I cry happy tears every time I see a baby born. Whether I’m lucky enough to witness a family member giving birth or seeing a complete stranger have a baby on TV, the process gets me every single time. If someone writes about their birth story, it's an absolute must-read for me (and I will cry at those too). I've always been a baby person -- I’m drawn to them like moths to a flame -- so it's no surprise that their entrance into the world would be so moving to me. I have been there for the birth of one of my nephews and two of my nieces and, of course, the birth of my own two little ones. Each one has been so unique and fascinating.
I think my fascination is in the myriad of ways a baby can come into this world, and how this experience creates an instant connection between moms regardless of the way their baby was delivered. We all have similar physiological and psychological experiences during pregnancy and birthing – pain, fear, trepidation, joy, relief – but then each of us has to decide which ways we choose to cope and maneuver through the actual labor and delivery process.
For me, that process was well thought out before the arrival of my first baby. When I was pregnant, I fully anticipated having a natural birth. (And I'm just going to cut to the chase and tell you that I had the exact opposite of a natural birth). I wanted to have a natural, non-medicated birth because it seemed like the simplest route, and I just don't like to complicate things unnecessarily. As I researched childbirth during my pregnancy, what I learned about the birth process seemed to reinforce my decision to try and go natural. My husband and I are both, by nature, logical and stoic in the face of challenges, and a lot of what we were learning about natural childbirth was perfectly in line with those traits. The logic was simple: a woman's body is perfectly composed to do the work. It's hard and painful work, but if done properly, it can go by quicker. Makes sense, right? Not always.
There are many different techniques for natural birthing, and the ones I followed were based on the Bradley Method which was developed in 1947 by Robert Bradley and is also referred to as "husband-coached-childbirth" - something that, at the time, wasn't common. Robert Bradley was a pioneer in believing that having the support of a partner in the delivery process was essential to the success of childbirth. The technique itself is based on the natural instincts of the mother to deliver her baby by trusting her body to do the work it was designed to do. Usually, the Bradley Method includes a 12-week course prior to deliver. However, I opted to read up on the techniques and did my best to keep them in mind while I was laboring.
I went into labor with my first baby three days before my due date. We had just finished setting up the crib that night, and I went to bed only to be awoken around midnight to contractions that felt slightly more intense than the Braxton Hicks I had been having up to that point. They kept coming, so I went to the bathroom. I noticed a little bit of blood, and I knew we were on to something!
I decided to just labor at home for awhile since we live very close to the hospital, and I didn't have any complications other than gestational diabetes. My husband, Andrew, and I lay in bed talking about, Holy Cow!, we were going to have a baby, and was it going to be a girl or boy, and what was he or she going to look like? Meanwhile, we timed my contractions. At around 4 am, the contractions seemed to be be getting longer and closer together, so we called my doctor, and he told us to head to the hospital even though my water hadn't yet broken.
At the hospital, my contractions were about 2 minutes apart but I was only dilated about 1 to 2 centimeters. I was admitted and taken to my room, where I labored for another 3 hours with contractions that weren't unbearable. Then my OB arrived to check on my progress. This is where things start getting frustrating and I started to get a bit nervous. I hadn't dilated at all. I knew I still had a lot of time, but my doctor decided to break my water. Because I was also anxious to get the show on the road, I agreed in hopes that it would progress things along without the need for Pitocin. That would be the next step if my labor didn't start to progress.
With encouragement from Andrew and the awesome nurses who were attending to me, I started doing everything I could to move my labor along. I sat on the ball, laid in different positions, took a shower and walked the halls, all while trying to relax through the contractions. This was one of the techniques the Bradley Method employs -- "the appearance of sleep." Basically it means trying to relax to the point of looking asleep. This takes any tension out of the body and directs energy towards the parts that are doing the work, namely the uterus. So instead of getting all tense and fighting against your body, you just let it do its thing.
Throughout all of this, the nurses were checking my progress, but it was slight. After 12 hours of labor, I had only dilated 1 and a half centimeters. So they started the Pitocin. Though my baby wasn't in distress, I was! The contractions were getting stronger, but for whatever reason, my body wasn't responding. Then my doctor suggested an epidural. I was scared, I didn't want it. But I was frustrated. Looking back, that's the ultimate reason I agreed. My doctor thought that an epidural might allow me to relax and possibly help me progress. I figured, a vaginal birth with meds is still not the worst option.
The epidural itself wasn't bad. The hardest part was staying completely still while having strong contractions. Obviously, I was no longer feeling the pain, but unfortunately, my contractions started getting weaker. Fifteen hours into labor, and I hadn't dilated any further than 4 centimeters. I was tired, frustrated and scared. This was the situation I was facing: potentially another 10 hours of labor, being pumped full of meds, and possibly ending up with a C-section anyway.
My dad is a doctor. He's delivered countless babies, some even birthed at home. He was with me and was my rock in this situation because I knew he would be straight with me. He said that he would always advise a vaginal birth unless intervention was absolutely necessary, but it was my choice. And I decided to have a C-section.
It was scary and I cried because it wasn't what I had planned. I was on the operating table and the meds were making me shake uncontrollably. My jaw was clenched so tight it was giving me a terrible headache. All I wanted was a drink of water. It was not the way I had imagined greeting my baby. But when they told Andrew to look at the baby and tell me what he saw, and Andrew said "It's a BOY!" with tears in his eyes, I knew that we were okay. It was okay.
I learned that our son had been wrapped in his cord so he wasn't able to drop down, which resulted in my lack of progression through labor. My dad was there during the C-section and confirmed that from what he saw, I wouldn't have been able to have a vaginal birth. It's just the way it goes sometimes.
I don't necessarily have any bad feelings or thoughts about my prenatal care or how my OB handled my birth. It didn't turn out the way I had anticipated and looking back, yes, I do wish I had made some different choices. I often think about how those choices may have affected the outcome. But in the end, I got to experience the joy of bringing a baby into this word, and yes, I cried happy tears!
My fascination with childbirth hasn't dwindled even though my birthing journey has ended. I still love to read and research and help others learn about their options when it comes to labor and delivery.
So please, share with us, what techniques helped you during your birth? Or what ones are you planning on using?