I have always deeply desired a drug free childbirth, and I attempted it with all my babies. It was not until my third that I was finally able to have the birth experience I wanted so badly for myself and my baby.
With my first child I was 19, without a mother or partner, and completely clueless. I went to childbirth education classes and read What To Expect When You're Expecting, but I was woefully unprepared for the fight that would have been necessary to birth how I wanted. Little did I know, I was giving birth in a hospital that augments nearly every labor and does not offer support to women seeking to birth without medication. I would also birth with the oldest, most experienced OBGYN in the practice. His methods were archaic, and I got the impression that I was in the way of his job and that he would have much preferred to knock me out completely until he was ready to go home.
I was given pitocin, shortly after arriving at the hospital, for broken waters without real contractions. I was stuck in the bed on monitors and unable to move. I couldn't even roll onto my side without alarms going off and nurses coming in to make me get back onto my back. I couldn't handle the pitocin contractions without the ability to move, and I was given an epidural at two centimeters. After hours of laboring with almost no progress at all, I went from four centimeters to complete and pushing involuntarily within 15 minutes. Ironically my epidural had worn off , and I went through transition trapped in the bed with dead legs but able to feel everything else.
When I started suddenly grunting and pushing they rushed to call the doctor, gave me another dose of the epidural, and made me wait for the doctor to have my baby. He showed up twenty minutes later. He took a long time prepping the bed, putting me in stirrups, draping me with surgical sheets up to my neck, and washing me with betadine like I was going in for surgery. When he finally let me push, my son started coming very easily, but that didn't stop him from cutting a very large episiotomy -without getting my consent.
It was nothing like the birth I had imagined for us. I only avoided a c-section by staying home for the first five hours after my water broke. Their policy was to section after 12 hours with broken water. Mine had been broken for 15 hours when my son was born, but they were counting from when I had arrived. I've thanked my younger self for this many times.
I didn't get to touch my son's skin until forty minutes after he was born - not even for the brief moment when they put him on my chest and cut the cord. When I reached my hands up to receive the baby I'd just pushed from my body the doctor pulled him back towards his own body and told me to keep my hands down. When I reached out again he did the same thing. I watched helplessly as they put him on my chest, wiped him off, turned his face to me for a split second, and carried him away. After they had finished poking, weighing, washing, and testing him, he lay in the warmer alone and crying while the doctor sewed me up. I'm still furious about it eleven years later. When I conceived again, I knew I had to have a natural birth with a midwife to ensure that no one would keep my baby from me.
With my second child, I was set to deliver in a birthing center attached to a hospital with a certified nurse midwife. It was an hour and a half ride on the interstate to get to the birthing center. I went in when my contractions were three minutes apart and sixty seconds long for an hour. I was only three centimeters dilated. They "gave me an hour" to dilate one centimeter, or I would have to drive back home. They refused to stay at the birthing center unless I was progressing fast enough. I made no progress.
They told me that I could leave or get a shot of morphine and take a nap to see if that worked. I was afraid to go all the way back home. I was scared that I would dilate quickly, like I had with my first, and be stuck with that same terrible hospital where I had birthed my son. I took the shot of morphine and slept between contractions.
When they checked me there had been no change. They gave me some sort of pills to stop my "false labor" and sent me away. We got a hotel room nearby as it was late at that point. I should have gone home and never went back.
I labored all night by myself while my son, husband and mother slept. The pills had spaced my contractions out and made me groggy, but they were just as strong as before. The next morning, I woke my family up and declared that I was going back to the hospital, and I was going to have my baby that day. I couldn't take this "false labor" anymore.
The midwives saw me in their office at the hospital and found there to be no change in my cervix. They offered to open the birth center and send me up there where they would break my water to get things going. I waited in the waiting room for forty minutes while the nurse came to open the birthing center. My contractions were much, much stronger since the vaginal exam, and I had to hang on my husband and moan through them. Surely they were doing something now.
They checked me in the birthing center and I was still at three centimeters and seventy percent effaced. There had been no change in my cervix from the first time they checked me the day before.
I was starting to freak out. It was hurting so badly, but they were telling me that I wasn't in labor because I wasn't progressing. I was terrified of what it would feel like when labor actually started, and I was wondering what was wrong with my body that it was causing me such pain for no reason.
They filled up one of the birthing tubs, insisted that I get in it, and checked me every few minutes. My midwife didn't come, no one talked to me about what was happening, and nobody broke my water. My husband sat helplessly with me while I cried and questioned what was wrong with my body. The nurses only spoke those same damn words to me over and over, "No progress." I had no concept of time, but I know that I was in the birthing center for a few hours; we went to the hospital at eight in the morning, and I birthed my daughter at almost four in the evening.
I finally demanded that they get me out of the tub. I started to feel sick once I was out and I kept going to the bathroom to be alone. I felt like they were all failing me. I was afraid that my baby and I were going to die. I wanted to run away. My back felt like it was exploding, like my spine was being ripped out of me from the bottom up. They were checking me all the time and telling me "no change." I started really freaking out. I felt like I was going to die and I couldn't believe that, in that much pain, I wasn't even in labor. I was thinking all kinds of crazy thoughts; my legs started shaking uncontrollably and my back was spasming and hurt so badly that I was screaming and crying in pain. I told them I was done and I wanted drugs. I still hadn't seen my midwife since the vaginal exam.
It took about thirty minutes of pleading to convince my husband, mother, and nurse that I was serious about pain relief. My midwife finally came and then offered to break my water. There was no fucking way I was going to get into that bed and let someone cause me more pain. Whatever was happening I wanted out of that birthing center. They finally sent me to labor and delivery, and I was given an epidural.
As soon as the epidural was in, she checked me. I was five centimeters and fully effaced with a bulging bag. What happened to not really being in labor? I immediately felt my daughter enter my birth canal, but I was so exhausted that I decided to keep that information to myself and just wait for the urge to push. About forty-five minutes later the nurse tried to flip me onto my side. I yelled out from the huge amount of pressure. The nurse threw open my legs and saw that the baby was right there.
I still had no urge to push, but they dropped the bed, pulled my legs back, and set up shop. After thirty minutes of purple pushing, my first daughter was born, and her hot little body was laid on me for the next hour. I was happy, but something was lost. I had failed again. My body hadn't worked and I didn't know why. I wasn't even in labor and I couldn't handle the pain. I didn't understand it at all.
I found Laura Shanley's site and forum when my daughter was about six months old. I did a lot of research, a lot of growing, and came to the conclusion that I wanted to birth unassisted. I wanted it so badly, in fact, that we conceived our third child when my second was just eight months old.
I had two visits early on with some home-birth midwives, but I ended up having an unassisted pregnancy. I had no testing, and I did my own "prenatal care." It was very peaceful and felt very natural.
In the last few weeks of the pregnancy my baby turned posterior; I had been afraid of this. I had learned through my research, and my new ability to determine fetal position, that my second daughter had been posterior. This was the reason I was not making progress in labor. My labor with her was completely normal for a posterior baby. I have no idea why no one ever told me that. Surely the midwife who checked the position of my baby the day before labor started had noted that my baby was posterior.
When labor started in the middle of the night my baby was still facing forward. I did some exercises to try to turn her and line her up better, but she stayed in her position. Labor was slow. I contracted for hours before anyone in my family even knew what was going on. I was afraid that if I spoke aloud that I was in labor that my body would "fail" like the last time.
It was the night before my due date, nearly twenty four hours after my first contraction, when my children went to bed and my labor got serious. I needed my husband to apply counter pressure to my lower back during each contraction. It was the sweet relief that I needed from the bursting pain in my lower spine. Where was this knowledge with my second baby?
After several hours, we finally laid down in the bed in our children's playroom and slept between contractions. For each one we woke up; I moaned for him to push and braced myself on the wall as I roared through the contraction. This time was so strange and sad for me. I kept hearing "no progress" "only three centimeters" "not really in labor." A part of me was terrified, but I knew somehow that everything was okay once the contraction ended and I fell, immediately, back to sleep.
Suddenly at four am the next contraction seemed different; my husband said that it was really soon after the last one. I reflexively got on my hands and knees and told him to push on my back, and when he did my water popped all over the place. It was the single most relieving feeling I have ever felt. We checked the color of the fluid and listened to her heart. Everything was good, and I figured I still had hours to go. In fact, labor seemed to have eased up immensely. During the next contraction, I talked to my husband and pointed out the bits of vernix in the water.
At this point, he put down the shower curtain for me to birth on. I thought this was silly, so when the next contraction started coming, I stepped away and over to the dresser. I could tell this contraction was nothing like the last one, and I screamed for him to push. This time, when he did, I dropped to my knees as my body gave an uncontrollable push and my baby rocketed into my birth canal. I reached down and felt myself stretched around her head and suddenly got calm. I told her to come out easy and told myself to stretch around her. I tried to slow her down, but I couldn't stop her. I felt her little ears and the back of her head; she must have turned when I got on my hands and knees before my water broke. Once her head was out I heard her gurgle. I felt myself stretched wide around her shoulders, and a third and final involuntary push brought her shooting out into my very surprised hands 26 hours after I woke up with my first contraction.
Her placenta was not "born" for another ten hours, and the last of the amniotic sac finally came out a full twenty four hours after her birth. I tore just a tiny bit, but it quickly and easily healed on its own.
I realized, after her birth, that I could have birthed on my own all along. My body had never failed. I wasn't "too weak" to birth without drugs. And, while I don't believe that every woman or every baby should have an unassisted birth, I do believe that the birthing mother should always be the one in charge of her birth, and that birth is safest when interfered with as little as safely possible.