Unmedicated Birth & The Two Things I Needed Most To Get It Done

I always love to have my own clients share their birth stories with our blog.  It's interesting for me to see their side of the story, all written down after careful reflection.  Even though I was there, I always learn something new when they share.  Something I didn't know they were thinking, or something that led to their decisions that I wasn't aware of.  Or something I said that I totally forgot!  

When Michelle sent me this, she said "use if for the blog if ya want!".  When I read it, I was in awe.  I hope you find it as inspiring as I do!  Xo, Maria

For months before I welcomed my little boy into the world, I spent time preparing for the momentous occasion. I watched video after video on YouTube, conveniently skipping over the ones that seemed a bit too “screamy” and intense, telling myself, “you won’t be like that, you got this!” and landing comfortably on birth videos where the mama serenely breathed her baby out into a pool of warm water in a seemingly effortless way. This was the way, I told myself, I will have my baby. I read Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth, calling it my “birthing bible” and allowing its wisdom to guide me into the mindset that giving birth is a divine gift that women are given and that it does not have to be painful with the right set of tools. Birthing could be an orgasmic experience, Ina May said, and this was the way, I said to myself, I will have my baby. Determined to have as much control over my birth experience as possible, given that I was opting to birth in a hospital and not in the comfort of my home, I began stocking my own tool box with birthing essentials. In it, among warm socks, post-labor snacks, and a curated playlist, were the two things I thought I needed most to succeed in having the peaceful, pain-free birth I imagined: a well prepared support team and a strong state of mind.

On the beach reading Ina May's Guide to Childbirth...

On the beach reading Ina May's Guide to Childbirth...

My birth team consisted of my husband, my mother, and my doula. I spoke frequently to my husband about how I envisioned my birth. We thoroughly discussed the bullet points of my birth plan. When anyone said to us, sneeringly, “no epidural? Good luck with that!” he was the first to jump in to defend the decision. He had my back, he understood my “whys,” he didn’t question them, and I loved that. He made me feel completely supported in my decision to have an unmedicated birth. Additionally, in all of the readings I had done about birth, there was a pattern of surrounding oneself with strong women in your life— for me, that was my mother. I knew that I didn’t need her to specifically do anything or fill any well-orchestrated role during the birth, but I knew that I needed her there. It was that simple. Thirdly, from the onset of deciding to birth in the hospital setting, I knew I wanted the support of a doula to help me stick to my birth plan in the case of possible opposition by hospital protocol, to provide a hand to hold and encouraging words in case my husband was caught up in an emotional moment, and to counter pressure the hell out of my hips when no one else could find the exact spot to squeeze. A doula has been there to support many women through this experience before me, and I absolutely needed someone there who knew the drill, someone who was a professional in this birthing bit, someone who was 100% on my side, someone who didn’t work under the hospital agenda, someone who believed in the beauty and transformative power of giving birth; I needed my Ina May. From the moment I signed the contract with my doula, I felt a weight fall off my shoulders—that no matter what happened during this birth, I wouldn’t have to do it alone.

With my power trio ready to go, I felt externally well-equipped.

My internal, mental and emotional preparation was much more of a winding journey. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to need to be able to serenely breathe my baby out while in a hospital bed. I continued reading birth stories, I spoke to women in my circle about their birth experiences, I meditated and envisioned what I wanted this birth to be like, I spoke to my baby about how we were going to do this thing together. I was picking up pieces of experiential wisdom from women, women I knew and women I had never met, who had been there-done that, specifically those who experienced unmedicated births. I had an arsenal of mental and emotional support tactics built up, unsure of which I would ultimately employ in the moment. I was confident, however, that between my satchel of essential oils, my learned acupressure points, and my birthing mantras, something would speak to me and guide me through. The three things that I ultimately called upon in the moment: 1. a personal mantra; 2. a labor ritual; and 3. the ability to let go of expectation. 

So how exactly did it go down? Were my support team and my strong mind enough to get it done in the way I imagined I could? If you’re wondering if I had a painless birth, the answer to that is a resounding #&%$ no! It was not painless, it was not orgasmic, it was more intense than any YouTube video that I skipped over could have prepared me for. However, in all of the intensity of contraction pains and the uncertainty of not knowing how long each phase of labor was going to last, perhaps driven by sheer exhaustion, there were moments of euphoric peacefulness that happened when I turned completely inward and allowed time and my surroundings to drift away from me. 

Because I had a birth team around me who I trusted implicitly to support me when it came to what I needed physically and emotionally (though I mostly ended up needing quietness), I was able to trust in what was happening externally and focus every ounce of my consciousness on what I needed to do internally get through the physical intensity necessary to birth my son. My husband was amazing. When the midwife on duty recommended Pitocin for the third time since my hospital arrival, my husband, completely exasperated, digging through my hospital bag, yelled, “where is the birth plan?! I don’t think this woman knows what we are trying to do here, and I need to tell her!” And he did! Later, when the intensity of my contractions started ramping up, he recommended I get in the shower, which I was adamant against at first. This  change of environment ended up being a welcomed saving grace for about an hour. He poured hot water over my arms in the shower while it beat down on my back and held my hand through contractions. He used techniques from our natural birth workshop, and he gave me the space to do what I needed to do. He demonstrated wholly what it means to be a life partner, and it has since strengthened our relationship in a way that I had not written into the context of my birth expectations. Member two of my entourage, my mom, got ice and water when I needed it and she was there, present, just as I needed her to be. Now that the birth has come and gone, I reflect on how important this role was for me, because she was witness to the entire process. When I need to relive a moment from the day, ask a question about how something happened, or just get a little verbal high five, she is a phone call away and always eager to hash it out with me. The only person more proud of what I accomplished than I am might be my mom. Lastly, there was the “closer,” my doula, who we called about 6 hours after I went into labor (without Pitocin!), when my contractions were becoming extreme and I had doubts in my capabilities to continue on, and about 5 hours before the baby came. By the time she arrived, I was pretty far into my own state of Labor Land, pretty turned inward, and pretty uninhibited outwardly.  I remember her sitting calmly next to me, not scared by the deep moans and wounded animal sounds I was making, and holding my hand. I asked her questions, like “how much longer,” and she sweetly said, “I don’t know, but you’re doing great.” She supported me in a way that was comforting but strong; she did not feel bad for me for the pain I was experiencing, she did not want to take that pain away from me like the people in the room who knew me and loved me and wanted to protect me. There were no “aw, I’m sorry”s, there were only words of encouragement, empowerment, and reassurance that an amazing gift awaited me. As I crushed her hand with mine, I knew that she and I were about to do something amazing together because we both believed I was strong enough to accomplish it, no matter how many times I said I couldn’t go on. To any woman interested in an unmedicated birth, do yourself a favor, and buy yourself a cheerleader (I mean HIRE A DOULA!). I am so grateful to my doula, and I would never have had such a positive birthing experience without her.

While all of these things were happening outside of me, inside I was calling upon the techniques I learned from women-past, scouring my mental catalogue for what was going to work for me. To handle the intensity of my contractions, I remembered the metaphor used by Ina May; that each contraction was a wave, and I just had to ride each wave out— easy, right? Being a beach babe, this metaphor resonated for me, and it became my mantra with each contraction, as it gave each contraction a clear beginning, and more importantly, a clear end. If someone was talking as I entered one of the waves, I threw up a hand and said “shhhh,” unable and unwilling to speak words. I closed my eyes and swayed from side to side, seated in lotus pose on my hospital bed. Upright and seated this way, legs crossed, was the most comfortable position for me for much of my laboring. This position and this motion became my laboring ritual that I came back to. I breathed deeply and I said to myself with every wave, “I am going up the wave, I am on top of the wave, I am going down the wave,” and I envisioned my body actively riding up the backside of a big wave, perched on the top of the wave, and gliding effortlessly down the wave. Between contractions, I continued to sway, often dozing off to sleep for the short minutes before another came and getting right back into the ritual partnered with the mantra. If I was awake between contractions, I would tell myself another mantra I had constructed weeks before I went into labor at the recommendation of a friend: “My body is strong, my mind is strong, my baby is strong.” Through the combination of a position that felt comfortable, positive self talk, and reliance on the wave metaphor, I was able to breathe my way through most hours of labor. 

The end of labor, the most intense part, right before you get to meet your baby, required something much more difficult for me; it required letting go of everything I expected to happen in order to allow it to happen. I strongly relied on the “process” of birth, and I took comfort in the notion that everything would proceed according to a well ordered plan— Nature’s plan, the miracle of birth. I should have thrown this heavy reliance on process out the window when my water broke and I didn’t go into labor for another 24+ hours (hence the Pitocin talk). I didn’t throw it out because I needed to trust the process in order to get through it. I trusted it to get me 4 cm and I trusted it to get me to 6, but when I heard “6 centimeters” after what seemed like forever, I wanted to give up. My support team assured me this was great progress, but to me, for whatever reason, it seemed like failure. How could I have progressed so little and given so much effort? This is when I asked for the last time “how much longer?” and again no one knew. How could anyone know? In this moment, I had to give in to this not knowing. Up until this point, I felt great control over the process— I had successfully avoided induction, I was handling my contractions like a champ, I was doing “birth" the way I had prepared to do it, but then I had to let go. So I did. In that instant, I felt weak, physically and emotionally. I wanted to cry but didn’t have the energy to waste. Giving into the unknown, this moment of “weakness,” was one of the strongest things I had to do. Oh, the irony! In reflection, never in my life have I, nor will I, experience feeling both the weakest and the strongest at exact same moment. After this relinquishing, it didn’t take long to get to the point of saying, “I’ve gotta push!”. My birth plan stated that I did not want to be coached on how to push my baby out. I overheard the new midwife on duty (the one who would amazingly deliver my baby) restate my birth plan to one of the nurses in the room. When I heard the words, I yelled out, “NO! Coach me!”. I learned the lesson throughout the process that I was adaptable and that I needed to let go of what I thought I wanted the process to look like. Ultimately, what I wanted most was to push my baby out was however the midwife recommended it be done to allow it to happen the fastest. Within a half hour, I was holding an 8 pound, 15 ounce beautiful baby boy on my chest while a room of supportive women (and my husband!) cheered for me and the miraculous thing I had just accomplished. 

As I write this, I have a perfect sleeping boy on my lap and a profound respect for my body and for every woman who has ever birthed a baby, no matter how she accomplished the daunting task. My reason for choosing an unmedicated birth was a selfish one— I wanted to experience the gift of child birth in all of its intense, unpredictable glory. I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to execute birthing in the way that I wanted to, surrounded by my tribe of support. It is my hope that every woman takes immense pride in what her body is capable of doing, and that (if she wants) she has the capacity to build her own tool box, equipping herself with the tools necessary to birth exactly as she wants to, feeling empowered and like the rock star that she is.

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