As I took the tour of the birth center I would later choose to have our first baby in, I was impressed. The atmosphere was calm, the rooms were dim, the jacuzzi tubs were huge, it was nice. The midwives had peaceful words like magical fairy Godmothers they cooed and purred sweet words of natural birth. We attended our natural birth class with a doula/childbirth educator who was fantastic. We heard and read about the scientific terms, about how empowered and powerful the teacher had felt after natural birth. We heard about the natural high after labor, the sweet relief right after birthing the baby- the “I can’t do this anymore,” moment in transition then followed by the all forgotten about pain after labor ended. The fast recovery time, the awareness of mom and baby, the ease into breastfeeding, the alertness of the infant. I imagined my hormones giving me the highest high ever and moments of excitement in between contractions or “waves.” This is what they tell us about natural, un-medicated childbirth.
It was all a big fat lie. A fairy tale.
I never forgot the pain. Here’s my opinion ladies, and forgive me for bring brutally honest, brash and perhaps condescending. I was fed a fairy tale, and that wasn’t right.
See, the thing is I chose a fantastic birth center (so I thought), it has earned articles in magazines, it has thousands of great reviews on social media sites. Everyone seemed to have such a profoundly great experience.
Could those women’s pain-memory blockers be working and mine broken?
I prepared with hypnobabies, I tried to do meditations, I took the natural childbirth classes. I remember not being able to find a comfortable position for 16 hours, not being able to rest for 16 hours, throwing up during transition, my body uncontrollably shaking and shivering with pain, going in and out of the jacuzzi tub thinking how little this did at distracting me from the pain, thinking in my head that I would never have another baby, being sad that it was so overwhelming, frustrating, wanting it to be over the.entire.time. With as much force as I had I pushed her out, and I felt amazing relief, despite first and second degree tears (no help from the water with this 8 pounder!) Then came something nobody had explained to me about for more than 10 minutes except to say “The placenta will be a much easier labor and softly be birthed.” I walked out of the tub to the bed and we all sat with the new baby. I got maybe 10-15 minutes of amazing, wow, blissful, relief filled joy. Tug, tug, tug the midwife pulled the placenta too early and the placenta was only partially separated. Hemmorhage, traumatic hospital transfer, blood everywhere, blood transfusion, separation from the baby, not so much a fairy tale huh?
I’m here to tell you that we need to stop glamorizing and fairy tailizing birth.
(That’s a new word by the way.) The women who “barely had pain,” or “hypno birthed peacefully,” or “loved natural labor,” they have either forgotten the pain and/or they are the few, rare women who simply have an easier time and/or have mastered some coping methods. Every woman and labor is different, but trust me- you are probably not one of the lucky ones. It’s not fair to tell women they will have an easier time one way or another, it under prepares them for if… like most women… they don’t have an easy time. I was surprised I felt so strongly about this considering every aspect of my life otherwise is very “holistic and natural.”
It’s not all smiling women bouncing on birth balls, moaning deeply in the jacuzzi tub. My husband told me he was amazed at how calm I seemed- but on the inside- I felt scared, helpless, trapped in my own body with no way out and no option for help or relief. It wasn’t all magic and rainbows! I prayed and prayed for it to be over. I couldn’t speak so I was trapped in my own thoughts. I couldn’t control my thoughts! “I have no options here! Why did I choose this?! There is no extra congratulations for the woman who births without pain relief versus the one who doesn’t- their treated the exact same! If this is how terrible it is- I CANNOT have another baby.” These thoughts rang in my head. I had a midwife coming in and out of the room every few hours, I had my husband (who was great the whole time) helping me into different positions… but in this I was alone. The only one who was feeling this- having to cope with this, getting through this. I didn’t get the “break” in between contractions- it wasn’t a break at all having one minute of still being uncomfortable. When labor started it didn’t build up pain like I was told- it started out painful as hell and got closer together and worse! I was at a whole other realm of disappointment when I reached the “I can’t do this anymore… this HAS TO END,” and I was told I was only at 7cm. I did the only thing I could try to do and bounced the hell out of the birth ball and the only relief I felt was to push- even though I wasn’t ready to push yet! I was scolded for pushing early but I couldn’t help it- it was the only smidgen of relief I could get. Three hours later after violent bouncing on the ball and squatting more than my legs could even handle- the baby was born. At no moment did the visualizing a flower opening help me, at no moment did the midwife help me, at no moment did a certain position help me (it only made it a tiny bit more bareable), at no moment did the water bring amazing relief to me. The only thing that brought relief was the moments I was actually pushing her out. I wish I could have had a few times that were enjoyable during labor. After her birth I have watched and read birth stories where the mom is peacefully excited and chatting with her husband just before the baby is born after the epidural. “What the hell?! Did that seem ALL THAT BAD? Where was my time I got to enjoy labor aside from the brief 10 minutes after the birth?!” I never felt more accomplished than another woman who chose to have an epidural- I’m not competitive. One of the books I highly regard in every aspect of my life Nourishing Traditions said this,
Many women are upset at being unable to have a natural birth but these feelings pass as soon as your baby is born. Remember that you will only be numbed from the waist down. Whether you have a natural or a medicalized birth, you will be fully awake at the big moment and will immediately be able to take the baby into your arms, look into his eyes, and hold him to your chest. Make sure to let your doctor know ahead of time that this is what you want. If you have been following our dietary advice, you will be able to quickly clear the anesthetic and other drugs- and so will baby. This is the moment to be grateful for the miracles of modern medicine and to remember what many women had to go through in the past. –The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care by Sally Fallon and Thomas S. Cowan, MD.
I felt somehow conned with what I went though after reading this.
Let me tell you something- there will be moments that you will remember about your first times together with your baby- and nothing can convolute that or take it away.
Childbirth will not be a fairy tale, but it will be amazing.
I didn’t want to be seperated from her, I didn’t want to have the midwife and doctor punching into my uterus four times without pain medications to retrieve the placenta. I felt sad my newborn baby being held by my husband heard my cries and screams in agony as that happened. I felt strong, but it wasn’t an all defining moment of empowerment that I could shout from mountains for my whole life- in fact, I couldn’t really walk right for two months. I remember having to set up her changing table in our room just so I could walk to it. I remember writhing in pain each time I lifted my foot off the ground to walk, writhing in pain as I stepped down from the car onto our uphill driveway (I’ve never looked at it the same since.)
B.S. you will forget all the pain. I didn’t forget any of it. It haunted me, traumatized me, took me a full three months to feel decent again. But I had moments I cherished, moments of intense joy. Right when she was put to my chest, and I told her happy birthday, and my husband was amazed.
I didn’t have a magical, fairy tale experience. I didn’t feel more empowered than before, although I was amazed at my strength, mostly after childbirth I felt a little like a barn animal. Maybe people punching into your uterus would make anyone feel like a Thanksgiving turkey.
If I had had a short recovery, an amazing high for hours, forgotten about the pain, easy breastfeeding after labor and enjoyed a huge sense of empowerment maybe I’d be planning another natural birth. But I didn’t, and I’m not.
The beautiful birth center that held so many promises hurt me emotionally and physically and traumatized me more than they cared. They saw my bad review of them on Yelp and ONLY after that did they attempt to contact me about the horrifying way the emergency was handled. Not such a fairy tale ending.
I have these moments, joyful moments of motherhood. The ones you hold dearly and know you won’t forget. I won’t reveal every detail about how painful it was after her birth when she is old enough to understand because I want her to know how happy we are to have her- but I have to wonder as she gets older, if she wouldn’t have suggested, “Mama, if you hurt that badly during and after my birth-why didn’t you get some pain relief? I love you and I don’t want you to hurt or be unsafe. I know that wouldn’t mean you loved me any less.” One day when she is expecting I will have the advice for her:
Expect the unexpected, hope and pray for the best, and place your care in the hands of someone you trust. Never be disappointed in yourself if something doesn’t go the way you planned. At the end of childbirth you will be left with a recovering period, and maybe recovering from some things that were difficult emotionally and physically more so than other women you’ve talked to, maybe even the hardest recovery you’ve ever had- but you will remember the amazing moments you first got to share with your baby and hold them in your heart.
At 20 weeks pregnant with our second baby we had too many concerns and worries about home birth to keep going through with our decision for a home birth. At 20 weeks I found myself interviewing doctors and touring hospitals for the first time. This time I was open minded, more wise, but also a little more tainted by those false promises for magical labors.
Natural labor takes a lot of time to prepare, meditate, study and learn pain coping techniques. I’m glad I did it with my first baby, and I will try to have another natural labor at the hospital with our second- but so what if I end up wanting an epidural and getting a get out of jail free card for a few hours? Maybe I need that to heal from the falsities of the last labor. Maybe I need to have peace in knowing I will at least have the option for relief this time.
By no means am I trying to be negative. By no means am I encouraging you to have doubts about natural labor. But I feel that we need to stop with the false fairy tales regarding labor. Stop encouraging women to write “birth plans,” and start encouraging them to write “birth wishes,” or “birth hopes/goals.” Nothing is going to go exactly as you planned. My first birth I was so scared of getting an unnecessary C-section- and that was part of the reason I chose a birth center.
After our blood work scare this time- I let go of this fear. I could have easily been one of the moms who have to get an early C-section and have a NICU baby because of Kell antibodies.
They make it seem that if you choose a home birth or birth center you are being brave. The few times I said to another mom I was choosing home birth this time when they asked where I’d deliver I got the same response, “You’re brave.” I might have even thought on occassion that it was brave. But I wasn’t being brave…. I was hiding my fear of a C-section, of interventions beyond my control, of being powerless… only to find out that the deep rooted feeling I experienced during labor was powerlessness.
I want to encourage us to let go of all fears. Let go of fears of C-section, of episiotomies, Pitocin, pain beyond control, of hemmorhaging, of epidurals, and of an un-medicated birth. Once we let go of each of these fears we can make a decision of where to birth and what care provider to choose based on what is right for us in our situation, based on our experiences without false hopes of a magical labor.
As I awaited our bloodwork results, all I could think of was how stupid it had been that I had positioned myself so aggressively against hospitals and medicalized births. Here I was trying to come with grips that I may have to have my baby taken weeks early for anemia, probably via C-section. I thought of all the nurses and doctors who got into their fields for the sole reason to experience the beauty of labor, and to help moms and babies. I had put so much trust in the midwives last time- they sounded so caring- and they ended up being more careless than the ER nurses I experienced. The ER nurses who were genuinely scared for me- who helped me stand and walk to the bathroom, who held my hand during the procedures as I screamed. That long week that I waited- I made peace with the idea of Pitocin, C-sections and epidurals. I let go, knowing that even last time after the birth went completely natural, a disaster happened anyway and at that time I was thanking God that I could have morphine after all those attempted manual removals. (Yes… midwives and doctors forcefully rummaging into your uterus as you scream in agony.) I pushed the anger at the midwives to the back of my head for the first few months. That was the healthy thing to do as I enjoyed my time with my new baby. I waited and waited for a call or e-mail asking how I was from them- but I received nothing. Four months after the birth I finally posted a factual review of the birth center, then they decided I was worth talking to after all!
Sometimes someone who is going into an un-medicated labor tends to think they have more control than someone in the hospital. That under prepared me for the horrors and challenges that I would face. It made me very scared at the feeling of helplessness during all those hours of labor. It made me traumatized and confused when my emergency happened.
When deciding these important decisions- think of what is the MOST important. After letting go of some fears- I decided that the MOST important things to us were
- To have care provider/s who cared, who were professional and trustworthy, who made the right decisions during labor yet helped us feel we had choices in the not so serious matters. Who managed labor and placenta delivery correctly and had the skill set and ability to help the baby and myself if God-forbid a life threatening emergency happened again.
- To not be forcefully separated from the baby at any point. To be with the baby the entire time- in non emergency circumstances.
- To be with my support partner John at all times.
Of course my birth wishes are more than just this- but these three things helped me decide WHERE to give birth. It just isn’t safe or fair to choose where to give birth out of fear, and it isn’t safe or fair to think nothing could go wrong because it’s such “small percentages and statistics.” I became a small statistic. I was thankfully across the street from the hospital. My midwife did something wrong, made a poor choice and mismanaged the third stage. She took no responsibility afterwords, she told a different story and left parts out from the other midwives. She treated me non chalantly the one time after this happened, as if nothing too terrible had happened. She had no compassion or empathy for me, she probably just hoped I didn’t sue them for my SUFFERING. I almost had a hysterectomy. I received blood that was Kell positive, which could have meant major health problems for any future babies. The hemmorhage could have happened anywhere, but I was thankful I was right next door to the hospital. (Though that didn’t negate the ridiculous fees for transferring me in a fire truck) I am not anti-homebirth. I am not anti-hospital birth. I am not anti-birth center birth. I am pro choosing what is best and safest for you. Pro-healthy and safe baby and mother. Pro- not judging a woman and/or making her feel less or more because she endured a natural labor. Pro- talking about the realities of birth and labor factually without scaring and/or making one way to have labor a magical, beautiful promise that may or may not come true.
I encourage you to put the prayers and hopes onto your baby. Pray and hope for the health and safety of yourself and your baby during the arduous trials of labor. Let go of the feeling that you can control anything. If that means having a home birth, do that. If that means changing your mind at 20 weeks pregnant and going to the hospital instead, do that. Imagine and get used to the idea of an emergency transfer. Tackle your fears of a C-section, episiotomy, blood transfusion, medications or a mean nurse. Realize your biggest fear and imagine it happening. If you put yourself into these scenarios before the big day you will see that anything less than your worst fear isn’t so bad. The worst that could happen is the unspeakable- the loss of you or your infant, anything else that happens is just part of the story that brought you and your baby together… and you’ll realize it didn’t go so bad after all. This will help you let go of the uncontrollable- and enjoy the first days with your newborn. You cannot get those days back.