Our sweet daughter arrived in January and is now six weeks old! She finally arrived when I was 41 weeks pregnant and I was thankfully able to achieve a natural childbirth in a birth center under midwife care. Before I get to her actual birth story, here’s a little about my decision to attempt a natural childbirth and my feelings leading up to labor…
Several years ago, I watched the documentary The Business of Being Born and became aware of all the unnecessary interventions that happen in hospital births, as well as the possibility of a cascade of interventions that can occur. After hearing friends’ birth stories and doing my own research, I knew I wanted to avoid the risks those interventions could bring. And, my body typically reacts poorly to medicine, so ultimately I wanted to try for a natural childbirth to avoid those side effects.
When we found out we were pregnant, I started doing research to see who the best provider would be to support my birth plan and where I would feel the most comfortable laboring. Having had some bad hospital experiences in the past, I hoped to stay away from that option if my health and the baby’s health cooperated. Plus, I knew that if an epidural was readily available, I would likely give in quickly when the pain got bad. A home birth made me too nervous; I wanted to be closer to a hospital just in case something went wrong. So, we decided on a birth center across the street from a hospital. And, it was at a practice with both doctors and midwives so that if I were to transfer, I would still know my provider (not usually the case if you end up in a hospital from other birth centers or home- you get the doctor on call). I loved the birth center because the rooms were set up like a bedroom, very cozy and relaxing, with the added benefit of having a deep tub to labor in.
People often asked me during my pregnancy how I felt about childbirth and if I was scared about going the natural route. Truthfully, I was really confident and excited going into labor. Having seen many friends let fear overwhelm them, I actively controlled my thoughts and focused on what would help fill me with confidence. Watching the show Call the Midwife, taking a class on relaxation techniques for labor, reading birth stories online and the book Guide to Childbirth by the midwife Ina May Gaskin, I continually reminded myself that millions of women have done this throughout history and that my body was totally capable. While I learned about possibilities of problems in labor and the different interventions to be well-informed, I didn’t focus on the negative. I didn’t let others tell me stories with the purpose to only scare me. I refused to let fear enter and trusted that God was in control and could give me the strength to endure the pain.
Okay, now to the actual story…
Before the due date, I hadn’t had any signs of labor, but that day started what I would realize later to be pre-labor. I started having abdominal cramping and bad pain in my lower back, on and off, that would intensify in the days leading up to labor.
The day before she was born, I went to work as normal and then to the chiropractor in the late afternoon for an adjustment and acupuncture to try to naturally induce labor. I had also been taking evening primrose oil and drinking red raspberry leaf tea to encourage labor for the previous 3 weeks. My back pain was much worse that day, but I was trying to go on as normal as possible, thinking that it could still be several days before she arrived. I came home and took a walk and cooked dinner and had a normal evening resting & watching tv. We laid down to sleep just before 11pm, but when I got up to go to the bathroom, I had my first contraction. I tried to lay back down in bed, but 8 minutes later, I had another one and hubby decided to start timing them and coaching me through them.
The pain in my lower back was really bad in between contractions, and the contractions made it worse. The first 4 contractions were 8 minutes apart and from there they got closer together. By 12:30am, they were 4 minutes apart. I was trying lots of things to try to relieve the pain and relax: breathing exercises, low moaning, leaning against & sitting on the birthing ball, standing in the hot shower and laying in the bathtub. I was also very nauseous during this phase of labor- I threw up a few times at home and once when we arrived at the birth center, but then it subsided.
We called the midwife around midnight and she coached me through a couple of contractions over the phone. She confirmed that I was in active labor and that she would head into the birth center to get things ready and to let her know when we were ready to come in. The goal was to labor at home, the most comfortable environment, as long as possible. We called our doula after that and she began to make her way to our house. Once she arrived, she helped coach me through contractions while my husband packed everything into the car. At this point, I had a TENS unit attached to my back to try to help relieve the back pain – the chiropractor had let me borrow it earlier that day and I’m super thankful she offered it – it ended up being the only thing that would provide any sort of relief for my back. Around 2am, we left to go to the birth center. I don’t remember much of the ride as I had my eyes closed trying to deal with the pain; it went by very fast and luckily I only had to deal with a couple of contractions in the car.
When we got to the birth center, we first went into the doctor’s office to check my cervix (I was 7 cm dilated) and blood pressure to ensure there was no risk of preeclampsia that I would need to go to the hospital for. When we got into the birthing room, I immediately got into the tub to see if that would provide any relief. I labored for awhile, in and out of the tub, also trying the hot shower on my back and rolling on the birthing ball. I had my eyes closed most of the time, which I guess was my body’s natural way of trying to conserve energy.
In childbirth class, our teacher taught the acronym PAIN to set apart regular pain we might experience from an injury or when something is wrong with our body from labor pain – P for purposeful, A anticipated, I for intermittent and N for normal/natural. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience the “I.” The back pain in between contractions continued to be really bad and I never got a break from the pain from the time my labor started. The TENS unit helped some, so I put that on when I wasn’t in water. At one point, the midwife gave me some saline injections in my lower back to try to provide relief. The injections themselves were quite painful and barely took the edge off the pain, so I refused them when they were offered a few hours later. Back labor, especially the kind that persists between contractions like mine, is terribly exhausting.
After a couple hours of labor, I felt a lot of pressure which I thought was the urge to push. I pushed only a few times. When my cervix was checked again, I hadn’t dilated any more but the baby had moved down, so that was likely what the pressure was. I was in so much pain and so exhausted at this point, I seriously began considering transferring to the hospital to get an epidural as I didn’t think I could continue for several more hours without one. So many things were going through my mind with this decision… the extra cost that the hospital would be, the intake time for paperwork that would likely mean another hour or two before I even got the epidural, and ultimately just feeling like a failure for giving into the pain after I had worked SO hard during pregnancy to control the gestational diabetes naturally to be able to be in the birth center. I really didn’t want to go to the hospital and couldn’t help feeling so disappointed in myself.
To try to help me relax and get some relief, they had me lay on the bed and breathe in nitrous oxide (laughing gas). It’s supposed to take an edge off the pain but I didn’t feel any kind of relief from it. After an hour of laying there trying to let it work, I was frustrated and totally disheartened. I told them that I was ready to go to the hospital.
Around this time, the shift change happened and in came a new midwife and nurse. Talking through the hospital transfer decision with me, she said she knew I had worked so hard to be in the birth center and offered to check my cervix again to see if I had made any progress, just in case I felt like that would make a difference. When she checked, I was dilated to a 9 and almost fully effaced, so she thought I should be ready to push soon. With the news of that progress and encouragement from her, my mom and husband, I decided to stick it out in the birth center.
By this point, my contractions had slowed way down to 8 minutes apart, sometimes even longer. It was likely my body’s way of trying to conserve energy since I had been in so much pain and hadn’t gotten any sleep for over 24 hours. When I did finally start pushing, this made it difficult because we had to wait so long for contractions to come and I lost a lot of the progress I made in between. The back pain also made it really hard to determine when a contraction was really coming on, as well as when I truly felt the urge the push, since I was experiencing constant pressure.
The new midwife had me try all different kinds of positions to encourage the labor along. It was so difficult to continue moving and trying new things, some of which were so uncomfortable, but I think it’s what finally helped me along. They also tried a couple natural ways to help encourage contractions – black and blue cohosh, an herbal supplement under my tongue every 20 minutes, and pumping to stimulate the release of oxytocin. My water broke naturally right before pushing and it definitely got more intense then.
I pushed for a almost 5 hours, the last 2 ½ were on my back in the bed as that’s where I seemed to get the best leverage with my exhaustion level. I was totally planning on a water birth, or at least something that used the benefit of gravity, but I ended up having my baby on my back in a bed – as I am sure you have heard before, nothing really goes according to plan!
The last 2 hours of labor, everyone kept telling me that she was almost out and likely would be with the next contraction. They kept telling me to push harder, which I felt like I was trying to do, but I could feel myself getting more exhausted and unable to push as effectively as time went on. I remember at one point they suggested I reach down to feel the top of her head to see if that would help encourage me… ha! I barely felt any of her head and it ended up being a discouraging moment. Finally, the midwife suggested that an episiotomy might truly help in my case, though they don’t do them often. I was up for whatever got her out faster! As soon as she did that, the head came out with the next contraction. I was so ready to be done that I didn’t even wait for the next contraction to push out her shoulders and the rest of her body.
When she finally came out, I heard her cry and reached down to bring her to my chest for immediate skin to skin time. I remember being so relieved that labor was finally over and said “Hi baby girl!! I’m sorry it took so long!!” It only took about 5 minutes for her umbilical cord to stop pulsing and then husband cut the cord. My back pain stopped as soon as the baby was out.
After she was born, we relaxed in the room for awhile- eating hamburgers and chocolate shakes, taking a nap and me and baby enjoying a warm herbal bath. Only 18 hours after leaving our house the night before, we left the birth center and were able to be in the comfort of our home that evening. It was incredible to be able to sleep in our own bed that night instead of in a noisy hospital room with lots of interruptions.
Before labor, I wasn’t really sure what kind of support I would want in the room or how comfortable I would be with lots of people in there. Looking back, I could have had even more in there; I needed all the help I could get. I was so thankful for the tremendous support I had in the room – my husband, my doula, my mom and the midwife and nurse. I needed every one of them for support and encouragement. And my dad was outside the door listening and praying the whole time… I certainly needed strength that only God could provide.
Would I do a natural birth again? Yes, I think so (if I ever decide I actually want another baby!!) The birth center experience was definitely a great one- the atmosphere was very relaxing and felt less medical. I think that in a hospital I would have ended up having more medical interventions and who knows what the outcome could have been. Honestly, I was traumatized by the pain for a couple weeks afterwards and really needed to emotionally and mentally process what had happened. But, looking back, I certainly feel really strong and confident knowing that I was able to do it. Motherhood has been really hard so far, so maybe I needed that experience to remind myself that I’ve got the strength and endurance to do it.