“Can someone please come and check me?” I asked.

“It hasn’t been an hour yet. We’ll come when it’s time,” replied the nurse through the intercom.

It had actually been an hour and twenty minutes, but who’s counting? I lay in the slightly elevated hospital bed, IV tubes, epidural tubes, and other paraphernalia stretched across my body, accompanied by the loud rhythmic beat of the fetal heart monitor. My husband sat tiredly in an uncomfortable chair next to my bed where he had spent the night listening to the blood pressure machine go off every half hour.

“I think the baby is coming,” I said through the intercom.

“We’ll come check you in a few minutes.”

“I really think I need to be checked.”

There was an irritated sigh from the other side of the curtain separating the birthing room from where the nurses monitor the machinery, followed by the sound of agitated footsteps. The nurse checked me without acknowledging my existence, then turned to me and said, “I need to call the doctor. Whatever you do, don’t push.”

Was she kidding? I was vindicated in my need to be checked but she might as well have asked me not to breathe as not to push!

A flurry of activity then transformed the room into a jungle of equipment and medical personnel. Tables, tubes, needles, faucets, bright lights, and carts full of equipment whose purpose I couldn’t begin to guess surrounded me. My legs were lifted into stirrups bearing me open to what seemed like 15 or 20 people who I had never seen before in my life (including the obstetrician, who was on call).

My baby was only premature by one week but apparently this scrub-clad army was necessary to ensure his safety. I was reminded of the old Kiddie Kandid’s photo station located in the center of the mall when I was a child. Large numbers of strangers crowded around as some bewildered child was having a photo-op. All the people would smile bigger and bigger as if they could help the crying child smile by their own facial movements. Now there I was, fully exposed in my own little “photo op” moment with strangers making pushing motions with their body language trying to help me push the baby out. It was then that I succumbed to the idea that in order to give birth in this world, one had to let go of every shred of dignity one possessed.

As I pushed the doctor’s team, the nurses, the neonatal team, and probably several students all stood posed like football players awaiting the hike.

Ready, set, HIKE! The baby is out! The doctor catches the baby and sucks out his nose and throat, the cord is cut and Baby is passed to the neonatal team. The pass is complete and Baby is crying in a transparent box as temperature is taken and…apgar SCORE! A perfectly healthy baby is passed to the mother for a mere five minutes. Mother and Baby fail the initial feeding and Baby is whisked away for a bath and a bottle of formula (which the baby happens to be allergic to). Mother is wheeled into the recovery rooms and is left all alone for two hours (with the exception of the regular blood pressure checks) and wonders if all is well with her new baby. But doctors know best, right?

Fortunately, two babies later I learned that I was wrong. It doesn’t have to be this way. Child birth can be a calm, peaceful, dignified, and even spiritual event.

Fast forward to the birth of my third child.

It was a calm and quite Christmas Eve morning. I awoke at five in the morning with strong contractions about three minutes apart. The due date was still two weeks away but I knew this was it. I left my husband sleeping in the bedroom while I went into the front room to deal with the contractions. I was not scared or anxious, just excited and confident as one who had been preparing for a major sporting event like a marathon or competition would be. I focused my thoughts and energy on helping my body and my baby do the work they were both made to do.

My concentration faltered as I wondered what to do with my children on Christmas Eve morning while I labored at home. The contractions became irregular and difficult to deal with, but after a few phone calls help was on the way I was able to focus again.

I spent the rest of the morning listening to some calming music with the midwife in training, a doula, and a little later, the midwife there to track progress and help me focus. The contractions become quite painful and more difficult to focus through so I moved to a pool of warm water that had been prepared.

The soothing water helped to relax tense muscles and support strained areas of my body. My husband sat behind me and massaged my head. The calmness and peace I felt was very different from the cold hospital room and sound of medical equipment measuring one thing after another. The contractions were very painful, but not unbearable. The time between contractions was actually quite pleasant: soft music, dim lighting, a supportive husband, and warm water.

But I’m not going to lie, this was no picnic. Had there been any hospital personnel present to ask me the “pain scale” question during contractions, I probably would have yelled out a hearty “THIRTEEN!” If not for the support around me reminding me of the short duration and how to cope I might have become discouraged and wanted to give up. But I didn’t and the contractions were always over before I knew it. If someone had asked the “pain scale” question between contractions I might have laughed. Nobody asks a runner to rate their pain level as they cross the threshold of another lap.

Just at the point where I thought I could bear no more my husband was being ushered to the other side of me to help catch the baby and the midwife informed me that my baby was crowning. I couldn’t believe it! I was sure I still had a long ways to go. I then felt a rush of intense burning, pressure, and pain that I had never felt before. I was sure I would never, ever recommend an unmedicated birth to anyone after this moment. There seemed to be no relief, and then before I could even finish the thought it was over and I had a beautiful baby lying in my arms, caught by my sweetheart with the assistance of the midwife!

I did it! I did it, and my baby did it! With the birth of my second baby there was so much medication in the epidural that I couldn’t even feel the pushing urge. I had nothing to do with that birth. I was just a vehicle and everyone else did all the work. But not this time. This time I knew that my baby played a big part in his own birth, because I felt his efforts and movements. And with a little encouragement and guidance, I had done the rest. I gained a great appreciation for the magnificent capabilities the human body possesses.

I gently massaged my son as he gazed into my eyes. The midwives waited for the cord to stop pulsing and only then did they cut it. The baby stayed in my arms as the midwives made sure that he was healthy. I moved to the bed and lay there bonding with my new born son as the midwives cleaned up everything. They made sure I was comfortable and had all the help they needed before they left.

My other children were allowed to come in and see their new little brother and we had no restrictions as to who could visit and who could not. It was entirely up to me and my comfort level. It was very empowering to be in control of my own situation. The best part of it all was that I was able to spend a very special Christmas morning with all three of my children the very next day.

The pain of labor and child birth was fleeting and the rewards of having a natural home birth were immense. Just a few hours later I could hardly even remember the pain, and I am now left with the memories of a wonderful, spiritual experience.

I encourage women everywhere to look deeper into the medical procedures and practices that are used and make an informed choice and what is best for them. There are many myths about the safety of home births and many myths about the safety of hospital and medicated births. I wish I had known them before the births of my other two children because I am certain I would have made different choices—even in a hospital—and had different results. The human body was built to give birth. Medical professionals are well-trained to handle emergencies. There is no reason that one must infringe upon the other.

My reason for sharing these experiences is not to make anyone feel guilty for giving birth in one way or another. It is merely to let women know that they can choose what is best for them and their baby—that there is another way.

 

Michelle