Why I Chose a Natural Birth
I wanted to start off by answering the question so many people ask when you tell them you’re having an unmedicated birth- “What? Why?” I think a lot of people would assume it’s because I’m anti-hospital or anti-pharm or whatever. The answer was much more simple. I just wanted to know what it was like. I wanted to be completely present for the birth of my child. I wanted to know the beauty and pain that women- and only women- have felt from the beginning of our time. I wanted to experience this right of passage in the fullest sense. And I know this might make me sound like even more of a dirty hippy than if I just said I don’t believe in unnecessary meds, but I’m okay with that.
What I Did to Prepare
I did almost nothing to prepare. I told very few people. I didn’t want anyone’s opinion- for or against- to influence my decision. I didn’t want their voices in the back of my head during labor, whether those voices were saying, “You’re crazy” or “You’re making the right decision.” I didn’t want to let anyone down and I didn’t want to prove anyone wrong. I just wanted to do it. A few weeks before my due date I started doubting whether or not I could do it. I felt like I should have done something to prepare. I started reading natural birth stories online, but I’m not sure whether they helped. Some of them were inspiring but others sounded awful. Five days before my due date I went to Barnes and Nobles and looked at natural birthing books. I browsed through The Bradley Method, Ina May’s, and Hypnobirthing. They all seemed to talk about how it takes months to prepare for a natural childbirth, etc. etc. Uh-oh. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get any of these methods down in five days (or less), but I felt like Hypnobirthing could at least help with pain management. I had no expectation of having a “pain free” birth as the book claims, but as a runner, I’m used to using music to focus and get me through the the most difficult parts of my workouts. So I bought the book and read it in a few hours. I found it pretty helpful and listened to the relaxation CD’s it came with over the next few days.
I really don’t think I experienced “early labor” like I did with Eva. The day before I gave birth, I had almost no signs that it was coming. I was one day past my due date according to the early ultrasound, and two days before my due date according to the date I know I conceived. My sister-in-law was in town and took Eva and my niece to DC to check out the National Zoo and a few monuments. I utilized the opportunity to do some cleaning around the house (not intense “nesting” cleaning, just straightening up after having two toddlers terrorizing the house for a few days). Then I went to get my nails done, which I had planned on doing before my due date but never got around to it. Later that day I got a last minute prenatal massage. The masseuse asked me if I wanted her to focus on the pressure points that are believed to induce neighbor and I replied, “Why not?” That was my day in a nutshell. I still wasn’t feeling any cramping. I didn’t have any bloody show. The only thing that felt a bit different was that I was dying of thirst all day long, no matter how much water I would drink. I went to bed around 9pm thinking “another day with no baby.” A few hours later, I woke up feeling a bit crampy. I looked at the clock and it was just before midnight. My midwife warned me that if I felt anything at all, I should go to the hospital right away because based on my previous pregnancy and the position of my baby my labor would go very quickly (and it can take over an hour to get to my hospital if there is traffic). I was exhausted, though, and all I wanted to do was sleep. I dozed off only to be woken about an hour later with what was unmistakably a contraction. I counted how long it lasted… around 45 seconds. I still wasn’t ready to get out of bed, though. With every subsequent contraction I held on more tightly to Eva, who was sleeping soundly next to me. I became very emotional. I knew that this was the last night I’d be cuddling with her without having to tend to another baby. I didn’t want to let go of her. I didn’t even want to be in labor. A little past 2am I came to terms with the fact I couldn’t wait at home any longer. It was time. I started packing last-minute things into my hospital bag. As we drove to the hospital I asked listened to Fear Before the March of Flames (or simply Fear Before as they are now called) to soothe me.
We pulled up to Fort Belvoir Community Hospital a little after 3:00am. We had never been there so we had no idea what entrance to take or anything. But I really felt no sense of urgency. We found where we were supposed to be (the “maternity parking” was a big clue), parked and walked in. When we got to the front door they asked if I wanted a wheelchair. I, like my first pregnancy, said “No, I don’t want to make a scene,” even though I knew it was the real thing. The contractions at that point still weren’t extremely painful, but they were coming at regular intervals and lasting about a minute a piece. Even though we had gone through the right door, we didn’t know where to go. We walked up to the front desk to ask. Well in the few steps between the front door and the front desk, I felt a gush of water running down my leg. Either I peed myself or my water broke. (Maybe I should have went with the wheelchair after all?) Luckily, I was wearing black sweatpants, so I proceeded walking to the elevator and up to the fifth floor- labor and delivery. When I got there, I immediately asked to use the restroom so that I could see what was going on. Sure enough, the liquid that had leaked out of me was pink. It was my bag of waters. I cleaned up and the nurse led me to the room where they monitor contractions and see if you’re actually in labor. She strapped me up and left me for about twenty minutes. By that time, the contractions had become pretty intense. They weren’t unbearable, but they were accompanied by this overwhelming feeling that I needed to poo, which made them very uncomfortable. I remember feeling this when it was time to push with Eva, but I didn’t feel an “urge” to push yet and I knew I wasn’t at that point. This made me certain that I really just needed to have a bowel movement. I felt like I was just really constipated. When the doctor came in, he checked me and said I was 7cm dilated. I was shocked. It had only been a couple of hours since I felt that first little cramp. They set up my room for me and by about 3:30am I was officially admitted.
The doctor came in and went over everything with me. He asked me what I would be doing for pain management and I said I’d like to try to go natural. He introduced me to my nurse and told me he’d be back around 6am to check on me. My nurse was phenomenal. She was so full of energy and extremely excited that I was going to try to go natural. She told me about the yoga balls, the squat bar, the shower, and everything else available in my room. She told me she wouldn’t be asking me about my pain but if I needed to talk to her about it I could. She even ran off a hospital administrator who tried to come in and have me fill out paperwork. I told my fantastic nurse that I needed to poo but couldn’t (I already tried), and warned her (and apologized in advance) if I did it while pushing the baby out. She smiled and assured me it would be alright, but I was still stressing about it, hahaha. I laid down in my hospital bed and got comfortable. About a half-hour later the real contractions began. I could feel my whole body tightening (which the HypnoBirthing book tries to discourage, but I couldn’t stop it). Everything that was touching me felt like it was doing so with a ton of pressure. If anyone tried to touch me I yelled at them to stop. When the contractions came, even my headphones and music felt like they were piercing my skin like bullets. I finally had to rip the headphones out of my ears. I looked up at the clock. It was almost 5:20. The doctor wouldn’t be coming to check on me for another 40 minutes. I felt hopeless. I turned to the nurse and said, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” The nurse said, “Let me go get a midwife and see what she says.” The midwife came in a few minutes later (though it felt like an eternity). She checked me and announced, “You’re complete!” Those words were music to my ears. It’s weird, but I felt almost instant relief. None of the contractions hurt as badly after that. It just goes to show how much of it is mental, I guess. The midwife then said, “I knew you’d be complete. Almost everybody says they can’t do it anymore when they’ve reached that point.” The midwife told the nurse to tell the doctor that she’d take it from here. I never saw the doctor again that morning.
I loved the midwife as much as I loved the nurse. She sat back in her chair and told me to do what came natural. She didn’t tell me how to breathe. She didn’t stick her fingers in me and tell me how to push. She looked calm, but I could see the excitement in her eyes that I was doing this. I had been lying on my side for most of the labor. That’s just how I felt the most comfortable. But after turning to my back to be checked, I could feel the pressure begin to bear down in my pelvis. I still had the same feeling that I needed to poo, but this time it was accompanied by the confidence that I was actually going to do so. A few contractions later, the feeling took over me. It’s like I couldn’t control it. My body just began bearing down… pushing. I started grunting and moaning and making all sorts of noises I never thought I’d make. Normally when I’m in pain I’m silent. In the birthing class I took way back when with Eva, I remember them saying something about grunting/moaning being ineffective. I never made any noises when pushing Eva out. But I was on the epidural then. This time I wasn’t, and the moaning just came to me. Just like I couldn’t control the bearing down, I couldn’t control the moaning. It was happening no matter how I or anyone else felt about it. And nobody said a word about it. With the first or second big push I felt a pop and a ton of water rushing out from between my legs. It was my forebag, the midwife explained. The baby wouldn’t be far behind.
It took a few contractions for the baby to start crowning. Luckily, they were coming quickly. The midwife warned me that I’d start to feel a sting, and boy did I. They don’t call it the ring of fire for nothing. When the baby’s head started coming out it almost felt like I stopped pushing- like I was tightening up as if not to let him out (not that I had a choice). It also felt very awkward to have his head just chillin there while I waited for the next contraction. At that point it took more of a conscious effort to push past the burn. I bore down with all my might. “Reach down!” the midwife exclaimed. And then I felt another pop, like a vacuum had instantly sucked out my insides. I felt the baby in my hands and pulled him up to my chest. It was an amazing feeling.
After some skin to skin the nurses took the baby for his measurements. He was 7lbs 15oz and 20.5in long- a bit bigger than Eva like I suspected from the beginning. The doctor who checked me in said he’d be 7lbs 4oz at the most (They also guessed Eva would be way smaller than she ended up being).
Recovery When the nurse handed Damian back to me he immediately latched on and nursed for about an hour! I’m sure most of the time he was just comfort sucking but I let him practice anyway. Finally, he fell asleep. I, on the other hand, was wide awake. I must have still had adrenaline pumping through my veins. We stayed in the delivery room for a few hours because they didn’t have a recovery room available yet. I was relieved when we finally got transferred, though. I was ready to shower up and get comfortable. I was also dying to see Eva. I missed her terribly.
When she finally arrived I was so happy to see her. I put Damian down in his bassinet in anticipation of her arrival and gave her a big hug when she arrived. I know she could sense something was “wrong,” but she remained pretty calm. We introduced her to her baby brother and I think it finally clicked. All the stuff we had been telling her about a baby brother coming finally made sense to her. She seemed to take it really well. She was happy to see the baby and excited to “hold” him. I was relieved. I was so happy to have both my kids with me. I finally felt complete.