The Birth Interview Project consists of 17 simple questions designed to help mothers process their birth story & share it with others. All mothers are invited to take part in this project. Born out of Joy’s desire to help women discover, process and express the feelings surrounding their birth experiences, The Birth Interview Project strives to offer a platform for mothers and readers alike to share and be heard, to search and to discover, to identify and to heal, and to exhort and remember. The views and opinions expressed here are unique to each woman who takes part in the Birth Interview Project and may not always reflect the values of the blog author.
Please give a brief description of yourself, and what number baby/birth you’re sharing with us.
I became pregnant after having struggled with PCOS (Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome) for over three years. My husband of 8 years and I were in no way trying to have a baby at that time. I was just trying to get my PCOS under control so that when we did decide to start a family we would have an easier time. In September of 2009, I had surgery to have dozens of ovarian cysts removed which were, in essence, suffocating my reproductive system. I was then put on birth control to help regulate my hormone production. Six months to the day after I had my surgery I found out I was pregnant. Hence why we call Henry “our little Jurassic Park baby” — nature found a way! Though we were not yet trying to get pregnant, we were none-the-less thrilled. I knew I would seek a natural childbirth well before I ever became pregnant. I have a minor in Women’s Studies and personally feel that the medical system in America has hijacked women’s ability to birth in a physically “normal” manner. I am incredibly happy to live in a nation with wonderful Ob/GYN surgeons should a mom and baby need them. For me though, I wanted to birth the way my mother, grandmother and ancestors birthed.
What was your due date, and what was your baby’s birth date?
My due date was November 22nd but throughout my whole pregnancy my Midwife, Jean, reminded me that most first time moms deliver around 41 weeks and 3 days. Henry was born December 2nd, 2010 at exactly 41 weeks and 3 days.
What was Henry’s weight and length?
Henry was a perfect 8 pounds, 7 ounces and a little tall at 21 ¾ inches.
Please give a brief, one paragraph synopsis of your birth. (Brief, my ass! Sorry it’s soooo long!)
My Midwife, Jean, was getting a little concerned about how “overdue” I was getting so one week past my due date, Monday November 29th, I went to the birth center in the morning to have her sweep my membranes which is one of the most uncomfortable procedures I’ve ever had! Jean sent me home to walk and rest. I woke up still pregnant the next day. We did it again on Tuesday and again on Wednesday. I was using my breast pump periodically to try to move things along. I remember being so happy when I first saw my colostrum. I was already ready to breastfeed, something I dearly wanted to do. I was really starting to trust that my body would do the things I’d heard it was supposed to do. On Wednesday, I was dilated at about three centimeters and Baby Henry was at zero station. Progress! My husband, Keith, and I went for a long drive in the country on bumpy roads. Every bump we hit would cause me to have a contraction bringing me one step closer to meeting my boy. We parked and walked along a rutted washed-out dirt road next to some railroad tracks. This is one of my fondest memories with my husband. We went home fully expecting our next car ride to be to the birth center. We were right but it wasn’t because I was in labor. We went the next morning and Jean told me that I was now dilated at only one centimeter and Baby Henry had moved up to -1 station. What was happening!? Jean told me that if I didn’t go into labor soon she was going to have to refer me to my Ob/Gyn. That was NOT going to happen! I got in the car crying but determined to get into labor immediately. We got home at about 10:00 am and started walking around our neighborhood. We’d walk for thirty minutes then go home so I could use the breast pump for twenty minutes; walk for thirty, pump for twenty. Every time I had a contraction while walking my husband would hold my hands so I could squat. I’m not entirely sure what our neighbors thought we were doing but we got some crazy looks. After the third round, I started walking the stairs at our house. At ten flights I’d had enough. My contractions were starting to feel more organized so I thought surely something was working. I went in and ate some lunch. Then a little after noon I was walking through my kitchen and felt it – my first “oh my god, this is it” contraction. I got light-headed, excited, and all of a sudden, for the very first time, freaking terrified. What the hell was I thinking!? I told Keith, “We’re going to the hospital. I can’t do this! I’m crazy!” He reassured me that I could do this and that I wanted to do this; I’d regret it if I gave up so soon. He knew how strongly I felt about birthing with as few medical interventions as possible and I am so grateful that he was there in that moment to be supportive. Had Keith said, “Sure, let’s go!” our son would have come into the world totally differently. I called the birth center and Jean told me to come in, just to be looked at. It was about one o’clock. She and my student-midwife, Emily, took one look and said, “You’re not going anywhere!”
I couldn’t believe I was in labor. I was giddy and a little nervous. I paced on the front porch of the birth center, a beautiful cozy old converted house which really felt like home. I would lean on the porch railing during contractions while my husband applied counter-pressure and Emily, one of the most special people I’ve ever met, timed them. After a while, Emily wanted me to save my energy so I sat on the porch swing and rocked. I remember being furious that my toes barely scraped the ground with every swing. My whole body was so raw feeling that just this simple touch of the floor boards felt like sand paper rubbing my skin. I never said out loud that it bothered me; I didn’t want to waste my focus. It’s funny now looking back on it. Keith massaged my neck and shoulders with every contraction while I focused on relaxing every single muscle in my body, especially my jaw, wrists and ankles. At about 4:30 pm, Emily wanted to check me and it was starting to get chilly so we went into the birth suite. I was dilated to a seven. Wow! Things were going fast. I had a sudden urge to empty my bowels so I went to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet for about twenty minutes until I simply couldn’t stand it anymore. Things were getting crazy intense. Emily asked if I wanted to get in the birth tub. I knew that would be one of the last phases and was surprised that she was offering it so soon. I was only about four hours in and was preparing myself for at least an eight to twelve-hour labor. I was starting to feel like I was having an out-of-body experience and was getting a bit euphoric. It was kind of nice, except when I was having a contraction. That felt like every ounce of flesh in my body was being drawn in toward my belly like a black hole. My uterus felt like a sea cave with water rushing in and then out in a powerful rhythm. As much as I was trying to go with that flow, I was getting close to losing it so I started drawing comfort from all the reading I’d done, especially Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. I got on the bed on all fours which was the only position where I still felt like I could, not necessarily control, but simply tolerate labor. After a few minutes I got the most intense urge to push. I knew it was way too early. I told Emily who wanted to check me again and I was there – ten centimeters. No wonder I was so out of it! I had just gone through transition!
I couldn’t believe it. I was told and had read that transition was the worst part but I had come out the other side in one piece and was feeling strong. It was about 5:20 pm and the end was in sight! Emily offered to break my bag of waters. I vehemently denied. I had read that would make contractions much stronger. I was holding it together but any more pressure without some relief soon and I might have lost my center. The tub was finally full enough for me to get in. As I slid in the water I came back down to Earth. I melted and felt myself again. Midwife’s epidural indeed! I felt centered and happy and ready to meet my baby. I started pushing with Jean’s instructions. We could see the very tip-top of Henry’s head which I felt with my hand. He was so close! I couldn’t wait. At this point in my labor, I was there. I was totally present and in control. I knew I was making some crazy sounds but I found it funny and did not care. I may have looked really serious but I was on the verge of laughing at myself any minute. I smiled quite a bit. The only time I got mad was when a new birth assistant walked in the room. I stopped pushing and said, “Who the f**k is she?” Jean apologized and said it was a new birth assistant they were training and she was sorry no one had introduced us yet. I said, “That’s cool! I’m Ali, nice to meet you” then barred down, growled and pushed again. At some point in pushing my waters broke and then there was a lot of blood. Jean asked me to get out of the tub. My husband got worried. I would have been worried too had I not trusted that I was in such good hands. I hobbled to the bed where Jean checked me. She said it was just a little tear but a little blood in a tub of water looks like a lot of blood. I was so far along at that point that I didn’t get back in the water. I just flipped onto my hands and knees where I felt I could make the most progress and pushed, pushed, pushed! Pushing felt great and painful at the same time but no force in the world could have kept me from pushing. Henry’s head emerged with the cord around his neck, his right fist at his ear and his left foot at his cheek. A quick sweep of the fingers and Jean had the cord free from around his neck. At 5:59 pm, just five hours after my first contraction, I felt Henry slip out of my body into Emily’s hands. He was here. But he wasn’t breathing. Keith and I held our breaths. I could not draw air. Emily massaged his little chest while Patty, our birth assistant, moved to get the respirator. My friend Gena who was our birth photographer stopped taking pictures. But then, all of a sudden, we heard the tiniest little baby whimper and he was breathing fine. My husband cried; I just took a breath. I got rolled over onto my back and snuggled up with my new favorite person.
I breastfed within minutes while Jean and Emily stitched one of my two tears. The other tear was so minor that Jean suggested letting it heal on its own. The worst part, physically, of the whole day was the shot to numb the area before getting stitched up. I put up such a fuss over that damn shot. I kept saying, “I just had a baby, I can handle stitches without the shot!” Jean told me, “Exactly, you just had a baby. You can handle the shot!” She was right and I was thankful that she won out. My birth assistant Patty was asking how I was feeling. I smiled big and said, “This is going to sound stupid but that was so easy!” Everyone had a laugh. We called family and had them come visit then went home at 11:00 pm for the first time as a family, just five hours after Henry was born. It goes without saying and sounds clichéd but it was absolutely the best day of my life.
What did you do to prepare for your labor and birth? Did it help?
I read everything I could get my hands on. Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth was wonderful practical info about how to birth. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth helped hold nay-sayers at bay with wonderful info about the potential downsides to birthing in a hospital environment. The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Henci Goer was a great replacement for What to Expect When You’re Expecting – much more positive and covers a wider variety of choices. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and Nursing Mother, Working Mother prepared me for the amazing experience of breastfeeding. And The Baby Book by Dr. William and Martha Sears was perfect for what to expect at home and in the first few months. I also took Birthing From Within classes through our birth center which was a good opportunity to ask women who have birthed naturally what to expect and turned out to be where I met my best friends. I have come to rely on them so much. I would strongly suggest every pregnant woman attend birth classes then KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THE PEOPLE YOU MEET. Our Facebook group has grown from just five of us to almost fifty families and is a source of indispensable support and information. I’m so proud of us for our group.
What did you like about your birth experience, if anything?
I loved being in control and knowing that no matter what interventions needed to take place it was in my and my baby’s best interest, not the hospital’s or the doctor’s. I also loved being in the presence of loving strong supportive women helping me the way women have been helping each other for millennia. I am not very spiritual but I felt connected to humanity through the experience.
What did you not like about your birth experience, if anything?
I think I went home much too soon. I lost quite a bit of blood and was dizzy for days. I felt kind of rushed but I know if I had mentioned my concern the birth center staff would never have encouraged me to leave. It wasn’t them; it was just that I wasn’t vocal enough in how I truly was feeling. But I was also kind of on a birth high so I think I maybe thought I was more capable than I actually was.
What surprised you about your contractions/labor?
I can’t believe it was so fast and, like I said, so easy. Well, easy compared to the idea of how labor would go that I had cultivated in my head. I was expecting a longer labor and much more pain. I was so proud of myself for staying flexible. I can be a pretty rigid person but I knew for this to be successful I would have to be ok with any and all circumstances, especially the ones out of my control. So in essence, by being ok with being out of control, I was kind of in control because I had no objections.
In reflection, would you do any differently, either before the birth, during or after?
I don’t think I would do a single thing different except take my time going home. Everything went so perfectly, almost too fast, that I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. I would maybe have worn a prettier bra! I hate my bra in my birth pictures!
What do you remember the most about your birth?
I remember being so happy the entire time to be surrounded by such wonderful people. I also remember pulling facts about the phases of labor and tips for relaxation, like relaxing your jaw, from all the reading I’d done. I feel like Ina May Gaskin was in my head guiding me. She’s so great.
How was your birth experience different from what you imagined it to be like?
I did not expect it to be so fast. I also fully expected to birth in the tub. That was a big moment of flexibility for me. I had somewhat set my heart on birthing in the water but I am totally ok with the way my birth ended. A very small sacrifice.
What were your immediate emotions about yourself and or your birth experience after the birth?
I felt like a bad ass! I have never been more proud of myself. I felt like my heart was open to everything in the world. That feeling has not really left me. I feel much more connected to humanity and am a much more compassionate and empathic person. I’ve always been a bit of a bleeding-heart but now it’s crazy. While some people may see this as a drawback I see it only as strength.
How would you describe your recovery?
Recovery sucked. Labor, no problem. Recovery, blech! I had to walk hunched over for three days because I was light-headed after losing so much blood. I needed to take a shower twice a day to wash my bottom or it would get way too tight but trying to find enough time to get away from a newborn meant it was really more like once a day. Henry really needed me right with him for about the first two weeks. Even my husband wouldn’t do. And while breastfeeding wasn’t too challenging because I was pretty prepared, nothing prepares you for how sore your nipples may get. Also, reading that your baby may want to feed every hour means they may want to eat for 45 minutes then eat 15 minutes later, on the hour. Seriously exhausting but so wonderful and it gets easy faster than you’d think.
How has your perspective of your birth experience with Henry changed in the last year since the first week of having him?
I knew I was doing the right thing by attempting a natural drug-free birth out of a hospital but seeing the end result has completely solidified my belief in women birthing as naturally as possible in a supportive environment, if they want to. I feel women birthing in control is one way to make the world a better place and to increase women’s belief in themselves and their bodies.
Did you learn anything about yourself through this experience?
I can handle so much. I can also laugh through anything now. I can roll with the punches, if need be, and shift to meet expectations instead of expecting things to adjust to me.
Would you recommend having a natural childbirth or medicated childbirth to other women?
I would, if they want to. I first and foremost believe women should birth in the way they most feel comfortable. I hope that women are able to make the most informed decisions and believe in themselves and their bodily abilities. I think a lot of women make decisions regarding birth based on a belief that birth is excruciating and intolerable. That is simply not true in a lot of cases. There are of course women who have circumstances that make labor very painful but that is, I think, a rarity, a sign of a labor in need of more assistance. Most of the time, I want women to know they can do it!
Any further thoughts, comments or advice you would like to share?
Birth has the power to be completely transformative and incredible. You must trust your body and nature. I am a strong believer in Evolutionary Biology so I thought of it like this – Literally billions of years and billions of ancestors all the way back to fish in the ocean have fine-tuned women’s bodies to do just this, birth babies. If it were a problem we would not be where we are today. It is natural and normal. Trust nature, trust yourself.