Whether I ever put much thought into it or not, I always knew I would try to have natural, unmedicated births. Growing up my mom talked openly and simply about her three natural births as my two sisters and I would probe her about what it was like. She would say something sweepingly underwhelming like:
“Sure, it hurts a lot, but then it’s over and you have a beautiful baby and you forget about the pain!”
So this is the mentality that was passed down to me when it came to pain, birth, and babies and I am incredibly grateful to my mom for raising me to see the big picture and to not fear a natural process.
When I became pregnant with my first daughter in 2009 (while I had cancer but that’s another story you should read about,) I began my search for a doctor who would be encouraging to my wishes to have an unmedicated birth with very little interventions. I didn’t know anything about midwives or midwifery at the time, but through some chance meetings with like-minded new friends, we actually found a midwife practice who would deliver our baby in a hospital setting.
My husband and I researched natural childbirth in a similar fashion to how we approached treating my cancer naturally: with serious intent. We learned the statistics of the cesarean section rates in our area. Most of our local Atlanta hospitals had c-section rates over 30% so we made sure to stay clear of those hospitals and learned that the hospital my midwife was affiliated with was friendlier towards mother-led birth decisions and birth plans.
Similarly to how we viewed the ability of the body to combat cancer when it is brought back to its optimal condition and health through nutrition, detox, and emotional healing, we believed that leaving the laboring mother’s body to move naturally and labor without intervention was the way we were designed to have children and best for mother and baby as long as there weren’t emergency complications.
To prepare for our daughter’s birth, we began taking a 12-week childbirth class called The Bradley Method around 26 weeks pregnant. The Bradley Method empowers moms and dads to gain total knowledge of the birthing process, the anatomy of birth, and coping methods to deal with the pain and discomfort of childbirth.
Documentaries such as The Business of Being Born and Orgasmic Birth (yes, we actually bought and watched it) taught us the difference between the medical/intervention heavy/ doctor-led approach to birth and the midwifery/ mother and baby-led approach to birth that boosted my confidence that I could handle the natural pain that came with having a baby.
My First Time Mom Birth Story: Natural, Unmedicated Planned Water Birth in a Hospital Setting
So, when my due date came and went in November of 2009, I anxiously awaited what was about to happen to my body. Then a week went by and I still hadn’t given birth. After checking the baby at my week-overdue anniversary and learning she was doing great, I took my 5th grade class on a field trip on day 7…still overdue. Still no baby. I was huge, tired, and began to worry about whether the baby was ok and whether they would tell me soon I would need to be…INDUCED. It seemed that everyone I knew that was ever overdue with a baby was pressured by their doctors to be induced and several of them ended up with C-Sections. That was my last day at work and that night after waking at 1:00 am with losing my mucous plug, labor kicked in.
What I didn’t know is that sometimes with first-time moms, labor can last a LONG time. And something called “prelabor” can happen where you have contractions that are uncomfortable enough to get you excited and keep you awake, but they don’t do anything to help your labor along or dilate your cervix. So from 1:00 am on Day 8 overdue to 1:00 am on Day 9 I was awake with moderate contraction pain but no progress towards having a baby. My parents and sister came into town and I just felt like everyone was sitting around and staring at me to push a baby out. 30 hours later, early morning on Day 9 became more eventful after walking what seemed like 10 miles in the parking garage of our apartment complex we lived in and my labor pains began to increase to about 5 minutes apart. After packing up the entire house and even the Vitamix (I was still on my natural anti-cancer diet and couldn’t eat the hospital food,) we were off to the hospital. On the way in, my water decided to start leaking.
If you’re having a water birth (which I was planning,) you have to lay still in a hospital bed for 30 minutes with a heart rate monitor strapped on your belly to make sure the baby’s heartrate is strong and stable. This is NOT FUN while you’re having contractions, but it is the rule of many hospitals if you want to move freely through your natural birth- part of the process of coping with natural childbirth pain.
Finally around 1:00 pm on Day 9, I was 6 centimeters dilated. Little did I know I still had 12 hours to go until we would meet my daughter. It had already been 36 hours since my uncomfortable contractions started and since I last deeply slept. I wondered if this baby was ever going to come out! I labored and labored. In the hall, on the birthing ball, in the rocking chair (where everything seemed to start stinking including my husband’s hair which is normally delightful.) I labored in the shower for hours it seemed. My body was just sloooooooow to dilate. Any other hospital and I know I would have ended up with interventions, most likely pitocin and an epidural. But I wanted to keep going and my midwife honored that decision.
Around 11:00 pm on Day 9, 46 hours since I lost my mucous plug and began having contractions, it was time to push. My midwife broke the rest of my water bag and found out there was meconium (where the baby goes poop before they come out) and therefore we could not have a water birth (risk of inhalation/ infection.) There goes my “nature’s epidural!”
Two hours of pushing later, our first daughter, Ruby-Claire came into the world at a surprising 9 pounds even. It was the most physically tasking thing I had ever done and yes my mom was right- it HURT and then it was over and I had my beautiful, healthy daughter. This was the biggest reason I had wanted to avoid chemotherapy to treat my cancer- to have children.
I was absolutely exhausted, but I was so happy to have avoided unwanted interventions and drugs in her and my system. Who knows if I would have had pitocin and an epidural so I could sleep a little bit if things would have progressed faster? I trusted my body and the birth process and wanted to stay out of the way of that and increasing the chance of a C-section.
The next part is the part I’d really like to leave out, but it is a huge part of my daughter’s birth story. I’m not sure how much time had passed, maybe 15 minutes or so after my daughter was born, but I started to hemorrhage dramatically. This happened because my placenta did not completely detach from my uterus after my midwife had gently tugged on the umbilical cord to get it to detach (even though we specifically stated in my “birth plan” for the placenta to detach on its own.) My uterus began contracting blood by the cup. Within seconds my midwife had to go in and MANUALLY try to find the piece of placenta that was left behind while the nurses were jabbing me with needles in my legs to stop the bleeding with pitocin. I was in the most excruciating pain from this after just giving birth. I began to feel very weak and sleepy and my face began to go white. My lips lost their color. The nurses were telling me to “stay awake, stay awake!”
I hate even recapping this part of my story, but this is is how quickly childbirth can go from calm to really scary. When I tell the story of my home birth in a few days and how different it was, you will be able to see why I was a “higher risk” situation for my first delivery than my second or third. I felt confident with my third daughter to deliver at home, even with this prior birth experience being so dangerous, which I’ll also talk about in my home birth post.
My bleeding was eventually contained, but I was “on watch” for a possible blood transfusion as they wheeled me away to the recovery room.
We spent 48 hours in the hospital after my daughter was born. My husband was amazing. I couldn’t walk very well by myself after my traumatic post-delivery experience (for about a week!) due to the blood loss, so he had to do everything for both my daughter and me. It took me over a month to get back to my pre-delivery energy levels and restore my iron levels.
Three hours after we finally got settled into almost sleeping, the night interruptions started from the nursing staff. It seemed like it was every 10 minutes. Blood pressure checks, pain level checks, checks on the baby, etc. I also had one nurse that smelled like cigarettes!? Then my favorite- the one nurse who threatened to call the Department of Children and Families if we didn’t give our daughter formula. Breastfeeding took a slow start and I had difficulties, but to FORCE us to give formula? My daughter was also incredibly sleepy and didn’t want to wake up and latch well onto the breast leading to a shallow latch which is very painful for mom. I ended up pumping colostrum and syringe feeding her, but we did give into one bottle (or maybe two) of formula, mainly out of exhaustion from defending our wishes. (NOTE: bring a can of organic formula with you to the hospital in case you need or are forced to supplement. I like and recommend Baby’s Only brand.)
We found out later that our daughter was born with severe tongue-tie that made it very difficult for her to nurse correctly and consume milk efficiently. After 2 months of lactation consulting, getting her tongue-tie clipped twice (frenectomies- including one posterior) and then me getting thrush once and mastitis twice in 8 weeks, I ended up choosing to exclusively pump breast milk for my daughter. Why wasn’t her tongue-tie identified at the hospital as being the problem with my daughter’s nursing and why weren’t we given directions on how to correct it? Sigh.
Because I had a history of lymphoma, I was obsessed with making sure my daughter was given breast milk for at least her first year to develop her immune system and gut health. I hope to write a post one day about my experience exclusively pumping for almost a year (pumping 30-40 minutes at least 6 times a day each time for 11 months) but the benefits of breast milk was something I wasn’t willing to sacrifice.
In my next two posts I will be telling the stories of my next two births which were much less dramatic and shorter but also completely different.
TIPS for Unmedicated Natural Childbirth:
So, along the way I’ve gathered some advice for expecting moms wanting a natural birth. These are my best tips!
- Find a supportive midwifery practice whose birth culture reflects what you want for your birth. This way you know that you will not have to put up a fight with an intervention-pushing doctor or explain your choices to someone who doesn’t understand how important natural birth is to you.
- Go into your labor and birth with your mindset on not using pain relieving drugs. Too many of my friends went into their labors with a “I’m going to TRY to not use drugs” mindset and have always given into the epidural. You have to have your mind made up for what you want. I personally knew the likelihood that the epidural would slow down my labor leading to more drug intervention: pitocin to increase contractions. This in turn can create a stress reaction in the baby and a lower heart rate which will immediately get you whisked into the operating room for an emergency C-section.
- Take a multi-week birth class such as the Bradley Method or Hypnobirthing that will teach you about labor. Not knowing what to expect could freak you out. Labor is intense!
- Educate yourself with the statistics and risks of interventions and medical pain managements such as epidurals and pitocin. Knowing these statistics will help you stay the course to avoid drugs.
- Attend a breastfeeding class and watch videos to prepare for how to breastfeed. I was completely unprepared for the difficulties breastfeeding can present and struggled for months.
- During labor, remember every bit of discomfort or pain you feel is helping your baby down the birth canal. I would envision my cervix like an expanding ring that got bigger with every contraction.
- Drink water during labor and eat light foods if you feel like it (just nothing too heavy!)
- Stay firm but realistic in regards to the realities of childbirth. It is always important to remember that a HEALTHY BABY is the ultimate goal for both mother and practitioner. The vast majority of the time, this can be achieved through natural birth when the mother is allowed to labor in a natural way and a trained midwife can coach through changes of body position to move baby along with no medical interventions. But sometimes emergencies happen and if you need an emergency intervention, at least you know that you did your best and you have always done what is best for baby.
How about you? How was your your first baby’s delivery?
Also Read: MY HOME BIRTH STORY