This is going to be a different kind of post, but it’s something I’m excited to write about. For those who don’t know, our daughter, Joy Eliana was born Wednesday evening, July 17th.
When we found out I was pregnant this past October, part of me was terrified because a few months after Isaac’s birth, I started reading up on natural childbirth and new that it was something I wanted to pursue. Unfortunately, I have the worst pain tolerance of anyone I know so my plan was to build up the resolve and conviction before ever becoming pregnant. That isn’t what happened.
Up until maybe the last few weeks of my pregnancy with Joy I told people I was going to “try” a natural birth, and that I “hoped” I could make it without an epidural. I had serious doubts, though.
I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, re-watched The Business of Being Born and More Business of Being Born and invested in Hypnobabies. Aside from knowing why I wanted to go through with a natural, unmedicated birth, reading successful stories, changing the way I thought about pain and childbirth, and learning relaxation techniques were the most helpful ways I tried to prepare.
Hypnobabies – a self-hypnosis program – was probably the most unusual thing I did, and yet I have to recommend it to anyone interested in natural birth. Beginning at about 35 weeks, you listen to tracks that help you learn deep relaxation, self-hypnosis and several techniques. There’s also a handbook that’s very informative and helpful. Both my husband and I were obviously skeptical but I absolutely was impressed after Joy was born.
She was “due” on July 8th but 40 weeks came and went, then 41 weeks. I chose an amazing hospital known for it’s woman-centered birthing care, and saw a practice of midwives during the pregnancy. Thankfully, their policy is not to induce until 42 weeks and even then, they prefer more natural methods before Pitocin. I was 41 weeks and 2 days when I woke up at 5 in the morning with noticeably stronger contractions than I had previously experienced (and I had been experiencing plenty of contractions for a few weeks by that time). My midwife had just told me that Joy was positioned in a less than ideal way (LOA) and recommended the Miles Circuit to help her shift and possibly get labor going. So I did a round of that, but noticed no change in the frequency or strength of my contractions. The day went on as usual, I cleaned, watched Isaac and when the contractions still hadn’t subsided by noon, I went to talk with Thailer.
I had just put Isaac down for his nap and told Thailer I felt like it would probably be tonight, but it was Wednesday which meant he had to teach Bible class so we tried to figure out what we should do. The hospital was an hour away and I had planned on doing as much laboring as possible outside of the hospital so I wanted to get a hotel room nearby. Trying to get an idea of what we should do, he told me to call my midwife and see what she thought. Unfortunately they were on lunch, so I waited 45 minutes.
When I did get a hold of her, she noted that I was over 41 weeks and that it was my third pregnancy and that we were an hour away and said that it would be best for us to come in as soon as possible so they could check me and see what was going on. By this time, my contractions still hadn’t changed, but they hadn’t fizzled out either.
It took us an hour to get ready (good thing I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night with strong contractions because we severely underestimated how long it would take to run out the door) and to drop Isaac off with some friends on the way. Following the advice of a friend, I decided to start my Hypnobabies in the car, even though the contractions were still manageable at this point.
Our car had no air conditioning and it was very hot outside, but I remember enjoying the ride, the wind and zoning out, listening to Hypnobabies and noticing every contraction. One amazing thing about Hypnobabies was that (until transition) it made contractions almost enjoyable. I thought of them as waves and concentrated on relaxing my body, not fighting it, which was probably one of the very most important things I learned. Apparently contractions are significantly more painful when you tense up and don’t let your body do what needs to be done. Best techniques I used? Taking deep breaths, in to the count of four, out to the count of 8. Releasing every muscle when I felt the contractions come, unclenching my jaw, imagining waves in a sea, praying, visualizing what was happening physically and positive thinking.
We got to the hospital around 3, had to register (despite pre-registering) and probably settled in and got checked around 3:30. I remember my contractions being stronger by this point, but not necessarily very painful. Thanks to Hypnobabies, I managed to stay calm and, as one nurse said “stoic”, and we found out that I was about 5 – 6 cm dilated. Thailer ran down to the car to get our things, since we really didn’t think I would be admitted yet, and I changed into my own outfit, got back to Hypnobabies and camped out on the birthing ball for a good while. We did a saline lock and intermittent fetal monitoring (the nurse actually just sat by me while I was leaning on the ball to monitor Joy for a few minutes once, and another time in the tub) so I didn’t have to stay in the bed, hooked up to anything. Complete freedom and mobility was crucial.
They offered a tub to labor in and said that they advise you to ask for the tub around the same time you would ask for an epidural. I was looking forward to the tub, and after one particularly strong contraction, they filled it up. Unfortunately, this is where I kind of got off track.
I decided to stop listening to Hypnobabies and got into the tub with Thailer. I wasn’t prepared as far as the best positions to be in during the contractions and really lost my focus because I felt like I wasn’t grounded and everything felt chaotic. The time between the contractions was shortening too, so I never did manage to regain my control and concentration. I started asking for medication, which I warned Thailer I would do ahead of time, and he handled it amazingly, comforting me and encouraging me. The midwife convinced me to get out of the tub so that she could check how far I was.
I was actually really glad to discover a better position on the bed than in the tub – I kind of flung myself forward on my chest and knees until a contraction passed, then they quickly checked me and I returned. And Thailer helped by massaging my lower back.
8 cm. They said when I felt like pushing, I could if I wanted to. This is where the pain became incredibly intense. I remembered Ina May’s suggestion of moaning through the contractions, so I tried that. Maybe it helped, but I also ended up screaming. And Thailer definitely laughed out loud the first time I did.
My dear friend had told me that pushing would be the best part and I was extremely disappointed to find out that it was absolutely the worst part for me. One appealing aspect of this hospital was that you could deliver in any position, something I was strongly convicted about, so I was able to use the squatting bar on the bed. At 6:24, just three hours after being admitted, and after only a few pushes, Joy was born. We delayed the cord cutting, and surprisingly Thailer cut the cord, though he hadn’t planned on it.
I had heard of a “high” that comes after giving birth naturally, but I didn’t experience that. The relief after she was born was so strong, and I do remember the pain immediately stopping and being so shocked that I actually did it without medication, but I didn’t feel any intense emotions or immediate bonding. I did feel an overwhelming desire to take a nap. ;) And a huge bonus on top of the natural birth, or rather probably because of it: no tearing, no stitches!
The hospital policy was to practice Kangaroo Care – skin-to-skin contact for the first hour- so we laid there together, taking pictures and updating everyone until an hour later, when they came to weigh her (8.3 lbs and 21 inches) and check her out. We waited until the following day to give her her first bath (here’s a great article on why).
The greatest thing about natural birth and no tearing was the recovery. With my first birth I had an episiotomy and with my second I had regular tearing. With both I had an epidural and with both I didn’t feel like myself physically for a few weeks, from back aches to trouble sitting comfortably to walking like a normal person, my body just dragged for awhile after delivering. With Joy, aside from the afterpains and cramping that subsided after a couple of days, I felt better much faster. By Friday I was ready to go out and do something, despite how amazingly comfortable that hospital bed was. And on Saturday we did go out and run some errands and Sunday we went to church. I may be slightly sleep-deprived, but physically I’m on top of it, and I love it, especially with a toddler to look after.
I wanted to write this for a few reasons. One, I’ve never really written my other birth stories. Two, I never thought I would be able to go through with something so painful (and if you know me, you never would have thought so either!). Three, I’d like an opportunity to talk about why I was even interested in a natural birth and four, this may very well be our last child biologically (we want to adopt much later), and I’d like to have her story written down, since details and feelings are so easily forgotten.
So, why did we do it? I seriously can’t stress how much I fear pain, and I also want to remind you that I did totally lose it at the end and I may or may not have definitely asked them for medication even as (or especially when?) she was crowning, and I might have said “Is her head out?! Get her out!!” at the end. ;) My point is, I don’t think I’m anyone special for doing it naturally. I do think that it is absolutely worth it and with the right preparation and conviction, you can do it!
I recommend the two documentaries mentioned above-because I’m only going to skim a portion of the surface here, and absolutely anything written by Ina May. In a nutshell, medical interventions are risky, from induction to epidurals to c-sections, and sometimes one intervention ends up in needing another intervention and so on. My main reason for choosing natural childbirth and midwives was safety for Joy and safety for myself (article on US maternal death by Ina May).
My biggest concern was the risks of epidurals and induction, and above all else, I really wanted to avoid a c-section. Yes, there are always exceptions; I’m not condemning any of these altogether, I’m just sharing why I personally wanted to pursue natural childbirth.
Epidurals lengthen labor (often necessitating another intervention to speed things up), increase risk of tearing (especially since you’ll be confined to a bed and delivering in the worst possible and least natural position “For women without an epidural, pushing in an upright position is associated with a decrease in the risk of episiotomies, vacuum and forceps-assisted deliveries, and fetal heart rate abnormalities, an increase in the risk of second-degree tears, and a possible increase in the risk of having blood loss more than 500 mL“-Rebecca Dekker-pop;/), and of c-section, of complications from instruments during delivery -
“When women with an epidural had a forceps delivery, the amount of force used by the clinician was almost double that used when an epidural was not in place. This is significant because instrumental deliveries can increase the short-term risks of bruising, facial injuries, displacement of skull bones and blood clots in the scalp for babies, and of episiotomy and tears to the vagina and perineum in mothers.” – Chris Kresser
They also negatively affect the baby, lowering heart rate and motor abilities, weakening the immune system not to mention the effect it can have on breastfeeding. Some studies have shown that the higher doses women received, the less time they ended up spending with their newborn in the hospital, and were more than 2 times as likely to have stopped nursing by 24 weeks.
The risks for induction are even greater, not to mention Pitocin is known for producing more intense contractions, which as someone considering natural childbirth, didn’t sound appealing. The last few weeks of pregnancy are kind of torturous and I’ll admit, hitting the 41 week mark was really difficult, even though I don’t even believe in the “due date” system, and even knowing that I technically wouldn’t be considered “overdue” until 42 weeks just because it isn’t an exact science. Sometimes induction is necessary. But many times it’s premature, whether because of the doctor’s preferences or the mother’s. At one point after my estimated due date came and went, I saw a quote that I can’t remember exactly, but went something like “Babies aren’t early or late, they’re born on their birthdays.”
And that’s true, and it leads into another fundamental aspect of childbirth – our bodies were made for childbirth. Carrying and delivering a baby isn’t a disease or abnormality. Our bodies and babies know what they’re doing and for the most part, intervention isn’t necessary. As someone who has had two previous normal pregnancies and deliveries, I took comfort in that fact and knew that God was in control, and that I could trust my body to do what it was made to do. And as my husband quoted later that evening:
“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” – John 16:21
I do like feeling like I can relate to the millions of women who have given birth naturally throughout history – whether by choice or necessity. I may not feel as empowered as they say, but it is very rewarding to set your mind to something challenging, especially when you’re not the type to do that very often. I don’t know if it’s related or not, but before the birth I was having serious doubts about whether I was cut out for motherhood and how I would adjust to having two children. I was feeling horribly insecure and just ill-equipped. But here we are a week later (and it may be too early to tell) and things are going so much better than I thought. Of course, being able to do so much physically that I wasn’t expecting to be able to do certainly is empowering. It does feel good to let Thailer off the hook this time.
I am very thankful for how this pregnancy and delivery turned out, and ultimately for Joy and her health. Though physically this pregnancy was much easier than my last, emotionally it was infinitely more difficult. Joy is aptly named for so many reasons. Some silly reasons – we wanted a girl, we don’t (as of now) plan on having any other children – we named her right as I was coming out of a very difficult time, I was able to endure and follow through with my plan, and… she just is a joy. And I like that her name compliments Isaac’s name, which means laughter. We have happy kids ;)