Before I gave birth I never understood why women were so eager to share their birth story. I felt like I wouldn't want to share mine with the world because of how personal giving birth must be.
And then I gave birth.
Even though it truly is the most intimate, primal, personal experience I finally understood why women need to talk about it.
Before I dive in I do want to clarify...
Every woman has a different idea of what they want their birth to be. Because there are so many opinions and mommy shamers out there I think it's important to remember that no outsider perspectives matter...because they aren't trying to push a watermelon-sized human out of their vagina, you are. Whether you want an epidural, a c-section, or are striving to go all natural, there is no wrong choice because it's your choice and yours only. Regardless, no matter how smooth no birth ever goes to plan...mine sure didn't.
My idea of giving birth was to go all natural to the best of my ability. My mom did it and I wanted to do it too. I have a high pain tolerance and spent months practicing my breathing and learning how to calm my muscles. I researched EVERYTHING under the sun but I always had the understanding that labor is unpredictable. And at the end of the day as long as my baby is healthy that was/is all that matters.
There are a few enemies of trying to go natural:
Pitocin - Pitocin brings on contractions that are much stronger and closer together and without an epidural it's virtually impossible to handle the pain for hours on end. Statistics show that Pitocin often leads to a c-section too.
Time - If your body doesn't progress fast enough for a hospitals schedule (which is likely for first time mom's.)
Inductions - Whether for a medical reason or because your doctor doesn't want to go over a certain week of gestation...either way it can make labor harder because most likely you'll now be up against number 1 and 2.
There are other frenemies of natural labor but I won't mention them because they are based more so on opinion and circumstances rather than fact.
In my case, I was one week over due (41 weeks pregnant) so my OBGYN wanted to schedule an induction for that weekend. She knew I didn't want to be medically induced so she offered to do a membrane sweep a few days before in hopes that I would then go in to labor naturally before our scheduled date. In retrospect that was my first mistake. Although a membrane sweep is a natural way of kickstarting labor it's still starting labor before your body wants to, period. Nevertheless, I opted to try the membrane sweep because I thought it was my best option at the time. Well, it worked.
My water broke 36 hours later at 2am.
At the time I was ecstatic but one thing was clear...I was already tired. We had only gone to bed 2 hours earlier and hadn't come close to the kind of energy I needed for this upcoming journey. Our instinct told us to stay home until my contractions were substantial but the doctor's worry of infection crept into our heads. Since this was our first baby we decided to be safe and go in immediately...mistake number 2.
We spent about two hours getting checked in before they moved us to the birthing room. At that point I was 5cm dilated which sounded great, after all that's half way there! My contractions were light, a few minutes apart, and I was feeling good. The nurse informed us that they wanted my labor to be over by the 24 hour mark because the risk of infection gets higher as time passes. However she was confident that I would be holding my baby much sooner than that. By the time my doctor arrived 5 hours later I was still 5cm which was a little discouraging. 7 hours had already gone by and I hadn't progressed at all. A few hours later and my contractions were a bit more intense but sadly still no progress.
Fast forward to hour 16 and I had reached 6cm, not nearly as close as I needed to be. I felt like I could hear the clock ticking. We were exhausted and starting to feel defensive because the word Pitocin had begun to circulate between my doctor and nurses. At hour 18 with no progression they got more serious about introducing Pitocin at the lowest dose to get my body moving, thinking that I would just need a little push...pun intended.
We didn't want to give in but I was feeling the pressure to beat the 24 hour mark. The last thing I wanted was to have an unnecessary c-section just because I went over 24 hours of labor. Since I was handling my contractions with ease we begrudgingly agreed to get the smallest dose of Pitocin. What we didn't know was that they were planning to up the dose every 30 minutes. I immediately felt the change in frequency and intensity of my contractions. I was handling it surprisingly well but as time passed, the doses increased, and my lack of sleep continued it started to weigh on me.
I decided to try a hot bath to see if it would help my discomfort, and it worked for awhile.
At hour 21 my contractions were very intense with hardly any rest between them. I couldn't stand the bath anymore and decided to get out, but not before my nurse stated that she could tell I was close because of the look on my face. I wish she had never said that. They checked for progress...I'm sure at this point you guessed it...no progress. That nearly broke me. I was so frustrated that my body wasn't cooperating. I moved back to my favorite position on the yoga ball. At this point I was getting delirious...I was falling asleep in every 25-35 second break between contractions and then waking with excruciating pain, on repeat, for an hour and a half or so. As the Pitocin increased the contraction intensity was skyrocketing.
My husband, the incredible person that he is finally demanded that they stop the increase of Pitocin to try and let me rest, even if it was only for a little while. I tried to sleep but with constant vital checks and unbearable contractions it just wasn't possible. To make matters worse, I was only at 7cm. At this point we were all frustrated. My contractions reached their peak at an unearthly level with no rest in between. And just like that, we were at hour 24. Now the word epidural got introduced because they wanted to pump me with even bigger doses of Pitocin to get my body to the finish line as quickly as possible.
I came to terms that there was no way around an epidural.
Even if I could make it through another few hours of higher doses of Pitocin without an epidural I would have no energy to push which would most likely result in a c-section.
I decided that I would rather have the epidural and have the ability to deliver vaginally than the alternative. Minutes later I got the epidural and was able to rest.
I napped for about an hour and a half which I was extremely grateful for.
Slowly but surely I started feeling intense pressure.
Finally! I was at 10cm and ready to push. Pushing was the easiest part of labor (for me.)
10 contractions and my beautiful baby boy was in my arms.
Thank God. My labor was a total of 27 hours and 39 minutes.
So many emotions were running through me. I was in awe of this little person that is half me and half the love of my life. But in a moment that was supposed to be filled with only pure joy was instead met with distress, anger, pure exhaustion, sadness, and frustration. I wish I could say that I didn't feel all of those emotions, but I did. New nurses had come into my room just before pushing and unfortunately they had not been filled in with my birth plan. One final request was not wiping the vernix caseosa biofilm (a white creamy natural moisturizer left on a newborns skin) off of him. Before I could say no the nurse wiped him clean and I was devastated. So many things didn't go the way I had hoped and then something so simple was taken away too. The only thing I wanted was to be alone with my husband and my baby.
We were wheeled to our recovery room where they kept us for another night.
When we were finally alone, we broke down and wept. Both tears of relief and tears of sadness. Giving birth is an extreme rollercoaster of emotions no matter what, but to feel like you are fighting the ones trying to help you makes it unnecessarily harder.
To be clear, this is not a hate on doctors, nurses and western medicine.
They were all very pleasant and we ultimately had the same goal with only a difference in how to get there. They also have other pressures...they don't want to get sued. For example, if my labor went 30+ hours and I refused medical help and then had a severe infection that ended in devastating losses, the hospital could be liable for not intervening. At the end of the day having a natural birth in a hospital is now uncommon which baffles me. Statistics show that in the US 40 percent of labors are now induced, 71 percent of births occur with an epidural or more, and 21 percent of births result in c-section.
This is all good and well if it's what you want but when it isn't, the result is heartbreaking.
I felt like I had been robbed of the birth I wanted. It wasn't about the pain or the length of time. I would have done it all over again with an extra 28 hours if it meant I didn't have to have Pitocin. Women have been giving birth for centuries without any intervention, and while it's incredible what doctors can do when there is a problem, I don't think women and our bodies get enough credit for what they can do by themselves.
I had no signs of infection, my babies heart rate never faltered, nor did they have any concern of his well being or mine. So what was the rush? Why couldn't I have been monitored to make sure we were both safe during the natural course of labor instead of being chained to the clock. I will never know, all I know is that I won't let it happen again.
As I mentioned before there were 2 mistakes that I made.
The first was letting myself get talked into a membrane sweep and the second was going to the hospital too early. I should've trusted my instincts on both accounts.
I had a great pregnancy and my baby was healthy the entire time. There was no indication for concern so why rush labor? My body would have gone into labor naturally when it was ready. When my water broke it took quite a while for my contractions to get noticeably uncomfortable and all of that time I could've been content at home. If my water hadn't broken and I instead started labor with contractions, I would've been waiting at home regardless. I should've once again trusted my instincts.
I had wanted to deliver in a hospital because God forbid something went wrong, I would never forgive myself for not having access to a doctor. I am still undecided, but on the next go 'round I might deliver in a birthing center instead. I will see how I feel when that time comes. For now, my husband and I have dealt and are dealing with the after effects of our experience. Which is what brings us full circle...why women need to tell their story.
I don't think it's necessary to tell your story "to the world" if you don't want to but I do think it's necessary to talk to someone about it. Because it's such a life changing moment in time it comes with life altering changes to your way of thinking. In many ways it made me stronger and made me a better person. I learned a lot about myself and for that I am thankful for. Hearing your own journey out loud helps with the healing and could help someone else's journey in the process. It's about community. Without that, your sadness could fester and turn into something much more negative.
There are so many different ways to give birth and like I said before, we shouldn't' be ashamed of the choices we make. I felt guilty for my choices, for caving, for failing. But after reflection I realize that I didn't fail, I did what I could with the options that I was given.
My baby boy is healthy and happy and that is all I could ever hope for. Many women aren't as lucky.
I am eternally grateful for the things that did go right.
I am eternally grateful that my baby and I never had any complications during pregnancy and labor. I didn't have any problems with my epidural, I still had enough feeling in my legs and felt everything when I pushed. I hardly tore. We were successful in delaying the cord clamping and still had enough for cord blood banking. All of my babies tests came back clear. I didn't have any problems healing postpartum. And last but definitely not least, I have an amazing husband who supported me the entire way. Hudson never wavered during the entire birthing process. He was my rock, my partner, my advocate, and quite literally my shoulder to cry on. Without him I don't believe I would've lasted nearly as long as I did. And with no surprise to me, he is THE BEST dad.
I am in no way under the impression that my birth was harder than others. I know that I am very lucky to have the access to health care and in general the care I was provided. In comparison to many other women my birth was a complete success. And a healthy comparison for perspective is good. But, that is the problem with comparing yourself to others. When we compare ourselves to the experiences and outward projections of others it seems to devalue or invalidate our own. It is possible to be upset and grateful at the same time. I am not ashamed by my emotions and if you are like me, you shouldn't be either.
I am now the mother of a perfect baby boy who has radically changed our lives for the better.
That will forever be the happy ending to my story.
I am very impressed if you have read all of this and I hope it has encouraged you to share your own journey for your benefit and others. Women are tough mother f*ckers and I am honored to be one.