My ‘natural’ birth story, the story of Erik’s birth, truly begins three years before his birth when his older sister Roxanne was born. Going into Roxanne’s birth, I did not feel empowered, I felt scared and sure that I would need an epidural. My attitude about birth was formed only by the common lore that birth is terribly painful and I expected it to be managed by the hospital. I did expect to give birth vaginally, and remember distinctly skipping over the information about c-sections, thinking I’d never need one.
I guess life has a way of turning things upside down on you and it gave me possibly the only birth experience that could have shaken up my world view sufficiently that I would end up changing my views on birth so dramatically. After only a few hours of hard labor, rapid dilation to 8 cm, my darling daughter somehow managed to turn herself from head down to feet down, the cord prolapsed, she went into distress and an emergency c-section was done.
It all happened quickly, and I was put under general anesthesia, so I barely had time to register any fear. We were lucky that it was a busy weekday morning and another surgery was about to begin, we didn’t have to wait for an operating room to be assembled.
After her birth I mourned for the experience I had planned for, seeing my baby born, getting to discover for myself whether she was a girl or a boy (instead of groggily asking a nurse in recovery), and holding her newly born self in my arms. I missed her first hours and barely remember our first meeting. I had no idea how important those things were to me until I did not get them.
In the months after Roxy’s birth I read hundreds of birth stories on the internet. I searched for someone who had experienced what I had. I searched for explanations to what had happened. I felt that somehow my body had been at fault and I wanted to know if I should just schedule a cesarean birth for my next baby. I found the women who had cesareans who were upset and angry about them and at some point came across a recommendation for Nancy Weiner Cohen’s book, The Silent Knife. I read it and then more and more books, Gentle Birth Choices, and the Spiritual Midwife, and The Thinking Woman’s Guide, I read everything I could get my hands on. Eventually, I posted on the Midwifery Today forums about my fears that my body had somehow caused Roxanne’s birth to go as it had. The midwives there reassured me, and made me see that there was nothing wrong with me, it was just bad luck.
I began to see how much different our experience could have been if we had been accompanied by a doula, so I started to take steps to become trained myself. I ended up being a few weeks pregnant with Erik when I took my doula training class. I attended a few births during my pregnancy, but spent most of my effort getting myself ready. I took a comprehensive out-of-hospital childbirth class with the most wonderful, experienced, and loving teacher who really helped me to gain confidence. I practiced the self-hypnosis techniques she taught us and did yoga, anything I could to be ready.
Before I had even become pregnant with Erik I had been in contact with several local home birth midwives and the one standalone birth center in my area. The birth center wasn’t allowed to do VBAC or it would likely have been my first choice, but I’m glad now that it wasn’t because I think it ended up being perfect for me to stay home. The midwife I chose was incredibly supportive and had no concerns over my VBAC status. She understood that I wasn’t really anymore likely to have an emergency situation develop than any other mom, so she treated me like she would everyone else. Vigilantly watching out for any sign of something outside the norm, but trusting that more than likely everything would be just fine.
That’s not to say that there weren’t fears and issues with my planning a home birth for this baby. Obviously, I know better than anyone how quickly things can go wrong, but because of everything I had learned I still felt more comfortable giving birth at home. I knew that if I went to the hospital I would be required to wear monitors constantly and that I’d be surrounded by people who were afraid. I talked with my midwife about how she would handle a complication and timed the drive the hospital, only seven minutes, less time than it takes to prepare the OR. Ultimately though I just felt that everything was going to be fine and the more I practiced my self-hypnosis scripts and listened to affirmation the less I thought about any of these fears.
Finally, my birthing time came on October 28, 2003. I had been having some early labor in the wee hours of the morning, but wasn’t really recognizing what was going on. When I got up in the morning I had some show and checked my own cervix, it was about 4 cm, but again at the time I wasn’t realizing that this was really the beginning.
My sister came over with an early lunch and I had been having some surges as we sat and talked. She was noticing that they were getting my attention and I was in the process of telling her that these were good contractions, but I wasn’t getting excited yet when my membranes ruptured midsentence. Okay, maybe I should get excited! I called my midwife, doula, husband, mom to let them know we were going to have a baby. I told my midwife I’d see if contractions started up and call her back. After three strong ones in 10 minutes, I realized it was time for her to come.
I remember sitting in the rocking chair while I waited for everyone to arrive, having a strong contraction and thinking “ouch, that sucked maybe I really can’t do this”. Then I started listening to a script on my headphones and moving around the house, and I never felt that way again for the rest of the birth. After that it just seemed powerful, like lifting a really heavy weight, intense and requiring concentration, but not painful.
My labor progressed smoothly, my team arrived and the tub was filled. The midwife monitored me, but mostly just sat quietly to the side. My mom sat in the corner of my bedroom, she was supposed to take notes, but she mostly just watched. My sisters came in and out quietly, they were attending to Roxanne downstairs. My doula took care of my needs. My husband just stroked my head. I moved around the bedroom for awhile, using the ball, leaning over the dresser, putting a foot up on the bed. I felt total freedom to work with my body and it was so much easier than it had been with Roxanne, just laying in the bed suffering.
Eventually I wanted to get into the tub and I asked my midwife to check me, I didn’t want to get in the water too soon. She told me that she could tell that it was fine, but did what I asked anyway and found my cervix to be 6 cm open. The water was marvelous and I went further into my trance state as my body finished opening. I think I labored for about an hour more in the tub before I felt my body beginning to bear down with the surge. The midwife asked if I wanted to be checked or offered to check me, I’m not sure which. She found that I had a small lip and helped to push it out of the way.
From then on I just let my body guide me as I pushed. I would feel for his head as I pushed and could tell what was helping it to move. My team quietly encouraged me and gave me new ideas for positions. A second midwife arrived and she helped me push by playing towel tug-of-war with me. It was hard work, but eventually I could feel that he’d come down and was staying down. I got a little discouraged because it still seemed like there was just so much skin still to get past.
My doula suggested I get out of the tub, so everyone helped me to move onto a birth stool right next to the tub with my husband right behind me on the bed to give me support. This helped tremendously because now with a mirror I could see how close I really was. After a few more contractions on the stool, and a total of about 2 hours of pushing, Erik was born. He had his hand up next to his good-sized head, so now we all understood why I had to push so hard! Suzanne had me take my baby and I cried that I had done it. I wrapped my arms around Erik, and my husband wrapped his arms around both of us. After the placenta was delivered we moved to the bed, but my baby never left my arms. I had missed out on that time with Roxanne, and I was going to relish it this time around.
I am primarily mother to Roxy and Erik. In my spare time I am passionate about birth and helping women to have positive birth experiences.
HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method: A natural approach to a safe, easier, more comfortable birthing
Childbirth without Fear: The Principles and Practice of Natural Childbirth
Birth is inspiring, amazing, and empowering. This website shares a collection of real natural birth experiences from you, the readers. Births the way nature intended. No pitocin. No epidural. Just the beauty (and intensity!) of the human body at work. Whether you've had one natural birth, five natural births, or are considering natural birth in the future, our hope is you will find courage and joy in these stories. Enjoy.
The Doula Book: How A Trained Labor Companion Can Help You Have A Shorter, Easier, And Healthier Birth
The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth