Having a Natural Labor and Delivery
A birth story
The thought of giving birth terrified me. I had no idea what to imagine it would feel like, but I never heard a birth story where someone enjoyed labor. From what everyone tells you, it is the most painful experience they have had. What a pep talk! It’s a wonder the human population hasn’t become extinct over the fear of childbirth alone. There had to be something to it that made the whole experience bearable because women have been giving birth for centuries, right?
When it became time to seriously think about my birth plan, I wanted to do as much research as possible about what to expect. Through my whole pregnancy I was always thinking about doing what was best for baby. I quickly realized that there were many decisions to make for my labor and delivery that would also mean choosing to provide what I believed to be the best care for baby and me; did we want to bank cord blood, delay cord clamping, administer vaccines, induce labor if I was overdue, have an epidural, etc.
The one thing I quickly realized in my research was that what I believed to be best for baby meant that I would be experiencing a lot of pain. I realized that I wanted a completely natural birth. The thought was completely daunting. Women today go into childbirth with a plan that they will have an epidural, it is not even a question for them. If we have the means for a pain free birth then who wouldn’t want it? It almost seems unnatural to have a natural childbirth these days. It was that thought when I stopped and remembered that it is called natural for a reason! Women are strong, and our bodies are designed to have a child. What could be more natural than a woman giving birth? It was this thought that gave me the courage and the confidence to know I could handle a natural childbirth because I believed it to be the best choice for baby and me. Maybe I wouldn’t enjoy it but I could survive it…
So with that thought I wrote my birth plan. Here is what mine looked like in case you are trying to write one. “My birth plan is to have a natural birth, however, that being said I know that things will happen that we can’t plan for and ultimately I want what is best for baby and me. If I can have my ultimate birth it would be to not be induced if I am overdue, no epidural or pain medication, no saline IV drip (because I want to be able to move freely during labor), and no episiotomy. I want to delay cord cutting and my husband wants to cut the umbilical cord. I want to have an hour of skin-to-skin time immediately after birth before baby has anything done (bath, measured, weighed, etc), and I want to let baby initiate breastfeeding during that first hour. After baby is bathed etc. my husband wants an hour of skin to skin as well. I also do not want any male nurses or medical students to be caring for me. My baby is to stay with me at all times in my room and will not go to the nursery; if any tests or procedures are needed then either I or my husband is to accompany him.”
I was not sure if I would be able to endure the pain of a natural birth, but I was sure that I was going to do my very best to try. I had read a few different articles about epidurals and the possible outcomes they can pose and I did not want to take that risk. Some of the points were that an epidural increased your chance for a c-section, it meant you had the chance of laboring longer, there were some health risks that were uncommon yet possible, and it was thought that your baby may be more lethargic and may take longer to breastfeed. Now, please don’t take my word on any of this, I am not a medical professional, and am only relaying a few of the points that I found. If you are interested in researching it there are a lot of resources you can find to make an informed decision for yourself.
The one thing I will tell you that no one ever told me before, is that an epidural is a catheter that is inserted into your spinal column, which then releases pain medication at different intervals so that you can continue to be numbed. It is not just a shot like I thought it was, it is a catheter! Why does no one mention this?! I have to make a confession; when I learned this, I was even more resolute to not have an epidural because the thought of having it stuck in my spine freaked me out! I have always been illogically afraid of needles and having to get an IV etc., so I was already anxious knowing that giving birth would involve needles and I did not need one more thing to give me anxiety while I would be trying to remain calm during labor.
After 40 long weeks, it was game time and we would see how my birth plan fared… My water broke at home the evening of my due date at about 7:50pm. It was not like what I expected. It just felt like I peed myself a little bit. It was not this big dramatic gush like you would expect. I wasn’t even sure it was my water breaking because it happened while the baby kicked me really hard on my bladder and so I thought maybe I did pee a little. But then it happened again and so I knew, I was in labor. All the waiting for this moment and it was here, we were going to have a baby!
Now luckily for me, the hospital was literally across the street on the opposite corner from our apartment complex. My mom had flown out to be with us for the birth, so my husband grabbed our packed hospital bags by the door and the three of us excitedly headed out the door. It took us 10 minutes to get to the car, drive across the street, and get up to the labor and delivery hall; we got there before my doctor had a chance to call the hospital and inform them we were on our way. I was really not in any pain yet, or having any bad contractions. I was still in a happy place and almost excited to be there. My husband has this picture of me laying in the hospital bed after I just got in my gown and laid down and I have this cheesy smile on my face, blissfully unaware of what was coming.
The labor nurse was getting me hooked up to the fetal monitors etc, and asking me a bunch of questions to get me all checked in. I had explained my birth plan to her and said I wanted a natural birth. She said “okay, have you taken any classes or practiced breathing techniques to get you through a natural birth?”. I told her no, and I remember her face changed like ‘oh, well, this girl is in for a rude awakening’. Now, let me tell you that after deciding I wanted a natural childbirth I was foolish to think that I did not need to provide myself with extra tools for how to make it through labor. I thought that if I read enough and prepared myself that I would be able to do it. WRONG! In retrospect, I would have done it differently. For those of you who still have time, learn from my mistakes… I would have taken a breathing class. But I am getting ahead of myself.
About two hours after getting checked in, the picture my husband took of me changed from a happy smile to a furrowed brow while breathing deeply. The look on my face was a bit more intense. Contractions had gone from mild tightening to deeper intense cramps. I was still able to talk and could breathe through each contraction, which was about every 4-5 minutes. It steadily progressed from there and was getting more and more intense. I was soon making all kinds of sounds and moans just like you see in the movies… I felt like if there was a mom getting checked in down the hall who was still in that blissful unaware stage, I would have scared her into reality. At this point the majority of my labor was back labor because baby was head down but facing the wrong way. He was facing my belly instead of facing my back. It took a while and changing positions a lot but he finally turned around at the end. My sweet husband was by my side the whole time giving me his hand to crush through each contraction.
The labor/delivery nurse was coming in to check on me a lot, and she was so supportive and reassuring. I felt like each time she would come to check on my progress I was empowered by the fact that I had progressed; I was one step, one centimeter, closer to having a baby. I am not going to make it pretty for you, I was indeed in horrible pain. And I kept telling myself that I could take one more contraction, I could do this without drugs. It was hard some moments and just as it got to its worst and I started to doubt how long I could do this for, I got a great reminder. My mom was looking very worried and the nurse could tell she was distressed watching me in pain, so she said “I know your daughter is hurting, but remember, this is what she wants and she is doing great!”.
That’s right, I wanted this! As sadistic as that sounds, I wanted to go through this and I had really good reasons for making that decision while my mind was still clear. It gave me the reminder I needed that I wanted this, and I was determined to do it. I had to keep reminding myself as the pain worsened that I can do this because this is what I want. It was hard too; my contractions became so close together that I did not have any break from the pain. At one point people came rushing into the room, one nurse went right to the monitor, and the other had an IV drip. My stomach sank, I knew something was wrong. I don’t remember what they called it but they said that I was essentially having one continual contraction and the baby was not getting a break causing a drop in his heart rate. I had asked not to have an IV unless necessary when being admitted, so the nurse started a simple saline solution and another doctor told me they were about to give me some medicine to slow the contractions.
I wanted to make sure that the baby would be alright above anything else, but at the same time I wanted to stick to my guns about no medicine. I had no idea what they were about to give me and I had no idea if there would be any effects for the baby. I also did not want to be given anything that would slow the progress of my labor and make this any longer than it had to be! I asked them to wait just a minute for the IV drip to start since they thought it would help. They also changed my position and it worked. It felt like forever but in reality it all probably happened in under a minute. I started to get breaks between my contractions, no matter how brief. Baby and mom were fine, and I did not need any medicine which made me happy.
At this point I was so tired that I remember I managed to fall asleep however briefly between contractions. All the while my husband was next to me holding my hand and talking me through it. He hated seeing me in so much pain, I could see how worried he was. He was in pain seeing me in pain and he hated not being able to do anything about it.
Finally it was time to push. Music to my ears! I knew that it would finally be over… They wheeled in a cart of medical instruments, lowered a huge light from the ceiling, and the doctor finally made an appearance (well, not my doctor). You guys, let me stress the importance of your labor/delivery nurse. She (or maybe he) is the one who helps you through the entire process of birth. Your doctor, the one you have spent the last 9 months getting to know, doesn’t show up until the baby is literally going to be pushed out. The doctor you spent so much time getting comfortable with, and the one that you spent so much time researching to make sure you picked the right one, is not the one who spends the most time with you. Or, if you are like me and are delivering at night or the early morning, your doctor may not be on call (like mine), and you won’t see them at all… So make sure you love your nurse!!!
What I thought would be the easy and quick part became an hour of pushing. I have to say, pushing was exhausting and relaxing all at the same time. It was actually relaxing in a way because while I pushed I couldn’t feel the contraction. On the other hand, it was physically exhausting. The other thing I missed by not taking a class, was that you have to hold your breath for 10 seconds, three times in a row while you push. It may not seem like much, and maybe it isn’t to most people, but to me it was like I couldn’t get enough oxygen from holding my breath.
So, Dr. Stranger-On-Call (I don’t remember her name) was getting ready to deliver a baby. I remember she splashed me with water, or something cold, which surprised me and made me stop pushing. Her reply was, “oh, I’m sorry I forgot you could feel that”. Like everyone has an epidural and it was odd that I didn’t. It was as if she is used to doing her business and not worrying about the mom noticing a thing about what is going on down there. Once she remembered I could feel everything, she did numb me a locally so that if I ripped I wouldn’t feel it. I was actually very glad she did this and it was the one kind of pain management that I was open to and thankful for (because I did rip). This was also not part of my birth plan because I didn’t even know it was an option.
Finally, my hour of pushing was over, in a whoosh he was here! There are no words… It was a moment of relief that he was here and healthy, and that my pain would be over. A moment of awe that we finally got to meet OUR baby; to see what and who he looked like. A moment of pure joy, of unconditional love, of feeling the presence of a higher power. They laid him on my chest, this little purple baby boy who looked just like his daddy and I remember saying “he’s perfect!”. He was my baby and I was already in love. I looked to my husband and he seemed overcome with happiness and in awe of our baby.
Our son, R, was born 10 hours after my water broke. I made it through the natural childbirth I wanted! I have to say there is something so empowering about knowing you can make it through a painful experience like that. To know that you can handle it and make it to the end in one piece feels like such an achievement (after you have rested for a while and have time to think that is). If you are thinking of having a natural childbirth, just know that you can do it if it’s what you want. There is no way to fully prepare for what you will experience, but hopefully my story helps.