After two full years of pregnancy, postpartum recovery, more pregnancy, and more postpartum recovery, being 9 months out from the birth of my most recent baby is leaving me feeling GREAT! Having two daughters just 11 months apart has really been quite an undertaking. Finally, I am beginning to feel this ongoing and consistent sense of renewal in my motherhood journey. As I perceive this new season in my life, I am beginning to reflect back on my birth experiences, especially since I am beginning to see a new wave of friends who are soon-to-be new moms! I thought about sharing my detailed birth stories on my blog and decided not to post them publicly since they contain some pretty explicit details that are very personal to me and my incredible experience. If you are interested in the ‘R rated’ version, send me an email and I’ll consider sharing. But for now, I’d like to take some time (for the first time in written form) to reminisce on how I prepared for these defining experiences and what they meant to me on a non-physiological level.
I remember John, my husband, and I watching a video of a natural childbirth a few years back and being overcome with both fear and awe. I seriously questioned anyone’s ability to do that. Especially mine, since I have never tolerated pain well. I was so relieved to come to my senses and realize that childbirth was not an impending reality for me in that moment.
Fast forward about 6 months and… I’m 4 months pregnant. WOAH! Talk about irony. My previous determinations about childbirth were uncomfortably all too relevant at this point. Turns out when you know you are going to have a baby, whether 9 months away or 1 month away, this climactic life event weighs heavily on your heart and mind. Some weeks after realizing my first pregnancy, in our little newlywed apartment, I watched “The Business of Being Born” on Netflix. I was astounded. By the way, if you’re pregnant, do yourself a favor and watch it, too! After watching it, for the first time in all my life, I wondered “Could I really do it?” Could I actually birth a baby without pain medicine or unnecessary medical interventions that are presently considered protocol?
From that documentary on, I began a quest. A quest to research the possibility of a natural birth in our extremely medicalized society. That documentary pulls a lot for home births, which I decided early on that I wouldn’t pursue just yet. However, it revealed a lot of information to me about what is considered acceptable in a labor and delivery room. This was the start of my becoming informed and prepared to naturally birth a baby in an obstetrician led Labor & Delivery wing of my local hospital. The follow up books I read and recommend for additional research on the natural birth process include Supernatural Childbirth by Jackie Mize, The Birth Book by Dr. Sears, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, and The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer.
If you are interested in a natural birth, please take note of my reading materials! Why? Because, these were a big part of the reason I was able to maintain the mental fortitude to bear through a 17.5 hour long labor and a year later, a 6 hour long labor, with no pain dulling meds- because understanding childbirth to a maximum degree and knowing that it is a perfectly designed for success is what really helped make it happen for me. The more I read and the more I reflected on my will to birth naturally no matter the “pain,” the more prepared I felt. When I would share my plans to do this with friends and family, I fully trusted the statement that I will have my baby naturally. Yes, without an epidural or other pain medications that are so frequently used. As soon as I decided that a med-free birth was for me, I committed to it, 100%. I never thought “we’ll see, I might change my mind in the moment if it hurts too bad.” It was all or nothing in my mind.
The reason I’ve taken the time to mention the mental preparation for my childbirth experiences is because I feel that this is what really made a difference for me. One thing that stood out to me in my self-education process is that pain is essentially a derivative of fear. And with childbirth (and many other things in life), fear comes from a lack of true understanding. In this case, understanding the process, understanding the capability of a woman’s (my) body, and fully understanding the risks of intervening with nature’s perfect way, was truly what carried me through to that moment that my daughters were placed on my chest and I could see their sweet shining faces for the first time.
For my older daughter…
I began laboring with consistent, hard contractions at 11:45pm on a beautiful Sunday evening and I labored for 17.5 hours. The last 3 hours of which, I was not progressing past 9.5 cm of dilation and was given a 20 minute “ultimatum” to either progress or get an emergency cesarean section. I did not take contractions as easily as I had hoped. In fact, I had struggled so hard breathing during contractions that for two days after the birth, my lungs/neck/chest were extremely sore. During the pushing phase, it was all forced, loud, and overwhelming (the exact opposite of what I specified in my birth plan) and I ended up with some serious afflictions that most women do not usually experience. I later realized that this was more than likely due to what is known as ‘purple pushing’, that is, when it’s completely forced and timed (as opposed to mother-led pushing where you follow the cadence of pushing with contractions). But given my time constraints that I mentioned before, sheer exhaustion from being up all night, and desperation to finally see the little creation that all my suffering was for, I was determined to finally be through with my labor!
After some extremely intense pushing, it was over. Like that, it became a memory. I had done it! I had no intravenous fluids, no medicines, no epidural. And you know what? When it was all over, it WAS over! It was so incredible to go from being at the most intense, primal, struggling, raw moments of my life to… sheer bliss (what is most often otherwise known as relief), calmness, and happiness. Within 2 hours of my beautiful, furry headed, snow white, mini-me, newborn baby Eva’s birth, I took a shower and felt new again.
For my younger daughter only 11 months later…
For several days leading up to true labor, I remember feeling some stop-you-in-your-tracks braxton hicks contractions (painless, but intense). I welcomed these, knowing that any pain free dilation would mean getting off the hook during that hard labor! I was awakened from my slumber around 5am after a solid two days of my body’s natural warming up process… to contractions that beckoned deep moaning. Though I wanted to labor at home as long as possible, we ended up making our way to the hospital after just a couple of hours of these (didn’t want to make a car ride too dilated). I was disappointed to find that I wasn’t as far along as I had hoped upon our arrival. Despite this fact, my labor progressed pretty quickly once we were there. Both times I labored, I agree for my obstetrician to break my water. Though I was very hesitant both times, it turned out to be an excellent catalyst for moving the labor process right along. Once that took place, it was show time within a few short hours.
I labored less than half the time as my first daughter’s birth, and I got my perfect ending that I didn’t get with my first birthing experience! From the time of my first “hard” contractions early that am, my labor lasted a little over 6 hours. During the weeks and months leading up to this birth, I think I was more nervous than the first time around. However, it turned out to be a bit more manageable than my first. Same hospital, same obstetrician, and my nurse was the best friend of the nurse who helped deliver Eva! She was so supportive of my birth plan and encouraged in those final moments when I felt extremely vulnerable that my body would “know what to do.” This is what I had told myself all along! I trusted, gave in to my instincts, and Lena June arrived before my obstetrician did! No lie!
I highly recommend committing to an un-medicated birth if you and your baby’s health allow! I think that if you take the time to read or watch some of the aforementioned movies and books, you’ll find (as I did) that the case for it is strong in both statistics and intuition. I count it a true blessing (x2) that I was able to experience back to back all nat-ur-al births that ended with two beautiful and healthy daughters. I couldn’t have done it without the unconditional support of my husband and mother who were there in the delivery room with me both times.
Being able to tell everyone “I DID IT” (unmediated, as planned) was beyond gratifying. I am somewhat of a humble person, however I had zero qualms about sharing my accomplishments (and still do) with anyone who will listen. I would say that naturally birthing my two babies has empowered me on a very deep level to be the mother I was meant to be. Surely all other moms feel a great sense of accomplishment no matter the type of labor and delivery experience, but I have a sense of primal womanly pride that I was able to actively get through the roller coaster of labor and delivery that my body was perfectly able to accomplish. Most women are capable, but I would say that our minds are the key to whether or not we can tap into these capabilities. Truly, I am most complete knowing that I did it the hard way- natures way.
I sincerely hope that every woman can experience her baby’s birth in the way that is best for the two of them- no matter the level of medical intervention. I support life, in all situations where it can be assisted by the hands of a medical team. And secondly, I support a labor and birth allowed to manifest in its purest and most untapped version, wherever the health of mama and baby is not compromised.
I hope you enjoyed reading my reflections on my birth preparation process, abridged stories, and post delivery reflections. If you have any interest in natural birthing, I hope I have encouraged you to continue on your quest. Best wishes!