everything would work out fine.

We did a last minute ultrasound and the baby (gender still unknown) was perfectly fine.  I was instructed to return on Wednesday and try to take it easy, and while there was only trace protein in my urine, my blood pressure was still creeping up (although not as bad as before), so I was instructed to come back again on Friday.

Friday morning, my blood pressure was again way too high, so my midwife planned to book me into L&D immediately. That stressed me out, because she was leaving town and wouldn’t be able to deliver the baby. I had developed a great relationship with her and she knew how badly I wanted to have an unmedicated delivery. The OB in the practice agreed that if I remained on bed rest all weekend, we could induce on Monday. I would be exactly 38 weeks pregnant again, just like with Turkey Burger.

How A Foley Bulb Is Supposed to Work

My parents arrived on Sunday night and spent the evening with us. Hubs and I reported to L&D at 5:00 a.m. on Monday. We began with a Foley bulb. I had read lots of birth stories about how it was no big deal. 

But folks, the whole point of a Foley bulb is to help an ornery cervix dilate by just shoving something up there, so it stands to reason it might not be pleasant for every woman. Let me correct the record and tell you it was abso-effen-lutely the worst thing ever. Foley bulbs work by manually stretching the cervix with this balloon thing, which is supposed to force your cervix open to a 4 over some time. Then, it’s supposed to just fall out on its own, and hopefully the combination of the Foley Bulb and Pitocin can help speed things along.

Foley Bulbs Suck, In Case You Thought Otherwise

After placing the miserable Foley bulb and being completely wired and psyched out, they started the Pitocin drip and contractions tightened up to 2.5 minutes apart. I knew from experience these were way too mild to be effective.  I found the bulb super uncomfortable, but after bouncing on the ball for a while, I stood up and the thing just fell out. So I was at the top of this emotional roller coaster, thrilled to death that I had gotten to a 4 with basically zero pain. I figured it was time to get this party started.

My midwife came around and checked me, and I was only dilated to a 2. That could only mean one thing: the Foley bulb had been placed incorrectly from the start. It was now 3:00 p.m. and my stupid brick wall cervix was apparently deeply resentful of being harassed. 

Labor Math is Not a Thing

At that point, my midwife’s next step was to break my water. I was having regular contractions and the baby was fine, so the show had to go on. When she broke my water, all hell broke loose. That’s the only way I can describe it. I was just sitting there, having experienced nothing worse than a period cramp since the Foley Bulb was placed. All of a sudden, it seemed like a train was running me over.

The very next contraction after my water broke was paralyzingly bad. I lost the ability to communicate at all, but I was panicking internally about how fast things changed on me. There was no gradual worsening, and I think it affected my ability to handle the pain mentally. I remember thinking about how the average woman dilates one centimeter per hour. With that information rattling around in my brain, I knew I would never be able to make it to delivery without an epidural. I can’t describe how intense it felt!

failed epidural

Epidural, Epidural, Epidural!

So I grabbed the call button and just yelled into it, “Epidural!” The nurse asked for clarification, and because I couldn’t even formulate sentences, I just hollered “Epidural, epidural, epidural!” My husband seemed pretty shocked by how quickly my plans changed. Little did I know, I was in transition, moving from a 2 to delivery at a rapid-fire pace.

By 3:45, the epidural was in place, and with each contraction, the pain got slightly less. My brain was just starting to register the hope that this might get easier. But over the next ten minutes, the pain ramped back up and I realized that the epidural couldn’t keep pace with how quickly this baby was barreling Earth-side.

They started trying to turn my body side to side, so that the epidural could evenly “take.”After just a bit of handling, I felt the baby moving down and told them I needed to stop so I could push. Everyone looked completely shocked. Only 45 minutes prior, absolutely nothing was happening with this labor and delivery and I was stuck at 2 centimeters!

The nurses didn’t believe me, but then I told Hubs that I needed to throw up, which is a pretty common sensation during transition. He got me a bucket while they checked me, and I was 10 centimeters and ready to push. Up until pushing, I requested the puke bucket three times, but never did barf. 

Well, That Escalated Quickly

A bunch of students came in, plus my midwife, the baby nurses, and the on-call OB, and before I knew it, the room had been converted to a delivery space and there were 15 people in the room staring down at all the action. The crazy thing about unmedicated (or in this case, a birth that simply FEELS unmedicated) is that you really don’t give a rat’s fanny who sees what. But the baby was still floating kind of high up, so they made me “labor down,” which is where they position the mama more upright so gravity can work. Laboring down is no longer recommended by ACOG. 

epidural failure blessing

It’s a Boy!

I started pushing at 4:10, and much like with Turkey Burger, the pushing phase went extremely fast. The baby was born at 4:26, all blue and sticky and beautiful. My midwife used a technique called perineal massage to help ease his arrival. It hurt, but I think it helped. Because I could feel everything, I pushed more in tune with my body. In other words, during crowning, I naturally backed off a little bit and took it easy. With my fully medicated first birth, I felt absolutely nothing, and I had no way of knowing how hard to push.

My epidural was so light and ineffective at this point that I was able to reach down and pull him to my chest without much assistance. Hubs exclaimed “It’s a boy!” with so much surprise in his voice, the baby might as well have been a squirrel. Honestly, I was so hyped up on delivery hormones, I would have forgotten to check for our baby’s gender!

We named him Chicken Patty (not really), and he nursed right away without any real help. The Patty was extremely healthy and alert. Since he spent practically no time in the birth canal, he had this perfectly round head. His skin wasn’t nearly as beautiful as Turkey Burger’s had been, and to this day, his porcelain skin and rosy cheeks don’t tolerate much abuse. They waited forever to weigh him, measure him, or administer any tests, because we were so blissed out together. 

Reflecting on the Blessing of a Bad Epidural

Having an epidural that didn’t get placed in time hurt really badly. I think the combination of Pitocin and my water breaking manually caused a really rude awakening for my body, and I begged for that epidural because I was in shock. There was no time to think or adjust to the new pain level. Had it ramped up gently, I might have had a chance to get on top of the pain.

Also, too much information hurt me in this case. Had I listened to my body rather than getting so in my head about “labor math,” I would have realized Chicken Patty would be arriving within minutes, not hours. 

Nevertheless, I felt empowered. I knew I had delivered a baby without any meaningful pain management, which is something I always wanted to do. I’m not sure why. I know no one gets a medal for these things, but for some reason, it was important to me to prove to myself that I could do it.

This labor set me up for finally getting the completely unmedicated delivery I always wanted. When labor was at its most painful with Chicken Nugget, I knew from Chicken Patty’s birth experience it wouldn’t get any worse. I had already experienced labor and delivery under the most challenging of circumstances. In fact, Chicken Nugget getting to arrive on her own terms made my third birth the easiest of all.