When I first found out I was pregnant, I thought “Oh, I am going to blog like CRAZY. I’m going to document EVERYTHING that I’m feeling and going through in a totally open and honest way and it’s going to be AMAZING. Future Natalie is going to be SO GRATEFUL to have all of this written down.”
WELL, that was like 12 months ago.
Then I got really really really busy.
Sorry Future Natalie.
ANYWAYS, the wee one is here! I am sharing her birth story because I really appreciated reading other people’s birth stories. So, you know, karma.
I want to state a couple of things up front:
1. I am incredibly, incredibly grateful that I was able to get pregnant, stay healthy, carry a healthy baby to full term and have a healthy delivery for both me and the baby. I have friends that struggle with fertility problems and miscarriages. I have friends that cannot have biological children. I have friends that have hard pregnancies and difficult deliveries. I have friends whose babies came too early. And I have friends whose babies passed away too soon. While I may make mention of complain about something like buying shoes that were 2 ½ sizes bigger than usual to house my incredibly swollen feet, please know that I know that this whole process is miraculous and that I am very VERY lucky.
2. From the moment you tell people you’re having unprotected sex trying to get pregnant they have an opinion. ON EVERYTHING. And lots of these people that are giving you advice telling you what to do don’t even have a vagina! (What? You’re NOT taking an extra iron supplement with your prenatal vitamin??!!! OHMYGOD!! And it just goes on and on from there.) So please know that I chose the birth plan that was right for me and I am just sharing my experience. I’m in no way telling you what I think you should do or that I am SO RIGHT because believe me I am as sick of other people’s advice as you are.
Whew! OK, here we go.
From the beginning I really wanted a natural childbirth. For me, a natural childbirth meant no medical interventions throughout the labor and delivery – waiting for the baby to come on her own (no induction), no pain medication and no epidural. However, my “natural-ness” ended there. I utterly and completely adore my Doctor and after my sister’s great birth experience with him (which ended in an emergency C-section) I wanted to have the baby under his care and in a hospital. (P.S. If you are interested in natural childbirth, I would recommend watching The Business of Being Born series.)
I told my Dr. I wanted a natural birth and he recommended a hypnobirthing coach who he lovingly referred to as “Yoda.” He was very positive about hypnotherapy not just as a pain management technique for childbirth, but for life.
So we signed up for hypnobirthing classes. Sidebar – if you are a first time Mom I would recommend signing up for some sort of birthing class. I really had not done any research into labor and delivery and as they say, knowledge is power. It was very comforting to understand the ins and outs of how this baby getting outside of my body was going to go down.
Sidebar on the sidebar – even if you are planning to get an epidural, I would highly recommend looking into hypnobirthing classes. There are two reasons for this. First, the whole hypnobirthing/natural childbirthing movement is centered around changing your perception of pregnancy and childbirth, which has no doubt been shaped media portrayals of childbirth (screaming and crying and PAIN) as well as the horrible birth stories everyone likes to tell you (and people don’t stop telling you these stories, ever.) The hypnobirthing philosophy looks at pregnancy and childbirth as completely natural. Something your body was built to do. It is incredibly empowering and takes a lot of fear out of the unknown. It teaches you to acknowledge those horrible experiences, say “that is not going to be my experience” and set them aside in your mind. Second, the relaxation and breathing techniques that are taught in hypnotherapy were incredibly helpful to me throughout my pregnancy. They helped me calm down if I started feeling overwhelmed, they helped me fall asleep, and they helped when the baby was breech and had to be turned via an ECV.
And even if you get an epidural, you will still be laboring before it kicks in, so you’re going to need SOMETHING.
Many people have asked me what hypnobirthing is exactly. It’s basically a shorter way of saying “pain management through guided meditation.” You’re not “hypnotizing yourself.” You won’t be running around dilated to a six bock-bock-bagaaaaak-ing like a chicken or anything. Hypnotherapy uses a combination of breathing techniques and guided meditation to bring your focus completely inward, centered on a singular purpose. It also guides you into as relaxed a state as you can possibly be in. Even though you are in a sort-of trance, you are aware of what is happening around you and can make decisions.
For me, someone who has an incredibly hard time stilling my mind, being able to go into this type of state took a lot of practice. To prepare, I attended hypnobirthing classes, read this book, listened to a hypnobirthing script AT LEAST once per week and attended about ten private, hour-long sessions with a hypnotherapist. I also did A LOT of prenatal yoga. Yet another sidebar: the yoga was EXTREMELY helpful when it came to accepting and loving my ever-changing body and practicing different breathing techniques.
I also got a lot of prenatal massages. But I don’t think that really has anything to do with anything other than a real prenatal massage from someone who specializes in maternity massage feels SO GOOD. Three words: TREAT YO SELF!
Coming out of this experience I am a total hypnotherapy and meditation convert and as my doctor predicted – the techniques I learned will help me throughout my life.
So, I’d done the work. I was becoming a Zen master-ish. And then a wrench was thrown into my grand plan: I had to be induced.
It sort of runs in the family that our babies arrive late. From the minute I found out I was pregnant I always had it in my head that my pregnancy would go 42-weeks and the due date was just a date-ish. And that was good for me because the last four weeks of my pregnancy I went from being dilated to a 1 to being dilated to a 1.7. And let’s face it, my doctor probably added the 0.7 to make me feel like something was happening. (AND YES EVERYONE – I had spicy food, drank teas, went on walks, had lots of sex, etc. etc. etc. ) In other words, without medical intervention I would probably still be pregnant.
ANYWAYS, I was scheduled for an induction at 41 weeks. I REALLY REALLY didn’t want to be induced. All of my hippie-natural-childbirth stuff said inductions were to be avoided at all costs. The baby would come on her own. Your body and your baby knew what they were doing. Most importantly, an induction was a very slippery slope to all sorts of medical interventions that you couldn’t control and didn’t want.
This was on Thursday. The induction was scheduled for Monday morning. I spent Friday feeling very blue about the whole business. Then my lovely lovely friend Estelle called on Saturday. I think she could sense from my texts that this was stressing me out. Estelle was the one who inspired me to go for a natural childbirth in the first place and what followed was an incredibly comforting conversation during which she reassured me that 1. I HAD to let go. I HAD to be flexible. You can’t “plan” childbirth. 2. It didn’t really matter in the end HOW the baby arrived, as long as she and I were healthy. And 3. “Remember, no one is going to give you a f**king medal for natural childbirth.”
This is why I named my baby after her.
Since I had let go and accepted this process, I will say that it was nice to know that I was going to have my baby on Monday or somewhere thereabouts.
They pushed the Pitocin at about 9:00 AM.
Shortly thereafter my doctor broke the amniotic sac (which sounded horrible in theory but in actuality was not painful in any way and provided some immediate relief from pressure) and we were a go.
Because of the Pitocin I had to be hooked up to an IV and I also ended up with an internal electronic fetal heart monitor. This meant that I could not use the tub, which was fine because I wasn’t really planning on using it anyway. If you’ve ever read my blog you know of my hideously dry skin. So getting out of the tub and greasing myself up with lotion in the midst of hard labor just wasn’t going to happen.
I asked Alek if he would remind me every hour or so to get up and use the bathroom. I’d read something about damage to your bladder if you had to wee during pushing (or maybe I had just totally made that up) and I also didn’t really want to end up doing a number two in front of Alek and everyone.
Since Alek is familiar with all of the medical equipment, he could hook-up and unhook everything. So, I really lucked out because I didn’t have to call a nurse every time I had to go to the bathroom.
My first order of business was to relax. We turned off all of the lights. I turned my phone to airplane mode so there wouldn’t be any interruptions. I started by listening to a couple of meditation scripts to get rolling.
After a little while I couldn’t really concentrate on the voice and the script so I switched over to music for the rest of the day. I listened to our wedding dinner mix, which was a compilation of all of our favorite sort-of-quiet songs. (Think The XX, Sia, Miike Snow, Passion Pit, Coldplay.) And at the end of my labor I listened to the soundtrack of my adult life, Alice In Chains Jar of Flies two or three times.
In the hypnobirthing classes there were a lot of discussions about options for pain management during laboring – walking around, getting in the tub, using a birthing ball, having your birth partner give you a “light touch” massage, etc. Other than Alek reminding me to get up to go to the bathroom every once in a while, I didn’t really move around or get out of bed at all. I just wanted to lay there in the dark and the quiet and listen to the music. I liked Alek being close enough to the bed so that I could touch him or we could hold hands, but I did not want any kind of stimulation like a massage. I felt bad for Alek, because I thought it was probably pretty boring.
Let’s just talk about Alek for a minute. One of the reasons I was so confident that I could handle a natural birth was knowing that he would be my partner. I knew that I could completely surrender myself to this process and that he could handle everything else. I trusted him completely and I knew that he would be there for me in every way and would be the best possible advocate for me and our baby. And just like everything else my life, labor and delivery rolled out smoothly because he was so helpful and so loving and so present. I have a vivid memory of looking at him when it was time to push. He was at my side with his hand on my head. He was looking at me and tears were rolling down his face. I guess I was surprised at how emotional it was for him. And I knew in that moment that the stretch marks and the sleep loss and the weight gained were so worth it to give Alek a child and that I would do it all over again in a heartbeat for him.
Everyone was very respectful of my process. I have vague recollections of my doctor and nurses checking up on me but the day was pretty quiet. I remember Alek telling me my Mom and Dad were on the way because they were too excited to wait at home and thinking “Oh man, but it’s SO BORING in here!”
Besides staying in a calm, quiet state, in a calm, quiet environment, there were a few things that were very useful during my laboring:
- Good music that took me to a happy place
- Simple yoga breathing. In-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, Out-2-3-4-5-6-7-8…
- My hypnotherapy coach had given me an “anchor.” When I touched my thumb and forefinger together it brought me to a calm, centered, place of power.
- The hypnobirthing script I was most familiar with had a line “There is no pain, only pressure.” I repeated this over and over. That very simple twist on what I was supposed to be feeling was very powerful. Thinking back on labor I don’t really feel like there was any pain, only pressure.
But the most helpful part of the process was visualizing my baby. With every contraction she was making her way into the world. With every contraction she was even closer. We were working together and I needed to stay very connected with her. I found it comforting to see the heart monitor and know that she was with me all the time. It was up to the two of us and I wanted her to know that we were so excited for her to be here and I was going to to my part to try to make her entry into the world as peaceful as possible.
You are pregnant for SO LONG. (I had an app that told me how many days I had been pregnant and let’s just say it’s not a good idea to look at it in terms of days.) It is hard to picture what it will be like to not be pregnant, and for your baby to be here and for your new life to begin. At one point after a strong contraction I was hit with a powerful wave of emotion and I started to cry. Alek was worried that I was in too much pain, but it was just finally…REAL. Our baby was going to be here soon and I was so happy.
Time was totally a blur. I only had some context when I got up to use the bathroom and glanced at the clock. At one point I felt like I was going to throw up with every contraction. I asked Alek to find something I could throw up into, just in case. Not only did he do that, but he ordered up some Zofran.
I love him SSSSSOOOOO MUCH.
The hardest part of labor for me was getting the urge to push, but not quite being dilated enough. So for the next few contractions I had to actively hold back from pushing, which was a lot more difficult than just relaxing through a contraction.
And then it was time to push. And everything changed. Lights were on, my doctor was there, my Mom and Janaan were there and everyone sprang into action.
DAMN, it felt good to push.
This is the part where I talk about pooping. Let’s just get it out there. If you have never had a baby, you have absolutely no context for what labor and delivery are like. And as previously mentioned, people LOVE to tell you how painful it is and LOVE to tell you their horror stories. I’ll tell you what it was like for me. It felt like taking the biggest poop ever. That’s the closest approximation I can come up with. So don’t let the fear of the unknown get to you. Get EXCITED. Because it’s just like a big ol’ poop. And everyone knows how good it feels to take a poop, it’s just not polite to talk about it.
But I digress…
Alek had a great relationship with my doctor and my doctor knew that Alek was not going to be the guy that gets grossed out or passes out. He made sure that I didn’t need Alek with me “up top” and about 40 minutes later, at 5:01 PM, our baby was born into Alek’s arms.
I wouldn’t change a thing about my birth experience. The hypnotherapy. The music. The amazingness that is Alek. My incredible doctor and the labor and delivery staff. My loving and supportive family.
If you are pregnant and considering a natural childbirth – know this: YOU CAN DO IT. You absolutely can. Believe that. And if in the end, you don’t have a natural birth – that’s perfectly wonderful too. Estelle was right – stay flexible and do what it takes to stay healthy and get your baby here safely.
When the wee baby Estelle was born she was put right up on my chest. All I could manage to say was “Hiiii!” Even now when she is lying on my chest I go right back to that moment.
Remember when you were a kid, waking up on Christmas morning was like magic? It was a different feeling than any other day or any other event of the year. And all too soon you learned about the magic behind the magic and no matter how many times you read the Polar Express and TRIED to believe, you could never get that magic back?
Well, a friend of mine told me that the moment her children were born was “Like Christmas for adults.” And that’s really and truly the best description.
It was magic. It felt like Christmas again.