Written by Sasha Travis
I knew from the very beginning of my first pregnancy I had no interest in natural birth. I vaguely knew it existed and was quite popular in third world countries and scientology communities, but I couldn’t come up with one good reason to consider this option for myself. I had this picture in my head of myself in a hospital gown, calm and collected and smiling, welcoming my firstborn into this world. Subtle makeup, a fresh pedicure and a great blowout. This was a bit odd, considering I’m usually too lazy to wear makeup and I don’t use a blow dryer, but a dream is a dream.
I enjoyed the fantasy until one fateful day I decided to watch A Baby Story. I watched a laboring woman – with an epidural, a working epidural! – cry, scream and yell unkind things including, “Get this thing out of me!” It was one of the most violent things I’ve ever seen. I proceeded to watch another episode realizing, to my horror, that this was not an uncommon scenario. Shaking and terrified, I called my husband to tell him I changed my mind and I’m not ever giving birth.
Since not ever giving birth was not a viable option, I decided to find a way to have a non-horrible birth. I knew there had to be a way, since many women choose to give birth again after having done it once. And while there are many horror birth stories shared, I don’t actually know many women who said they wouldn’t do it all over again. So I started to do the only rational (nerdy) thing I knew to do, educating myself about birth.
I read books, I read blogs, I watched documentaries. I harassed all of the women I knew – and some I didn’t – asking them to share their birth experience. Surprisingly, natural birth began to emerge like the easier, less painful way to go. The more research I did, the more comfortable I felt with the idea of a medication-free birth. My husband was on board and we took childbirth prep classes and baby positioning classes and hired a doula. I no longer felt terrified and felt as prepared as I could reasonably be.
I was a day past my due date with my first child when I woke up early in the morning when my water broke all over the bed. A strong first contraction came just a few moments later. While I showered and tried to get ready contractions were getting stronger, until I had to stop what I was doing and breathe through them. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Is my labor sufficiently far along to be feeling the contractions? Or is this the very beginning of a long labor and this is as easy as it gets? There were a few factors to consider –a history of fast labor in my family, some effacement and dilation and lots of strong Braxton-Hicks for a couple of weeks, and being 30 minutes away from the hospital – that made me decide to go ahead and go to the hospital although my labor was not in a standard 4-1-1 pattern (with both labors, my contractions were never a full minute long nor at regular intervals).
Before I got in the car I had a hard contraction that I couldn’t get through without a moan. I tried to sit in the car and couldn’t – I was having a lot of pain (pressure) in my back. As we would find out later, the baby was OP (occiput posterior), a fetal presentation which can be a cause of back labor, start-and-stop labor patterns, and generally makes it harder for the baby’s head to fit through the mother’s pelvis. I stayed on hands and knees in the car as the labor really picked up. I was loud through contractions and gasping for air.
We got to the hospital and I was taken into a labor and delivery room. The nurse told me she had to check to make sure I was in labor (because screaming at regular intervals was apparently not a reliable indicator). After I reluctantly agreed to a cervical check, she looked at me with surprise and told me I was complete and could push whenever I was ready. It has been less than three hours since the first contraction and I was relieved the worst of it – the transition – was over.
I pushed for a long time; the baby would not descend. Squatting, standing, sitting, hands and knees. My midwife would come in and check and say, “Still at -1 [station]” and leave. She said the baby was definitely posterior; I knew they would be suggesting different interventions next. Our doula was texting my husband, discretely informing him we don’t have to agree to any of them, as the baby is not showing any signs of distress. I was getting exhausted. I waddled to the bathroom and while I was there something changed, somehow the baby was able to rotate. The pushing has become effective. After about three hours of pushing, the baby was out.
She was beautiful; long and red-skinned and dark-haired. It was surreal, the love and joy overwhelming. The surprise and relief it all worked beautifully despite the unexpected.
With our second birth, we switched providers and hospitals and went with a natural-birth-friendly group and a hospital that had a water birth option and a very good low-intervention record. I had some concerns over having a fast labor – with my first labor being around 6 hours, of which three hours were pushing, and the second labor traditionally being faster than the first. I discussed this with my providers and they were not concerned; I agreed to get in the car and drive to the hospital at the first signs of labor. I also discussed my concerns with my doula, who suggested I put some clean towels in the back on my car and read up on emergency childbirth just in case.
I was 37 weeks along when I went into labor. There were no clear signs leading up to it – I had some mild cramping during the day which is not uncommon during the last months of pregnancy. I rested and drank lots of water and took a warm bath to relax. I sent an extensive status update on all of my open projects to my boss (my version of nesting). I finished the current season of Mad Men and tried to sleep, but the cramping kept me up. Then a painful contraction came. I called my husband who was 30 minutes away at an overnight camp to come home quickly. I tried my midwife and couldn’t get her. I called my doula, waking her up. We decided this might be labor and I should be safe and go to the hospital.
I hung up and contractions started hitting me hard. I remember my thoughts racing, Why is this so much more painful than I remember it being the first time? Can I pass out from pain? If I’m unconscious, will my body continue laboring? Can my own screaming damage my eardrums? I was thankful our oldest daughter was staying overnight with her grandparents and wouldn’t need years of therapy to recover from seeing her mother in this state. Judging by the intensity of the contractions I was almost certain I was in transition. I was almost certain I wasn’t going to make it to the hospital.
My husband walked into the house to me screaming. I gasped for a bath and he filled up our tub and helped me get in. I asked for him to pour hot water on my back during contractions and it helped with the pain immensely. Or midwife called back and he put her on speaker. He said we thought I was in transition and we weren’t going to make it to the hospital, which was 40 minutes away. The midwife said we could try and to this day I’m very thankful we didn’t. He hung up and called a friend of ours who is a midwife and told her what was happening and asked her to come. With a huge contraction the bathwater exploded – my water broke. It was an incredible relief.
I didn’t know how far along I was, but by the decrease in contraction intensity I guessed I was through the transition. I didn’t feel an urge to push, and was going to hold off pushing as long as I could, at least until a medical professional could get to us. My contractions – less painful now – kept coming. With the next big contraction the baby shot out of my body.
I turned around and grabbed her and held her to me. She wasn’t crying, but I knew that babies born into water may not cry. We could see she was breathing. She was beautiful and wrinkly and tiny, smaller, than our first. We called 911 and when my husband told the operator his wife just had a baby, the operator said, “Congratulations!” Minutes later an ambulance arrived and three EMTs walked in. They checked mine and the baby’s vitals – all good – clamped and cut the cord and told us we could go to the hospital. My husband and I would later trace the timeline with the phone call log – it was less than an hour from the beginning of labor (first call to my husband) to baby arriving (911 call). I would later google “precipitous labor” and read all the stories to help me process my experience.
I was looking for an easy and comfortable way to bring my children into the world. Instead, my experiences were wild and unpredictable and changed me in profound ways. And I am very thankful.