my birth story

Sometime after the birth of my fourth child I decided that I wanted to have my next birth without an epidural or other pain meds. I had had an epidural for each of those four births. While I realize that having an epidural doesn't make me less of a mother, or diminish the birth in any way, I wanted to do it “the real way.” I'd read a lot about how babies can be more alert after a non-medicated birth, and how recoveries can be easier for the mother. I'd also read about how having less interventions overall actually leads to less problems. And while I was also open to an out-of-hospital birth like a birth center, that was not an option for us for a few reasons.

When our first baby was born, my blood pressure had been on the rise for a few weeks. I wasn't on bed rest, but I was supposed to “take it easy” and was going in to get my pressure checked every few days. Ten days before my due date, I went in for a BP check and it was the highest it had been up to that point. He had me lay down for a while and they checked it again, and the doctor decided that I should just be induced. We headed to the hospital. And while my blood pressure never went up to those levels again once we were there, (and it was checked automatically every 30 minutes for the next 24 hours or so), once we were there, it was no turning back. My cervix wasn't ready for delivery despite the hormone gels that had been applied so I wasn't going into labor on my own, so they started pitocin. The contractions were so hard and he was posterior, so I had terrible back labor. Since I'd been awake for a whole day, I was exhausted and got an epidural. My “plan” for pain relief going into the birth was that I wasn't opposed to an epidural, that I'd just “see how the pain was.” I'd read some books about breathing and stuff, but hadn't taken any natural birthing classes. In the end, I ended up pushing for two hours. I didn't know what I was doing, the medical staff around me obviously couldn't tell that I was clueless, and I was exhausted. Then, when our son was born, he didn't breathe right away because he had some mucous blocking his airway. The neonatal team swarmed in and helped him breathe before he was intubated, but since I was Group B Strep positive, they sent him to the NICU for a 72-hour course of antibiotics to make sure that he didn't get sick.

Now this is the birth story of my fifth, not my first, but had all those things not happened, I wouldn't have had the perspective that I did. Looking back now, if I had gone to full-term instead of being induced early, maybe things would have gone differently. If I hadn't been so medicated with the epidural, I might have been able to feel where to push and had him out sooner. If he'd bake a couple weeks longer, he might not have protested being born early and maybe we would have avoided the NICU stay. But in the end, my blood pressure was the determining factor here, and that's what sent us to the hospital. While it was high, maybe with different medical intervention I could have postponed delivery. I can't change the past, just learn from it.

The other main reason that kept me in the hospital for this birth is that a close friend of mine died from pregnancy complications in 2004.

I could understand my husband's concerns and was willing to give birth in the hospital but I wanted it to be on my terms, barring any medical complications that I couldn't avoid. I didn't really discuss my plan to have a natural birth with him because I always got too emotional. I would cry and wasn't able to express my thoughts clearly. I knew that he didn't like to see me in pain and wasn't sure that avoiding drugs was the best option. So I kept my decision to myself but prepared mentally. I have a great support group of natural-minded mothers that rallied behind me and supported me and gave me encouragement.

The doctor that had delivered #3 and #4 had retired, so I had to find a new one, and the first time I met with my new doctor I told him that I'd like to have this one without an epidural. Then he said to me "Let me tell you how to fail. Go into the birth with the mindset of 'I'll just see how the pain is and decide then'". That was EXACTLY how I'd gone into all four of my previous births. So I knew it was important to be mentally prepared and determined to have it my way.

Excepting my first birth, all my other babies were overdue. My second came a week after her due date. My third came 3-5 days after hers. My fourth came 5-7 days after hers. (it's hard to have an exact due date since the doctor's wheel always gives a different date than all the pregnancy books/due date calculators). I fully expected the fifth baby to be overdue as well. From the time I was about 37 weeks, I'd often have contractions in the evening that would go regularly for a while, but would fizzle out when I went to bed. I was slightly hopeful that one of those nights, the contractions wouldn't stop and the baby would actually come early, but I knew that the baby would probably be overdue. I also knew better than to rush to the hospital every time those contractions lasted longer than an hour, because they weren't strong or painful or regular enough to actually be labor.

My “mental” due date of 41 weeks came and went. I had been positive that the baby would come before that date. I was getting restless. I was trying to stay prepared for being away for a couple days. I was doing the laundry more often to keep the kids clothed in my absence. I had cleaned the bathrooms but they were in need of another cleaning since I was so overdue. I didn't want to leave home and go too far because I was afraid that I'd go into labor away from home and be stuck somewhere. I was crabby and didn't want to talk to anyone. I didn't want to be induced because I really wanted my natural birth. I was beginning to think my body wouldn't go into labor on its own.

Finally on the morning of October 22, I was awakened at 5 am by a contraction. It wasn't really painful, but a dull ache low in my belly. My 3-year-old was in my bed at the time so I took her back to her own bed and laid awake until 6 timing the contractions. They were coming about every 10 minutes. At 6 I got up and took a shower. When I got out, my husband was awake and I told him that I thought I was in labor and he probably wouldn't be going to work. My last 2 labors had been 6 and 5 hours, respectively, but they had been jumpstarted by the doctor breaking my water. I suspected that this labor would go slower with my water intact, but I was a little afraid that I wouldn't be able to get the kids to school at 8:15 before I felt like I needed to leave for the hospital. I didn't want to leave too early because I knew I'd just end up walking the halls (I knew I wouldn't be sent home at 41 weeks 3 days). I also knew that it would take me a while to get to 4 cm but after that, things could go really quickly. By 8 am, I was still only contracting every 10 minutes and they weren't any stronger, so my husband went to work (not packing a lunch since we figured he wouldn't be there long, but he didn't have to count the day as vacation or paternity leave if he made an appearance) and the kids went to school. I puttered around the house, making sure my hospital bag was packed and ready to go, washing the dishes, taking care of last minute things. I didn't dare start a load of laundry because I was afraid it would sit wet in the washer for 3 days. Turns out that I could have done a few loads, however. By 10 am my contractions were about every 7 minutes and getting stronger. I often had to stop walking around when I had one and had to breathe deeply. By noon or so, they were getting slightly stronger still and sometimes came every 6 minutes. I didn't want to wait too long since I was Group B Strep positive again and needed the antibiotics in labor. My sister-in-law was on alert (she was our childcare) so I called my husband, asked him to come home after he went to lunch, and asked my sister-in-law to meet the kindergarten bus and that we'd drop the 3-year-old off on our way to the hospital. We left for the hospital a little before 1 pm. We went to triage and when my cervix was checked, I was only a little over 2 cm and fully effaced. A week before I had been 2 cm and about 70%. During the nurse's questions, she asked if I planned to have an epidural and I told her I was going natural. This totally blindsided my husband and he was doubtful, but he figured I knew what I was doing. I was monitored for a little while, and after talking to my doctor, they started the IV of antibiotics for the Group B strep and sent us on a walk around the hospital. The contractions were getting stronger and a little closer together. We came back from our walk and got moved to a birthing room about 3:30. The contractions were stronger and I asked for a birth ball to sit on. I was trying to relax and breathe through the contractions and sitting on the ball didn't seem to help. I asked for my cervix to be checked about 4:30 and I was at 5 cm. For the next hour or so, they got continually stronger. I hadn't seen my doctor yet but I knew he'd be there. He'd told me that he had only missed a handful of his patients' births and I knew he was in town. They wanted the antibiotics to be in me for 4 hours before I delivered, and we'd started them at 2:50. The doctor didn't want to break my water until the 4 hours was up.

By 5:30, I asked to be checked again and I was at 7 cm. I decided to get into the jacuzzi tub and see if that helped the pain at all. Up until that point, I had just been focusing during the peak on every contraction, trying to relax and breathe deeply all the way down into my belly. Getting into the tub felt better, but I was only in for a few minutes before I started feeling like it would feel better to push at the peak of the contraction. I had been warned not to, and to get out of the tub, so I got out and into the bed again.

A few times I wondered if I had made the right decision to not have the epidural, but I kept telling myself that I only had to make it through one contraction at a time, and that it wouldn't last forever and then I'd be glad I did it that way. I wasn't talking much since the contractions were so close together. I was keeping my eyes closed a lot too, to force myself to relax and breathe. My doctor came and even though I just had a tiny lip of cervix left, everyone was literally standing around waiting for it to be 6:50 so they could start the 2nd quick dose of penicillin and then I could have the baby. I was having to pant and breathe through each contraction as to not push.

Finally it was time, the doctor broke my water, and with every contraction I pushed. My doctor was pretty sure that the baby was facing up instead of down, so with each push he was able to turn the baby slightly and when he finally got him turned, he came down better with each push. The doctor coached me very well, telling me when to back off with my pushes and helping to stretch the perineum as to avoid tearing. I had asked for a mirror, but I couldn't see anything in it, and despite my husbands efforts I just couldn't see. I said it didn't matter, and when the doctor said look and I said that I couldn't see, he said that I should look DOWN, and there was the baby's head. He told me to take the baby under his arms and I pulled him up, saw that he was a boy, and pulled him onto my chest and helped dry him off and rub his skin. We got him mostly dry and they took him and weighed him. I knew that being overdue, he might be big, but my heaviest baby so far had only been 7 lbs 12 oz. When the numbers on the scale registered NINE pounds, SIX ounces, even the doctor was a little surprised! I hadn't torn or anything and didn't need any stitches. He was very alert for the next two hours (he was born at 7:34) and nursed for about an hour of that time.

I hurt the most right at the front of my pelvis where his head had been banging up against, but not having stitches to deal with has been great. Looking back, so much of the pain of my labors comes before I'm even 4 cm, not having the epidural for a couple hours during the actual birth didn't make this birth any harder. When he was born, I kept expecting it to get worse and it never did. I will definitely go epidural-free if I decide to have another baby. I will also do everything I can to deliver with this doctor. He was so calm and told me exactly what to do. I know that being mentally prepared is what enabled me to have a natural birth and I'm proud of myself for actually doing it.