I am a breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, cloth diapering, organic-food-only-serving, lactivist, intactivist, attachment parenting, natural-living mother & I didn’t give birth at home, with a midwife, at a free-standing birthing center, or even without the use of medication.
I am very grateful for my birth experience & challenged by it as well. My son was born healthy, vaginally. I have dear friends who had traumatic birth experiences & I’ve read about birth rape, but I still stall over my memories of my birth experience. Of course I have never wanted to make the wrong choice in motherhood nor do I wish to linger on regret but the actuality is bittersweet.
My son & I are statistically at a disadvantage because of my low-income, single parent status so I did my best to prepare for his arrival. I read The Attachment Connection during pregnancy, which focuses on the science behind attachment theory, as well as several other natural parenting books. But I didn’t read any books specifically geared toward birth.
I had read Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery long before I had my baby; I picked it up at the natural foods co-op I was working at & it totally blew my mind. The concept of birth had been forever altered just in her mention of homebirthing & describing contractions as “surges.” I took a Lamaze class that was interesting but less than transformational, I read portions of Birthing From Within & I did some childbirth education classes with my doula. I can say now, in hindsight, that I did not prepare enough. I’m not suggesting that every woman needs a thorough course in natural birthing before she will be able to have one, but I feel like I know what was missing in my experience.
There was a lot missing from my experience, actually, & I try not to wonder too often how much that played into me choosing a medicated birth in the end. I had an emotionally excruciating pregnancy. I will spare the sordid details for now, but I spent 10 months stuck in the bargaining stage of grief with my son’s biological father while I basically watched him lose his mind & spin madly into oblivion. I wasted a lot of energy. I was in a negative place. I hadn’t slept the night before I went into labor because I was on the phone arguing with my son’s dad, trying to convince him to stop drinking for the next few days in case I went into labor. Every laboring woman should know to sleep, sleep, sleep while you can! I was about to try to sleep around 2am Tuesday morning but I was too high on the reality of labor once I realized it was happening. I waited until the sun was up to call people & I labored at home all through Tuesday entirely until about 3am Wednesday morning before I went to the hospital.
I had chosen a hospital because I lived in a bad apartment that I had no desire to give birth in & also because I had been diagnosed with Group B Strep & I didn’t learn about natural treatments until recently (another reason self-educationg is imperative). I thought that with all I had read, I would be able to birth bravely & safely in a hospital setting. I was absolutely determined to have a drug-free birth & I wrote a detailed birth plan with those desires highlighted, as well as stern words not to remove my son from my sight after he was born & that all “tests” be delayed for a few hours & done bedside when necessary. I strongly advocate for all birthing women to write such a birth plan.
I can say that laboring in a hospital feels distinctly wrong to me. It is lonely, not warm. It is so bizarre to have strangers surrounding you at this most intimate time. & Even though I asked to be alone, I had a flurry of nurses coming in & out, some of them refusing to keep quiet during contractions. I abandoned the thought of a waterbirth to concentrate on contractions almost immediately after a nurse ran a bath for me that for some terrible reason was cold. I have no idea what she was doing. A cold bath for a laboring woman might be the worst idea in the world, at least for me. My body is tensing up just thinking about it. My son’s dad sat in a chair. He wasn’t a source of comfort, of course, but he was there & wasn’t a disruption which is more than I had hoped for. I was stuck on the idea that if he witnessed his son being born, he might change. I was wrong; he stayed around for 5 days postpartum before opting out for good.
I was doing a good job managing each contraction; I wasn’t afraid to make noises & I was happily moving & working to make pleasant sounds. I wanted to sound more like I was having an orgasm, less like I was in pain & that thought helped me a lot. I was pacing, swaying, moaning, & rocking on a balance ball. I am glad to know that I have the ability to make it so far into labor naturally.
The exhaustion was the most intense thing I have ever experienced. My labor in total was around 4o hours, & since I didn’t sleep the night before I went into labor, I hadn’t slept in days. After 30-some hours, I was still at 3cm. The pain was so wild that I was stunned I hadn’t progressed further. The fear crept in as I realized the longer I labored in this hospital setting, the closer I came to interventions. I didn’t want my birth to be turned into a battle. Nurses were coming in & out; one of them swung my tray table out of the way so quickly that the birth sculpture my mom had bought me flew to the floor & shattered. I couldn’t muster the strength to even look at it.
Mainstream hospitals illuminate the fact that our culture has lost faith in women as birthing animals. I lost faith in myself as a birthing animal. I forgot to pray. I forgot to meditate on the thought of all the women giving birth before me & with me in time. The exhaustion & the fear overpowered me. I asked a nurse what I could do to help my labor progress & the first word out of her mouth was “pitocin.” I was focusing so completely on making it through every staggering contraction that when the nurse suggested pitocin, it was like a ghost threw a door open that then wouldn’t close. She confirmed my fear that they would start talking about other interventions if I didn’t start to progress faster & with a heavy heart, I opted for both pitocin & an epidural.
I try to be thankful for my choice. I cannot recommend medication during labor, but I was fortunate in my situation. I have no way of knowing where my son’s birth was headed, but it honestly didn’t look good, at least for a hospital setting. I do wonder what it would have been like at home. Would I have been more relaxed, more open? Would my labor have progressed quicker? Would I have panicked at home if my labor was so long? I know that hospitals are good for emergencies, but birth doesn’t have to be an emergency. I found it infuriating that women who give birth in hospitals aren’t allowed to take their placentas with them. It feels so strange that a beneficial part of my body should be claimed by someone else & that I, by law, cannot take it & use it the way my body intended. But it comes with the territory.
I felt so sick & disappointed in myself as I sat there & got the needles in my back (& now having read more about epidurals, I still feel deeply sickened sometimes) but I was able to sleep for the first time in almost 60 hours. I slept for a couple hours & when I woke, I was at 9cm. The most blessed part is that when I woke up, I could feel again. I could use my legs, I could feel each surge, I could feel my baby moving down. An incredibly irritating part of my hospital experience is that the nurse kept telling me when to push, but she was wrong. I had no urge at the moments of her commands; luckily my doula was in my other ear telling me to push when I needed to. The feeling of turning from a self-conscious girl in pain into an animal woman, instinctively using my contractions to ease my baby into the world was tremendous.
I think that is the most important point that the public should know about natural birth. It isn’t about proving how natural you are, or even how strong you are. It is being aware of the “cascade of interventions.” It’s recognizing that taking medication to speed up labor can cause such pain that then more medication is desired, which can cause such numbness that further interventions could be needed, which endangers both the baby & the mother’s life at each turn. In my case medication didn’t cause further interventions & I can see that it might have actually prevented them, but that was nothing but a giant blessing of luck. I am still an enthusiastic advocate for natural birth & I hope to have a homebirth next time.
Next time I will have a better partner. I hold my partnership to completely different standards now that my son is here. Next time I will employ Hypnobabies; I have heard amazing success stories about hypnobirthing & I instinctively feel that it may have helped me get through my wall of exhaustion & that it will help me give birth naturally next time. Next time I will watch a lot of birth videos. I didn’t have a computer before my son was born & since then have watched some incredible homebirth videos. It is good to read about homebirth but it is extraordinary to see it happening. Next time I will have a peaceful pregnancy, God willing, & I will not forget to be the birthing animal that I am. The many hours that I labored were extraordinary & I do feel proud that I handled the majority of it naturally. The moment of my son’s birth was beautiful, life-changing, & a glorious success overall; no amount of what-ifs or would-haves can ever change that.
What was your favorite birthing tool, Dear Reader? What is the most enlightening birth book, in your opinion? What helped you through your labor & what was your biggest challenge? What will you do differently next time? I have no idea what the maximum amount of allowed characters is, but please feel free to leave your birth story in the comments. Much love to you & yours.
About Kristen Tea
I am a 27-year-old single, attached, informed, lactivist, intactivist, peaceful Minnesotan mother of almost 4-year-old Sun Ronin a.k.a Sunny Boy. I am an artist & lover of expression. I'm also a student with many things to learn, including nutritional therapy, lactation consulting, doulahood, yoga instructing, & more. I believe that unplanned pregnancies do not have to equal uninformed motherhood, & women have the power to restore humanity to everything we touch.