When I got pregnant with Emilee, I was 18 years old and scared to death. I am the biggest pain wimp. The worst pain I had ever experienced was getting stitches in my hand at 10 years old and I never wanted to subject myself to anything like that again.
I was determined to find a way to excuse myself from the horrific pain that my culture taught me to expect in childbirth.
Almost as soon as I discovered I was pregnant, I began reading. I think I read everything ever written about pregnancy, childbirth, and pain management. I was trying to find a medical condition I could fake in order to be knocked out at 8 months and woken up a good month after the baby was born (rumor had it that recovery was quite painful, too.)
I never found that mystery medical condition that I was looking for.
What I found, instead, was a passion for natural childbirth. I learned about endorphins and the benefits of relaxation and meditation. I started practicing prenatal Yoga and bonding with the unborn baby. I began to mentally prepare myself for the challenges of motherhood. I began to view childbirth as "the first test" and studied voraciously.
I enrolled in a Bradley Method childbirth class. The Bradley method teaches mothers the physiology behind labor, and urges mothers to read "Childbirth without Fear" (which I had already read in early pregnancy.) The Bradley method also focuses on a drug-free birth as the goal of the program. Other childbirth programs in my town didn't seem particularly concerned with a drug-free delivery and mostly wanted parents to "be prepared" for the hospital procedures rather than with the actual physical experience of labor. I was impressed with the Bradley method because they actually tracked their participants to an over 90% rate of drug-free deliveries.
Labor with Emilee began 4 days before she was due. It wasn't even the contractions at first that alerted me to impending labor, but a dull aching back pain that I just couldn't shake. I called the Bradley teacher who instructed me how to lie for early back labor, so I could perceive the sensations differently. After following her instructions, I was able to notice distinct contractions coming every 2-3 minutes apart.
I didn't imagine that so many of our family members would come to our tiny apartment while I was laboring. In my classes, I was taught to position myself in a dark room, in a sleeping position, in order to work with my body during contractions. Luckily, our sisters, friends and mothers stayed in the living room while my husband and I practiced with the early contractions in the bedroom. I felt like I was handling it pretty well. Time was blurring together, I had no sense of how long we labored in the bedroom. His mother's frantic insistence sent us to the hospital, where I was examined and found to be at 4 cm after laboring at home for over 10 hours. I was a little disappointed.
I had a 4 page birth plan, and luckily the nurse that was overseeing me was a Bradley mom, too. I was too zoned out to communicate the birth plan to anyone, so I just handed it to her as we were walking in.
She took ownership of me, though, as a doula would have and any time anyone tried to enter the room she insisted they read all 4 pages, and demanded to know what purpose they had for entering.
When I felt like having to push, an internal exam revealed a small lip of cervix and she held it back while I contracted, then broke my waters to make sure it stayed back.
She carefully explained hospital procedure to me. "If You are pushing, I HAVE to call the doctor. He will be here in 5 minutes. So don't push yet." As she walked away, I was trying not to push through a contraction and it wouldn't work, My body was pushing for me. She popped her head in a few minutes later and asked how things were going. I said "I'm pushing and there's nothing you can do to stop me." She stayed with me during that contraction and the doctor arrived before the next one. When he walked in, he said "She's asleep." And suddenly the bright lights went on and every cabinet in the room opened to reveal medical equipment. When I woke up to push again, I saw that he had the scissors in his hand for an episiotomy. The nurse actually stood between us and held up the birth plan. "She said she'd rather tear and you signed it right here." he was surprised, looking at it while she took the scissors back to his table of tools and with that contraction, the baby's head crowned. The nurse used her hands to do perineal massage while the head passed through and the entire pushing phase lasted less than 30 minutes.
When she was out I was so shocked. It's over, I did it. I kept saying "I did it" over and over again. I couldn't believe that I had actually given birth. I had conquered my biggest fear. I felt like I had climbed Mt Everest, won the Indy 500 and the lottery all in the same moment.
She was placed on my chest immediately. I didn't know what to do with her. I had never nursed a baby before, but I knew I was supposed to do it right away. She just wanted to look at me, and I just wanted to look at her.
An hour passed by before she nursed and while the placenta had already passed, my favorite nurse cleared the room of mothers and husbands to teach me how to nurse. She said it was OK to refuse the pitocin but that I'd need to start nursing soon, in order to get my uterus down faster. She was great, and I immediately began to feel the contractions.
Nursing was harder than I knew. I had to throw away the thousands of formula samples I had been given. These were "gifts" from my prenatal clinic, the WIC office, and the hospital. Their idea of a "gift" could easily have ended our nursing relationship. Nursing was hard, and only stubborn pride and persistence got me through. When I threw away the "gifts" it was actually about 4am and they were calling me from the pantry. I hauled them (and a screaming newborn) out to the dumpster right away.
It took about 6 weeks to get the hang of nursing, and she nursed for about 17 months.
I have had 4 more girls since Emilee was born and while I believe I had a great hospital experience, none of our future children would be born in a hospital. This birth was empowering because it was my first and it went precisely to plan.
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