Saturday, March 10, 2012

my natural childbirth story

my bud is 8 weeks old, and i can't believe i haven't chronicled his birth story / my labor story yet.  now it seems almost daunting to try and recall all the details leading up to and including that very intense experience.  i also haven't decided if i'm going to share this on my public blog or keep it private. either way, i know i'll regret not documenting it, so here goes...

in case i put this on my public blog, parts may be too graphic for you men reading this...don't say you weren't warned!  :)


i think i always knew i wanted a natural labor.  i just didn't know that's what it was called and exactly what that would entail, but the idea of an epidural had always scared me, and the idea of a c-section even more so.  plus, i've always been hesitant to use medicine or medical interventions until absolutely necessary.

however, it wasn't until going through our hospital birthing classes and doing TONS of research on my own that i was able to make an informed decision.  getting to the point where i was committed to a natural labor, free of as many medical interventions as possible, was a process, a progression over the course of my pregnancy that took many hours of research, soul-searching and prayer.  and a supportive hubby.

these are the primary resources/factors that helped in that decision -

  • the birthing classes hubs and i attended - learning about the stages and phases of labor and seeing how intricately and magnificently women's bodies are designed to bear children.  they were CREATED to do this, and understanding what a woman's body and the baby go through during labor was the first step in helping make my decision.  also, learning about all the various forms of medical interventions available to a laboring woman and their risks and benefits further educated and helped solidify my decision.  for me, the risks associated with medical interventions (such as pitocin, epidural, drugs, vacuum, forceps, etc.) were far too great for me and/or baby, and statistically, they lead to a much greater chance of having a c-section, which i wanted to avoid if at all possible.
  • online resources - too many to list here, but i spent A LOT of time on babycenter forums/groups (such as 'natural unmedicated childbirth' and 'the bradley method').  having a community of women with the same goal and experiences helped not only educate me, but keep me focused and motivated.  in addition to babycenter, there were many other websites i used to further educate myself on medical interventions during labor, risks/benefits, and how to have a successful natural childbirth experience in a hospital setting (not always easy to do).  i also used youtube to watch natural childbirths and found it very empowering to see women DO IT!
  • the bradley method and friends/acquaintances who experienced natural childbirth- we didn't learn about 'the bradley method' in time to go through the 12-week course (and i'm not sure i would've been able to talk the hubs into that long of a class anyway), but at the beginning of december, we attended a christmas party where i ended up talking with not one, not two, but FOUR women (one, a friend, the other 3, acquaintances) who had gone through 'the bradley method' class and had delivered naturally.  i don't think it was a coincidence - i wholeheartedly believe i was meant to speak with those women that night and learn about their experiences and successes with natural childbirth.  they also spoke of things i hadn't thought about yet at that point, such as how to stand up for myself in the hospital setting, especially in regards to newborn procedures (hepatitis b shot, eye ointment for gonorrhea and syphilis, and the vitamin k shot) that are administered to every baby as part of normal protocol , unless i, as a patient (and consumer) ask otherwise.  these women not only gave me much food for thought, they empowered me and helped me see that it's not only possible to have a natural childbirth, it can be a positive experience.  they also recommended we watch the documentary 'the business of being born' (discussed below), which was instrumental in getting me mentally prepared for what was to come.  and lastly, they lent me 'the bradley method' workbook which i dug into with gusto in the following weeks and learned practical techniques for breathing, pain management, proper diet & exercise to get my body in optimal shape, etc.   i don't think they know how critical my conversations with them that night were in giving me the courage i needed at a time when i was starting to waver doubt my ability to go through with a natural labor.
  • our doula - i wholeheartedly feel God's hand was at work in the way we were connected with our doula.  we had never planned on hiring a doula - the plan was always for the hubs to be my labor coach and implement all the techniques we had learned in our birthing classes - but after the christmas party when i left with renewed determination, i began to think that if we were seriously committed to a natural childbirth, it might be a good idea to have all the support we could get, especially with our first.  well, at the beginning of december, just days after the christmas party, i was invited to a friend's church for a christmas function, and there she briefly introduced me to her doula friend, corie.  corie and i didn't have much time to chat there, but she gave me her card, i emailed her a few days later, reid and i met with her, really liked her, and the rest is history.  we squeezed in a few more meetings with her in december, and knowing she would be present during labor gave both the hubs and i a sense of relief.  for him, relief that he wouldn't have to coach me through the uncharted territory of natural childbirth alone.  for me, knowing that there would be a neutral 3rd party who would encourage me to not give up and who could also support hubs thru the process.  and most of all, someone who could be the intermediary between us and the hospital staff and do it in a respectful, yet firm way if needed.
  • documentary: 'the business of being born' - this was recommended to us by a number of women (including our doula, corie) who had experienced natural childbirth.  learning the history of labor & delivery in this country and how it's evolved over the last few decades from a primarily midwife context to a hospital context, as well as the HUGE spike in c-sections since births started taking place in hospitals and how they continue to be on the rise (currently in the U.S. more than 30% of births are c-sections - crazy!) was incredibly eye-opening.  this documentary is also where i first heard and really connected with the idea that the process of child birth isn't something that is broken or that women need to be 'saved' from.  also the idea that while pain is viewed as bad and most people try to avoid it at all costs, the pain of childbirth is a productive pain, a pain that results in the most wonderful and blessed gift a person can receive and experience.  it's not a pain that women need to be freed of, it's a pain our bodies were not only created to experience, but were designed with natural tools (like oxytocin, which is released in large amounts during labor) to be able to withstand the pain of child birth.
  • book: 'birthing from within' - this is one of the most read books regarding natural childbirth, and corie lent it to me a few weeks before my due date.  i scrambled to finish it, got through most of it, and while parts of it were too 'new-agey' for me, i did find parts of it very helpful for pain relief and focusing techniques.  it was also helpful for someone like me, who was planning a natural childbirth in a hospital setting (rather than at home or a birthing center), that the author wasn't anti-hospital and instead focused on how to make the hospital birth a rewarding experience and one that would work for us.


our birth plan - 

i knew that if we wanted our birth plan and wishes to be known and respected at the hospital, the key was to make it simple and concise, not paragraphs and pages long.  it went through MANY iterations as i researched more and we made more definitive decisions about what we did and didn't want.

this was the final draft - 

Pain Relief

  • I’m committed to a natural, un-medicated birth – please do not ask if I want an epidural or other pain meds – I will ask for pain meds if I need them


  • No residents, medical students or family in the L&D room (husband, doula, nurses and doctor only)


  • No continuous fetal monitoring (if intermittent monitoring is necessary, please be ready to provide reason).
  • No internal monitor


  • I want to be free to move/walk around
  • No IV
  • No cervical checks
  • No Pitocin
  • No breaking of the amniotic membranes
  • No episiotomy
  • No C-section unless true emergency and all other options have been exhausted
  • I’d like to use: squatting bar, birthing ball, tub, etc.

After Delivery

  • Baby on chest right away – perform all apgar checks while baby is on chest
  • Delay all newborn procedures for at least one hour (including bathing & vitamin K)
  • Wait at least 3 minutes to cut cord
  • Breastfeed baby right away
  • No Pitocin to deliver the placenta unless extreme hemorrhaging

Newborn Procedures

  • No eye ointment
  • No Hep B vaccine
  • Delay Vitamin K for at least one hour
  • Administer Vitamin K orally versus injection


  • I plan to breastfeed exclusively
  • Do not offer baby pacifier, formula or sugar water

we were able to get everything on our birth plan except the intermittent monitoring, cervical checks and delayed cord clamping, and i was more than ok with that.  

overall, we ended up having an AMAZING hospital experience!  our main labor & delivery nurse (shannon) was extremely supportive and seemed very excited to be part of a natural birth, so there was no push-back on her part regarding any part of our birth plan.  the 2nd nurse (rita), who showed near the end of my labor to take care of the baby, was also just as supportive.  we really couldn't have asked for a better hospital natural birth and will forever be grateful to the amazing nurses that made our experience even better than we could have anticipated!


labor timeline - 

saturday, 1/7/12
  • went for a long walk.  i hadn't been walking in the weeks leading up to my due date because i really wanted to make it as close to 40 weeks as possible and was afraid of getting labor started too early.  but with one day before my due date, i was willing to take the chance.
  • all thru the night of 1/7/12, i was experiencing cramping pains, similar to what i'd been feeling sporadically for a few weeks prior, and which i'd been told both by my doctor(s) and friends weren't contractions, just my body stretching and getting ready.  

sunday, 1/8/12
  • 12:00pm - the cramping continued into the morning, and at noon i decided to start timing them JUST IN CASE they were actually contractions.  sure enough, the 'cramping' was coming at regular intervals (anywhere from 4-8 minutes at that point) - turns out my 'cramps' were actually CONTRACTIONS all along!  sooooo, i don't technically know how long i was in labor because i don't know when my labor started since i thought my contractions were cramps.  and by the way, i never got the type of contractions everyone told me i would - the kind that wrap all around my mid-section.  they all said, 'OH, YOU'LL KNOW WHEN THEY'RE CONTRACTIONS'  well, i didn't know because they never felt any different than cramps
  • 1:40pm - i called corie (doula) to let her know i was having contractions and that i had lost my mucous plug earlier in the day
  • 2:00pm - my contractions were 4-5 minutes apart
  • 3:40pm - my water broke while i was laying on the downstairs couch watching tv and trying to get my mind off my contractions.  up until this point i was busy working around the house, finishing up our hospital bags, showering, etc.  i let the hubs know and then called corie, who said she'd be on her way.  my contractions were ~ 1-3 minutes apart and ~1 minute long at this point and becoming more intense and painful
  • 4:45pm - corie arrived at our house.  contractions were still ~ 1-3 minutes apart and ~1 min long.  i remember walking during my contractions, not wanting to be touched, most of the time walking into the laundry room because it was the darkest and quietest room downstairs.  hubs and corie were in the family room observing, talking and i'm sure gauging when we should leave for the hospital
  • 5:45pm - the contractions were getting more and more painful and coming every 2 minutes for 1-1.5 minutes.  this is when i told them we needed to head to the hospital.  note: the plan had always been for me to labor at home as long as possible.  not only do we live a mere 2 minutes away from the hospital, but i knew that chances were as soon as i stepped foot in the hospital my labor would slow down because i would no longer be as comfortable as i had been at home.  getting in and out of the jeep and the walk from the car into the elevator into the l&d wing of the hospital was intense!  every movement i made just brought on more pain, so all i wanted to do was stay as still as possible and i couldn't do that.  once at the hospital, i was taken directly to a delivery room and was measured for the first time in my pregnancy...i was 7 cm dilated, something i was very happy to hear because it meant i was 3 cm away from needing to push
  • 6:00 - 7:15pm - i got directly into the tub after getting in our room as i was starting to have some back pain and had heard water helps with that.  i started by sitting in the tub, but quickly got on all fours, and was told by hubs and corie that when the contractions hit, i would stand and sway and then get back down between contractions.  so much of my labor during this time is a blur.  the pain was intense and is very difficult to put into words.  i've been asked so many times what the pain was like, and i can't really give an answer because it's not a pain i've ever felt before just magnified.  it's a pain unlike any i've experienced before and during this time, i feel like i was in some alternate universe.  the book 'birthing from within' describes it as "labor-land" and i now understand what that means.  i had no idea what was going on around me; i'm not even sure when hubs was with me and when corie was and what conversations that were going on around me.  i was completely lost in my own world and had no concept of time, space or anything else.  i've never taken drugs, but i imagine the way i was feeling (minus the pain) is how someone who is 'high' feels.  maybe?  
  • 7:15pm - i got out of the tub.  contractions were 1-2 min apart and 2-3 minutes in duration.  i was in the 'transition' part of labor here (the last part of active labor and when the cervix dilates from 8-10 centimeters) and this is when i told hubs and corie that i couldn't stand the pain any longer and i needed an epidural.  according to them, this is when i snapped out of my 'labor-land' trance and was very lucid.  however, i never uttered our code word, the word that hubs and i had decided on and if uttered, it meant GIVE ME THE EPIDURAL NOW!  so corie stalled me by telling me that i was already so far along and by the time the epidural would be administered, i could already be pushing, etc, etc.  i remember thinking, 'that's BS!', but i never uttered our code word...
  • 7:15 - 7:50pm - once out of the tub, corie wanted me in some sort of squatting position to open up my pelvis and help me dilate completely.  she told me later that she tried to get me to sit on the toilet as that would be an optimal position, but i refused.  i don't remember that, but i do remember not wanting to move at all because that would just mean more pain.  so i squatted by the side of the bed instead
  • 7:25pm - baby was monitored and was doing excellent
  • 7:50pm - cervical check: 7-8 cm dilated, very thin cervix
  • 7:50 - 9:20pm - once on the bed, i stayed on the bed on my knees, facing the back of the bed
  • 9:20pm - cervical check: 10cm, and i was bearing down a bit during contractions. per corie, as soon as i heard i was at 10cm, i flipped right back around and got back on my knees again, trying to get the baby lower!
  • 10:00pm - flipped onto my back to push because the doctor refused to deliver in any other position.  don't even get me started on how ridiculous i think this is!!!  women are not meant to push babies out on their backs!!!  it's the most unnatural position a woman could deliver in, and the only reason it's done this way in hospitals is because it's easier for the doctor.  period.  nothing else is taken into consideration.  this alone makes me seriously consider delivering at a family birth center with a midwife rather than a hospital next time.
  • 10:00 - 11:52pm - pushing.  yes for almost 2 hours, and that was also intense because it seemed like he just didn't want to come out.  again, i'm convinced had i been able to push in a squatting or semi-squatting position, i would have pushed less than an hour
  • 11:52pm - OUR LITTLE MAN WAS BORN!!!  on his due date, with 8 minutes to spare, he was a very punctual child.  :)  he had the chord around his neck one time, and his first apgar score as a 9.  he was placed on my chest right away, all newborn procedures were delayed, and we bonded.  he was incredibly alert (another reason i didn't want any form of medicine or eye ointment for him)  and a big boy - weighed 8 lbs and was 20.5 inches long 
  • 12:20am - he latched on and nursed for the first time
  • we were so very fortunate to have bonding time with him for about 1.5 hours before they finally took him to give him his first bath and administer the vitamin k.  

final thoughts - 

  • was natural labor painful?  yes.  it's a different kind of pain than anything i've ever experienced, and i had to reach into the deepest part of me to see it through.  and yes, i did have moments when i was ready to give up.
  • was it do-able?  yes.  HOWEVER,  just like training for a marathon takes preparation and lots of hard work, preparing for a natural childbirth also requires getting into shape, physically, mentally and emotionally.  i would say even spiritually. during my pregnancy, i was very diligent in making sure my diet was as nutritionally sound as possible, i walked A LOT, and most of all, i did TONS of research and learned from other women who had successful natural birth experiences.  and just as equally important in my opinion, i got to a place where an epidural and other medical interventions were NOT an option.  i truly feel if i had gone into it with the attitude of "well, i want to have a natural labor and i'll try to do it without an epidural, but we'll see what happens", i would have been unsuccessful.  in that sort of situation, my mind works best with an 'all or nothing' attitude.   i couldn't give myself an out or i would have taken it.
  • would i do it again?  yes, although i'm pretty sure i had a different answer right after i delivered.  :)  it was the most difficult, yet most rewarding thing i've ever done.  
  • i feel like this goes without saying, but OBVIOUSLY if at any point during labor either the baby's life or my life was in danger, we would have used whatever medical interventions necessary to get through the emergency.  that's the reason modern medicine and medical interventions exist in my opinion. 
  • even though i was able to labor naturally, i would NEVER presume to tell anyone that's what they should do.  i came to the brink of wanting an epidural, and i would never think less of anyone choosing an epidural or pain meds to get through labor.  desiring to labor naturally was the right decision for me for many reasons, but it is the most personal decision a woman can make and it should be made very intentionally.  (i have a much harder time wrapping my mind around elective c-sections, though.)  for me the key was getting informed.  once i had explored all my options and knew the pros/cons of the various medical interventions, i was able to make that informed decision.  it definitely would have been easier to go into it blindly and letting the hospital do its thing, but i was not ok with not having a voice regarding what would happen to me and the baby during the labor process.  
  • i know many women desire to have a natural labor, but are unable to due to extenuating circumstances and emergencies, so i feel very blessed to have had the experience i did.  in the end, the goal is to have a healthy baby, regardless of how that happens.
  • getting a doula, although pretty last minute, was one of the best labor decisions we made.  corie was AWESOME, and having her as a labor support person, especially for first time parents, was invaluable, and i wholeheartedly believe was a contributing factor to my being able to successfully labor naturally.
  • corie said i was the quietest natural labor she'd ever experienced.  i guess all the shouting was happening IN my head!  ;)
  • we chose not to have visitors at the hospital.   i knew we risked angering some family and friends but it was another one of the best decisions we ever made.  our time at the hospital was so short (under 48 hours), and during that time, we were CONSTANTLY interrupted by a steady stream of nurses doctors, lactation specialists, and various other hospital staff (yes, even in the middle of the night just as we had just put baby down to sleep!)  i cannot imagine having other people there in addition to the hospital staff that was in and out constantly.  plus, it was our time to bond and try to wrap our heads around this little bundle that had just entered our lives.  and lastly, but very importantly, physically and emotionally, i was in no state to be seeing anyone!
  • i can't say enough about our amazing l&d nurses, shannon & rita.  without them and their 100% support of my having a natural labor, i'm convinced it would have been a very different experience.  we also had amazing nurses once we were in the postpartum wing - there are just too many to name here.  aside from having to push on my back (which had more to do with our doctor), our hospital experience was exceptional to the point where i did not want to leave.  i know most women can't wait to leave the hospital and get their new life started in the comfort of their own home.  i did not feel that way.  we were so well taken care of in the hospital, and had every resource we could possibly need at our fingertips.  we spent lots of time talking to the nurses and doctors, gleaning every little bit of information and advice from them (and they were so happy to share), that  the thought of having to figure it all out on our own at home was overwhelming.   in fact we tried extending our hospital stay an extra day (since baby had been born RIGHT before midnight), but there wasn't a medical reason for it, so we were discharged at 9pm, a little under 48 hours after delivery.  needless to say, i cried the entire way home - tired, hormonal, overwhelmed, and in disbelief they were actually letting us take this little creature home.


whew!  i feel like i've written a book - it's taken me the good part of a week, on and off, to finish this, and i'm sure there's much more i could have written had i remembered it.  but, i have a hungry baby to attend to, so i'm signing off (with a few pictures) for now.

{needless to say, due to very poor lighting, these photos leave much to be desired from a quality standpoint.  nonetheless, they are so very precious to me, as they were taken in the first few moments of my baby's life on this earth, and i will forever cherish them}  :)


Anonymous said...

wow… I love the photos they are so sweet. Those first few moments are so precious and so quickly you forget the intensity of the bonding that happens, so I hole heartedly agree with documenting everything you can. I am proud of you for being so strong and going the all natural route and I think it was very wise to prepare yourself and arm yourself with all that you knew would support your goal. Your little man is such a sweetheart and a blessing. love you both.

Anonymous said...

When I saw that you had written out your birth story I had to sit down and read it right away! I am a sucker for birth stories and I LOVE hearing how women perceive their births. I laughed and cried while I read it. Your so eloquent and sincere in explaining why you chose a natural birth. What an amazing honor and blessing it was to be there with you! I will never forget that day. Yes, the yelling was all in your head! :) You and Reid are special people and will always have a place in my heart!
Blessings to you all!

Monica said...

I loved hearing it from you over the phone a few weeks ago and also think you chronicled Ronan's birthday beautifully. I am still one of those "elective c-section girls", but I think that's bc of my own traumatic moments watching deliveries and of course because I've seen one too many "home births or birthing center" deliveries go wrong working in the NICU. I have issues, I admit it!

I would just like to point out that the Hep B vaccine is never given without a parent's consent as it is an immunization and requires written consent. The erythromycin eye ointment and vitamin K shot are the "routine" meds given to infants without a parent's consent, so it IS important that parents are aware of what's happening to their babe after delivery and I think you did a fab job of bringing awareness to this "routine" happening.