Eleven years ago, I found out I was expecting our first child. Suddenly, I found myself planning my first birth. What did I want in my labor experience? What were my beliefs? What were my dreams?
In nursing school, I had seriously considered extending my education to become a Nurse Midwife. I loved the concept of natural birth. I believed strongly that my body was made to have babies and that birth for most mothers was a completely natural process that was best done without much medical assistance. I couldn’t wait to have a baby and started researching midwives, natural childbirth, and even, water births.
Then, came the seriously awkward position I was in at work. I worked for an Obstetrician. The word “midwife” was like a swear word. Another nurse at the office had ducked out and had her baby with midwives. The talk at the office was anything but kind about her actions. Despite my attempts to convince my doctors that I was going to have a natural birth, the response always came back, “You say that now…You just let us know when you want that epidural”.
That should have been my first red flag that I was pushing aside my own beliefs about childbirth for the more mainstream way. But, I went forward and my first three babies were all born drug-free, but in a hospital, laying in bed. I don’t have a lot of complaints, but deep down, I still yearned for a more natural, relaxed birth. I had dreamed of a water birth with my first baby, but still nothing had come of my dreams.
Baby Four, on the other hand, was born in another city, far from the clinic I worked at. I no longer had the freedom to tell my “boss” that I wanted to eat whenever I wanted and did not want IVs, etc. My new doctor had “protocols” to follow and I was too afraid to question him. So, my fourth baby was born according to protocol. I was given Pitocin when he was 41 weeks. When the baby was stressed (due to the pitocin, I’ve since learned), they increased the pitocin. More stress for baby. Then, they broke my water which stopped labor completely. More stress for my baby. Next thing I knew they told me to push without any contractions. I was in pain, my baby was struggling and all I wanted to do was yell, “leave me alone and my baby and I can do this!”. But, protocol required otherwise. Fortunately, my son was fine, but I wasn’t. I knew in that moment that I was going to take my future births into my own hands. His birth was so “unnatural” and so forced. It was the opposite of everything I had always dreamed of. I felt hurt, betrayed, and frustrated. No one listened to me during that labor. No one seemed to care what I felt was right.
So, when baby five came, I was determined to follow my dreams. I found a birthing center run by midwives that did water births. It was the perfect balance for me. The Birth Center was right next to the hospital and was set up with everything a hospital would have for emergencies. Yet, the rooms were like bedrooms and the goal was a very calm and pleasant birth experience with little to no medical intervention. It was the perfect balance between medicine and natural birth. Everything seemed like my dream. But, my baby was born on the sidewalk just outside the birth center. I could hardly complain. Labor was short and sweet, but I still felt sad that I had never gotten my water birth and had never experienced the calm beauty of the birth I had dreamed of.
Two weeks ago, I had my last baby and I’m happy to report that my dreams came true. When I found out that a Colorado law would not allow me to give birth at the Birth Center due to the fact that I was on my sixth pregnancy, I was devastated. My only options now were a home birth or a hospital birth. Remembering my past experience at the hospital, I couldn’t go back. But, a home birth? It seemed so risky. Still, I took steps forward to meet home birth midwives. I’m so glad I did. Meeting with them set aside so many of my preconceived worries and fears:
1. What if something went wrong? Could I really forgive myself for not choosing to have the baby at the hospital? What I learned is that midwives are not only experts at assisting mothers in giving birth, but they are experts in knowing when medical intervention is necessary. They watch for the red flags and are the first to say, “we need help”. My fears subsided as I realized that patients are transferred to the hospital long before they are in an emergency state.
2. Are midwives really qualified enough? Ironically, here in Colorado, until just this last July, midwives were not allowed to also have Nursing licenses. DUMB!!! Why would there be a law prohibiting a midwife from learning more about the human body and how it works? But, that was the law. I worried about whether midwives knew enough. Here’s what I learned. Midwives are trained to help healthy moms deliver healthy babies. That’s their job. They aren’t trained to deliver unhealthy babies or to work with unhealthy moms. They are trained to recognize when their patients do not fall into the “healthy” range. From there, they transfer care to obstetricians who are trained in that area. So, really you have to have nearly perfect pregnancies to even qualify to be taken on by a midwife.
Knowing and understanding these two things helped me relax about my midwife experience. As the weeks and months passed, I found I absolutely loved working with my midwife. Instead of Tums and Zantac, she offered almonds as a solution to heartburn and IT WORKED! Instead of pain relievers, she offered the essential oil Roman Chamomile to relax my painful round ligaments and IT WORKED! I felt like I had tons of healthy solutions at my fingertips.
As weeks wore on, she was very interested in what I wanted my birth experience to be like. She came to my home and sat down with both my husband and I asking what we hoped her role would be. Did we want it quiet? Did we want the lights low? Who did we want in the room? Did we want her in the room or just outside for when we needed her? Did we want her to take pictures? How many and how personal? It was about us. It wasn’t about protocol. She didn’t tell us what to expect. It was only about what we wanted and how she could help make that happen.
When the day arrived, I was surprised by how quickly and hard labor hit. My first contraction was extremely hard. Within minutes, I realized that I was once again having a very fast, yet painful labor. My husband quickly got the birthing tub filled while I paced the floor, breathing calmly through the contractions which were now piling on top of each other. I got in the tub and felt a sense of relaxation as the warm water engulfed me. It didn’t take away the pain. By now, I was quickly moving into transition, the hardest part of labor. But, it relaxed me while I dealt with the pain. I felt soothed and comforted by the warm water.
One hour and ten minutes after my first contraction, my baby girl was born directly into the water. She floated towards me and I picked her up out of the water. She made her first little cry and then calmly just lay on my stomach in the water. She was so calm and relaxed. I was calm and relaxed. It was an amazing experience. No one rushed in and took her from me. No one quickly checked her vitals under a bright light. We just sat in the water together.
My husband ran and got my only other daughter who has begged for a sister for 9 years. She watched her baby sister laying on my tummy in the water. When I moved to the bed, she held her sister close. She was the first to hold her after me. The midwife hadn’t taken her yet. When it was time to cut the cord, Elizabeth volunteered. When it was time to do the newborn assessment, Elizabeth helped weigh and measure her. She was a part of every step. You don’t see that in a hospital.
My midwife assessed my health and the baby’s health from a close distance. While I held my little one, she was able to watch and count her respirations. She could tell she was healthy by her color and reaction to birth. No need to “double check”. Instead, we got to enjoy some of the most precious moments a family could have. We experienced every minute and every sensation of the miracle of birth without any intrusions whatsoever. It was absolutely beautiful.
I know that every person’s dreams for childbirth are different. I write this post today not to convince anyone that what I chose is best, but to encourage anyone embarking on motherhood to really consider what they want. Ask yourself about the type of experience you want. Figure it out in your mind and then go after what you want. Find the care provider that will provide that for you. My only regret is that it took me six times to finally get it right for me. But, better late than never, right? May your next birth be your best.