Each of my children entered the world in completely different ways!
Baby #1 - Hospital Birth with an Epidural
Baby #2 - Natural Hospital Birth
Baby #3 - Birth Center Water Birth
Bringing a baby into this world is an amazing blessing. It's something I do not take for granted. Each one of my births resulted in a strong, healthy baby and for that I'm extremely grateful! I know that's not the case with everyone.
Birth, like motherhood, is one big roller coaster! It's certainly no easy task and it's really just the beginning of the many decisions a mom will have to make. Birth is scary for some, exciting for others or quite frankly, just plain awkward! It brings along with it a whole slew of emotions!
Is a birth center right for me? Can I handle giving birth without drugs? What does a water birth look like? Whether you're pregnant for the first time and trying to figure it all out or maybe you've experienced birth already and hope to change things next time around, I want to share the progression of my birth stories with you. My prayer is that you'll be inspired, encouraged and be well equipped with practical advice no matter where you are in your motherhood journey!
Baby #1 Hospital Setting with an Epidural
I delivered my first baby in a Long Island, NY hospital. My doctor was a GYN that I had been seeing since I was a teenager. No research was done on my end, other than the fact that I knew my doctor had delivered MANY healthy babies before mine and the hospital had a new state of the art labor and delivery ward. My doctor's experience alone, gave me much comfort.
The anticipation of waiting for those mystery contractions to start was quite scary, to be honest. I had no idea what to expect even though I had read through the book, What to Expect When You're Expecting a thousand times! ;-)
My labor started around 11am on a Thursday morning in 2007. My contractions, at first, felt like the gentle waves of the ocean rising and falling. I remember thinking, "This isn't so bad. I can do this!" When those "wave like contractions" started getting stronger, I called my husband and asked him to come home from work. We drove to the hospital that evening and to my horror, I was only 1 cm dilated. We were sent home at 9:30pm.
That entire night, I labored hunched over my couch with irregular contractions. Each one was intense! I was in so much pain that I remember thinking...
If I could just call an ambulance right now, surely they will perform a c-section and get this baby out of me!
What I didn't know was that I was experiencing back labor. This type of labor happens when a baby is face up in the birth canal. Every contraction caused her legs to push against my lower back. It's considered one of the most painful types of labor a woman can experience! At the time, I had no idea that there are many comfort measures that can be taken to alleviate back labor. I also didn't know that there is a series of exercises called spinning babies that can be done during pregnancy to help baby get into what is known to be the perfect birth position, Left Occiput Anterior, to come through the birth canal. That night hunched over the couch might not have been as challenging if I had been more prepared with this knowledge!
Finally, almost 24 hours later, the sun was up and we drove back to the hospital...AGAIN. I had many hours to perfect my breathing technique and I felt like a pro at this point. Before I was officially admitted, the nurse checked to see how much I had progressed. I was 5 cm! I was so happy that all of the intense contractions I had experienced throughout the night were actually doing something!
At this point, I didn't really want to have an epidural. I was happy to have progressed and felt a sense of accomplishment. Contractions were manageable. Maybe Haley had shifted her position a bit during the drive to the hospital? This brief sense of empowerment I experienced, was completely obliterated when the nurse said,
"5 cm! Yay! You can get an epidural now! You should get one before it's too late."
Can you hear the record scratch?
Before it's too late?!?! Fear flooded my mind. I wasn't going to argue. I'm sure she saw tons of women who "missed their golden epidural opportunity" and regretted it. I went ahead and got one even though I deep down really didn't want it. I was scared that I couldn't handle delivering my baby without it...
My anesthesiologist was wonderful. I was able to feel the pressure of each contraction without any pain. I was able to relax a bit. This is exactly what should happen in the best case epidural scenario right?!
But there was a problem...
I really didn't like the way the epidural made my body feel. My legs were numb and tingly. I felt very strange. I needed to be given some oxygen twice after the epidural was inserted. Whether that was because of the epidural or not, I'm not sure but I certainly didn't need oxygen before it. I was fighting a panicky feeling. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth discusses some of the side effects that epidural anesthesia can have. One of those effects seems to have happened to me...
"Sometimes women who thought they wanted an epidural dislike the effect of the drug and complain about feeling detached from what is going on."
After 30 hours of labor, my beautiful baby was born! My husband and I were amazed, in love and I could finally feel my legs again!! Phew! Thank goodness!
And so motherhood began...
My recovery after the birth was painful. Breastfeeding was painful. Adjusting to this new life of no sleep was painful. It took me a long time to feel somewhat normal again but over time, I got the hang of it!
(If you're there right now, knee deep in the emotions/physical ailments of being a new mom, know that it does get better! There is light at the end of the tunnel! Think about it...It took almost a year to develop and grow your baby inside you. Your body takes time to adjust to your new normal. You just have to be patient.)
Baby #2 Natural Hospital Birth
A natural hospital birth...It almost sounds like an oxymoron. How does one have a natural birth in a hospital anyway? Well, it was 4.5 years later and baby #2 was on her way. I wanted to use the same GYN, with years of expertise, that had safely delivered my first daughter but THIS TIME, my desire was for things to be handled differently.
I was given the book Ina May's Guide to Childbirth shortly before my due date and I was floored at what I was reading. This book, combined with the documentary, the business of being born on Netflix taught me a few things:
- C-sections are performed way too often in America. (We have the largest rate of C-sections in the world!)
- Birth doesn't have to be scary.
- The restrictions many hospitals place on allowing laboring moms to eat during labor are historical rather than scientific.
Being that I was very close to my due date, I asked my doc a very important question at my next visit.
"Have you ever delivered a baby where a mom did not have an epidural?"
"Yes, twice, because they were too late and missed their opportunity!"
Unbelievable! 20 years of delivering babies and only 2 were without drugs?! I proceeded to tell her that my desire was to have an unmedicated birth. She answered, "Have you ever delivered a baby without drugs?!" I think this was her polite way of telling me I was crazy! Ultimately, I was told that she would support whatever my decision was "in the moment." This time, I was determined not to feel discouraged. After all the inspiring stories I read in Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, I knew it was possible...
Here's what I did differently during my labor the second time around and what I recommend you attempt to do if an unmedicated, hospital birth is something you desire to have:
- Stay home as long as you possibly can.
Once contractions started, I stayed home as long as possible and tried to sleep as much as I could. There was no sense in getting to the hospital too early. I was in control and much more comfortable, the longer I stayed home.
- Once admitted, ask repeatedly to be able to move around.
I asked the nurses many MANY times to walk. I told them I did not want to lay in bed. It was almost annoying how many times I had to request, borderline demand, this. Walking would help my body progress more. There is a whole chapter devoted to the concept of moving freely and letting gravity do it's work in the book, Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. Inevitably, I wasn't allowed to walk for long periods of time because I had to be hooked up to the machine for another non-stress test every so often. It was hospital protocol!
- Make sure to have a strong emotional/physical support person with you at the birth.
My husband knew my desire was to have an unmedicated birth. His physical and emotional support was what kept me going. He was amazing! If you do not have a hands on hubby like me and would like to attempt an unmedicated birth, I would highly suggest hiring a doula or bringing someone with you to the birth that you are super comfortable with...Someone that can give you the extra support you need during those intense, I want to give up, SHOW ME THE DRUGS, contractions. ;-)
I found myself coping with the severity of the contractions by grabbing onto the bars of the hospital bed for dear life. I had read about how important it is to relax and try not to tense up your muscles during each contraction. That is EXTREMELY difficult to do stuck in one position in a bed with an iv hooked up to you. When I felt I couldn't handle it anymore, I was ready to push!
After 18 hours of labor, Chloë was born naturally and was extremely alert. My doctor kept saying over and over, I can't believe how alert she is! Look at her eyes! You were amazing! I declined taking any pain medications after the birth as well because I felt pretty good. The worst part of my recovery was the intense soreness I had in my entire upper body. I had given myself a major workout by grasping the hospital bed rails so hard! I truly believe that declining an epidural this time around helped speed up my recovery process!
The worst part of this experience was that the nurses took my brand new baby away from me for what felt like hours to bathe her and perform standard hospital testing. It just didn't seem natural for me to give birth and then have the baby taken away from me for so long. This is all too common in hospital settings.
Baby #3 Birth Center Water Birth
Baby #3's birth was the most unique, amazing experiences I've ever had. We found out we were pregnant shortly before moving from NY to Charlotte, NC. The move forced me to really research a whole slew of birth options since I would have to find a new doctor anyway. I decided that giving birth at a birth center was what I personally needed to have the birth I desired in a setting that was NOTHING like I had experienced prior in the hospital. Birth Center births are not for everyone. It's important to note that pain management is very different in a birth center. They will not administer epidural anesthesia. The pain management offered is less invasive such as laughing gas, for example. Most birth centers will only accept women who are projected to have "low risk" pregnancies/deliveries.
There happened to be a brand new birth center in Charlotte called Baby and Company, right down the road from the local hospital. This gave me confidence that if there was to be a problem during delivery, I would be close enough to be transported there in a few minutes.
Baby and Company's private delivery rooms were beautiful, calming and inviting! With heated toilet seats, a shower with massage heads, a birthing tub, a comfortable queen sized bed, a kitchen, a gathering space for family/friends, the ability to control music and lighting, swedish bars and birthing balls to use during labor, the experience was unique and completely unlike my hospital births!
My contractions started at night and continued to be extremely light and sporadic until about 11am the next morning when they picked up significantly. I had been in contact with my midwife and it was at that point, she advised that we drive to the birth center. Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by the nurse and midwife. I got dressed in my super comfortable robe/nightgown that I had ordered in advance similar to this one and put on my zippered sports bra for quick nursing access once baby was born! I did have to an an IV inserted due to being GBS positive but it did not restrict me from moving around at all.
I spent the beginning few hours, bouncing on a birthing ball, eating dried mango slices, sucking on an ice pop that I froze with my favorite juice inside these silicone pop holders, walking around the birth center, listening to our favorite playlist of songs, (think a mix of John Mayer and Matt Redman) and laughing with my husband! My midwife checked the baby's heart rate in regular intervals through the afternoon without ever once hooking me up to machine! It was amazing! One of the things I particularly noticed was that she checked the baby's heart rate during contractions, especially as I got closer to pushing, to see if there were any signs that the baby was in distress.
I had made my decision to have a water birth known to the midwives but I was also fully aware that any plans I made about how I would like my baby to be born could be thwarted at any time! Babies have a mind of their own from day one! ;-) I really wanted to try my best to deliver in the water because of the many benefits I had read about regarding water birth's for both mom and baby. I'm so thankful that I was given the chance because the experience was nothing short of amazing!
My midwife did not want me to get into the birthing tub until I was at least 5cm dilated. Sometimes, the water has the opposite effect on women who are not far enough along in their labor and the simple act of sitting inside a warm, relaxing, tub slows down their progress! The temperature of the water was constantly checked to make sure it wasn't too hot or cold. During each contraction, my midwife sprayed water over my belly while my husband alternated hot and cold packs under my neck and forehead. I went from 5 to 10 cm in about an hour! Towards the very end of the birth, the midwives provided my husband with a bowl of ice water and some washcloths to place on my head and neck as well. This helped me stay focused and the temperature change gave me a burst of energy.
The contractions were extremely intense but they were so much more manageable in the water. Because my body felt weightless, I was able to truly focus on my deep breathing to get through each one and I didn't have the option of hospital bed rails to cling onto for dear life this time! ;-)
Riley was born still inside the amniotic sack! In my previous two pregnancies, my water was broken by my doctor to get labor moving along faster so this was a completely new experience for me. As soon as she was born and placed on my chest, I started peeling the amniotic sack off her face instinctively. (My only regret with this birth is that I did not get a picture of this moment!) I snuggled with her for a few minutes and then was helped over to the bed to deliver the placenta. Riley was placed skin to skin on my chest during this time. Skin to skin bonding immediately after birth has been highly researched and is very effective for breastfeeding success and helping to regulate a newborn baby's body temperature.
Once the placenta was delivered and Riley had been given some time to nurse, I got up to use the bathroom while my husband got to experience this skin to skin bonding as well. It was so sweet watching him with her.
Our new baby was never taken from us. Her vitals were checked as she was on my chest. It was only after she had breastfed for a long while that she was taken to be weighed and measured and given a checkup. This was all done in the same room we delivered in. At Baby and Company, the newborns are not given a formal bath before being sent home. This is because babies are born with a protective coating on their skin called vernix. Babies' immune systems are not well established at birth and it's believed that delaying their first bath helps not only with increased immune support but also with breastfeeding success.
About 6 hours after Riley was born, we packed up to go home! It was surreal heading home with our brand new baby just a few short hours after her birth! I had been accustomed to "sleeping" overnight in the hospital when my other two girls were born. I never ended up getting much sleep due to the fact that the nurses kept coming in to check in on me. It was amazing to be able to go home and sleep uninterrupted in my own bed.
My recovery was amazing! I bounced back to normal with this birth very quickly. Our midwife even came to our house to perform checkups on the baby and I within the first few days. We didn't have to rush to the pediatricians office right away and potentially expose her to office germs. We really had a chance to get used to our new life as a family of five without interruptions.
My intention in sharing my birth stories is to inspire others moms who might be on the fence about going from hospital bed to water birth! There is no right or wrong way to deliver your baby. Every situation and birth is completely different. What's most important is that you are comfortable with the birth decision you've made. Research all your options, prayerfully make a decision, and always remember that those babies will have a mind of their own during labor so at be at peace with whatever happens and enjoy the process!
What is your birth story? What type of birth do you desire? Please share in the comments! I'd love to hear from you!