These two birth stories are from my dear friend, Heather Ashton Black, and each birth could not be more different. Big love to mama for having faith in her ability to birth naturally after her first experience in the hospital.
Jadon’s Birth Story, Hospital Birth
I moved to Florida from San Francisco when I was 8 months pregnant with my first child. When, during my very first doctor’s appointment here, I was asked when I would like to “schedule my birth,” I knew that this Dorothy had landed on the wrong side of the rainbow! Shocked by the question, I answered, “When he’s done cooking!” and assumed that would be the end of their interference attempts…sadly mistaken. As my due date approached and I continued my prenatal yoga, swimming, and herbal teas (feeling quite good all around), I wrote up my birth plan…all natural, minimally medicinal…and brought it in to my doctor, who refused to sign it (much less, look at it) because it would just “annoy the nurses.” Well, she was right about one thing!
I woke up at 11am (obviously pre-baby J) on August 12, feeling somewhat wet down there, but certainly no movie-style gusher action. I had menstrual-type back cramps, but nothing exciting…I definitely did not think labor had begun, just figured I was very pregnant and uncomfortable. Continued resting through the backache until my husband pointed out that these cramps were consistently 5 minutes apart…hmmm. Yay, were we finally about to meet our baby?!
We went about the morning, assuming I was in labor, but still not quite convinced. I brewed up some raspberry leaf and Mother’s Milk teas and started rolling around on my yoga ball, practicing deep breathing that was feeling deeper and better than usual. I decided I wanted to get this ball rolling, so we went for a walk and that’s when I had my first “oh, okay, this is real” contraction. The contractions were intense, but exciting as I knew that soon I would have my baby in my arms! After the walk, I took a very long hot shower, directing the spray mainly at my lower back, which felt great. Then some more rolling around on the ball. The more I moved, the more steady and predictable the contractions were, and the more excited I became. At around 6pm, we figured we’d been laboring well at home and must have progressed, so we went in to the hospital. And that is where my happy natural labor ended.
We were first admitted into triage for a labor check, where I was told to ditch my comfy clothes for a fashionably assless paper gown. I was then propped up on the table for an internal check, during which time the curtain was flung open so many times for random nurses to carry on their discussions with each other, that I finally had my husband physically hold the curtain closed so I could stop the embarrassment of flashing the world. Ha, little did I know, that was only the beginning! I was told I was 3-4 centimeters dilated, 100% effaced…I now know I should’ve packed up and walked out, but at the time I thought I was doing pretty good. Maybe if even one of the medical personnel had taken the time to give me that “good job” positive vibe, I would have continued on in my happy state and progressed unhindered. Unfortunately, from that point on, it was a very “us against them” feeling…not very conducive to opening up and letting nature take her course.
We were admitted to a delivery room, where we were told to leave my yoga ball at the door as it would be in the way. So the only movement I was allowed was the small bit of stretching and rocking my husband and I were able to pull off utilizing a hard tile floor and a hospital bed (and that was only before they had me permanently strapped into the fetal monitor)…so Zen! I was adamant about having no I.V. but it was policy that I had to have a vein open, so I had to have a heparin lock inserted. How much easier for them later when they would convince me to have “just a little Stadol” to take the edge off! I knew that I wanted to go drug free, but they assured me that this was very mild, nothing at all like an epidural. Well, true, not an epidural, but still an intravenous drug, which I had never experienced before, recreationally or otherwise. It succeeded in making me dumb and clumsy and in giving them a reason to decide I must now be bed-ridden. In hindsight, it all becomes so clear…
So there I was, flat on my back, strapped up to beeping machines, exposed to the world under glaring lights, hearing the tapping of impatient toes, wondering why my labor was not progressing. At least my nurse wasn’t missing her t.v. shows (yes, that’s right, the t.v. was on too). So much for my dim lighting, oils, and music…not a chance! The situation was totally annoying for me and I felt like everybody was annoyed with me for taking so long. While nurses kept popping in to go about their routines of cleaning and chatting, delegates from the family camped out in the waiting room kept coming in to check how we were doing. It created within me a total feeling of performance anxiety, like I was just holding up the show for everybody.
Now, at this point, I was still in “Laborland” (as described in the book, Birthing from Within), where I was not consciously actually aware of the time. People were making it obvious that we’d been at it for a while, but my mind/body was still attempting to grace me with the gift of going inside and focusing only on the task at hand, rather than on external factors. That soon would change.
As my mom began getting obviously frustrated that the nurses wouldn’t break my water, it began dawning on me that maybe we were in pretty deep here. Speaking of water…so many hours into this grueling exercise, I was sooo thirsty! But, being that from the moment you step into a hospital, they are preparing you for emergency action, you are not allowed anything in your tummy, not even water! So, my husband was forced to clandestinely fill my cup of measly ice chips with water, which he would sneak to me whenever the nurse wasn’t looking. What healthy athlete would run a marathon with no hydration?! Why then is a mother forced to go for hours of intense exercise with no sustenance?! Hospital policy, of course…taking a natural process and turning it into a medical emergency for years now. So, many hours in, with nothing but hidden sips of water and bad vibes to go on, shockingly, my labor was not progressing very quickly. I was told that we would soon need to prepare for a c-section if we did not do something to speed things up. With my only obvious choices being accepting Pitocin or being cut open, I went for the drugs.
Well, I guess the Pitocin worked. It certainly brought on the pain! It made the contractions much stronger, but also very erratic, with no predictable ups and downs. Soon after the Pitocin was administered and I was 8 centimeters dilated, clenching every muscle in my body with pain, the epidural-administering vampiress arrived and I gave in to her continuous offers. I must admit, the epidural did allow me a bit of much needed rest. I slept for a little while, which was probably helpful; however, when I awoke, I realized that I was officially no longer in my la-la-laborland. My focus was completely on things external, no more going within and breathing through contractions. I was excruciatingly aware of the clock, noting the passage of every 5 minutes, still with no baby. Also when I woke up, I could feel everything in the areas where I suppose one would not want to feel. All that the epidural had succeeded in doing was rendering one leg completely useless and making me unable to work with my contractions to push successfully. Now my husband had to move my legs for me, my mom had to tell me when to push, and the nurse maintained her helpful position by rolling her eyes and telling me I was “breathing wrong.” And when I felt the need to use the bathroom, as is typical late in labor, I was offered a bedpan. Talk about performance anxiety! Not exactly the peaceful and empowering birth I had pictured.
Slowly, slowly, labor progressed and my son worked his poor little intoxicated and battered self down the birth canal. The unknown doctor came in for his 15 minutes of glory, bellowing at me like a football coach to “Push!” and “Get it out!” I saw him take out a pair of scissors and go in like a vulture. I cried, “No, do not consent!” but it was too late, he cut me anyway. My baby was born soon after, eyes alert and wide in spite of the harsh spotlights. They immediately clamped his cord, before he had a chance to try out this whole oxygen thing, and he did not start breathing right away. The doctor was, of course, already gone, so the ever-helpful nurse asked my terrified husband to “run and get help.” Thankfully, by the time the NICU swat team arrived, my little tough guy was already yelling his discontent with the whole situation! Such unnecessary stress on all of us. After what seemed like forever of me repeating, “Give him to me, put him on my chest,” the nurse finished cleaning him up and doing her tests and I finally held my baby, put his skin against mine, and began nursing. After 24 hours of labor, what blissful relief for both of us!
Soon after, we were wheeled up to a recovery room, where we could finally enjoy some peaceful family bonding time. Peaceful, that is, whenever they weren’t randomly popping in and throwing on the lights to administer blood tests or clean the bathroom or whatever. They literally came in at 4am one morning and wheeled my sleeping infant out into the bright hospital to “run some tests” in the nursery…all in a day’s work for them! A friend came to visit the next day and I complained to her about the episiotomy pain. She asked if I wanted her to fill up the maxi-pad icepack for me. Huh? I rang the nurse about getting an icepack, and when she finally responded, she let me know that the time for ice had passed and I should be using a warm sitz bath now. She then delivered me a plastic-wrapped toilet-shaped contraption and left the room. That thing is still wrapped in plastic today! Oh well, just relaxing with my husband and my son was doing me good, even without any outside help. Thankfully, we had our baby rooming in with us and I was instinctually breastfeeding quite successfully. Before we were scheduled to leave two days later, I asked if I was supposed to see a lactation consultant. This shocked the nurse, who had no idea that I had even been nursing! Nothing like that personal care of really getting to know how your patient’s doing. Oh well, all that aside, we were blessed with a beautiful and healthy baby boy, Jadon, who is the joy of our lives, and I think that my previous natural preparations and fitness level led to a speedy recovery (the episiotomy was, by far, the worst pain during the healing period).
Now my son is almost two and I find myself preparing for the birth of my next little boy. I knew that I did not want a repeat of our first experience, and I decided to birth at a birthing center, with caring, experienced midwives and doulas rather than cold doctors. While I am grateful for the medical technology that we have, I now believe that it is so wrongly invasive to treat a natural process as a medical emergency! Nonetheless, I was still initially somewhat apprehensive about having no medical personnel around at all (although the midwives will accompany me to a hospital if a true emergency does arrive). My cousin gave me the book Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, which shares many beautiful, natural birthing stories, as well as a history of birthing and where it went medically wrong, and it really eased my mind and helped me know I was making the right choice. I also read the book Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan, about going within, relaxing yourself, and allowing your body to do its natural work in a peaceful way, and have found it (along with some Hypnobirthing relaxation and visualization cds) to be quite exciting and empowering. I did some research and visits and decided upon the Miami Maternity Center, run by Shari Daniels, and I feel very secure in their care. I am actually really looking forward to my next birth day…getting to experience to power of nature and how my body works with it as it was built for and intended. I am so happy to get to offer my next son a peaceful entry into this world and to have the opportunity to work as a team together as we expand our happy family. I know we can do it. After all, we women populated this whole earth before there were doctors!
Dax’s Birth Story, Birthing Center
I must first say “yay!” for the glorious mind/body teamwork connection! It may sound like b.s., but I’ve gotta say, my natural birth was far more peaceful and less painful than my medicated hospital one. I think that, because my first experience taught me how intense labor truly is, it made me take it very seriously the second time around. So I really did my prep work. I practiced yoga and breathing every night, swam and exercised on my yoga ball, enjoyed some prenatal massage, listened to the Hypnobirthing affirmations and relaxation cds as often as possible, and really studied the Hypnobirthing book. I also made it a point to block any negatives regarding birthing: no dramatic stories or tv shows, no reading about possible complications, no scary medical intervention talk. I trusted that I was in good hands, that the midwives would be able to help me through anything that came up, and that my body was built to do this. I truly believe that all the mental preparation made the physical aspect so much easier and even joyful!
At about 12:30am Saturday night, I started feeling a little crampy and figured it must be about go time. Knew I’d need my rest, so we went right to bed. The cramps continued through the night, not painful, just there enough for me to wake up sometimes and do some deep breathing. By about 5, they were obvious enough that I couldn’t really sleep through them, so I popped in a relaxation cd and just dozed for another hour. Again, deep yoga breathing, no pain, just sensation. At 6ish I got up and made some raspberry leaf tea (for uterine function) and took a long hot shower. The contractions were getting more intense and the hot water was so soothing. By 8 the contractions were enough where I’d have to stop what I was doing, but again, just big deep breaths until they passed…no big deal. By 9am they were very close together, so my husband called Shari at the Maternity Center. She insisted I eat some breakfast first for energy and then come in. (What a change from not even being allowed a drink last time!) We headed to the birthing center, where she told me I was already 9cm!!! Yay!
Once there, I got right into the hot tub…mmm hm! Threw in the Hypnobirthing Birthing Affirmations & Rainbow Relaxation cd and just laid back with my eyes closed for about 2 hours. The contractions were definitely stronger at this point, but I would just take in very deep breaths and hum them out until they passed…never opening my eyes or moving, just chillin’…floating felt great The midwives were so respectful of how I wanted my birth to be. Everyone spoke in whispers. The lights were dim. My music was put on or changed whenever I asked. Cold wash cloths and foot rubs were offered nonverbally. Everything was so mellow and peaceful. Were I not giving birth, it would have been a fabulous spa retreat! I felt the baby move down low, so I decided to try and change positions to get things moving. I got into a squat and almost immediately felt the urge to push. On the first push, my water broke (an interesting sensation I had not gotten to experience before). We put on my mellow music and I leaned over the edge of the tub on my hands and knees while my husband pressed on my lower back. I continued laboring like that, now pushing through contractions instead of just deep breathing. It’s just what my body told me to do. The baby was crowning, but not getting out, so I flipped over to be able to push with my feet against the tub. This is when I first felt the fabled “ring of fire.” Okay, that hurt, but I knew it meant it was almost over! Other natural-birth moms I had spoken to in my preparation had all told me to wait for the point when you feel as though you can’t go anymore…that is the finish line, your body psyching out your mind to score that last major rush of endorphins. I knew I was there, it hurt so good! Every push, the midwives said, “This is it!” But it wasn’t. So, they decided I should move to the bed so they could help me out.
Out of the water, they realized the one hang-up to my natural experience…caused by my previous unnatural one. The hospital doctor, in his rush to make tee time, had cut and stitched me sloppily and left a jagged band of scar tissue that couldn’t stretch. Thanks doc. So, they had to re-cut his mistake. Oh well, one more push after that and my 9 & a half pound handsome chunker was born! (And luckily this time, a woman familiar with woman parts, sewed me up nice and pretty 🙂
All in all, I only pushed for about 25 minutes (and that’s honestly the only part that I would say hurt…and then only during the actual pushes, with rests in between)! Daxton Ramsey Black was born at 12:31pm Sunday, 9lbs 3oz and 21.5 inches long. What a beast (my first was only 7.4lbs)! Before I was allowed to get out of bed, I had to eat something. The midwife student gave my husband some takeout menus and we ordered a delicious pizza. When he returned with our lunch, he found me in bed with a glass of wine (so much better than “relaxing” due to an i.v.drip) and having a leg massage …again with the spa treatment! It was as if we were actually human and had just gone through an intense and beautiful experience…imagine that! The midwives helped make sure that baby Dax was nursing comfortably…he would just lazily latch on between snuggles, no big deal (what a drastic difference from my poor little first guy who would grasp on fiercely, as if to say, “Don’t let them take me again!”) They then insisted that my new little family take a nap together. Five hours later, we were home. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!!! Interestingly, from day one to right now as I write this one month later, this child has a much more mellow and peaceful temperament, only crying to get needs met, and then easily satiated…he has no reason to believe the world would hurt him. Lucky boy!
What a beautifully empowering experience. How fabulous to work with your body and your baby and nature! How wonderfully safe and comfortable it felt to be in the female hands of competent and caring midwives. We were so blessed to be able to enjoy our birth day in the peaceful, relaxed atmosphere of the Miami Maternity Center.