Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thoughts on Drug Free Birthin' Or Why I'm an L&D Sissy

I had what is typically called a "natural birth" with both P. and Bo. Natural birth is in quotes here because I don't consider myself qualified to call anyone else's birth unnatural, and on top of that I was sporting a saline IV and operational fetal monitoring belts for P.'s labor and delivery. IV tubing doesn't exactly grow on trees. I was luckier with Bo. By the time I was really getting into the whole giving birth thing, I'd been hydrating continually for the previous 15 hours and the hospital was so busy that no one was around to hook me up to the monitors.

I was totally free to get up and move about the cabin when I was in labor with Bo, and move about I did, doing laps around the maternity ward from roughly 1-3 a.m., hoping to sneak a peek into one of the other rooms to see how other people birth their babies. No such luck. There in the middle of the night, everyone on the floor was cuddled up in bed in the dark - at least everyone whose doors were open.

Other in-labor activities included bouncing on the birthing ball, browsing Reddit, doubling over in pain, singing little songs to myself, and examining the pneumatic tube station. Of course, I ended up on my back in bed eventually because that is how I like to labor. No kidding. I know that squatting and sitting and crouching and leaning over a bar and kneeling on all fours let gravity move things along, but I did not want to do that. I wanted to lay in bed on my back so that is what I did. As someone who likes the idea of an active, upright birth, I was as surprised as anyone.

I was also kind of shocked at how distasteful I found the notion of getting in the water, considering I'd always imagined water births being lovely. Birth plan... ha. I didn't bother with one the second time around because those two words don't seem to ever meet up in my personal lexicon. In any case, both my birth experiences resulted in healthy - if small and in one case, slightly underbaked - babies.

Anyway, back to natural birth. There's only one photo of me in labor, a selfie that you can see here, because most people enduring drug free labor just do not look good or happy or like they're enjoying themselves. Except for those crazy orgasmic birth types - and more power to them. Here's what I looked like immediately following birth instead. Not too shabby.

drug free birth natural birth

During birth I looked hecka rough! In fact, I most likely looked like various incarnations of Hannya, but I'll never know because no one took any pictures of me writhing around in a hospital bed wearing two gowns - and in the case of P., an IV and monitor strips. Photos of natural unmedicated birth? Not mine, thanks! I got through it in my own head, and that's enough for me. I do have a few ideas about why I was able to get through it without drugs when some people who really, really want to might not make it to the endgame without a little help. Four things:

1. I've had terrible migraines my whole life so I'm used to coping with the kind of pain that literally leaves you sobbing in a ball and thinking "I could kill myself right now to be free of this and that would be perfectly reasonable." I'd take a natural birth over my worst migraine any day of the week. So, pain? As long as you don't expect me to exhibit any dignity, I can take it.

2. My births were short - exactly 3.5 hours each, excepting the contractions I had in the days prior which were straight up nothing. For most of those 3.5 hours, in both cases, I was hurting but not so much that I couldn't walk or carry on a conversation until close to the end, where the entirety of my conversations involved telling people around me to shut up and, in the case of Bo, demanding that he get out of my body immediately in no uncertain terms.

3. My babies were small. Wee. Four and a half pounds, and six pounds even. When I see newborns eight pounds and over my birth canal closes up like a Venus fly trap. Props to the moms who evict those babies with or without medical help because daaaaayum. I can't imagine pushing longer than 20 minutes (as with Bo) or less (as with P.). I can't imagine being in labor for 12 hours, let alone 20 or some number of days. I can only guess I would have been breaking into the hospital pharmacy at that point!

4. And finally, I partnered exclusively with midwives for my prenantal care and during labor and delivery. Now, it's totally possible to need interventions when all your care is under midwives because it's birth. Expect the unexpected, I always counsel those expecting. But I do believe that if you're interested in having a drug free birth, midwives are the way to go because every encounter I've had in L&D with an OB involved being asked if I wanted something. Something for the pain. Something to "help things along". I should make it clear that in every case, when I said no, the OBs respectfully accepted my answer with no argument. But still.

I guess this is my way of saying I didn't choose the natural birth life, the natural birth life chose me. If things had been different, I might have been the first one in the epidural line. A longer birth. A bigger baby. An alternate presentation. Other care providers. As labor and deliveries go, I had it SO easy. My biggest fear when it came to Bo's birth was that it would last longer than P.'s and that I wouldn't be able to handle it. As far as I'm concerned, 3.5 hours is quite enough birthing, thankyouverymuch, and every woman who goes longer than that deserves a high five - whether she delivered drug free or with all the drugs she could get her hands on.

Did you birth with or without a little something something for the pain? What guided your decision?


  1. My thoughts: When my ob was doing my epidural (he places them for his patients, rather than using an anesthesiologist), he was explaining to a medical student that the epidural reduces pain for contractions, but does not reduce pain for the actual delivery. A properly placed epidural numbs a nerve the doesn't go that low into your pelvis. You still feel every part of the actual pushing/birthing process (which I strangely loved). He was also telling her that in studies, when woman are asked to rate their pain during birth, the size of the baby has no bearing on the level of pain.

    I have a bit of envy for women like you, who can handle pain. I think it's really incredible. I'm wimpy, wimpy, wimpy and said, "bring on the meds!" I really appreciate your lack of judgement in this post. I think it's really beautiful that you tell your story, give your perspective, and never imply that other women are doing it wrong. I wish the whole mom-blog world could be the same.

    P.S. You looked AMAZING after both deliveries!

    1. I think we need more non-judgy posts about birthing babies! However it plays out is how it plays out, and everyone should do what feels right / what's necessary in the moment / what they want to do :)

      And thanks!! *blush*

  2. I always hate that I caved in to the pressure the nurses were constantly placing on me to get the epi during my one chance to labor. But then I remember that I made through 12-13 hours of pitocin induced labor on my own..and that the only reason I caved was because I was exhausted and on my own because Chris hadn't come back to the hospital from sleeping at home yet. And even then..I made them set the epi so low the anesthesiologist was like "what's the point of it then?" because I /wanted/ to feel the contractions. lol! And, of course, in the end it was good that I had it since I ruptured. It's just the fact that I caved to peer pressure that annoys me. :D

    1. Seriously, I feel like you have the worst luck when it comes to providers! I don't mean anything by that - it's just an observation and I'm totally bummed on your behalf that the medical community has been so sucky toward you.

      BUT yes, sleep. Mamas need sleep and if an epidural is what gives them rest after a bunch of laboring, good :)

  3. First of all, I LOVE that you wore a sequin headband!

    :sparkle motion:

    Pain: as you know, I get migraines a lot, so there's that. I also get ovarian cysts/have endometriosis so I'm in pain almost constantly. Sometimes it's so bad it hurts to not even breathe. I was always told that the pain of ov/endo was far worse than childbirth and often it will cure the cysts. YES, ov/endo pain is worse! I did a lot of thinking about it during delivery. My mind was racing and going in slo-mo at the same time. Unfortunately pg didn't cure anything for me.

    I went natural. My birth plan was "to go with it." It's good I had that idea in my head because nothing would have gone according to plan.

    When I got to the hospital I was far past the point of epi-selection. T was coming out. rightaway. I felt my first contraction being whisked to the OR where they'd cut me open if they had to since my contractions were killing him. I can't register my pain in pounds because I was so scared that everything hurt. Every nerve was screaming about something.

    I feel odd about the term 'natural' when it comes to birth because there was also nothing that invokes the image of what natural means so most people in my story. There was no music, no gown, no time - just a fleet of people around me and a herd of neos standing there waiting and whispering. I watched the clock in the background and listened to his heart stop...and slowly restart. I don't know what you'd call that.

    1. Your birth story is so unlike most people's so I don't know that I have a word in my lexicon for it. I think if I had to pick a word, I'd just call it 'yours'.

  4. I asked for the drugs the second I walked in. "Yes, I'm going to be needing that epidural please."

    1. Hee! Hope they worked and that you enjoyed them!

  5. The more births I attend as a doula (and now as a nursing student in maternity at Beverly Hospital) the more I realize that almost EVERY woman has unbearably uncomfortable moments during childbirth--unmedicated or not. I'd say that the vast majority of my doula clients have wanted to shoot for an unmedicated birth, but about a third ultimately choose some sort of med--most often an epidural. Epidurals can be awesome--especially to give a mama some needed rest during a long labor.

    The thing that bums me out most about epidurals is how often they slow things down, tie the woman to the bed, and how painful the pushing stage is even WITH the epidural. And then there are the mamas who only get relief on one side of their body from an epidural, or not at all, or in rare instances end up with a spinal headache for a year postpartum...

    I haven't EVER seen a birth--medicated or otherwise, where the woman was happy, pain free and photogenic the entire time. No matter the size of her baby or degree of numbness in her bottom half.

    Pain management in obstetrics today is generally pretty lame. I think the only way to have a birth free from discomfort is to be put under. But then you lose all that really awesome stuff that comes along with the pain. And when you're under general anesthesia, you don't look so hot either...

    1. Well, that's the other reason I pretty much poo pooed an epidural from the beginning. As soon as I heard the words 'epidural migraine' you better believe that option was off the table for me. I was SO scared of that happening.

      I lucked out in that my births were not too painful - for my level of tolerance, anyway. It's one of those things that's hard to compare!

  6. I think the last time we saw you was just before Kim had Alex. She wanted to go natural but her labor stalled, they gave her pitocin, and after several hours of that she got the epi. Alex popped out at 8 lb 15.6 oz after about 19 hours of labor.

    With Maggie, she went through the first hour or so of are-they-or-aren't-they contractions at home, we drove to the hospital, she got in a hot bath, and them WHAM! Water broke and Maggie crowned in the time this exchange took:

    "My water just broke! The baby's coming!"
    "Now, don't get excited, it'll probably be--"

    I've never seen that many nurses move that fast...

    So given the speed, there just wasn't time for an epi regardless, but fortunately labor was very quick and Maggie was only seven pounds and change.

    (They told us if we have a third kid, not to wait before coming in...)

    1. By the time I really seriously considered meds, during both births, I was just shy of the pushing stage. Shy by minutes, so it's not like I could have suddenly gotten the hook up :) Fast births are fabulous.

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