Believe it or not, I just wrote the birth story of my first daughter last month. She is 4 years old! What took me so long? Well, I think about my birth experiences so often, that I guess I wasn’t worried about documenting them. I am so happy to finally have it in writing though. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed recounting the details!
All day long on Tuesday, the day after my due date, I was contracting every 10 – 20 minutes. I knew early labor could last a long time, days even, so I planned to go about my business for as long as I was comfortable enough to do so. I had a prenatal massage appointment scheduled that afternoon, and I decided to go ahead and have the massage. I figured it would probably feel nice, and if not, I would kindly excuse myself, saying that I was, after all, in labor. The massage was great, and afterwards I stopped at my mother-in-law’s house (she lived near the massage studio), and pretended I wasn’t in labor (ha!).
On the 20 minute drive home, the contractions were getting closer together, and I started to notice some changes – they were getting longer, stronger, and closer together – just like they were supposed to! I was excited. I had read so much about labor and birth, and while I was nervous about the impending unknown, I was also excited to experience it, and of course, eager to finally meet my baby. I had really convinced myself that I could birth my baby without pain medication, and felt sure that I would be able to. I knew that this is what women have done for millions of years, and I found comfort in thinking of myself as another woman, birthing another baby.
That evening, we stayed home, and I tried to ignore the contractions. Overnight, I really didn’t sleep much, but I wasn’t that uncomfortable until about 2am. At that point the contractions had been about 5 minutes apart, lasting at least 60 seconds each, for a few hours, so I decided to at least call my doctor to check in. The doctor on-call told me to come in and meet her at the hospital. I told her I didn’t think I needed to yet. She seemed confused. Then why did I call? Well, it was my first time in labor, and I just needed a little reassurance. She told me to try and get some sleep and call when I decided to come in.
After a mostly sleepless night, we were both thinking we’d spend the next day together – maybe have a nice brunch out at a restaurant, and eventually, when labor picked up a little more, go to the hospital. At 9am on Wednesday morning though, the phone rang, and it was my doctor’s office – “we never heard back from you last night, where are you?” This time, I was confused. “Well, the contractions have kind of gone back and forth, and still aren’t that uncomfortable” I said. She told me to come to the office to get checked. My husband and I agreed, and got in the car. When we got to the office, they put monitors on my belly to check the contractions and the baby’s heart rate. My contractions were still every 5 minutes, baby’s heart rate was just fine, and when she checked my cervix, the Dr. found that I was 4cm dilated. They called the hospital to reserve a room and sent us right over.
I called my friend, a labor and delivery nurse, who planned to come in to be our nurse at the birth, and she met us at the hospital. On the way, we stopped for a croissant (obviously).
Once we got settled into our labor room, I continued to progress slowly, but steadily. At one point, my progress slowed and the Dr. suggested that we should use some pitocin to speed things up. I said I really didn’t want to and that I was not in a hurry, and when my husband piped in to support me, the Dr. said “this is not a negotiation – it is about the safety of you and the baby”. We felt very shut down (and a little confused), but luckily ended up avoiding the pitocin. I later learned that my doctor was trying to hurry up and deliver the baby before a meeting she would have to leave for at a certain time. Her intention was good – she wanted to be there for my whole labor and delivery – but for me, avoiding pitocin was a higher priority than having this particular doctor at the birth.
A few hours later, I was getting more uncomfortable, and when the doctor (a different one now) checked my cervix again, I was 6cm dilated. I was starting to feel overwhelmed with the pain and the slow progress, and was enticed at the option of breaking my water to help things speed up. I didn’t want an epidural for pain, and I didn’t want pitocin to speed up my labor, but breaking my water seemed like a minor intervention that I was willing to try. Well things definitely got more painful after my water was broken. That is when I started to search for a comfortable position. I went from rocking in the chair, to the shower, to sitting on a exercise ball, back to the shower. I remember feeling totally out of control during this time, but I also remember hearing my friend and my husband telling me over and over how I was doing so well. I had told myself leading up to labor, that if I got to 8cm without pain medication, then I could definitely do it. Finally, when I felt the urge to push (like I needed to have a giant bowel movement), I knew I had made it to the end.
Pushing felt very uncontrollable to me. At first I wasn’t sure exactly how to push, but I realized that what I had to do was LET GO - I wasn’t really doing the pushing, my uterus was (and I just had to go along with it). I guess this is the “urge” to push – it felt more like a pushing reflex to me. I had only pushed for about 30 minutes when the Dr. said “you need to push this baby out now, or else I’m going to have to cut an episiotomy”. Needless to say, my daughter was born on the next push. There is no motivation like your Dr. threatening to cut an episiotomy (in an unmedicated labor)!
I could not believe how much relief I felt immediately after her birth. For at least a few minutes (until I started contracting to deliver the placenta), I felt totally pain-free, holding my daughter. Soon, the placenta slithered out of me, and I stared at my daughter, blissed-out with hormones.
There were some memorable parts of this birth story that pushed me to learn more about the medical model of maternity care: the “this is not a negotiation” comment, the threat of pitocin, and the threat to get an episiotomy (which I later learned was in response to a sudden dip in my daughter’s heart rate during pushing). This experience was pivotal in my personal and professional development.