Birth matters. Yes, that's a title of a book by Ina May Gaskins (which I highly recommend reading if you're going to give birth any time soon), but seriously, BIRTH MATTERS. Your birth experience greatly impacts how you feel about yourself. Occasionally, it can be traumatic, demoralizing, and leave physical and emotional scars that a mother doesn't full realize until years after her child is born. I didn't understand this until long after Macson came into the world.
His birth wasn't high risk or unusual in any way. In fact, my first experience was similar to that of most women in the US. I went to the hospital when my contractions were 5 minutes apart (3cm); had an epidural 2 hours later (4-5cm); then waited through the night with slow, gradual change till morning. Prior to pushing, hospital staff frequently asked if I felt any pressure. I always said no and everything progressed as the hospital would have liked. The nurses monitored my progress from their station down the hall. Because my epidural made me easy to manage, I rarely saw any staff. When a nurse decided that I had reached 10cm, I was instructed to push, which I did... for two hours. The entire process was smooth and I felt very little pain. NO PAIN, to be exact, since an epidural numbs most feeling from the waist down.
Once the epidural wore off, all the pain I missed during the actual birth process made itself known. I went home a little banged up but I had a beautiful, healthy baby so I just chalked my recovery up to "the price of doing business". Normal, right? I thought all the aspects of my recovery were related to the act of simply giving birth. It did not occur to me until after some research that aspects of my recovery might have been due to some of the interventions I received. I had "planned" on a natural birth with Macson, but due to lack of education on my part and lack of support from the hospital staff (they ENCOURAGE epidurals because as I mentioned before, you are easier to manage when you're drugged up), I gave up right from the start. I didn't think my body could handle it and the idea of birthing a child with no pain meds scared the crap out of me. No biggie, I thought. Having a baby without an epidural is for hippies and REAL WOMEN. I didn't join "the club" that day and spent years wrestling with a nagging sense of defeat.
December 2013. I desperately longed for a epidural-free birth. I wanted it to be all natural, because I knew if I were induced, the pitocin would make my contractions too strong and I would need the dreaded epidural. (Pitocin makes regular contractions 10x worse.)
December 18th: I couldn't seem to sustain the contractions that had begun sloooowly dilating me weeks before. I was 40 weeks, between 4-5cm and doing nothing. I was over it. My induction was scheduled.
One evening I went to see my sister who had just given birth. I held baby Haley and walked around the halls of the hospital, occasionally visiting triage to see if I had made any progress.
4-5cm. 60% effaced. Like always. Like I "would be forever", I groaned. LOL
My mom, Cody and I ran into a family friend Doris Ann, who also happened to be a doula, in the halls at the hospital and after hearing about my situation told my mom (where I couldn't hear LOL) not to let me go home.
Still not in labor, I went to be "checked" in triage once more before going home for the evening. The hospital staff advised that I stay because I was already 5cm, however I knew I wasn't in active labor so I declined and they prepared my discharge papers, repeating to me over and over their wish that I would stay.
As I prepared to leave, Laura's heart rate dropped and I was forced to remain at the hospital for additional monitoring till the wee hours in the morning on the 19th. Though Doris Ann was at the hospital supporting another client, she came to see me in triage. She looked over the print out from the moniter tracking Laura's vitals and shook her head. "You need to have this baby."
"Just let them break your water or give you a little bit of pitocin and get her out."
I voiced my concerns about being induced and told Doris Ann about my wish for an unmedicated birth.
"Let's just have this baby," she insisted. "I'll help you."
Laura's heart rate improved and I was cleared to go home, but I was feeling encouraged that I would have Doris Ann's support and I could tell she had really heard my wish about avoiding an epidural. I agreed to be induced.
Doris Ann McMurray knew every member of the hospital staff. She knew what equipment to ask for so that I could labor away from the bed but still be connected to the pitocin. (The machine didn't work and I was confined to the bed, but STILL! She knew to ask for it!). She monitered my energy/hydration needs and brought ice chips or a Popsicle when she thought I was "fading" and needed a sugar boost for energy. Even the nurse (who was in my room through the entire process) told me how lucky I was to have "the BEST doula".
She was so right. Doris Ann was THE BEST.
I was given pitocin, and within an hour I was really feeling my contractions. I was at 6cm. The pain wasn't unmanageable, but in the back of my mind I kept telling myself that I would reach a point when I couldn't handle it and took comfort in knowing that an epidural was a cry away.
An hour and a half later, a doctor broke my water (there was no water left to break, though I didn't realize it at the time) and announced that I was "a good 6cm". Kill me. Still 6cm?!
I became angry and disappointed at my own perceived lack of progress. I whimpered into the side of the bed for a minute out of frustration. To make things worse, the nurse was instructing me to lie on my back because the machines were not being able to track Laura's heart rate and my contractions (she was positioned very oddly). This increased my discomfort greatly. I had found the position that worked for me to manage the pain most effectively, so I wasn't thrilled about being made to remain on my back.
I had been induced 2.5 hours earlier and I was starting to get a little pissed off because I was still only at 6cm. I told Doris Ann, "I don't want to do this anymore" because I felt sure that since my water was broken the contractions would be more intense and I hadn't even gone through transition yet. I knew "transition" would be a game changer and I thought FOR SURE I would be in unexplainable agony and give up. She came close to my face and said, "When you tell me that you're done, that means you're at the end."
Eleven minutes later, much to my surprise, her prophesy proved true. I didn't really think it was happening, because I had JUST been at 6cm and the pain hadn't increased. I was aware that there was movement around me as my body began to push on its own. I couldn't have stopped it even if I tried. My body was going to have the baby and I didn't even really need to help it along. I opened my eyes and realized the doctor, midwife and various nurses had gathered because I really was about to have my baby! I still didn't believe it when two pushes (four minutes) later she was born. It had been 15 minutes since the doctor told me I was still at 6cm.
During the short pushing phase, I heard my mom advise me to "push through the ring of fire". I kept waiting and waiting for an intense burning feeling, but Laura's head emerged before I felt it. I wasn't even sure her head HAD emerged because I wasn't feeling pain. I had assumed it would be agony. I was wrong.
After 3 hours of labor, I gave birth to a 7lb. 12oz. baby without pain meds while on pitocin. I would love to say that my first thought when they laid Laura on my chest was about how precious she was, but that wouldn't be true. My first thought was for myself.
Relief. "Thank God that's over."
Then, empowerment. "My body just did that. I just did that."
I was so proud of myself and my body and so thankful to my support team (SHOUTOUT to my mama and husband for being AMAZING!) for helping me achieve one of the biggest goals I had ever set. The bonus was that I had a little genetic Cody/Meg cocktail crying on my chest where they had set her while we waited for the cord to stop pulsing so it could be cut.
My recovery was non-existent. I stood from the bed in the delivery room and walked around. A couple of hours later I took a glorious shower. I had no stitches, tearing, etc. (Sorry, TMI?) My stomach was close to flat and I felt like my body was returning to it's pre-pregnancy state in record time. I wasn't puffy from an epidural and extra fluids. I didn't have broken blood vessels from hours of ineffective pushing because my body wasn't ready. For the first time, I knew that my body was totally BA. I had carried and birthed a human for the second time. That's pretty rad.
My birth experience wouldn't be right for everyone. Each mother should assess her wishes for herself and her baby and plan accordingly. If you really want that epidural because you've researched and you firmly believe it is the best course of action, get the dang epidural! An empowering birth experience is one where a mother feels supported and gently coached without feeling bullied, regardless of the interventions she chooses to receive. The best things expecting mothers can do is research, educate themselves and have advocates in the birth room who really understand the mother's wishes and can fight on her behalf to ensure the quality of her experience. (I strongly recommend a doula! I couldn't have done it without her.)
I read thousands (not exaggerating) of birth stories in the months leading to Laura's birth day, and felt tiny boosts of confidence each time I read about mothers who communicated, "I did it. You can too!" I hope this post does the same for any expecting mama who reads it. You can do it.
Whatever your wishes for the birth of your baby, you should know:
1. Your body is AMAZING and POWERFUL and CAPABLE.
2. If your birth does not go according to plan (c-section, etc.) that is OK. Your body isn't broken and you are not a failure.
3. Don't be afraid.
4. Hire a doula. Just do it. You'll thank me later. Even if your birth plan includes an epidural, the support of a doula is worth every penny you'll spend.
** If you're interested in hearing more about Doris Ann McMurray's services, shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I'd love to hear about any of your pregnancy/birth experiences if you're willing to share! Or if you haven't already had a child, what would be your ideal experience? Comment below!