I credit my mother for instilling in me a desire to give birth naturally, without pain medication. She was having babies in a time when women were being confined to bed and separated from their husbands, and even being knocked out with ether or chloroform during labor and having their babies delivered by doctors with forceps. Often they would wake with no memory of birth and wonder if they had a boy or a girl. My mom felt strongly that birth is a natural process and she could do this without the medical interventions of the day. She took Lamaze classes with my dad and went on to give birth to 6 healthy babies, each without pain medication other than a paracervical injection to numb the cervix for the pushing stage. She spoke openly about this with me and my sister when we were growing up, and I wanted to have that experience for myself.
When I was pregnant with my first baby my husband and I took a childbirth class at the local county health department and they taught us some basic breathing techniques and comfort measures. However, the majority of the class was dedicated to educating us about the actual function of birth, complete with diagrams and charts and explanations of the stages of labor and when to go to the hospital. I joined online birthing websites and read books and tried to educate myself as much as possible about birth. I felt if I could be well-informed then there was no need to be afraid. Unfortunately, I was still not prepared for what I would experience.
My water broke spontaneously and I had no noticeable contractions. Of course, I had been told to immediately go to the hospital if my water broke, so I did as I had been told to do. The hospital staff immediately started me on pitocin to get my labor going. It was a long, hard battle. The pitocin did indeed get my labor going, but it also made the labor so intense and difficult that I didn't know how to handle it. I forgot everything I had learned in our childbirth class about breathing and working with the contractions. I had told myself that I wanted to birth naturally, but if it got too hard then I would get the epidural, and that's exactly what happened. The epidural slowed my labor, and then the baby's heartbeat was erratic. The doctor explained that they would stop the pitocin to give the baby a break from the onslaught of contractions and give him some time to recover. They would then start the pitocin again and see if my labor would progress after that. He used the dreaded c-word and explained that if my labor did not progress at that point, they would do surgery. My greatest fear was materializing and I was terrified. I cried, and my family comforted me.
Thankfully, the plan worked and a c-section was not necessary. My epidural wore off just in time to start pushing, and I went from feeling completely numb to feeling absolutely EVERYTHING. I was not prepared for that kind of pain, and I endured it for 90 minutes while I pushed my baby out. It was traumatic. He was born in the middle of the night, healthy, after a full day of hard labor, and we were both exhausted. The nurses told me they would take the baby to the nursery so that I could rest, and I complied because I thought they knew best. I slept fitfully, and then woke up around 6am in a panic without my baby! I paged the nurses and had them bring him in immediately, and I did not calm down until he was with me. Breastfeeding was a challenge because he was so sleepy. I hadn't had the chance to establish breastfeeding immediately after birth and the baby was tired and sluggish, and I didn't know what I was doing! The lactation consultant was not helpful, but thankfully we figured it out and I went on to breastfeed my son for over a year.
Three years later I was pregnant with my second child, and I had decided that childbirth was just too much for me to handle without an epidural. When my doctor told me we could schedule an induction, I thought it was wonderful that we could plan it out and know when the baby would be born! I didn't know anything other than induction and epidural, and this was my way of taking control of the situation. It was a wonderful experience, and I remember chatting and laughing with my husband and the obstetrician while I was pushing. It was 4 ½ hours from the time they started the pitocin until my beautiful baby boy was born, compared to over 14 hours with my first. I was in a smaller community hospital this time, and the atmosphere was calmer and I felt I got more attention from the staff. I was able to hold my baby very soon after he was born, after the staff had checked him out and weighed and measured him. I had him latched on and breastfeeding before the doctor even left the room. I didn't like how long it took for my epidural wore off after he was born. I wanted to be able to move around and enjoy my baby and the birth being over, and that was an annoyance.
Two years passed and I was expecting our third baby. My husband, Matthew was in massage therapy school and he worked at the front desk of a massage clinic. He told me that one of the therapists there was a doula and she wanted to work with me and provide support for me at the baby's birth. I didn't know what a doula was, but I wanted to talk with her because I had many questions and I thought maybe she could help me. Mandy and I immediately bonded. I told her I had always wanted to give birth without medication but I didn't know how to do it! She told me she would help, and she answered all of my questions and helped me feel at ease about approaching birth in a new way. She helped me write a birth plan, outlining my wishes for childbirth. I realized that I had choices and could let the doctor and hospital staff know how I wanted to handle things rather than let them take the lead and tell me what to do. My obstetrician was very open to my wishes and willing to work with me, and I checked with hospital policies to ensure that my desires were feasible within their limitations.
I didn't know what to expect because I had never experienced my body starting labor on its own. I was sent home from the hospital three times because I wasn't progressing enough to be admitted, but I was determined not to be induced. I had early labor for about two days, and Mandy taught me how to breathe with the contractions and work with my body. The third time I was sent home from the hospital I decided to go home and sleep. My labor stopped for about a day, and I rested as much as I could. The next morning, my water broke while I was in bed, and Mandy met up with us at the hospital. It was beautiful! Because of the practice I'd had with my early labor, I knew how to breathe and focus.
Mandy and Matt worked together to provide comfort measures for me, including acupressure points and counter pressure on my hips, knees and lower back. I wasn't hooked up to an IV pole or monitors, and I could move around as I wanted to, leaning on the birth ball or walking around. I even got into the tub in my room for a little while, but it was too shallow to give me much comfort. I focused through the contractions and enjoyed the company of my husband and my doula between them. Only once during transition did I feel I couldn't do it, and Mandy told me “You ARE doing it!” She kept me focused and helped me through it all, and the hard part was relatively short. My healthy baby boy was born within a few hours of arriving at the hospital, and I felt like a super hero! I was energetic and happy, and I had never before experienced such euphoria after giving birth. I was able to breastfeed my baby immediately after his birth, and we spend some quiet time with him in our room without any interruptions from hospital staff. The nurses were very curious and asked me which birth method I preferred (epidural or no medication) and I told them I would do natural birth again without a doubt!
When I got pregnant with my fourth baby, I knew what I wanted. I had been permanently converted to unmedicated birth. My husband had a client who was a home birth midwife, and she offered her services if I wanted to have my baby at home. I politely declined, explaining that I had my OB, my doula, and my birth plan and I knew what I wanted. This time I was determined not to be sent home from the hospital, and I intentionally labored as long as possible at home. Again I had two days of early labor, and the labor stopped for a few hours while I attended my baby shower and then started up again later that night. My husband and I were watching TV, and when I got up to use the bathroom I felt a leak. I told him that either I had wet myself or my water had broken.
We called Mandy and made arrangements to meet her at the hospital. I was admitted in the middle of the night and labored for a few hours, using focused breathing and trying to rest between contractions. The doctor arrived in the morning and suggested that he could break my water to get labor going faster. It turned out the leaking I had was a forebag and not the actual bag of waters. I was ready to have a baby, so I agreed and he ruptured the bag. After that things went quickly and our beautiful baby girl was born within a few hours. Once again my husband and my doula worked together to give me the support I needed, and it was a wonderful, empowering experience. The baby latched on immediately and we bonded. My baby was beautiful, and I was thrilled to finally have a little girl, but there was a subtle nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I felt like something was missing.
When my daughter was still a newborn I decided to become a birth doula. I wanted to help other women as my doula had helped me. I felt she was indispensable in my achieving the beautiful natural birth experience I had always wanted. I started reading all the required books and took the doula training. I couldn't get enough information about birth! I watched The Business of Being Born, and learned that some women still safely give birth at home rather than at a hospital. Within a year I found I was pregnant, expecting my fifth child. I felt that I had some different choices to make, and I started thinking about planning a home birth. I researched it and thought about it and prayed about it. I felt peace, and it was a wonderful overwhelming peace. I knew I wanted to have this baby at home.
I called the midwife whose services I had declined for my daughter's birth, and started going to regular prenatal visits with her. I went to my obstetrician's office a few times during the pregnancy for certain things like an ultrasound, blood work and screenings, but the rest of my prenatal care was provided by my midwife. I trusted her and her 15 years of experience with home birth. I also met her birth attendants who were all doulas and midwives.
I had early labor, on and off, for over a week. I was anxious to meet my baby, but I had to practice more patience than ever before. I used the time to prepare things in our home for the birth. Four days past the due date, my midwife brought the birthing tub to our house and did a brief check for the baby's heartbeat, with my four children watching. Later that evening, my contractions were coming closer together and stronger. My midwife came over and set things up and we settled in to have a baby. I was focusing and breathing through the contractions and leaning on my birth ball. I labored in the bed and rested between contractions, and in the birth tub immersed in water up to my neck. The water dissolved the discomfort of the contractions and my husband pressed acupressure points while I breathed through them. We chatted with the midwife and enjoyed the quiet and peaceful atmosphere. I have never experienced such peace in the hospital.
As things progressed, a second midwife came to assist, and she cleaned my kitchen and helped get the kids settled when they started waking up in the morning. At one point while I was resting in bed, my water broke in a small leak and my midwife ruptured the bag the rest of the way. The kids went to play at grandma's house and things really picked up! We called the two oldest boys to come home and I as I was pushing we realized the baby was coming out breech! His bottom was coming out first. I was in the birth tub, and it felt really good to stretch my body out as I pushed. His bottom came out, then one leg, and then the other leg. Then his torso was delivered, followed by an arm, and then the other arm. And then, as my 6 year-old described it, “he put the hands and the feet on the bum cheeks, and he pushed his head out!” I only pushed for a few minutes, and my beautiful baby boy was here! He was healthy and perfect. I held him in the tub with me for a couple of minutes before the midwives helped me out to deliver the placenta, and then into bed. We cuddled and bonded as a family, and our oldest son cut the umbilical cord.
I've realized since my home birth that if I had planned a hospital birth for my breech baby, it would have ended in a cesarean section. If that was the only benefit of having him at home, it was definitely worth it, but there were many other blessings of having our baby at home as well.
I don't consider my home birth to have been a painful birth. I felt intense pain with my hospital births, and there were moments of discomfort during my home birth but never what I would describe as pain. I think it had to do with the peace I felt and the confidence I had gained from my previous birth experiences. I am no longer the meek woman willing to submit to whatever the doctor tells me I should do. I know exactly what I want and how to achieve my goals. I know what I am capable of, and I feel stronger than I ever have in my life.
I used to regret my earlier birth experiences, wishing I had experienced unmedicated birth from the first rather than the traumatic experience it was. Now I'm grateful for those earlier experiences for the way they've shaped me as a person and as a mother. My first birth experience was an important catalyst in motivating me to find a better way for me to give birth. I don't feel that there is one birth choice that is best for every woman, but I hope that each woman can know that birth is beautiful and empowering, and if you don't experience it that way then find out how you can.
Birth is a Journey: Does it have to be life changing?
One woman might have to climb on an overfilled boat, risking her life and nearly dying as she escapes over the ocean to come to this land. This experience could certainly be life altering. It may very well color the rest of her life, positively or negatively. (I overcame this amazing struggle and here I am triumphant! OR Holy crap, that was SO hard I don’t know if I can go on! By the way, neither response is “right”. No one would judge the woman with the 2nd response.)
One woman may buy an airplane ticket, sit on a comfortable 747 and fly to America with a nice smooth flight and landing. She is happy to be in America. Those welcoming her are glad she is here safe and sound. She may only travel by plane 2-4 times in her life, so it is pretty memorable. But the journey itself probably wouldn’t be life changing; it would simply be a journey.
One woman may learn to fly an ultra-light plane to lead a flock of geese into America teaching them to migrate. This experience could certainly be empowering and life altering.