Being a first-time mom, I was quite cautious when I got pregnant. I did a massive amount of studying. I read everything I could get my hands on: books, articles, blogs, magazines, scientific journal articles, I even watched strangers’ YouTube videos. I wanted to make sure that I was doing the right things for my baby and that I was prepared for what was to come. As prepared as one can be for the unknown, at least.
I knew that I wanted to go the natural route if I could. I’m a big fan of modern medicine and medical professionals, but I also knew that my body wasn’t sick. I wanted to avoid medical interventions if possible. I especially wanted to avoid the unintentional cascade of medical interventions that seems to happen to every single person I’ve spoken to about their hospital births. As much as I could, I wanted to avoid anything that wasn’t strictly necessary for the health and safety of my child.
I started seeing a group of midwives associated with a local hospital. But the more I thought about, the more I wanted to avoid the hospital altogether. I waited until my mid-pregnancy ultrasound to make a decision. I wanted to be sure that my pregnancy was low-risk and had no cause for concern. I received the go-ahead from two nurse midwives and an obstetrician to pursue a home birth if that’s what I wanted to do.
I hired a certified and licensed home birth midwife and doula team. I took two hospital tours and attended a hospital birthing class in addition to my doula’s birthing class just to make sure I had my bases covered. I wasn’t against giving birth in a hospital but my home was a lot more comfortable and relaxing for me. I was curious about a water birth and set up a birth pool in my living room just in case I wanted it, but I wasn’t set on it.
Health insurance was an issue. Planned home births are increasing in the United States but are still very uncommon. A huge amount of fear and misinformation scares moms and insurance agencies against home births despite the actual facts and numbers. My health insurance policy didn’t say one way or another whether a home birth was allowed, but my home birth midwife wasn’t on the approved list. I had to file a gap exception request, jump through hoops, get my chiropractor involved, and even threaten to report them to the state government if they didn’t approve it. Finally, they did.
(After the fact, they conveniently forgot my midwife was approved. I had to call and talk to multiple representatives every week for 8 weeks in order to resubmit each claim and have it paid. I hate health insurance companies.)
Even when my water bag broke at 5 AM on December 19, I hadn’t experienced much in the way of contractions. I woke up completely soaked at the hip, so I knew my water had broken immediately. More water poured out when I got out of bed and into the bathroom. There was no question about what was happening. Right after my water broke I texted my my midwife and doula. My doula came in the early afternoon, and my midwife shortly after. My midwife left after a while seeing that my contractions hadn’t yet gotten going, and my doula stayed with me. Around 2 in the afternoon we decided to try to use the breast pump to see if we could get contractions going. The stimulation an resulting oxytocin (the natural form of pitocin) worked and I finally started having contractions. I was still talking and joking in between contractions in the early evening. Being a first timer, I didn’t know what I was in for.
I had been using the Hypnobabies method for the three months prior. I didn’t listen to the recordings every day, but I did have a good grasp on how to self-hypnotize. I do believe that it did some good in calming me down during the initial period of the birthing process. I had read and seen videos of women barely fazed by birth, popping out babies in calm, serene environments like it was nothing. I had even heard of so-called orgasmic births. It’s mind over matter, they said. I was skeptical, but hopeful.
Oh boy, was mine the opposite of an orgasmic birth! I don’t have a worst enemy, but if I did, I wouldn’t wish that level of pain on him/her ever. Lunch was the last thing I was able to keep down, after that I vomited everything I tried to eat. My midwife came back in the evening and after a while I got into the birthing pool for a short while having mid-intensity contractions. Despite no anesthesia, I felt like I was in and out of fuzzy consciousness like when I had general anesthesia for my wisdom teeth removal. I was delirious and hallucinating. Throughout the night my contractions were never regular. They would get closer together, then farther apart. I hadn’t slept since 5 AM and overnight I dozed for seconds or minutes at a time in between contractions. Each dream was like someone was flipping through stations on television and each contraction woke me into reality.
Finally, at 5 AM on December 20, my midwife and I decided that it would be best if I transferred to the hospital. I was 100% effaced, but I was only 6cm dilated, I didn’t seem to be making progress, and I was utterly exhausted. I remember saying that I just wanted them to make me unconscious and wake me when the baby was out. I was tapped out, or so I thought.
It wasn’t that I thought I wouldn’t transfer to the hospital, I just assumed that I’d pack a hospital bag if I decided to transfer. Rookie mistake. I was out of it, so my poor sleep-deprived husband tried to pack my bag for me. It’s totally understandable that he didn’t do the best job. Even worse, he was forced to get behind the wheel of a car while convinced that he was unfit to drive and would end up killing us all in the 6 AM winter darkness.
Without my doula applying counter-pressure during my contractions and with my husband focused on not killing us on the road, I was left to deal with what was probably transition contractions myself. At the start of labor, I used the Hypnobabies coping techniques of trying to imagine a happy, peaceful place. As contractions got tougher, I lost that focus. I resorted to the least brain-intensive thing I could think of to get through them: counting to 10, then starting over counting another set of 10, over and over until it has passed. I was trying to count the length of the contraction, but my mind couldn’t process past 12 so I gave up on counting it and just counted to 10 over and over again. It helped me to recognize that it was temporary. It gave me a distraction to take my mind off the pain. At this point in labor counting to ten repeatedly was no longer working for me, so I began saying the Our Father prayer over and over and over again during the half-hour drive. I really have no idea what made me switched over to repeating the Lord’s Prayer or how that idea came to me (no one taught me that technique) but it was a definite plea to God to help me when I was at a loss for my own words.
Getting into the hospital was no better. I fell to the floor in the lobby as my husband was signing me in. I fell to the floor in my hospital room before I could make it to the bathroom. I was making a scene but too out of it to even know it or care. The world could have ended around me and I wouldn’t have known or cared.
I wanted a natural birth. I did not want a scary epidural. But at that moment, I was begging the nurses for ALL THE DRUGS. ALL OF THEM. RIGHT NOW. It took them a long time to get an IV me in because I was flailing and they were messing up which left some nasty bruises. They attached a fetal monitor around my belly which applied the worst pressure imaginable during my contractions and I screamed at them to take it off, but they wouldn’t. I also begged for water which they refused to give me at first for some reason. I was a mess.
But somehow, among the chaos of driving and walking and thrashing in my hospital bed, I had transitioned and was ready to push. The doctor had left the room because no one expected it so soon, just an hour after arriving at the hospital. The doctor and nurses kept telling me to lay still on my back to labor and in my mind (I couldn’t form coherent words at this point) I thought, “F that!” and kept flipping over on my hands and knees.
Pushing was the easiest part of labor for me. By far! I didn’t feel a ring of fire. I felt the strong urge to push out a bowl movement, only this time it wasn’t a large poop. I had been seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist since my second trimester who helped me control and strengthen my pelvic floor, and it made a world of difference. (Read more about those exercises here.) Three pushes and that baby was out, to everyone’s surprise! If my midwife hadn’t been standing there as an observer and hadn’t pointed out that the baby was crowning, the nurses wouldn’t have even noticed. Apparently I was on my side when I gave birth, though I had no real spatial awareness at this time.
Josephine Claire was born at 7:25 AM on December 20, weighing 6 pounds, 6 ounces. So there it was. I had done it. I gave birth to my baby, in the hospital but drug-free. I was still so out of it, so my husband held the baby first while I regained consciousness. I had the shakes for at least half an hour later. I had two little tears that needed sewing, but otherwise my birth was complication-free.
I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t have a home birth, I’m not overly so. It all worked out just fine. I’m still going to try for a home birth again next time, assuming I’m low-risk and a good candidate. Now that I know that I can survive an unmedicated birth and that the pain is temporary, I feel empowered for the future. Or, should I need medical assistance, now I know what an IV feel like and that medical interventions aren’t the end of the world. Medical interventions are what saved my 6-weeks-premature self in 1984 and could save a future child of mine as well.
Laura blogs about more of her experience on her blog Processional WAHM.