I gave birth to my son, Jack, two years ago. That fact blows my mind, because I can still close my eyes and recall every detail of that day, from the warmth of his gooey, wriggling body when he was placed on my naked chest to the taste of that bland hospital-cafeteria cheeseburger that I inhaled 20 minutes after he was born. The emotions that surround the memories of Jack's natural hospital birth affect me daily, and I can honestly say that those 13 hours transformed who I am on a cellular level.
I often encounter women who tell me that they are "hoping" for a natural birth in a hospital setting. This is usually translated as, "I'll go as far as I can without pain medication, but whatever happens happens." It is clear that these women want to trust the natural process of birth, but there is still a strong fear of the unknown. What if it is too painful? What if something goes wrong? What if I just can't do it?
If you are in the early stages of pregnancy with "hopes" for a natural birth, the most valuable piece of advice that I can give is to educate yourself. Your baby's birth day will profoundly affect you and the relationships you cultivate thereafter. It is no small thing. It ss an event for which you and your partner should be prepared, if only to answer those questions about birth that you may not have known to ask, and hopefully to give you the power to take control of the birth you really want.
Thankfully, there are many options for childbirth education. The most popular are taught at hospitals within a 4- to 8-hour time period; these classes are designed by hospital staff to let you and your partner know what to expect when you arrive to their facility, as well as to give you a general understanding of labor and delivery. Personally, I have never taken one of these classes, but I tend to cringe when I learn that a woman who desires an unmedicated birth chooses this short-and-sweet method (taught in a medical setting) as her only form of childbirth preparation. I don't mean that to sound judgmental. All I know is that, for me, a list of vocabulary words and a tour of the maternity ward certainly would not have helped me to achieve the birth I wanted.
What I desired were classes designed around pregnancy health and comfort measures in labor, as well as how to avoid medical interventions in a hospital setting. After some research, my husband and I chose to take a childbirth class called the Bradley Method. The sessions were held once a week for 12 weeks. This sounded like a very long time to commit to learning something my body was supposed to "know" how to do, but it felt right to devote such focused weekly attention on my baby. Another alluring feature of the Bradley Method was its focus on partner-based coaching. My husband very much wanted to play an active role in our baby's birth, and he wanted to be as supportive as possible in the most effective way. A class that placed as much importance on partner bonding and communication as it did on birth education seemed right up our alley.
Now, I realize that there are many natural birth techniques out there. I realize that many people have many opinions on what works and what doesn't or what is outdated. The Bradley Method was founded in the 1940s and there have been many natural birth methods developed before and since. Of what my husband and I researched, Bradley seemed to meet our needs and our budget; we also ended up with an unmedicated birth, as did the other eight couples in our class. That, to me, speaks volumes about the effectiveness of this method.
During the twelve weeks we devoted to our Bradley Method classes, my husband and I were taught prenatal nutrition, how to reach a state of instant relaxation, partner-based coaching, knowledge of anatomy and the birth process, prenatal exercises, and labor "rehearsals" where the we acted out the stages of birth. Couples were issued workbooks and a textbook that I considered to be the most helpful birth literature I had come across. The classes are designed for small groups, making one-on-one student-teacher coaching possible and often ending in a tightly knit parental support group; in my case, three of the families we took classes with are still, two years later, very close friends and our children love to play together. Our Bradley instructor, who is also now a dear friend, was up to date on all the latest medical information as well as the Who's Who of the medical community -- when I was in need of a new medical provider, she found a hospital with a midwife team who supported my birth plan. It was enriching to have a teacher I trusted who encouraged me and taught me to trust my instincts; I found amazing strength through her instruction.
The Bradley Method teaches many coping techniques for labor, a lot of which I thought my husband I would benefit from when it was "time." I was grateful for all the information, but most importantly for the knowledge that birth was a personal journey for which we should all be free to find our own rhythm. Of all the tools we learned (and packed to bring to the hospital), the only "tool" we ended up needing was the invaluable bond that our Bradley classes had opened up for us. Partner-based coaching proved to be an incredible experience, and my husband loved being my doula; he talks about his son's birth with a smile, and he is very much looking forward to the birth of our second child with even more hands-on responsibilty. (This time, he wants to catch the baby, cut the cord and encapsulate my placenta!)
If you are interested in having an unmedicated birth, especially in a hospital setting, I strongly urge you to find a birth education class, to stick with it and to apply the lessons to your daily life as you lead up to the birth of your child. The Bradley Method was the right choice for my family, and I recommend it to every mother-to-be I encounter.
For more information on the Bradley Method of Husband-Based Natural Childbirth, or to find an instructor near you, visit www.bradleybirth.com
Jack Everett was born 11-15-09, at 40 weeks 6 days.
We had planned for a natural birth using Bradley methods. This was initially due to the fact that I have a metal Harrington rod in my spine from back surgery when I was 14 years old. The rod took away the option of an epidural, which frightened me at first; however, as I started to research natural birth and educate myself on my choices, I became very excited to birth normally. I became obsessed with the idea of bringing a drug-free baby into the world and feeling the high of natural childbirth -- not to mention feeling the accomplishment of such a beautiful and intense rite of passage.
With 12 weeks of Bradley courses under our belts, along with endless books, videos, and advice from a dear doula friend, we felt prepared to have the natural birth we wanted with a CNM in a hospital. We had our birth ball, our tennis balls for back labor, rice socks, aromatherapy, focus points to look at while pushing, stories of positive birth to read aloud if I started to get discouraged … we had a bag of tricks that weighed 40 pounds.
Turns out being overly prepared is great, but getting back to basics is what got us through Jack's birth.
On Saturday, November 14, five days past Jack’s estimated due date, I was feeling very uncomfortable. I even texted a friend this message: "Worst day yet. I don't want to do this much longer. I’m gonna nap now but could use an encouraging phone call later. Xoxo"
I blamed my discomfort on my increasing sciatica pain and the spicy curry I had for dinner the night before. A girlfriend came by to keep me company and chat over tea (we're so civilized), and I had to keep apologizing for zoning out -- I was just not with it.
Once Ursula left, the "gas pains" I had blamed on the delicious curry were getting really annoying. I noticed at one point I wanted to lean against the counter and let my big belly hang down until the cramping passed. This was a hilarious moment. There I was, laughing in my kitchen to myself for being so stupid -- I was having early contractions.
I texted my husband Jeff, who had been working since 8 a.m., with this message: "No need to come home, but I think I’m having early contractions! Exciting!" He got excited and wanted to come home, but I told him to stay out, get some dinner and take his time, reminding him that this was the easy and boring part and I could handle it on my own.
At around 8 p.m., Jeff came home asking if I really thought this was it. I said I could labor like this for more than a day, so who knows. So we sat down and went over our pain management plans, our birth plan, the contents of the hospital bag, and talked about some key phrases that I had decided would really work for me when I needed coaching, such as "Sag your belly, breathe way down low, you can always relax more than you think you can." We went to bed fully prepared for this to be the night, but still not 100% convinced, since it had been so easy to manage so far.
At 12:45 a.m. I woke myself up. I was moaning in a low, low open voice and my stomach was cramping and wrapping around my body to my back. It was my first real contraction. I was growling like an animal. Jeff was instantly awake and trying to soothe me, excited to try his "tricks" for contraction management. He rubbed my back, told me to breathe, told me to relax, asked if I wanted to get on all fours so he could squeeze my hips to relieve any back pain. He was very "active." We went through several contractions like this. He heated up the rice sock and put it on my back and stomach and got me a comb so I could squeeze it during my contractions. Activity was the name of the game -- hard work.
Yet after about an hour of real contractions that were only getting more intense, I began to get annoyed with our "tricks." I realized what we needed was rest. If this was it, we needed to chill out and try to sleep on our "breaks." So we curled up together naked in bed and Jeff wrapped his arms around me. When a contraction came, I’d take a deep breath and moan. He picked up on my moaning and said, "That's good. Make that sound nice and low ... now breathe deep down into your belly and give me another good moan ... even lower. You're almost there. Wow, you really handled that one well."
And it was then that we found our groove. All I needed him to say (and I NEEDED him to say it) was to take deep breaths into my belly and to moan low. That. was. all. I didn't use visualization like I had thought. (I wanted to imagine my big bag of muscles stretching and fitting over baby's head.) However, knowing what my body was doing so that I didn't have to be scared of it was priceless. I trusted every contraction to do its job.
Then came a moment so surprising that we still talk about it with wonder and complete love. As I was coming down from a contraction, he kissed me, and we kissed and kissed until we found ourselves needing to make love. We did, and it was so intense and pure and intimate that thinking about it now makes me choke up. We made love while I was contracting, and it was beautiful. There was no pain at all.
Afterwards, we laughed together at our odd and beautiful timing, labored through another contraction with love all around us, and then I got up to go to the bathroom. That's when I got really excited. I lost my mucous plug right then (what a strange and goopy experience!) along with some blood. I smiled and knew that we were having a baby in a very short time.
We labored in bed until 6:30 a.m., sleeping when we could and waking up to get through and time contractions. By then, my contractions stopped giving me any kind of break and continued to peak one after the other. I was having a harder time coping, but Jeff was right there with me, talking me through each and every moment. I wanted to labor at home as long as possible before calling our midwife and heading to the hospital in order to increase our chances of a natural birth. I wasn't sure it was time to go because we had been laboring so well, and it had only been about 6 hours of good, active, hard work. But timing was erratic-- my contractions were either 3 minutes, 1 minute or no minutes apart and all lasting just over a minute in length. To me, that was a sign to at least call and check in with our Midwife, no matter how well we were doing.
Jeff recalls almost breaking down when he called our midwife -- this was a very real moment and we were really going to have a baby. When she said it sounded like we needed to head in, I started second guessing myself. I wanted to be as far along as possible -- I wanted to stay home until I just couldn't anymore, and I wasn't sure I was at that point yet. We were doing too well. It was then, however, that I remembered I really needed to trust myself and listen to my body. My body was telling me it was time to go.
I should take a moment to talk about the blessing of the minutes between contractions. Nature is so, so kind. Between contractions, you would never have known I was in labor. I was smiling, happy, comfortable and excited. I did not "look forward" to another contraction, but concentrated on just relaxing and going with the flow and the rhythm. This was not work, and it was not hard to do -- nature allowed for this time, and I gratefully accepted it.
The trip to the hospital was not as hard as I imagined it would be, but it was hard. Jeff coached me through a contraction at the house door, at the car, two times on the way to the hospital, before exiting the car, at the ER door, in the ER waiting room ... it was like my contractions were relentless (except they weren't relentless -- my breaks made it possible to get through it).
I was wheel-chaired Hollywood-style through the hospital corridors with Jeff running behind carrying the huge and heavy hospital bag. I made a joke that we wouldn't need anything in that bag. He made a joke that I was being pushed by the fastest orderly in the world. We laughed, and then were wheeled over to get checked in to triage.
I thought it was odd that they gave ME the paperwork to fill out instead of Jeff, but it occurred to me later that I didn't look like a woman in labor. In between contractions I was smiling, laughing, and being very polite. The staff treated me like I was not very far along ... that is until I had a contraction (Jeff dropped everything to hold me in his arms and coach me through it) and then I had another. I heard one nurse get very serious. "Oh wow, those aren't far apart. Let's get her in there and checked out," she said.
Once in triage, i was asked to give my pain level on a scale of 1-10. I said, "I wouldn't describe this as pain." The nurses said I probably wasn't that far along then. Then, I heard the sweetest words. A beautiful young nurse came in to check my cervix for dilation, but before she got started she said to me what every natural birth mama wants to hear ... "I read your birth plan." She then said we would wait to take blood and that she would not check me any more than I asked her to after the initial exam. She apologized for having to check at all, even though at this point I was excited to know how far along I was -- praying I was not only 4 centimeters and that I had headed to the hospital too soon.
Then came even sweeter words. I still can't believe it, actually. She said, with her fingers inside of me, "Oh ... I feel a bag of water, the baby's head, and no cervix."
"What!?" Jeff and I both looked at her. "You're complete," she explained. Holy shit. Jeff and I looked at each other with complete elation and actually highfived each other right there in OB Triage. We had done it. All that hard work suddenly felt like nothing. Another contraction came and I sailed right through it. I told the nurse I'd really like to go to the bathroom before we went to Labor & Delivery and she laughed at me. "Oh no, you're not having that baby in Triage." I was confused, but later realized that my need to go was actually the urge to push.
I sailed through another contraction, now lots further apart than previous ones, as we were wheeled into L&D. Jeff said, "You're doing so great!" And I said, "Yeah, I believe you!" The nurses laughed. "She can't be complete," one said. "She's laughing and smiling." "She's also going natural," said another. "You're kidding me..."
Jeff recalls us being wheeled into our room and seeing a nurse setting up equipment. He said it looked like she was preparing an IV and other routine items. The nurse who had initially checked me corrected the situation by saying, "She's going all-natural and isn't going to need that." The other nurse complied immediately and left the room.
I met my Certified Nurse Midwife, Tanya, for the first time in L&D. She was the only midwife on the team I had not met during my routine exams. Funny how things work out, because it turned out that Tanya's laid back and unemotional bedside manner was exactly what I needed. She asked if I felt the need to bear down and I said no. So she just sat quietly and watched while I had a contraction and Jeff leaned into me over the bed to coach me through it. She did this for two hours before I thought to ask if I should be "doing something." She smiled and said, "You're doing it, just have a baby." Tanya was so pleasantly invisible. I was so impressed with her.
At this point I was no longer happy between contractions. They were several minutes apart and very, very intense. My midwife said the time for relaxing through contractions was over and we needed to get to work. That helped me. I had not felt an urge to push, but I needed to get my baby down. This was hard work. I was starting to doubt myself, and I said so. I felt like I should be doing more. She told me my body would not let me keep that baby inside. As much as I would’ve liked to have waited for urges to push, I didn’t feel like I was going to feel them, and looking back I know my body helped, but I never really felt that "like a sneeze" desire to get the baby out.
For two more hours I tried and tried to push -- on my side and on my back -- but it was taking too long (according to me). It helped me during this time to moan, "Baaaaaby, baaaaaaby," in a low and deliberate voice, like I was actually connected to Jack (and of course I was).
When the baby's heart rate started to decelerate, Tanya spoke up. "Rachel, Jack needs you to get more serious. Do you want to try some directed pushing?" YES! That is exactly what I needed! Direction! I was so thankful to feel like I would actually be getting somewhere. Jeff had coached me through contractions, and I needed her to coach me through pushing.
Pushing was the hardest part of my labor, and I was not prepared for that. I skimmed past the pushing parts in all the books because I believed that my body would know what to do when it was time. Boy was I wrong. It was so, so hard for me. My entire pushing phase took 5 hours.
With direction, Jeff took his place at my side and held my foot up while I looped my arm under my knee. Dana, a wonderful nurse, took the other side. I don't really recall many details after this point, except that I was very loud, very scared and very tired. I slept between pushes (oh, I love you, Nature) and did my best to follow Tanya's direction when it was time to push. I remember her saying, "Rachel, you need to get past this point -- push past it, more more more, ok." I figured out what she meant when I realized I was stopping when I felt the urge to poop. I was supposed to feel that, and then push more. I was learning! I was helping my baby out!
Tanya did ask if she could break my water because it "was going to explode" if not. I said ok, and a warm gush flowed over my legs. It felt almost good. Unfortunately, I was told there was meconium in the fluid and she told Jeff that meant the baby would have to be checked out right away instead of being placed on my chest. I was so distraught by this, and I used it as an excuse to pout for a minute before remembering what I was doing. It was time to have a baby. I got back to work.
Soon, I was told to put my hand down and touch my vagina. There was the squishy, warm top of my baby boy’s head. Jeff was crying, "Oh my God, Baby, he's right there! I can see his hair, oh my God!" He was so encouraging, and his excitement fueled me every time.
I did say a lot of negative things. Like, "I want to quit ... help me ... I can't do this.. I want to go home." But it was never because I wanted medication or to escape the pain. I was just tired and I wanted a break. I thought I was scaring people with my screaming and growling (like a wild animal -- so wild!) and I got self conscious. That all went away when they pulled the mirror over and I saw my baby's head peeking out from between my legs. His hair was so black and so thick.
Tanya said she could almost see his forehead and that he needed me to push. I could hear by her tone that something was wrong. "Rachel, I need you to get serious, Jack needs you to push. I don't want to do an episiotomy." SHlT! OK! I didn't want that either. I pushed with ALL of my might -- and for the first time can say I felt the urge to bear down -- and things got REALLY intense. I remember shouting, "ARE YOU F*CKING KIDDING ME? WOMEN DO THIS???!!" Yet within a half hour, I did it.
I watched in the mirror as his head slipped out and I saw his face, all greenish and huge. Then, after one good push, his body just slipped out. This part is fuzzy to me, but I heard her say, "...wrapped around twice." And I noticed that Jeff didn't catch the baby as intended. But that was so distant to me because in an instant a slimy baby was placed on my naked chest (I had ripped my gown off a few hours prior). The nurses said, "look at his face," and then he was off my chest and over to the warming table to be examined due to the meconium. Someone else cut the cord because the placenta still had not been delivered and baby needed to be checked quickly. I didn't care at all ... I had had him, it was over. I pushed out the placenta and Tanya said, "You're officially not pregnant." WOW! (That's the part of my birth story that I would have liked to have gone very differently, as well as having my water broken. I hope to remedy these details with my next birth to feel better about it all.)
Jeff remembers so many more details of Jack's entry into the world -- he has a vivid image of Jack's curled up body springing open as his arms and legs extended ... he says that was his favorite moment.
An award goes to Jeff for advocating for me at this time. He says one nurse told him she was just going to "wrap him up" so that Jeff could give the baby to "mom," and Jeff said, "Actually, can we give him to her skin to skin?" And that was how my baby was finally in my arms, handed to me by Jeff, covered later by a warm blanket. He breastfed immediately, and we got to hold him for an hour before moving to our recovery room. He was (and is) the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. The instant love is amazing.
The instant hunger is, too. I ate a cheeseburger and fries 30 minutes after delivering and was completely alert, happy and healthy. So was baby.
Jack Everett was born 11-15-09, 8 pounds 8 ounces, 20.5 inches long. I didn't tear and did not need an episiotomy.
Thank you for reading Jack's story. I had the birth I wanted, and there was not a single moment when I thought I needed medication to get me through. Even at the hardest parts. I am so proud of myself and so proud of my husband for being devoted to getting me through every moment. We are the happiest parents in the world.