I’m 7 days postpartum. My baby is sound asleep beside me as I write. I’m in love. He’s in love. The whole fam-damily is in love. It’s been blissful.
I just had my last home visit from one of my incredible midwives and after talking to her about my most recent birth experience, I was inspired to share (don’t worry, I won’t get too gory).
My first and second labour / delivery experiences could not be more different. While both took place in the hospital, one followed the typical route (perhaps becoming less typical) with a doctor specializing in obstetrics, a team of nurses, drugs, more drugs and the other involved two midwives – that’s it. Oh, and both involved my husband and had the same end result, an amazing new human.
The arrival of my daughter was initiated by my waters breaking. As I was GBS positive, I was required to go to the hospital in the event my waters break to ensure I received my first dose of antibiotics in a timely fashion. So off we went. Upon our arrival, we were told I was to receive Pitocin (exogenous oxytocin) to get things moving as I was only 1 cm dilated. I knew this could increase the likelihood of drugs, but I didn’t know there were other options. I wasn’t told that there were more natural ways to induce labour. So we went along for the ride.
It took a while for things to ramp up, but ramp up they did. The contractions were awful (not sure there are any contractions that are great). I couldn’t sit still. There was nothing that could bring relief, not even the shower. I was frantic; the nurses referred to me as a “wild cat”. At 4 cm dilated, I couldn’t withstand it any longer and decided to receive the epidural. It brought instant relief, sleep, and allowed me to deliver my daughter pain free (while laughing – yes, laughing).
I didn’t know the doctor that delivered my daughter, nor the nurses. All were amazing, patient and kind, but given my recent experience I can now verbalize something I didn’t realize at the time, I never felt fully safe or protected. I felt vulnerable; I was never able to take off my gown and felt completely uncomfortable when they put me into the stirrups. I now understand why.
This time around, I decided to shake things up; I decided I wanted to take a drug-free course of action. Thus, I decided to request a midwife and was delighted to be accepted into my preferred practice immediately (I am forever indebted to a girlfriend of mine who made the recommendation).
Over the course of my 6-months with the midwives, I was never weighed. I was simply asked what my weight was and my belly measurements were taken. They kept me informed about my belly size; thus, I wasn’t surprised when they told me I was measuring behind (just like my first). Instead of sending me for an ultrasound and raising alarm bells (like the first doctor, and not without good reason), they let me wait one more week to see how things progressed. They instructed me to “eat” and to “watch my stress levels”. They asked about my life outside of the one they knew about; they seemed to genuinely care (now I know they genuinely do). In the end, it all worked out and no additional ultrasound was required.
Then it was time. Four days prior to my due date, I started to demonstrate signs of natural labour. No waters broke this time. We didn’t rush to the hospital. We stayed at home. I timed my contractions while we watched TV with my TENS machine on (AH-MAZING device). When the contractions intensified, I moved to the bath. And when the ratcheted up again, I called my midwife and we decided to head to the hospital. I laboured in the car peacefully. We arrived at the hospital and my contractions slowed. My midwife assured me this was normal. As I waited to be checked, the nurses wheeled in my plastic pool, put the liner in, started the water, and left. That was the last I saw of them until we needed some extra hands due to a bit of scary situation at the end of delivery.
Upon my exam, I was shocked to discover I was already 5 cm. The pain was manageable. The contractions were nothing, I repeat, nothing like the ones I had experienced with oxytocin at 4 cm. Nothing. It was then I realized I was going to be able to do this; that I could manage without drugs. It was incredibly empowering.
From that point, I switched between the tub and standing at the sink with the TENS machine on my back and butt. I had on my sports bra and a warm blanket / cape. I felt like a badass batman. In addition to water and the TENS machine for pain management, I used sounding. For any woman who has laboured before, you will be very familiar with sounds (most partners will also be familiar with labour sounds as us women can sure make some mighty weird ones). Yet, those sounds help. They helped me move through the discomfort (yes, discomfort, not pain…I never felt pain during labour).
And then it was time. We moved to the bed and I started to push. Now, this my friends, is where the pain started. Holy mother of god, this was painful. My midwife broke my waters and then s*** got real. My legs cramped. My feet cramped. My butt felt like it was about to fall off. And the ring of fire is real; oh, it’s real. But after just ten minutes, and my Tarzan hollering, I held my baby boy on my chest. It was incredible. They then allowed us to enjoy extended skin-to-skin, waiting patiently to do all of his measurements until he had completed his first feed. It was incredibly peaceful. We left 12 hours later (only because I had to stay for extended observation, otherwise we could have left very shortly thereafter).
With midwives, I also receive the benefit of home care. They come to your house, they answer your questions and concerns, they hug you when they leave. I can’t say I ever received a hug from my doctor (as nice as she was). Yet, everything aside, the greatest differentiator between midwives and medicos (in my humble opinion) is the fact that I felt respected, safe and informed throughout the entire process. I never felt “exposed” or vulnerable during the labour or birth; I felt the birthing room was my sacred space, welcome only to my “team”, my tribe. Now, let me be clear, when the doctor and charge nurse arrived on the scene, they were also incredible. They were respectful and supportive, and helped me through a very difficult moment (I just want to ensure my account is balanced and fair).
So to all the women out there who think they can’t labour without drugs, you can (if you wish to; it’s 1000x more manageable than contractions induced with oxytocin). You need alternative methods. You need the right space. You need to do some reading to help prepare. You need the mindset. But most importantly, you need the right people. And man, did I have the right people.
Any other benefits? I believe that labouring and delivering naturally has led to improved healing, mood, and overall health postpartum. Oh, and one last thing, my husband was more actively involved (and in awe) of the labour and delivery and said he wouldn’t change a thing (and he saw EVERYTHING). He was my rock and helped me in my final stretch (I couldn’t have done it without him…or my two midwives).
So who would I choose if we decide to have another baby? My midwives. Without question. The entire process from start to finish (which we haven’t reached yet), has been beautiful. I have felt informed, respected and cared for and wouldn’t change a thing for baby #3 (if that happens). It isn’t that my first experience wasn’t positive, it was. But this experience has been far richer and empowering.
Thank you to my tribe. You know who you are.