Before I became pregnant with my daughter, I never thought in a million years that I would attempt to labor without an epidural. Having a baby just sounded like an unbearable thing to put yourself through without lots of drugs. I mean, what woman in her right mind is really excited about having her lady bits stretched wide open and pushing a watermelon sized human being out?
When I finally decided that I was ready to embark on the journey of motherhood, I had to come to terms with a few things, labor being the most terrifying. I started researching because that’s what I do when something scares me. I research and research and research something to death until I understand it enough to feel comfortable with it. Some people might think that knowing more about the birth experience would actually be more daunting, but I felt comforted to fully understand the process. You have little control over your body during labor as your body’s natural instincts kick in. Knowing what would happen next and understanding what my body was doing helped me feel more at ease during the entire process and more confident in my ability to endure it. If you are looking for information on natural pregnancy and birth, I would recommend Mama Natural and The Bradley Method. Mama Natural is a little more modern and super informative if you are the type who likes to know everything about every stage of your pregnancy, along with tons of natural remedies and recipes. The Bradley Method is a bit old-fashioned, but humans have been born the same way since the beginning of time, and this book really dives into the nitty-gritty of labor, natural pain relief, and preparing you mentally and physically for the process of an unmedicated birth. After reading these two books, I felt fully ready for labor and everything leading up to it!
I was also fearful that pregnancy would mean that I would not be able to continue training as an aerialist. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last ten years, aerialists are cirque performers that use a variety of apparatuses to create beautiful, stunning routines of dance and acrobatics whilst suspended in the air. It was during my research on this subject that I discovered this blog on being a pregnant aerialist. The article was encouraging on many levels, but when the author referred to natural labor as “beauty pain”, something just kind of clicked for me. As an aerialist, you regularly do things to torture yourself for the sake of creating a beautiful work of art. If I thought about childbirth as the ultimate expression for creating art, I realized that I was actually more equipped than most women to have an unmedicated birth experience, and that I actually DID want that for myself. Woah. I also want to mention, now that I have actually been through this, I believe that ALL women can be equipped for an unmedicated birth if they desire. While some births may end differently for certain unforeseen medical issues, most women can experience a beautifully uncomplicated and unmedicated birth with the right knowledge and support. YOU ARE AS STRONG AS YOU BELIEVE YOU ARE AND YOUR BODY WAS MADE FOR THIS.
Motivational talk aside, this is my birth story. I hope you enjoy it and that it inspires you to learn everything you can about what your own birth will entail.
I was 37 ½ weeks pregnant when I went into labor with my daughter. We had watched my friend’s two-year-old that weekend and I was exhausted. I was ready to get some much-needed sleep the evening our friends picked up their little tyke. I went to bed that night and woke up a few hours later feeling something that was a lot like period cramps. I thought it was a little odd that the sensation had awoken me from sleep, so I laid there for about an hour feeling the cramps come and go before I woke my husband up.
“Babe….” I whispered.
A slight groan from him.
“I think I’m having contractions,” I said.
I don’t think he believed me at first. I definitely didn’t seem like I was in labor. There was no moaning or sweating and my water didn’t break like in the movies. I actually dozed in and out of sleep for the rest of the night. The next morning, however, they were still there, coming about every fifteen minutes. Excited, I got up and decided to go for my morning walk. I had heard walking would speed up contractions. My husband came with me, and sure enough, my contractions became stronger and more regular, so much that I had to pause with him on the road and breathe deeply. When we got back to the house, I realized that we had a hospital tour scheduled for that very same day!
We debated whether we should go on the tour, and finally decided that if my labor were to progress, the hospital would be the best place for us to be anyways! During the tour, my contractions continued and became more regular again. I had my first strong contraction that took my breath away at the end of the tour. My husband and I decided to go home and continue my labor there. We had heard that going to the hospital too soon is a bad idea if you want a natural birth. Doctors tend to want to hurry things along and you can actually stall your labor if you aren’t in an environment that you feel comfortable in.
On our way home, we called my doctor and doula. The baby was definitely coming! Get ready!
I went home and baked cookies. Yes, you read that right, I baked cookies during labor. My contractions were very mild at this point and I wanted to have cookies to offer the nurses in the hospital (plus, chocolate chip cookies were my weakness when I was pregnant). My contractions grew further apart and less intense and I worried that my labor might be stalling. I contacted my doula again, wondering if I should go for another walk. Her advice surprised me. She told me to eat a good meal and take a nap. Seriously lady? WHO COULD SLEEP RIGHT NOW??? She told me I was probably in for a long night and would need the strength and energy. I took this to mean that I probably wouldn’t have the baby until tomorrow.
A little frustrated, I decided to try to take a nap anyways. I diffused some essential oils and laid down for a while. I was too anxious to sleep much, but looking back, I wish I would have gotten a little more rest! When I got up, my contractions had spread out to every 30-45 minutes. I told my husband we should get some dinner because the baby probably wasn’t coming anytime soon, so he went and got some of our favorite comfort food, Vietnamese pho.
I was sitting in my living room eating my second or third bite of pho, watching Netflix, and bouncing on my birthing ball when my water broke. It was about 8:45 pm on October 23rd, 2017. It felt like a water balloon had popped in my stomach. It didn’t hurt, it just felt really weird! Confused, I looked down at the liquid seeping over my living room floor and thought absently, What, that’s it? How anticlimactic…. We called my doula right away and she said that she was across town meeting with another client. She told me to get into the shower or bath and try to relax. She said to let her know when the contractions get stronger and closer together.
Here I was thinking that when your water breaks, you should go straight to the hospital! Nope, not always, especially when you’re aiming for a birth without medical intervention. This is, of course, different for everyone. Many women are in active labor long before their water breaks, and in this case, you should absolutely listen to your body and the speed of the contractions. Every labor is different and this is certainly not meant as medical advice. After my water broke, I went into the bathroom to clean up. This was when I had my first, real, no-nonsense, active labor contraction. It felt VERY different from the rest of them!
My husband helped me upstairs and I got into the shower. I had another strong contraction. They were coming MUCH closer together now, every 3-4 minutes apart! It was getting difficult to stand up, so I sat down in the bathtub. This is the point where everything gets a little hazy for me and I start having to refer to the birth timeline that my doula gave me for exact details. I blocked out everything else and felt myself focusing on nothing but the waves of pain and my breathing. It felt a little like tunnel vision and I had difficulty focusing on what my husband was saying or what else was happening around me. The minutes seemed to stretch into hours. The hours felt like days. My husband stayed by my side, coaching me through the contractions like we had practiced beforehand. The Bradley Method is very partner focused and we really liked that aspect of the book. It encourages the man (or birthing partner) to be very involved in every step of the process and it gave me the support I needed. He remained so calm and collected throughout my entire labor and it really helped me keep my head. At this point, he called my doula back and told her she needed to get here quickly. It was about 9:15pm.
I couldn’t stay standing in the shower long and the bath was even more uncomfortable. Being on my back felt wrong. I wanted to be on my hands and knees and in my soft bed. When my doula arrived, I was lying in bed. She told me later that I seemed so peaceful at first that she almost turned around and went home, thinking I must be earlier in my labor than she anticipated. I certainly didn’t feel peaceful, but the practice and training exercises I had done with my husband prior to my labor had given me the tools I needed to stay calm during the contractions. I threw up my few bites of pho shortly after my doula arrived at 9:45pm.
My contractions were only 2 or 3 minutes apart by the time we finally drove to the hospital at 10:40pm. I remember thinking that I was absolutely going to have the baby on the 15-minute car ride there. It was the longest drive of my life (and probably my husband’s life too). When we arrived, my doula helped me to the maternity wing of the hospital while my husband parked the car. We had to stop every 20 feet or so for me to have another contraction. They were unbearably strong at this point. The ladies at the front desk told my mother later that they didn’t think I was going to make it when they saw us slowly making our way down the hall!
Everything moved quickly after that. Between the time we arrived at the hospital at 11pm to 12pm, I quickly dilated from 6cm to 10cm. At midnight, I began pushing. When my doula told me earlier that day that I would need my energy and strength, I had no idea that she meant I would need THIS much energy and strength. The contractions that you have while your body is dilating and your baby is descending are indescribably painful, but the real work began for me when I started pushing. Many women experience this differently and only have to push a few times to get the baby out. I pushed as hard as I could for an hour and a half. It felt like days, and I worried that I couldn’t do this and that it was taking too long. My doctor and the doula kept assuring me that I was making progress, but it didn’t feel that way to me. My calm and collected husband stood dutifully by my side, reassuring me and feeding me ice chips in between contractions. He was my calm in the storm. It took every ounce of strength and willpower to get that baby out. Fortunately, the pain of the contractions actually lessens when you begin pushing with them. I had previously believed that the pushing would be the most painful part, but by that point, your body actually gets a little relief from the pain (thank God!).
She was stuck on my tailbone for a while and there were moments when I feared that we would need an emergency C-section. My mom had the same problem delivering my brother and I, and we were both C-section babies. I firmly believe that if I would have gotten the epidural, I wouldn’t have been able to feel how hard I needed to push, and that Rylen would have needed to be a C-section baby as well. For this reason, I will forego the epidural for any future children, as I believe the decision to birth my baby naturally was what saved us both from a major surgery. I can proudly say that despite the pain, I never once asked for the epidural. A natural birth is something that you must be sure of, committed to, and fully prepared for before it begins. If you go to the hospital with a “wait and see” mentality, you will end up with the epidural because the mind is much weaker than the body.
Rylen was born on 1:28 am on October 24th, 2017. I cannot describe the feeling of having her placed on my chest in the moments after she was born. It is not something that can or should be put into words. I would have done it all over again just for that precious moment of meeting her for the first time.
When Rylen was born, she inhaled some amniotic fluid. She wasn’t breathing well and her color wasn’t good, so they quickly took her from me. An entire team of pediatric doctors swarmed into the room and began working on her. For whatever reason, I didn’t realize at the time how dangerous of a situation we were in. My doctor and doula assured me that she would be okay and I believed them. The release of chemicals in my brain following birth had given me a sense of peace and calm. My husband, in full control of his faculties, was terrified as he watched the doctors work on our little purple bundle who couldn’t yet breathe on her own. A few minutes later, I heard her gasp and cry out, followed by a collective sigh of relief from the doctors and my husband.
They took Rylen to the NICU and put her on a breathing machine which would help her lungs dry out. She was there for 18 hours before they released her into our care. The NICU team at the Scottsdale Shea Medical Center is amazing. We had previously considered having our baby at a natural birthing center that was more geared towards the unmedicated birth that we wanted. After our scary experience, we were so relieved that we had chosen to have her in the hospital where there was an entire team of people standing by to save her precious life. During labor and birth, the unexpected can and will happen, and it never goes the way that you think it will. Our decision to have a hospital birth may have been the only reason that our little girl survived that night. I can’t even imagine the alternative without getting emotional and thanking God for guiding us down the right path for our family.
It took a while to heal from birth. This was also unlike the movies where sometimes women birth babies and then they’re right as rain a few minutes later. My tailbone was bruised and I had a second-degree tear that required stitches. And if you’re curious, no, I couldn’t feel when or how badly I tore. It took a few weeks before I was completely pain-free. Fortunately, my husband had taken a leave from work during this time and helped take care of me and the baby until I could comfortably care for her on my own. In the recovery room, one of the nurses asked me if I would still have an unmedicated birth if I could do it all over again. I wasn’t ready to answer at that time, but I can say with complete conviction now that I definitely would! The memory of the pain fades quickly and all you are left with is God’s most precious gift. No matter how your birth happens, that fact alone makes everything worth it.