I have found nothing more encouraging and empowering as a great birth story. The power most likely lies in the fact that giving birth is the most remarkable, uniquely feminine thing we have the privilege of doing as women. I feel that as women, we are truly, most literally, created to do this very special thing. In my mind, the most incredible, life-altering journey of my life is one that I want to feel every moment of. So, I’ll go ahead and warn you. This will be a longer post, because I just can’t bear to cut into pieces the story of a lifetime.
After meeting my husband, Matt, while we were both in the Army, I knew without a doubt that we were meant to be together. After three months, we enjoyed an intimate wedding ceremony over our Christmas break. We had a one night honeymoon in downtown Memphis, and then faced the reality of our Army lives by having to fly across the country to return to our regularly scheduled training. However, after four short weeks, I discovered that we were expecting. We were overjoyed at the news, because we knew that pregnancy means babies, and we do love babies, after all. I quickly took advantage of the choice given me by the Army to be honorably discharged and enjoyed vomiting daily in my own toilet rather than theirs. I will spare the details, since this is supposed to be a “birth story” not a “pregnancy and birth story,” but after only a few weeks of my pregnancy, I embarked on a journey wherein I did massive amounts of research in order to prepare myself for this birth. After reading all that I could get my hands on, I realized that birth is not what I expected. Women don’t need epidurals; they don’t need inductions; and they don’t need 99% of all those silly interventions that are so readily handed out in the hospital. In fact, all those things really tend to lead to Cesarean sections and even maternal and infant deaths! Of course, I’m not talking about those rare emergencies and the high-risk pregnancies. I mean for all those women, just like me, who had normal, healthy pregnancies, these things just aren’t necessary. All that to say, I was going to be as natural as possible for the health of my little one and myself. I didn’t know at the time that this meant I would be scoffed at by my Ob/Gyn and generally mocked by most everyone (except our family, thank goodness!). I consistently received the message that my mind and body were just ill-equipped for the job! Trust the doctor, because you’ve never had a baby before; you have NO IDEA how bad it is. YOU JUST WAIT, they’d say. As asinine as they were, though, I was even more determined. So as my due date came and went, as they so often do, my doctor informed me that while my notions of natural childbirth were sweet, he would be inducing me using Cytotec and Pitocin if I didn’t go into labor within the next four days. I went home and immediately read up on Cytotec. Did you know that Cytotec is an ANTACID being used as a cervical ripening agent (to prepare the cervix to open) while it is in fact NOT FDA approved for that purpose. Cytotec has been positively linked with ruptured uteruses and even maternal and infant deaths. Learning all this was horribly frightening and disheartening, to say the least. I decided that I would take my mission of going into labor naturally a little more seriously. I had already been trying to walk a lot and a few other things I’d heard about, but I decided to give Castor Oil a try. Castor Oil seems to be a little controversial since some think it is a bit harsh, but I do know that a lot of reputable midwives (such as Ina May Gaskin) have used it with a lot of success, and given my options, I felt it was certainly worth a try. A week after my due date, October 7th, I drank a couple of tablespoons of Castor Oil, and after a few hours went to bed. I tried sleeping, but I had begun cramping pretty painfully. Being very used to Braxton Hicks, and all the false hope that goes with them, I tried my best to ignore these cramps and stay comfortable. I ended up on the couch listening to music on my Ipod, while Matt and my mom (in town for the big event) slept away. Around 4am, though, I felt like they were turning into something a little more intense and more regular. I decided to wake Matt up, and he timed them at 2-3 minutes apart. I remembered my doctor saying to come to the hospital when they were five minutes apart, and I had wanted to wait longer than that before going. So 2-3 minutes seemed longer, and I wasn’t sure if I should be worried about making it on time since they were now so regular and close together. We packed the bags, and I paused to throw up for a bit, then got in the car, had a couple more contractions, and finally made it to the hospital. I remember how nice it was being able to lean on Matt with all my weight and just sway and moan into the pain, but of course, after getting to the hospital that all ended. Once I got to a room, they checked me and told me that I was three cm dilated. I was crushed. Here I am, thinking I might not make it on time, and I was barely even in labor. They assured me it would be another 14 hours since I was a first-timer. I could not have been more disappointed in myself since I had planned for so long to wait as long as possible before going to the hospital, but what could I do? The nurses were quite snotty about me going natural, and I noticed that they weren’t very subtle about it either, but they said since it would be a while before I’d actually have the baby, they wouldn’t be checking me anytime soon. I was grateful to hear that, at least. I was put in a room, and they made me lay in the bed and strapped on the external fetal monitor and a contraction belt (which never even worked right). They put in an IV, and pestered me every so often about whether I needed anything (read: Are you sure?!?!? You don’t want an epidural?!?!). In order to cope with the discomfort and strangeness of my environment, I completely went to another world. I wouldn’t let anyone touch me or talk to me. I knew that I couldn’t work through the pain flat on my back, so I took myself out of the pain and felt as though I was outside my body just saying to myself over and over again: “This too shall pass” until it finally did. One contraction at a time, and each one always ended. After a while, though, the back pain became overwhelming. The contractions would ebb and flow like a wave over me, but that back pain was gnawing and constant and grew worse every minute. I began to wonder if I could continue to cope, when a new nurse came into my room. She asked me if I was indeed going natural. I thought “Oh, here we go again,” but she then offered to get me out of bed and in the shower on a birthing ball. My eyes lit up, and I thought she must be an angel of mercy. The back pain immediately left me after I got out of that bed. The baby just needed to turn in order to navigate her way through my pelvis, and laying on my back made this very difficult. Once I got in that shower, and Matt was there with me, massaging my back with the shower head, I had a very strong contraction but was able to shift my weight and move my hips on that glorious birthing ball (so fantastic!). I was able to moan and sway again, and my second contraction in the shower broke my water and made me feel very pushy. I assured everyone I would be pushing very soon whether I was in the shower or not, and the nurse quickly put me back in bed to check me. I was completely dilated, and I was so glad to hear it. Matt was in complete shock since 3 hours of labor isn’t nearly the same as the 14 hours the nurses promised. With my next contraction I started pushing. After one push, they could see little Bean’s head, and after one more she was crowning. I vaguely remember screaming “It burns! It burns!” and being told that was normal. They bustled around trying to get ready, and the nurse kept screaming that she needed the doctor NOW! I took another breath, pushed her head out, then quickly pushed her body out. The doctor was barely there in time to catch her, but he did as instructed and put her straight onto my chest. I had seen her little body spill out and then grabbed her from his hands and held her for the first time. Nothing could ever describe the high, the pure ecstasy of that moment. Feeling her for the first time, hearing her first cry, seeing her beautiful face. As soon as she was there on my chest, I was enraptured by the beauty of that moment, and blissfully unaware of the copious amounts of meconium squirting all over both of us. Everyone seemed preoccupied with cleaning us up, but I couldn’t have cared less. I didn’t want her taken away, but they insisted on weighing her and cleaning her while the doctor stitched up my tears. I didn’t have much fight left in me to negotiate, so I made sure Matt was with her the whole time. He told me that as they laid her down to weigh and measure her, she screamed and cried, but with him right next to her, she reached out her tiny hand and grabbed his finger with a vice-like grip and wrenched it toward her mouth to suck on it. I know he’ll never forget that moment. I’ll spare everyone the postpartum details, but suffice it to say, little Bean entered this world surrounded by love and joy at her arrival and has never stopped amazing us at how perfect an addition she is to our lives.