My birth story: I wanted an unmedicated birth but back labor changed my mind

I was strong. I was powerful. I was beautiful. I'd done it!

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I'm a planner, so one of the things that made me most anxious while pregnant with my first daughter was that I wasn't able to plan for when and how I would actually go into labor.

I did what I could to create some sense of control: created a birth plan and with my husband, attended a series of hypnobirthing workshops and committed to having an unmedicated, vaginal birth. I also planned ahead that I wanted an intimate birth, opting to have only my husband and cousin, who happens to be a labor and delivery nurse, in the room with me and my doctor.

I even changed medical practices around week 20 from a big ob/gyn practice to a doctor of osteopathy specifically because she had her own practice and attended all of her own births (except in emergency situations).

I felt prepared by 37 weeks. But I was starting to get very uncomfortable, in part because I had been diagnosed—later in my pregnancy than is optimal—with hypothyroidism. I had gained a lot of weight (my body weight increased by 44%!) and was very swollen.

Sleeping, as happens for many in late pregnancy, was rather challenging so I wasn't too surprised when I awoke on a Sunday morning at 38 weeks, and my husband told me I had been groaning some in my sleep. I commented that my back was bothering me a bit, so I got out of bed to sit on an exercise ball to rotate my hips.

My water broke

I chatted with my husband about our plans for the day while moving my body in small circles on the exercise ball. When I stood to go take a shower, I felt a little stream down my leg.

I jumped from the surprise and told my husband, who asked if I'd accidentally peed. I laughed, and when I did, I started to gush. My water had broken!

With hypnobirthing as my birth plan, I'd planned to stay home to labor as long as possible before arriving at this hospital. However, when I called my doctor, she shared that I'd need to make it into the hospital sooner as my water breaking spontaneously meant I was at risk of a prolapsed cord. And, for the safety of the baby and me, I would definitely be delivering the baby that day.

I was told to arrive at the hospital within the hour, so I showered, ate breakfast, and sent some final work emails, enjoying a final few moments of quiet to prepare myself mentally and emotionally.

I didn't feel any contractions at first. It wasn't until we pulled up to the hospital parking garage that I become very uncomfortable. But the contractions didn't feel like it was coming from my belly as I expected, but rather my back—and they came on super strong.

My birth plan changed

Once the back labor pains started, I discovered there was no time to practice hypnosis and relaxation techniques I'd learned because the contractions came on so strong and fast. From the start, each contraction lasted over a minute with only 30 seconds in between. I could barely catch my breath between them.

My husband tried lower back massages, but nothing eased the pain. The nurses felt I must be progressing quickly based on the rate of my contractions, and the fact that my water had already broken. But when my cervix was checked a couple of hours into labor, I was only a fingertip dilated—about one centimeter.

My body had made no progress despite all the pain and work. I felt defeated, and I was already exhausted. By early afternoon I had only progressed to one and a half centimeters and 10 centimeters felt like a lifetime away. And so I made the decision to get an epidural.

Almost immediately, the back pain lessened, and I was able to relax. Over the next two hours, I went in and out of napping, and the next time my cervix was checked, I was at eight and a half centimeters. I'm so happy I trusted my gut and got the epidural because, without it, my body was too tense to progress.

Time to push

At 6:20 pm, it was time to push!

I surprised myself by asking for a mirror when I started to push so I could see the progress I was making. It was so empowering. The excitement and anticipation of meeting my daughter after nine months of waiting outweighed any fear, pain or anxiousness I felt. I was able to see my daughter's head start to emerge with each contraction and push, and it motivated me so much.

Perhaps I was a bit too motivated, though, because I pushed for only twenty minutes and then my beautiful, chubby-cheeked, 8-pound little girl was born.

My cousin commented that I smiled during the entire birth. It was so much more peaceful and calm than I ever expected, and writing this now brings me right back to the joy I felt in that moment.

I was strong. I was powerful. I was beautiful. I'd done it!

After my husband cut the cord and my daughter and I were enjoying some skin-to-skin time, the doctor stitched up the tears I had from such a quick delivery. (The tears healed well, and my baby was so worth it!) All in all, the birth of my daughter was the most amazing experience of my life. Words really can't explain the love I feel for her and how immediate it developed.

And so for the mama reading this essay, I wish you a similarly empowering birth story. To the planner, remember that the best-laid plans may go awry and that's okay. Be open to it and focus on the outcome—a healthy baby and mama. Be open to your needs and wants changing in the process, too.

As a first-time mama, I thought I knew exactly how I wanted my birth to go but once in it, I trusted myself to change courses. In so many ways, it was the best preparation for being a mother. You've got this, mama.

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