Today my baby boy turns 1. Of course, as his mama, I cannot believe he’s a year old. I still remember the gallons of Ben & Jerry’s that Daddy and I went through, the sciatica, the feet poking from the side of my belly, the worries of his pregnancy.
I’ve heard before that those who give birth naturally are just trying to make women feel more pain, when in reality we can all have painless births with the help of medicine. We don’t “have” to suffer. Really, the people who spout this nonsense are about as logical as Limbaugh.
I’ve had two quick natural labors with healthy little guys. The two pregnancies were so vastly different, however, that I’m lucky to have squeaked out Baby E without medical “help”.
Here is my birth story. Happy Birthday to Us.
Initially, when we found out we were pregnant, I intended to have a home birth. My midwife for my older son, Little L, was no longer practicing with a doc and instead had paired up with another midwife to do home births.
I have a great love for home birthing. I was a home birth in a time when doctors told women they didn’t need to breastfeed, much less feel anything during labor. My mom had my two older sisters at the hospital. For the second, she had to cry and plead her way from being tethered to the bed for this beautiful occasion. When she got pregnant with me, home birth was the obvious choice.
People would ask her, ‘Aren’t you scared to give birth at home?’
‘No!’ she’d exclaim. ‘I’m afraid not to!’
I grew up knowing my whole big birth story, including my sisters’ memories. Birth, my mom taught us, is natural. Our bodies are made to do this. We know what to do; we simply have to trust ourselves.
Of course I know that this cannot be the case in every situation. But I also know that there is a multitude of young, healthy women who buy into the medicalization of birth.
For a few generations now, we have been frightened of labor. Psycho women on television cursing out their husbands. Stirups. Clamps. C-sections. Drugs. It’s all become so distanced from what we’re supposed to do, what our bodies want us to do: push.
During my pregnancy with Baby E, I chose to get an ultrasound. My midwives didn’t recommend it. I was a healthy 30-year-old with a previously quick labor (5 ½ hours). But we chose to, and that’s where the trouble began.
Really well-meaning doctors are there to (guess what) find a problem. Our doctor, a good man who Daddy has known for years, found some “abnormalities” with Baby E’s brain. There were cysts, which could be indicative of a genetic disorder. Or, as he described it,
Looks like someone took a hole punch right there.
He scheduled a follow-up ultrasound, where that problem had cleared up. But they found something else: he had a mega cisterna magna. It’s basically liquid at the back of the brain. The worry was that if it were enlarged, either there was something in his brain that was smaller than normal (thereby giving the cisterna magna room to grow), or that there were more cysts that we couldn’t see (thereby pushing the cisterna magna to look big in ultrasounds). Also, the disorder is associated with a serious chromosomal defect called Trisomy 18. Luckily, they didn’t mention that, and urged me not to Google the implications of a mega cisterna magna until we knew more.
So it was a few more weeks of worrying and a scheduled prenatal MRI in D.C., where they hoped to get a better look. Oh, yeah, and his kidneys looked blocked.
All this time, we were still referring to Baby E as a “baby” without gender. Totally not planning on finding that out. Not planning on much of this, truth be told!
Up in D.C. we spent the morning meeting with different doctors and specialists. Ultrasound, MRI, gentic counseling.
Yes, we live in Virginia. No, we’re not related.
Turns out…he’s fine. The tests all went well and they just suggested a follow-up after he was born.
The birth? That’s another story. I made the biggest mistake of either pregnancy when I chose to leave the homebirth practice and join up with a local OB/Gyn office.
The thought was: this brain stuff has entirely stressed us. We’re not sure how much, if at all, of the home birth will be covered by insurance, and we don’t need financial stress on top of all this emotional taxation we’ve gone through.
We joined a practice that had a team of doctors and a midwife. Quickly, from 32 weeks on, we went through their Rolodex of docs. Because it was really a lottery on which doc would be at the hospital for your birth. Monday, you’ve got nice woman doc who seems to “get it”. Wednesday, you have the pompous, arrogant doc, and you don’t really feel comfortable with him looking at your hooha.
I handed over our birth plan right away and made perfectly clear my thoughts on the upcoming labor: I trust in my body. I trust in Mark. Together, we’re going to get this baby out. If you think you want to be a part of that, great, but above all, I trust in us and our ability to have a peaceful labor.
They handed my care over to their midwife on staff, but we’d still have to have a doctor present at the birth. Soon, I learned something important to natural birth: just because she’s called a midwife doesn’t mean she won’t “medicalize” your pregnancy.
The doctors were worried because Baby E was measuring “small”. In retrospect, I believe that they were more cautious due to the earlier brain issues, though there was no correlation between those issues and birth weight. I also believe that they didn’t think that proportionally, a 6′ tall woman could have “small” babies. Never mind that my older son was the very average size of 7lbs, 2 ounces at birth. They were worried and ordered weekly Non-Stress Tests (NSTs) and ultrasounds. “Non-Stress” Test; there’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one!
I tried to fight the doctors on our supposed “need” for these tests, but came up against everyone they had in the practice. In the end, I didn’t want to be “difficult”, and I honestly worried that they’d drop me from their practice if I refused. Plus, Mark and I reasoned, if the midwife is going along with it, it must be needed. (Though I also remembered Ina May Gaskin’s words of wisdom on this. Just because there’s a CPM or a CNM after her name doesn’t make her natural. She’s likely been trained by to go medicine first, natural only in rare cases.)
Then we began going past my due date. This made everyone nervous as the date approached, and they started discussing induction, albeit “natural” ways first. Meanwhile, I was writing blogs on natural labor and Daddy and I were doing our part to get that baby out the same way he got in: through love.
But once that date came and went, most everyone I encountered, from the doctor’s office to the grocery store, had a comment on my “overdue” boy. My thought was this: “If he’s so ‘small’, let’s just leave him in there to ‘cook’ a little longer.”
It seemed strange. On one hand, they’re giving me these tests each week because he’s not “big enough” (though the placenta was fine), but on the other hand, they’re itching to get him out and pushing me to pick an induction date.
I relented and agreed to pick one for 41 ½ weeks along: March 12. Up until that day, I began to hear warnings about Cytotec, which was often used to induce labor, but wasn’t yet approved as such.
The night before Induction Day, I e-mailed my midwife to ask what she’d be using to get lil guy out and was worried to hear: Cytotec. I argued that decision; wasn’t there anything else, perhaps approved for use on pregnant women, that we could use? Not that we’re assured will work. But if my body has done this labor thing before (and as easily as I could hope for), wouldn’t something less strong have a good chance of succeeding for us?
I decided I’d go to the hospital for my set appointment time and argue it there. But I was not having any of this freaky medicine.
Lucky for us, Baby E is as stubborn and as willful as his mama. (wait…lucky?!) At about 5:30 a.m., I went into labor. We were at the hospital for a total of 20 minutes before Baby E was born, so the medical staff didn’t have much time to intervene, though they tried.
In the 10 minutes between the midwife and attending nurse were in the room, they tried to get Baby E’s heart rate. There I was, on all fours, my body screaming to me to push, and they’re trying to get me to sit up so they can find his heartbeat.
I’m thinking, ‘If you hold on a second, you can get it from the real live baby!’
Mark and I were obviously much more aware of where in labor I was. Transition now, pushing now. Them: wait, wait, wait. We have to get the room “ready”.
In the end, my very quick labor had everything to do with the 3 of us and very little to do with anyone else. I know we could have stayed home and had a better experience, even unassisted.
And that’s what I’ve had to reconcile. Though here we are, a year later, and you can see that I’m still angry.
Why? you might ask. You got the prize in the end, without any major interventions.
Here’s the thing. If you met me, you’d likely see that I’m an educated, natural, stubborn, outspoken woman. I’m intelligent and not easily swayed. But I was, and if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.
It is really important, then, that you choose a care provider who shares your values. If a midwife makes comments about her own labor like, “I just wanted the drugs!” and that’s not kosher for your own labor, rethink it. Some midwives follow the medicalization of childbirth, no problem. And some doctors are likely to sit by until you need interventions, trusting in your ability to push a baby out.
I know what natural labor is like. I actually had two of them. But they were so vastly different.
Natural labor empowers you. Those days I gave birth to my sons, I felt as though I could run a marathon. Or in the very least, don gold wristbands and fight evil. I was definitely ready to breastfeed and bond.
But by the time I gave birth to Baby E, I was ready to “hide out in a closet and give birth like a cat”. The medical interventions leading up to his birth had so turned me off that I felt powerless to fight against them. That made me even question the power of my body: Could we do it naturally again?
I shouldn’t have had to feel that way.
Baby E was born at 7:43 a.m. on March 12, 2008. He was 7 lbs. And yes, it was a Wednesday, so the ego doc did indeed see the hooha.
Am I blessed to have this baby boy? Of course! And looking back, I am most blessed in the strength the three of us shared that day. I am blessed by our own will to do it quickly and peacefully.
We made our natural labor experience beautiful.
First Image: Jessica N. Diamond on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
Cate Nelson says
You know? The hospital thing wasn’t all that big a deal, though for the second one we weren’t sure we’d make it there. I actually like the hospital where both my sons were born. Very much in that same “tubs and birthing balls” frame of mind.
I think some of this, admittedly, has to do with my own guilt for not being more outspoken. Though for anyone who knows me, they’d never like to see more+outspoken in the same sentence! 😉
Maybe I could have–should have–resolved the tests and the questions by getting a doula. Definitely would have relieved the pressure on me!
But yes, no problem with a hospital birth. Or really, with any *necessary* interventions. They’ve for sure saved many women and babies.
But let’s not go there FIRST, right? Let’s trust ourselves.
Elizabeth, the best thing about natural labor? Besides being totally coherent and functional after the birth? Contractions are the strongest, most useful pain you’ll ever feel…and forget about.
Thanks, both of you, for reading and commenting. Best of luck with your child(ren)!
Thanks for sharing your story. We’ve been looking at many different options for us (one of which being the local birthing center that we loved but couldn’t afford), and thankfully the obgyn staff that I meet with and the hospital they deliver at is completely on board with birthing plans, natural births and as little intervention as necessary. Two of the 6 delivery rooms actually have tubs in them to use during birthing! From other’s past experiences at this hospital and with the doctors, I’m reassured that we’re going to have a lovely natural birthing experience, even if it is in a hospital!
Sounds very similar to both of my labor experiences…with my first child I didn’t know that there were any other options (I thought midwives were something of the past)other than a hospital birth…but I was very clear in my birthing plan I wanted to go natural and I did. I felt so empowered and like you said that day I felt like I could run a marathon!!! It was the most amazing experience of my life. With my second child I was more interested in alternative birthing plans so I looked in to it and asked around town…everyone acted like I was a leper…the one woman I knew in town who had home births had to leave the state to have home births because of laws in our state made it so most midwives left the profession. The closest midwife is 8hrs from the town I live in. So again for my second child I planed for a natural hospital birth. All I remember from baby G’s birth was the nurses trying to get me to stop pushing because the doctor wasn’t there yet and my reply was that I KNEW WHAT MY BODY WAS DOING AND IF THE DOCTOR WANTED TO ATTEND THEN SHE BETTER GET HERE NOW. I live in a small down (10,000 people) and I am legendary at our hospital for my labor. I get stopped in the grocery store 2 yrs later and the nurses tell me that they had never been to a birth like that,a natural birth. This statement scares me because this is something our bodies are designed to do and we keep interfering with it. I still feel angry at the local medical system for trying to demonize my choice of a natural birth, my story should not be the exception or anything special. The most important part of mine and everyone’s birthing story is the wonderful children that were born from this process…done medicine free or not…we got great kids out of the deal. Happy 1st Birthday to your son!!! With love, Kace
Fascinating story and a great parable for learning the lesson of trusting yourself!
My first was born in hospital, I was young and naive and thought I’d be more secure there for “just in case”. I won’t bore you here with the details but let’s just say it was NOT fun…
My second was going to be a home waterbirth. Two weeks before the EDD, I developed a medical complication, and we decided the safest thing was to go to the hospital and induce. It was heartbreaking… BUT it was a legitimate medical reason. We tried “natural” induction first and it got things started but needed the drugs to get it truly going.
Beyond that, however, the delivery was natural, though we were constantly pushing the docs away who wanted me to lie down. Hurray for DH sticking up for me! I wish it COULD have been at home rather than the hectic craziness of the hospital, and having to argue with the docs all the time… but still — because I was better prepared this time and stayed in control and in charge, it was still a good experience overall.
If we have another we’ll try for a homebirth again. I’m glad that the hospitals are there for when they are NEEDED, though I still wish the system was set up differently.
Your story is exactly what my fear was – and what pushed me to a home birth with two wonderful and highly qualified midwives. My birth was the best experience of my life. I am so proud of being able to give birth where I wanted and how I wanted. My body knew what to do – my midwives just supported me. Thank you so much for sharing. I have a hard time explaining to people why I chose a home birth without sounding like I’m anti-medical community. This is a great demonstration of being pushed to do things for a “medical” condition.
I am not hard core – I know there are lots of issues with pregnancies and births out there and there need to be OBs and hospitals, but they should be the exception and not the norm. The biggest problem as you said, is women don’t know or are talked into thinking they can’t give birth without an MD and a sterile room. If it’s a low risk pregnancy, there’s no need to treat it like a high risk medical condition.
Cate Nelson says
If anyone ever asks why you choose a natural labor or a home birth, tell them what my mom always told us:
“Birth is not a medical emergency.”
Smart woman. After my two older sisters and the way they she was treated at the hospital, she gave birth to 3 girls at home (me being one of them). My baby sister was another hospital birth, for necessity.
But for many of us, it’s not a medical problem. It’s natural, and we can do this!
Thank you for sharing! I also had a CNM for my first daughter’s birth and it was a horrific medical experience that changed my life.
My second was born in a peaceful, loving unassisted birth and it also changed my life. 🙂
Thanks for sharing your story. Just wanted to say that my son’s birthday is today, too – he turns two! 🙂 And I had a natural birth in a birth center with a midwife and it was a great experience. That’s what I would wish for everyone – a great birthing experience, whatever that may mean to each individual.
As I found out through one of my friends who gave birth (by c-section) 5 months ago, that hospital “midwifes” are no different from the ob-gyns. I am going to be doing a home birth and hired a midwife who is very knowledgeable and actually worked in hospitals delivering babies before the major interventions were implemented throughout the system. She also has a back-up doctor that she recommends in case of a dire emergency.
Also upon speaking with my brother in addition to the birth plan you can bring in a notarized paper stating what interventions you do and do not want. Which the hospital by law has to follow or they can be sued, however do hefty research before doing so, that you are not truly putting the baby or your self at risk.
Great article! I am a huge advocate for home births. After my first daughter was born in the hospital, intervention free, largely due to the fact that I arrived at 10 cm dilated… I went on to birth my other 4 children at home, including twins! The medicalization of childbirth (and especially with multiples) has become out of control. Birth IS a natural process! Women just need to trust in themselves and their bodies.
Thanks for sharing your natural childbirth experience. I’ve had 1 baby & did it naturally. Why is there such a push for drugged childbirth? You inspired me to blog about mine. Great topic!
Jeanne of Ecolabel Fundraising says
I was fortunate that a client of mine told me about the Bradley Method when I was pregnant with my first. My husband and I became well-informed parents-to-be on all our options for the birthing process. I am passionate about natural birth and plan to have my second child in July naturally also. My husband and I shared an extremely special experience by working together to birth our child naturally. She came out alert and ready to nurse! Not to mention it was so empowering as a woman to know that your body was built to do that! My Ob/gyn was always supportive, but I think he knew from our office visits that I am a very determined person (maybe a bit stubborn, too. Ha!) Congrats on reaching 1 year birthday milestone! – that’s what life is all about!
The Mother Tongue says
Thanks for sharing your story! I’m glad you were able to give birth without intervention as you wanted, but I’m sorry you were pressured so much by the doctors.
I also wanted to comment that an empowering birth does not necessarily mean one that is free of intervention. I had a rotten birth experience in a hospital the first time around because I didn’t know what was happening and the doctors didn’t really give me any options. I wasn’t too mad about it for long because, as you say, I got the prize in the end.
But the second time I gave birth, I needed to be induced because I was galloping toward pre-eclampsia. But the experience was completely different–my (new) OB and the nurses respected my decisions, asked what I wanted at every point, and made sure I was okay with what was happening. So even though I was induced and had an epidural, I felt very empowered because I went into it willing and informed. 🙂
Emily Jones says
Love the article! I am very hard-core about birth. I UCed my last one in July of last year, and it was perfect. I completely understand what you are saying about being taken advantage of during those vulnerable moments – it doesn’t matter how strong or intelligent you are, it is nigh on impossible to withstand the pressure, authority, power, and sheer numbers that face you at the hospital. For this reason, I don’t believe any laboring woman belongs in the hospital, period. (Not counting medical conditions and emergencies, etc.) Well, not in America anyway.
I think its good that you pointed out that not all midwives are strong advocates of natural birth. Most people generally assume that the midwife will be a better alternative than a doctor if they want natural, but, as you first hand experienced, its not always the case. Women should take charge of their health care, and care providers should wake up and realize that women do not have defective bodies (this includes doctors and midwives). I’m glad you managed to avoid the cascade of interventions. Sounds like you did great. 🙂
Cate Nelson says
I did this funny thing. It’s crazy, really.
*I listened to my body.* 😉
Yep, I was scared. Yep, the thought crossed my mind, “What the hell was I thinking?”
But then I let my body take over and stopped using my brain for anything but articulating what I needed. Pretty cool, and I entirely credit that for 2 quick (5.5 and 2.5 hours, respectively) labors. That and these birthin’ hips. 🙂
Your mom is right, childbirth is not a medical emergency. But the fact is that it can become one within seconds, and I’d rather have a pediatrician there to save my baby rather than a paramedic who’s 20 minutes away from the hospital. People say that women have delivered babies at home successfully for generations. Well, not so true if you look back at the maternal and infant mortality rates from 200 years ago. Childbirth is a natural process (most cancers are natural, too when you think about it) but it can be dangerous, and because of this and our litigious society, doctors and CNMs want to have more control over your labor and delivery simply because they’re scared shitless that if something goes wrong (even if it’s not their fault) you’ll sue the pants off them. Pregnant moms every where who want a natural, nonintervention birth can thank the moms of the previous decades who forgot that “natural childbirth” sometimes includes natural injuries and natural deaths, regardless of the doc or CNM (I’m not saying some haven’t been at fault for neglect, but you cannot always equate a tragedy with a mistake by the provider). Having worked on a Labor & Delivery floor for ten years now, I’ve heard of horror childbirth stories both in the hospital and at homebirths and quite frankly, I think they can be equally scary and wonderful. To the homebirth fanatics out there: don’t knock having a baby in the hospital, and I won’t knock homebirths when you come to the hospital because something went wrong.
Cate Nelson says
I’m sorry, “SeenItAll”, but if I have to hear one more time that, “It can become a medical emergency within seconds” one more time, I just might scream. SeenItAll, if you truly have, you might have noticed me. I was the one who walked in to the L&D ward and very calmly said, “I’m going trough Transition. I’m going to give birth soon.” So calmly, in fact, that no one [of course] believed me. Pregnant women are supposed to be crazy, out of their wits, not understanding their bodies and anticipating and *gasp* being brave.
Your medical background already taints your comment to me. You come from the medical perspective, as in, “Let’s ‘fix’ her.”
I am sorry, but it is true. Because that birth story you’re commenting on? I had the biggest idiots in the room with me. ONLY my partner and I knew what we should do, what was going to happen. Everyone else was seriously trying to stop me, while on all fours, pushing Baby E out (no tears, by the way).
I give birth so well that I shock women–nurses–like you. I was the legend in the L&D, for BOTH my sons’ births.
And I should not have to be.
Cate Nelson says
Oh, can we all repeat after me (again): Birth is not a sickness. Hospitals are for sick people. Being in labor does not make one “sick”.
Despite what the medical community might try to do to us!
I love it when women come in and birth within minutes. Doing a bare-handed delivery makes it fun (if not a little icky) for us. Of course we tell women to listen to their bodies; there is nothing to “fix.” The less intervention we have to do the more fun our jobs are being a part of the experience with you. You’re the one that seems so tainted, mostly because you ran into some idiots with your deliveries. I’m sorry you picked a bad hospital, but don’t group us all together.
And as far as childbirth becoming medical emergency in seconds? Have you ever seen a baby you were expecting to be born alive and well die in front of your eyes? If not, you have no right to an opinion on that. When you’ve been present for hundreds of deliveries where everything is going according to plan and, for instance, the baby gets stuck because of a shoulder dystocia and you’re the only nurse in the room but can’t help the doctor get the kid out in time to avoid brain or nerve damage, then you KNOW that childbirth can turn ugly and scary real quick. This is from experience, not just a medical background. Any body who’s been present for more than a couple of deliveries can attest to this. Moms aren’t the only ones that can be traumatized by births. Nurses (and docs/CNMs) can be, too.
And Cate, you’re right. Hospital is for sick people, in addition to injured people which can sometimes happen during a delivery. Women like you make the focus of a delivery all about you; you’re not the only person involved in this process. Don’t you realize that the hospital environment is more for the baby’s safety than yours? Of course you’d be fine delivering anywhere…at home, the street, on the roof top. We’re concerned less with you than we are with the baby. It’s like I said; when a newborn is injured during a delivery, it’s sounds a hell of a lot safer to have it seconds away from a pediatrician rather than subjected to a paramedic. That is something nobody in their right mind can argue with.
Cate Nelson says
If you’ve seen a baby who was supposed to be alive and well die before your eyes, it would have happened in the hospital setting OR at home, period. I just wrote a blog about a study in the Netherlands (530,000 women) that showed the INFANT mortality rate was the exact same whether at home or in the hospital. Hospitals encourage us to deliver there because it is profitable for them.
You’re right: it’s not “all about us.” But it should be about ALL of us; the best interest of the entire family, especially for low-risk pregnancies.
I live in a very liberal area where birthing classes try to straighten out the misconception that we all “must have” an epidural in order to give birth. We have 2 of the top hospitals in Virginia. My OB office had a midwife, so I was under the delusion that they were natural-minded. I didn’t have this experience with “idiots” because they are rare. I had these experiences numerous times between my births and that of my friends that we were the exception to the “must have all interventions” rule, not the norm.
Women in my area come from all over to birth at the hospital where I had my two sons. Because they perpetuate the thought that it’s like a birthing center: birth tubs, birth balls, beds that convert so women can squat. However, even at this supposed “natural-minded” L&D ward, no one except a woman in HO– USEKEEPING knew that I was telling the truth when I said calmly, “I am about to give birth,” and quickly got me to my room.
It’s not that I’m angry with one particular care provider or idiots that I *happened* to encounter. I’m upset with those who perpetuate the myth that women can’t be trusted with their own fertility, pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
If the medical community was so fancy and talented, we would not have the second-highest infant mortality rate of the developed world, period.
Let’s not pat ourselves on the backs until we get it right, okay?
(BTW: not sure how “icky” –seriously?!– it had to be for the care providers in my delivery room. Daddy caught Baby E, then I promptly grabbed him to breastfeed.)
John R. says
I’ve been looking around for articles similar to this but never found one that actually was valuable such as this. Glad I found this place!
I am 30 weeks along expecting my 2nd baby girl and needed to read your birth story tonight! I am so glad I found it. I had every intention of having a natural/unmedicated birth, but I had similar (non-stress test, baby is small, let’s induce) “issues” towards the last week of pregnancy with my first, and for sure when I became overdue the push to induce was strong, BUT my doc is a D.O (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) and I felt good about her being willing to try other things before inducing (stripping membranes etc). I plan to go natural again and possibly hire a doula for added support and technique this time, but I too felt/feel unsure in my body and my ability to trust that it can make it past 5cm without drugs … your post is a good reminder that it can be done. Thank you!