So today I wanted to talk about my birth experience. I decided – with approval from my healthcare providers – to have an un-medicated, all-natural birth. I want to be perfectly clear that I do not think that having an un-medicated birth makes me or my baby any better than anyone else, and I completely understand that for many people, this simply isn’t an option. This is NOT about bashing people who choose an elective c-section, elective epidural, or any other choice. This is simply me wanting to share the experience I had before, during, and after giving birth to my little baby. Because there is currently such a stigma in our culture (one that is largely ignored/unnoticed) about choosing to have an un-medicated birth, I feel like this is an important thing for me to open up a dialogue about. This was something that I felt strongly about from the beginning, and I was lucky enough that my pregnancy was not complicated, and I was allowed to proceed as planned. I want to share my experience – the good, the bad, and everything in between. I will attempt to be as tasteful as possible in my discussion of things, and I will not be graphic or gory. If you have specific questions that may offend more sensitive readers, please feel free to message me about them privately – I am totally fine answering any questions you might have about the way I chose to birth.
Choosing to Go Epidural-Free:
When I first found out that I was pregnant, I was with Kaiser Permanente. Now, I know many people who love KP, swear by KP, and would never switch away from KP in a million years. I, however, did not have that experience. While with KP, I was sent to 5 different doctors at 4 different KP locations for checkups, had appointments cancelled on me without notice, and eventually had my entire policy cancelled on me two days before an appointment – again with no notice – and I did not find out until I was attempting to check in for said appointment.
Now, the reasons behind the cancellation are not something I really care to go into right now, but the fact still stands that they cancelled my policy without notifying me, and I only found out when I showed up to a prenatal appointment (the one where I was supposed to find out if I was having a boy or a girl, no less) to find out I no longer had any health insurance.
I know, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with my decision to have an all-natural birth, but I promise, it does play a part. See, when my insurance got cancelled, I started looking into alternatives – through my work, through third party insurance carriers, etc. My work policy was too expensive for me to be able to afford, and would double as soon as the baby was born. Because I was already pregnant, I did not qualify for any third party carriers because pregnancy is considered a “pre-existing condition” and would not be covered under any policies they could offer me. That left me relying on government help – not something I was entirely happy about, but I really had no choice.
I applied for, and received Medi-Cal. Then I realized I had an entirely new set of problems – who the heck accepts Medi-Cal?! Answer: not many people. I made phone calls for hours trying to find primary care physicians in my area that accept Medi-Cal (and to this day, while I WAS able to find a pediatrician for Charlotte, I still have not found a doctor for myself). Then one day, I came across a piece of paper that had been sitting in my “to sort” mail bin for a few months – a flier from Beach Cities Midwifery – and right on the page “We accept Medi-Cal!”
Huh. A midwife. It was a possibility I hadn’t truly thought through, because until this point I thought I was stuck with KP. Now I had this other option – a non-hospital option that I really hadn’t thought about. See, I have this intense and paralyzing fear of needles – particularly IV needles and needles that draw blood. Getting shots I can handle alright, but ones that stay in me for longer periods of time freak me out and I tend to have very bad panic attacks and anxiety when I have to deal with them.
This was an option that allowed me to (1) not be in a hospital, which, who really likes being in the hospital?, and (2) would have the minimal number of needles being stuck into me. Yes, it was going to hurt like hell. But women have been doing this for thousands of years drug-free, and I would be in a safe environment, where they could handle emergencies if they arose, and I didn’t know that I could handle having IV and epidural needles to contend with while being in labor… And don’t even get me started on the potential for a c-section! Those panic attacks make my needle-based ones look like child’s play!
Note: I did NOT have a home birth. (1) I live in a tiny apartment, and I could not fathom having my neighbors hearing me giving birth and then having to face them in the following days and weeks postpartum, and (2) I have a small, very codependent dog that would, for sure, want to be in the middle of everything, and plus she’s terrified of strangers and would probably have barked incessantly at the midwives the entire time… Instead I went to a birthing center to have my baby. For the most part, they function just like a normal doctor’s office – they have a waiting room and a couple of exam rooms to see patients, complete with the bed with the paper sheet on it, blood pressure cuffs, stirrups to do pelvic exams, etc. The difference is that they also have a couple of birthing rooms in the back. They’re set up exactly like bedrooms – big comfy bed, rocking chair in the corner, big attached bathroom with a giant tub to labor in… All the comforts of home, with none of the mess, inconvenience of neighbors, and potential for people to show up unexpectedly during labor!
In the event that something went wrong, and I needed to be transferred to the hospital, the local one was about a 3 minute drive. (I did end up being transferred to the hospital, but it was not in an emergency setting, and I will get to that).
How People Responded:
Almost everybody I talked to who asked about my planned birth asked, “So what hospital are you going to?” It’s an automatic assumption in our culture that all women labor in the hospital. Many people were confused, some horrified, and a few completely indignant when I told them that not only was I not going to give birth in a hospital, but I was also not having an epidural. “Wait, WHY?” was the most common follow-up question.
I found myself immediately on the defensive, reeling to explain that between the insurance, the needle-induced anxiety, and the general dislike of hospitals and unnecessary medicine in general, this was a decision that made sense for me. I found myself dreading these questions and conversations, and a couple of times gave noncommittal answers rather than having to discuss these things with people I didn’t feel as comfortable with.
I found myself constantly barraged with questions and comments like “But why would you go through the pain if you don’t HAVE to?” “You’re having your baby at HOME?!” “There’s no way you’ll go through with it.” and “You’re insane.” So I did what any rational, level-headed woman would – I started to doubt myself. What if I couldn’t handle the pain? What if I really was crazy? No, I wasn’t having my baby at home, but was I putting my baby’s health (and my own) at risk by choosing to go this route? Wasn’t there probably a reason most women labored in hospitals these days?
Yes, I started to freak out. I tried to reach out to people close to me to get the emotional and mental support that I needed during this time of personal crisis, and found little to be had. My mom thought I was totally nuts (and if you heard her birth story, you would understand why she thought that). I tried talking to some of the other moms at my work, but none of them had chosen to go this route before, so there wasn’t much support there (plus, most of them thought I was crazy, too).
One of my aunts was my saving grace. She is a nurse, and yet she still chose to have her boys with a midwife (albeit at a hospital, but still, with a midwife). Just hearing that somebody else I knew had gone through this not once, but twice, and come out of it alright was just the boost of confidence I needed to fully commit myself to this birth experience.
The Bradley Method:
Now that I had made the ultimate decision, I realized that I was going to need more than just one aunt’s confidence in me to get me through labor and delivery – I needed a professional. I had been reading some pregnancy books, and doing research on my own, but what I really needed was someone to sit down with me and tell me “Here’s what you need to know, here’s what it’s going to be like, and here’s what you can do to prepare as best you can to make this as easy and smooth as possible.” What I found was the Bradley Method, and who I found was Melissa.
Melissa was a godsend. Knowledgeable about pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum, lactation, and willing to pick up the phone at all hours of the day and night to answer questions and soothe frayed nerves, Melissa is a HUGE part of how I made it through this entire experience without (1) strangling Jeremy, (2) seriously hurting myself during labor (thank you prenatal exercises!), and (3) having any signs (at least so far) of postpartum depression.
The Bradley Method is also called “Husband-Coached Childbirth.” It focuses on drug-free childbirth, and preparing you to have a healthy pregnancy, drug-free labor, and encourages breastfeeding postpartum. It also teaches husbands how they can be involved and helpful during all stages of pregnancy, labor, and postpartum. I highly recommend taking Bradley Method classes EVEN IF YOU PLAN TO HAVE AN EPIDURAL! If you plan to go to the hospital and have an epidural, they will still make you labor at home until you are 5-6 centimeters dilated! If you are less than 5 centimeters, most hospitals will SEND YOU HOME! Early labor hurts too! I labored at home for 26 hours before going to the birthing center! That’s a LONG time to be in pain if you don’t have any skills to cope with it. Plus, knowing which laboring positions would be most conducive to speeding things up was helpful as well – who knows how much longer I would have been in labor had I not known that squatting and pelvic rock positions could help speed things up while easing pain.
Side note: A week before I had Charlotte, I accidentally stabbed myself in the thumb with a knife and ended up needing to go to the ER at midnight. The skills I learned from the Bradley Method actually helped me cope with this type of pain. I was able to remain calm and collected as we left for the ER, got checked in, and as they patched me up. Since learning these skills, I have been able to handle the multitude of blood tests I’ve needed (again, I’ll get to the postpartum hospital stay, stick with me!) since having Charlotte much better than I ever used to handle them. 4 postpartum blood draws, no crying or hyperventilating! Now back to the main story…
After taking the classes, I felt so much better prepared to cope with labor and delivery, and it gave me the information and terminology to be able to have educated conversations with the midwives about the process both before and after labor.
Charlotte was due February 28th. I started going into labor about 10pm on February 27th. By the third contraction (even though they were still pretty far apart), I had a feeling this was the real deal. The contractions were much stronger and just felt different than any I had had previously. I had already been awake for 12 hours at this point.
That night, I tried in vain to sleep between contractions, but only managed to sort of doze off before being fully awakened again by pain pulling across my abdomen and lower back. I soaked in the bathtub for a while to ease the back pain, but after a while, even a more relaxing position doesn’t help. I labored through the night, and around 3 in the morning Jeremy came to the conclusion that he would not be making it to work that day – despite the fact that the contractions were still about 10 minutes apart, they weren’t going to slow down any time soon.
Literally all day of the 28th I was in early labor. Sitting on the couch helped for a little while. I think I took 3 different baths that day (not to get clean, just to soak and try to relax), and just sat until the water ran cold. I labored in bed, leaning against chairs, anything I could to try to ease some of the pain. And to a large extent it worked. While I couldn’t actually sleep, I at least knew how to relax my body fully and completely between contractions (and as much as possible during) to help me rest and keep my energy up. I made use of as many of the labor positions as I could to find what was working for my body to help ease the pain.
Finally around 8pm, after a very long and frustrating day (contractions would get ALMOST close enough together to call the midwife, and then space back out again a little bit – over and over and over), I gave in and called Melissa. I told her I was exhausted and in pain, and I had been having contractions for 22 hours, but they were still too far apart to call the midwife. I asked her if she thought it was possible I could be having false labor. She talked to me, calmed me down, and listened to me go through a contraction. Hearing me over the phone having the contraction, she told me that it was very unlikely I was in false labor, and that I was probably just still in early labor and would have to just wait it out. She told me to call back at any time of the night if I needed more reassurance, had any questions, or if I needed anything at all.
Around 11pm the contractions were finally coming at 5 minutes apart. Jeremy had finally fallen asleep after being awake with me for over 24 hours, and I felt guilty waking him up, so I let him sleep as I called the midwife. I told her my contractions were exactly 5 minutes apart and strong, and she asked if I wanted to come in, or if I wanted to stay at home until they were closer to 3-4 minutes apart. I looked over at Jeremy, finally getting some much needed rest, and told her I’d wait a little bit longer before coming in (Plus, we live about 30 minutes away from the birth center. If I got there too early, and wasn’t 5 centimeters yet, I was going to be VERY upset about having to come back home for a while longer! I wanted to make sure if we were going in, that we would be staying!).
Half an hour later, the contractions intensified very rapidly. They were no closer together really, but they were much, much stronger. I woke Jeremy up and told him it was time to go to the birth center. I called the midwife back to let her know we wanted to come in, and she told us to meet her at the birth center at 12.30am. We packed up the few remaining things we needed (bag was already packed, but we needed to round up a couple of snacks and things), and we headed out the door.
When we got to the center, the midwife sat me down in the exam room and determined that I was 5-6 centimeters dilated and fully effaced. Yay! It was at this point that Jeremy sent texts to both of our parents letting them know that I had been admitted to the birth center and was in active labor (We decided not to tell them earlier, just in case it was false labor. Then we didn’t want to tell them we were on our way to the birth center just to get them excited/anxious, and then disappoint them if I wasn’t dilated enough to stay).
I labored for a long time in the bathtub at the birthing center. When I went into transition (often described as the most difficult part of labor), I moved from the tub to the bed, so I could move from side relaxation between contractions to pelvic rock during. The midwife and the assistants were there with me every step of the way (as was Jeremy, and my support person, Katy). They gave me warm towels, a hot pack for my back, helped arrange pillows, and coached me through the contractions. This was definitely a difficult part of labor for me, and honestly it was also the part I remember the least. I was in such a haze the entire time. I remember asking how much longer it was going to be (over and over and over), and saying that I couldn’t do this anymore (over and over and over). But that’s where Jeremy would rub my back, tell me how amazing I was doing, kiss my cheek, etc. The midwives assured me it wouldn’t be much longer now (over and over and over).
Finally I got to the point where I didn’t want to move to pelvic rock position between contractions. I asked Jeremy to just hold my leg for me, and seconds later my water broke. Within 30 seconds, I had an overwhelming urge to bear down, and just like that I was through transition and on to the pushing phase.
The midwife was amazing at coaching me through the last phase. I was no longer hazy and out of it like I had been in transition, and could now comprehend what people were telling me, and could answer questions. Between contractions I just kind of slumped back and didn’t move much.Yes, it was painful, but once that baby was born, I promise you none of it mattered.
Total, I was only pushing for about 30 minutes, which is very fast for a first time mom. Total labor: 36 hrs.
I gave birth to Charlotte Juliette Kennedy at 7.45am on March 1st, 1 day after her due date. She was 6 lbs exactly, and 20.5″ long.
As soon as I gave birth to her, they put her up on my chest. My friend Katy cut the cord (Jeremy didn’t want to). Charlotte scored 9 and 9 on her APGAR tests, and was left with me 100% of the time (aside from 5 minutes when they took her to weigh her and measure her, but that was after about 1.5 – 2 hours of bonding time with me).
After I gave birth and we had some bonding time, Jeremy ran out to grab us some food (we had brought snacks, but not a real meal), and Katy left to go to work. Then Jeremy took a nap with Charlotte on his chest while they checked on me and made sure I was doing ok (blood pressure, pulse, temperature, etc). They found that my blood pressure was a little high, and told me they hoped it was just dehydration and asked me to drink as much water as I could. They continued to monitor me every 15 minutes for the next couple of hours, hoping my blood pressure would go down. It didn’t.
They asked for a preeclampsia panel to be run (blood test) to make sure I was doing alright – and would then decide based on the results if I could go home, or if I should be transferred to the hospital for observation. After they took my blood, I told them that honestly, I felt fine (I wasn’t showing any other signs of symptoms of preeclampsia), and that I thought that what I really needed was some sleep. They agreed to leave me alone to sleep for an hour, since it would take that long for the lab work to be back anyway.
An hour later they came in to check my blood pressure again, and found that it was almost back to normal. However, the blood panel determined that my liver enzymes were high and my platelet count was low. Unfortunately that meant I needed to be transferred to the hospital for observation and possible treatment.
Unplanned Hospital Stay:
The midwives accompanied us over to the hospital to ensure the transition would be smooth and there would be no mix-ups or any miscommunication, which was a welcome relief to both myself and Jeremy. Upon arriving, one nurse told me that I would be set up in my room and then hooked up to a routine IV. The midwives thankfully jumped in and explained that they had already discussed with the doctor that no IV would be run unless it was decided I needed medicine via IV, and that would not be determined until a second blood test was run.
They stayed with us for a little while after I was set up in the room, and the second blood test was drawn. Then Jeremy and I were left alone to bond with Charlotte until the results came back. Results: Liver enzymes starting to go down, platelets going up, but my blood pressure had spiked again (probably because of the transfer to the hospital and all of the fuss of checking in and what not). They said that they would not give me any medicine yet, but they wanted to keep me overnight and run another blood test in the morning. My parents came to visit us and brought us some food and met baby Charlotte.
The next morning my blood pressure was completely back to normal, but my blood test was off. While my liver enzymes were returning to normal (yay), my platelets had dropped off again overnight. Now they were no longer worried about preeclampsia, but about my blood not clotting properly. The doctor wanted to keep me for another 24 hours and run ANOTHER blood test the following morning. I think he could see the disappointment on my face, though, because he offered me a deal instead. They would run a 4th blood test on me at 6pm – if my numbers were all heading in the right direction, they would let me go home. If not, I would have to stay until morning and have a 5th test. I agreed to take the chance on the evening blood test, despite my serious anxiety with needles, because I was so tired and just wanted to go home to my own bed. Nurses came to check on me every few hours throughout the day. I passed clots (totally normal after giving birth), and they said they were glad to see I was still clotting since my platelets were so low. Jeremy’s mom came to visit us and meet the baby (and bring Jeremy a change of clothes, since we hadn’t been planning on being away from home this long).
That evening Jeremy’s sister and brother-in-law came to visit while we were waiting for the test results to come back. When it finally did, it came back looking good, and I was finally allowed to go home!
I do want to make a special note here about lactation. The first couple of days were very easy for me – the baby latched long and well, was very happy, and I was in no discomfort or pain. However, on the day my milk started coming in, Charlotte started sucking much harder – to the point where it was really hurting. She even left a small blister on one of my nipples. I called up Melissa (who also happens to be a lactation consultant), and she tried to talk me through the breastfeeding over the phone – making sure I was positioning the baby right, was pointing the nipple right, and helping the baby get a good latch. I was sure I was doing everything right, but it was still very VERY painful.
Melissa, upon hearing about the blister, decided she needed to see me in person. So the next morning we drove over to her and she did a consultation with us. (Charlotte, btw, decided it didn’t matter who had what going on – she was going to attempt to sleep straight through the consultation. Luckily Melissa had open availability, and was able to sit with us for 4 HOURS while Charlotte mostly slept!). It turns out that I was doing everything as she had taught me to do in our classes. The problem wasn’t with the method. The problem was my nipples. They aren’t prominent enough to sit in the comfortable spot in Charlotte’s mouth. Melissa assured me that within the next week or so, it would get better, but offered to use a nursing shield in the meantime. I told her no, I would prefer not to have to use one if this was going to get better soon, and that I would tough it out.
Melissa also told me that, based on her experience, had I not opted for a drug-free birth, I would not have been able to breastfeed Charlotte those first few days. Between the drugs in her system and my system, and my not-so-prominent nipples, it would have been nearly impossible without a shield.
I’m glad I decided to forgo the shield, though, because while the next 24 hours or so was painful, as soon as my milk came in fully, it has been flowing so easily that Charlotte has hardly had to suck at all to get it flowing. Much less pain, much more happy baby and mama.
I really hope that this did not offend or upset anyone. Like I said, I really just wanted to get my story and my voice out there. I struggled to find other women who had made the same choice I did, and was instead met with hostility, anger, and a lot of defensive women who assumed I thought myself better than them because I opted to go drug-free. I assure you, my choice to not have an epidural was a completely personal one, and had nothing to do with what you chose to do. Nor do I think any less of anyone for the choice they make/made concerning their birth experiences.
I want other women who may feel the same way I did (unsure, scared, unsupported, and doubtful of their own abilities) to know that you are not alone. Choosing a drug-free birth is not for everyone, and making the decision to go through with it is scary. But don’t let other people talk you into doubting yourself. You are strong and amazing and capable of doing this! And guess what? If you decide in the throes of pain that you can’t handle this anymore, that you need that epidural, then so be it! (Had an epidural even been an option at the birth center I went to, I don’t know that I would have had the strength of will to say no during transition!) If you end up needing it, go for it. Statistics show that the further into labor you can make it without having one, the less likely you are to need a c-section, and the less likely there is to be further complications. So even staving off an epidural for a while can be beneficial in the long run.
My point is this: Why do we as women put so much stock into how WE decided to give birth? Shouldn’t the point be that we all gave birth? We all went through the miracle of creating life, and we shouldn’t be bashing on other women for choosing to go about it in slightly different ways. The end result is all the same – a beautiful new baby in a happy mother’s arms. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. I wish more women I had talked to understood this, and understood the way their words affected me when I was in a vulnerable state of mind. I’m glad I had the confidence in myself to ignore the comments questioning my sanity and strength. I proved people wrong. Not for the sake of proving people wrong, but for proving to myself that I could do this. In the end, my birth experience wasn’t about them. It was about me, Jeremy, and my beautiful little baby Charlotte.