This week we’re sharing our (baby) stories here on Modern Mrs Darcy. This week is devoted to childbirth, but like so much I talk about here, it’s not just about childbirth: it’s about our hopes and our dreams, our beliefs and our fears. It’s about focusing on what’s truly important. I’ll be sharing a little bit of my own story each day this week. Thanks for joining me! You can read all posts in this series here.
The spring I was 23, I started running. For the first time, I became the kind of person who could fall out the door on a Saturday morning and knock off 8 miles. I put in hundreds of training miles that spring and felt great after a few short races, so I signed up for a 10-miler.
The race went okay, but I felt way too tired the week after. Every time I started a run, I threw up 3 blocks in. (Ew.) I was tired all the time. I wondered if I had overdone it in the race, or if I’d trained too hard.
But I soon figured out it wasn’t the running: I was pregnant.
I was health-conscious, and thought a natural birth might be the best option for me. But mostly I was terrified of the risk of an epidural: my parents’ dear friend had been paralyzed years ago from an epidural-gone-wrong. My doctor assured me the odds were a million-to-one, but that one was an old family friend. I decided to go for a drug-free birth.
I chose a group obstetric practice, where I’d deliver with whoever was on call when I went into labor. When I was 5 months along, I found out several doctors had extremely high c-section rates, and I panicked. I was squeamish about the medical world–I already fainted when the nurses drew my blood–so I hated the thought of a (potentially unnecessary) c-section. (Never mind there was a good reason their rates were so high–those doctors specialized in high risk pregnancies. I was not a terribly rational pregnant woman.)
I decided to make some changes to our pregnancy plan. We found a Bradley instructor and a doula. We switched to a hospital across the state line where I could deliver with a midwife. I read all I could and felt as prepared as I could be for a first-timer.
My due date came and went, but still no baby. I finally went into labor halfway through week 41, two days before my scheduled induction.
My labor progressed steadily, but it wasn’t at all what I expected:
I’d thought my doula would make things easier, but she just got on my nerves.
I’d thought I’d want to move around a lot during labor, but I just wanted to lie down.
I’d thought pushing would be a relief, but it was agony.
I made it through, with the help of my excellent midwife, who used hypnobirthing techniques to help me relax: she had me close my eyes and visualize the contractions washing over me like waves. It worked so well my husband said it almost looked like I was asleep.
When the contractions got so bad I didn’t think I could take anymore I asked for an epidural, but since I was already in transition she assured me they wouldn’t get any worse. She broke my water–to hopefully speed things along–and I was soon ready to push.
After pushing for 20 horrible minutes, our beautiful baby boy was here.
But I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.
This is a typical post-delivery feeling, and it typically fades. But that’s not how it happened for me. I was still weak and shaky that night, and the next day, and could still barely walk two days later when we headed home. I’d expected an easy recovery from my natural birth, but that’s not what I got.
Medically, my birth was fine and I was healthy. Because I didn’t get an epidural, I was congratulated on having a “successful” natural birth. But I felt awful, and I entered motherhood exhausted and limping.
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From the birth of Baby #1, I learned that natural childbirth is not a magic bullet. You can do everything “right” and still have a rough birth experience. Women are unique, and things don’t always happen the way they’re “supposed” to. Before delivering my first child, I’d convinced myself that natural childbirth was the best choice–not just for me, but probably for every woman.
And as it so often goes in life, I was humbled by reality. After experiencing natural birth, I understood why so many women opted for an epidural, and wondered if I would have had a smoother recovery–and entry into motherhood–if I’d had one, too. (Natural birth advocates will cry “sacrilege!” here, but this is how it was.)
I had a successful natural birth, but to my surprise, that wasn’t the same thing as a good birth experience, and it definitely wasn’t enough to ensure a good recovery. Natural childbirth is just one factor of many. With the benefit of hindsight, I can spot some things I could have done differently to make things easier on myself:
- I could have taken better care of myself during pregnancy. I’m a health nut, but I got lax towards the end of pregnancy (read: I ate a ton of ice cream and brie.) My total weight gain was 53 pounds (including a pound a day for the last 2 weeks, which they assured me was water weight–but it didn’t come off like water weight!)
- I could have taken better care of my second degree perineal tear. I didn’t think a second-degree tear was that big a deal, but I was wrong. At the time, I didn’t understand how much of my discomfort that first month was caused by that tear, and I didn’t expect it to take a whole month to heal. In light of the tear, my own expectations for my recovery were too high.
- I could have been quicker to ask for help. My new baby was sweet and precious, but he had a hard time adjusting to life outside the womb–which means he cried a lot and hardly ever slept. I would have recovered faster if I’d had a chance to get some sleep.
I’m an advocate of natural childbirth, but it’s not a magic bullet–and we do women a disservice when we make it out to be one. (On the other hand, some of you think that an epidural is the real magic bullet, and I’d encourage you to at least consider the alternatives before delivery day arrives.).
For further reading, I recommend:
- The Birth Book I Wish I’d Had. This is where I tell a little bit about my first delivery, and review Jennifer Yarbrough’s ebook Unbound Birth: How to Have a Natural Birth in the Hospital.
- Unplanned? More Like, Unplannable. In which I respond to a news story saying 50% of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned by saying, “Just half?” This is still one of the most popular posts on the blog, and the comments are excellent.
- Best Book You’ve Never Heard of on…Fertility?! In which I introduce you to a resource that every woman should know about.