I am a mother of two boys; 26 months and 11 months. I had what I now understand to be a traumatic birth experience with my first son. During the last two months of my second pregnancy I stumbled upon a natural birth-minded Facebook page called Birth Without Fear. The author of the page sought to spread the word about natural birth and how when we face birth without fear, we empower ourselves and ultimately can have a wonderful birth experience. Needless to say, I soaked this information up like a sponge.
I was not exposed to the natural birthing community before this time. I knew what I’d seen on TV (horrible I know that now,) and the few stories from friends, most of whom had epidurals. I didn’t have any friends growing up whose mothers had babies, and my own mother had a slew of health issues that truly did necessitate a c-section. When I discovered this information I experienced a wide range of emotions from excitement and amazement, to shock and shame that I, a reasonably intelligent and logical 28 year old grad school student, didn’t know about things like why it is better to not clamp the cord until it has stopped pulsing, and that a strong birth support system can enable you to get through that part of labor when many women (including me) feel like they may in fact die, (or in my case wishing someone would just crack me over the head with a 2x4.)
As I read, I started preparing myself to get through labor and delivery without asking for an epidural this time. I was with an OB practice, and I live about 45 minutes from the nearest hospital (so homebirth wasn’t a good option for me, and there are no birthing centers in my area.) I knew that I needed to get some good tools under my belt and try to help my husband learn about what he could do to support me, though I realized that this was not enough time to reeducate him, and finances were too tight to hire a doula. I woke up at 6:30am in active labor and immediately called my OB who told me to head into the hospital. When I got to there (after an excruciating 45 minute car ride) I was out of my mind because I hadn’t been able to get up and move around for so long that the intensity of the contractions, and the lack of strong support weakened my state of mind and I did eventually ask for the epidural, (though I also knew that I could specifically ask for the lowest dose of medication so that I could still feel my body; a choice I am glad I made.) When I was checked right before getting the epidural, I was already 8 cm dilated; a fact that still to this day makes me know I could have made it without the epidural if I’d had more support. I went on to have a wonderfully peaceful delivery with self directed pushing, warm compresses to protect my perineum (I had torn hole to hole during the vacuum delivery of my first birth,) and two of the most amazing providers from my OB practice who respected all of my wishes in my birth plan. I knew then what I had to do (if we decided to have a third baby) to have a natural birth and get through it.
A few months after the birth of my second son, a friend of mine told me she was pregnant and that she wanted to know anything and everything I could offer her about pregnancy, labor, delivery, and being a new mom. As soon as I started giving her this great information that I had found, she couldn’t get enough. She went on to enroll in Bradley classes and decided to have a home birth. I found myself healing even more from my first birth because I was able to help someone else who I cared about, empower herself to have a birth that would be an amazing experience, free of the pressures and interventions of a hospital.
About a month before her due date, she wrote me a long email telling me how grateful she was that I had continued to support her and tell her that I believed in her ability to do this. She was being met by friends and family who told her things like “Why would you risk your baby’s life by having a home birth?” Better yet, “Why would you want to go through all that pain when you can have an epidural and not have to worry about the pain?” I was one of a very few who continued to support her decision and she asked me to serve as her doula. I was honored, humbled, and incredibly excited.
On Wednesday, January 11th, I received a text message that her water had broke at 8 am and that contractions were picking up. At 3:30 pm, I arrived at her house. She was in the middle of a tough contraction while leaning over her birthing ball. I walked in, dropped my purse and immediately went over and grabbed her hand and told her to squeeze it with all her might. When the contraction was over, she said she was glad that I had arrived. Her midwife came around 5:30 and she reported that she was 5cm dilated and that she could get in her birthing tub if she wanted. She immediately felt some relief in the tub as we spent the next couple of hours pouring water onto her sacrum through each contraction. As time passed, she started to mentally fade out and let labor take over. During the contractions she frequently asked us why we let her do this at home, demanded we just get the baby out, and said she couldn’t do it anymore. I remember at one point she screamed at us, “You don’t understand what this is like, I CAN’T do this!” I crouched next to her and told her that I remembered how tough it is and that I knew if anyone could do this it was her. Most of the rest of the time I tried to stay quiet; I remember that feeling of being so alone as the only one in labor, experiencing this excruciating pain and just wanting it to end. I remembered that nothing anyone said was going to make me feel better, because words were not going to stop the pain. So I focused on staying present for her, making sure she was sipping water or juice, pouring water on her back and trying to remind her husband (who was visibly shaken by the experience of seeing his wife who he loved with all his soul, in so much pain and not being able to do anything about it,) that this too shall pass.
While she was pushing, I thought back again to my births and how hearing the midwife give me running commentary on the progress of actually birthing my baby helped me stay mentally focused on pushing him out. The description of where he was helped me to believe that the end was near and soon I would be holding my baby. It was enough to keep me going, so I hoped it would be for her. With every productive push, I cheered her on and told her how much more of his head was visible. When I talked to her today, she said that was the one thing that kept her focused during pushing; knowing that she was making progress and it would truly be over soon.
Bradley was born at 9:52 pm on 1/11/12, a healthy 7 lbs 14oz, after only 2 hours of pushing. I was in awe of my friend’s strength, and I cried when I saw her reach down, pull him up to her chest and burst into tears as she greeted her son for the first time. I grabbed the camera and started snapping pictures of their first moments as a family, and my friend’s realization that she just birthed her son naturally without any interventions and medications. I realized that I had just witnessed quite possibly the most amazing experience in the world, and I was honored to have been present and played a part.
My friend wears a badge of honor that many women do not have. While I respect everyone’s choices (because what’s right for you may not be right for someone else,) I really do believe that when a woman has the courage to birth at home, she has summoned a belief in her own body that many of us are too afraid to do. We are bombarded daily with pills that can fix anything and everything, but rarely do we take responsibility for our own choices that led us to an assembly line lifestyle and manner of medical care. Every aspect of our lives is the result of our own choices, and the first step to changing how birth is handled, is by having the courage to make a choice (rather than being told what to do with someone who has a degree that will take them a millennium to pay off,) regardless of what that choice is.
As I came down from my own emotional high after this experience, I found myself conflicted; could I really commit to no medications if I have another baby? I know that it is the safest way to birth, but as I recount my own labor experiences, and the experience of watching my friend experience labor, I find that I doubt myself. My friend is one of the most resilient and courageous people I know. She has been through hell and back, she never plays a victim, and always takes responsibility for how her choices have affected her own life. I watched her in agony, heard her screams for help, and I know that these are often a part of labor. Sure there are lots of women who report little pain with labor and birth, but as Mama Birth said in one of her blog posts, most of the time it DOES hurt like hell.
I come full circle now, back to Mrs. Birth Without Fear and her message is even clearer; natural birthing without fear is not about no pain, it is about accepting that your body and your birth will be what it is because your body knows what it needs to do to get the job done. Birthing without fear is about accepting the potential for any number of things to happen, to enter into the experience with eyes wide open, and to accept that while it may be tough, you will survive, (even though at the time, you may be absolutely convinced that you won’t.)
I witnessed my friend recover instantly from her birth; it is incredible how the body floods a new mother with hormones and endorphins that help her bounce back so quickly. The natural rush of oxytocin that comes when a baby is born is incredible to see, (just as you can see a mother’s body shake uncontrollably as the hormones build up for another contraction during the pushing phase.) The woman’s body is an incredible piece of engineering, designed to create and bring life into this world. Each and every step that is difficult occurs to humble us, to remind us that we have taken on the ultimate job of becoming a mother, but that every sacrifice we make for our babies is worth it a thousand times over.
I know I can do it; I just have to remember to believe in myself, and to surround myself with people who love and respect me, just as my friend did. I know that if I have another baby, my friend will be my main support person, my rock, the person who I know did this and who will commit to me like I committed to her. I am so blessed to have been a part of this experience. Through this experience my friend and I have become more than just friends, and more than family. We have become spiritually bonded in a way that only a life changing experience can bond people.
My friend, you inspire me to strive to be strong, to be brave, and you make me proud to be a woman.