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My Birth Story: Natalie

My Birth Story: Natalie

This is my birth story. 

Telling this story is a part of my healing.

I played by all the rules with my first pregnancy, including quitting my anti-anxiety prescription. Aside from the hours I spent researching every piece of baby gear I thought I needed, I intermittently wondered how I was going to give birth. It was a thought that seemed to linger in the back of my mind. It was easy to suppress with all the researching, nesting, OBGYN appointments and admiring comments I was receiving about my growing bump.

My mom, who I admire so much, was proudly convinced of a woman’s ability to birth without intervention and thus she endured three unmedicated births. I wondered if it was worth me even trying, based on all the “hurt” we hear about women enduring in labor. I knew I wouldn’t be any less of a person, mother, daughter, sister, wife or friend if I had a medicated birth. Then I was back to other thoughts and errands and my career. I still had time to decide…

Bradley Method

It was at my brother’s engagement + birthday party (quite a party-combo, huh?) that I had a change of heart on how my birth would be. A woman posed a question I found myself stumped to answer. (Just ask my husband, I have a quick-witted answer to everything.) “How are you planning to give birth?” she humbly asked me. After a brief moment of inward searching for the best answer, I replied that I was still deciding. She proceeded to tell me about her birth and how she’d chosen “The Bradley Method”. Looking back it was a blip in time, but it changed my life. 

I immediately began focusing more of my research on birthing techniques. Convinced this “method” was my desired “birth style”, I bought the book written by the doctor who developed the method and looked up local classes that would fit what was left of my pregnancy time table. With all the research I could do, I presented it to my husband. It was critical he agree to this method with me. (It’s also known as “husband-coached childbirth”). Without him, this birth style would not be possible - kind of like this baby. (Except, making the baby was more fun than these classes would be.) He countered that there was no reason to go to twelve weeks of 2 ½ hour long classes together after work to prepare for this baby. He resounded the myth that there is no proven effect on the baby from having an epidural. Feeling deflated, I quietly left the conversation. I brought it up a few days later, expressing my earnest desire for him to take part in this with me and he conceded that this birth is mine and he will do whatever he can to support me. So grateful, I signed us up for a class that would have us ready for birth with two weeks to spare!

Finding Empowerment

We made a date out of it. Every Thursday we met for dinner after work and then drove to our class. We made lasting friendships with other pregnant couples and now our kids are friends! James felt at times the class was a bit overstated, claiming some of the information was common sense. Intent on positivity, I considered this a good thing for me. “Great! He’ll be an awesome birth coach when the time finally comes!” And he was… 

I was amazed at how little I knew about my body and its ability to form and birth a baby. Why was this such a secret? It was fascinating and I felt immensely empowered by what I’d learned. Along with that, I was equally shocked at the history of hospital birthing. (If you want to learn more, I highly recommend “Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care” by Jennifer Block.) So little of what healthcare providers know about pregnancy and childbirth is evidence-based. As in our patriarchal society, all doctors were men and they clearly didn’t want to deal with anything more than getting the baby out of the mom. So, they drugged them into twilight, strapped them down into a comfortable position for them to extract the baby and kept their biggest advocate, namely their husband, outside the delivery room. This wasn’t mother or baby-focused, this was doctor-centered. Nurses, of course female, were expected to do as they were told by the doctor. Clearly, modern obstetrics has come a long way, but many practices have deep roots in a doctor-centered culture of care. I don’t know about you, but this was mind-blowing to me and made even more grateful to have equipped myself with more knowledge about my body’s ability to develop and birth a baby before the birth-day. 

The Birth Plan

Even with twelve weeks of weekly 2 ½ hours of class + home exercises and preparation, an explicit birth plan and discussions with my OBGYNs, my birth was still intense. I’m not saying this to dissuade anyone from preparing as much as they can for their birth, because I cannot imagine how it would have gone if I hadn’t prepared. I’m sharing this because, it was my experience and I believe with passionate conviction that moms need to share more. Sugar-coating or silence does such a disservice to everyone. Birth is a perfectly imperfect place to start sharing.

My plan was “least invasive as possible.” First thing that happened? I was induced. While not what I wanted, and I felt pushed into it, my OBGYN claimed my placenta was losing integrity as my pregnancy continued a week past my expected due date. The doctors didn’t seem to care what I wanted. My mom was so excited to have her first grand baby and the anticipation was killing my husband, so all three of them expected me to schedule the induction. There I was - alone - then I was on the phone with the “scheduler” who said, “We can deliver your baby on Tuesday, March 3rd, ok? Be at the hospital by 6am with your picture ID.” Uhm, okay. I felt like I just scheduled a routine checkup when I was really about to have the most life-changing experience of my life to-date. It felt mechanical and cold, yet my body felt warm and organic. I resorted to suppression. Little did I know this would be the beginning of my downward spiral as a new mom. 

Calmly to the Hospital

Over the next few days, I prayed, I walked, I made love, I did everything I could think of to induce this baby naturally, but nothing made her come. The morning I was to be induced, we buzzed around the house making final preparations to be gone for at least two nights. We drove calmly to the hospital, and when we checked in I was told that the doctor I least connected with was on-duty. Again, my confidence wavered. 

We settled in to our LDR room and as nurses were going through shift change they told me I couldn’t wear the labor gown I brought. I told them I’d be more comfortable in my own than theirs and they told me it might get messy, to which I agreed and assured them was why I bought a black one. In an attempt to further convince me they indicated they’d have to cut it open in the event of an emergency surgery, to which I again assured them would be fine if it came to that. Surprised by my unwavering confidence, they continued with their shift change responsibilities and left the room. After waiting for at least two hours, the doctor greeted me with a warm smile, handshake and an efficient review of my birth plan in his hand. I was hugely impressed and then I met my attending nurse. She, too, was on board with my birth plan. I felt immensely reassured by both of these interactions. Back up went my confidence.

The doctor recommended administering pitocin, a synthetic version of oxytocin, the body’s natural stimulant to induce labor and sometimes known as “the love drug”. This wasn’t an intervention I wanted, but because I was 8 days “past due”, I apparently needed it. Hopefully the pitocin would create contractions strong enough to break my water during labor, but if it didn’t the doctor indicated he would have to break it for me. That was another intervention I didn’t want, so that was the new prayer. 

At 8am they injected my IV line with the minimal dose of pitocin, per my request. If it had to be this way, I wanted it as gradual as possible… I had learned that pitocin could cause too powerful contractions if administered too quickly. Hopefully my body would “catch on” and begin progressing with contractions on its own so that they could stop administering the pitocin. 

Bradley Method in Action

We popped in one of my three favorite movies in the LDR DVD player and I chose to stand as much as I could to allow gravity to help progress my labor. We sang and danced from 8am to 3pm when the contractions became too strong for me to stand any longer. I climbed into the bed and began practicing the techniques we’d learned from our Bradley Method class. Those who were visiting prior to my delivery finally left the room and I was able to more fully focus on my breathing. Sometimes I think I was focusing more on the sensations of labor because this was my first time. I had been invested in the pregnancy and preparation for the birth, I didn’t want to miss anything. 

It was just as it had been described to me by my mom, who was my secondary birth coach in the room with me and my husband. She could go get something or someone outside the room if needed so my husband could always stay with me. She could hold my other hand, get a cold washcloth for my neck or forehead, feed me ice chips, softly pet my arm as I focused on birthing. It was the ideal team for me, to have my husband actively supporting me and advocating for me when I couldn’t speak and to have the ever-reassurance of my mom. Between my preparation, and my birth team, I was confident I could accomplish this.

Whenever my nurse came to check on me, she told me how I was progressing according to the monitor strapped across my belly, that always seemed to be slipping out of place. If she needed to administer more pitocin, she always told me. If I wasn’t progressing according to “their timer”, my nurse assured me she would do what she could to keep my doctor away until I’d had some more time to progress. #lovedher

I had some double contractions where I felt like it would never end and I was reaching the end of my rope. As I reached the transition stage, I had odd symptoms but ones that I could be comfortable with because I knew to expect them. Yawning was a common one which was actually the only thing that made me laugh because I remember my mom asking me if I was bored! Ha! I was feeling the pushing urge. It was uncontrollable and totally primal. My body was doing the work to birth our baby. All I had to do was keep my mind above it, not submit to the worst of it. 

Realizing that it was the final stage and we were nearly there, I was able to accept the discomfort and intensity. It also made it all the more irritating when the nurses indicated I should “stop pushing”. I couldn’t believe they were asking me to stop my body from progressing. Wasn’t that the whole reason I was here? I was on a progression timer and then suddenly when the time presented itself I was expected to slow the progression... 

They indicated the doctor was just in the next room over delivering and I needed to “wait” for him. I didn’t know how they expected me to do that, so I just let my body do whatever it needed to do. It felt like I “waited” for an hour, but I’m really not sure. I tried to relax, but it seemed impossible. Each surge made it hard to breathe. I tried not to clench my hands around my mom and my husband’s hands, but sometimes I thought my strength might really hurt them. But they never let go. They remained steadfast, quietly encouraging me with anticipation on their breath. The energy in the room was palpable. Other nurses were coming in and asking if they could stay in the room for my delivery, to which I breathlessly agreed. At this point, I was the most primal I’d ever been. My legs were flapping like butterfly wings. At one point the nurse recommended we recline the bed just a little bit, which I wasn’t sure of because I understood that the more flat I lay, the harder it would be for the baby to make her way down and out of me. But I consented because I was willing to try anything. To my surprise, it did provide me some pain relief and she began to descend again! Perhaps it was a mental change it catalyzed and less about the actual degree to which I was reclined. 

Ring of Fire

Finally, when my doctor came in, I opened my eyes to confirm his arrival. I saw him peer from a distance around my legs and he exclaimed with wide eyes “Wow, she’s ready!” to which the nurse technician dressed him in a fresh gown, covered his shoes and threw on his hairnet faster than I thought possible. Before I knew it, the bottom of my bed dropped down, a drop cloth was dropped on the floor and he swung on his rolling stool up to the action when a blinding light from the ceiling flashed on above us, and I was randomly reminded of my days on stage as a ballerina. 

That’s when everything seemed to sound like I was underwater and everything was moving in slow motion. I pushed according to how I’d been taught - three big breaths holding the third - I felt her crown and the song “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash began playing in my head. It was my last laugh before becoming a mother. After five or six pushes at 5:51pm my daughter was resting on my chest. I had done it. 

There we were - skin to skin, as is recommended and her umbilical cord still connecting us from within. I looked at her little face all smudged with vernix and how strangely normal it felt to become messy with her. Then I smiled b/c I saw a sweet little birthmark just above her elbow and I felt grateful. I prayed that she would embrace herself as she grew up and that I would be the kind of mother who embraced all facets of her for both our sakes. Then the doctor was offering to help my husband cut the umbilical cord, which was supposed to have ceased pulsating, giving our daughter every last goodness from her original lifeline to me. Then the nurses congratulated me and took her just a few feet away to get our baby’s APGAR score, length and weight, etc. 

A Shell in Recovery

The doctor gave me some local anesthesia to stitch two tears. I remember him saying “you’re not going to like this feeling” and I said, “anything you do to me now isn’t going to compare to what just happened.” And it was true, since then there is no pain greater than what I experienced birthing my baby. Mostly, however, I admit the pain was mental. I felt like I’d just been at war with myself. Physically and emotionally. I was moved to a quieter room for recovery and that’s when I felt like a shell. I knew everyone in the room, but everything was different. I was just a shell - no longer me. People joke “You know the focus is all on the baby now, don’t you?” But it’s not a joke. It’s the heart-breaking truth. I’d merely been a means to an end for the human race, but even that sounded too magnificent because I was just one mom with one baby. 

The pediatrician came to meet our daughter and after asking him a question about myself I was briskly told that he didn’t know anything about me, just the baby. I felt like I’d been slapped and like I should’ve understood that and never asked. I felt used and disappointingly vulnerable. All the nurses cared about was this checklist they used at each methodical visit. Blood pressure, uterine massage (holy painful and unannounced), when’s the last time I pee’d and the last time I breastfed the baby, for how long and on which side. I barely knew my name and I had a “normal birth”. I already felt the pressure to not screw up - to keep it together. 

After two nights in the hospital, I remember waiting to get home and when the nurse finally came in to discharge us, she quickly read through this crisp packet of paperwork and at the very end she said “you might have some baby blues with uncontrolled crying, but it should go away after a few days.” Somewhere I found some unfounded pride and thought to myself, “I won’t have baby blues; let’s go home.”

Suffering from PPDA

I had way more than baby blues. I had postpartum depression and anxiety (PPDA) and I didn’t know it. After the first 6 - 8 weeks, I suspected I might have it, and so I scheduled an appointment with my psychologist. It helped tremendously to talk to her. I had scary thoughts, which I didn’t realize was common after becoming a mom. It took me nearly three years to come back to being me. 

I got back on my General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) prescription and that helped, too. I wished I’d never taken myself off of it. There’s simply not enough evidence to support its harm to a fetus. Maybe the first three years of my life as a mother would have been better. I abided by all the rules and took no chances. My baby was healthy and so was I, until I wasn’t mentally. And a lot suffered because of that - my marriage, my relationship with my daughter, my career. It changed so much more of my life than I ever anticipated and I know I am not alone in that story or this struggle. 

So, in all of that darkness that I never knew existed, because we only hear about the buttons and the bows and the jokes about motherhood, I emerged with a calling to speak up about my journey through motherhood and share the burden with other moms and dads. The only light I ever found when I was in the darkness, was when I shared a common experience with another mom. Not all of us come out of the darkness. I’m glad that I did and I want to break the silence on the darkness of motherhood. Some smiles are true, but some are hiding the darkness they exist in and can’t find a way out of. All we have to do is share our story, find the intersection of our experience and help one another, because you can never have enough help in raising a child. It takes a village that truly means it and acts on it. Thank you for letting me share my {birth} story with you. #babyboldly

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