On October 6, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl in the small city of Bayeux in France. Juliana was born on her French due date and not a moment sooner than she was ready. We had an eventful, long and difficult labor – of which, I have mixed feelings about my experience at this French hospital.
Early afternoon on October 6, my husband’s mother was visiting us to help clean and bring me one of her delicious homemade tarts. I think I gained 10 lbs during this pregnancy from all the desserts she has made me! While she was over, I started feeling more contractions and wanted to lay down. As soon as she left around 3pm, I began timing them and found that they were coming regularly. Around 5pm, we left for the hospital because the contractions were becoming increasingly painful. The hospital is only a 15 minute drive from our house, but I wanted to arrive before I was in too much pain to walk easily.
Upon arrival, we were directed to see a sage-femme (midwife) to determine my progress. I was disappointed to find out that I was only 1 cm dilated. They could not admit me until I was at least 4 cm. The sage-femme left us in the room together with the lights on dim for me to relax and see if I dilate within the next hour or two. The other option was to go home and wait, but the car ride was so painful with the contractions that I did not want to go through that again. After a couple hours (I think, my memory is a little foggy), I reached 4 cm and was admitted.
I was very lucky as I received their last private room. I was not progressing quickly, so eventually I walked up and down the aisle to see if I could get things going. When I finally hit 6 cm around 3 am, I was wheeled into the labor and delivery room. I was exhausted and the pain unbearable, so I did what I vowed I would not… I requested an epidural. I only got a couple hours of sleep for the past two nights, so I was very fatigued and could not manage the pain on my own.
Around 6am, the sage-femme came in and told me that since I was not progressing she would have to call my OB/GYN. She said that he will most likely want to administer oxytocin (pitocin). I really did not want to have this in my system, so I flat out refused it and tried to buy time. They agreed to let me wait until my regular doctor arrived to the hospital to discuss it with him directly. I asked if my baby was in danger, and she was not. Her heart rate was still normal and my vitals were fine. So at least there was no real harm of waiting. This sage-femme’s shift ended at 8:30am and up until then, she really kept pressing me to agree to a c-section. She said that as a professional, oxytocin will not help and I need to face the facts. Despite not being able to really move because of the epidural, I managed to sit up and move my hips around. My contractions got increasingly stronger, but she said they were not regular enough yet. I was working up a sweat from all the moving I was doing!
Finally, at 9am, my new sage-femme and an on-call OB/GYN said that they were going to wheel me down for a c-section. My regular OB/GYN was delayed and they told me it was too late now to try oxytocin. I told them I wanted to try oxytocin before agreeing to surgery. They said that it was too late for oxytocin to work so I must have a c-section. They sent in 2 other OB/GYNs to see me and only the last one agreed to let me try oxytocin. She said that I was wasting my time and it would not work. But she said that I could try it for one hour to see if I progress and if not. If there is no progress I would need a c-section. All three doctors agreed that my baby was still not in danger of me waiting an hour, it was just a matter of their personal preference on whether I should wait or not.
I really did not care about their preference, I just wanted to give my baby more time. At every cervix check, they could feel her pushing against it. So as long as she was not giving up, I did not want to give up. After an hour, I still had not progressed. The doctor said something about my cervix being too swollen so every time my baby pushes, she is pushed backwards. She also said that my baby may be too big to come out vaginally. But after questioning her, I realized that she was just guessing and I was not satisfied with these hypotheses. They just did not feel right to me. I continued to move my hips and got the contractions to come in strong regularly.
I could not stop crying as they wheeled me down to surgery. With all my heart, I prayed for a miracle. I really did not want to go through surgery. Even after having two epidurals, I was in terrible pain from the contractions. While I was prepped for surgery, my contractions were being monitored. The contractions were coming in very exceptionally strong. I was administered anesthesia for surgery and was still in pain. When the anesthesiologist gave me more, she was in shock because I could still feel the contractions. Everyone in the prep room looked a little worried and someone called my doctor in early to check me one more time. We found that I dilated to 9 cm!
When the doctor mentioned this, I broke down in tears of joy. She told me not to get too excited, that she would wait 1 hour to see if I would reach 10 cm before wheeling me back upstairs. I remained all prepped in the surgery room waiting and watching the printout from the monitoring device show my contractions. And of course, I reached 10 cm. I was overwhelmed with happiness that I would not have a c-section.
I was wheeled back upstairs and told that I have two hours to see if she gets into position, and if not, I would have to return downstairs for a c-section. They left something in me to collect urine and said it must remain there in case I must have surgery. I felt overwhelming surges of pain from it. I was given another epidural and a shot of something else. The pain still did not subside. I wanted to sit up and rock back and forth to help get my baby into position, but two sage-femmes spent 1.5 hours trying to fix one of my fluid lines.
My regular doctor finally arrived when I had 5 minutes left on the clock. I told him that I felt the need to push but was in too much pain from that device inside me, plus I was never given the opportunity to be able to sit up and help my baby move into position. He ordered them to take out the thing from me and almost immediately the pain left. The urge to push was strong and then our baby girl was born about 40 minutes later… at 3:30pm!
Juliana entered the world healthy and vibrant. Someone took my hands and had me reach down to grab her when she was coming out. I pulled her to my chest. It was amazing! They wiped her with a towel when she rested on me and my husband cut the cord when it stopped beating. After a while, they gave her to my husband to hold skin-to-skin while I got stitched up from tearing. I could not keep my eyes off of them and a powerful feeling of love swept all through me.
The doctor who kept insisting for me to have a c-section before my regular doctor arrived said that in her entire career, she had only seen one other patient wheeled out of the surgery room. She apologized and said that now she knows that oxytocin can work even if progress has not been made for 5 hours. I hope this will help one of her future patients from having a c-section.
On day 1 and day 3, Juliana was weighed and they said her weight dropped too far. I was told that my milk was not enough so I must give her artificial milk. I wish I learned more about breastfeeding beforehand, because now I know that it is normal for milk to not arrive until day 4 and she would have been fine. She was given artificial milk immediately because they convinced us that she was in danger. For the next 60 hours, I fed her every 4th hour and pumped each hour in between. By doing this, I was able to provide her with my milk as a supplement to our nursing sessions. I did not want to use a bottle, so we used a tube that entered her mouth while she was nursing. This way she thought the milk was coming right from me. It was very difficult to get it just right each time, but we did it! I had two breaks of 2 hours for a long nap, otherwise I had short naps in between everything.
The puericultrice kept insisting that I use artificial milk and consider the fact that I would have to feed her artificial at home. I kept telling her no, that I am sure my milk will come. They sent in a sage-femme on day 4 in the evening who went through a special course on breastfeeding. She found that the Juliana was not sucking correctly and showed me some things to do.
On the morning of day 5, her weight increased significantly so the puericultrice finally stopped talking about artificial milk. I also did not need to pump anymore. The next day they let us go home!
This blog entry is already very long, so I will write about my personal thoughts and feelings of giving birth in France in a separate post. I have very mixed feelings about my experience and things did not go quite the way as expected. I also felt like I was constantly fighting and completely worn out mentally.
In the end, I am just glad that my daughter is here in my arms happy and healthy. I am also thankful that I did not need surgery and did not give in to artificial milk. While there is nothing wrong with artificial, I really had my heart set on breastfeeding. I have definitely learned a lot from this experience for next time and will share with you all my insider knowledge in this upcoming week.