Like many newly pregnant women, I was terrified of the idea of giving birth and the pain that would likely go along with it. At the same time, I knew that I didn’t want to get an epidural, as two previous spinal taps had left painful scar tissue in my back and terror about the idea of needles in my spine.
I began spending a lot of time looking up different methods of childbirth. There was hypnobirthing, lamaze, birthing from within, and even a simple class offered by the hospital that would take no more than two hours total.
Then I discovered the Bradley Method of childbirth, a 12-week course that would prepare me (and my husband) both mentally and physically for the most difficult thing I’d ever do in my life. I liked how the classes focused on preparing me and my husband. I liked how these classes would help me (hopefully) achieve a non-medicated birth. And I liked that a full 12 weeks of classes would likely prepare me more than any of the other methods, simply due to the amount of “training” I’d have.
I approached my husband hesitantly. He was equally excited about the pregnancy, but asking him to attend a 12-week course seemed a bit outrageous, not to mention expensive.
But without pause, he let me know that he was 100 percent on board with the idea.
We found out at the 20-week scan that the placenta had a velamentous cord insertion, which meant that the umbilical cord was improperly inserted into the placenta, creating a weaker connection. The placenta also had an extra lobe. This bumped my pregnancy up to a “high risk” category, and I knew that the likelihood of having a 100 percent true Bradley birth might not be possible for me, but we still believed they would be helpful in the long run.
So, halfway through my pregnancy, we began the classes.
Bradley method focuses on total preparation in all aspects of your pregnancy — from the foods you consume, to the exercises you do, to the mental preparation for the big day. The method prepares not only you and your body but also trains a partner to be your birth coach. For me, that was my husband.
Week after week, we attended classes, practiced techniques, and learned more about birth than most people ever learn, or care to learn for that matter. Bradley method left no part of birth mysterious — we learned in detail about the process of a C-section, any and all drugs that would be offered in the hospital setting, home births, water births, and more.
I ate a lot of eggs. So many eggs. (Bradley method recommends eating two a day, every day of your pregnancy. I don’t even like them to begin with, and suffered hyperemesis from weeks 4 to 40, so this was a particularly tough one for me.)
We learned about the importance of movement during birth. Rocking, swaying, walking, walking, walking.
Without a doubt, the most important technique I learned was the art of true relaxation.
As the weeks passed, my nervousness waned. I became stronger both physically and emotionally. My confidence soared, and I actually looked forward to the process of giving birth.
In those last weeks, I spent the starry nights walking my dog up and down the docks of the marina (we lived aboard a boat at the time). I collected the peace and serenity that surrounded us on those walks, breathing in, out, in, out, with each passing step.
We hired a doula for extra support. She had given birth to seven children, all at home, all of them natural births. Even the twins. We couldn’t have been more prepared.
I had been scheduled for an induction on my due date, due to the velamentous cord. I was hoping to avoid the induction because it’d mean that they’d start me on Pitocin, something I very much hoped to avoid.
Every day, I channeled all of my thoughts and energy into a simple mantra, “Drop baby, drop.” I tried to relax the baby down.
And then the day came. Two days before my due date, my water began leaking ever so slowly. Skeptical, I waited. If you’ve ever heard of a woman not knowing if her water actually broke, I’m here to tell you it’s entirely true. It happened to me, for both of my births.
The next morning, I woke up and things still hadn’t changed. I reluctantly called the hospital, then my doula, and my husband drove us to the hospital.
They confirmed that I had a leak in my water, got me set up in a room, and hooked me up to the monitors. Since my water had been broken for more than 12 hours, they informed me that they’d need to begin Pitocin. I was disappointed, but realistically knew that many births don’t go according to plan and wasn’t expecting mine to either.
Let’s do this.
They knew about my fear of an epidural and administered the Pitocin as slowly as they possibly could. Unit after unit, hour after hour, my contractions weren’t strong enough to make any changes. And while they were intensely painful, my ability to relax through them is what got me through.
For reasons I still don’t understand, standing, rocking, and walking made my contractions flat out stop. I was frustrated but exhausted, and so I was secretly relieved to lay and focus on relaxing.
The next day, my Pitocin was cranked up to 20 units. My contractions were strong and hard, but when I was checked I was still only around 3 cm dilated, just 1 cm more than when I had first arrived 24+ hours earlier. The nurses began mentally preparing me for a C-section.
The baby’s heartbeat was strong and steady, so we knew she wasn’t in danger. A C-section wouldn’t break me, but losing her would.
We asked what options I had. They explained that they could give me even more Pitocin (30 units), but that I’d need a specialized monitor to measure my contractions more accurately.
The Bradley classes had discussed Pitocin in vivid detail. Pitocin makes contractions stronger, harder, longer. This was a drug I didn’t want to begin with, and now they were offering to give me 50 percent more than is generally recommended.
But what was I to do? I decided it was definitely worth the last shot before a C-section.
I closed my eyes and thought of those long walks on the docks. The silence of the night, the step, step, step of my feet on those wooden boards. The crisp, cool air biting my cheeks as I breathed in, out, in, out.
The nurses cranked up the Pitocin — 22, 24, 26. The pain was unbelievable.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
I couldn’t speak.
My water broke — 26, 28.
Contractions were never ending now. One after the other, no breaks, no time to recoup, no way to relax.
I focused all of my energy to spout out, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.”
My husband and doula were so supportive. “You are! You’re doing it!”
Later, my husband told me that he knew that my “I can’t do this” was my cry for drugs. I wanted the pain to stop and I wanted anything, anything at all but was unable to form the correct words in my guttural utterance.
But then, like a foggy dream, I was told it was time to push. The Bradley classes often discussed this as the “best part” of labor, but I despised it. Maybe it’s because it took multiple hours. Maybe it’s because I’d been on Pitocin for so long that my body felt done. But there were words of encouragement. From nurses, from my doula, but most importantly, from my husband. He truly was the best coach I could have had in those last hours.
I was told time and time again, “You have to have her on this push.”
“On this one.”
“You can’t do this much longer.”
But in between the doubts from the nurses and doctors, their cheers of encouragement are what kept me going. And then suddenly, she was born.
And she was perfect.
I have no doubt that I would have had a C-section had I not taken Bradley birth classes. Would it have been the end of the world? Absolutely not, but my Bradley birth left me proud and feeling like I could do anything.
I didn’t retake the classes when I became pregnant with my second daughter, but I didn’t have to. My birth went much smoother and I was able to use the same methods I had learned three years prior to have a perfect birth. But you know what? They were both perfect births.
I think women are led to believe that if they create a birth plan, they will have the exact kind of birth that they expect. And while I think a birth plan is important, everyone should be prepared for anything. My first birth veered far from the plan (I had many more complications, but that story is too long to tell) but in the end, my baby and I were healthy.
The takeaway? Relax, and be prepared.More On