As we prepare for baby #5, I have found myself reflecting on past births. Choosing another natural birth is both exciting and terrifying. There is a beauty, a rawness, and a closeness in birth that I have never found anywhere else. There is also a chaos, a wildness, and a pain that is quite simply unmatched. Every birth has a story. For some reason though, it is the crazy episiotomy and clavicle breaking stories that tend to rest in the ears of expecting Mamas. This is why we need Mamas to speak up and share their positive birth stories.
I fully believe that there is no greater tool in our arsenal, as we prepare for birth, than prayer and positive birth stories. Birth isn’t something we pass through, it is something we actively work through. So in preparation to begin this work once more, I want to share our positive birth stories for myself and others. You will notice an evolution from this story and onward. With each baby we have made changes to our birthing plan that suited us better. Just like with all stories there are moments of realness, rawness, darkness, and light. If birth stories make you squeamish, you will want to skip these, but I hope they encourage you to embrace the beauty of birth.
Disclaimer: However you choose to birth: at home, in the hospital, planned C-section, unplanned interventions, epidural, or natural- all stories of delivering a baby earth side are birth stories. Even the hardest ones… The goal of this blog series is to encourage you to embrace your own story and to take an active role in your birthing experiences. This is not intended to diagnose, treat, or give medical advice.
Two Little Lines
Isaiah’s existence is the start of so many of my stories. Not only was he the one who made me a Mama, he was unplanned and unexpected. And I was a mess. I don’t just mean when I found out I was pregnant. I was a mess in general. With no purpose, no drive, and no plan, I wandered aimlessly through each day. But those two little lines stopped me directly in my tracks. They made me open my eyes, not only to the love that was right beside me (Rafael), but most importantly to the love that was above me.
This is where our story starts with 2 little lines that changed my entire life.
The next nine months spent preparing for our sweet boy were also spent trying to become the person I wanted to be. A woman who was worthy of the title, “Mother”, though I don’t think now that one can ever be deserving of such a beautiful and heavy title.
How to birth was one of the first decisions I knew I would make as a new mom, and I wanted to make the right choice for both of us. A few months before those 2 little lines appeared I had witnessed my niece born naturally, and I swore immediately that I would never do that. But now it was different. This wasn’t a hypothetical situation. Now it was a choice I had to make for my own son. We researched, prayed, and talked it over and decided to have a natural birth.
Natural Births Don’t Just Happen
Contrary to the name, “natural births” don’t just happen. Well I suppose they do, but we live in the day of interventions. There is an entire branch of medicine devoted to the idea that women’s bodies need help to deliver a baby. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful that medicine has come so far and no doubt babies have been saved because of it. But the vast majority of women do not need time constraints, cervical exams, lack of food and water, constant monitoring, pain meds, and the cascade of interventions in order to deliver a baby.
If there is one thing I know about myself, it is that I am not tough. I am the “cry when I stub my toe” type. Every time I mentioned to someone that I was planning a natural birth, I was met with eye rolls and a lot of “You? You can’t do that.” Even the people I thought believed I could later confessed they didn’t actually think I would go through with it. I hope to never make another woman feel the way I felt when I longed for a natural birth and was told it was impossible. But I’m kind of glad for all the doubt. It made me realize that this wasn’t easily attainable. If I wanted a natural birth, I couldn’t count on it to just happen naturally- especially in a hospital setting.
I read everything I could get my hands on.
If it had to do with birth, I read it. Article after article. I became a student of Ina May Gaskin. Hypnobirth (which is frankly just not for me), the Bradley method, Mama Natural- I read up on all of it. I studied interventions and the risks and benefits of everything from forceps to emergency c-sections. We aren’t guaranteed the birth we plan, but failing to plan for birth is the number one way to ensure that it doesn’t happen the way you want it to.
Every intervention has a risk associated with it, even if it is considered common and largely safe. And in my case I tend to be allergic to everything. I became certain that a natural birth was the route I needed to take. I didn’t know how to make it happen for sure, but I was determined to try.
I remember having this really distinct plan that if the pain got too unbearable I would just focus on wiggling my big toe and reminding myself that it didn’t hurt. That plan actually served me well in time..
Trying to Naturally Induce Labor
The thing about your first baby is you have no idea how your body plans for and responds to labor. Mine goes through weeks and weeks of Braxton Hicks contractions and prodromal labor. Each week I went to the doctor to find out I was one more centimeter dilated but still no idea when labor would start. I was dilated to four at my last appointment and still no real labor in sight.
Rafael and I tried all the things to induce labor naturally. Pineapple. Primrose. Spicy foods. Walking. So much walking.. Nothing worked.
On Sunday afternoon after church, I was walking around the yard- pouting– because I was still pregnant. (I was only 38 weeks and 4 days but I hadn’t slept in 2 weeks because my body contracted all night. I have had all my babies early- that’s just how my body carries them, I guess.) Rafael suggested we go out for the day to take my mind off of it. So we did. We went to Red Lobster, shopped, and wandered around Books-a-Million for a while. When we got home I stayed up late writing down some recipes. Around midnight I went to bed.
4 Hours Later…
About four hours later I woke up to someone pouring hot water all down my legs. I laid there for a few minutes wondering what in the world was happening.
“Oh!” I shouted into a pitch black room. “My water just broke!”
I have never seen Rafael wake up so fast or act so delirious. He ran around the room trying to figure out how to turn on the light. (He literally cannot see without his glasses, but he couldn’t think clearly enough to put them on.) We loaded up and took off to the hospital.
I was the calmest I had been in days because it was finally happening. For real this time! Rafael, on the other hand, thought he was auditioning to be a Nascar driver. I kept having to explain that I was not in pain or anything and I just wanted to get to the hospital alive.
I also wasn’t in any hurry because for once I wasn’t having any contractions and I was afraid they may want to start Pitocin. Which I did not want!
The hospital was calm since it was so early. We went straight back to labor and delivery- of course I was dripping water the whole way. The minute I sat in the bed I had my first real labor contraction.
I was so happy.
I announced over and over to the room that I was having a contraction. I had prayed so hard for labor to start on its own that I had to tell everyone that it indeed had! (That excitement wore off pretty quickly, but I’m still thankful!)
It Was Textbook
My labor with Isaiah was textbook. They checked every couple of hours and I was progressing like normal. 5, 6, 7… I thought over and over about my big toe and rested in the fact that it didn’t hurt. Somehow it was comforting to realize that some part of my body was normal and not in pain.
Rafael was amazing. I had no idea how intimate labor was between 2 people waiting and working for their sweet baby. I cannot stress the importance of a supportive partner in labor enough. He was there for every back labor contraction- ready to push against my hips. (The one time he had to go the bathroom and my sister took over- I realized how essential he was!)
Something happens when you hit about an eight in labor- transition, I guess. But something happens mentally, too. It is almost as if you leave your body for a bit and at the same time you feel completely trapped in it. And the only way out is to go straight through.
Nine. Yes, finally I was right at the end! I had to be, right? Nothing else now but ten and baby!
The nursery begins to set up in the room and I am ready for this to all be over! A whirl of people in and out. My family counting down the minutes. Rafael reeling in anticipation with each passing contraction. They are still coming, painfully and consistently, but I don’t feel the need to push or anything.. Finally the nurse checks me:
“You’re a nine and a half. At least a solid nine.”
What!!! I was a nine an hour ago. You are supposed to say ten- here’s baby! Not start counting halves! Another 30 minutes pass (oh and with each contraction I am screaming like a crazy person to keep from losing it completely).
“You’re so close. I would say nine and a half. Just a little bit of cervix left.”
You have got to be kidding me.
Enter an Angel
The sweetest little Hispanic woman walks into the room after hearing me scream. She was a nurse or something and she grabs my arm and turns me over on my other side. “There. That will do it.”
Thank God for sending that woman or I may still be laying flat on my back at a nine and half.
Instantly, I had to poop.
In all my research, even knowing you pushed like you were pooping, I never knew it felt like it!
I jumped up and ran for the bathroom. This is Rafael’s favorite part of the story because I forgot I had an IV in and I almost ripped it out of my arm in running for the bathroom. With all the pain and thinking I was about to poop in the floor, that was the least of my worries, but it still tears him up to this day.
The minute I sat on the toilet and pushed all you could hear was water gushing out. I looked up at Rafael and finally mouthed what I had just realized was happening. p
Rafael starts yelling “Get up! Get up!”
I was kind of weighing my options- toilet or floor- neither was good. Finally the contraction passed and we ran for the bed.
There is nothing modest about birthing a baby, but for a moment you really don’t care. In all my reading on the ring of fire- nothing prepared me to actually feel it. But in a moment, it was over.
The cries from “One more push- you got this!” melted into the cries of a beautiful, cone headed, black haired little boy.
There is nothing that compares
There is nothing in the world like holding your baby for the first time. If I ever had any doubt about the existence of a loving God- it faded staring into the face of a perfect baby boy. I was suddenly so aware that God had used me to bring a miracle into the world. I was in complete awe of how a real, complete baby had been born from me. Truly, truly God is an amazing Creator!
In all the splendor, I suddenly realized that decisions were being made for me without my consent. This is a huge reason why I am writing this. With each labor I have made changes and evolved my birthing plan to better suit me because this is what happens when you do not lay out a plan for every step.
In all my Research
In all my research, I never came across anything about what to do or say after the baby was born. There is more to labor and delivery than just pushing out a baby (though that is no small feat). Then you must deliver your placenta, decide on the best care if you experienced any tearing. Not to mention all the decisions your baby needs you to make for them as they are jabbed, prodded, and examined mere minutes after entering the world.
Before I could think I was hooked up to a bag of Pitocin, which is considered “routine” in hospital care after birth to prevent hemorrhage. Though it had the opposite effect on me and my body stopped contracting and prolonged the healing process. I was handed pain meds to help with inflammation. Isaiah was handed back to me screaming, half bathed, and his eyes smeared with antibiotic ointment.
(I will go more in detail on our preferences for future births in the birth stories that follow, but I include this to simply say this is part of our story– and it changed the way I view birth and hospital experiences for the better in the long run.)
Becoming an Archer
The following days brought about many sleepless nights, baby blues, sacrificial love, and the all consuming awe of a tiny person far more incredible than I could have ever dreamt.
Every one says the third baby is the hardest. But I disagree, the first is the hardest. Not because they are a difficult baby. But because alongside of birthing a baby into the world, a Mama is also born.
Mamas, or Archers- since we are in fact answering a call to aim our arrows- have a birth story all of our own. Whether you deliver at home, in the hospital, the back of a van. Whether you have a C-section, an episiotomy, an epidural, or any and everything in between. There is a birthing process that occurs within yourself, a transition of your own. Who you are the day before your baby is born and who you are the day after are two completely different people.
You may still look the same, have the same gifts and hobbies, and enjoy things you liked the day before- but you are completely different. One day you lived for you. And now you exist for someone else. When you shower, go to the bathroom, or leave the house is now determined by a soft, red skinned little baby. Their needs come above your own.
You will forget to eat. You will question when you brushed your teeth last. Life will look and feel completely different, and yet somehow the same. A quiver will be flung across your back with one tiny little cone-shaped head poking out. And you will find that you are tougher, stronger, braver, and yet somehow more gentle than you ever imagined. Your entire life is now fixated on aiming that precious arrow.
Thinking of planning a natural birth? Check out the documentary “Business of Being Born”. (This documentary contains live births and nudity.)