I have spoken to many people about how we brought our babies into this world; that we had two unmedicated births at a birth center (not in a hospital). Many people either look at us like we are crazy or they look at us with extreme intrigue. I say “us” and “we” because Conrad (my husband) took a very large part in the birth of his children. He was my coach. He was there to soothe me, to motivate me, to make me comfortable. He was my support. This was a trial for him as well… one we both trained for.
I think as a society we need to be better, especially among women, in supporting the choices we make regarding our pregnancies and births. Yes, everyone has a different experience and everyone has (and is entitled to) their own opinion. I happen to believe that every woman has the right to have the birth she wants… whether that be out in a field under a blanket of stars or on an operating table. I do however, also believe that every woman deserves to be educated on what her options are, what the side effects or consequences are for those options, and not be forced into making decisions because she isn’t being told everything by her doctor or attending physician.
When we first found out we were pregnant with our first baby (daughter Blair), I was totally on the medicated bandwagon. I wanted the epidural, I wanted the fluids, I wanted the doctor to just come in and make it easy for me. But, at that time I really didn’t understand what was happening with my body and with the developing body, brain, bones, organs, nervous system, etc. of my baby. Luckily I was very adamant about getting involved in prenatal yoga at a very early stage. I think I started taking classes when I was 9 weeks pregnant and after I had seen my doctor for the first time. It was in my yoga classes that I was first introduced to the idea of an unmedicated birth.
“Why on earth would you want to go through that pain if you don’t have to?”
That is a very valid question – one that I asked myself. I was immediately interested in why women would take this route rather than use modern, western medicine. So, I started educating myself. I started with The Business of Being Born, a documentary that is conveniently available on Netflix. This really opened my eyes to our medical system here in the United States. I already had my qualms with our medical system, having been misdiagnosed by three doctors (including gastro specialists) and sent home from the E.R. twice with acid reflux prescriptions when in fact, I had gall stones at the age of 16. Gall stones that filled my gallbladder to the brim, causing it to overflow, blocking my liver duct, shutting down my liver, giving me jaundice, and causing me to be hospitalized for a week right before Christmas. Two surgeries and one gall bladder removal later, plus years of discomfort while my body adapted to the fact that I was now missing an organ… I was a new girl! So, yes… my faith in our medical system had already been a bit shaken.
Through watching The Business of Being Born and then continuing to do my own research by reading published articles by accredited establishments and medical professionals, and also reading and watching others’ birth stories, I began to understand that this is not something we need to be cured from. Yes, our advancement in technology has allowed us to have much more control over our pregnancies and not spend 40 weeks pondering “what if?” But, as a lot of our technology and medical procedures are relatively new (in the scheme of how long women have been birthing babies), we still do not fully understand what effect these procedures have on us and our babies.
And, we as a society have relied so heavily upon the medical system with birth. So much so that most women don’t feel the need to take responsibility for what is going on in their bodies. Yes, they may keep up with the weekly developmental update – “your baby’s skin is beginning to thicken…” But, they don’t make the effort to find out how it is all happening and how they (not the doctors & nurses) will be bringing this child into the world.
Your body is a machine… a free machine. One that you can fine tune at your own discretion. You have control over this machine (though it may not feel like it when your labor lasts for the better part of a day). But, if you give your body the tools to do what it is supposed to do, you may be surprised by the fact that your body can pretty much birth your baby without you really doing much except for allowing it to do it what it needs to do. Mind over matter. It’s a powerful thing. As is the uterus. 🙂
Both of my pregnancies were low risk. I had very normal, dare I say easy pregnancies. So, I did not require a lot of monitoring. Every woman is different and if she wants monitoring to give her peace of mind – I say go for it! Stress is not a happy thing to have during pregnancy, and worry causes stress. But, at a certain point in my first pregnancy I decided that my body knows what it’s doing. Because, that is how we are built. Women are built to make and deliver babies. Yes, some of us need some help (enter modern medicine), and luckily we have the tools to help those women. And I am thankful for that. My point is that I wanted to give my body – hundreds of thousands of years of evolution – the opportunity to do what it was built for.
And, this is not to say that high-risk women cannot have a natural childbirth. On the contrary! The only requirement from your physician is that they will probably want you to do it in a hospital where everything is readily available.
“So, what? You just want to prove you can do it without drugs?”
No. Giving birth is not a competition. Me giving birth to a baby without drugs DOES NOT make me any better that a woman giving birth with two epidurals and pitocin.
I was very conscious and careful about what I put in and on my body during my pregnancies. Upon confirming your pregnancy, your doctor will give you a list of “safe” medications to use during pregnancy. The list is short, and the medications (in my own opinion) seldom help whatever ailment you may be experiencing. So, you spend 40 weeks just coping with aches and pains and inflammation and indigestion and swelling (sounds fun, right?), and then WHAM! You go into labor and they give you crazy pain killers and a cocktail of other fun drugs. Like all of a sudden it is okay to have something stronger than Tylenol.
Putting drugs in your body causes side effects. Yes, your epidural may numb you from the waist down and you may not have to suffer through your contractions anymore. But, those drugs also reach your baby via the placenta. And, epidurals usually mean you need to get pitocin to stimulate contractions because you can no longer feel them (and push efficiently). Again, these drugs can cross the placenta into your baby’s bloodstream. They can make your baby lethargic, they can cause your baby to go into the NICU (preventing that opportunity for immediate skin-skin and breastfeeding) which can hinder breastfeeding success. Think about how big you are and the amount of drugs they may pump you with. Now think of how big your baby is. They can affect her/him in unforeseen ways.
There is also the highly increased chance of having to have a C-Section once these drugs are introduced. The average rate of C-Sections in the United states is currently around 30%-32%. This means 1 in every 3 women entering an American hospital end up on the operating table. ACOG (the American Congress of Obstericitans and Gynecologists) believes this number should be no more than 10%. But, it seems this number is continuing to climb because a) it is more controllable than letting a woman labor naturally; b) less liability for the doctors and hospitals.
A lot of women opt for C-Sections because they can plan for when their baby will arrive. They can pick a date (so long as they are full term), and have their baby in their arms without having gone through labor. Some may prefer this. Some women are told by their doctors to expect to have a C-Section either because their baby is too big, their pelvis is too small, or because of previous medical issues. They get it in their minds that they shouldn’t even try. Most women don’t understand that a C-Section is MAJOR SURGERY. It is just so commonplace these days that we don’t really think about the fact that our stomachs are being cut open, our organs being pushed to the side (or intestines being taken out and placed in a convenient nearby bowl), and baby yanked out of the womb. A lot of babies go to the NICU after a C-Section as all the juices and fluids don’t get squeezed out of them (like with a vaginal delivery).
Personally, I have had abdominal surgery before. I have had to deal with the recovery. I have had to deal with not being able to shower because of my sutures. I have had to deal with rolling out of bed because I could not withstand the pain of sitting up straight. I have had to deal with the side effects of the drugs I was taking to deal with the pain. I did not want to sign up for that again AND have a brand new baby to take care of, love on, cuddle with, feed, clothe, bathe, diaper, etc. Plus, I wanted to breastfeed and wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that whilst on pain medication.
I also used my placenta; the miracle organ. Some people think this is pretty gross. But, think about how incredibly amazing this organ is. It sustained life for your baby for 40 weeks. It provided all of the necessary nutrients, blood, oxygen, hormones, required for your baby to grow and develop. It has incredible properties. I am not going to waste that. So, I had my placenta encapsulated… I did not eat it raw because that’s just not my thing, but some women dig it. It was taken away and prepared by a professional, dried out, ground up, and placed in capsules. It literally looked like a vitamin. And, helped with postpartum depression, hormone regulation, milk supply, combating fatigue, decreasing postpartum bleeding, increasing iron levels, etc. Like I said… Miracle Organ. And, you know what – if it doesn’t end up doing all of these things, no harm done. It is a part of me.
“So, you birthed your baby out in a field?”
Haha no. I birthed both my children at a birth center, which is still a medical facility that has to follow certain medical procedures like any other medical office. I just didn’t have access to any sort of pain management. I really wanted to birth my babies in a tub. Because I don’t know about you, but when I have a stressful day am feeling ill or just want to pamper myself – I get into a nice relaxing bath or take a nice long shower. Water is relaxing. Most people associate baths with relaxation. And, the same idea goes into labor. Water helps ease labor pains and softens the skin and tissues. It can help with discomfort during contractions and can also help you dilate/not tear.
Plus. Again, think about your baby. Where has your baby been for the last 40 weeks? In a sac, filled with warm relaxing and supportive fluids. Now, doesn’t it sounds like a nice transition from the womb into a nice open bath and finally onto mom’s chest (whilst still in the water)? A water birth can make for an easier transition for your darling babe.
And, no your baby won’t drown. Your baby doesn’t take his or her first breath of air until he or she is in just that; air. Making the transition into the water makes the baby think they are still in the womb – plus, they are still getting oxygen from the umbilical cord.
The water will also help with postpartum healing.
Plus, who doesn’t want to feel weightless after carrying around all that extra weight for so long?
But, like any birth – there will be surprises! And, SURPRISE – both my babies were born on dry land. I really wanted a water birth, but in the end both of my babies were born on the bed. And, that is okay. You need to be okay with making changes because birth is unpredictable. With my first baby, I had to get out of the tub to have my water broken. With my second, I chose to get out of the tub because I could not find a good position to bear down.
“So, you did all this to avoid a C-Section?”
Well, partially yes. My journey toward this decision started with the feeling that I wanted to avoid a C-Section if I could. But, both Conrad and I took childbirth classes (via the Bradley Method). I took prenatal yoga classes during both my pregnancies. I worked on strengthening my legs, glutes, kegels (pelvic floor), etc. I tracked my protein and overall nutrition. We learned about different positions to labor in to ease pain and discomfort. We learned about natural remedies for stalled labor (which did happen to me and yes, it is a natural phenomenon which in a hospital setting may scare your doctors and nurses because they have little experience with natural labor/birth). We learned about postpartum healing methods. Birth is not something anyone should go into blindly. Your birth team will thank you if you are educated, and they will take you seriously when you tell them you want a natural birth. And if you do tell them you want to have a natural birth (and you are taking steps to prepare for it) and they scoff at you, maybe you should get a new birth team. We did.
Breaking up with your physician may be something you don’t want to do halfway through your pregnancy. It’s weird and awkward. But, when there are people out there that are willing to work with you, and are experienced in providing what you want, and want you to have the birth you want, why would you make the choice to stay with an uncooperative doctor just because?
Birth is a marathon, not a race. You should not be forced or manipulated into making decisions because they are more convenient for someone else.
Now, in the event that I did need medical intervention… I wouldn’t have fought it. I chose to surround myself with professionals (doula, midwife, educated husband) that were on the same page as me. They wanted me to have the birth I wanted. But, they also wanted me and the baby to be safe. If at any point during my labor my midwife said to me that we needed to transfer to a hospital, I would have trusted her and I would have gone. Because, I know that she wanted me to have the birth I wanted and she would have known if that wasn’t a possibility.
Modern medicine has a place and I would not have shied away from it if I needed it.
“Weren’t you scared?”
No. I was prepared. I was excited for the challenge. I was excited to find out what I am made of. I knew that I would have educated people around me helping me through this. I was not alone. I am strong. Did it hurt? Yes. I had no idea what I was getting myself into the first time around. Things could have happened that I did not anticipate. But, I believed that I could. And I did. Twice.