Home birth? What, are you NUTS?!

Dear Diary,

About 4 years ago, I was sitting at a dear friend’s house listening to a pregnant friend of mine tell the other ladies about how she was having a homebirth in a tub in her house. I raised an eyebrown but kept my opinions to myself until Tim and I were in the car on our way home. “I can’t believe someone would do that!” As a firm believer in “modern medicine”, I prattled on the whole way home about how unsafe that must be. I was thinking, “Why would someone give birth into water?? Wouldn’t that poor baby drown if it didn’t come out fast enough? What if there was an emergency?” And most importantly, “HOW WOULD SHE GET HER EPIDURAL????” Pain medication has always been very important to me. I’m the first person to reach for pain relief for headaches, stomachaches,…you name it. It hurts? I’ll find a way to make the pain stop. I probably bored my poor husband to death going on and on about the wonders of hospital births until we were home. We were planning our third and I firmly decided I would never be one of those hippies. Ever. That was the first time I’d heard anyone from my generation talk about homebirth, but it was not my first experience hearing about it. Nor would it be my last.

My very first experience with an un-pain-medicated birth, was when my mother had my little sister. She was overdue and being induced in the hospital. I was about 4 years old and it being the early 90s, the thing to do was to have your entire family in the room with you as you gave birth. There were probably about 10 people in there, including myself.

Here is how labor went in her words:

“Every birth of a baby is glorious, miraculous and a blessing. Yet it cannot be denied that the actual birthing process can vary greatly in “enjoy-ability”! I have given birth three times and each was unique. I was not medicated at any of my births, so I can realistically say that what I experienced was not contingent on the amount or effectiveness of any medication. And what I have found most to be true is that the more intervention I received from hospital staff, the less pleasant my experience was.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not deriding medical professionals on the whole. I appreciate their role and am very grateful that they are there in case of a true emergency. They also can offer comfort and wisdom in many situations. What I am opposed to is them overstepping their role and attempting to “manage” and control the natural process of the body.

My second labor started off with a jolt – a medically induced jolt. My pregnancy was going long; I was 20 days overdue and after a stress test, it was decided that our baby was not responding well. I was given a pitocin drip, an IV, and stuck in bed. Pitocin is the synthetic version of what your body is supposed to produce naturally to cause contractions (oxytocin). It works to make the uterus contract, but because it is synthetic, it does not react with your body the same way and is significantly less effective. In fact the reason women on a pitocin drip are given an IV and not allowed to eat is because the doctors know that the ineffectiveness of pitocin will cause many of the laboring mothers to eventually need a Caesarian section.

My body didn’t react well to the pitocin. What followed was a fourteen hour labor (whereas my first had only been five and a half hours), in which my artificial contractions painfully squeezed but didn’t effectively open up the cervix. The pitocin was repeatedly increased and I ended up having “hyper-contractions” in which my uterus contracted over and over without ever releasing and never giving me a break. I ended up stuck for hours at nine centimeters dilation, in tremendous pain from the hyper-contractions. Caesarean section was discussed as the day turned to night. I was blessed to have my midwife, my natural-childbirth-fanatic mother, and several others supporters around to help clarify that it wasn’t due to the baby’s stress that C-section had entered the picture, it was merely a time issue.

After fourteen hours, I was sufficiently dilated and, although I had had no food all day and was exhausted from labor, the pitocin had caused such a reaction in my body that I literally pushed her out in one long push. After such a long labor, the pushing was over in an instant! Our beautiful baby girl was in my arms and letting us hear her sweet voice for the first time.

As I said, all births are glorious when you hold that little one in your arms, but there are definitely preferable ways to labor! Although I understand that I needed to be induced, it was eye opening that it is not remotely like going into labor naturally and it leads to the potential of all sorts of other invasive actions. With inductions becoming more and more elective, I believe we are opening the door to more and more risk for babies and mothers.”

Watching my mom’s reaction to the pitocin and her being so focused and all the doctors running around fussing was a crazy situation for a little kid who had no idea what was actually happening. I automatically mistook everything for a dire emergency. Needless to say, I was tramatized. To no fault of my mom of course, it wasn’t her intention, but it’s what happened. As a kid who already struggled with an intense fear of pain of any kind, this experience only cemented the idea that birth was horrifyingly painful and needed to be fixed with pain meds. The next birth I would be around, was my youngest sister. It was a very different experience. She was born at a birthing center in Tucson and I remember sitting out in the family waiting area, watching movies and driving my grandparents crazy asking if the baby had been born yet everytime any little noise emerged from the bedroom. I remember being ushered into the room quickly after my youngest sister was born. I was nervous to see what I’d find. I expected an exaggerated senario in which my poor mother was screaming and crying and writhing in pain, so I went in plugging my ears. When I saw a calm and happy atmosphere, I relaxed a bit and came over to see my new sister. She was tiny and purple. Someone had woken up my other sister who was about 18mos at the time to come in and see the new baby. She couldn’t have been less interested. Then I gave my parents a kiss and left with my sitter who took me home. I remember the sense of relief and suprise that this experience hadn’t been nearly as “bad” as the first time.

And those were pretty much my only birthing experiences until I’d become pregnant unexpectedly with my first. When I went to my OB/GYN for those first few appointments, my doctor was detactched and uninterested. She answered my questions with the look of, “You’re an idiot for asking me this.” so I eventually stopped taking up her valuable time with my stupid questions and shut up. One appointment in particular, she inquired as to what I intended to do for birth and what hospital I was delivering at. I had chosen Banner Desert and she went on to ask about pain management, “I assume you’ll want an epidural then?” I asked if it was safe for the baby and she rolled her eyes and said that it was a nerve block so the meds wouldn’t touch the baby. Seemed safe enough to me, so I agreed and she scribbled it down on my chart. When my mom and grandmas asked me about my birth plans, I told them. Wanting me to be educated on both sides, they attempted to educate me on natural childbirth. I listened  politely and inside, I was thinking, “What am I, in the 70s? This is called progression, we don’t HAVE to give birth at home any more! Get with it!”  They gave me books and tried their best, but their advice and opinions fell on deaf ears. I couldn’t get past the thought of pain. I was rather attactched to the idea of giving birth painlessly. I told them I’d be going along in labor as far as I could without the epidural, but that I would get one if I couldn’t handle the pain. They respected my decision, and I went on with my “plans” as planned. Like any first time mom, I was nervous for birth. So decided to “desensitize” myself to the horrors of it, by watching as many birth shows on TV as I could. It really only made me more nervous that something would go wrong and more determined to do everything my doctor told me. Afterall, nearly every birth in those shows had an element of “emergency” to it and I’d hate to risk my baby’s life in those few precious seconds by stopping to ask questions. They’d gone to medical school, not me. They would know. Then I hit 41 weeks and my doctor was talking induction. Which I was grateful for by that point, wanting to meet my new baby so bad! I finally got a call from the hospital saying that they were ready for me. I had just eaten pizza for dinner and Tim and I rushed to the car and drove off while the rest of my family was preparing to join us soon. Once at the hospital, they immediately hooked me up to an IV and gave me my first dose of pitocin. I started feeling some contractions, but they were sporadic. Then they broke my water about 2 hours later which didn’t really do much, but I was still having contractions. I decided to get out of bed and go take a shower. Then as I got back in bed, my contractions slowly subsided. (This shouldn’t happen in true labor.) So they gave me more pitocin. We all tried to sleep, and everyone succeeded but me. I was too excited, willing my body to get things going faster so I could have my baby. I had decided to go as far as I could without an epidural, so as the contractions slowly started intensifying, I began trying to relax through them. They gave me another dose of pitocin and all the sudden, my contractions picked up. They were coming hard. I was flustered and couldn’t manage them as well as I’d hoped, so I tearfully asked for an epidural. Once that was in place, I felt SO much better. But the contractions died down again and so they had to keep giving me more pitocin. Finally, it was started to get intense and they checked me and I was at 10cm. I could still feel the contractions, but I’ve heard of and witnessed women who cannot feel them at all and must be told when to push. I pushed awhile and out Jadon came. All 9lbs 10oz of him. You know, it was weird, I did wind up with an episiotomy, but at all my post natal check ups, my OB/GYNs looked at me with wide eyes and asked me to confirm that he was not a c-section. They simply could not believe I’d pushed out a baby that big. Amazing what the woman’s body is capable of, no? I went around for awhile with a prideful complex thinking I’d birthed the biggest baby in history without a c-section. But time and time again, I’m outbid by other woman who’ve had babies bigger than my first without a c-section. So I’m certainly not an anomaly. Why were these doctors so shocked?

My birth with Lilly was much like the first, only longer. Also, I had developed really bad heartburn while pregnant with Lilly and during my whole labor, the doctors would not let me eat! I was so hungry. They gave me nothing for my heartburn and left me in the room to wait. My grandma actually wound up sneaking Tums in for me which provided some relief, but I was weakened from lack of food. I had come in at 3am for contractions which had mostly subsided by the time I got there, I was 3 weeks early and they decided to induce me. She didn’t come until after 5pm later that day. I had gone about 24 hours without anything but a few spoonfuls of peanut-butter that I scarfed down before I left home. Where’s the logic in that?? Asking a human body to complete a herculean task without any sustainence seems backwards. I know why they say “no food”, but honestly, you didn’t sign anything saying you wouldn’t eat. The worst they can do is get mad.

My birth with my third, Matthew, was different. By then, I was at least educated enough to know that it was fine and even beneficial for me to eat during labor. I was in labor for 12 hours, and I ate breakfast and lunch and then ate dinner after I had Matthew. I felt more energetic and ready. They had decided to induce me with Matthew at 39 weeks because I had such bad sciatica that I was falling down the stairs and they didn’t want to keep taking chances. I came in at 5am and they put prostaglandin gel onto my cervix. This has hormones mostly progesterone that is useful for kickstarting labor. After I had the gel in for a bit, I got out of bed and walked the halls trying to get my labor going. They were much less aggressive at this hospital than at the hospital where I’d had my first two, so I was free to roam around and I didn’t feel too rushed. Lunchtime neared and I went downstairs to the cafeteria to get a sandwich. I was able to eat between contractions which at the point were no more bothersome than my usual menstrual cramps. After lunch, I headed back to the room so they could check me. I was dialting, but Matthew wasn’t coming down. So they got me a yoga ball to bounce on. I definately want to use that again this next time, it was fabulous! It felt so good to move during my contractions and the bouncing made me feel productive in between. I was sitting and bouncing and talking to my mom and Momo (my grandma) during this time and I’d pause every few minutes to breathe my way through a contraction. Still totally manageable! They came in to check me again around 1pm and were happy with my progress, Matthew had dropped to zero station which was good progress and I was now dialated to 7cm. I began to feel as though maybe this could be done without any pain management. Then they dropped the bomb, “Well our anesthesiologist is going to be in surgery for the next 2 hours and will be unaccessable to you, so if you want that epidural, you’d better get it now.” I remember feeling so torn. I’d made it this far and done just fine, but then fear set in and I opted to get the epidural. Then just like clockwork, my contractions stopped. I had gone from regular contractions 3 minutes apart, to maybe one every ten minutes. Then they came in a said, “Well, you’re not progressing, we’ll have to give you pitocin. But just a little and I’m sure that’ll be the jumpstart you’ll need to get to 10cm and have this baby.” I thought, “Okay, well they said just a little.” So they gave me a dose. And then another dose. And then another dose. And then another. Four doses later, they broke my water and I was at 8 cm. My family had started to shuffle back in when all of the sudden I had a contraction that took me from 8cm to 10cm. It was so intense, I was holding my breath, which wasn’t helping. I began to panic as I felt something I hadn’t ever felt before in labor. Pain. Lots of it. Intense pain. I sat up and began to move myself into position to push with my feet up in the stirrups. I realized I could move my legs. That wasn’t right. With the previous epidurals, I couldn’t move anything below my waist. I breathlessly asked the nurses about it and they said, “Oh, did they not tell you? We gave you the lowest doseage, if you want more, push the button.” as they handed me a clicker for the epidural. I remember hitting that button about 375 times and they laughed and said, “Oh sweetie, you only get a new dose every ten minutes or so, by the time you’re ready for another dose, the baby will be here.” I looked at Tim and freaked out, “I can’t do this! I can’t!” The doctor came in and introduced herself. I didn’t like her. She was brash and loud. She and the nurses all yelled at me to push, push, push, push, push. I was trying, but I was panicked. I couldn’t catch my breath and all they did was yell at me to breath and push. I started crying and writhing around. I wanted everyone out, doctors, nurses, everyone. I wanted to go back home. This wasn’t right. Then I felt a burning sensation. The Ring Of Fire. More pain. I panicked again and literally sucked Matthew back in. This of course, angered the doctors and nurses who threatened a c-section if I continued to be counterproductive. I did NOT was a c-section, so I kept trying to push. Once I had been threatened, I pushed harder and out he came. They laid him on my chest for less than 2 minutes and then tried to take him away. I wanted to keep him with me awhile longer while they stitched me up so I’d have a plesant distraction. They were annoyed but let me keep him. Finally after a few more minutes, I was all stitched up and they took him away to screen him. I was exhausted and SO glad that he was to be my last. Well, or so I thought.

My next experience with natural childbirth came when I attended a Ladies Night for our church. I met this girl who was a few years older than me, pregnant with her 4th child and raving on her soapbox about homebirth. Again, I raised an eyebrow and kept my opinions to myself. Then one night shortly after she’d had the baby, we went up to town to Sprout’s to do some grocery shopping. I asked her some questions about her work as a doula and natural childbirth in general. She talked my ear off the whole way home pretty much slamming everything I’d done with my previous births. Of course, she meant no harm and only sought to educate me and answer my questions but I felt offended and insulted. How dare she criticize my decisions? But the more she talked, the more I realized she was so educated. She knew what she was talking about. I didn’t. I only knew what my doctors had told me. It peaked my interest and I bought, “The Business of Being Born” at her suggestion. I watched it over and over soaking in every little detail I could. It completely changed my perspective. I excited wrote to tell her how I’d seen the film and loved it. I was sad that Matthew was to be our last baby and I would not have to chance to do this a different way. A better way.If you’ve not seen this, I highly encourage you to. It’s on Netflix right now, but  here is the trailer and some of the memorable clips from the movie that really stood out to me.

In the next chapter, we’ll delve into more about the things I’ve been learning about natural childbirth and homebirth and why I chose to have this baby at home.

Pregnancy update:

I am feeling sick as a dog a lot of the day. A friend suggested peppermint oil and peppermint tea. I didn’t have any oil, so I’ll go get some when I go shopping on tomorrow, but I did have peppermint tea on hand and my husband graciously made me a cup. I’ve been sipping on it and my insides feel a bit refreshed. I wouldn’t say the nausea has subsided completely, but it’s definately helped. It’s like how your mouth feels right after you brush your teeth in the morning. I have been doing some pre-natal yoga to start getting my body all stretchy and ready for birth. I would love to find a studio that teaches pre-natal yoga just so I can make sure I’m doing it right. 🙂

Till Next Time,

Ashley

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