March 2, 2014

Giving Birth In A Society That Fears Pain. ~ Joni Kalstrup


There were many things going against my wanting an at-home, natural childbirth for my second child:

1. I wanted a VBAC. My first delivery had wound up an emergency C-section. It was a difficult delivery—18 hours of labor including a forceps attempt—ending in the C-section.

After this major surgery I didn’t realize how down in the dumps I was feeling until I woke up one day about six months later and was like, “hey, I feel like myself again.” (I didn’t know I hadn’t been feeling like myself.)

My son was born on a cold January morning; I transitioned from a career-track job to full-time mommy and had so many changes swirling around me. Life didn’t look at all like how I had intended, starting with the mind-and-body-changing delivery.

2. I didn’t want any drugs. No epidural this time. No mind fogger. No body number. I wanted to be fully present and awake, exhausted and alert to my new child. (What? No epidural?)

It seemed hypocritical to me that I would scorn caffeine and alcohol for the duration of the pregnancy and then load myself up with a chemical cocktail so that I wouldn’t have to feel the pain of transition. (During my first son’s labor the epidural had numbed me from the neck down. I could feel nothing. The doctor would watch the monitor to let me know when contractions were happening and ask me to push. Yes, I will try and push a body that I can’t feel or connect with. )

Other women have had milder reactions to epidurals and have been able to push; for me I should have known better as my body is very sensitive to drugs. But, it’s not like you can do a trial run with an epidural. It’s not like you get one for a routine procedure.

3. I was 35 years old.

4. The baby got really big. Like the size of a full grown baby at eight months. Like 9.1 lbs at birth.

5. He was presenting breech. This meant moving from plan A to plan B.

6. The fear and panic that surrounds child birth, that lives around the edges of delight. People are delighted as long as you follow what they believe are the rules. A lot of family and friends let me know in both subtext and not-so-subtle ways that what I was doing was wrong and possibly reckless.

7. The baby was running late (in other words, north of 40 weeks), and we had to schedule his delivery, resulting in the use of Pitocin—a drug that can kick the labor into high gear super fast.

When I became pregnant with my second child, my life and resolve were coming from a new place: I was extremely familiar with C-sections, with breast-feeding and wanted to make this the best possible birth for myself and my baby. Wanting the best for me meant no C-section. I didn’t want drugs.

There were many things I did to course correct for what I couldn’t control, like my age or the size and position of the baby:

1. I found a doctor who really aligns with my beliefs. I wasn’t looking for a hero. I wanted someone who spent time with me, no 10-minute visits with all of the partners in the practice. My second doctor believed in less intervention, believed in proper nutrition, in providing all of the information and many scenarios.

I told him I wanted a VBAC at home. He felt that if I kept certain things in line (weight gain, blood pressure) that this too, was doable.

I was 35, which is considered old on the ob-gyn charts. My doctor of choice walked me through the thinking on the charts, that a woman didn’t turn 35 and suddenly be considered “old,” that they drew a line there; however, because I was in good shape (worked out regularly and ate right), he felt I was eligible for a home birth.

2. I enrolled in a Bradley Technique class.

This method is based on Dr. Bradley’s years growing up on a farm and watching animals labor without distress, and he felt that delivering a baby without drugs is possible for many women.

I practiced focus techniques and planned a quiet, dimly lit place for labor. I visualized the birth. My doctor said that my body had memory of the first birth, and that it was possible things would go smoothly until the point where it didn’t have any memory anymore; meaning, the point where my first son became lodged in the birth canal.

Yes, pregnancy and labor can be much like an endurance sport.

3. I hired a doula. My partner was as good as he could be, but nothing can replace the calm nature and understanding and background of a doula. Given my history, I knew that I needed someone who spoke the medical lingo, had their buy in, and had my best interests at heart.

Because the baby was large, and I was presenting breech, I now became officially “high risk.” This meant no home birth, and I was now referred to a high risk specialist.

Since I was leaving his practice for the delivery, I asked if I could hire his nurse as my doula. I still wanted to remain with my drug-free plan and in the hands of someone I trusted completely.

The high-risk doctor really wanted me to schedule a C-section and the more pressure he put on me to do so, the more I felt it was not a good fit, but I still had Cathy the doula on my side.

When you’re 33 weeks pregnant and switching doctors, emotions are all over the place. It’s just not a good time to have your focus go awry.

4. I tried moxibustion, a Chinese herb. Since the baby was presenting breech, the outlook of a vaginal (much less natural…) birth was grim.

I talked to my high-risk doctor about versioning, since I didn’t have placenta previa where the placenta literally is in the way of a natural childbirth. He felt the baby was so large there was no room for turning and didn’t recommend it. He strongly recommended I schedule a C-section.

I shared my concern with my Pilates instructor who had also been working cranial-sacral techniques with me. She recommended moxibustion. After doing the technique with her, and then taking the remaining herbs home, and having my husband perform the procedure, I felt cramping. And guess what? The large baby turned into the correct position for a vaginal birth. Yes!

We arrived at the hospital at six in the morning .I dimmed the lights, brought candles, put music on (no TV) and relaxed.

I created a spa-like experience so that when the going got tough and I looked at the IV of Pitocin, the environment was gentle and loving. At 10 a.m. a med student came in with a machine to confirm that the baby was still in the correct position for delivery. He was.

At noon, my doctor came in to say that his shift was over at 5 p.m., and did I want to schedule a C-section before he left? I didn’t.

After a day of hail storms and flickering power at the hospital, my son was delivered at 10 p.m. He remained in the holding pattern of cell memory for several hours while I breathed through it, relaxed and believed.

The contractions were like a tsunami on my sore stomach. I found no reason to push, my body already was. You just need to stay with it, breath and believe. It hurt. It hurt like nothing’s ever hurt before, and was followed with immense gratitude to the universe that I was able to deliver this child, that I was his mother.

When he arrived, large watchful eyes, his head jerked towards my voice. I was sore and delicate but we had done it.

The next morning, my doctor came by to congratulate me on the birth. He didn’t think I would be able to do it (well, that was clear…). I hope he still remembers me and this remarkable birth.

This new yet age-old possibility for next-time moms, that there are many options and many choices that need to be honored and respected.



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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: elephant archives

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