A couple of months ago, I gave birth to the most sweet and adorable little creature I’ve ever encountered. It was a trying, intense, and at times scary experience that taught me so much about acceptance, flexibility, and trust. I’ve been holding off on sharing our birth story until I had time to process it, but by now, I’m eager to share what I learned.
We had the organic, holistic, natural pregnancy that you would expect from the editor of a blog such as this. With the exception of a pretty horrid month of pregnancy-related hearing loss and dizziness, everything went exactly as planned, and I took every measure possible to ensure that we had the birth we hoped for as well.
We set up the most amazing birth team: an awesome midwifery practice and birth center that we found in LA shortly after we moved here, and an incredible doula who was also a prenatal chiropractor, trainer, and hypnobirthing educator (how cool is that!). I went to prenatal yoga several times a week. I had a wonderful prenatal acupuncturist. We took classes on Hypnobirthing, the Bradley Method, breastfeeding, and holistic baby care. I ate amazingly, was taking supplements and foods to aid in a speedy delivery, and had the most non-toxic home environment possible.
I felt confident, prepared, and ready to bring this baby into the world naturally and beautifully.
Our due date came and went, which wasn’t a big deal in and of itself (most first babies are overdue), but since we were planning on a birth center birth, we did have a bit of a countdown that started: we couldn’t go past two weeks overdue and still give birth outside a hospital setting.
I did absolutely everything in my power to naturally stimulate labor — borage seed oil, spicy food, long walks, sex, herbs (more on all of that in my upcoming Holistic Third Trimester Essentials post). But nothing did the trick. So two days before our two week cut-0ff for a birth center birth, our midwives got serious. That day, they stripped my membranes (basically, using a finger to gently detach the amniotic sac from the wall of the uterus, which releases hormones triggering labor), and gave me a course of herbal labor stimulation (cotton root bark and ginger) to help get things going.
Early the next morning I woke up with contractions in full swing and we set off for the birth center. Things were pretty intense, but I got deep into my hypnobirthing breathing, which helped me stay grounded and aware, while slightly detached from the discomfort (in hypno, we learn not label things as “pain,” which has a fearful, negative connotation.. This reframe helped me a lot).
After we got to the birth center, I launched straight into the whole gamut of natural labor management — chiropractic adjustments with my doula, hot showers, a bath, massage, TENS, music, etc. We had made an epic birth playlist which helped to keep me relaxed, and all the other tactics were keeping the discomfort manageable, though I won’t lie, it got pretty rough at times.
Hours ticked by, with little progress. My contractions were still irregular, and I was only 6-7 cm dilated. The midwives suggested breaking my water to progress things further. This is when things got complicated. As is often the case with overdue babies, there was some meconium in the amniotic fluid — basically this means that our little babe just couldn’t wait any longer and had herself a good ol’ poop, in utero. The danger is that now that she’s floating in poopy fluid, she could swallow or breathe some in and get an infection. This put us on yet another timeline.
But we kept trucking along… The discomfort was getting more substantial, and though I could manage it (just barely), I was starting to worry about how much more I had in me. I know a lot of women get the feeling and fear that something is going wrong, and I definitely had that. My labor was not progressing by the book.
After I’d been at it in the center for about 12 hours, one of my midwives had a come to Jesus with me — trying to get to the root of why things weren’t progressing. Was I scared? Was there some underlying emotional reason why I was maybe prolonging things? I told her I was definitely freaked out about transition — the next stage, where things get even more intense and uncomfortable, but I certainly wasn’t avoiding it. I wanted this whole ordeal over with, and to have my baby in my arms. But I couldn’t help thinking to myself — was I doing this? Was I somehow getting in the way of my labor progressing?
After I had been at it for about 18 hours, I was so tired that I was falling asleep between contractions. And things still hadn’t changed. Contractions were all over the place.. sometimes a minute apart, sometimes 5 minutes apart, sometimes manageable, sometimes excruciating. At this point, our midwives proposed that we should consider transferring to the hospital to get some pitocin to medically progress the labor, and an epidural to give me a chance to rest and regain strength to push my baby out naturally. They were super chill about it, not pressuring us at all, just suggesting it as an alternative.
I was super torn. That was not the birth we had planned for.
A hospital birth, with the sterility, the protocols, the monitors and needles, the pressure to medicate, the unnecessary procedures… All that I had railed against philosophically for so long. But then again, I was soooo tired. I was in pain (f*ck it, it was pain by this point), I had thrown up a number of times, I felt shaky and weak. This whole labor thing was really sucking. A lot. And it was certainly not going the way we had planned anyway.
What lay underneath my knee jerk response really surprised me. Although I hemmed and hawed externally, internally, I was like “Yes. Please. Just give me a little break and let me rest.” I discussed it with Jonathan, who encouraged this change in plan. I was so relieved and knew this was the right move, but at the same time, I felt a rush of guilt and disappointment. Was this me giving up? Am I betraying everything I believe in? What happened to my mantra that my body won’t throw anything my way that I can’t handle, and that I was built to do this?
As we drove to the hospital, I expressed these thoughts and fears to Jonathan, who reassured me that we were making the right choice, that clearly, our little girl needed a little extra support in making her way out.
I received the epidural shortly after we arrived at the hospital. The whole time, I was torn between feeling guilt and excitement. I wondered if Jonathan or my amazing birth team were secretly disappointed that I couldn’t tough it out. But two minutes after that needle went in, all my insecurities melted away as I felt relief for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. Oh how sweet it was. I laid back and looked around the room at these amazingly supportive people that hadn’t left my side all day, and felt an overwhelming sensation of gratitude. For them and all the holistic care, support and love they’d shown me, and also, for western medicine, and it’s ability to make me feel ok. Jonathan smiled and said “welcome back,” since this was the first time he’d seen me be myself (and not this deeply concentrating, hypnotized laborer) in so long.
As the pitocin started to do it’s work progressing labor, Jonathan passed out on the couch, and I fell into a sweet, light sleep that felt positively magical. The nurse came in a few times an hour to monitor my progress, and adjust the pitocin levels. There was a lot of fidgeting with the medication, taking me off it and putting me back on, as my body wasn’t responding to it exactly the way it should. My contractions were still all over the place, but I was starting to get more dilated.
Shortly before 4am, the nurse announced that I was fully dilated and that we could try pushing. A whole team of doctors from the NICU came in, which was protocol since there was meconium in the amniotic fluid — between them, the nurse and my birth team, there must have been 10 people in the room, which was a little weird, but at that point, I was beyond caring. This was the home stretch!
We woke up Jonathan, my doula and one of my midwives took their posts holding each of my legs to help me push, and after an hour of pushing (which felt way less intense than the contractions), our little girl was born.
They put her on my chest for the shortest and sweetest 10 seconds, before whisking her away. What we had feared had transpired — she had aspirated some amniotic fluid and was having trouble breathing. While I delivered my placenta, the medical team worked to suction fluid out through our baby’s throat and nose. I didn’t see any of that, but Jonathan said it was harrying. They assured me that everything was ok, but they needed to take her to the NICU for observation and closer care. I was scared for my baby, but also so grateful that we had made the choice to transfer.
One of my midwives pointed out that maybe this was why the labor wasn’t progressing the way it should have — our little girl was telling us that she needed to be born in the hospital, where she could get the extra medical attention she needed. Later, the OB told me that if we hadn’t transferred when we did, I would have needed a C-section. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude, for getting out of the way of my ego and doing what my heart told me to do.
So here’s what I learned, and what wisdom I can pass on after it all:
- Don’t get too attached to your birth plan. In childbirth, as with many aspects of parenthood, things seldom go exactly as planned. You can do your best to set intentions for what you want to have happen and set yourself up for the birth you want, but when you’re in the thick of it, it’s best to go with the flow and let your baby and the present moment dictate the course of your birth.
- That said, DO have a plan which takes alternative circumstances into account. If you’re opting for a home or birth center birth, under what circumstances would you transfer? If you’re opting for an unmedicated hospital birth, under what circumstances would you consider medication? If things don’t go as planned, what interventions are you comfortable with? Do the research and get super clear on all of these aspects. Write them down, in addition to more spiritual or atmospheric aspects of your planned birth (who you want there, what relaxation and natural pain relief methods you plan to use, etc.). I know so many women who take the “I just trust my doctor,” unplanned approach to their birth, and so often they have regrets about how things went. Knowledge is power here, ladies. Ignorance is certainly not bliss.
- Go with your gut. If something feels wrong, speak up. If you need to change the plan, do so, even if it means going back on what you thought you wanted. You always have a say. Make sure you have a birth team you trust.
- Have someone there to advocate for you. I am so grateful for my amazing birth team that were with me every step of the way. My midwives and doula came with to the hospital and were there to advocate for me to make sure the medicalized birth I needed to have was still as close to my low-intervention intentions as possible. In our state of exhaustion and overwhelm after 18 hours, Jonathan and I probably would have gotten ourselves into all kinds of procedures and processes we didn’t want were it not for the advocacy of our amazing team.
- Remember that your wellbeing and that of your baby are paramount. Do what you need to do to have a safe, healthy birth, even if it looks different than what you initially planned for or wanted.
I get asked a lot if I would have done anything differently, knowing what I know now. And honestly, I don’t think I would have! I still firmly believe in natural childbirth, and value the time I spend naturally laboring at the birth center before we transferred. I’m glad I didn’t cave and get the epidural sooner. And I am SO glad we transferred when we did and were able to avoid a C-section. I suppose things went exactly the way they needed to, and I came out stronger, humbled, and holding the most precious thing I have ever encountered.