When I was diagnosed with preeclampsia, I may have not-so-mildly freaked out. After all, I have serious anxiety, and dealt with recurrent miscarriage, and I had finally carried Jack seemingly safely. With just a few weeks to go, I learned he had to come early, and that I would have an induced labor.
The control freak in my head could not handle the anxiety of knowing my baby would be induced early because of preeclampsia. It also realized I HAD to accept the reality an early induction–I knew enough about Downtown Abbey to know what preeclampsia could do if not carefully monitored (which, of course, mine was).
And so I looked for something I could control. I couldn’t control the preeclampsia. Or the fact that I was having an induced labor 3 weeks early. Or the fact that my house was still under construction when I got this news. Nope. All out of my control.
What I could control, at least to an extent, was how the induction went.
I was especially afraid of early induction for my first full labor. I knew far too many people whose induced labors had stalled and lasted days.
I decided to research and do everything I could to make it go smoothly and quickly. Induced labor can be a scary thing, but it doesn’t always have to be.
Research: How To Have a Quick Induced Labor
So I turned to research.
Now, when I say I research everything, please keep something in mind. I have a PhD, which basically means 2 things:
1. I know WAY too much about Victorian literature, and
2. I am a VERY well-trained researcher.
Medical Research Matters
When I say I did research, I mean I found and read articles locked behind databases that I had access to through the Georgia Tech (where I taught at the time). I sorted through the scientific language to learn what researchers have discovered about progressing as quickly and safely as possible through induced labor.
I also avoided research that had major funding at its core. Research that is conducted through universities must be funded somehow, but if you stick to what has passed double-blind peer review, you’re pretty safe. In other words, people with no connection to the funding assess the research methodologies and, when possible, attempt to replicate the results. They never know who conducted the research in the first place. It’s this process that makes me trust academic research so much.
In short: I knew what the latest research said, and I knew specific questions to ask my doctors to ensure I was receiving the best care.
What “research” does NOT mean is that I turned to Dr. Google, a place I’m regularly tempted to go, but don’t. Because I know it’s filled with misinformation, propaganda, and even fear mongering.
Talk To Your Actual Doctor
So please, I beg of you, back away slowly from Dr. Google and WebMD.
Also, know also that, although I can talk to you all day long about medical issues like labor induction, pregnancy loss, childbirth, and mental health issues, I am not a medical doctor.
So take all my research. Take all the information I boil down for you. Take that information to your medical doctor to find out what is right for your individual situation.
All that out of the way, let’s take my anxious research tendencies and let them do you some good. Let’s talk about what I learned about induced labor so you can stop obsessively Googling and go back to nesting. That nursery color isn’t going to pick itself, and this is the fun part you should be focusing on—not researching induction horror stories.
Sound good? Cool. Let’s get started!
Jack’s birth was simultaneously surreal—I had spent years trying to get to the point of actually birthing a baby, after all—and the most grounded, viscerally present 12 hours of my life.
Nearly 2 years later, I remember it like it was yesterday.
I can feel my arms around the birthing ball, swaying back and forth dancing through the Pitocin-induced contractions. I can feel a massage tool gently being rubbed on my back as Husband tried to help calm me while I danced.
I still feel my positioning in bed after having an epidural, and taste the coconut water I was drinking. I feel the ice chips I ate crunching between my teeth. And of course, there’s the smell of the hospital. It’s all right there. I’m in it as I write it. I’m going through that induced labor all over again.
The only things I can’t still feel in a full, sensory way are contractions and the weight of the pressure as Jack pushed further down the birth canal.
I think that’s a coping mechanism our bodies have. If we could still feel those things just by thinking about them, we would eventually stop procreating.
Letting Go of Control
As an anxious person trying to control what I could, I had my induced labor with Jack planned to a T. But not in a typical “birth plan” way.
That’s actually what I told doctors when they asked about my “birth plan.”
“I don’t have one,” I said. “I’ve lost too many babies before they were born. All I care about is that this one is safe and that I am, too.”
I did, however, explain my preferences. “I’d like to birth vaginally, but if I need a c-section at any point, do it. Just make sure I really need it. I want to be unmedicated until I’m halfway there, but I do NOT want to miss the window of getting an epidural. Don’t let me miss that window.”
Although I sounded relatively laid back about it (or at least that’s what the particular nurse who asked about my birth plan told me), I was actually a total control freak.
But let me reiterate why. I needed to control everything I could so that I could let go of all I couldn’t.
Desiring Control During Labor
I’m not alone in my control freak tendencies, it turns out: “Research studies exploring the woman’s experience of childbirth have identified that women have a need for information, control, and support during birth.”
Well, duh. Who WOULDN’T want to control one of the most life-changing events a person could have? However, an induced labor wasn’t in my plan, and it was WAY out of my control.
You Can’t Control Everything
I was induced at 36 weeks and 6 days due to preeclampsia. Terrified and feeling completely out of control, I practically begged my high-risk specialist, “Can’t we just wait ONE MORE day? Just 1 more? Induce my labor at 37 weeks?”
In hindsight, this question is laughable. What’s one extra day? Nothing, except that her saying “yes” would’ve returned to me a tiny sense of control.
“Absolutely not,” she said.
Jack was going to arrive at 37 weeks on the dot, and she was going to make sure of it.
This is why we choose care teams we trust, and we trust them even when we don’t like it. Not everyone is lucky enough to have this, but I’m thankful I did.
My doctor gave me this news on Wednesday. I was having a baby shower at my newly-renovated (and not yet finished) home on Saturday. While on bed rest. I was to check into the hospital for induction on Sunday.
4 days—FOUR DAYS—to finish an incomplete renovation, have my home in order for a baby shower, receive nearly 100 friends and family members, open and put away all of their gifts, get every remaining item, and check in to the hospital to have a baby. All while not standing up except to pee (which, let’s be honest, was a lot).
This was the opposite of control.
Dance Your Way Through It
But I had no choice.
I rode my wheelchair through Whole Foods and accepted help from everyone around me (previously a major weakness of mine).
I sat in a chair through a 3-hour drop-in baby shower, and oh how I researched early induced labor. If my high-risk specialist insisted Jack be born at exactly 37 weeks, I’d make damn well sure that he was. I would not allow my labor to stall.
Knowing that induced labor tends to last longer than natural labor, and that induced first births tend to last much longer, I determined that I would do everything I could to push through my birth. Pun not intended.
My research taught me that moving around throughout labor, especially early labor, could help keep it from stalling. Of course I ordered every massager Amazon had to offer so that husband could rub them across my back as I contracted. I was determined to stand and walk through early labor to ensure it didn’t stall.
I took a birthing ball, and I signed the waiver to be allowed to sit on it, although I never did; instead, I used it to dance through the Pitocin-induced contractions.
I put the ball on a counter and danced through each contraction while husband tested out each massager on my low back. (Naturally, I hated all the fancy ones and would only let him near me with the most basic, plastic one I could find).
As I learned, and my medical team confirmed, freedom of movement in labor is a great way to take control of your pain and “use gravity to help your baby come down and increase the size and shape of your pelvis.”
So, by God, if I had to have my baby by induced labor 3 weeks early, I was going to move!
Advocate for Yourself
As soon as I checked into the hospital, I said to the nurse, “I need wireless monitors. I want to walk.” That’s how I’d learned you prevent induced labors from stalling–standing and moving. I had to have these monitors.
“That won’t happen until morning,” she assured me, but I insisted. I needed them in my room. I had to know they were there.
We fought over it, but she ultimately refused (and logically so, given that there were likely women in active labor that night who needed those monitors).
First thing in the morning, when I knew my labor was about to be induced, I immediately rang the nurse’s button. “I need my wireless monitors now.” There was a shift change happening, and the new nurse would come in to start my Pitocin drip. She would handle it, I was told.
Induced Labor Control Freak Monster
But the new nurse didn’t immediately agree to bring me the monitors either. “We need to keep you on traditional monitors for now,” she responded to my demand.
“But when your labor progresses to a point that you need to get up, I promise I’ll get them for you.”
The new nurse would become one of the people I’m most thankful for, but in this moment, I breathed fire at her.
Nope. Not this time, lady.
I was freaking resolute. There was about to be something the size of a watermelon canon-balling out of something the size of a lemon. SHE WOULD BRING ME THE DAMN WIRELESS MONITORS.
“Are there any available right now?” I asked.
“Then bring them in here. I have to have them. I have to know I have them.”
She recognized the animal ferocity in my eyes and placed two on the table right beside me. Within 2 hours, I was hooked up to wireless monitors and walking around, Pitocin drip in tow.
Had I needed to remain in bed connected to traditional monitors, I’d have had an epidural much sooner. The movement so tremendously helped the pain.
Things Progressed Quickly
And I finally got an epidural at 5cm. I took a nap, watched some TV, talked to Husband, and then learned how it felt to think your pelvic bone might shatter.
Jack’s head was pushing down. My induced labor had not stalled.
*Note: What I wish someone had told me about an epidural. You may not feel pain, but you can still feel pressure. And eventually, pressure can be worse than pain.
I asked the nurse about the pressure. She said that, when it stopped being intermittent, that’s when I was ready to push.
I took this advice entirely too seriously and turned into my stubborn self, constantly refusing to push the call button despite imagining how many bone fragments would be floating around if my pelvic bone burst like glass.
I swear I could’ve had Jack 2 hours earlier if I’d known to ask the nurse to check my cervix.
Finally, Husband pushed the call button for me. Thank God for Husband. The nurse checked my cervix. When I heard her say, “Whoa,” I excitedly asked, “Am I at 10 centimeters yet?”
“You’re way past measuring your cervix, sweetie,” she told me. “It’s long been pushed up behind his head. I see nothing but a lot of head.”
“DON’T PUSH!” she said to me. “The doctor has to be here to catch the baby. I’m not allowed to. I’m calling her right now.”
Can You Say “Oops?”
30 miserable minutes later, my doctor finally arrived, and within minutes, so did my beautiful baby, Jack.
(I mean, he was sort of beautiful. He also sort of looked like an alien. Let’s be honest with each other about how not pristine vaginally birthed babies are.)
And yes, he was beautiful. And more importantly, he was healthy, happy, breathing. Something I had never been certain could actually happen to a baby of mine.
But there he was, proving all my negative experiences and worst fears wrong.
The nurse who began my Pitocin at the beginning of her shift helped me push Jack into this world at the very end of it. I wish I remembered her name. I can see her face. She was a Godsend.
She never believed I’d have a first labor–an induced labor at 37 weeks at that–in just 12 hours. When it happened, she leaned in to me and whispered in my ear.
“I hope you know that you made this happen. You did your research, you trusted your body, you advocated for yourself. You should be really, really proud.”
I will forever love that nameless woman whose face I will never forget. But even if she hadn’t been willing to bring me the wireless monitors, I would have found someone who would.
Disclaimer: This is my story, and the research I conducted worked well for me and my labor. The fact that I was able to birth quickly and vaginally in no way guarantees that others will have the same result. While I recommend asking your doctor if these methods are right for you should you want to hasten your own labor, my advice is not medical advice. Ultimately, all decisions are your own and should be made in consultation with your medical team.
Interested in other labor stories?
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, toddler mom, and owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society has historically placed too many expectations on women, defining womanhood and motherhood in a way that is restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Scary Mommy, Motherhood and Social Exclusion, and various other podcasts and websites.