When I found out I was pregnant, I was incredibly excited. And absolutely petrified. In addition to the big, scary questions – Is labor as painful as they say? Am I going to be a capable parent? - I had another worry.
Even though I’m from New York, I live in the United Kingdom. I would be having my baby in London, under a health system I didn’t know or understand.
This meant free healthcare throughout pregnancy (score!) and also midwife-led care, unless I developed complications or had a problematic labor. I was definitely worried about this non-interventionist approach in the beginning. I had always assumed I’d spend my pregnancy surrounded by doctors, ready to administer a shot of anything I needed – just in case.
I look back at that scared person who felt insecure and incapable of delivering a child and I can’t help but smile at the way things ended up. I never had to see a doctor during pregnancy and I never wanted or needed to. I ended up having a water birth with no intervention other than Entonox (gas and air). It was without a doubt the most intense and empowering experience of my life, and I have never felt happier or more fulfilled.
How did I go from natural birth skeptic to Spiritual Midwifery-convert? It was all thanks to my midwives. I registered with a caseload midwife team which meant that a group of midwives in my area were responsible for my prenatal, delivery and postnatal care. Two midwives were assigned to me and they were calming, gentle, confidence-inspiring and stern (when necessary!). I always had the utmost confidence that my baby and I were in the best of hands.
One of the brilliant aspects of the UK healthcare system is that many hospitals are equipped with birthing centers with pools. It was the ideal scenario for someone like me, who was determined to have a water birth but didn’t want to give birth at home. I understood that complications of any kind would mean that my dreams of water birth would sink, but as soon as I conquered my fear of laboring naturally (thanks in part to pregnancy yoga and prenatal childbirth classes), I felt I could cope with any given scenario.
As my due date approached, I frantically devoured pineapples in an attempt to get things moving (I was terrified of having to be induced since it seemed that often led to unnecessary intervention – how things change!) and I was rewarded for my efforts when my water broke at exactly midnight on my due date.
I labored through the night and when my midwife arrived in the morning and examined me I was told that I was 9 cm dilated and would only make it to the hospital in time if I took an ambulance. When I arrived, things had slowed down enough so that there was time to fill up the pool.
I felt almost relaxed as I sunk into the warm water and my midwife pressed cold compresses to my forehead and used lavender oil to help soothe me during contractions. Even when I shrieked and moaned and thought I wasn’t capable of going through with it, she helped me stay focused and positive.
After 12 hours of labor, my precious baby girl, Diana, was born, weighing 8 lbs, 8 oz. I got to hold her straightaway (even as I delivered the placenta, out of the pool) and because there hadn’t been any tearing or complications, I was never separated from her for a moment.
We went home later that night, completely euphoric. And after a sleepless (and scary) first night with my newborn, the next day, my other midwife was back to check in on me. They both came back to examine me and baby for the next several weeks, until I was confident with breastfeeding and Diana had regained her birth weight. And they were a phone call away when I had my first bout of mastitis at 8 weeks.
We’re still in touch. Last month – nine months after giving birth – I saw them at a reunion party they had for all of the mothers whose babies they delivered.
The IVs and injections and doctors I had once expected to be part and parcel of my birthing process turned out to be unnecessary, and I couldn’t have asked for a better birthing experience. And if I am lucky enough to get pregnant a second time, there’s no question that I’ll be turning to my midwives once again.
Jennifer Barton is a freelance writer based in London who writes on pregnancy and birth for Parents.com. She also blogs on the (mis)adventures of life with a baby, The Newborn Diaries, on ParentDish UK. Follow her musings on motherhood on Twitter @JenBNYC.
Melanie Mayo-Laakso is the Content Manager for Mothering.com. Mothering is the birthplace of natural family living and attachment parenting. We celebrate the experience of parenthood as worthy of one's best efforts and are at once fierce advocates for children and gentle supporters of parents.