Note: If you’re sensitive to medical complications or only want to hear positive birth stories, I would suggest you skip this one.
I come from a family of women who “do” unmedicated childbirths, from my mother–who had five out of the six of us without any pain medications, though the first was not by choice–to my two sisters, who both gave birth naturally via the hypnobirthing method.
Even though none of them would have faulted or criticized or probably even tried to sway me had I opted to go for an epidural or other method with my own birth experiences, there’s no doubt we are influenced by those who have gone before us. And, since the birth experiences of all of them had been fairly positive, I figured it was the route that was right for me, too. (And there’s no doubt, they all will testify–as can I–of how amazingly quick and *relatively* easy the recovery usually is with a natural birth! Plus, it WAS pretty awesome to be able to stand up and walk around as soon as I wanted to after giving birth—I even walked up to the second floor when they transferred us to a new room, which made all the nurses stare.)
Unplanned Complications + Unmet Expectations
I’ve decided that high, or specific expectations are a dangerous thing for me–I tend to be overly optimistic about outcomes, which means that I often set myself up for disappointment when things don’t go as I imagine (I’m working on it).
Because I tried very hard to surround myself with only positive birth stories before trying my first unmedicated birth (as I would still recommend to other moms considering the same thing!), I had convinced myself that my labor would be around 7-8 hours long and that everything would go off like a textbook case, or at least like the videos and stories we heard in our 6-week hypnobirthing class.
Well, my labor wasn’t that long for a first-timer—just 12 hours—but everything definitely did NOT go as planned, at least not at the end. For starters, I was convinced I would learn from the mistakes of my sisters and not refuse to have the doctor break my water. So I requested the doctor break my water when I was at a 6, and the labor quickly picked up…or at least it seemed to. I ended up stalling at a 7 (maybe 8) for six hours, and had my sister not been there to help me through, there’s no way I would have gone through with an unmedicated birth as planned.
However, with her help, I was able to (usually) keep my focus pretty well and work on the hypnobirthing meditation/breathing exercises, which helped push me through those difficult hours. Pushing the baby out ended up taking longer than expected, too—two hours, which is actually quite awhile for an unmedicated birth.
But once my daughter slid out of me and all was said and done, in those first moments after her birth, I would have said it was all worth it, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Then the doctor tried to help the placenta come out.
There’s a rare condition that sometimes happens with some women when the placenta doesn’t naturally detach itself from the uterine wall. In the past, it was a death sentence—the doctor/midwife wouldn’t be able to get it out, and the woman would bleed to death. In my case, the doctor decided to pull on the placenta cord while telling me to push, and…my entire uterus flipped outside of my body.
As I had never given birth before and my sister had never had such a complication and this was Matt’s first time in a delivery room as well, none of us knew what was going on. All of a sudden, all they knew was that I was screaming my head off and literally kicking at the doctor until he finally yelled at me, “If I don’t do this, you WILL bleed to death.”
Nurses swarmed into the room with emergency narcotics (there hadn’t been any pain medication in the room, as I’d requested an unmedicated birth), and I was thankful to finally be able to black out.
Trying to Conquer the Trauma
Later, we learned that the doctor had had to use his fist to push my uterus back and hold it there while it contracted back into place. As I had no pain medication in me or other anesthesia of any kind, I felt everything. If I thought the childbirth had been intense, this was pain like I’d never known pain could exist.
I came out of the narcotic haze groggy and irritable, all the endorphins from the natural birth gone. I had a hard time focusing enough to try nursing, and I remember kind of hoping that everyone would go away and just let me sleep…hardly the after-birth experience I’d dreamed of.
I had a lot of mixed feelings over the next several months, even years—for awhile, I was convinced that the doctor (who wasn’t my doctor—he was the on-call doctor) was partly to blame for what happened. He had barely communicated with me at all during the entire birth process, and he hadn’t specified that I should just push a little bit when he pulled on the placenta cord, so I gave a full-on push (like I’d just done to push the baby out). I was sure that it was his fault, and I was resentful.
My second birth, I was determined that it would be different, though a part of me was still terrified. I knew that an epidural was always an option, but I still wanted to try and erase the trauma of the past by replacing it with a new birth experience—one that went as it should, as I had planned it to.
Well, I now know that it’s a good thing I planned to have an unmedicated childbirth anyway, because I don’t think I had much of a choice—my water broke with my son at about 3:30 in the morning at 37 weeks, and by the time we got to the hospital, he was born something like 24 minutes later, with the nurse catching his head and the doctor getting there only in time to grab a bed liner to catch the rest of the body. (You can read that full story here.)
Because of the quickness of the labor, I had zero time to get into the hypnobirthing headspace, zero time to focus on my breathing and relax, and my other sister (who was driving up to help me) arrived too late to come in and assist. The birth was hard and intense, but at least it was quick.
But I wasn’t worried about the birth—I was worried about the afterbirth.
Sure enough, when the placenta hadn’t come out on its own after 15 minutes and I was losing too much blood, my doctor told me she’d have to manually scoop it out. She offered narcotics, but I refused—I didn’t want to be robbed of the endorphins of a natural birth twice.
It was almost just as excruciating as I remembered it being the first time, except this time I knew what was going on and this time something was being scraped out rather than pushed back in.
But—but!—the experience after that WAS just what I’d been hoping for—I was filled with the energy and endorphins from the birth (even though I’d been up all night, unable to sleep), and I was able to drink in the whole experience 100%.
I was hoping that having a second birth experience might erase some of the fear that the first had caused, but it didn’t—it compounded it, since I knew now that the problem the first time hadn’t just been some kind of a fluke.
I know a lot more about my specific condition now, and even though I do wish that doctor that delivered my first baby had had a better bedside manner, I no longer have resentful feelings towards him—in fact, I’m incredibly grateful to him. You see, in many hospitals, the standard protocol for a uterine inversion is an emergency hysterectomy, end of story. With me being unmedicated, that doctor knew that the experience would be excruciating (for both of us, really). But because he was willing to do the hard thing, I am able to still have children.
I could never thank him enough for that.
And the more I learn about my condition, the more I also realize that had I lived at any other point in history, I surely would have died in childbirth, leaving my husband and daughter alone.
I’ve toyed for a long time with the idea of just going the unmedicated route for a third time. After all, I’ve survived it before, and I do love how amazing the recovery is, and not just the immediate recovery—I mean the long-term recovery over the next several weeks. (Plus, there’s a fear here, too, as some studies have shown that women who opt for unmedicated births have a lower incidence of postpartum depression.)
However, I also know that the minute I got pregnant with this baby, my mind has been consumed with fears about the upcoming delivery experience. Many nights, I’ve been unable to sleep as I try to argue that 60 seconds of horrific pain is worth it to get all the benefits on the other side of it.
But now I know that there are also other factors to consider. As someone with this placenta condition, I am at high risk of hemorrhaging. As someone who has also had a VERY fast delivery, I am at a double risk of hemorrhaging (as the body doesn’t produce enough contractions to temper the blood flow in such a quick labor).
So this time, I am planning on getting an epidural, for both my own comfort and also for the peace of mind that it will help the doctors manage all my risks much better (as epidurals tend to slow things down quite a bit, plus the nurses can pump harder on the uterus after birth to help the bleeding with an epidural).
It might sound silly that this has been such a hard decision for me—after all, women get epidurals every day, and they’re wonderful. But I think the hardest thing is just accepting that the choice you want to make is no longer really your choice to make—that it’s not really a wise or viable or smart option anymore.
That’s what’s been hard.
But, as I’ve been having worrisome pre-term labor symptoms that finally took me in to see a doctor yesterday on an emergency basis (don’t worry, everything looks okay—the baby’s just dropped head down and so I’m feeling loads of pressure), I’ve also realized—the important thing is that we’re both healthy.
And that makes it a lot easier to accept that I’m not getting my first choice.
If you’ve had a baby, did you have to change your birth plans? Was the choice ever taken from you on the options you had? How have you found healing after that?