Five years ago, I found myself pregnant with my first child. I was 24 and didn’t know squat about babies and labor and all that hootenanny.
Like a lot of women, I desired to have a natural birth — but I soon learned that I had no idea what I’d be up against to achieve one in a hospital in the state of Maryland.
Had I done my research (more diligently), I would’ve learned that the hospital I chose (a reputable one in Baltimore and also the one where I had been born) had close to a 50 percent C-section rate. Though that number seems outrageous, it’s not that far off from the U.S. average.
Although the World Health Organization recommends that optimal cesarean sections rates are somewhere around six percent, in 2011 they were at a staggering 33 percent. I would’ve also learned that the rates at which other unnecessary interventions were taking place for low-risk women were at an all-time high, too. And that those interventions — such as Pitocin, early inductions and epidurals — often pose greater risk to both mother and baby and increase the risk of C-section in a major way (explains a lot, doesn’t it?).
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When I walked into the hospital on a cold January night in 2010, leaking all over the waiting room from my broken water, I was nervous and excited. I could feel contractions though I wasn’t yet in any true discomfort. I was prepared for the real labor to kick in, ready to walk the halls and breathe and participate in the birth of my child fully. That had been my plan throughout my whole pregnancy and I wasn’t going to let fear of pain deter me from what was best for me and my baby. But I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
After getting my blood pressure checked and chatting for just a few moments, the nurse quickly told me to get changed and get into the bed. “Why would I do that?” I asked, shocked and confused. I wasn’t tired. Lying down was the last thing I had planned on doing unless I truly needed to rest. What research I had done had instructed me to keep moving during labor and to listen to my body. Almost every book and video had said that lying flat on your back was one of the worst positions for labor, would likely slow it down and make the pain more intense and difficult to manage without medications. “Hospital policy,” was all I got back after multiple requests for information.
I must’ve looked like a deer in headlights, a very pregnant deer who knew she was about to be pounded into the highway. I stood stunned, tried to argue, and finally got scared and shut up. I was given a bed pan for both number one and number two. Suddenly, I’d become a patient, not a healthy, laboring mother-to-be. An IV was placed in my arm and a monitor on my belly, which soon would become sheer agony as it pressed into my contracting abdomen and limited my movement even more. I wish I’d fought harder, but I was young and naive. I figured if this nurse is telling me to do this, there has to be a good reason behind it. I also wondered why, in months of conversations with my doctor (who would not make an appearance for several days), this “hospital policy” was never broached.
Read about the benefits of natural childbirth >>
The never-ending contraction
Within a couple of hours of lying in bed, my pain went from one to 100. I was experiencing a never-ending contraction that left me with no energy to yell or even to speak. It was constant and it took everything I had just to be in my own body. Every part of me was shaking, my muscles so fatigued from the pain. Every time the nurse came to check my cervix, I let out some animal-like moan as the contraction intensified against her gloved hand.
No change. I was only about 3 centimeters dilated, the same as when I came into the hospital. By 4 or 5 a.m., after hours of a contraction that never stopped, I relented. “Don’t torture yourself,” the nurse told me and called for the epidural.
About a half hour later, I got relief. As my husband slept on the cushioned bench and I listened with eyes closed to Jersey Shore on TV, my body relaxed. I still had the shakes but was covered in blankets to ease the trembling. I was exhausted but wired. Soon a baby would be coming out of my body, some way, somehow and for me, sleep was not on the horizon.
Less than an hour went by and the nurse came back to check my progress. I hoped for another centimeter or two, but I was already to 10. It was go time. All my body had needed was some relief. It needed time to relax so that my labor could progress like it had been trying to the whole time — something I couldn’t accomplish on my back with a contraction that lasted five hours and without a moment’s reprieve.
The on-call doctor came in, said a quick hello and before I knew it there were scissors in his hand and he was slicing my vagina wide open with an episiotomy. I hadn’t even had time to protest. I had read about the procedure and how it is done frequently without need and how if proper care isn’t given, can take far longer to heal than most tears (it was three months before I could sit down without a Boppy pillow under my a**).
My daughter came and I heard her cry but barely saw her at first. “She looks like a baby doll,” someone said and then she was whisked away to be cleaned off, weighed and poked and prodded. My husband was overwhelmed with excitement as the doctor quickly and carelessly stitched me up and was out the door. I have never been able to remember his name, though I’m sure it’s on a bill somewhere.
Lack of control
I was happy it was all over — happy my baby was out in the world. But I was surprised how numb I felt and a little jealous of my husband’s bliss. I expected a rush of emotion, tears, happiness and pure joy. But it didn’t come and I found out later, this is not uncommon after a medicated birth.
During a natural birth the body releases oxytocin, which can make a new mother significantly more responsive to her baby. The female body knows exactly how to respond after a natural delivery and it also knows how to heal. The rush of oxytocin and love for your baby that is no doubt felt during natural deliveries doesn’t happen quite the same way after a medicated birth (though this is especially true in the case of C-section vs. vaginal birth).
Fast-forward four years from delivery and I’m pregnant with my second and I’ve spent a lot of the time in between thinking about my past experience. It’s not that I’ve been dwelling on it, but to say I felt nothing about the lack of control I had during my daughter’s birth would be a lie. I largely felt that the experience was taken away from me and for what? To this day, I haven’t met one person who’s been able to explain to me why I would’ve been told to get into bed when I had no risk factors, was progressing normally and was vocal about my desire for a natural birth. Not one person, including my own doctor.
Second time around
So this time, after a lot of thought and research, I’ve decided that having my baby at home with my husband and two experienced midwives was my best choice. Home birth in the state of Maryland is pretty under the radar. Though highly-trained and legal in many other states, Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) are not yet legal here and so many consider home birth to be scary or irresponsible. It’s one reason why (until now), the people I’ve chosen to mention our plan to have our baby at home I could count on one hand.
Though there is a lot of skepticism, given my past experience, I fear birthing in a hospital far more than I would in a supported environment at home.
It’s not that I believe nothing could possibly go wrong, but I have also read the stats and know that the likeliness of that happening is far less than we are made to believe. Babies, for the most part, know how to be born without any help. To me, what is most astonishing about hospital birth is that doctors are allowed to give the drugs that are now so common in labor at the rates in which they do. While research shows those rates are a leading cause for the abysmal infant and mother mortality rates in the U.S., it doesn’t stop doctors from performing them casually and in record numbers. The fact is the U.S. has the highest first-day infant death rate in the industrialized world. It’s not that American women are any less capable of birthing healthy babies. It’s our practices in this country that are to blame, not our bodies.
I believe in my body’s ability to birth a baby. I believe in it more than I believe in a doctor or nurse’s ability to tell me how to labor. I believe that birth is a natural process, not a medical one (at least not at the rates in which we believe it to be). I believe my baby knows how to be born without drugs or procedures, just like my daughter did. I only wish I had trusted my own intuition enough to let her. This time, I’m taking control of my health and my baby’s. That’s why I’m having a home birth.