When I became pregnant, I knew exactly the type of birth I wanted. I am one of the lucky few to have never been in the hospital, but my father had spent a great deal of time in them when I was a child and that set me up for some anxiety around that particular atmosphere. Throw in a (slightly unhealthy) apprehension for the traditional medical field as a whole, as well as a love for alternative medicine, and you have a pretty solid case for a home birth.
The first professional I called when I found out I was pregnant was not a doctor or a midwife, it was my trusted chiropractor, known for her skill with prenatal adjustments. Then, a call to a midwifery group, and I was well on my way to my home birth. Unfortunately, the red tape of our midwifery legislation risked me out because of my blood pressure, and I was whisked off to the care of a doctor. Not just any doctor, mind you, but a high-risk specialist who happened to be the head of obstetrics at the local hospital known to have the highest cesarean section rate.
So, there I was, going from a crunchy home water birth to a very likely intervention-heavy birth that went against everything I stood for at the core of my being. From the very beginning, I was adamant that my body knew how to get pregnant, it knew how to stay pregnant, and it would know how to birth that child. I also knew that my anxiety around doctors and hospitals would result in some problems with labor that might lead to unnecessary interventions.
At the insistence of my childbirth educator, I found a doula, and the head of that birth companion program encouraged me to switch doctors. At 30-some weeks, I switched from that high-risk OB to a family practitioner who caught babies at another hospital in the area. Although I had mourned the loss of my ideal birth experience, I was empowered to reclaim the birthing process in a way that would be best for me given the circumstances.
When the time came to have my baby, things did not go as planned. I was expecting a very fast labor as my mother had precipitous labors for myself and my sister, both under 5 hours in total. Instead, I had 42 hours of early labor, followed by 5 hours of active labor in the hospital brought on by the artificial rupture of membranes from my doctor (thing number one I wanted to avoid). Due to some concern over the baby’s heartbeat (which was actually unfounded as the monitor was picking up MY heartbeat), I was strapped to a monitor for 4 hours straight, told not to move. Somehow, I managed to dilate from 5cm to 8cm without feeling a contraction, but my labor had stalled due to the stress and did not pick up after 2 hours of walking, lunging, and — of course — regular harassment from nursing staff to “get the show on the road”.
46 hours into labor, stalled and panicked, it was time for something to happen. We were under a lot of pressure from the nurses and eventually agreed to a Pitocin drip, which scared the living clearly stated in my birth plan to not happen during the birth of this baby. Even in my Pitocin-crazed hour of transition, I refused an epidural all four times it was offered to me. I agreed to the gas, which did absolutely nothing aside from get my nurse off my case, because I still was not allowed to move freely, now because of the Pitocin. When I agreed to an internal fetal monitor, she left the room and — lo and behold — I began to bear down and push without any warning. My daughter was born within 15 minutes of natural pushing.
Because I had mourned my ideal birth experience and expected something a lot worse, it was easy to come to terms with my natural, albeit augmented, birth experience. Was it ideal? Absolutely, unequivocally not. Was it close enough for me to feel proud of myself, to be happy to have done things near enough to what I wanted all along? Yes. I also learned a lot about birth and am ready for the next time with a very real knowledge of what to expect and how to better advocate for myself to get closer to that ideal.