We welcomed our baby girl to the world recently and we’re crazy in love. Meet Samara, 7 pounds and 20 inches of pure deliciousness. Every time I look at her, my heart bursts!
I’d love to share my birth story with you. Here goes…
I really wanted an unmedicated birth
As soon as I became pregnant, I knew I wanted to try to have an unmedicated labor and delivery. I always think that less medication is better and know that I feel best when I support my body in drug-free ways. And I wanted to experience everything that birth entails. The contractions, the pain, the high from the endorphins a woman’s body produces … I wanted all of it. I was also curious about what my body was capable of. It’s supposedly designed to do this, right?
My commitment became even stronger after reading books about childbirth, taking a birth course, and talking to my doctor about the risks of interventions and drugs. But things definitely don’t always go as planned, especially with labor and birth. So I went into it with an open mind and tried to remember that having a healthy baby at the end was the only thing that really mattered.
It started very mild and slowly
Six days before my due date, I was feeling great and energized. I swam laps and did some work. I did NOT think I was about to go into labor. I was so convinced that the baby was going to come a week late that my hospital bag wasn’t even packed!
That night at 1am I felt funny cramps in my lower back. When it occurred to me what that could mean I jumped out of bed and started running around to pack my hospital bag even though I didn’t totally believe that I was actually going into labor. David and I both felt the sudden urge to do SOMETHING so, in the middle of the night, we emptied the dishwasher and tidied up the house. But after an hour or two, those chores were done and we felt pretty sure that the baby wasn’t coming anytime soon. We didn’t know what else to do so we went back to bed. The strange cramping feelings continued but were very mild. Eventually, I became convinced that this was in fact HAPPENING so we called our doula and let her know. She told us to continue with our day like normal until I couldn’t do that anymore.
Weirdly, most of that day was kind of normal. Until about 4pm, the contractions were pretty mild. I called family and friends, listened to podcasts, took two baths, drank lots of bone broth. I even complained that labor was boring. I told a friend that it was like watching water boil. Forehead smack. Boy, was I about to be proven wrong.
That evening, things started picking up. The contractions grew more and more intense, frequent, and painful. During one of our periodic phone calls with our doula, she heard me moaning (ok, shouting expletives) and she asked me where I was feeling the pain. I told her “my baaaaaack!” I had never felt contractions before and figured what I was feeling was normal. Turns out, that’s not normal. She told me she thought the baby was in a posterior “sunny side up” position, causing the intense “back labor” pain.
Back labor? I was not prepared for this. My midwife had checked two weeks earlier and said the baby was optimally positioned. The baby must have rotated since then. I was annoyed because as an acupuncturist, I have tools to help get babies positioned optimally. If I had known that the baby had rotated, I could have at least tried to get her to rotate back. Arrrgh. But there I was, in excruciating back pain during labor.
Learning to surrender
Our doula told us that a posterior-positioned baby can prolong labor, and it seemed to for me. Only after about 15 hours, at 4pm, did my contractions start to get really painful. We tried different techniques and positions, including walking around, getting in the tub, sitting on the birth ball, slow dancing with David, and lying on my side.
Around 9pm, David says I stopped talking. Which maybe sounds terrible, but it wasn’t. I just felt like I was in a different dimension. I was focused. I went somewhere deep. A place full of trust and deep breaths. I knew that I alone had to birth this baby. And yet I wasn’t alone. David was right there with me the whole time. He gave me sips of water between contractions and squeezed on my hips through every contraction. I joke afterward that he should be a yoga teacher because he led me through guided imagery with every contraction: “surrender, you can do this, trust your body… your body is a flower starting to open…” Things like that. It’s hilarious now to think of him saying those things. But it really helped! He was amazing.
When the contractions started to get intense, I found that surrendering to them was the way to go. Fighting against or resisting the pain made them feel worse. So did making high-pitched noises or cursing. But when I shifted to an accepting mindset and lowered my noises to be more like moans or Om’s, things felt a lot better. I felt like I was working with the contractions instead of against them. I tried to let my body do what it needed to do and allow each contraction to wash over me.
The contractions were coming every 3 minutes and lasting about a minute. In between contractions, my body was shaking uncontrollably, which is apparently normal. Our doula told us that all the endorphins and hormones your body produces to deal with the contractions also causes your body to shake in between them. So I did my best to not fight the shakes and surrender to them, too.
We labored like that for several hours, the two of us, on my bed. Me on all fours “Om-ing” my heart out, David behind me wrenching on my hips and coaxing me to “surrender”. Eventually, at about 1am, David asked the doula to come to our house. I think he needed the emotional support more than anything. Once she arrived, it was the three of us on our bed, all “om-ing” together.
We went to the hospital after 27 hours
My plan was to stay at home as long as possible. I thought I’d be more comfortable in my own home where I could move around freely, eat and drink as I wanted, enjoy a peaceful, dark and quiet setting, and let things unfold without being poked or prodded, interrupted or second-guessed.
At 4 am, we were 27 hours in. My water hadn’t broken and I hadn’t had a bloody show, so my doula wasn’t sure I was in active labor. David made the call that we should go to the hospital. He reasoned that I couldn’t keep doing this for much longer, so if I wasn’t in active labor yet, we should head to the hospital so we could get more support if we needed it. On the other hand, he thought that if I was in active labor, things were probably pretty far along, and we didn’t want to deliver at home. Meanwhile, my only thought was that these contractions were INTENSE, and if this was just early labor and things were going to ramp up even more, then @#$#%! In any case, after 27 hours, to the hospital we went.
We live three blocks from our hospital, so it took us only a few minutes to get there. But I had several contractions in those few minutes. Checking into the hospital, mid-contraction, they looked at me wide-eyed and rushed me into a delivery room – skipping triage where they usually put women first.
The first thing they did was check my cervix and, to my relief, I was 8.5 cm dilated!!!! Hooray!!! I was certainly in active labor and what I had been feeling was probably the worst of it. Maybe we had even gotten through part of transition at home!
The nurses and midwife thought I might be pushing within the hour. Instead, I got in the tub and labored there for another 4 hours. My doula, my midwife, and David all sat on the floor in the dimly lit bathroom supporting me as I labored through transition. At one point, an OBGyn nurse came in and said “well she doesn’t need another person staring at her.” Which was funny because I didn’t feel stared at by them. They were holding space for me. They were silently supporting me and giving me strength. Now I have a much better understanding of what it means to “hold space” for someone. It’s something I’ve always tried to do for my patients when they need it, but to experience other people holding space for me gave a deeper appreciation of its effect. It’s a powerful thing. This was one of many times that I was so glad I had a doula and midwife in addition to the OBGyn people.
In between contractions, we were all silent and resting. When I felt the beginning of a contraction, I’d whisper “one’s coming…” and David would give me his hand and we’d all moan together as I wrenched on David’s arm. (The next day my right arm was sore from basically arm wrestling David for 4 hours ) After each contraction ended, for some reason I burped twice. Every single time! Two burps! We’d all giggle and then fall back into silence.
Those 4 hours were so peaceful. They weren’t easy or blissful. It was hard. But they were safe and sacred and beautiful. I think it felt that way because everyone in the room, including me, trusted that I could do it. Trusted that there was no medical emergency. Trusted that the process would unfold as it was meant to. No one hurried, worried that it was taking too long, or second-guessed what we were doing. I felt complete, unquestioned assurance that I could do this. That I was doing it.
Finally, I felt a sudden and intense urge to push. They got me out of the tub and onto the bed. I pushed for an hour. It was like out of the movies where you have your legs up and you’re huffing and puffing. A team of nurses came in, but I didn’t even notice them. My husband pressed his forehead against the side of my head and spoke into my ear. Everyone was cheering and screaming for me to push. But I still felt like it was just me and my husband in some other swirly dimension.
In the midst of all of that, from what felt like a far-away land, I heard a nurse say that the baby’s heart rate had dropped. I also heard my midwife calmly tell the nurse, “wouldn’t your heart rate drop if your head was being squeezed?” It was the perfect thing to say. She was letting me know that I had to get the baby out soon, but also that she was confident that we could do it and that there was no reason to panic. At that point it felt like nature and spirit took over my body. I had envisioned a quiet birth, but all of a sudden I sounded like a wild animal! I roared and pushed with every last ounce of strength, heart, and soul that I had. And two pushes later I had a baby in my arms.
My husband was crying and I couldn’t stop saying “our baby, our baby, our baby…” and “we did it, we did it…” I felt elated and relieved. I also felt proud and shocked by what I had just accomplished. The overwhelming mama love started immediately. Everyone else was exhausted, but I was running high on endorphins and couldn’t stop talking… “look at her fingers! Look at her little legs!” I didn’t want to stop staring into her little squinched eyes.
After a day or two of simply gazing at my baby and wanting to soak in every last bit of her, I laid awake in the dim light of my hospital bed trying to wrap my head around the whole situation. I held so many seemingly contradictory feelings inside me. I had strongly believed the whole time that I could do it AND couldn’t believe I had actually done it. I had felt I alone had to push my baby out AND felt surrounded by love and support. There were so many paradoxes. Raw power and a strength that can only come from surrendering. Prolonged, intense pain AND overwhelming love.
My birth was not blissful or easy. It was hard. But I think it makes sense that birth should be so hard. We’re creating life, after all. It makes sense that you should have to dig deep, go to some other dimension, and carry a new life back with you. We are vessels for life, for love. It’s amazing.
None of this is to say that other types of births are easier or less powerful experiences. There are so many ways to give birth and become a parent. I dislike the term “natural birth” and choose instead to use "unmedicated birth" because what birth is not natural? I don’t care whether a woman has an epidural, laughing gas, or emergency or planned caesarian. It’s all beautiful and hard and wonderful and natural and a miracle. What matters to me is that women are given options, empowered to make their own decisions, and supported in whatever decisions they make.
So that’s my story. Thank you for reading it and for being so lovely throughout my pregnancy. It has been a joy to share everything with you.