Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My "All-American" Birth

So much of who I am today is directly tied to how and where I gave birth to my children. I completely understand why women choose to have medication in childbirth. When I was pregnant with our first baby, my first reaction when we had a positive test was, "I've got to call the doctor and find out what to do!" I viewed myself as a patient. My sister-in-law, a doula, had encouraged us to seek out a midwife instead of an OB, but I thought she was crazy! I was not having a witchdoctor attend the birth of my first child! I lived by the philosophy "Ignorance is bliss."

I remember when people would ask me if I was having "the drugs," I would think they were crazy for asking me such a question. Of course I was having the drugs! At one point during the pregnancy I thought there was a chance that our insurance plan wouldn't cover an epidural and I completely panicked. How could they expect me to give birth without pain medication? I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when I found out I had misunderstood our coverage.

Also during that pregnancy, I had an encounter with a woman who had had a midwife attend her unmedicated birth and chose to tear because she was emphatic about not having an episiotomy. She never explained to me why she was making these (crazy) decisions, but looking back on it, I wish she would have. (I always speak up when talking to pregnant moms!)

We enrolled in a hospital childbirth class because that's what you are supposed to do. The instructor announced right from the beginning that if you wanted to feel the birth and not have the epidural, you were in the wrong class. This was for "the wimps." I felt at ease. We were very prepared to be good patients. They explained all about the hospital procedures and policies. We took a tour. We learned about the epidural and were assured that it was safe for both mom and baby. I was so glad to be in such capable hands. I didn't have to know about anything that was happening to me. They would take care of everything. Did I mention that the hospital where we chose to give birth averaged 30 babies a day? (You are statistically more likely to have a c-section in a busy hospital.)

The day before I was due, I had an appointment with our OB. During my vaginal exam I found out that I was not dilated or effaced. He told me that at this point that my body "just wasn't sure what to do." He wanted me to come in for a non-stress test (fetal monitoring) in 5 days. He said at that point I would likely be induced and that it was best to emotionally prepare for a c-section because my chances of having one greatly increased with an induction. (Twice as likely, to clarify.)

I left that appointment, again, feeling like my doctor knows what he's doing. My husband's reaction, however, was quite different. He felt jipped. He wanted to have the experience of not knowing when labor would start and the rush to the hospital. We took blue cohosh and castor oil intermittently for hours. All joking aside, I DO NOT recommend taking those substances into your body. At midnight, we gave up and decided to go to bed.

Now, no one had told us that intercourse and nipple stimulation could start labor. We were engaged in these activities when I felt something very different than what I had been feeling for the last several weeks. It faded, but came back about 5 minutes later. We were so excited! We got dressed and went walking. By the time we got home, I had to stop during contractions. It got hard pretty fast. I took a bath and that did help. I hadn't prepared to feel anything, remember.

A side note -- I spent the first several hours of labor throwing up and having diarrhea from all the castor oil.

After 5 1/2 hours of labor, my vaginal exam told me that I was 90% effaced and 3 cm dilated. Remember, my body "didn't know what to do" and my cervix was a "big, fat zero" just a few hours earlier. My doctor didn't know when I would start labor! My body worked very hard in those 5 hours. I cried when I got to the hospital because I could have pain medication.

I had Nubain until I was further dilated. I felt drunk. I could still feel contractions, but I couldn't talk. My body was working so hard when I was moving around and making fast progress, but when I got in the bed, everything slowed down. (Remember that, pregnant moms.) Eventually I was able to have the epidural. With that came a flood of interventions, such as fetal monitoring, an IV, a catheter, a pulse monitor, fever reducer, pitocin to speed contractions, oxygen to bring up the baby's heart rate (who was doing fine until I introduced drugs into the equation), blood pressure monitor, eventually internal monitoring of the baby (had to break water to make that possible). What started as a normal, healthy, physiological event turned into a high-tech circus in which I had no control over.

My baby's heart rate kept dropping and the nurses kept telling me I was on the road to a c-section. I would have had one if my sister-in-law (the same one who wanted me to have a midwife) would not have been there. After each contraction, she would roll me over to my other side and that would bring baby's heart rate up. The nurses were surprised to find that I was dilated to a 9 and went ahead and moved me to a delivery room. I pushed for 45 minutes and gave birth to a very small baby boy. 6 pounds, 1 ounce on his due date. (That's a story for another time.)

My husband was very emotional, and while they cleaned the baby and check him out, David looked at me and said in this awestruck voice, "You've just given birth," like I was so amazing. I felt embarrassed by his reaction because I didn't feel like I had done anything amazing at all. I didn't even feel the birth. Nothing.

I reflected on the birth for several months afterward, but it wasn't until I picked up a copy of Dr. William Sears's book, "The Birth Book" that I realized what I had done. I only had one chance to give birth to that baby, and I blew it! In the words of Dr. Sears, "Birth Matters." Sometimes we find that out later than we'd like. The beautiful thing is that we can learn from those experiences and make the next time better.

So when I say that I understand why American women have medication in childbirth, I really do. I've lived it. And there is a better way to give birth.


Lena said...

Wow, I can totally feel how upset you are at that birth! I hope you still remember the good feelings from that day and focus on them and not let the experience eat you up. (I'm trying to take my own advice here too.) You didn't know. You were a lot like me and didn't really know what there was to know! I think it is such a gift that you are the mother of your girls. They will know all there is to know when the time comes for them to have children. I was so stinkin' clueless!

Sarah said...

I can't believe I just happened to click on your comment to one of my postings this evening and found this so soon after you started it! Positively providential!

Anyway, I thank God that you have this experience and others are able to glean from it and not have to make the same birth mistakes (we'll make enough of our own, though!). Seriously, if it weren't for you, I think I would have had 3 VERY difficult, if not HORRIBLE birth experiences.

It sounds like you have some deep regret for your 1st birth experience, but in a sense, you speak with more knowledge because of it. Right or wrong, people listen more to someone who has been there, done that, than to someone who just "knows" things in theory. In taking your classes years ago, I remember being comforted by the fact that you had done birth both ways, and infinitely preferred the natural way. You bring so much more to the table with your experience, and anyone who thinks can appreciate it.
Consider this: because of your experience, tens (could it be hundreds by now?) of people have been spared the same regret you carried.
Can't wait to read more!
P.S. Any experience with Thrush?

Donna Ryan said...

So great to hear from you Sarah! I never commented on your blog though, so I don't know how you ended up here!

Just to clarify, I really don't have bad feelings about my first birth. I wouldn't be as passionate about birth today -- and that women CAN do this without the drugs -- if I wouldn't have had that experience. Sarah, I think you are right about being able to bring that to the table. I really do try to use my experience as a learning tool so that other women do not make the same mistake I did. We need to take the fear out of childbirth!

Lena, if my girls choose to have meds in childbirth, I will completely freak out, as much as we talk about childbirth in this house!

Lena said...

I wish you could take the fear of chilbirth from me and Peter. Thinking of doing Joseph's birth all over again is definitely scary. You know what though I knew every time I went to Betty's that I wouldn't be delivering there. I kept trying to shush that feeling but I think God was trying to prepare me because I didn't freak out near as much I think I would have otherwise.

motherly prosody said...

You are quite the eloquent little writer Donna Ryan! I love this blog and will send it to my (MANY) currently pregnant friends! Thanks for your insight and vulnerability! (And for teaching such a BOSS class!)

Sarah said...

You probably don't remember it because my blog wasn't truly a blog at the time (there was only one post on it for many months!), but I had posted Claire's birth story over a year ago and you had commented on it--something sweet about how birth experiences like Claire's are why you teach Bradley.

Anyway, maybe you'd created a profile long before you started blogging, but for some reason, your hyperlinked name made me curious again (I'm sure I had clicked on it before, disappointed when it didn't show you had a blog.) Believe me, I am sooo excited that you've started one. I feel so passionately, but I'm too chicken to be that passionate on my own blog--too afraid of offending or hurting someone I know by my strong opinions (sometimes made stronger because of THEIR experiences, know what I mean?). I know you won't pull any punches, though. Whoo Hoo! Let the ride begin! (And I promise not to be TOO offended if I see myself in some of your "don't do this" examples. I readily admit, as prepared as I was, I wasn't prepared nearly enough the first time around. Way too naive in believing it was no big deal to have OVER A DOZEN midwives who could be on call for my labor. "We're all a tight-knit group. We pretty much have the same approach." Yeah, right!)

Oh, and I hope you don't mind; I hardly EVER comment on people's blogs, but I have the strong suspicion that I'll have to keep myself from commenting on EVERY POST. . . I'm so excited! Let me know if it gets to be too much!

Donna Ryan said...

Sarah, I'm so glad that there are excited people out there to read this blog. I've thought about saying or not saying certain things, but I've decided that this is my blog and I will say what I really think. David always reminds me that my "opinions" are based on facts and evidence. Thanks for your support! You can comment all you want!

David & Sherry said...

Congratulations on starting your blog... I agree, it's a great venue for expressing ideas.

I'd love to read about natural parenting... I bought the sling because I thought it would be cool to try and have loved it so much more than I thought. I could be a poster child for them! Baby J is so happy in it & when I can't get him to sleep nursing (e.g. when he had the stomach flu & was exhausted, yet awake at 3a.m.) I can always get him to sleep in the sling. He just knows now he's safe & snuggly.

I'd love to hear how much you used your sling. Did you wear your babies while doing stuff around the house? It's hard for me to get stuff done with him in it because I have to use my right hand to kinda support his fanny & that leaves just my left to wash dishes, etc. It's great for when we go places (shopping, zoo, school, etc.). How often did you carry your babies in it? Do you have any tips?

Another thing I'd love to read about is nursing beyond one. There's so much pressure to wean at one & I just don't see J or me being ready... especially J. You told me your experience, but I'd love to hear it again & I think others would too.

David & Sherry said...

Hey, it's me again. A couple more things I want to express/ask about natural parenting.

When M was a baby I read a lot about it, but don't remember everything. I would love not only to read about when & how you wore your babies, nursing, etc., but I'd love to read the whys too. I remember there are many benefits, but don't remember a lot of specifics.

Several months ago I googled for more info & found a bunch of blogs/websites that, quite honestly, I thought were kind of wacko & scary. Although I strongly believe in breastfeeding, these blogs were so intolerant & nasty about parents who bottle feed, I found them offensive and felt I couldn't trust their stats, info, etc.

Andrea Betty said...

this birth story reminds me so much of my first... even the small baby part. While I was pregnant I had envisioned finally feeling like a "whole" woman after birth, but I didn't and I didn't get my second chance for a full 5 years. I was 28 when I finally felt like a whole woman.

Alisa said...

I love that you are able to share all of your experiences with others. You sure have had all kinds of births. It is fun for me to look back and remember your "journey" of birthing! How you gradually changed from one birth to the next.
Happy Birth day to you and to Daymon!

April said...

Throw in an unwanted induction and episiotomy and you had the same birth I did! Without that birth I would not have had the motivation to do it differently the next time!
Keep speaking up and helping those women who would otherwise have to go through what we did! I will.

Marlene, Baby Monzon Shower Coordinator said...

Sounds very much like my first birth, but I didn't realize what I had missed out on until my third birth, 17 years and two days later. I took Bradley classes that time. The birth was awesome! The worst part was knowing I had missed out on the experience twice before. I wanted to do it again as soon as I was done. I wanted to do it once a week (later I decided once a month would be more doable). Because of my natural both experience I am doing it again. I will be forty when this baby is born.