I’ve touched on all of my births in previous blog entries, either here or on my first blog, but I’ve never given the full story of my oldest son’s entrance into the world. I’ve written this fresh from the homebirth of my fourth child and it is more of a reflection on my first birth than the flat out narrative story.
My first birth story:
I’ve been wishing I’d had the courage to have my first child at home. During my seventh month pregnant with Punkin (hormones raging) I read the book The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer, a book I’d recommend to anyone who desires a natural childbirth (unmedicated with no interventions) whether you’re planning a home or hospital birth. I read it and as I digested the statistics surrounding the intervention and c-section rates in the United States I began to panic. I became terrified that I would end up with a c-section even though I had complete faith my body knew what it was doing and could birth a baby on its own. My husband and I discussed the possibility of changing from a hospital birth with a large OBGYN group (never getting to see the same doctor twice) to a midwife. I did some preliminary research but had a hard time finding complete information about homebirth in Connecticut. At that time I was not part of any communities for homebirth families, nor did I know enough to seek them out. So, because we were new parents and because I hadn’t done enough research ahead of time we let our fear of the unknown guide us and chose to stay with a hospital birth.
I now know, looking back, that we could have birthed him no problem at home but at the time, with the limited information we had, we felt we were making the right choice. Punkin ended up being two weeks “overdue” (a term I do not like anymore, he was due anytime between 38 and 42 weeks, not overdue after 40) and we ended up going with an induction. I did manage to push the induction back from 41 weeks 3 days to a full 42 weeks but knowing what I know now I would have just refused it all together.
Induction consisted of heading to the hospital on a Saturday afternoon (the day after my 29th birthday), waiting anxiously for hours in a strange room while an IV was placed and I was not allowed to eat anything solid. That night they placed Cervidil in my cervix to help soften and dilate it. The next morning they started a Pitocin drip which began my contractions. Again, I was not allowed to eat anything solid. I believe the reasoning behind that is in case I need a c-section I’ll have an empty stomach for surgery… they were already preparing me for that eventuality? I suppose with almost a quarter of women in the United States ending up with a c-section it’s no wonder. As labor progressed a doctor came in saying she was going to break my water. I said no. She asked in a tone I can only describe as terse and condescending, “Why not?” No one in the room supported me as I explained that I wanted things to progress as naturally as possible. She was not pleased but left us alone for what remained of her shift.
My contractions picked up and I did what I thought I needed to do in order to move the labor along. I walked around, I breathed through the contractions and I even went into the birthing tub (where many of the doctors refuse to actually deliver babies because they can’t see what they are doing as well and are therefore not in control as much as they need to be). The tub was AMAZING and I didn’t ever want to get out but I had to poop (this is a blog about birth, it’s bound to get real and messy at some point!). My husband held my hand as I sat on the toilet and pooped through many painful contractions. For whatever reason we did not get back into the tub (oooooh, I wish I had!).
When we got back to the room via wheelchair (I could not walk, the contractions were too painful and too fast) I began to throw up. I continued to heave long after my liquid lunch was gone. It was suggested I sit on the birthing ball and maybe that helped a little but I kept heaving and heaving and the contractions never stopped. I literally couldn’t tell when one started or stopped because they were so close together there was no real break in between. That was the Pitocin. That drug that stimulates the uterus into “false” contractions, making them come faster and harder than my body would have naturally. Is that good for mama? Nope, my ability to cope with the pain was almost non-existent and I begged for an epidural. Is that good for baby? Nope, it puts too much stress on the baby, it’s medically created instead of the body’s natural rhythms and Pitocin doesn’t know what my baby can or cannot handle like my body could.
I ended up with an epidural. It was the worst moment of the entire birth when I sobbed for an epidural through my haze. My mother and sister just nodded and said, “Give it to her” while my husband stood numbly by, wanting to fight for the natural birth we’d talked so long about but feeling utterly betrayed by the two women who’d agreed to support us. Later when we talked about what had happened he told me how hopeless he felt and how completely alone that betrayal made him feel. We were not going through the same moments together and that made it incredibly hard for both of us.
Looking back I believe I was in transition. I wish I’d told them (not asked) to turn down or off the Pitocin because my body would have taken over, even if it had taken a bit of a break–my body NEEDED a break! I wish someone had told me this might be transition and that I should get back in the tub if it offered relief. I still don’t really know why I was herded out of the tub room after my bathroom visit. I wish I’d known what the heck was going on but the drugs that were ripping my body apart left no room for thinking at all.
Eventually, with the ease of an epidural, my new doctor did break my water (I was at the pushing stage) and I delivered my 8lb 6oz posterior son only to have him whisked away for an hour (in the room but not where I could touch him or even really see him). His temperature was too low, he’d had meconium in the water (not when she broke my water but in the stuff behind him as he was born), and as a result his APGAR score was low. Luckily I was floating in the hormonal euphoria that follows birth, still not really able to fully grasp that I now had a child of my own and was able to be completely distracted by the doctor’s pleasant chatter (we have it on video, I was giddy and not at all miserable or worried, it helped that I knew my mother and sister were hovering over the baby and annoying the nurses with questions, so he was in good hands). Punkin was born at 11:17pm and my husband didn’t even hold him until the next day because once I finally got the baby back, nursed him, and my family left, Christian just passed out he was so emotionally and physically exhausted!
I’d like to say the glorious story ended there with me giddy and my husband exhausted 🙂 but it didn’t. Punkin had jaundice as all my mother’s babies did but because the hospital follows strict numbers (bilirubin numbers correlating to the number of hours old the baby is) he was considered too risky to discharge. Knowing what I know now I should have just said, “Thanks, we’ll keep an eye on him,” and gone home but I was too new at this to feel the confidence to disagree with a Doctor. So we stayed. Saturday, Sunday (when he was born), Monday, Tuesday and were finally discharged on Wednesday more than halfway through my husband’s week of paternity leave. Monday and Tuesday night were horrible. Christian had gone home to get some sleep and I thought I would be fine. They put Punkin under the lights in an incubator to help alleviate his jaundice which made it hard for me to nurse him. I wasn’t “allowed” to take him out whenever I wanted and when I did take him out I had to hold a stiff light blanket against him while we snuggled. You try snuggling and nursing a wiggly newborn while trying to keep a flannel covered piece of stiff plastic that is the same size as your newborn up against him. Stress effects milk production and I was under a ton of it.
And the baby just cried and cried and cried in that box. It was horrible. The night nurse encouraged me to pump to see if I was actually producing anything–dumbest suggestion ever because colostrum is produced in tiny amounts, pumping is not the same as nursing and so when I produced nothing she convinced me to finger-tube feed him formula. We also gave him a pacifier to calm his crying. Do you know what clears up jaundice naturally? Breastfeeding! But here we were, giving him something false to suck on (I love pacifiers, but not in the first few weeks and DEFINITELY not before mom’s milk comes in!!!) and denied him what he really wanted which was his mother’s arms and milk. I was so exhausted, so defeated by his constant crying and my desperate desire to sooth his tears that there was no way I could have stood up to the “all-knowing” nurse who was instructing me, the only one there to give me any peace of mind and guidance. I don’t remember her ever saying that breast milk is the best cure for jaundice while I do remember her saying that the lights were the thing that would get us out of the hostpital faster… She was kind but she did not give me the information I needed.
So, was the experience horrible?
Was I scarred after the birth of my son and the few days that followed? Maybe just a tiny bit. I didn’t feel especially cheated at the time. I felt that, under the circumstances, I made the right choices. Under those circumstances. But how much of those circumstances could I have changed had I been more informed, more confident and more supported by the “experts” around me? I could have changed them all.
If I had to do it all over again would I choose a homebirth for my first birth even in the face of so much unknown?
Absolutely. Without the proper support system, being told I needed to induce (and only be given the option of Pitocin for induction) and having a posterior baby (that no one seemed to know about) there was almost no chance for me to have a natural birth. If I’d had that same situation at home with a midwife we would have tried other induction methods, we would have waited past 42 weeks (after all, the baby WOULD have come out eventually!!!), and when labor actually started I would have been given support for a natural birth instead of everyone hovering over me waiting for that moment I caved and begged for the epidural.
Wanna hear the big secret, though? I wouldn’t have caved and asked for an epidural because as intense as labor pains are the natural ones are manageable–your body only gives you what you can handle. Having finally had a natural childbirth where all the people around me exuded the confidence that this was something I could deal with I can say, with complete truth and honesty, that induction is NOTHING like real, natural labor and it is true that induction is a “gateway” into further interventions and complications.
I guess I could always say, “It doesn’t matter how he got here, he’s here and healthy and that’s all that matters,” but I’d rather not ignore my responsibility or my desires that way. It wasn’t the birth I wanted and if I had done things differently I would have had a different outcome, I understand that now. He is here, he is healthy but it could have been better and that’s what I set out to do for my next birth.