This is “Nerve Damage from Childbirth’s” third blog post by a mom who suffered from femoral neuropathy. Feel free to leave a positive or helpful comment below. A big thank you to Amy N. for sharing her story. If you would like to share your applicable story or have an idea for another blog post, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can actually recall the time I spent sitting in front of my computer debating which font would best reflect the labor I had chosen as I drafted my birth plan. This, as you would expect, was not time well-spent.
Like many of the women I knew in my Bay Area group of friends, I planned on having a natural birth without any medication or medical intervention whatsoever. I even spent some time researching which crystals would support this natural and spiritual transition into motherhood. I decided I would be one of the women who had an orgasm during labor. I would have chosen to have a home water birth, but my husband and I eventually compromised deciding on an unmedicated birth in a well-respected, local hospital. I found it was so easy to decide just what kind of labor I would have.
As my due date came and went, I spent every day plopped in a chair with needles sticking out of my body willing my son to make his appearance. My belly stretched way passed what I believed was it’s maximum capacity. None of the hiking, spicy food, or daily acupuncture seemed to help. This was my first opportunity learning to let go of expectations.
At 41 weeks and 2 days, my water finally broke. At 4am, I loaded up my hospital bag and headed off to have my baby. I brought my crystals, cute pajamas, and hair blow dryer with me. I was ready for my natural labor and accompanying orgasm.
Like so many women before me, my labor did not progress quickly. I walked the halls of the hospital, twisted my nipples in front of several rotations of hospital staff, and bounced on my exercise ball like a lunatic. Thirty-plus hours after my waker breaking with a small fever setting in, I agreed to speed things along with Pitocin. I felt like a failure for agreeing to this first intervention, but I decided the Pitocin didn’t mean I would inevitably have an epidural. I would stay strong and breath through these new chemically-induced contractions.
That plan lasted about 2 minutes.
The Pitcon gave me the worst pain of my entire life. I screamed for the epidural. I begged. Minutes later, strapped to my hospital bed, with a catheter inserted inside of me, I mourned the loss of the labor I had planned. Even as I finally felt relief, I felt a wave of shame for agreeing to the epidural.
I reassured myself that I would at least have a vaginal birth. Someone I still held onto the importance of control and what this labor would mean about me.
After another couple of hours, it was time to push. As the epidural slowly wore off, I pushed with all my might. I pushed like my life depended on it. For three hours.
For three hours I had my legs held back next to my ears as I bear down with every fiber of my being. A doctor came in to see if we needed to start preparing for a C-Section. She watched me push and told me that I was doing a great job, but my son’s head seemed stuck and it had been long enough. She told me she didn’t believe a vacuum would help. It was for the health of the baby she assured me.
I cried tears I didn’t even know I had left. I couldn’t have a C-section. I was supposed to be orgasming from the joy of my unmedicated vaginal birth. I could fail at this.
Instead of listening to the doctor, I fought for a second opinion and continued to push. The second doctor agreed to use the vacuum as a last-ditch effort. As the doctor attached the vacuum to my son’s head, I addressed the crowd that had gathered in my hospital room. I told them that this baby was coming out of my vagina and that I was going to give it every ounce of my being. And I did. Miraculously a half an hour and an episiotomy later, my son was born in that hospital room. Eight pounds, eight ounces and a head that was in the 99th percentile.
Once my epidural had worn off, the nurse instructed me to stand up so I could be moved to the maternity room. I didn’t feel ready, but was told I would be fine. My right leg gave out and I came crashing onto my knees. I strangely only felt pain in my left knee.
As I was wheel chaired to the maternity room with my tiny son wrapped up in my arms, I realized for the first time that my right leg was completely numb and limp. I realized I couldn’t move my leg at all. I knew something was wrong.
Nurses and doctors told me it was common to have the epidural take extra time to wear off. But as the hours and then days flew by, my leg was still completely numb and I was unable to move it at all. Specialists started coming to my room to take a look. At the day of our discharge, I was with a wheelchair with no diagnosis.
I was sent home to take care of a newborn unable to walk on my own with a second-degree episiotomy after almost forty hours of labor.
I wish my story ended with an overnight, miraculous recovery. Instead, I spent the first few months in physical therapy and visiting neurologists, unable to hold my son while I walked for fear of falling as I held him. I fell a dozen times and had to be driven everywhere. I was eventually diagnosed with a femoral neuropathy, a rare side-effect of the prolonged labor and hours of pushing. I found a Facebook group of women similarly affiliated. Women bravely shared their recovery stories, offered advice (for example, pushing the baby in a stroller in the house), and told me to stay strong and focus on cuddling my son. I did physical therapy exercises on zero sleep.
I cried. I cried for how much I loved my son, for how lucky I felt, and for the loss of an experience I wished I had and a body I may never get back.
Almost three years later and my knee still gives out randomly, and I still have limited sensation in my leg. However, I can confidently hike with my two kids, squat and pick them up without thinking twice, dance in crazy ways just to make them smile, and drive them safely to their checkups.
I often think about what would have happened had I approached childbirth with the type of acceptance I was forced to have after becoming disabled from labor. I wonder what my recovery would have been like had I not adamantly refused the C-Section or constantly battled for a natural labor. What if I had just let go and had the labor I was supposed to, instead of the one I thought meant something about me.
The good news is that I learned quickly that there is no room for ego when you are becoming a mom.