I am a control freak. Through and through. I take no shame in admitting that. And when a control freak has a birth plan, there are few things worse than when that birth plan doesn’t quite pan out. Call me crazy, but I’ve always wanted to experience a natural birth, not because I don’t believe in medicine or because I think medicated births are bad. Something about letting go of control for a brief period of time to allow my body do what it’s designed to do is rather cathartic to me.
But what about the pain? Natural birth is really, really painful, right? Well, yeah, I wanted to experience that too. As someone who chronically suppressed emotions and lived in a state of “everything is fine” for the majority of life, I wanted the experience of a natural birth to embrace a range of emotion both physically and mentally. I have always been my own worst critic and the first person to doubt myself, so taking on the challenge of making it through birth without any intervention was such a special opportunity to prove to myself that I’m stronger than I give myself credit for.
That being said, sometimes when speaking passionately about natural birth, it can be perceived that if that’s not what you chose for your birthing experience that you’re being judged. I assure you, that’s not the case here in the least bit. However your little nugget was brought into the world is beautiful and perfect and exactly the way God intended.
I’m going to borrow a quote here that so perfectly summarizes my intentions with sharing my birth story:
“I don’t care what kind of birth you have— a homebirth, scheduled Cesarean, an epidural hospital birth or if you give birth alone in the woods next to a baby deer. I care that you had options, that you were supported in your choices, and that you were respected.” (January Harshe, Doula)
My first birth experience was definitely not what I intended nor expected– leaving me, as a new mommy, with extreme anxiety and tons of self-doubt. I felt disempowered, ignored, and incapable. What was planned to be a natural birth of my first born baby ended up in an induction way sooner than I expected, a full 24 hours of labor without any progression (having full on contractions 2-5 minutes apart with NO dilating! Ugh!), having my water broken for me, deciding to finally get an epidural, having that epidural not work (after already feeling defeated for getting it in the first place), getting ANOTHER epidural placed (which lead to my blood pressure bottoming out), and finally, after 36+ hours on Pitocin, giving birth to my son.
Could things have been worse? Absolutely. At the end of the day, he was happy and healthy and perfect. But, man, I was so delirious that I don’t even remember who in the room announced his gender. Feeling supported? Nope. Choices? Nope. It’s no wonder so many new moms are riddled with fear and anxiety when, from the get-go, we’re often kept out of the decision making process.
I was blessed with a second healthy pregnancy and prayed from the beginning for a redemption. Being able to birth naturally in the hospital meant I’d need a practitioner who valued natural birth as much as me (midwife) and someone to fearlessly advocate for us and coach us through the process (doula). Thank goodness for the “six degrees of separation” that connected me to the BirthFit community and the woman who would eventually become my doula. And, thank the internet gods for Google search results producing a dream come true when searching “ob/gyn midwife Houston, TX”. Yes, I found an OB/gyn with a midwife on staff!
Working with a doula was so helpful and I’d highly recommend hiring one. My husband and I wanted someone there who is incredibly knowledgeable in the birthing process and natural pain relief techniques who could also act as our spokesperson and advocate when decisions needed to be made. My husband was such a great coach through my first childbirth, but man, we were BOTH so exhausted by the end of it that when the baby came, we were both pretty useless. I knew that I needed him to be somewhat rested so that he could take over “baby duty” while I recovered. And, because I wanted him to do the majority of the coaching and be pretty hands on, we wanted an expert there to guide us on the best options. Leah, our doula, never gave up on me and when I doubted myself most, she radically believed in me even more.
Okay, okay… onto the birth story!
I woke up on a Wednesday night with timed contractions. Having not gone into labor on my own the first time around, I wasn’t quite sure that “this was it”. They were happening every 5 minutes or so and definitely painful enough to keep me awake. But, after a couple hours and lots of lost sleep, they disappeared. Darn it! The same thing happened Thursday night. Timed contractions. Lots of lost sleep. Then, nothing! Grr!
Friday was my first official day of “maternity leave”. I spent the day with my son floating in the pool trying to relax. After a few stressful months moving my practice and being a sole business owner, lounging in the pool was just what I needed! That afternoon, I squeezed in a last “virtual” client and sat in a poolside lounge chair while we held our meeting. During the session, I noticed some pretty painful contractions, but brushed them off as the “prodromal labor” the midwife had diagnosed me with a few days prior. After the pool, my family walked to the grocery store and I noticed my contractions getting pretty darn strong, much stronger than anything before, and I was SO worried my water would break in the store.
We got back home, ate dinner, put my son to bed, and text messaged my dear friend who we lined up to watch my son if/when it was time to go to the hospital. My contractions started getting stronger and stronger and closer together. I encouraged my husband to go to bed while I was still able to get through the contractions on my own so he could be well rested and give me time to recover after delivery if this was actually “it”. I labored at home for a few hours— meanwhile, bounced on a labor ball, watched bad reality tv, took an Epsom salt bath, stood hunched over my kitchen counter, and eventually got to the point when I couldn’t really breathe through my contractions anymore. It was go-time. We dropped my son off at my friend’s house and headed to the hospital, and my contractions went away. NOOO! Not again!
When we got to the hospital around 3 AM, the triage nurse in the L & D measured me and said I’m about 4 centimeters. What?! That’s it? Then she asked “wait, is your baby breech!?” What!!! No way! Not now! Ultrasound performed— baby not breech. Phew! Then, the doozie, my midwife and ob/gyn are out of town and so I’m stuck with the on-call doctor. Ah! But she doesn’t know my birth plan!
We got all checked in and into my hospital room and, thank goodness, the contractions started back up. The on-call doctor had ordered continuous monitoring and that I stay in the room, which was NOT the plan. Thankfully, she was super open-minded and respectful and let us modify her standing orders. Continuous monitoring? Discontinued. Confined to room? Discontinued. Being stuck in the room and hospital bed instinctually felt wrong. I wanted to be standing up and walking around. It’s what my body was telling me, and mama, you’ve never felt instincts like birth instincts.
Leah, my doula, showed up and was a pillar of strength and stability. She was calm, cool, and collected while I was a little panicked that it was actually happening. Between my husband and Leah, I’ve never felt more supported confident in my life.
My husband and I walked the halls of the labor and delivery unit for hours, stopping along the way for me to lean over the hand rails on the wall when contractions came. This position was my favorite during this labor because he was able to apply counter-pressure to my back. I never realized how effective these techniques could be! At one point, I even asked Leah if my contractions were still benefiting labor because the counter pressure really took away that much pain. She had a good giggle at this question. 🙂
Contractions became pretty darn intense that all I could do was moan and breathe heavily. Leah reminded me to relax my jaw and open my palms up to the sky to release the energy. As “woo-woo” as that sounds, I actually cried during that moment of opening my hands because I could physically feel the pain and negative energy exuding from my open palms. Wow. God is so amazing at providing just what you need when you need it.
I basically spent the duration of my labor bent over the bed, swaying, moaning, breathing while my husband applied counter pressure to my back. Breathing is such a powerful tool that I took for granted up until going through labor.
We reached the point of labor when the option for me to have my water broken was on the table, and as much as I wanted zero interventions, at that point I was open to doing it to just have the labor process end. I was a little saddened with having made the decision to have it broken for me, and then like a scene from the movies as the doctor was en route to break my water, my bag of waters broke all on its own in true Hollywood fashion. How. Freaking. Cool. My body is really doing it. I’m SO proud of Her!
As cool as that moment was, the reality of how intense labor can really be hit. Holy. Cow. Those ten minutes between my water breaking and pushing was the worst pain of my life, but just when the wave of pain nearly brought me to tears, it was over. Trying to work against the urge to push while the team got set up was pretty brutal and I may or may not have said a few choice words. However, as with most difficult things in life, I repeated to myself my Mimi’s wise words, “This too shall pass”.
The doctor arrived and THANK GOD because I was going to deliver that baby with or without her. In continuing with her respect for my birth plan, she asked if there was anything specific we’d like regarding when the baby came out. Yes! We wanted my husband to announce the gender, delayed cord clamping, and I wanted to see my placenta.
Pushing, honestly, was the least painful part of the entire birth process. It felt right and natural and exactly what I should be doing at that time. After about 20 minutes, there SHE was. A little girl. A perfect and beautiful baby girl. Daddy announced her gender. The cord clamping was delayed. And my placenta, my life giving gorgeous placenta, was so intriguing. The on-call doctor, who I underestimated and automatically didn’t like, was the perfect Godsend that I needed. She not only showed me the placenta, but explained the different parts and seemed equally as fascinated by it as me. Leah snapped a picture of it, in true doula fashion— one that I still marvel at and whip out sometimes as my party-trick! (In all honesty, I even look at it when I’m feeling down on my postpartum body. It is a great reminder of how powerful, intuitive, and incredible the female body is and renews my appreciation for Her).
I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity to redeem my first birth and thankful for each painful contraction and every single twinge I was able to feel. If you’re on the fence about having a natural birth, girl, do it! I promise, you’re stronger than you give yourself credit for.
The most valuable lessons from this experience include:
- I give up on myself way before others do. If you can relate, it is imperative to surround yourself with people who are steadfast in their support of you. This applies to your entire life. Find those who believe in you and hold onto them.
- Breath is life. You can get through so many hard times by simply breathing intentionally and nourishing your body with breath.
- I am strong. Physically and mentally. And so are you.
- God will never give you more than you can handle. Even if you don’t believe it, repeat that over and over. When things seem like they can’t get any worse, remember “this too shall pass”.