Courtesy of Samantha Shanley

I Wanted An Unmedicated Delivery, But I Changed My Mind At The Last Second

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When I was pregnant with my first child, I was tickled by all the choices I suddenly faced. Would I see an OB, or a midwife, like my mother had done? Would I deliver at a local hospital where my friend was a nurse, or would I find a practice more convenient to my house? I polled my friends who had been there, done that. Then I thought about what I wanted to do, and why. I wanted a "natural," unmedicated birth, so I chose a group of midwives halfway between work and home. I loved the monthly appointments, checking myself into the office with a sense of empowerment while taking my own weight and recording the number in my chart, peeing on a stick and labeling the cup, checking my blood sugar, and talking about all of the minor changes I’d noticed since my last appointment.

The midwives delivered at the birth center that was attached to their practice, as well as in a hospital nearby. It was my choice, but I loved the birth center concept. I had visions of delivering the baby in a bathtub, on an actual bed, or above a birthing stool. I wanted to accept that this could be my normal, too — a baby born at home, kind of, without the mess to clean up afterwards, but with the help of the wonderful midwife team I had grown to love. I had visions of passing around a warm pan of my mother’s lasagna after giving birth, surrounded by my parents, my sister, and one of my brothers.

Courtesy of Samantha Shanley

To that end, I took a Hypnobirthing class and practiced meditation every day. I was preparing myself for all the things that might happen during birth that I couldn’t possibly expect, which is to say that I was preparing myself for all of it: cramping, contractions, vomiting, weeping in the early hours of morning, and whatever else I’d heard from my friends about their own births. I loved the idea of gearing up mentally to get to a place where I could accept the unknown and focus on my birthing goals.

The truth is I was angry I wasn’t in control. I’d believed that if I just practiced how to meditate during labor, I’d know exactly what to do and when. Instead, I felt alone and scared, almost betrayed by my body. I had expected a peaceful labor, but it wasn’t peaceful most of the time.

When I finally began to labor, I stayed at home for the first eight hours, flopping around between my guest bed, the bathtub, and the floor. I was so excited to meet my baby that when I lay down to nap and rest, as I’d been advised to do, I kept giggling, unable to sleep between “surges” — the Hypnobirthing term for contractions. The surges were way more intense than I’d envisioned: I’d thought they’d be like really bad menstrual cramps, contained to some restricted diameter around my belly button. Instead, they were full-body earthquakes, my cervix the intimate epicenter.

“Oh my god,” I kept wanting to say out loud, “Get off me.”

Instead, I dropped a thousand f-bombs, aiming them at the labor demons I kept thinking were inside me. It seemed somehow cruel to blend such excitement with such incredible intensity. I was disappointed too by my own surprise — I’d watched all those birthing videos and seen what it was all about. Could it be that I had thought it would somehow be different for me?

Courtesy of Samantha Shanley

Maybe, but the truth is I was angry I wasn’t in control. I’d believed that if I just practiced how to meditate during labor, I’d know exactly what to do and when. Instead, I felt alone and scared, almost betrayed by my body. I had expected a peaceful labor, but it wasn’t peaceful most of the time.

When my husband called the midwife, the first thing she did was tell him how exhausted she was from a prolonged birth that had concluded earlier that night. She started asking him questions to determine how far along I really was. Could I talk? Could I stand up? Was he sure the contractions were five minutes apart? She was determining whether or not I was far enough along to come in to the birth center — this was her job, I knew, but I hated being treated like I was a bench squatter on some JV team when I felt like the star player. I'd read up on all the signs of labor I was to look out for before calling the midwife, I was ready for more support from someone other than my husband, and I was angry I wasn’t already getting it.

My husband and I were together again, as we’d been at home, laboring alone. I was eager for more support, encouragement, and, if I’m being honest, for the whole thing to be over. The whole world seemed to be shut down — it was 4 o’clock in the morning after all — but I was revved up, unable to sleep or rest. I vomited and cried into the toilet. I was miserable, and scared.

“She’s TIRED?” I yelled to my husband from the bathroom as he walked downstairs to finish the conversation, leaving me crawling around the bathroom floor, counting tiles. She told us to come in to the birth center in an hour. When we arrived, she started an internal exam and ended up stretching my cervix another inch so that technically, I would be 5 centimeters and she wouldn’t have to send me home.

I thought then of how different it is to be in the middle of a prenatal appointment with someone’s hands up inside you than it is to be in labor with someone’s hands in the same space. “I’m just going to go lie down for a bit,” she said, patting my hands, “You go ahead and get into the tub if you like.” So my husband and I were together again, as we’d been at home, laboring alone. I was eager for more support, encouragement, and, if I’m being honest, for the whole thing to be over. The whole world seemed to be shut down — it was 4 o’clock in the morning after all — but I was revved up, unable to sleep or rest. I vomited and cried into the toilet. I was miserable, and scared.

“I’m going to the hospital,” I finally announced. “I want an epidural and a nap.”

Courtesy of Samantha Shanley

The midwife was too tired to argue, and I was too pissed off and disappointed in the whole process to listen to anything but my own instincts, which were telling me to get out of there. At least, I thought, at the hospital, there would be multiple nurses there to keep me company.

The midwife who came to meet us at the hospital was just starting her shift for the day. She was cheerful and supportive, and she respected my wishes not to be touched. Instead, I grabbed onto the birthing table and groaned. Since it was my first baby and I wasn’t yet hanging from the drapes like some women who are entering the transitional phase of labor — somewhere between 8 and 10 centimeters — the midwife didn’t think I was close to delivery. In fact, by the time the epidural went in, I was already 10 centimeters dilated and ready to push.

In retrospect, I could have handled the pushing phase had my birth been unmedicated. Ironically, I was so afraid of finishing out my labor without the epidural that I ended up calming myself down, thinking I was slowing labor down. That determination helped me get through the toughest part of labor without even realizing it.

Perhaps if I hadn’t been so beholden to my "natural birth plan," I wouldn’t have been so disappointed during the actual birth about tossing that plan to the wind. Weaving anger and disappointment into an already intense, exhausting experience only made it worse for me, at least psychologically. My daughter, it turns out, was just as beautiful as she would have been had things gone according to plan. Luckily, I discovered in time for my next two deliveries that the end goal should be a healthy birth, plain and simple.