I had always assumed I would want a pretty medical birth, though I never thought of it that way. I thought it was just “normal” to have an epidural, or maybe even a planned C-section. I used to say I was a complete wimp, and I believed it myself.
Then a friend shared her experience of staying at home through almost her entire labor, arriving at the hospital just in time to push. She hadn’t had an epidural or any pain medication. At first, I was shocked and a little uncomfortable. It seemed pretty weird and hippy-like, but I kept re-reading her story because it was peculiarly beautiful.
I started to think if she could do it, I could, too.
I started reading a wide variety of birth stories online and found myself drawn to the ones that were unmedicated, vaginal births. I was surprised by this change in my own attitude. I researched various medications and procedures commonly used in labor and delivery — things like pitocin for induction or augmentation of labor, epidurals and other pain medications, continuous electronic fetal monitoring, etc. — including their risks and the relative safety of declining such interventions. I even considered a planned home birth, but Daddy wasn’t comfortable with the idea. I think it was still illegal in our state at that time, anyway, or maybe had just become legal.
Daddy and I went to an informational session led by a doula to learn about birth options in our area, with a special focus on how to achieve a natural birth. The speaker talked about which hospitals were more or less supportive and discussed where to find classes to prepare for a natural birth since they don’t really teach that in hospital classes. She also recommended hiring a doula, of course, and explained the many ways both mother and father could benefit from continuous support. She didn’t want to recommend or disparage any doctors, but if attendees asked for information about a specific doctor, she shared what information she had from personal experience or discussion with other birth professionals. When I asked about my doctor, she seemed hesitant, then said “she is very medical.”
It seemed this doula was trying to caution us, but the doctor appeared to be on board with a natural birth throughout all my prenatal visits. We had discussed all the elements of our birth plan, and the doctor even signed off on it. We toured the hospital’s Labor and Delivery floor. We were very impressed that all the medical equipment was hidden away, while a birth ball or even a birth tub could be brought in to the labor rooms. I believed the doctor and hospital would cooperate with our preferences, assuming everything progressed normally. I was really looking forward to working together to achieve a peaceful, natural birth.
I thought it would look like this:
Labor would start on its own. We would call the doula we had hired to provide support for both Daddy and me while I labored at home. I would be able to eat and drink at will, move around and change position as much as I liked. Daddy and the doula would help with massages, counter-pressure, warm compresses, cool washcloths, whatever I needed. I would “just know” when I needed to go to the hospital, or perhaps the doula would help us identify the right time. We would arrive at the hospital just in time to start pushing, and they wouldn’t even have time to insert a hep lock. (I hate needles.) Rather than pushing on my back, I would squat or lay on my side, since those positions actually make it easier for the baby to make its way out. (The doctor wasn’t too keen on any other positions, but said a squat bar could be attached to the bed.) The doctor would work on stretching the perineal tissue so I wouldn’t need an episiotomy, and she would wait to cut the umbilical cord until it had stopped pulsing. I would hold the baby while they did all the newborn assessments, and we’d have a first go at nursing, which would “click” wonderfully. Finally, we’d all head to the recovery room to rest, relax and cuddle with our new baby.
There’s an old saying that hindsight is 20/20. I can see now I was very naïve. There were plenty of warning signs in the months leading up to your birth; I just didn’t know any better. But that’s a story for another day.