October 4, 2011

Going there, naturally.

WARNING - This post expresses a personal perspective. Please keep an open mind. Also, I would love to hear your perspective on this topic - please share in the comments below!

Recently, a number of people have asked me how I feel about this since it's the talk of the town in our little suburb. Most of these people have no idea of my outlook on the birth process or of my past pregnancies and labours. In most cases, I struggled to form an opinion or respond coherently for fear of sounding too harsh/opinionated/granola (take your pick). In real life, (as opposed to blog life), I am a pretty neutral person. I avoid voicing opinions on hot topics and often would rather take a back seat and listen to what others have to say, soaking up all the information their arguments provide. 

In this case, I'm going to go there. 

While I would never consider broadcasting any of my birthing experiences over the Internet to strangers (I banned cameras in the delivery room until AFTER my girls were born), I'll admit that I share this woman's desire to inform women than birth is not a negative experience. In fact, I have completely glorified the labour and birth of both of my babies. I would do it over and over again for the empowerment that I felt during and after. For those who don't know me well, I promise that I am not a pain-seeking crazy woman.

I have not always felt this way. When I was in labour with Cate, the nurse asked me for my birth plan, and all I responded in between contractions was "EPIDURAL". Truth be told, I was woefully unprepared for labour, despite all the books I read and the thousands of episodes of A Baby Story I watched (remember I was on bed rest for half the pregnancy? - I am not exaggerating when I say thousands). I had visions of hours of laying in bed hooked up to a monitor, joking around nervously with hubby, and finally pushing awkwardly while the nurse told me when I was having a contraction and obnoxiously counted to 10. My only reason for holding off on the epidural was the embarrassment of being hooked up to a catheter while I was numb from the pain.

As it turned out, the actual labour was as far from that as possible. My water broke at 6pm. We packed and drove to the hospital expecting to be sent home or walk the halls as most first time parents do (so A Baby Story tells me). Got to the hospital at 7pm, still no contractions, and was put in a triage room during shift change. In a half hour, I went from nothing to one full on contraction that never ended. I had no coping mechanisms and they could not get the anaesthesiologist in the room quick enough. Finally, he or she (I was in so much pain that I really do not know) came and administered the drugs. I continued to roll around in pain waiting for it to work -  it did not. They gave me another dose - still nothing. It soon became clear that Cate was going to make her appearance any minute and so the nurse urgently called for any available doctor. Like magic, my wonderful family doctor appeared and Cate was born at 9:34pm. If you've done the math, my labour was a whole 3.5 hours long from the time my water broke to the time she was born. I was told afterwards that the anaesthesiologist was getting nervous that he/she would be the one delivering the baby - that would have been interesting!


Following Cate's birth, I had mixed emotions about how everything went. I was shocked that I essentially gave birth without drugs, but at the same time felt like the attempted epidural stole my thunder. I also felt like a victim during the labour, rather than a participant. On the bright side, I did manage to avoid the dreaded catheter.

When I found out I was pregnant with Maddie, I was bound and determined to be better prepared this time around. They say that it goes much quicker the second time and so I had visions of giving birth by myself on the floor of the bathroom at home alone. To be honest, this possibility pushed me to chose to give birth naturally and educate myself on coping techniques. This decision opened up a whole new outlook to the birth process and gave me options that I didn't have before. While I still chose to be followed by my family doctor and deliver in a hospital, I also laid the ground work with him to be released early so that I can rest and recover at home and enjoy our new addition. (In case it isn't clear, I truly despise hospital stays.)

The best information I received was in the book "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth" by Ina May Gaskin. I read it 3 times during that pregnancy and soaked up different tools and techniques every time. I will warn you that this book is VERY graphic and a little granola for my liking, but if you can keep an open mind, it will teach you what you need to know. For those who've read it - No, I am still not convinced that you can reach an orgasm during childbirth and yes, horse lips works. (Did that just convince you to go buy the book -  or are you now afraid of it?)

In the final weeks of my pregnancy, I felt like a ticking time bomb waiting for my water to break at any moment. When the big day finally came, I didn't actually know it was happening. I woke up with a dull ache in my back -  not a big warning sign when everything aches all the time. After dinner, hubby and I headed to the hospital to get checked out since, this being Canada in February, there was a snowstorm on the way the next day and at the time, hubby worked about an hour's drive away from home and our house was another 40 mins away from the hospital - driving time alone was more than half the length of my first labour, let alone add the delay from a snowstorm. 

It turns out, that was the right decision and contractions started as we were in the triage room (talk about good timing!). This time was different. The contractions were spaced apart and steadily increasing and then decreasing. They were also all in my back. I was able to breathe through them and felt in control. We were brought to the deluxe room with the jacuzzi tub, and not yet being in enough pain to lose my modesty, I changed into my bathing suit and hopped in. Hubby and I hung out listening to tunes on my iPod while chatting and breathing through the still somewhat light contractions. This was good practice for later on. 

There was talk of breaking my water, but I asked them to hold off for a while since I knew that once it was broken, things would progress quickly. After all, I was managing just fine as it was. After a couple hours of slow and steady, the contractions started getting more intense and so I bravely told them it was time. The resident came in and broke my water around 10:45pm. I got back in the tub for a few minutes, until my back could no longer take it. The nurse desperately called for a doctor - any doctor (sound familiar?), but there was no way I was going to wait for someone in a white coat to show up. I was satisfied that I had made it to the hospital and even more so that there were two nurses in the room (one of them being my friend, who is not a labour and delivery nurse...). My family doctor once again appeared as the baby was being born and jumped right in to catch her. At 11:17pm Maddie was born, sunny side up. 


As planned, we packed up our tiny baby and headed home a mere 4 hours after she was born (the earliest the hospital's policy would allow us to do so). The snowflakes began to fall as we pulled into our driveway. We had successfully beat the snowstorm!

You may have read all of this and thought "Wow, great story, but let's get real here. I NEED DRUGS. Have you seen the size of a newborn?" or maybe it's "Where does she get off telling people not to use drugs. They're safe and available. What other decision is there?" The truth is, every birth is different. I can only share my experiences and shed light on the fact that you do not need to be a cloth-diapering, breastfeeding, all organic Mom-to-be followed by a midwife to consider a natural birth. Believe me, I am the first to take an advil when I'm feeling a little under the weather - I am a fan of drugs.

My hope in sharing this story with you, is that we, as childbearing women, can move beyond telling only the dramatic birth stories of incredible endless pain and emergency c-sections, and rather promote the empowering moments that we have all experienced, regardless of how our babies were born. 

Please do not take this as an insult to women who have had epidurals (remember, I was one too!). I have no idea if I would feel the same way if that first epi had worked; but today, I am glad that it didn't because I have learned so much more about myself and how strong I am. I just hope that more women can make this same discovery for themselves.

8 reasons why every pregnant woman should prepare for a natural birth.

1) Coping Mechanism - The need for coping mechanisms in labour is essential. I noticed that in my first pregnancy, I didn't fully absorb the advice since I didn't think I would actually need it. Even if you only use them for part of your labour -  you may be surprised by how much you can actually handle when you're focused and have the right tools to do so.

2) Epidural Malfunction - As I've learned, epidurals do not always work. They can be patchy, one-sided, or even completely useless. Prepare yourself to handle it without one. For those who don't know, epidurals are designed to take the pain of labour away, not the pain of delivery. 

3) Speedy Labour - Sometimes babies come in a bit of a rush. This often means a really intense labour - wouldn't it be good to be prepared for this possibility? 

4) Love Drug - I cannot begin to explain the state of euphoria that you get after having a baby. The endorphins are running wild and you cannot help but smile. There is a sense of calm and warmth that takes over. It's incredible. Better than any other drug out there (so I'm told...).

5) Side Effects - I've heard a number of first-hand stories of less than desirable side effects resulting from an epidural. These include chills, headaches, back pain, and extended numbness. While these are not common, they are also not uncommon. 

6) Early Release - By avoiding an epidural, you might have the opportunity to leave the hospital early. Believe me, sharing a bathroom with up to 3 other ladies who've just given birth is less than ideal, not to mention trying to get some sleep once you come down from the high of the birth with 4 crying babies in the room is almost impossible. Just because you request a private room, does not mean you're going to get one - You're definitely going to want out of there.

7) Empowerment - Once you've gone through natural birth, it's pretty easy to handle any other pain. Just keep thinking "If I can push a baby out without painkillers, I can handle getting my legs waxed (or insert other painful situation)". 

8) Bragging Rights - Let's be honest, playgroups for infants are really an opportunity to compare birth stories with other new moms. Don't you want to have the best one?


Kataroo said...

I loved giving birth both times. Its an experience I would gladly do again! I just don't want to keep the baby after LOL :) I really did put some serious thought into being a surrogate at one point. I had epi's for both girls...I don't do so well with pain...honestly I wonder how well the damn things worked because it was still very painful (and I was able to walk about with ease very soon after)...but it wasn't 'HORRIBLE' it was still an amazing experience. The whole time I knew that I would get through it and that I could do it. Both times I just knew that I was meant to do this, and to trust and go with it. The feeling after the girls were born was pure euphoria, I have never never felt anything like that before.
If I were to do it again, I would love to try to go natural, especially now that I know just how strong my mind is having accomplished other things this year. I would love to have those 'bragging rights' : )
Thinking back to that first time though....it was scary...everything you hear and read really makes you think your in for a horror show. I would like to hear and see more about what a positive experience it can be.

~AL~ said...

I actually really appreciate your post! My aim is natural this time around. The third should go quicker.... right?

Right? haha

Hannah was smooth sailing but Ryan was traumatizing and I had a lot of intervention. I had the epidural because I was induced 3 times and just about at my limit of sanity. I was being prepped for a C section and SOOOO many doctors were checking my cervix I was crying. Then a doctor, with both hands, internally turned Ry from being face up to face down. It makes me nautious thinking about it.

If things progress like Hannah, I will hopefully do it all naturally. But there's always a possibility it could be like Ryan and I think a human can only take so much pain.

I don't want to subject me troublesome back to another epidural too so I will gladly read the book you are recommending!

Erin said...

OK, hopefully this won't sound too opinionated, but I'm a cloth-diapering, BFing, organic, borderline granola mother....and I had an epidural. And in retrospect I probably wouldn't change anything about Will's birth. I was hoping to go all natural, but the back pain was too intense for me. The epidurals at the Civic Hospital are called "walking epidurals" since you can still feel and move your legs, so there wasn't any major side effects or catheters involved. It really was a pleasant experience for me.

In my opinion, the process of carrying a baby for 9 months and giving birth is one of the greatest journeys a women can have in her life...it's truely mindboggling how amazing a feeling it is. And with all the mothers I have spoken to, it feels that amazing no matter how you get there. The fact that women have to get competitive about who has the better birthing story is ridiculous and takes away from the accomplishment of having a baby. All births should be celebrated!!! Epidural, natural, at home, midwife, doctor, cesarean. I truely believe that.

Laura said...

Katie - I totally understand why you would consider being a surrogate. If it weren't for my multitude of complications with Cate and debilitating morning sickness, I would probably consider it too. You definitely have the mental strength to do it naturally - I have never met a woman so determined!

Andrea - I love that you're going to try for a natural birth this time. I sure hope that you get a smooth ride this time. you certainly deserve it after the experience you had with Ryan - wow!

Erin - I completely agree that all births are amazing. I also think that it was very brave of you to plan for a natural birth with your FIRST baby! Not only that, but how long you went before your decision to get an epidural. I don't know if I would have stayed strong in my decision had my labour dragged on for hours.

There are so many unknowns in the labour process and I think that the best thing you can do is be as educated as possible and hope for the best!

Kataroo said...

loved reading the comments....great post!