I gave birth naturally (sans medication) twice but my experiences were like night and day…
Birth No. 1
With my first, I did a lot of research into which hospitals and OB GYNs were the best in my area. I hadn’t really thought much about the actual event of birthing itself until one day while in the ladies room at work, I overheard a pregnant colleague tell another colleague that she and her husband had been attending “Bradley Method” classes and that it was “amazing”.
Hmm, I thought to myself. How have I never heard of this, and what the heck is it? I quickly used google to alleviate my curiosity and soon found out that the Bradley Method was a 12 week course that couples could take during pregnancy to learn in depth about what would happen during each stage of the birthing process, pain management tactics, and making sure that the birthing partner (my husband in our case) was well educated and trained on what their role would entail.
At this point in my pregnancy I hadn’t really thought about whether I would want pain medication or not, but after doing some initial research I decided that I would try to do it naturally if at all possible. Therefore, the Bradley Method sounded like a good fit and my hubby and I signed up right away. I remember the first time talking with our Bradley Coach on the phone to set up our class times. She said, just bring yourselves, some water, and 2 pillows. I thought this was a bit strange. Were we going to spend a somewhat expensive hour class napping or reclining while sipping on water? I honestly didn’t really know what to expect.
It turns out that our Bradley Coach definitely knew what she was doing and the experience was just so valuable for both my husband and I. We learned so much about anatomy, birthing stages, what to expect at every turn of labor, potential complications, methods to cope with pain during contractions, transition and pushing, how to write up a birth plan and so much more. It prepared us very well and I felt pretty confidant pre-birthing.
When our first baby finally decided to come (5 days past my due date) we waited at home for contractions to get more intense and 5 minutes apart. It was late at night and we had mistakenly enjoyed a large dinner of Greek food a few hours before. I do not recommend eating particularly pungent foods before giving birth! Meal choices aside, labor progressed at a fairly normal pace for a first baby and before long I was dilated to 5 centimeters and taken to a birthing room.
Now because of all my wonderful Bradley Method training I just assumed that I would be able to walk around, bounce on an exercise ball, squat with the bar on the bed and take showers to my heart’s delight. What I didn’t realize however, was the the fact that once I got in that birthing room they hooked me up to a blood pressure cuff and fetal heart monitor and made it almost impossible to move around let alone walk anywhere without begging for all the stuff to be taken off first. This was highly frustrating to me. I felt literally trapped. I turned over and stayed in a hands and knees position on the bed for most of active labor because I knew I couldn’t stand it just laying back.
The pain management techniques we had learned in Bradley did come in handy though. I was able to breath well and make low noises during contractions, not tighten up and scream which is a natural tendency. Giving birth is hard! No doubt about it. The contractions felt like very intense versions of period cramps. Once I was at 9.5 centimeters they decided to break my waters with what looks like a crochet hook. After that, things really got moving and it was time to push. Now here comes one of the other parts of this birth experience that really annoyed me: I couldn’t push in any position of my choosing, I had to lie flat on my back “coackroach style” because they don’t teach most med students how to deliver babies in any other position anymore. Another annoying thing was that I had the strongest urge to just push but the nurses kept saying, no wait, no just pant, the Dr. isn’t here yet, she’s still on the way. Quite honestly, I could have cared less if the Dr. was there or not to deliver my baby. I knew any of the nurses could do it easily and its just seemed ridiculous to me to have to fight what my body was so obviously trying to accomplish. Also, they decided, for reasons I will never comprehend, to take my blood at this point in the process. Yes, while I was about to push out my baby, they thought it was a good idea to stick a needle in my arm and fill up a vial of blood.
The Dr. finally came and I was “allowed” to push. It didn’t take that long, a few pushes and he was out. Then of course the afterbirth and whatnot. They whisked him away for cleaning and tests and the usual stuff and I just wanted him back to hold him and savor the moment and the incredible thing that I had just been through with my new son. Hospitals are all about schedules and keeping things moving along however, so it felt cut short and so fleeting.
I had to be stitched up from tearing and I couldn’t walk for a couple of days without holding onto walls and furniture. it took awhile to fully recover. I am definitely glad that I didn’t choose pain medication even when it was offered to (pushed on) me about every 10 minutes of my labor. I remember one of the nurses remarking that they hadn’t seen a natural birth in a long time and that I was one of the toughest Moms they had seen. This made me smile, but I also new in my heart that I would never do another hospital birth if I could possibly help it. I didn’t feel like I had the experience I really wanted. And although I managed to say no to the drugs, my experience still felt restrictive and policy-driven.
Birth No. 2
When we got pregnant with our second child, we knew we wanted a different experience and sought out a birthing center close to us. At the time there were only a couple in the whole state of Colorado, and we found one about an hour away from where we lived. Even though the distance was hard at times, going there was definitely worth it in my mind. It also didn’t hurt that it was a couple streets over from my husband’s favorite burger joint.
This time around we didn’t have 12 weeks of classes but I did read a couple of books that I would recommend to anyone considering natural childbirth: “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May Gaskin and “Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care” by Jennifer Block. These books really helped me to get ready for a second natural birth. We also took one class at the birthing center to run through how things would go during labor.
When I was at 40 weeks and 2 days I started having contractions but they weren’t close enough to warrant active labor. The only issue was, it was March in Colorado and that often means snow storms are in the forecast. Wanting to dodge an impending storm, we decided to head up to a hotel near the birthing center just in case. We checked in at the center that morning and my midwife said, “well you’re not in active labor now, but you’ll have this baby by tonight, go and walk around as much as you can”. So we went to a big IKEA store and walked the whole thing a couple times. Then we walked a mall. By evening things started to happen. I remember a March Madness basketball game was on the TV in our hotel room when my contractions got quite intense. I got on all fours on the bed and got my husband to call the midwife. She said we should come back to the birthing center so we headed to the elevator. I remember there was a teenage girl in the elevator looking at her phone. I had an intense contraction and leaned on my husband while it passed. I’m pretty sure I scared her for life and maybe even provided some unintentional birth control!
Because of the snow storm, hubby ran to get the car and pick me up so I waited in the lobby. I had some contractions while there and one had me on the ground on all fours. The hotel clerk behind the desk was quite alarmed, “Ma’am, you are going to the hospital right?” I think he thought I was going to have the baby right there in the lobby of Embassy Suites.
Once we got to the birthing center, which was about a 5 minute drive away, my midwife had already prepared the birthing pool (like a large,warm bath) and I got in and it felt amazing. We put on some Diana Krall jazz music and between contractions I lay back in the pool and almost forgot I was in the middle of this huge epic task. Things progressed very quickly and my midwife could tell when I was entering transition. She had me get out of the pool and walk around the center (which was empty save for us). After doing just one lap I was ready to get back in the pool and push.
My previous experience in the hospital made me timid to push and I said to my midwife, “I really feel like pushing, what should I do?” she laughed and said “well then push!”. Great, I thought, let’s go. I got into a squatting position ( Because it shortens the depth of your birth canal and enlarges your pelvic diameter) and held onto the edge of the pool for leverage. 3 pushes and she was out. My waters never broke during labor so they broke when the sac came out in the water. It was an amazing moment and felt incredibly empowering. It was just my husband, myself, a nurse and my midwife there.
They didn’t whisk my daughter away, they let me hold onto her through the 4th stage of labor (afterbirth) and kept the cord intact for a good 45 minutes. I remember sitting on a big king size bed with hubby next to me and baby with me while eating snacks that the birthing center brought out to nourish us after the marathon of birth we had just completed. My daughter instinctively nursed and still hadn’t left me for one second. I was so grateful in that moment because it was how I knew it could be all along and it was beautiful.
When we were ready, they cut the cord and then took Daddy and baby to do weighing, measuring, and cleaning up while I got to enjoy a restorative herbal bath. The birthing center does this purposefully to give mothers a moment to relax and breath and begin healing after giving birth. There were a lot of noticeable differences between the 2 birthing experiences but I think the biggest one to me was that I was able to walk easily outside in a snow storm just 5 hours after giving birth to get in the car to go back to our hotel. I felt so much better than the first time. And while I know that second births are often shorter and easier in general, I know that a lot of it had to do with having a specific environment, support and freedom this time around. When we got back to our hotel after a harrowing drive uphill in the snow with a newborn, the hotel clerk who had been alarmed at my contractions was still on duty. He couldn’t believe that we had gone out 6 hours before and come back with a baby already. We had to show him the baby in the carrier for him to believe it. The hotel employees later sent up a Congratulations card and comped our meals.
Every mothers birthing stories are unique and special in different ways. I am glad to have had both experiences to reflect on.