A year ago today I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Rachel. I chose home birth after such a traumatic hospital birth with Eric. I thought I would spend this day reflecting on my experience and sharing with everyone why I chose to do this.
If someone had told me I would have a child at home, without pain medication or the reassurance of doctors nearby, I would have said they were insane. I am not the granola-crunchy type, but I became intrigued by unmedicated child-birth, thanks to Karen. When I was pregnant with Eric, she asked me to read this book, and since she was waiting to adopt a child of her own, I figured I owed it to my best friend to read it. Before I read the book, I remember telling her, "You know the first words out of my mouth when I get to the hospital will be 'Get me an epidural, right?'"
The book changed the way I viewed labor, and I decided to try for a natural childbirth in the hospital. Unfortunately, it didn't work out well. Because I received pain medication during transition, Eric was born sideways and had to be vacuum-extracted with NICU intervention.
The nurses were surly and literally disappeared while I was pushing. John was the only one in the room when Eric crowned. The OB who delivered Eric was a complete stranger and butchered my episiotomy. I had severe postpartum depression and horrible infections, among other things that are far more unmentionable. I told myself I would rather give birth in a corn field than go back to that hospital.
When I found out I was pregnant with Rachel, I felt I owed it to her to do everything in my power to make sure she had a better start in life than her older brother. I wanted to allow my hormones to work with my body in order to bond with her and to help me heal after child-birth, something that epidurals can impede from happening, at least with me.
Rachel was born one week after her due date. At 41 weeks I was willing to do anything to get her out of me! The day before I went into labor, I made "start your labor" cookies (very spicy ginger cookies, which John devoured by the way), drank caster oil (this caused cramping all right... I don't recommend this), and walked as much as I could. I'm not sure what put me in labor, but at around 2 a.m. on April 11, 2009 my contractions had gotten increasingly stronger. After so many false alarms in the prior weeks, I finally knew I was in labor.
John called the mid-wife on call at the Birthing Center in Alexandria (an amazing place for anyone considering a natural childbirth in the DC Metro area. You can drive to their center or have home births; I highly recommend them) and to our birthing assistant. We then walked downstairs to the basement where my parents were sleeping and told them what was happening. We planned to have the baby in our finished basement- plenty of room and a bathroom nearby, and most importantly- we wouldn't wake up Eric. My parents traded places with us, but I barely noticed. I tried to concentrate on getting through each of the strong contractions on my birthing ball. After going through labor once, I knew there wasn't anything I could do to make the pain go away, I just had to work through each contraction. Some people can Hypnobirthing. I read the books. I even tried the methods while birthing. Didn't work for me. The only book that really helped with my labor was based on this philosophy. I read the book, but sadly, there were no classes near me at that time.
The mid-wife showed up around the same time as our birthing assistant, a woman I had never met, but the Birthing Center insists on having an extra set of experiences hands at the birth. At 5 a.m. I noticed that John and I were no longer alone. I honestly don't remember much though. One of the joys of natural childbirth is forgetting the pain and working with your body through labor.
I remember feeling empowered that I could do this. When I was in labor with Eric at the hospital I had felt helpless and alone. And since I had wanted to birth Eric naturally, I felt like a failure when I got the epidural. I realized after the fact how ridiculous that was, but that was how I felt. Something you should know- I think it doesn't matter how a child is born, what pain methods are utilized, as long as both the mother and child are healthy and happy. So please don't think that I'm preaching that natural childbirth is the only way to go. But I came to the decision to birth at home because neither Eric nor I WERE healthy or happy after his birth.
I remember going through transition. The first time with Eric it was insanely traumatic. I couldn't get on top of the contractions. I was screaming in pain, and no one knew what to do with me. This time I asked that everything be calm and that no one speak because I now knew that I could not work through the pain with any distractions. Some people want their back rubbed or need someone with them when they are ill or in pain. I hate having people near me, and I abhor being touched when I'm weak or in pain. And unlike my "birth plan" at the hospital, everyone in that room read and understood my needs and did everything I asked for in advance.
The labor wasn't about "rescuing" Rachel from my body. At the hospital I was a prop in a drama that starred my son and the doctor who delivered him. This time it was about respecting that this time was for both me and my baby.
After going through transition, there is a period of pure lucidity. In my case, the contractions also stopped for a brief time as well. I looked up at John (who still talks about how I bit him twice during labor- like I remember that!) who was sitting on the bed in front of me. I was unclothed and covered in sweat. I saw the candle and the water fountain behind him on a nightstand. I heard the soft trickle of the water flowing over the rocks. I looked John in the eye and said, "I don't think I can make it through transition." He chuckled and that's when I heard the two women behind me, my guardian angels through the whole process, softly laugh. John said, "Honey, you just went through transition." I turned around and saw the women both smile and nod. What a difference from being alone in a cold hospital room and having only John there when Eric crowned. This was a loving atmosphere, filled with competent and caring people who were not only there for Rachel but for me.
I don't know how much time elapsed between transition and the second stage of labor. It seemed like no time had passed at all before the time came to really push. I had begun pushing during transition because midwives encourage you to do what your body is telling you to do. With Eric I was told not to push and it put me in even more pain.
I didn't want to get off that birthing ball, and I remember it being painful and difficult to move from the squatting position to the bed. I thought I could push there, but it didn't feel right. I remember telling them "no" and everyone followed me to the floor. John sat in front of me and I simply held onto him and pushed Rachel out. It wasn't an easy process, but I don't want to get too graphic. She was a big baby- almost 9 pounds. The midwives had told me that women who birth naturally tend to have bigger babies. I remember gaining 5 pounds in that 41st week with no change to my diet or activity.
Rachel was born with a shock of black hair, dark eyes and dark skin. The first words out of my mouth were to John: "Honey, I swear she's yours." :-)
Hey, I would never cheat. But we did have our friend Ky stay with us for a few days when I was about 2 weeks pregnant. So... I thought I would reassure my husband. :-)
About 30 minutes after Rachel was born, I was taking a shower. Maybe it was too soon; I almost passed out, but it felt so good to be in control of my bodily functions! I felt great. It took weeks for me to feel that good after having Eric. All the horrible aftermath I had with him- the scarring and infection from the episiotomy, the hemorroids, not being able to rest... nothing like that happened with Rachel. And while I DO remember telling myself while in labor with her "Jen, you never want to go through natural childbirth again," I still don't remember the pain.
John and I will not be having any more children. Unless an act of God occurs, we made sure of that. :-) But I will always remember the night Rachel was born and what a beautiful experience it was. The female body is miraculous and women are capable of so much more than society gives us credit for. If there is anyone out there on the fence about having a home birth, I promise you will never regret your decision!