A Swell Mama's Birth Story: All Natural
Empowering Your Pregnancy
Colton's Birth Story
So, most of my friends know that I read and research EVERYTHING. I turn to google for everything and keep a running list of things I need to look up. When we found out I was pregnant, I hadn’t done much due diligence. Sure, I had plenty of friends who had had babies at this point. But, the whole area of pregnancy and childbirth was still very much a mystery to me. My husband and I married just out of college and knew that we wanted plenty of time together before kids. We knew childrearing was an important and all-encompassing job, and we wanted to be ready for it. We put it off until I turned 30, and then my biological clock kicked into gear. We were ready for kids! But, I wasn’t ready for pregnancy and childbirth.
When we found out I was pregnant, I was well into my first trimester. Exhausted all the time. Feeling queasy all the time. As soon as I got home from work every day, I put on my pjs and laid on the couch. There was no time and no energy for my research. Growing a baby is hard work!
Nick went with me to my first prenatal appointment, and we met our midwife. I had purposefully joined her practice a couple years before knowing that I wanted a midwife to oversee my pregnancy. We asked first-time-parent questions, and she gave us two recommendations that I took to heart: read Penny Simkin’s Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn; and take a Confident Childbirth class. (She also recommended The Birth Partner for Nick to read; he made it through one chapter and never picked it up again.)
I quickly jumped into action. I was well on my holistic journey, but so far my expertise was limited to healthy eating and cleaning products. I had recently starting switching personal care products. (This is especially important during pregnancy because anything absorbed by your skin transmits into your bloodstream and has a direct route to baby through the placenta.) I had no idea what a natural childbirth really meant, but I was determined to figure it out. I read every naturally-minded pregnancy and childbirth book I could get my hands on. I scheduled my regular chiropractic care. The nausea dissipated, and I was able to resume my normal healthy eating habits. And, we plugged away on our basement remodel.
Our friends also know that we always have some sort of home improvement project going on. With Bambino’s impending arrival, we were turning the guest room into a nursery and wanted to reclaim a third bedroom in the basement. This was the last major project in our fixer upper. We had already touched everything else in the house. What started out as a distant downstairs project that I could shut the door to quickly escalated to a whole-house endeavor that included updating the last of the electrical outlets on the main floor, adding recessed lighting in our living room, and refinishing our original 1930’s hardwood floors. (This also meant moving out all of our furniture and shacking up with my in-laws for week!) We don’t do anything half way!
Along with our major life change of becoming parents, I also struggled with every mother-to-be’s question: be a working mom or a stay-at-home mom. I always thought I would stay at home with our kids. (This is one reason we waited so long to start our family - we needed a good nest egg!) But, suddenly, the decision seemed so daunting. The thought of having a little extra income was enticing. Ultimately, though, I knew I needed to make a break. I could always go back if I missed it. I gave my notice and helped find my replacement. I chose my last day in the office as the Friday before my following Thursday due date. I BEGGED Bambino to stay put to give me some time to rest at home before he made his debut. Surprisingly, he agreed.
Labor Day weekend was spent pulling weeds outside and napping on the couch while my dad and Nick plugged away on our basement remodel. Sunday evening, we walked across the street to our best friends’ home for a takeout dinner. (Burgers - yum!) Nick was drinking for two, and I finally managed to pull him away to stumble home to bed. He was snoring in about 5 seconds. I couldn’t sleep. I cuddled with our fur baby in bed, telling her she would soon be a big sister and reassuring her (and myself) that she would maintain her special place as “first-born.”
Just before midnight, I rush to the bathroom as my water breaks. Now, I wasn’t expecting my water to break. Only about 15% of women have their water break as the signal that labor is starting. I REALLY wasn’t expecting that my water would KEEP “breaking.” I had heard of frequent trips to the bathroom for a little leaking, and I had seen the Hollywood images of huge puddles all at once. But, I had never heard of a SERIES of puddles. For half an hour, I move around the bathroom. All the while, Nick is sawing logs - LOUDLY. I figure I have plenty of time, and I want one of us to be rested for what is sure to be a long day ahead of us. At this point, I haven’t felt any contractions.
All of a sudden, our security alarm goes off. Great! I’m in labor and someone is breaking into our house! I yelled for Nick to wake up. Delirious, he tells me to turn off the alarm. He, apparently, is not worried that the alarm is going off when all 3 of us are in the bedroom. I turn it off, and then his phone rings. I pick it up and see a number displayed that I don’t recognize. Now, he’s yelling at me to answer it. I still don’t know why the alarm went off, but I tell the alarm company that all is ok. When I hang up, Nick tells me that they had taped the basement motion detector up in the midst of the remodel, and it probably fell down. He was right. That would have been good information to have before I almost had a heart attack during labor. At this point, I tell him my water broke, and he’s not going back to sleep. My contractions have started.
Over the next hour, we make our final preparations for our hospital visit as my contractions quickly intensify. Nick even runs to the ATM to get cash for parking. I’m just happy he is not serious about transporting me the .10 miles to the hospital up the street in his John Deere. When he returns, my contractions have been occurring every four minutes and lasting one minute for an hour. We remember the 4-1-1 rule, so we head for the hospital. We check in at 1:45 AM. I still haven’t slept. Bad news is that my midwife is out of town for the holiday weekend. We find out that the head of the practice is on call - the only OB I’ve in the office during my prenatal visits. Thankfully, we both liked him.
We get settled into the L&D room, and I get hooked up to the monitors. I am only 1 cm dilated. What a let down! Because my water broke, I’m required to stay in the hospital. at this point, I’m really wishing I had tried to get a cat nap in, but I honestly don’t know how anyone sleeps through that initial anticipation of beginning labor. I also wish I had tried some of the techniques we had learned in class for early labor, but again, I was too anxious! Just as we’re getting settled into the L&D room and discovering that it’s going to be awhile before any real action happens, Nick’s phone starts to ring. He answers it to find out it’s the alarm company calling to check on the alarm that’s going off. We know that it’s just the motion sensor again, but our poor fur baby is at home, most likely going crazy with the alarm. Nick *literally* runs the tenth of a mile home to turn off the alarm and reassure Miss Ave. He runs back to the hospital to discover *GASP* nothing has changed. Bummer!
The first L&D nurse we had left me hooked up to the monitors, and we had to ask to be unhooked to allow me to walk around. She was annoyed. Thankfully, her shift ended shortly after, and we lucked out with an amazing L&D nurse who helped a lot in achieving the natural birth I desired. Her babies had also been delivered by my OB, and she was confident that we would be happy with the experience. She mentioned at this point that Nick would be allowed to catch the baby! How awesome?!
I spend some time in the shower, and labor progresses pretty quickly and consistently. By about 7:00 AM, we feel certain that Bambino would be here soon, so Nick calls our parents. They are both local, so they get going and are at the hospital within the hour. Not long after, labor stalls. I am in and out of awareness at this point trying to hold on to any second of rest I can between contractions. The nurse and Nick are both trying to get me to move around, but all I want to do is lay on my left side. I’m so exhausted at this point!
The OB on call comes in to check on my status probably around noon. He notes that I’m not progressing any further. I have a contraction that I barely register, and he points this out to me. He says we can have a little time, but the next course of action would be pitocin, and if that doesn’t kick my labor into gear, a c-section is possible. Now, I know looking back that he was just laying out possibilities, but I can tell you that I heard “c-section,” and I woke right back up! If this baby boy was still doing just fine, he was going to come out the natural way! I specifically remember the nurse asking the doctor to give us an hour, to which he agreed. (This is one of the tips I had learned in childbirth class, and Nick and I were well prepared to ask for more time before turning to interventions.) I’m so thankful she asked the question before Nick and I had to remember to.
The nurse suggests we try changing positions, and I whole-heartedly agree. It’s time to get this show on the road! I kneel on the bed facing the headboard and baby boy starts moving into position. Once again, labor progresses. About an hour later, I am 10 cm dilated and starting to feel the urge to push. The OB is called in. Pushing is exhausting. They keep encouraging me to keep up with the pushing. As baby boy’s head crowns, the OB worries about how I would tear. He believes the direction and degree of the tear warrant an episiotomy instead. MAYBE if I had had a doula or a midwife, dedicated perineal massage would have prevented it, but at the time, I was ok with this. (I’ve had several friends who had third degree tears and were unable to sit or wear pants for at least a week post partum; I healed very quickly and have had no issues post-procedure, so I am content with the decision.) He applies a localized lidocaine and performs the episiotomy quickly. After a few more pushes, Nick catches our little munchkin as he enters our world. (I didn’t want any pictures during L&D, but I do wish I had one of this moment!)
We got to enjoy skin-to-skin time as I was stitched up. We enjoyed some family time together the three of us, and Nick and I finalized baby boy’s name: Colton. It was the same name that we kept going back to during pregnancy, and now, it seemed like the right fit. We also incorporated Nick’s middle name, Reese, which is a strong family name on his side since his grandfather. Colton was weighed and evaluated quickly during this time, and Nick finally went out to tell our parents their grandson was here!
All in all, I am very happy with my labor and delivery experience. I’m a little bummed that my midwife was out of town, but I did like my OB and felt like he did a good job respecting my wishes. I LOVED our L&D nurse - she really helped us have a great experience. Most importantly, though, Nick was an amazing labor coach. Even though he couldn’t make it through one book, he showed up to our childbirth classes and kept all of the information in his back pocket. He kept me hydrated and pushed me when I needed pushing.
We couldn’t have done it this way without our amazing childbirth class. While the class focused on natural methods, it also recognized the place for modern medicine. We are lucky to live in an age where we have access to incredible medical advances that save lives every day. Our only fault is relying on these measures too quickly and too frequently, in my opinion. Childbirth is a natural process - one that our bodies are equipped to handle, for the most part, without interventions. There are certainly plenty of situations where interventions save both mothers and their babies, but we need to remember to trust our bodies first and let our natural instincts guide us. (This is also my motto for parenting!) So, in that spirit, I encourage you to pursue a natural birth, if that’s important to you, but most importantly, I urge you to demand an empowered birth; one where you are an active part in delivering your baby (not simply the vessel from which it comes.) We should not be bystanders to a miracle occurring around us, but we should be active participants in bringing our babies into a world where we are their first advocate.
Every labor and delivery is different, but the following steps should help you achieve an empowered birth:
- Do your research: Read pregnancy books; watch childbirth videos; pay attention to all the details! Learn about the steps of labor. Find out what interventions your doctor and hospital ascribe to, and what best and worst case scenarios look like. Figure out what interventions you’re on board with and which ones you want to avoid.
- Focus on your prenatal lifestyle: Healthy nutrition is important for growing babies. (This can be a tough one given morning sickness and pregnancy cravings, but do the best you can!) Talk to your doctor or other health care advisor about any supplements or specific nutrients to include in your diet. Walking and squats along with Kegel exercises prepare your body for childbirth. Even if you plan to use modern medicine with your birth, preparing your body physically will allow your body to handle those interventions more easily. Regular chiropractic care helps keep your body in alignment, allowing more space in your pelvis for baby’s head, which encourages a head down position. Investigate other ways to deal with any side effects of pregnancy you are experiencing such as morning sickness or edema.
- Build your support team: choose a doctor and/or midwife you trust and respect. You want somebody who can handle the best and worst case scenarios. Decide if you want to hire a doula. If your spouse is not going to be dependable or won’t be able to articulate your wishes, a doula can offer support for both of you! Lean on any other mothers in your circle - parents, sisters, and girlfriends can all be valuable sources of support and wisdom.
- Attend a childbirth class: I really think this is an excellent way to get your spouse involved in your pregnancy. So much goes on “behind the scenes” that he is not experiencing first hand. A class is a great way to share what your body is going through without you having to lecture him.
- Write a birth plan: This is a great exercise to visualize your best-case scenario. Meditation and visualization can be powerful tools. Use them to show your mind and prepare your body for how you want your labor to go. A rough timeline can help as well - identify the steps of labor and how you plan to cope. This is a great way to really evaluate medical interventions and under what circumstances you would be comfortable with them.
- Remember the one hour rule: If at any time during your labor the doctor is advising on a medical intervention that you don’t want or would like to avoid for the time being, ask for more time. As long as the baby is not in distress, give yourselves a chance to mentally process the information provided as well as giving your body the chance to physically respond.
- Stay empowered: Remember that you are the mama bear and this is your baby cub! Trust your gut instincts and trust your body to know what to do. If at any time you feel that childbirth is happening TO you, take a moment to visualize your strength. Barring life-or-death situations, there is always time for a two-way conversation with your doctor.
- Enjoy the golden hour: Regardless of how your labor and delivery went, take advantage of that first skin-to-skin contact to focus on what’s important: this little miracle! You’ll have plenty of time later on to go through the what ifs and the could haves. Even if everything didn’t go exactly as planned or how you expected, spend the first few moment’s of your little one’s life in gratitude.
This blog is authored by Swell Mama Sydney