My goal was to have a natural birth. I took a Bradley childbirth class, got a supportive doula, read Ina May, and Dr. Sears books, wrote a birth plan, and practiced different birthing positions with my husband. I found a birthing center to give birth in. My husband’s job got us really good insurance so I was able to have one of the best midwives in the city. I was young. I was healthy. I was well-educated. My blood pressure was 90/60. I thought I had this natural childbirth thing in the bag.
All things being equal, a natural childbirth free of medical intervention, drugs, and other procedures is the best thing for both mother and child. I had what turned out to be a really naive vision of me huffing and puffing and then pushing a baby out without any bells or whistles or drugs.
My natural childbirth dream started to unravel 6 days after my due date. I was no longer considered low risk enough to give birth in the birth center and would have to do it all in the regular hospital labor and delivery wing. I was disappointed but still determined to go natural at the hospital. Then, 2 weeks after my due date, I had to be induced. My darling child was stubborn and refused to do what anyone wanted and wouldn’t come out (at almost 2 years old she’s still that way). A drug called cervidil which is a vaginal insert was, well, inserted into me in the hopes it would induce labor without the need for a stronger drug like pitocin. It didn’t kickstart my labor as much as the midwife would have liked, so I was told I needed pitocin. I had heard some horror stories about pitocin and really really wanted to avoid it. But, I sucked it up for the sake of my induction and the hope of avoiding a c-section. My all natural birth was gone but I was still determined to have a vaginal birth without an epidural or other pain killers.
Women are built for childbirth. Our bodies and our minds are designed to get past the painful struggle and give birth. Natural (albeit painful) labor is overcome by our innate coping mechanisms. Things like epidurals throw off our biological responses to labor pains and can slow labor down or put a fetus in distress. Epidurals drastically increase the need for a c-section.
I didn’t want an epidural.
I ended up getting an epidural. The thing about our natural bodies is that it can deal with natural pain. The problem with pitocin is that the pain is unnatural. Pitocin is natural labor pain amplified 100 times. My body, my mind, my everything couldn’t take the pain. I had gone through 8 or so hours of pitocin pain. I just couldn’t take it. I tried all of my positions, and all of the pain tolerance techniques I had learned. At first I thought I could beat pitocin but it ended up kicking my ass. It was an out-of-body experience almost. I heard the words “I need drugs”, and “epidural” come out of my mouth but it didn’t feel like me saying them. I sounded like a crazed and angry drug addict looking for a fix. I was. I needed my epidural.
The rest of my natural birth plan flew out the window.
After getting my epidural I had two feelings. One was of extreme relief that this unbearable pain was gone. The other was guilt that I had somehow failed my fetus by pumping the two of us full of drugs. After those two feelings passed I was afraid. I had heard epidural horror stories as well. Stories of moms who couldn’t walk for weeks post-labor, or had babies go into distress and need an internal monitor (which is a vitals monitor that is kind of like a small screw driver inserted into your unborn child’s head. I’m serious. Look it up), a c-section, or an infection at the epidural insertion site on the spine. In the middle of me recounting all of the horror stories I had heard in my head, my daughter’s heart beat dropped off. While I was alternating between praying and saying the f word over and over again, my midwife took the baby head screwdriver out of its package and went to install it. I mentally told my daughter in my sternest “voice” that her heart had better start beating again or she would lose her vagina privileges and have to come out via c-section and she would have an internal monitor scar on her head. I guess I spoke with authority because her heartbeat returned and the fetal Phillips screwdriver went unused.
My daughter was born vaginally and, most importantly, healthy, drugs and all. It took a while for me to get over my ruined birth plan (especially since the spot on my back where the epidural was inserted hurt for a month after giving birth). I’m glad I read all the books and went to all the classes though. Even though my labor and birth wasn’t natural, I knew exactly what each drug, procedure, and action meant and I was able to advocate for myself in between cursing out my husband for “doing this to me” and trying to push. The key to natural childbirth is being educated and knowing your rights, and it’s important for every pregnant woman no matter what kind of birth she wants, to educate herself on labor and delivery.
I didn’t get the birth I wanted, but I got a healthy baby, so I got the birth I needed.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.