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I have five kids and, as such, have gotten to experience the wonder of childbirth five times. It was different every time. My approach was different every time.
What’s the best way to give birth? Perhaps my experiences can help to inform your decision when selecting a birth plan.
Induced with a Long Recovery
My first child was born when I was 22. Other than basic logistics, I had no idea what I was in for or what my birth plan would be. (And I even took the childbirth class offered by the hospital!)
At my last checkup, my OBGYN noticed that I was already dilated to a two but not experiencing contractions. To be on the safe side, she scheduled me for an induction a few days later.
When I arrived at the hospital, they hooked me up to the machines. I was having regular contractions but wasn’t feeling them. The nurse looked surprised. They gave me an epidural, which was scary and painful, hooked me up to an IV with Pitocin, and sat back to see how I’d progress.
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And progress I did, to a point. I remember how the medical staff started talking about how I should be ready to push by then, but my son hadn’t come down far enough. They put oxygen on me and had me lay on one side, then another. I didn’t like the oxygen mask and kept trying to remove it.
They finally said it was time to push. I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. I began hearing murmurs of needing a C-section. I’d pushed for a couple hours. I was exhausted. The doctor checked me and said, “Her hips aren’t aligned with her shoulders.” She adjusted my body in the bed, and my son was born three pushes later.
During my recovery, I found out I’d given myself two black eyes, a fractured tailbone, and a fourth-degree tear by pushing for so long. It was a long, painful recovery.
Natural with a Quick Recovery
Five years later when I became pregnant again, I absolutely did not want an experience like my first. I’d joined a birth board online and knew I had more options.
I met with a midwife in Dallas who I absolutely loved. I was living about an hour away, but she was the only midwife who accepted my insurance. She was incredibly soothing. At every appointment, she made me a cup of tea from plants she grew in her garden. I felt completely safe in her capable hands. She recommended the book Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. I found it fascinating.
I felt prepared for what was coming, trusted that my body knew what to do, and hoped that my second experience with birth would be nothing like my first.
One day, about two weeks before my due date, I felt compelled to get in the bathtub around 10:00 a.m. I didn’t question it since there are lots of aches and pains associated with late pregnancy. But about five minutes after emerging from the warm water, I felt like I wanted to get right back in. “That’s weird,” I thought. That was the last normal thought I had that morning.
I began pacing my bedroom in a towel. I felt agitated and a little panicked, but I didn’t feel any contractions. I called my midwife. Though I wasn’t having contractions, she pointed out my breathing was irregular. She didn’t think I was going to make it to her office.
I tried a couple times to get dressed so we could drive to the nearest hospital, but as soon as I had clothes on, I felt unbearably hot. How were we going to get to the hospital if I couldn’t put on clothes? “Call 911,” I growled, through clenched teeth.
When you call 911, you don’t necessarily get to choose who will be first to arrive. At some point, during my pacing, I laid down on my bed, moaning. When I looked up again, there were three police officers in my bedroom. I was still naked. I don’t recall experiencing a hint of modesty or embarrassment.
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They asked me my name, date of birth, and how far along I was. “Not a good time,” I grunted back. My gaze was caught by movement in my living room. Paramedics were moving my couch to make room for the stretcher. (My son was watching TV and didn’t pay any attention to our visitors.) The paramedics took one look at me and loaded me up.
I was in pain at this point and asking for medication. “When we get to the hospital,” they promised. They rolled me out of my house that morning to quite a scene, an ambulance, a fire truck, and multiple cop cars were in front of my house, lights flashing. I was being wheeled out of my house naked. My then-husband sprinted up to the stretcher and tossed my bathrobe over me. We lived on a quiet cul-de-sac and all of our neighbors had come outside to see what was happening. The sweet elderly woman who lived behind us gasped, “Are you okay?” “Not really,” I hollered as they took me away.
When what I later learned were contractions would hit, I’d curl up into a ball. I wasn’t aware that I was doing it; it was reflexive. That’s how I ended up accidentally biting the poor fireman who was trying to start an IV. (I sent him an apology card later.) They rushed me to the nearest hospital. I begged for medicine the whole way. We whooshed into a room and a nurse checked me. “Can I have an epidural now?” I asked. No. It was time to push.
The lights, the sounds, everything was bothering me. My then-husband arrived and gave me his sunglasses, and I made them turn off the overhead lights in the room. The poor nurse tried to encourage me while I was pushing. I told her that I was very sorry, but I needed her to “shut the (expletive) up.” (I sent an apology card and chocolates to all of the nurses.) My daughter was born within 10 minutes of our arrival at the hospital, and less than an hour from when I first got into the bath. I never was able to put on my clothes. My first picture after her birth, I’m holding her with the sunglasses pushed up on my head.
When they took her from me to get her cleaned up, I was up and in the shower, whistling. I felt so good. I figured that with birth, you either get your pain before or after. The before pain is intense; the after pain lingers.
When I got pregnant a year later, I decided that unmedicated birth was the way to go. After not being able to get to the midwife in time, I decided to to an unmedicated hospital birth. I knew my body was capable, I knew that the experience could be intense, but I didn’t ever want a broken tailbone or a fourth-degree tear again. I was fearless. I’d already done it and knew I could do it again. I also knew that I didn’t feel early contractions, so near the end of my pregnancy, once I’d dilated to a three without feeling anything, I was admitted to the hospital.
The hospital where I delivered was not supportive of an unmedicated birth. They required me to have an IV placed to keep me hydrated because I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink. Because of the IV, I had to labor in a bed and couldn’t walk around. I knew that gravity was helpful when delivering a baby, so I labored on my knees in the bed, with the head of the bed raised behind me for support.
My nurse was very against the idea of an unmedicated birth and would lower the head of the bed every time she came in. I asked for a bedpan to squat over because I thought that would help and she locked the supply closet, so I couldn’t access one. She told me that unmedicated birth would kill the baby and possibly me. Even in labor, I was able to point out that if that were true, humans would’ve ceased to exist a long time ago because all births were unmedicated births up until pretty recently.
I labored in that bed for an entire day with the medical staff occasionally coming in to check on me. They thought I was nuts. Eventually, exhausted, I accepted the epidural, and my daughter was born within the hour.
I went on to have two more kids. After my experience laboring for so long with my third child, without the support of medical staff, I decided to go through the one-size-fits-all birth plan at the hospital, and accepted the IV and epidural without question. I had two very easy births with my last two kids. (And I always made sure that my shoulders and hips were in perfect alignment.)
Picking a Birth Plan
So, how should you give birth? If my experience has any information to offer, I think it’s this:
- You can plan, but you don’t always get the final say. Your baby and your body will decide most of your birth plan for you.
- Being educated about the process of birth is good! I definitely recommend the book Spiritual Midwifery, but I’m sure there are a lot out there that are good as well.
- If your insurance covers it, and you’re geographically close to your midwife, it might be worth a try. My recovery from my unmedicated birth was the easiest of them all. But you can still have a comfortable experience in a hospital.
No matter your birth plan, always keep those shoulders and hips aligned.