Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Birth Highs

Did you have a Birth High? I did. It was the most amazing feeling. I remember thinking, "If I could do that, I can do anything!" Scientists tell me that's oxytocin rushing through my veins. If that's what it was, hook me up for some more! (Though, only the natural stuff please, Pitocin certainly didn't make me feel this way.)

I've been watching a lot of documentaries on Netflix recently, the latest of which have been The Business of Being Born and Pregnant in America. Both movies deal with the medical communities growing disregard for the exerience of birth and their emphasis on convenience. I highly recommend that everyone watch these, but I feel they'll have special meaning to expectant and current mothers. I know that they only solidified my resolve to have only natural births, but they've gotten me to thinking about births in general and how much do we really know?

In asking several of my friends, acquaintences, and family, I was horrified to learn that many of these people considered a Natural Birth to be a vaginal birth, with or without the use of drugs. They thought there's only two kinds: Natural or Cesarean. It made me sad to think that they didn't join in my joy of having a Natural (Unmedicated) Birth! No wonder they all just sort of said, "Yeah, and?"

Now, I'll be honest with you guys. I was pretty naive going into my pregnancy with Benjamin. I never considered a midwife, and I actually didn't think midwives practiced anymore in this day and age. I knew that I didn't want an epidural, but it was mostly because my mother had birthed all 4 of her children without one (so I could too) and not because of the potential risks. I didn't research doctors, I just went to the OB that I had my annual gynological appointments with. I didn't research hospitals (or birth centers for that matter), I just chose the one that was closest to my home. I did absolutely no research on possible complications or drugs used in "aiding" labor. My eyes glazed over in the birth class when they went over these things because "I had an uncomplicated pregnancy, why would I have a complicated labor?"

My OB didn't educate me on anything unless I asked about a particular subject. But how was I supposed to know what to ask if I didn't know my options?! I just went with the flow. I learned the hospital I chose had Doulas available for birthing mothers and after meeting the group of them, I knew that I wanted one of them to be with me, though if the hospital had not made it such an affordable option, I probably would have gone without.

Benjamin's labor was full of interventions, even though it started spontaneously. Around noon of the day he was born (10 hours of active labor at that point), my OB came in and wanted to start Pitocin. When I asked why, he said, "You're not progressing fast enough." I should have asked why I had a deadline (my waters had not broken yet), but I have a better understanding now that he wanted it all done before he was off shift for the day. When I refused, he told me that he'd give me 2 hours but then he had to start it. Again, why did he have to? Baby was in no danger. But, I had only progressed one centimeter and wasn't to the pushing stage that apparently my OB was after, so he started the Pitocin. Not long after that, I thought I was going to die, so I got the epidural. Then they had to up the pitocin because my labor slowed down. And then my doctor was done for the day and came to say he'd see me tomorrow, "hopefully with a baby." By the time I was ready to push, I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn't feel a damned thing wtih that epidural. But both my and baby's heartrate were dropping so I was told I had to get that baby out fast. I ended up with a 4th degree tear that took 9 weeks to heal because I pushed him out so fast he didn't have time to turn his body.

Because of my experience in Benjamin's labor, I was so much more prepared for Miriam's birth. I "reserved" the same doula that was there for Benjamin's birth. She was awesome. I wrote a detailed (super detailed) birth plan and hand delivered it to the birth center (they lost the one from Benjamin's birth when I had mailed it in). I was prepared to say No Way to any and all drugs pushed at me. Whenever threatened "Baby's in danger" at me, I was going to ask what exactly would happen if I waited 30 minutes to make a decision. I was not going to let someone strong-arm me into what they wanted to do. I was more comfortable for her birth. I moaned, as loudly as I wanted, without caring who heard me. I only had Chris and the doula in my room, and I declined all vaginal checks from the nurses. I never felt like I was going to die of pain in her labor. I won't lie, I got really really uncomfortable, but the pain felt like it was doing something progressive and positive. Sooner than I was ready for, Miriam was crowning. I do remember yelling at one of the nurses when she told me to push. I wanted to do this on my own. I wanted Miriam to come on her own, slowly, and safely. I delivered Miriam without a doctor present. A wonderful, and surprised, nurse caught her. Then, in rushed the doctor, arms flailing about that no one called to tell him I was close, and "what if she needed Pitocin" and "what if there was something wrong with the baby". I shrug at it. I was in a hospital afterall. There were 16 doctors present on the grounds, plus another 32 doctors on call if something did go wrong. I would have said no to the pitocin anyway, so I didn't care.

Miriam's birth empowered me. I wish that all women could have such empowering births. I wish that the birthing system in the United States educated women more on their choices of birth than on their choices of birth control. I didn't care for my experiences with doctors, though I loved the caring hands of my doula and the quiet support of my husband. From here on out, any babies being born in my family won't be happening with a doctor. All I felt was love for me, for my husband, for my children through the entire labor, and I don't want it taken away by the presence of anyone else.

I'm still on my Birth High and it empowers me to be a great mother. What did your birth do for you?


  1. Great post. I'm so happy to hear you were able to get the kind of care you deserve with your second birth. I posted a similar story recently about why we chose to have a homebirth. I'm on my way to becoming a certified doula and childbirth educator and hope to have the opportunity to help so many women who deserve personal care. I hope we can rise up and continue to educate women and empower them with confidence going into their births as it is a day you will never forget. Hugs.

  2. Karen, I just found your blog and have been enjoying reading for the past... I don't know how long. I appreciate what you've written about your birth experiences. I started off just like you did with your pregnancy with Benjamin, but I ended up seeing and reading The Business of Being Born close to midway through my pregnancy. That got me looking at midwives and birth centers, both in Illinois and Wisconsin.

    Sort of to appease Rob, and to cover all my bases, we went to a doula meeting at the local hospital, and that really changed my perspective about my possibilities. There were other couples there interested in nonmedicated birth, and we were so fortunate that one of the couples was in their second pregnancy and was able to recommend their doctor. (As hospital employees, the doulas couldn't make recommendations, but they chimed in in a chorus of approval once the couple mentioned their doctor's name.) That's how I ended up solidifying my plans, switching doctors, and delivering in Wisconsin.

    Though I had anticipated a complications-free birth, that didn't end up happening, and I know that I was in the right place with the right group of people. I was so grateful for the presence and support of our doula Vanessa (just like you!), as well as Rob, a patient nurse on a long shift, and my doctor, whom I trusted and knew to be completely supportive of my wishes.

    So many things happened that I originally had not wanted, and yet I felt really good about how it unfolded. I was given Pitocin because I still wasn't feeling contractions 12 hours after my water had broken. I spent a lot of time in a birthing tub. About nine hours after my i.v. was started, someone said I was in transition and baby would be there soon. Five hours after that, not much had changed, except that the contractions were ever closer together and more uncomfortable. It turned out that Jimmy's head was at an angle, which was why things weren't progressing and he hadn't been born yet.

    My doctor explained the situation, and she said we had two things to try before I would need a c-section: some different positions to try to realign the baby, and an epidural to help relax my muscles. So we did those (with lots of help from Vanessa for the position changes), and they worked! I hadn't realized how close I'd been to surgery until my doctor did a happy dance and said they could call her collaborating surgeon to say we probably wouldn't be needing him after all. (My doctor is in family practice, so she doesn't perform c-sections herself.) At our postpartum visit, Vanessa confirmed that they had thought the epidural would be c-section prep.

    So yeah, I ended up having lots of things that I hadn't wanted - Pitocin, an i.v., continuous monitoring, an epidural, lying-on-my-back delivery - but I was not disappointed because I felt like each intervention only happened when there wasn't another option. I strongly felt that everyone wanted what was best for me and for the baby (hm, minus the tech who checked me in to the hospital, who clearly thought I was an idiot for refusing her instructions and choosing to stay in my own clothes), not that they were forcing things on me for their own convenience.

    I am looking forward to being back at the hospital, with our doctor and doula, for our next child's birth, whenever that may be. If, at some point in the future, you would like to have a doctor who fully supports nonmedicated birth and minimal interventions, or if you are looking for a doctor for your kids, I would be happy to give you her information.

    Hm, I'm not linking to an account, so I'll post as anonymous, but this is Heidi,

  3. Thanks for sharing your story, Heidi! It sounds like you were in some really good and competent hands. I love Vanessa; she usually works the Columbia Center tent at the Cedarburg festivals, so we always catch up with her there to show her how big the babies are getting.

    I'm sorry you had a birth full of interventions (and know that it's okay to grieve over it if you feel you need to). I am happy that your team was able to work with you to avoid further interventions! And if I ever had to give birth in a hospital again, I would definitely birth in Columbia Center. As it is, I've discovered that I am a very private birther until it comes to transition. I don't like being fussed over, talked to, or touched while in labor. If we're still in the Milwaukee area for our next birth, I'm thinking about going to Babies and Bellies in Menomonee Falls (a freestanding birth center attended by midwives). I don't think I can convince Chris to be comfortable with a homebirth just yet!

  4. Thanks for letting me know about Vanessa's appearances in Cedarburg. We haven't been to those festivals yet, but I think we will in the future.

    It's interesting to think back on how my opinions about birth have evolved. After reading Your Best Birth (I made a mistake in my earlier post - that's the name of the book by the women who made The Business of Being Born) and some other books, I pretty much thought that there was no way I could have a positive experience in a hospital or with a doctor. And yet, like I said, I ended up feeling like I was in the right place with the right people when the time came. Despite things not happening as I had firmly believed they would, I did feel empowered by my experiences, and I am perhaps even more confident in my ability to have unmedicated births in the future.

    Rob and I have been to the Bellies and Babies place a few times, including to learn about babywearing and cloth diapering. We met one midwife who would not have been a good fit for us, but I know there are many others who work there. It's great to have that birthing option in the area.

    Not really adding much to the conversation here, just a couple of my random thoughts. I am glad we are getting to know each other better!