Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Natural Birth

In this post, I want to share with you Clara's Birth Story. I actually wrote it not long after Clara was born, but I never posted it on my blog. It was published in Samantha's current issue of her zine, Eclectic Domestic. Now that Clara is nearly 2 years old, I figure it is probably time to share our story!!
Maybe someone out there reading this is pregnant, hoping to have a natural childbirth, and wondering if it is really possible. I'm here to tell you my answer to that question... YES!!! Read on.

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When I was expecting my third child, I didn’t think too much about labor and delivery. That is, not until I began my sixth month of pregnancy and was positively consumed with thoughts about our upcoming birth. Both of my boys were born after I had decided to have an epidural. With my first, I literally felt no pain and had to be coached through the whole birth process. I was like putty in the doctor’s hands. I had no control over anything and I thought nothing of it. I accepted my son’s birth in the hospital with an O.B. as the normal way to have a baby.

Two years later, son number two came along, and nearly exactly the same thing happened in the delivery room. They “turned off” the epidural toward the end and I felt more of the birth, more of the pain. Once again, I accepted this as the normal birth process of an American woman and questioned nothing.

The third time around, things were different. I had just lost my mother to breast cancer during the early weeks of my pregnancy and spent the first and some of the second trimester wrapped up in the grief and pain of her loss. I was worried about how my emotions might be affecting my unborn baby, but I felt at a loss to do anything about it. My doctor told me that if I had been in my last trimester, the grief process might have triggered contractions, but that was the only complication to worry about. I made sure to eat well and rest came easy since my eyes were usually weary from crying. Grief is so powerful. It swept me along in a state of numbness for weeks. I wept often. I was depressed and unable to be happy about my pregnancy, which would make me feel guilty for not being happy about our baby. I remember washing dishes one evening and wishing that my phone would ring, just one more time. Oh, how I wanted to speak to my mother and hear her voice and treasure the things she would say to me. I added my tears to the dirty dishwater.

It seemed that every thought in my head had some connection with my mom. If I saw flowers, I thought of her and how she loved gardening. In my kitchen there is a recipe box that she made for me out of plastic canvas. Inside are handwritten recipes she gave to me when I got married. Every room in my house contained something she had touched… a crocheted blanket she made for me, washcloths that she knitted, books she gave me, a picture on the wall of our family, and the list could go on and on. She was all around me, yet she was nowhere to be found. Until my dad dropped his local phone service, I used to call when I knew he wasn’t home just so I could listen to my mom’s voice on the answering machine.

I just could not seem to focus on the reality of having a baby. My heart was still in pieces because I knew my mom would never even meet this child. There was just enough time for me to tell her we were expecting a baby. She passed away before we found out it was a girl. Knowing that I was carrying a girl brought both joy, and sorrow. Joy, because I was thrilled to know that someday I could have a mother-daughter relationship like the one I’d had with my mom, but sorrow that my little girl wouldn’t be able to sit in her grandma’s lap, or make cookies with her, or wear something that Grandma made for her.

Finally, my head began to surface from the fog and I began to think about our baby more. I started to feel the grief slowly ebbing from me, and the anticipation of holding a baby in my arms growing. One day during my sixth month, while my husband and I were outside on a walk, I said something like, “I wonder if I could get through labor without an epidural…” He was doubtful. I began researching epidurals. I read articles on the internet and in my baby books. At first, what I was really looking for was validation that epidurals had been proven to be safe. I hoped they had been made safer somehow since the last time I’d had one, more than 10 years ago.

What I found was far from that. The more I dug into the topic, the more I found the dark side of the epidural drug. And the more I found out about epidurals, the less I wanted one. I wondered how in the world I would get through labor without drugs. One thought kept coming back to me…. “Why have I spent my whole pregnancy avoiding every drug, only to have a large dose of it shot through my whole body during the very last stages of my pregnancy?” Why were pregnant women told over and over by their doctors that the medicine in an epidural does not reach the baby, when in fact, it does?

I went to the library looking for childbirth books. By far, the book that encouraged me the most was “Husband Coached Childbirth” by Robert Bradley, the author of the Bradley method of natural childbirth. I started to see my body in a different light. I was a capable woman, made by God to conceive, to carry a child, to give birth to a child, to nurture that child with milk from my body. This in fact, is God’s design for the woman. I realized that I was doubting God’s perfect and natural design for me, when I should have been confident in my body’s ability to give birth naturally.

I shared what I was learning with my husband. He was so supportive that he read Husband Coached Childbirth and attended a Bradley class with me. We were not able to attend the full 8 week course because he was taking a college class the same night the childbirth classes were going. Instead, we took a full day crash course on a Saturday. Since we had been through childbirth twice before, it was a good review for us, but also gave us the information we needed to understand how a natural birth is different from a medicated one. I felt like I was armed with all the knowledge I needed to get me through the pain. I also had the comfort of knowing that my husband was prepared and would be able to encourage me through labor without bringing up the E-word.

During my last trimester, I found myself seriously considering switching doctors. The Bradley instructor knew of one doctor in our area who was all for the natural birth method. Unfortunately, she didn’t take our insurance. I had been searching the Yellow Pages for midwives, but I was only able to locate a place called Birth Care, which was a freestanding birth center staffed by 5 midwives. I toyed with the idea of switching over to them, but I was unhappy about the hour long drive to get to them in the southern D.C. area. I was sure that was too far to travel while in labor, not to mention that accidents and back-ups could cause terrible delays. How horrible to think of being in labor while stuck in a traffic jam!

At my next prenatal checkup with the O.B. office, I asked the questions that were most bothering me about a hospital birth. On the top of my list was the routine IV. I respected the doctor’s advice, since they are the experts, yet I also wanted some control and freedom. The doctor I was examined by that day was not friendly to the idea of a natural birth. In fact, he said he would insist I have an IV (not the heparin lock), said that epidurals DO NOT reach the baby, and wondered if I was trying to be some kind of “supermom” for trying to go through labor without drugs.

I also interviewed a labor-delivery nurse friend who went to our church. She knew of some Bradley moms who, in her words, “became epidural moms,” and tried to brush it off as “no big deal.” To me, though, it was a very big deal. I didn’t want all the interventions. I didn’t want to be hooked up to an IV for no reason, then told I could not eat or drink, then confined to bed, then in need of pitocin because contractions might not be regular or quick enough for my doctor’s busy schedule, then have to be monitored, finally needing drugs because there was nothing left for me to do to deal with the pain on my own. I didn’t want to be left in a hospital room, with nurses running in and out and asking if I was ready for my epidural. I didn’t want to be coached to hold my breath for 10 seconds while pushing. I didn’t want the doctor to cut me, because that is the “procedure.” But most of all, I didn’t want them to take my baby away for 2 hours to the nursery just because it is hospital procedure for all newborns, to be exposed to other germs, to be without me in a strange, sterile, harshly lit room full of other crying babies, and away from me, whom she had always been close to since the day of her conception.

That is why I left the 5 O.B. doctors for 5 midwives. Boy, what a difference a midwife makes. This will sound like an exaggeration, but it is the truth. In the O.B. office for a prenatal checkup, I felt like a number on a page, something on the doctor’s to do list, to get it over with as quickly as possible, hurried along like military men waiting in line for a buzz cut. At Birth Care, I was treated in a gentle, caring, way by women who specialize in the natural process of birth. Their slogan is “Birth is a natural process, not a medical procedure.” They took their time with me, they got to know me, they asked me questions which required me to think, rather than the “check yes or no” format my O.B. used.

I wanted to feel the power within my body that it takes to birth a baby. Labor is not a sprint, it is a marathon. I knew I would have rest periods between contractions. Those rest periods were truly a break from the pain. I was surprised by that. In between contractions, I was happy, smiling, and coping. When the pains started, they hurt, and the further along I got, the more they hurt. But what a peaceful time my husband and I had during those breaks, to share our thoughts about the upcoming birth, about finally meeting our first little girl. During the hardest part of my labor, but before the pushing stage, I labored in a Jacuzzi. The midwife never checked me to see how far I was dilated, but I knew that she could tell based on how I was acting. The water in the Jacuzzi was comforting and helped me to relax. I noticed that after I got out, it was much harder work to concentrate and relax, but I could tell that I needed to get out and rest on the bed.

There were many times that I felt unsure of what was happening in my body. I felt like I was in labor for the very first time. The transition stage was short, but incredibly painful. I felt like I was distancing myself from everyone in the room as I curled up into a ball and squeezed my friend’s hand while the pain shot through my body. Even when those pains were over, I couldn’t open my eyes or think about anything else. Before I knew it, the next one was upon me, and with them the urge to push. I didn’t talk or scream or curse. I growled and groaned during those contractions. It helped to give a voice to what I was feeling. It wasn’t something I thought about at the time, but those sounds came from somewhere within and did their part in helping my baby to be born.

Unlike the pain that is caused by sickness or injury, labor pain has a purpose. My husband helped me through the transition phase by reassuring me and encouraging me to relax my body. It was so hard to relax, knowing another pain would be coming soon. I knew however that by tensing my body the pains would be harder and the labor might take longer. I needed my husband’s calmness close to me and his gentle reminders to breathe, to let go of the tension, to concentrate. I was also greatly blessed to have a dear friend there to help me. Laura held my hand during the hardest part of labor and was a great encouragement to me, during my pregnancy when I was deciding to have a natural childbirth and during labor.

After nine hours of active labor and thirty minutes of pushing, our 7 lb. 6 oz. daughter arrived, with the help of her daddy. It was a glorious moment! She was placed skin to skin on my chest with warm blankets on top of her. My husband commented that she wasn’t crying, and the midwife and birth assistant exclaimed, “With a beautiful birth like that, what is there to cry about!” She was a tiny, pink, alert bundle of joy, and we were overjoyed by her presence. My husband and I toasted each other with a cold glass of orange juice. Boy, did that taste good! Our birth assistant brought us plates of hot food, which I had brought to the birth center to share with everyone during our stay. We were all together in the birth room for the next three hours or so, until we were doing well enough that we could travel home to rest. My relatives were astounded by the fact that I went home the same day as she was born. But I was more than ready to go home. I felt like a million dollars. I could walk just fine because I did not have an episiotomy or any tears.

I had made it through my labor without any interventions, other than the birth assistant checking the baby’s heart rate frequently. I learned that birth is truly a natural process, and that it can be done without a lot of unnecessary medical interventions. I had a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy and with the supervision of my midwife, had a totally natural birth. I will do it that way all over again if the Lord should bless me with any more children.

When my mother left us for her heavenly home, I felt like a sponge, with tiny holes all over my body. Mother used to fill those holes with her love for me, with her hugs, with her smiles, her laughter, her sympathetic ear, her way of saying “Chin up, Marla.” Without her encouragement, I felt incomplete. I once heard it explained as an “underlying sense of something missing.” I will never stop missing my mom. But I am learning how to exist without her. The Lord in His perfect timing, gave me the best gift of all, a precious daughter. She of course, cannot take the place of my mother, but she is beginning to fill up some of those holes.

I believe that God causes all things to work together for good, to those who are called according to His purpose. Yes, the pain of grief can swallow you up and make you wish you were dead too, but when you come to a place where the darkness isn’t quite so dark as it used to be, you can look up and see a clear sky, with a brightly shining star. The star brings hope and peace, and soon, it will bring joy. God was with me through my journey of grief, and He is bringing good out of my sorrow. Her name is Clara, which means ‘clear and bright.’ And she is my shining star.


Laura said...

Oh, Marla, I loved reading this! Clara's birth is one of the high-lights in my life! You and Danny were so generous to invite me along to share with you the joy and delight of her birth. Great job writing about it! I hope many women will read this and be encouraged to consider a drug-free, intervention-free birth for their own babies.

Your mom would be proud!

Jamie said...

Wow, that was so beautiful, not just written but a great testimony! Makes me wanna have a home birth next time!!!

Anonymous said...

She's right, that's my Marla and my bright shining star, Clara! I love them both and thoroughly enjoyed the treatment and birth process the midwives provided at the birth center. It really made Marla feel a sense of accomplishment that she was able to give birth naturally. I love you dear!
Your husband

Christine said...

Hi Marla! I came here via Jamie, and I am so glad that she sent me to your blog! :) I am simply amazed at your beautiful birth story and how much we have in common. I had an epidural with my first two children and in my sixth month of my third pregnancy, I started taking Bradley classes, and I switched to midwifery care. You can read my birth story here:
It is funny, I used to always feel like a wimp and that I never could never birth naturally. But with the right support, care, and encouragement, it really is so much better. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story from your heart. Your Mother would certainly be quite proud of you! Blessings!

KimC said...

I love birth stories! Thanks for sharing yours.
All 9 of our children were born at home with midwives and each story is a memory in itself.
I've finally updated my links and added yours. Thanks for linking to me.

~Sarah said...

That's a great birth story :) Good job!

Pregnancy123 said...

That is a touching story. It makes me think twice about a VBAC. I really believes that my body could not take natural child birth after being pregnant with twins and having a c-section. But there is a chance that it could work. Congratulations on your successful labor and delivery.