I Thought I'd Love Having An Unmedicated Birth, But I Was Wrong
Even before I got pregnant, I read obsessively about birth. I decided that the medical establishment was the patriarchy, suppressing women’s voices and experiences by using fear to control them. I'd read all the hippie earth-mother rhetoric, the really radical stuff about unassisted birth and birth being a natural process that happens on its own, and it made sense to me. If I ever had a baby, I thought, I'd use a midwife, someone who would be truly in touch with what women really needed — and more specifically, what I really wanted. I promised myself I'd have an unmedicated birth and breastfeed, because that’s what God intended. I only lamented that I couldn’t do it under the stars the way some of these women did.
So one night, after a trip to the local bar, I got pregnant. There were some serious ups in my pregnancy — I started to make milk! — and some serious downs — hyperemesis gravidarum, or uncontrollable vomiting, and serious prenatal depression. But we made it, and one afternoon, I looked down and realized I'd lost my mucus plug. No more than three days now, I thought, and I started having contractions about a day later. They were easy contractions. Tiny contractions, just a tightening around the stomach. though I didn’t know it yet. We went to Target. A man told me I looked like I was going to pop any minute. “I’m in labor,” I told him proudly. “You should be in the hospital!” he scolded. “I’m not going to the hospital,” I said smugly, and trotted off.
The contractions got stronger. I slept that night, then woke up and played the Genesis game Columns, a gem-based Tetris ripoff, through the contractions. I thought about playing it in high school with my best friend, and that made me happy. I ate. And slowly, labor kicked up.
By midnight, I was begging to go to the birth center. The contractions hurt so bad, and I knew I wasn’t anywhere close to having this baby. My midwife seemed to sigh, because she thought I wasn't near ready, and said she’d meet us there. Immediately, I wanted to get into the birth pool. It wasn’t warm like she told me it'd be, and instead it was cold. I had strong contractions in the tub. The midwife and doula told me to get on all fours. Then they told me to get on my knees. I was beginning to moan. The pain was wrapping around my back in what’s called back labor, and it means you don’t get a break between contractions.
They tried to get me to sleep, but how could I sleep in all that pain, all that unrelenting pain? When my midwife offered me aromatherapy to calm down, my husband insisted we transfer to the hospital.
So I paced the hallways. My husband walked behind me, pressing on my hips and back. At every contraction, I’d stop walking, hunch over, and make a sound, as my husband said, like "a dying wildebeest." I threw up. I threw up over and over and over. We walked for hours. Finally, my midwife offered me organic peanut butter, because she thought I just needed some more energy. I threw up at the sight of it.
Then it kicked all the way in, and I cried, because for the first time in a day, I wasn’t in horrendous pain.
The midwife and doula laid me down on the bed. I was screaming by this point with every contraction. They tried to get me to sleep, but how could I sleep in all that pain, all that unrelenting pain? When my midwife offered me aromatherapy to calm down, my husband insisted we transfer to the hospital. He thought I was in terrible pain, and the midwife wasn't doing anything to address that.
I remember every contraction on the drive to the hospital. I had three, and they hurt horribly because I was strapped down in a seat. I hunched over and begged my husband to drive faster. Once they got me up to labor and delivery, the nurses discovered I was seriously dehydrated from vomiting — something my midwife hadn’t caught — and would need two bags of fluids before they could start the fluid bag for the epidural. I don’t know how I got through having those contractions on a bed, but I managed it. I was in so much pain that I didn’t even feel the needle go into my spine. As it half-took, I thought, this isn’t bad. I can do this. Then it kicked all the way in, and I cried, because for the first time in a day, I wasn’t in horrendous pain.
My doctor still believed I could do it, so I reached down deep and pushed as hard as I could.
Finally, I slept. My nurses encouraged it. They said I was exhausted from the pacing and the tub and the exertions the midwife had forced on me.
They had to start some Pitocin, but I didn’t mind; I knew I was on my back and that made labor harder. Soon I was at 10 centimeters and ready to push. I pushed for hours. We tried to tug a rope between us, the doctor and me, when I pushed. We tried a birthing bar. We tried in every position the epidural would allow. And just before they wanted to prep me for a c-section, I said, “I’m getting this f*cking baby out.” And I meant it. My doctor still believed I could do it, so I reached down deep and pushed as hard as I could. Something flipped, and suddenly Blaise was on my chest.
The nurses at the hospital were caring and gentle, unlike my midwife, who mostly ignored my husband and me. My doctor, a resident, was amazing, and I’m lucky now to call her a real friend. She delivered my last son, then brought a meal over for us a few days later. Yes, I’d have rather avoided the Pitocin and the epidural, but my doctor was as pro-woman and pro-birth as you could get. She wanted me to have the birth I wanted with a safe outcome and it meant everything to me to have a doctor like this, and we were just lucky to have her. She was a resident at the time. I’m so grateful for her, and always will be.
I had my next two babies in the hospital. Midwives may work for some people, but for me, I prefer an epidural, a doctor, and the bevy of kind nurses hovering over me. Maybe they tell me not to eat, but I sneak food in anyway. I loved my hospital births, "unnatural" as some might call it (though in my opinion, all birth is natural). And when I have another baby, I’ll have it in the hospital — with drugs — gladly.