Below is my birth story.
I made specific decisions about how I would manage my birth plan and I detail why I made those decisions. My justifications aren’t meant as judgment towards other women who’ve made different choices with their pain management. My life philosophy is that each woman has a right to her own care decisions and that decision is what is right for her. What you are reading is my personal experience, so please do not take this as the correct/right way to give birth because there isn’t one.
If you have any questions about your own experience, please consult your healthcare professional.
There was one thing I wasn’t looking forward to before and during my pregnancy: giving birth. Prior to pregnancy, I liked the idea of being pregnant, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around the potential pain and process of giving birth. All the changes my body would go through, the recovery… it was overwhelming to contemplate.
I heard about was how unmanageable the pain was and how I would be begging for an epidural until staff gave me one. Media and sex education drilled it into my head that giving birth would be the worst pain a woman would experience in her life.
When I saw my friends begin down the path of motherhood, I always asked how it went afterward because I was curious if their experience matched up with the narrative I created in my head. It scared me into holding off having children for several years. But when we decided to start our family, I’d have to get over my fear of giving birth.
Whenever I am in the dark about something, I research all that I can about it.
I go overboard trying to understand the ins-and-outs of a situation so I can make an informed decision or opinion on the matter. Because I had no clue what labor would look like, I took a month-long class with Ash about the whole birthing process: from the first contraction to the final push, I learned about the whole process and what to expect.
Because this was a “natural birthing” class, they were going to cover all the options for handling the pain without interventions and they also leaned against using any form of pain management intervention for the mother. They didn’t flat out say “don’t get an epidural” but they did make a point to highlight all that happens to the labor process and the baby when a mother gets one.
According to the class:
Getting an epidural would slow down the contractions which would drive the staff to administer Pitocin (induction drugs) which would speed up the labor, but then cause more pain for the mother; which would mean the mother would need more epidural; which would slow down the contractions…It would be a tiring loop that would drive the mother and the hospital to perform an unnecessary C-Section.
The epidural would also cause the baby to be sluggish after birth, lowering their APGAR score and interfere with the bonding because the baby would only want to sleep.
Finally, they said taking drugs would interfere with my own recovery and increasing my chances of having post-partum depression because I hadn’t allowed the natural hormones do their work to “protect” my body. *
*Please do not take these statements to be my personal belief on the matter. I am merely repeating what I was told whether it is good science or not. It is important to highlight the information I had prior to giving birth to understand why I made certain decisions.
Despite my fears about pain, I wanted to attempt a medication-free birth which is why I selected the class at a friend’s suggestion. Another friend mentioned that had she gone the entire labor without an epidural (the nurses missed the fact that the line fell out and all the medicine was leaking into the bed) she probably would have handled it fine because she would have been used to the pain.
Doing independent research outside of the class, I couldn’t find a reason to disagree with attempting it medication-free from the beginning. I looked at giving birth like running a marathon (something I want to do someday): if I approach it prepared and pace myself, I could do it.
At the end of the pregnancy, it became a competitive goal for myself: to see how long I could last without needing pain medication and if I could do the entire birth medication-free. I had it in my mind that if I could handle giving birth without medication, then I could do anything I put my mind to – no obstacle would ever be insurmountable. We still decided on having the birth in a hospital: I wanted to have the option to get an epidural if I found that the pain was too much.
The two biggest concerns I had which overruled my fear of the pain:
- I have vaso-vagal syncope with needles. This means anytime I have a needle or IV catheter in for an extended period of time, I faint. While I knew I would be distracted by the task at hand, I was too afraid of needing “unnecessary” lines attached to my body and interfering with my ability to stay calm (or even conscious) through the process. I wanted to limit the amount of poking and prodding I would need in an already stressful situation.
- I have issues with depression and I wanted to give my body as much of a chance naturally to combat the possibility of postpartum depression (PPD). I had heard prior to the class that medication-free births were linked to lowering my chances, but doing a simple Google search now shows that medication-free births are linked to increasing PPD. I obviously went with the information I had at the time.
During this month, I signed us up for other classes that were offered at the hospital: breastfeeding, baby care, and hospital tour. I came to each and every class with a list of questions that could be answered online, but I wanted to hear it directly from a human.
To make up for my aggressive need for information and detailed birth plan, I made sure to bring a box of snacks as thanks for the nurses when I came in to deliver.
Jai was due on a Tuesday in early October.
I really wanted him to be an October baby because I wanted the option for fall and Halloween parties. Born in September and it would be weird to throw him Halloween-based parties if he wanted one; too late in October and he would be stuck with Halloween-based parties at school. October was always a favorite month for me, and it was also my diagnosis month, so I was looking forward to a happy event replacing my depressing anniversary.
Ash’s parents came into town a week ahead of my due date to help finalize everything and so Ash’s mother would be there for the birth. She was present at all family births due and because she was a recently retired anesthesiologist in the Labor & Delivery department, she was a good choice as a medical advocate in the room. I would also have my mom and Ash in the room with me for emotional support. I had a Doula but split between three people.
The day before Jai was due my mom and I went out for some final mother-daughter bonding time before Jai’s arrival. We visited with a friend at a local mall, asking for his blessing to help get Jai moving along within the next few hours. I had felt well, but just a tad more irritable than normal. I brushed it off as hot Southern weather because I didn’t want to believe he would be ready to make his exit any time soon.
Firstborns rarely come on time.
By that evening, Ash and I were out with his parents trying to find a glider for the nursery. My father-in-law, in all his good intentions, had finally hit my last nerve. I remember standing in the parking lot of a store, stubborn as a mule, saying that I would not be visiting another store that evening. We would go first thing in the morning. Both my in-laws were gracious enough to not say anything and be understanding of the situation.
We all went back to our house to eat dinner and call it a night. Around 8 or so, the mild twinges I’d been feeling since dinner was clearly something more. I was having frequent contractions about 20 minutes or so apart.
Contractions, as best as I can describe them for myself, are like having bad cramps and diarrhea pains.
Ash and I started doing exercises we’d learned from my class to help take my mind off of the whole situation. I sat on a ball and he massaged my back. He supported my weight and rocked me back and forth. We watched silly TV as a means of distraction.
By midnight my mom and I made the decision to send Ash upstairs to sleep while we stayed downstairs and watched Star Wars. I planned to watch all three of the original trilogy while waiting for the contractions to get closer. I made it through A New Hope and started Empire Strikes Back but couldn’t get relaxed enough by that point.
I was able to get a nap in, but by 5:30am the contractions were getting closer and I could feel pressure on my cervix. My OB told me it was at that point we should consider heading to the hospital.
We called everyone who needed to make their way to the hospital and headed on it. I wanted to go in earlier in the morning because traffic in our city gets untenable by 7:30am.
Once at the hospital I had to wait a while before getting a room. Apparently, every other pregnant woman in my city decided that they were also going to give birth that day and so they were unusually full.
Unfortunately, they sent me back alone to a “triage” room, not even allowing Ash to join me for an hour or so. Laboring alone was not fun, so I finally insisted that they allow Ash to join me. This wouldn’t be the first time I was left alone by the hospital staff with little support, but again, it turned out to be a very busy day.
They moved me into my “final” birthing room and it was at this point my mother and mother-in-law were able to join us.
I was grateful to have three supportive people in the room with me. Each person took turns physically supporting me and comforting me through the process. Ash would make me drink water after a contraction passed, my mom would rub my head while I passed out after drinking water, and my mother-in-law would say supportive and encouraging words during a contraction.
I was left in the room with them for several hours, with residents and nurses coming in every so often to check on my progress. By two or so, things had progressed along that they were ready for me to push.
Birth of a Son
I don’t remember how long I pushed, but I had made it through the entire labor process without medication. I do remember saying “this was a mistake” repeatedly during labor and pushing.
Not getting pregnant or giving birth, but going through the whole process unmedicated. Ash and I had decided on a safe-phrase that would be the immediate cue to get medication. We chose fruit. If I said any sort of fruit: apple, strawberry, peaches – that meant he was to grab the closest nurse and get my medication. We both knew I would say things like “get me drugs” or “this was a mistake” as a means of coping with the pain, but I may not have truly meant it.
Thankfully, Ash respected my complaining and did not push medication on me the entire time. He later confided that there were several points he wanted to remind me of the safe-phrase because he was worried I forgot them.
Pushing was easier coached than done. I remember the nurses telling me how to push, but I was so tired at that point that I did what I could, as long as I could, and as hard as I could. It eventually worked because Jai came out no problem, but it was exhausting. I remember thinking when they put him on my chest that it was finally over and shocked that he was finally here after 9-months and 12+ hours of labor.
The labor and delivery was textbook, but the afterbirth were moments of extreme frustration.
I had written clearly in my birth plan not to receive any medication to help move the placenta along. Before I realized what was happening I was experiencing pain again after getting a few moments rest. A nurse, without my permission, gave me Pitocin to help induce the afterbirth. She shrugged and didn’t apologize for the complete lack of respect for my medical wishes.
Because of this or in spite of this, my placenta refused to budge. A resident had to dig around to remove the attached placenta which was not comfortable. I still have moments of concern that he may have scarred me which can cause further issues down the road with my fertility. I will only know if we try for a second.
While he was down there dealing with my placenta, he also stitched up my tearing. Within this past month, I found out that he may have added an extra stitch or two to help tighten things up. I assumed I healed with heavy scarring which caused discomfort, but apparently, this is an unspoken practice and nod to the husband to restore his wife to pre-birth tightness.
I cannot prove that he did this, but after some research on the matter, all the “symptoms” point to this being done to me without my permission. I have no recourse on the matter, other than being more mindful of this possibility in the future.
Final regret? My MS. We didn’t delay cord clamping because we wanted to donate Jai’s cord blood. When the nurse came into my recovery room later in the day to ask the necessary screening questions for the cord blood, she said they would most likely reject the cord blood because of an outdated believe that MS is passed through the blood. She said they might be able to donate it towards MS research, but I knew she couldn’t guarantee it. Whether or not his cord blood was banked for research or destroyed, I will never know – but I regret that my MS prevented perfectly healthy stem cells from getting to a child who could use them.
Regrets aside, I made it through unmedicated. According to the nurses that came in to check on us later that day, I was the only one in the ward to do so and there were 13 other women giving birth that day.
Another fun thing? Jai came on his due date. I hadn’t expected that, but pleasantly surprised. I made sure to state this to any healthcare professional that came near him in the first couple of months. Both my mom and I believe our friend from the mall had something to do with inducing Jai to come out on time.
Jai came out perfectly healthy, scoring a 9 on his APGAR and wiggling so much that my father was shocked at how active he was considering all we just went through. We got to spend the golden hour, bonding and in complete awe that he finally arrived.
Overall, it was a relatively uneventful birth and if I had the option to do it all over again, I would do it the same (but advocating when it came to the afterbirth instead of just trusting the professionals to have my best interest in mind).
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