Thursday, May 6, 2010

When natural birth doesn't come with a glow

Some people run marathons, others climb mountains. My personal challenge was natural childbirth. I wanted to deliver my baby spontaneously, with no drugs, and with minimal intervention. Having my first birth end up in the OR following virtually every intervention known to womankind only strengthened my resolve to have my next child "the way nature intended."

And I did. Spontaneous labor, no drugs, very little intervention. I arrived at the hospital 4 cm dilated and delivered an hour and a half later. I still laugh to myself remembering the nurse freaking out about not having an IUPC in place, and the OB telling her "I'm pretty sure she can tell us when she's having a contraction." It was surreal to realize the nurse was still watching the monitor, waiting to "see" a contraction that I was already pushing through. And push I did- after only 15 minutes my son flew into the world, hale and hearty. This was my moment, victorious, triumphant. I had done what I set out to do, crossed the finish line, reached the summit. It was amazing.

And almost immediately afterward, it was terrible. I fully expected to feel amazing after my birth. I was going to have my baby in my arms, nursing contentedly, while I lay in the afterglow of having just given birth. I was going to feel strong, sure, empowered. But I didn't. I had torn significantly and it took longer for those repairs than it had for my c-section closure. I didn't get to hold or nurse my baby for over 4 hours due to concerns over possible meconium aspiration. The first time I got out of bed I passed out cold. And when my nurse asked how I felt, I replied without missing a beat: "I feel like I was just raped by King Kong." Afterglow? Hardly. Where the hell was the experience I'd been promised by all the natural childbirth advocates? Why didn't I feel amazing? If this had been Everest I would have reached the summit only to vomit all over myself and pass out from lack of oxygen before enjoying the view. If this had been a marathon I would've crossed the finish line and been rushed to the hospital for heatstroke before I heard the first "congratulations!" It certainly wasn't what I expected.

I went on to have 2 more babies, and while I still completely believe that birth is a normal event in a woman's life, and drug-free low-intervention delivery is the best and safest thing, I had epidurals with both of them. I spend a lot of time justifying this to myself because I am such a strong advocate of natural childbirth. I also spend a lot of time wondering if I'm really being fair to other women when I advocate natural birth without talking about how my own experience was so far from what I expected- so there you have it. Full disclosure.


  1. Love your honesty, Pam! I still wish I would have labored through the last 3 cm and pushing, I was SO close. I just watched Sydney's birth yesterday for the first time. And watching it, it didn't look that bad. Then I laughed at how quickly we forget. I remember dry heaving, scurrying to the toile to poop, puke or both and laboring on the toilet alone, just starting transition. I thought, "If this gets any worse, I may die."
    But, I too, advocate for NCB :)

  2. Thanks, Andrea. :-)

    I should probably add here that I realize my issues were not related to the NCB. An epidural wouldn't have prevented pea soup meconium and a grunty baby who needed oxygen, wouldn't have prevented my tear. Still, even though my epi with #3 was TERRIBLE, by the time I delivered I'd gotten it turned way down and it was perfect. My postpartum experience was awesome, and I felt fabulous even after 20 hours of labor, no sleep, pushing for an hour+. It was hard to overcome that psychological "knowledge" associating an epidural with a better birth. With my last baby I got the epidural about 15 minutes before delivering. I didn't need it. Didn't really want it (don't get me wrong- at that moment, I WANTED it!). In hindsight I feel like it detracts from my birth, but at the time I thought it was the best of both worlds: completely unmedicated and intervention-free labor, light epidural just as I started to push, perfect postpartum experience.

  3. I'm just sorry that natural childbirth wasn't like you hoped it would be. I also feel a little strange advocating for natural childbirth to my friends but for the opposite reason- my labor and delivery was so short and easy (yes transition was painful for about an hour) that i feel like i have to put in a disclaimer "but it wasn't really that bad..", I didn't make it to the hospital in time anyway.. etc. I guess I feel like I don't want to just paint this rosy picture and then have someone disappointed and angry with me..I wish that I knew what made it easy for me so I could tell my friends...but just don't.

    I appreciate your honesty and I like your blog.