My son, a few hours after birth (in a blanket and shirt I made him!)
I’ve had two babies now. My first baby was born the hospital with “the works” — nearly every intervention under the sun, at least for an uncomplicated birth. My second was born at home, peacefully, in his own bedroom, with no interventions.
I know so many women who marvel at that. “How could you do that? Doesn’t it hurt? I know I could not take it.” But, if you understand it all, I believe you can. Because truthfully? I really preferred my drug-free birth.
When I was expecting my daughter, I thought for sure I could have a drug-free birth in the hospital (which many women do). That’s what I had planned. But that’s all had planned. I assumed that when it came down to it, I would just know what to do. I would trust my body. I listened to my friends who told me that birthing classes were useless (worst advice ever) and didn’t take them. I skimmed a few birth books. I didn’t hire a doula because Ben thought it was “worthless” when he could take that role (though he did no reading or preparation whatsoever). I had a doctor who didn’t respect my body or my rights at all, she just wanted to do things her way. Which was to manage my birth through careful, unnecessary medical interventions, aimed at speeding it up for her convenience.
I arrived at the hospital early on a Saturday morning. I’d been in real labor for just two hours, but my contractions had been two minutes apart the whole time. I was scared because my mom had had a fast first labor, and I “knew” that contractions are not supposed to be that close together unless things are happening. Unfortunately, they weren’t. I was sent to walk around for an hour, and when there was still no change (I was dilated to a 1), they sent me home.
Wouldn’t you know — as soon as I got home, my labor picked up strongly. I could no longer do anything through the pain. I could not get comfortable. I did not know what else to do, so I lay on my left side in bed, squirming and moaning with each contraction. I did not know (or even have) that a birthing ball might have helped, or having Ben use counter-pressure or massage. I was totally unprepared for this.
We headed back…with the nurses smirking at us the whole time. But this time I was dilated to a 4 so they found me a room. I was in pain. I still just lay in the bed on my left side, nauseous and scared. I asked for drugs. Ben tried to talk me out of it, but I could not take it anymore. They brought me Nubain, because I did not want an epidural. I took it and felt spacy and sleepy, though not much different. It let me rest a little bit. (In retrospect a lot of the pain was from lying down and being scared.)
As the Nubain was wearing off, I thought, I can do this. I can handle this. But then my doctor called the hospital staff and insisted they break my water. She would not hear of doing it otherwise, and told me to just go home if I didn’t like (I should have done exactly that but I was too scared and in too much pain…she knew it, too). I knew that if they started messing with me, I would not be able to take it. I could only do it if I were left alone to labor in peace. And so, since I felt I had no choice, I asked for the epidural.
From that point I didn’t care what happened. It did work well, in that I could not feel the pain, but I could still move some from the waist down, and I could feel some pressure from the contractions. That helped when it came time to push. Of course, in the mean time, the doctor decided that my contraction monitor wasn’t reading “right” and gave me Pitocin (which didn’t change the strength or frequency…I think they might have upped it once or twice? They didn’t really tell me, let alone ask me).
Eventually my daughter was born…vaginally and in less than 10 minutes of pushing. I tore, because I was flat on my back with my butt in the air. I didn’t have a choice about that, either. She was handed to me for only a few seconds before she was whisked away for over 40 minutes. She was cleaned and wrapped up and I was stitched. Eventually I was handed this tiny, wrapped bundle. She wasn’t interested in breastfeeding and I didn’t know what I was doing anyway (a nurse, later, used the “grab and shove” method to get her to latch on…not what you want). I felt detached from her. To be honest…this experience still affects us, more than three years later.
Now, some of you are thinking…if I’d had a better doctor, if I’d hired a doula, if I’d taken a childbirth ed class…it might not have gone down this way. I’m sure that’s the case. I know women who have had wonderful, drug-free births in the hospital. But again…drug-free.
I worried so much when I was choosing my birth for my son, because I thought, I couldn’t take it the first time, what makes me think I can now? But the midwives we saw reassured me that if that was the case, they would take me to the hospital. We live less than 10 minutes away from a mom-and-baby-friendly hospital, so this was a viable option. Somehow, I relaxed.
Then, I took childbirth ed. classes, with Ben. He attended every midwives’ appointment. We read books. We got a birthing ball. We got a birthing tub. We prepared with all of these different options.
When my labor started I was so excited! We watched movies, tried to sleep. By 2:30 am I was just awake…it was too strong. But I still felt comfortable sitting up in bed, or in a rocking chair, or on a birthing ball. I tried walking, but that didn’t feel good to me. Being upright was but sitting was best.
After several hours, with little progress, I was exhausted. I’d been up most of the night (and the night before, due to my daughter). The pressure was intense and I wanted it to go away. I cried a little and said I couldn’t do it. Ben told me that yes, I could, and dragged me down the hall and made me get into the birthing tub to relax. As we learned later, I was entering transition (despite that, again, my contractions did not seem strong enough) so this freak-out was normal.
We actually called all our family members to let them know I was in labor, but that I was very tired and not making progress, so not to expect the baby anytime soon. We asked my parents to come down to help with my daughter. That was around 8:30 in the morning.
Things moved fast from there. I started to relax in the water, move with the contractions. I started to feel like I could do this again. The intensity was still a lot to handle, but I felt in control and not scared. I started to bleed, which concerned the midwives (my cervix bleeds really easily…but this has never meant anything was wrong). They pulled me out…and realized I was 8 cm and the baby was coming NOW! After a crazy-intense several minutes, my son was born.
We called our family back around 10 am…the baby’s here! They were shocked. My parents arrived about 20 minutes after my son and were just thrilled to learn that he had safely arrived.
I had a full hour alone, skin-to-skin, to bond with my son. We nursed and snuggled and I stared at him. I didn’t want to give him up. (This, too, has had a lasting effect on our relationship.)
After the hour, I reluctantly gave him over to the midwives to weigh and measure, and I got up to take a bath. I could walk! I wasn’t sore and dizzy and weak from drugs. I took a bath in my own bathroom, and then climbed into my own bed. The very sorest part was actually a muscle in my left hip, which had gotten strained because of my son’s position. That hurt for a few days. But other than that I felt great!
Three days later I was sure I wanted to do it again.
When I had my drug-free birth, I had support around me. I had the option to get up and move or take whatever position was most comfortable. I could use water as a coping mechanism. I had a lot of freedom and options that I wouldn’t have, if I’d been chained to an epidural. I remember this birth now as only exhausting and intense. I don’t remember it as painful.
This all made a huge and lasting difference on not only my birth experience, but my bond with my son.
I’m not saying that it’s not possible to have a satisfying birth or an excellent bond with your child if you choose an epidural, but I just loved not having one.
I said, and still say…if I had to go to a hospital and have a managed birth again (assuming normal circumstances, not emergency), I’d never do it again. But I’d do a drug-free homebirth again tomorrow. In fact…I can’t wait for this summer!!