But before I do I feel I must say: I do not judge any woman her desire for the birth experience in her heart, or the birth experience she ends up having. It's such a personal matter, and there are so many things at play. I also do not judge anyone for decisions made in the pain of the moment. But I am hardest on myself, and my birth experience was just... difficult. For me.
This is just my story. That's all.
Some women share their birth stories right after they happen, but I didn't dare. I didn't want to expose myself in this way, because I felt like I failed myself.
I realize that I didn't fail, but I didn't admit to anyone how it felt to leave the hospital -- having given birth in the exact opposite way I had hoped. This pregnancy is bringing all these thoughts back up for me -- forcing me to deal with them -- because I get to make new decisions now. And I want to make the ones that -- even if the birth doesn't go as planned (and which ones do?) -- will let me feel empowered.
Warning: If you are pregnant with your first child, just think twice about reading this story. It's not the worst story of them all, but I know it doesn't help women to hear "horror" birth stories, so if you're super sensitive, just disregard the post. Or just know I warned you. I don't want to discourage anyone.
When I first found out I was pregnant with Gwendolyn, I (without thinking much about it) decided to go the traditional route: doctor, hospital, and (yes) epidural. I didn't even give it a second thought. I like safety and I dislike pain -- plus all the closest people in my life went with this route, so it seemed like the obvious choice.
That changed around week 30 when we attended our birthing class. We learned about breathing, about all the different types of drugs they offer, and got a tour of the hospital. When I learned about the drugs, I decided that I didn't want to go with any drugs. I wanted a natural childbirth. Then I watched The Business of Being Born. I was further convinced.
The problem was that I was 30 weeks pregnant, and we weren't/aren't wealthy. This means: my choice in provider was already done (many providers will not take on new clients after a certain time in the pregnancy -- even if you've just moved into the area), the decision to go natural was last minute (hence no real planning), and we had no money for special birthing classes or doulas. So I just tried to arm myself with whatever I could -- practicing breathing, picking out verses to read during birth, compiling playlists, bringing the yoga ball to the hospital, and just a lot of concentration ("This is what we're doing. An epidural is not an option.").
God also seemed to be answering prayers. We found a couple from our church that agreed to be present with us through the birth, helping us focus on natural birth. So God provided "doulas" of sorts -- no charge.
I was really convinced it was going to happen the way I wanted, and it was so important to me that it did. Carrying a child and giving birth is one of the most awesome (THE most awesome?) opportunities/life experiences. I wanted to experience it as fully as possible, and I had a feeling that if I could give birth naturally, then I would conquer a lot of my fears and anxieties.
Well, the first thing that went awry was that I was induced. Gwenny was measuring little in her abdomen, which means they weren't sure the proper amount of oxygen was getting to her brain. So the plan was to induce my on my due date (June 19 - our wedding anniversary -- Happy Anniversary to us!). You couldn't even believe the amount of praying that went into the weeks before -- begging the Lord for an early, natural labor -- pressing all the pressure points possible "known" to induce labor. But of course nothing happened, and on June 19, we headed into the hospital.
This photo is so funny because I was SO upbeat at this point, naively thinking, "Hey! I'm going to have a baby in a few hours!"
Let me just say that my body and the baby were NOT ready to go into labor.
Induction took FOR.EV.ER.
We arrived at 7pm and the induction started with a little pill. I'm not going into details about it, but after you've been given the pill (and you can be given this pill MULTIPLE times before anything happens), you can't move for a couple hours, and then you have to wait 4-6 hours between each pill. The hope is that one pill will cause contractions, but if they aren't strong enough, you have to get another pill. I can't remember exactly, but I know I had at least two pills, and I think I had three. This means that I was in bed for a LONG time -- very uncomfortable, full of adrenaline, etc. so I didn't sleep that first night.
Sometime during the second day, the contractions started.
I was wiped out. So was Elliott. I sent him to my brother's house to sleep for a bit, and had my mom stay with me and play cards (I think that's what happened?). But then the contractions got worse and worse and I called Elliott and woke him up to come back.
Yet every time they checked me, I was only 1 cm dilated. FOR HOURS. 1 cm. So I kept getting a pill and they said it wasn't time for pitocin (this is the powerful stuff that guarantees labor). Also, the hospital was a teaching hospital which meant that residents would come in and try to see how far along I was. I actually had a resident tell me I was 5 cm, before the doctor corrected her and was all like, "No, actually, she's still 1." Talk about mind games.
Finally -- after who knows how long -- it was time.
That Dreadful Night
So they started the pitocin. Time was fuzzy, and it just got fuzzier from here-on-out, so I can't tell you the timing of everything (although it was definitely the second day by this point, or at least the wee hours of the morning -- like 1 am or 2 am or something, but I really don't remember).
Once the pitocin started, things got rough fast. The contractions were crazy. But we -- as a team, Elliott and I -- were FOCUSED. We were breathing, doing our on ad-hoc actor/vocal exercises (I found these to be particularly helpful), and were doing great (except for the fact that it was the worst pain I had ever experienced in my life, but whatevs). After a few hours (?), they checked.
I couldn't believe it. I hadn't slept in almost two days. I was working so hard. I was in the worst pain ever. And I wasn't dilating.
They offered one recommendation for me to dilate -- again, no details here -- but it sounded incredibly painful. So I said yes. But first:
GIVE ME THE DRUGS.
Whatever was available -- whatever would help me sleep (that was the main thing), I just wanted it. I didn't care any more.
I totally gave up.
At least, that's how it felt. Like I gave up. I lost. The pain won.
I was defeated. Disempowered.
... I also felt a lot better. Physically.
The rest of the labor was... bizarre. I felt waves of contractions like an ocean swell, but nothing hurt. I slept. My parents came in and we all hung out until it was time to push.
But by that point, the epidural had slowed down my contractions so much that they were five minutes apart (if you've been at a birth, you know that this is not a good point for the contractions to slow down). When I started pushing, the doctors were so excited, "Any minute now!" "Some women push for three hours, but you'll be done in 15 minutes!"
Three hours later...
Gwendolyn was there. And it was -- as you'd expect -- the most blessed moment of my life, seeing my little baby in my arms, looking up at me with her BIG amazing eyes.
Oh my gosh - HOW are newborns so TINY?
I have to pause a minute to let my heart be still.
It is a miracle. And worth every hour of horrendous labor.
And I was always thankful that I didn't have to have a C-Section, mainly because of the difficult recovery. I was very fortunate that the hospital was trying their best to lower their C-Section rate. I have a feeling that in most hospitals, I would've had a C-Section as soon as we hit the 24-hour mark, or at least after 2 hours of pushing. So there ARE things I am very thankful for.
But it was still... just horrendous. Awful. One of the worst experiences of my life. And I felt so helpless.
I don't want to feel that way again.
Postpartum is another story -- one that I will have to share in another post (if I ever get around to it) because it's its own beast that no one talks about.
Moving forward, I have decided that yes -- it is still important to me, for many reasons, to have a natural childbirth. And even if things don't turn out as I plan, I want to prepare myself with what I know and what I need. I am making decisions -- have been making decisions -- from day one that are different than the last time.
First: I am going to a midwife practice (still in a hospital though -- ya know, just in case).
Second: I have a doula (not one that we're paying for -- one who is still in training).
Third: I know what didn't work last time, and the circumstances that will help me this time. I know more about myself and my body/temperament than I did before. This helps immensely, and my doula has helped uncover things for me that I never would have known before.
Fourth: I have a different outlook on natural childbirth this time. Before, it was more about "proving" to myself that I could do it. Now, it's more about what's best for me and my baby. The pain is awful, but labor is not a sickness to be cured. I want to see how the pain will assist in the labor -- how it can lead me into knowing what to do during the birth.
Fifth: I will not let a non-natural childbirth rob me of this empowering experience.
Will it go perfectly? No. No birth ever does. And maybe I will have another epidural, but I will know I've made the best choices for myself and my baby along the way. It's amazing -- incredible -- to have a support team that has been there for me, and they've really helped me uncover pieces about my story, experience, and myself that I would never have been able to do on my own.
34 1/2 weeks. CRAZY.
So if I had to give any advice to someone going into labor the first time, I'd just say -- surround yourself with people who will support you and make decisions that give you peace going into it. And really do some research early on -- you may be surprised at what will give you peace when the time comes.