I used to think women who birthed outside of hospitals were crazy. I used to think a lot of them declined medication simply to prove a point or to feel more heroic in some way. I used to think of their decision to undergo an unmedicated labor & delivery without a doctor present as too dangerous. I’ve since changed my mind.
I wanted to write briefly about my own personal experience in order to help any women out there who may be contemplating opting out of a typical, medicated birth experience in a hospital. In my quest to find my own birth path, I realized that with the way the current healthcare system is set up in America, one really has to do some digging in order to become properly informed.
I didn’t decide I wanted to deliver outside of a hospital until 30 weeks into the pregnancy. Without going into too much detail, OBGYN visits to my doctor throughout my pregnancy were rushed, cold, and impersonal at best, and entirely uninformative and anxiety-provoking at worst. I felt intuitively that pregnancy and birth should be an intimate affair to be celebrated, nurtured, and filled with love, but it often felt more like taking the car in for a five-minute tune-up. I also often felt like prescription drugs and procedures (all of which I declined) were constantly being pushed upon me.
We live in a very fear-based society. I began to realize that many of the decisions I was making at the start of my pregnancy were based on this ingrained fear. It didn’t feel like a healthy approach. I began reading books (which I highly recommend) such as Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin, & Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan. I watched documentaries: 40 Weeks by Christopher Henze & The Business of Being Born. I signed us up for an 8-week birth class here in Texas called Natural Beginnings. The more I learned, the less afraid I became, and I decided I wanted to let nature run its course. This would require a less aggressive, less invasive approach to labor & delivery, and it soon became clear that a hospital birth was not for me.
Everywhere I turned, I was hearing the same or very similar birth stories; Doctors urging pregnant moms to induce their labor early with harmful drugs like pitocin or cervical sweeps in order to prevent the baby from getting, “too big” / macrosomia; Pitocin inductions leading to more drugs like a spinal or an epidural due to the side-effect of intensified contractions & increased pain; Stalled, slowed, or prolonged labor due to the anesthetic effect of the epidural; A high percentage of eventual c-sections, episiotomies, forceps delivery, or vacuum extraction delivery due to low fetal heart rate and fetal distress most likely caused by the initial medication or augmentation. I did not want this to be our story.
So on Sunday morning at 8:42am, after experiencing four days of intense, on-and-off labor at home, my water broke. Everywhere. Just like the movies! And my husband and I made our way north to the Allen Birthing Center, arriving at around 10:30am.
The midwife on call checked us in and we went upstairs into one of the bedrooms to set up our things and get the party started. It was around 11am. I opted for dim lighting, scented candles, a giant hot tub, our own thunderstorm sound machine, food & drinks that we brought, a music playlist that we made in advance, and a tall bar stool for me to lean on that we brought from home. This particular birthing center is a 100-year-old house that has been converted, and I had immediately loved the vibe of it when I’d first gone to visit. I loved how they let us add our own touch to the room and basically do whatever we wanted.
At first, I labored in the bathroom for an hour or two (not because I had to go, but because it’s the most comfortable chair available when you have a baby in your birth canal). I vomited once, at which point the midwife filled up a large tub with warm water. I think it was around 12:30pm when I got in. The tub was a Godsend!! I highly recommend spending the tough parts of labor in a giant tub. It helped me to get into whatever position I wanted without allowing gravity to tire me out. It seriously made labor a LOT easier.
At around 2:30pm I got out of the tub because I was getting too hot and it made it harder to breathe. I tried some squats and the birth ball, but ultimately preferred the bathroom and that comfy toilet seat :). Shortly thereafter, the baby was about to make his entrance into the world, and in my adrenaline-fueled, hyper-focused, utterly exhausted state, I decided that, Yes, of course the toilet would be the best place for me to deliver our baby! For a brief moment, everyone in the room panicked as I (unsuccessfully) attempted to convince them that a toilet-seat-delivery would be a great idea, muttering something along the lines of, “But I promise to stand up when he comes out.” Yeah. It made sense in my head at the time.
After this brief and now-hilarious back-and-forth discussion, I begrudgingly agreed to waddle over to the bed. I’m glad I did!
At 3:56pm (just 5-and-a-half hours after arriving at the birth center), our baby son was born: 8 pounds 3.5 ounces, 21 inches long, with a 13.5inch head. I was able to deliver him without a single tear or stitch. The midwives were shocked. Sometimes I look at the picture above and I still can’t believe that big baby came out of me with no problems, injury, or trauma. The human body is amazing!
I strongly believe that this positive outcome came from educating myself about hospitals, birthing centers, & drug-free deliveries, and from preparing myself (and my husband) both physically and mentally in advance. I think all women with low-risk pregnancies can have this type of birth experience or similar positive outcomes if they want to. The key is to decide exactly what you don’t want in your birth plan, and then take it from there.
Today, 14 weeks later, my husband and I had the unique opportunity of speaking to one of Linda Worzer’s birth classes at Natural Beginnings here in Texas. It was an honor to be asked to share our experience with other moms and dads looking to educate themselves on all the birth options that are currently available, and it gave us the opportunity to relive our beautiful day. Welcoming our son into the world was easily the most beautiful experience of our lives, and I am so grateful that we decided to deliver at a natural birthing center. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
If there are any moms or dads out there with questions about anything related to birth, prenatal care, postpartum issues, postnatal care, birthing centers, doulas, etc. please feel free to email me at KaiteePage@gmail.com. On that note, I highly recommend our postpartum doula, Melva Wofford & Associates, if you need help in the first few weeks after arriving home with your newborn. My husband and I have no family here in Texas and we are first-time parents, so Melva basically saved our lives that first month!
Good luck to all moms-to-be out there, and I wish you the best in finding the perfect birth experience for you and your family. Definitely check out those books & films I listed above, as they dive into more detail about the physical & spiritual benefits of unmedicated childbirth for both mom and baby. I believe that the ability to endure a natural childbirth sans medication (for a low-risk pregnancy) is 99% mental. Here is a blog I read recently which sums up this point beautifully along with the importance of determination, education, & believing in yourself: My Top Two Tips for Having a Natural Childbirth.
*Photo Credit (white dress) – Allen Tsai Photography – Dallas, TX