Last week I completed the 10 month journey of pregnancy with the labor and delivery of our third son. As my husband and I are quite certain that this addition has completed our family unit, I feel compelled to document this final ascent into motherhood. For those that enjoy reading my blog posts, I will warn you that this one, while it may be quite compelling, it is also quite personal and delves deep into the miracle that is childbirth. That’s my disclaimer, so if you choose to keep reading, any scars that you may gain in the process are completely of your own volition!
There are a few reasons why I felt compelled to assemble this experience into writing, one of which I made mention of above – this is the last time that I will go through the process of carrying and bearing a child, therefore I want to “memorialize” it. Additionally, I believe that the experience of giving birth is one that is extremely hard to put into words, so I’d like to try. And finally, maybe my writing on the topic will provide insight and or comfort to someone, somewhere who may be considering an “all natural” delivery, free of medications and augmentations. It’s a scary decision to make in advance of knowing what it will be like and even scarier to have the integrity to stick to your decision when the proverbial shit hits the fan.
I’ve been quite a fortunate young woman to have had three complication-free pregnancies, each followed by a relatively easy and complication-free delivery. I am a healthy individual in both body and mind, which has certainly contributed to the status of my child-bearing. So this will be by no means a horror story, dramatizing the complications that can sometimes accompany pregnancy, labor and delivery. This is a compilation of thoughts and memories and an attempt to depict the rather indescribable.
By the time I was pregnant with my second son, the most painful of the memories of birthing my first son had softly diminished. And surely, after five more years passing since the birth of my second son, the painful memories were again in a very distant place in my subconscious when the time came to deliver baby number three. I believe this to be one of Mother Nature’s marvelous and intentional workings, so the human race will continue to grow and thrive. If every woman was scared shitless to give birth again, we’d likely be a dying breed.
You may be wondering by now “why on earth does she wish to commemorate those memories here, in writing, where they can be recalled any time?”. In plain English – don’t want to forget this time!!
Am I really that twisted? No, I’m not. It’s not nostalgia I’m after. I think it’s more like a gentle reminder of who I am, where I’ve been and what I can accomplish in this world. Sure, millions, no billions of women give birth to babies in every corner of this planet. And they have been since the beginning of humankind. Why am I so special? That’s what I don’t want to forget – the incredible POWER that a woman has within herself to go through and bear such bittersweet pain. I possess this incredible internal power!
My husband has witnessed all three of our children being born, and my mom was present for the final one. I have since realized that it’s quite a fortunate opportunity to witness this process of another, let alone your only daughter. Casey, my husband, knew what to expect during the process of labor and delivery of Riley, considering this was magical number three. But even he was nervous, anticipating what he was about to bear witness to… again. He knew that I would burrow into a very deep place he will never quite understand and he knew there would be nothing that he could do to help me get there or return. My mom of course went through 2 births of her own children, so she had a pretty good idea of what I was going through, although I think even she was surprised given this first time perspective and more than 34 years having passed.
During the descriptions of labor and delivery that practically every pregnant woman reads about to try her best to prepare for that moment, there is a part of the process called “transition” which isn’t described very well in any of my readings. This phase is when the woman goes from manageable contractions to completely unbearable pain (or in more specific terms – 7 cm to 10 cm of cervical dilation), which ends in pushing a child’s head and shoulders out of your body. This is when a women who is completely un-medicated does her burrowing into a very deep dark place – a mental state which is likely different for everyone. For me, it is a state where I only allow myself to focus on the progress that each and every shred of this unbearable pain is making in the journey my child is on. Each decibel higher the noise inside my body goes, brings him closer and closer to entering this big beautiful world. Otherwise, letting the pain overcome me would result in temporary insanity… madness.
And the pain has overcome me at points in at least two out of three of my birth experiences (that I can remember). There comes a point in which defeat starts to creep in, where I allowed myself to slip out of the burrow, and believe that there is no way I can go on like this… That I am going to need relief (an epidural) if I am to continue to endure. In both cases when I reached this point I doubted myself and my body’s ability. Exhaustion had surely set in. Frustration about what felt like limited progress up to that point. But, what followed next was a surge of confidence and determination because in both cases it was immediately reported that I was past the 7 cm mark – aka I was in “transition”.
To describe this pain as only physical would be selling myself short. There is mental pain involved in a major way. What I described above – frustration, doubt, defeat – is complete mental anguish. Wanting to give up (as if you have a choice) or even wondering if there is any way you can “turn back”, actually allows thoughts of shame to creep into your mind. Quite simply put – when you are in as much physical pain as the final stage of labor brings – you are not even remotely close to thinking clearly.
What is quite amazing about all of this was my ability to still be cognitive and process the world buzzing around me. I barely opened my eyes during the hardest parts of labor, and my focus was in that deep dark burrow where I am “coping”, but yet I was still quite aware of who was in the room and the conversations taking place surrounding me. I knew when Casey was standing over me with concern and pain in his eyes, and when I opened my eyes to confirm, I could only stare right through him to a spot I knew to be on the wall, which I had chosen to focus on occasionally. And my nurse (GOD BLESS LABOR AND DELIVERY NURSES!) knew exactly how to communicate with me in my exorsismic state. With 35 years of experience assisting child births, she had the ability to use subliminal communication to encourage me to do something necessary. For example – she believed the umbilical cord was wrapped around Riley’s neck and needed me to speed up the process of, well, getting him out! I don’t remember exactly what the words were that she used to convey this message, but I remember how it made me feel. I was comforted, re-energized, assured, determined. I was not scared or anxious because she knew in this warrior state I was in – she only needed to pass along her confidence to me to get the job done. Imagine in a different, more sane state of mind, someone basically asking you to speed things up under the circumstances. You’d likely want to throw a hatchet through their forehead. Seriously.
While all of this pain and mental anguish seems just a bit over the top, I couldn’t imagine having done it any other way. My choice to have un-medicated births came from a place that I only know to be born from gut instinct. I believe it has a little something to do with my fascination of prehistoric human life. In other words, women have been birthing babies for so long without the use of drugs. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the use of epidural analgesics were implemented in obstetrics. And since I don’t rely on medication to heal me otherwise, I don’t see any reason to go against a woman’s human nature. We evolve, but not that fast.
Fear is a powerful thing. Fear is what holds us back from finding success and happiness. Fear stops us from doing what we are capable of doing. I understand why women chose pain management through drugs – the thought of a child going from inside your uterus, past your cervix and out of your vagina is nothing short of daunting. It seems impossible – absolutely impossible. It is scary. And interestingly enough, I was so scared of allowing my doctor and nurse to give me Pitocin (the synthetic version of the hormone Oxytocin which induces labor, specifically contractions) that my fear actually worked in my favor. By the time I was “convinced” to let them give me a small dosage, my body had done what it’s designed to do and got me to that magical (not the happy Snow White kind of magical) place called “transition”. No Pitocin needed.
What happened next is where our ancient ancestry comes into play – the guttural, uncontrollable noises spawned from the depths of my mental burrow, signifying that the end was almost near. As I started with the low groans during each contraction, my nurse immediately knew I was getting close to showtime and asked the assisting nurse to let my doctor know I was making “lovely birthing noises”. She knew exactly where I was from her many moons of experience assisting with un-medicated births (did I mention how lucky I was to get THIS particular nurse??). As the end drew near the noises increased in not only volume and length but I believe in creepiness as well – the exorcism was taking over. Eventually, as my 7 lb bowling ball decided to use the off ramp, full blown howls and yells were escaping my mouth through no control of my own. The loudest was no doubt the moment his “teeny” little head emerged. The umbilical cord was indeed wrapped around his neck, but was swiftly removed as reported by my mom, and the remainder of his body followed suit quite easily.
Then it happened… the moment of sweet sweet relief overwhelmed me. There is no such physical combined with mental relief in the world that I can imagine being greater than that exact moment when the pain completely ceases and your healthy little baby is placed in your arms. “Oh thank God!” was the most I could say, and I repeated it over and over. A profound moment when there is no doubt that God came into that room to see to it that my little Riley was born as he should on that beautiful day in August.
You might be wondering, “if this chick was so bent on having a natural birth and didn’t want to take the recommendations of the medical professionals she trusted her care to, why didn’t she opt to have an at-home birth or go to a birthing center, rather than a traditional hospital setting?” And if that’s what you’re thinking – good question! I’m not sure what the answer is. I do know that there’s probably a healthy dose of fear involved. Fear of not having the medical emergency back up readily in place for worst-case-scenarios. There’s also a level of tradition involved, meaning “it’s the norm” these days. I’m also somewhat impatient and I like to know the status of things to assure me that everything is going along as it should. That’s for pregnancy as well where routine check ups and exams are provided along the way to ensure complications aren’t creeping in.
Modern day healthcare is annoying and expensive and litigious and overkill. It’s a whole other topic that could take me a week to write about. (In fact I did once – Modern Day Healthcare…)