They say you forget the pain of childbirth, which is only *sort of* true. I can’t recall the exact nature of the pain, but I do remember my thoughts and feelings during each birth quite clearly. Thoughts like “NEVER AGAIN” and “WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING??” combine with memories of an intense connection with my own power and strength. Childbirth is utter powerlessness and ultimate power, all wrapped up together. I’m convinced there is nothing on Earth like it.
I also have a somewhat unique perspective, in that I had three unmedicated births, in three very different places, with three very different care providers:
Baby #1 “The Muse”: Born at a birth center with a midwife
Baby #2 “Dolittle”: Born at home with a male doctor
Baby #3: “BoyWonder”: Born in a hospital with a female doctor
They were all beautiful births, and I learned something different from each one. (And yes, I do have a favorite—you’ll see as we go along.) These choices really do make a difference, so for each story, I’ll share why I made the choice I did, the actual birth story, and the lessons I learned from the experience.
First Birth: Birth Center with Midwife
With our first baby, I wanted to try for an unmedicated birth with as few interventions as possible, so I sought a care provider who would help that happen. Through my research, I learned that midwives are the most trained in facilitating a normal, natural birth.
We were living in Phoenix, AZ at the time. I met with one midwife practice that just didn’t jive with me. And I’m pretty easy to jive with. So I shopped around and finally found the Bethany Birth Center.
The first time I met with the midwives there, I was sold. They shared my view of childbirth, and more importantly, they listened. I loved them. The birth center itself was a little dated as far as decor, but it was clean and comfortable and well-equipped. They had a big tub I could use for a water birth. It was a quick transfer to the hospital, if necessary. It was also covered under our insurance. Bingo.
I prepared for the birth as much as I could by devouring pregnancy and birth books, reading birth stories online, and talking with my mom (a labor and delivery nurse and three-time natural childbirth veteran herself).
But, of course, there’s only so much you can really prepare for childbirth. It’s a little like climbing a mountain—if you want to succeed, you have to train and prepare and take good care of your body, but you never know what the conditions are going to be the day of the climb.
And of course, it’s really nothing like climbing a mountain. Because, you know, it’s childbirth. At any rate, I was as prepared as I felt I could be for my first birth.
It’s 1:00 PM and I’m walking around Wal-Mart, when I feel a contraction coming on. I’ve been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for a couple of weeks, now, so I don’t think much of it. This one is a little more intense, though. Five or ten minutes later, another contraction starts, also a bit intense. This continues as I shop, and by the time I get to the car, I have a hunch this is actual labor starting. I have a couple of contractions on the drive home that definitely feel “real.”
As soon as I get home, I start timing them. They are around six minutes apart, but definitely regular. I call the midwife, and she tells me to sit tight, try to rest, and take a bath to see if the contractions subside. I do all three, utilizing some of the Hypnobirthing techniques I’ve been studying. The contractions continue to come regularly.
Havarti and I hang out all afternoon, take a walk, and wait. Around 7:00 or so, the contractions are 3-4 minutes apart and getting heftier. I call the midwife again. She talks to me through a few contractions and says to keep laboring at home until I can’t talk through them. Around 8:00 PM, I figure I should try to sleep, knowing it could be a long night. I drift in and out of sleep, with the contractions waking me up every few minutes.
Finally, at about midnight, I can’t sleep anymore. I get up and start timing the contractions. Two minutes apart. I wake up Havarti, and tell him I think maybe we should go. We call the midwife, I tell her I can still talk through the contractions, but it’s hard. It takes a lot of concentration. At this point, I have to hold onto the counter and do hip circles to make it through a contraction. She doesn’t seem alarmed, and tells me to go ahead and come in.
It’s a 30-minute drive to the birth center. My contractions are becoming more intense. It’s 1:00 in the morning, the freeways are empty, and Havarti is driving exactly the speed limit. Are you freaking kidding me?? “If there’s ever a time it’s okay to speed, this would be it!” I say through clenched teeth as a strong contraction hits. My ability to deal with the contractions is greatly limited by my seated position in the car. I try to relax and breathe, but I can’t seem to keep myself from trying to push my feet through the floor of the car. I’m unbelievably uncomfortable.
We stop at a red light three blocks from the birth center. In between contractions, I look past Havarti’s head to the car on our left, where a man suddenly opens the passenger door, leans out over the street, and vomits. I feel like punching him. He has no right to puke in front of a laboring woman. At this point in labor, no one has the right to do anything in front of me that I don’t want them to do.
We arrive at the birth center and meet the midwife and labor nurse. They check me, and I’m between 8 and 9 cm. “Is this when transition starts?” I ask. “Honey, you went through transition in the car,” she tells me. I’ve read many birthing moms say that transition is the hardest part. So I feel a bit relieved, as if it’s going to be all downhill from here.
Havarti turns on my chosen birth music—Loreena McKennitt’s “The Book of Secrets.” We fill up the tub as I get undressed, completely unfazed by my stark nakedness. I packed a swim top when I was in my normal, modest mental state, but it doesn’t even cross my mind now. My only thought is to get this baby out of me as quickly as possible.
I expect to find relief in the warm water, as I’d read about in multiple birth stories. But at this point, there is no relief. I try some different positions in the tub through several contractions, but nothing helps.
Suddenly, with one contraction, a low, guttural sound comes from somewhere way deep in my chest and erupts from my mouth before I can stop it. I feel an overwhelming urge to push. My whole body contracts now, every muscle straining to free this thing from my body. And suddenly, I can’t stand being in the water anymore. I want out. Immediately.
The midwife, labor nurse, and Havarti help me out of the tub between contractions and I crawl up onto the bed. Again, stark raving naked and not caring one iota. I try some different positions, but none gives any relief from the pressure and pain. The midwife checks me again and says my bag of waters is barely hanging on. It hadn’t even dawned on me that my water hadn’t broken yet.
She asks if I want her to break it, to move things along a little faster. I say yes. At the next contraction, she barely touches the bag lining with what looks like a big crochet hook, and a deluge of liquid floods the pads beneath me.
I lose track of how many contractions I’m having. Before, there was a respite between contractions, but now there is a constant, searing pain in my tailbone, as if someone is stabbing me with a hot knife. Back labor, apparently. I say out loud, “This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the stabbing pain in my back.” The midwife says, “Yeah, it looks like she’s sunny-side up.”
I lay on my back, propped up with pillows, Havarti helping hold my legs up. It’s the standard birthing position, which I’d read was not ideal. But it’s how and where my body wants to be. All of the other positions I’d read about—all fours, squatting, sitting—none of them sound good.
I push with each contraction, my body taking over almost completely. I feel primal. Totally powerless yet intensely powerful at the same time. I’ve never been more a part of my body and more detached from it at the same time. I am on fire. And the pain in my back is unrelenting.
We’ve been at the birth center for three hours. I feel like I’ve been pushing forever. In so many birth stories, women said that the pushing phase was almost a relief after the pain of transition. I silently curse them. Pushing sucks. Pushing is the worst. I was crazy to want to do this. Never again. I don’t want to do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.
No, really—you don’t understand. I CAN’T DO THIS.
And then I see them. Faintly at first, then growing closer and clearer, a line of women along the wall of the room. Shoulder to shoulder, one after the other, from the end of the bed trailing off into the distance—my mother, grandmother, great grandmother, great great grandmother. Every woman in my lineage back through the ages. Every female ancestor who had gone through this wonderful, miraculous, horrible experience in order for me to be here, in this moment, giving birth to my own daughter.
They smile. They understand. They did this. They all did this. You can do this, too.
Yes. I can do this. I really can do this.
I push and push, making sounds I didn’t know my body could make, feeling sure I might just tear in two. “You’re doing beautifully, Annie,” the midwife says. “You’re taking such good care of your baby.” In the midst of my body’s turmoil, her words land softly on my heart. My mind is consumed with the pain, but my heart knows our baby is coming. I push one more time. First the head. Oh God, there’s more. Then the shoulders, and quickly the rest.
The pain stops. Just like that.
Warmth and silk fill the top of my now squishy belly. A tiny head wobbles and lifts, two big eyes looking up. Her head plops, and I reach down to bring her up to my chest. My baby.
She is tiny, pink perfection. I am calm waters after a raging storm. She is pure potential, and I am raw, sheer power. She can be anything. I can do anything.
I am flying, and I think it’s over. But there’s still more contracting. More pushing.
Delivering the placenta is surprisingly painful. I didn’t expect that. I guess I thought it would just sort of slide out. But it doesn’t. It takes effort and some severe discomfort. And then it’s done.
I’m sure I’ve done irreparable harm to my perineum, but the midwife says I have just one small “skid mark” that doesn’t even require any stitches. That seems like a miracle.
My body did it. I did it. I’m in awe. My baby is here. My body is amazing. I am more powerful than I ever imagined. I can move mountains. I can do anything.
– There are few universals in childbirth experiences. For some, transition is hardest and pushing is a relief, and for some, pushing is the worst part. For some, waiting until you can’t talk through the contractions might be too late. If I had waited until I truly couldn’t talk through my contractions, I would have given birth on the side of the road.
– Back labor ain’t no joke.
– A laboring woman’s body knows exactly what it wants. There’s a primal instinct that takes over, which is incredibly powerful, and it’s important to listen to it.
– At the same time, having a coach help you control the parts of your body that want to fly out of control is extremely helpful. Telling me to make low, moaning sounds instead of high-pitched screams was probably the single most helpful piece of advice I got from my midwife during labor. Those small things make a big difference.
– Gentle words of encouragement were also very helpful, even if I couldn’t acknowledge it at the time.
– I totally understand why women choose to get an epidural, and I will never, ever, ever judge a mom for making that choice.
– At the same time, going through a natural childbirth is the single most empowering thing I’ve ever done or will ever do. It’s not about glory or competition or anything of the sort. It’s about being shown what my body, mind, and soul are capable of, which is immensely helpful when I feel like motherhood is pushing my body, mind, and soul to its limits. I can do anything. Truly.
I thought maybe this birth experience taught me all that a normal, natural childbirth could teach me. But there was more I would learn with my second birth.
Coming up next: Dolittle’s homebirth with a male OB (With video! Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.)
|All of our print photos are in storage, and this is the oldest photo I have of The Muse on my computer. |
Ah, the non-digital age. 🙂