Throughout my pregnancy, I received a variety of reactions when I told people I was seeing a midwife and wanted an unmedicated out-of-hospital birth. Responses ranges from "You're crazy!" and "Yeah right, good luck with that (with a eye roll)" to "that's brave" and "I had an unmedicated birth, it was wonderful." I had no idea what to expect going into this experience, only faith that my body would do what it was supposed to do, and trust in the people around me to support me as needed. As it turned out, Amaliya's birth was everything I wanted it to be - peaceful, intense, transformative, empowering.
Here are some thoughts on the experience and a few anecdotes that I'd like to remember, in bullet points because that's the best I can do in this haze of sleep deprivation:
- Funny story #1: I had psyched myself up for a very long labor and was mentally prepared for a hospital transfer if necessary. Therefore, I packed a TON of stuff in my "hospital" bags: lots of hygiene supplies and clothing for both of us and the baby, enough food for a weekend camping trip, the laptop, portable speakers, a case of CDs, my iPod with a specially crafted birth playlist, a body pillow, etc. Then, as it turned out, my labor was so quick that we only spent 6 hours total at the birth center. I only made use of an outfit for me, a onesie for Amaliya, a single granola bar, and two CDs. However, we were in such a hurry to get there at midnight that we ended up bringing all that stuff but forgetting the carseat! Kunle had to run home at 5am to grab it.
- I am so, so glad that I stayed active during pregnancy. Especially
with weight lifting. When I was maneuvering into so many different
positions to labor, and especially when I was standing and doing a
series of squats through each contraction to cope with the pain, I really felt like all the training paid off.
It hurt, but I felt strong, and when I was pushing I found that I had
great muscle control and could direct the energy exactly where I needed
it to go.
- I pushed so hard that I broke blood vessels in my face. For a couple days after I had tiny red spots all over my face, including my eyelids. It looked like a terrible case of acne and was pretty ghastly, in my opinion.
- The thing I was most afraid of was tearing, but it turns out that it wasn't so bad - I didn't feel it at all. Pushing really felt good, compared to the contractions, because I was consciously channeling my energy towards a productive activity. Mentally I had a weak moment, knowing that if I pushed as hard as I needed to, that it could potentially hurt and I could tear, but I got past it. I mean, what was the alternative? Stay pregnant forever? So I dismissed my fear and gave it everything I had. And it turned out fine.
- Funny Story #2: Amaliya was crowning, literally with her head halfway out, and I remember at one point opening my eyes and seeing the midwives playing with her hair. Seriously, they were stretching out the curls and talking about braiding it. Um, hello? Kinda busy here, can we braid her hair once she's out??
- I anticipated being very internally-focused during labor, and that was exactly what happened. My eyes were closed practically the whole time, and I was fully tuned into my breathing and the movement of my body. I was also scarily perceptive of the energy in the room. I spent the entire labor touching my husband in some way, which was incredibly relaxing to me. When he had to leave for a second, one of the midwives stepped in for me to lean on - it was the perfect balance. Whenever any of them left the room for any reason, I was aware of it, even with my eyes closed. It was a different level of awareness that I've never experienced before, brought on by the pain and the incredibly raw, visceral experience that is giving birth. Bottom line: with all of them there, seamlessly transitioning between roles and giving me the quiet space I needed to focus and labor, I felt completely peaceful, fearless, and supported throughout the experience. Any one person missing from the equation would have changed the entire experience for me.
- I was an advocate for out-of-hospital births long before this experience, based both on my personal values and the research and statistics in support of unmedicated births. However, not having birthed a child myself, I had my share of doubts. There's a difference between knowing, theoretically, that women's bodies are made for this activity, and actually being able to shut down your mind and surrender to the process. I was scared that I wouldn't be able to handle the pain, or that something would go wrong and I would still require medical intervention to deliver my baby. Now that I have been through the experience, I feel even more strongly about my position. It's not for everyone, but for women who have an uncomplicated pregnancy and can take the time to prepare body and mind for the experience, unmedicated childbirth can be a wonderful and powerful experience. We should stop doubting our strengths and capabilities and telling ourselves what we cannot do. We CAN endure so much more than we think we can.
So, there you have it, my random reflections on the experience. Now I'm going to attempt to nap for a few minutes before the baby wakes up.