Almost 4 years ago, I gave birth to my first son, Franklin. I had read all the Ina May Gaskin books, had read other books like Orgasmic Birth, ate really well, did yoga almost daily, walked daily, and was in great shape. I imagined labor to be an experience that can be either enjoyable or painful, depending on your state of mind, how you were raised (if people told you horror stories, for example), how well fed you are, etc. With the second pregnancy, there was no yoga, no exercise, just running after my son and not sleeping for more than 3 hours straight for over 3 years!
At the time, I lived in Iowa, and looked high and low for a homebirth midwife to assist me. I found no one. I heard an interview with a homebirth midwife (Cosette Boone) on NPR, and called her up… Her staff said she wouldn’t help me. I had to go to a birth center over an hour away (I was due in winter, when snow in Iowa can be intense). So, I ended up going to the hospital near my house (Mary Greeley Medical Center), assisted by midwives as opposed to an OB, and generally still feeling pretty confident about the whole thing.
Long story short, my waters broke at 2 am, but I hadn’t progressed past 4 centimeters 18 hours later, and was given Pitocin to speed things up. I still wanted a natural birth, but after a whole day with many hours spent in excruciating pain (Pitocin causes unbearable contractions), I got the epidural and slept for 6 hours. I then pushed for 4 hours with a botched epidural that had penetrated my spinal fluid, and was left incapacitated and in immense pain for 2 weeks after the birth. The anesthesiologist made jokes in bad taste, and the pediatrician fed Franklin formula. It was a horror story.
3 years later, I got pregnant again… And swore I’d never go to a hospital. By then, I was living in Portland OR and visited a birth center, but wasn’t impressed for many reasons. Plus, it was going to be super expensive. I then checked out the nearby hospital, OHSU, and was blown away. They had amazing natural birth stories on their websites, and did vaginal deliveries of breech babies. Breech babies! I thought no hospital in the country would do that! I looked into them a little more, and found out that their team of midwives was amazing — one of them, Linda Glenn, does homebirths and works at a homebirth clinic, and was quoted on an online forum saying that she doesn’t deliver babies, she just catches them.
Well then! I decided to go there. My insurance covered the birth, and I felt confident it was a good choice. For good measure though, I made raspberry leaf tinctures to ripen my cervix, drank nettle and raspberry leaf infusions, and took liposomal vitamin C to strengthen my bag of waters and avoid it breaking early like it did the first time.
A few days before labor started, I felt a sense of urgency. I asked my husband to take the car to the car wash as soon as possible, and put in the car seat. I bought cold pressed green juice at Whole Foods, and cold pressed orange juice. And then…
At 3 am, I woke up with contractions. Uh oh, I thought. My wake up time 2 days before was 5:30 am, and 4:30 am the day before. 3 am today… I was already afraid I’d be too tired to give birth. I didn’t want a long, grueling labor, which would leave me incapable of taking care of my new baby *and* my 3 1/2 year old preschooler. No way! I decided then and there that if it was taking too long, I’d get the epidural and would be done with it. I didn’t want to be a hero.
I drank my juices, and poured witch hazel onto pads, and put them in the freezer. When I gave birth to Franklin, all the monitoring apparatus caused tears which required stitches, and I wanted as much soothing as possible. I also bought sitz bath postartum herbs for healing baths. A little hint on how things went… I didn’t need any of them in the end.
At 9 am, my contractions were much stronger. Matthew took Franklin to the store to buy a bike, and I stayed home. I turned on Amadeus on TV, and thought I’d distract myself watching a movie. I’d pause whenever I contraction would hit, and would at first be silent so as not to worry my mom, but soon had to moan with each one. I was timing my contractions; they were fairly spaced, and only 1 minute in length. I thought I was not dilated enough, and asked my doula what to do. She recommended going to the hospital only when talking through the contractions was too difficult.
But at 10 am, I told Matthew I wanted to go to the hospital. I needed to know where I was at. If I was at 4, I wanted to speed things up. I wanted to have energy to push, rather than risk a C-section. My first labor had really scarred me, and I wanted to avoid repeating the experience at all costs.
I got to the hospital, got checked, and… I was at 7! Not 4, or 5, or even 6! I seriously cried tears of joy. 7 centimeters all by myself! I was so happy. And the pain wasn’t even that bad. OK, I said, no epidural. The midwife went to fill the waterbirth tub.
I kept on laboring with my doula Ellen Glek and my husband Matthew, each one of them squeezing my hips and rubbing my back when a contraction would hit. Contractions weren’t a walk in the park, but they weren’t unbearable. When they’d stop, I’d talk, try to joke around (“When this is done, I’m going to Hawaii!” “In my next life, I’m reincarnating as a man!”), Ellen would take photos, etc. During contractions, I would say either moan, or yell louder, or say things to help me progress, things I’d mostly heard in Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives.
For example, I’d talk to the baby, asking him to come down, to slide out easily, that things were going to be great. I remembered, in the movie, the first time mom of twins who had opened to a degree Ina May had never seen before. Ina May asked her how she did it, and the woman told her she kept thinking about how big she was going to get. So, I would talk about how big my cervix was opening, etc. Franklin had invented a song a few days prior called Go Mama Go, so my husband would sing it to me, or I’d sing Go Baby Go.
I downed 2 bottles of coconut water, and something Linda Glenn had recommended we get – a protein drink called Protica Proasis Protein Shot, which contains 25 g of protein in a tiny vial. It totally helped, I am sure of that. Considering I had only had a bottle of cold pressed orange juice and one of cold pressed green juice, I really needed protein. This all kept me going without feeling weak in any way.
But, in the tub, the contractions had spaced out. I was afraid the pain was greater, but I was still stalling at 7. I wasn’t experiencing the so-called transition phase, where it’s all unbearable and you feel you’re going to die. I had read so much about the horrible white pain of contractions, the transition phase where you think you just can’t do it, you can’t talk, you can’t see, you want to insult everyone in the room… I felt none of that. I felt nothing but love for my husband, and nothing but gratitude for my awesome doula. It just didn’t feel right… Because it didn’t feel wrong. How does that even make sense?! I called the midwife, and said if I was at 7, I’d get the epidural. She checked… I was at 9! OK, then, again, no epidural. I was happy. I knew I still had the energy to push that baby out by myself.
Some time later, I felt the urge to push. I’d push, and see nothing. The midwife checked me, and said my cervix wasn’t fully dilated, and she’d have to stretch it out of the water. She did, and while contractions were OK and totally manageable… Pushing was seriously painful. But then again, it wasn’t a normal situation, so if I had dilated completely, I am confident I would have pushed in much less time and with a lot less pain.
All in all, we got to the hospital at 10:30 am, and I was done by 4:15 pm. 6 hours. No epidural. Intense pain for only the hour of pushing. It was completely awesome!
Thank you so much to my amazing husband, who was the most awesome birth coach, my doula Ellen Glek who had an array of super helpful tools to help me (essential oils to mask the hospital smell, a long cloth to wrap around my hips to squeeze them during contractions, positive affirmations, etc.), my mom for staying with Franklin, and the entire staff at OHSU (the midwife on call was Michele Megregian, she was fantastic).
Giving birth naturally is an incredible experience. I progressed so fast, had no tears whatsoever, and was taking a shower less than a day after the birth. I took Franklin to his gym class 4 days after giving birth, and looked like I had never been pregnant. Baby Nicholas is doing great, he took to nursing right away with no problem at all (as opposed to Franklin who didn’t, most certainly due to the drugs in his system, no being able to be with me all the time at first, me not being able to sit up, etc), and so far is a pretty good sleeper!
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