You Can Do It!
Super Jack! (In his first two weeks)
In celebration of Jack's sixth month birthday today, and at the request of a reader from Philly (hi!), I thought I'd spend a little time on a topic that I've been thinking about sharing for months now.
Here it is:
Natural, unmedicated childbirth is totally doable. It is empowering. It is not scary. And afterwards you will approach life with a new sense of self-admiration.
When I found out I was pregnant I had a sense that I wanted to do things naturally but I didn't have a strong feeling one way or the other. The fact is, I hate shots. I am bothered by the idea of foreign objects invading me - I didn't want an IV in my arm, I didn't want anyone sticking a needle in my back. It wasn't a philosophical thing. During my pregnancy I occasionally mentioned to other women that I intended to go the drug-free route. They were aghast. "You're crazy!" some said. "Are you out of your mind!" cried others. I laughed, but those women freaked me out. Like all decisions regarding pregnancy and motherhood, choices about childbirth are completely personal to the mother. Don't say unsupportive things to pregnant women, period. Even if you think you're being funny. It isn't that funny. There is not a lot of support out there for women who are contemplating natural childbirth and a lot of women are honestly scared. No need to add to that. And on the other side of the spectrum, veteran mommies who went the natural route should not make unsupportive comments of women who opted for medical intervention. It isn't kind. And if you want to take it there: etiquette says that we do not have public discussions about the functionings of our bodies because it's boring to everyone other than ourselves and sometimes gross.
As I moved through my pregnancy, my choice to go au naturel developed from 'some interest' to 'philosophically determined.' Over the course of nine months I grew to trust my body to do what it needed to do. I was suspicious of people who told me that I needed drugs like pitocin or an epidural. 'Isn't this what we were designed to do?,' I thought.
I read Hyponobirthing and I watched The Business of Being Born. I found Hypnobirthing to be a little bit silly because it was so biased. However, I still found comfort in reading the book. Although I didn't actually use any hypnobirthing techniques, the hypnobirthing text taught me that labor can be a gentle, calm experience if we let go of our fear. On the other hand, The Business of Being Born really motivated me. It made me realize that there is a lot of misinformation about childbirth out there and that using labor assisting drugs serves the goals of the hospital (a faster labor, a more predictable, compliant patient) more than it serves the goals of the laboring mother. It made me realize that in order to deliver my child in a hospital without medication I would have to be vigilant and vocal that I did not want medical intervention. The film contained multiple live, unmedicated births. It helped me anticipate what to expect.
At 39 weeks I had it all figured out. I planned to lie down and breathe deeply through my labor and to stay calm. At 39 weeks and 2 days I went for a brazilian. (Get a brazilian before childbirth. Less drama as you recover after the baby is born. Bliss Spa is extremely accomodating to pregnant women.) I was slightly terrified but looked at the wax as an opportunity to practice my labor breathing. After the first strip, my waxer looked at me with a little bit of disgust. "You luf your pain," she said in a Russian accent. "You kluss your eyes and you romance your pain." And she demanded that I keep my eyes open and look directly at her each time she ripped off a strip. The experience was painless. A Russian waxer at Bliss Spa had just taught me how to give birth.
At 1:30 a.m. on August 4th, 2013, I woke up with a contraction. I had been having overnight contractions for many weeks and although this one didn't feel different, I knew Jack was ready. I woke up Peter. We were both so excited! Peter got out a stop watch and a piece of paper. In the beginning, things went slowly. It was a Saturday night and we took a walk around our neighborhood. I was wearing the $10 dress from target that I'd been wearing and sleeping in for days. Drunk people giggled as I stopped in the middle of Great Jones street during a contraction. When we got back to our apartment Pete took note of the time of each contraction and the duration of each contraction. Things quickly formed a pattern. In between contractions I sat and I rested. When he noticed that an interval had passed he would say, "You have about thirty seconds until your next contraction," and I mentally prepared myself for the next round. During each contraction I stood up and put my hands against the wall. I stared at my hands the entire time. I never closed my eyes. I shifted my feet back and forth to deal with the pain.
My doctor had told me that a real labor contraction would be an 8-10 on a pain scale. She told me I would not be able to function outside of the pain. She was right. I didn't want to talk or to be touched during my contractions. But the pain was totally bearable and it didn't last very long. It was painful but it felt completely natural. I didn't feel scared in any way. I knew it was a 'good' kind of pain. It was a sign that my body was doing remarkable things. Pete drew me a hot shower in a dark bathroom lit by a candle. He sprinkled lavender essential oil in the tub. I kept my hands against the wall during contractions and my eyes open and I let the hot water run over my belly. The contractions in the tub were genuinely not painful. The sensation was simply firm pressure in my abdomen and pelvis.
We stayed at home until 6:30 in the morning, when my contractions were 2-3 minutes apart. Luckily there was no traffic. Sitting stationary during contractions was extremely difficult for me and the jostling of the black car was too much. I asked the driver to pull over each time I had a contraction. That man was the sweetest man. God bless him.
The hospital was much, much less comfortable than home. I wore my own labor dress as a creature comfort (a shortsleeved black nightgown from target). Despite the fact that I was having contractions every 2-3 minutes they tried to engage me in conversations and wouldnt let my husband into my triage area (which is where they examine you before setting you up in a delivery room). I went crazy pregnant lady and made my demands while I had the breath: I wanted my husband now, I would not wear a hospital gown, I would not consent to a IV and I would not lie down. I lost the battle on those last two. I had to lie down for fetal monitoring for 20 minutes and have an IV port placed on the inside of my arm in case of emergency.
While in the delivery room I alternated between standing (with eyes open, arms against the wall, shifting my feet) and standing in the shower. Things were ok but they were getting more intense and I was getting tired from all of the standing. They forced me to lie down for another 20 minutes of monitoring, told me I was 7 centimeters and that it'd be another three hours before I started pushing, and then all the nurses and doctors went on break.
Jack was born six minutes later.
After I had been checked, I had gotten in the bath while Peter sprayed my belly with hot water. My water suddenly broke and my body started actively pushing the baby out. I screamed. I swore. The pain was very intense. But I told myself what I had read one hundred times: as soon as the pain gets unbearable the baby is going to be delivered very quickly. A new nurse who'd taken over for my nurses came in. She was a large Jamaican woman and she looked at me and said "I know you ain't pushin' in that tub!!!" Somehow she carried me from the bathtub onto the delivery table and Jack was born moments later.
You can do it. It does not feel like being stabbed or shot or murdered. It feels like muscles stretching open to make room for a baby.
The end is very painful but it does not last long. When the pain arrives tell yourself that it is normal and that the baby will be with you any minute.
You do not need a doula or anything else to give birth naturally. Your body was designed to carry and deliver children. Have faith in your body.
The fear you feel now is nothing compared to the sense of pride you will feel for bringing your child into this world.*
I wish all of you women who are pregnant, who have children or who are thinking about children, every strength. Motherhood is an amazing journey. Isn't it wonderful to think that each one of us on this planet is here today because of our mothers? In that way we will always be united. If any of you have questions about delivering a child without medication I'm very happy to chat with you. Tweet me at @primandpretty or shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
HAPPY SIX MONTHS TO MY DARLING BABY, JACK! You've grown me up and glued me together and brought me joy. I owe you one.
(*I expect this is true whether or not you have an epidural.)