Happy New Year’s Eve – I am SO ready for 2015. This past year has been the most challenging I have encountered in my short life thus far (though I will admit that it has also been the most rewarding as a result). Dan and I both changed jobs and moved across the country (with me seven months pregnant, no less). I’ve agonized over decisions about family, friends, career and basically EVERYTHING to do with my sweet baby girl, Ella Jo.
Even before she arrived, I was busy reading countless books about different kinds of childbirth, healthcare providers and everything even tangentially related. In Illinois, we had a great midwife that we were comfortable with and had a birth plan all set to go. When we found out we were moving to Charlotte, we had to start from scratch – something that ended up being the best possible thing that could have happened.
Dan actually found our midwife – through hours of research, emailing countless organizations and poring over information about each. We decided to go visit our two top options: a hospital (Carolina Medical Center) and a freestanding birth center in South Carolina. While the midwife at CMC was unbelievably sweet and competent, we knew right away upon walking into the birthing center and meeting our midwife that we should have our first child in that setting. It’s set up more like a home than a medical facility: each birthing room has a jacuzzi tub, a double shower and a queen sized bed to provide plenty of options for moms during birth. At first, I was a little afraid of NOT being in a medical setting for the birth of my first child. What if something happened? What if there was an emergency. But our midwife, Pam, assured me that there were plenty of protocols in place should any of that become necessary. We were sold.
As my due date got closer and closer, I tried to prepare with Hypnobabies, meditation and relaxation exercises. I was confident in my decision to do everything naturally and felt like there was no turning back. The day OF my due date was my mom’s birthday. We went shopping, made a delicious dinner, watched Christmas movies and waited patiently. Dan and I headed to bed around 11pm, totally unaware of what was about to happen. We were awakened 90 minutes later by the first signs of labor – mild contractions. I was able to sleep through about the first hour of this, but then they quickly increased in frequency and intensity. We called our doula to come over and get things started and got out of bed. (Yes, I started labor with only about two and a half hours of sleep under my belt. I do not recommend this.) We all labored at our house for a loooooong time, as everyone agreed ahead of time that would be the best course of action. We were instructed by the midwife to come to the birthing center when contractions were five minutes apart, lasting one minute and had been going on that way for one hour. I came so close to meeting this criteria for about three hours before we finally achieved a full hour of success. We were all anxious to move on to the next stage (it was about 6pm on 12/7 at this point, so I had been “in labor” for almost 20 hours). Dan made me a bed in the back of our car and SPED off to the center at about 120 mph.
When we arrived at the center, I don’t think any of us knew what a long road still lay ahead of us. I continued to labor there for several more hours, with the pain MUCH more intense at this point. Ella was positioned perfectly and sitting right on the cusp of coming out, but … my water hadn’t broken. There was a comfy little waterbed keeping her in place. I was exhausted and ready to give up. I definitely understand why people who are offered an epidural at this point in the process opt to take one. I am so glad it wasn’t an option for me, because in my moments of weakness, I probably would have caved. It seemed like labor was going to go on forever and we would never have a baby. Finally, Pam suggested that she break my water to move things along. Somehow, I pulled myself out of my stupor long enough to agree. That action, in addition to the use of a VERY powerful essential oil (Clary Sage) designed to help contractions progress things, REALLY got everything moving again. The pain was worse than ever, but everyone kept telling me that meant we were close to the end. I can’t even believe how many times I said “I can’t do this,” but luckily, everyone around me was so powerfully optimistic and understanding. I truly had an amazing team of people on my side, which made ALL the difference. I really only had to “push” for about an hour before beautiful baby Ella came into the world. I had a natural, water birth just like I had envisioned and wanted. Ella hasn’t left my side since that moment and I have never loved anything more.
The basic takeaway I have from all of this is that everyone’s situation is different and unique. What I really believe in is doing research to figure out what option works best for you instead of blindly accepting what you are told by medical staff and professionals. You have to remember that EVERYONE has a reason for believing what they do and may be biased one way or another without even knowing it! Whether or not I made the “right” decision matters way less to me, knowing that I made the decision after careful research and consideration that jived with Dan’s and my belief system, as well as what we hoped for in an outcome. And though I had literally NO idea what to expect from the process of a natural birth (no one does – I truly believe this is something that NO ONE can prepare you for or describe to you), I felt better throughout the process having done my research and knowing what was going on, the purpose of each stage and things I should be doing to move things along appropriately. If I had gone in blind, I think I would have felt even more helpless and hopeless. It’s a long journey, but one that I believe can be rewarding and fulfilling as well.