As I was preparing to give birth the first time, I decided that I wanted to do it “naturally.” (Let me just say right here that even having done it twice now, I find that term laughable. If you’ve given birth through your nether regions, pain medicine or not, I’m fairly certain you’ve done it naturally.) I did my best to prepare for labor and birthing a baby, but there’s only so much you can prepare for without actually experiencing it.
My husband and I took the Bradley Method classes offered in our city, and we learned a lot about the stages of labor, coping with the pain and how to prepare for what would be the most life-changing day of our lives.
After weeks of Braxton Hicks contractions, I wasn’t sure that I would ever know when it was time to go to the hospital, but as it was, I ended up being one of the ten percent of women whose water actually breaks at the start of labor. Sitting in our home office one night, I leaned forward to turn up the speakers on my computer and felt – and heard – a small pop followed by a small gush of amniotic fluid.
Because the baby’s head was already engaged in my pelvis, I was not worried about rushing to the hospital (because there is a danger of a prolapsed cord when your water breaks if the baby’s head comes down on top of the cord). However, the contractions that began soon after were definitely different – and much more intense – than the ones I had been experiencing for weeks, and we got ready to head to the hospital.
Once in the car, I began timing my contractions, which were coming 3 minutes apart and increasing in intensity. Despite all of our preparation and research, this was not the “typical” birth experience that we had prepared for in our Bradley classes, and I wasn’t sure what to expect at that point.
We arrived at the hospital, and I was admitted to labor and delivery. While answering the nurse’s questions and being monitored, the contractions began coming right on top of each other and were almost unbearable. A second nurse checked my cervix and announced that I was almost to 4 centimeters, which would have been encouraging had I not already been at 3+ centimeters a week earlier at my last appointment. Feeling a bit out of control, I asked why the contractions were so intense already if I was only in early labor, and the nurse shrugged her shoulders and said, “Sometimes they just are.”
It was then that I began to doubt my ability to proceed without an epidural, and as soon as they unhooked me from the monitors, I asked to get into the shower. The hot water on my back provided a lot of pain relief, but it wasn’t long before I began to feel a strange pressure. I mentioned to the nurse that I thought I might need to push, but I wasn’t sure. Since I had been 4 centimeters less than an hour earlier, she seemed very hesitant to check me, but in the middle of a contraction, I insisted that something was going on, and she agreed that it was time to check my progress.
At that point I was almost completely dilated and ready to push, and the doctor hadn’t even been called yet.
The nurses were insistent that I not push, and being a first-time mom and fairly non-assertive at that stage of my life, I did my best to comply. However, it is my opinion that that practice should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. It is simply not “natural” to fight against your body when it is time to push the baby out, and those 15 minutes were agonizing.
When the doctor arrived and I was finally allowed to push, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. After pushing for only about 30 minutes, I was so discouraged and unsure that I was going to be able to do it that I begged for an episiotomy (a small cut to the perineum that widens the vagina), the one intervention that I had most dreaded.
Unfortunately, the doctor agreed, and I have to tell you that the sound of that cut was one of the worst sounds I’ve ever heard. It only took two more pushes after that for our baby girl to emerge, and she was immediately laid on my chest. The relief my body experienced was immediate, and I was able to focus on her while the doctor stitched my incision and the nurses prepared for our transfer to recovery.
While my first experience giving birth wasn’t quite what I had envisioned or expected, it was an amazing experience, and it wasn’t long before I was looking forward to giving birth again and using the things I had learned the during our first daughter’s birth to better cope the second time around.
I also learned an important lesson that day. When it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, it is good to prepare and dream and imagine what it will be like, but at the end of the day, it is impossible to predict exactly how it will go, and it is best to be prepared for a wide range of possibilities.
Mandi Ehman has three beautiful girls under 4, two born naturally and one via emergency c-section. She works at home as a general transcriptionist and also blogs at Transcription Talk , a daily blog for transcriptionists and those looking to get started in the industry, and at Doodles’ Place, where she shares some of the ways that she strives to “make the most of every moment” with her three girls.