When I was pregnant with my first I half decided to give birth naturally. I started seeing some midwives and attended a hypnobirthing class, but if I am going to be honest I always knew in the back of my mind that I could opt for an epidural since I would be in the hospital - which is why I say half decided. I was scared of the unknown. But I read the book cover to cover, practiced the relaxation techniques almost daily, and kept telling myself I could do it...with that ever-present 'maybe' trailing along behind...
When I finally started having contractions 9 days past my due date I failed miserably at putting into practice everything I had learned. I didn't even bring my relaxation music with me to the hospital. I was excited and scared, but mostly naive. I dilated to about a 5 or 6 before I started seriously thinking about that epidural. I gave in to the fear. Her birth was still a good experience and I didn't make myself feel bad about getting the epidural, but a part of me knew that I had to prove to myself I could do it naturally next time.
I started having practice contractions on a Wednesday night 2 days past my due date about 20 minutes apart which got me excited because I knew from my first experience it was only a matter of time now that I was actually feeling something. The next night Husband and I went out to dinner for some spicy Thai food in hopes to get things really started and to have one last date. Once we got home my contractions started getting a little more intense and by 1:30 am I was calling my mom to come over since I had asked her to be my doula. I realized from my first experience that I needed to surround myself with more support. I knew my mom would encourage me to keep going naturally if my resolve started wavering.
(Side story - I called my mom at least 20 times and she didn't answer her phone so I knew she couldn't hear it or it was dead. I had to call my oldest sister who lives in her same town in the dead of night to ask her a favor - would she please drive over to mom's house and wake her up!!! Turns out my mom went to a movie with my aunt that night and forgot to take her phone off vibrate. Of all the nights, ha!)
I couldn't sleep so I started listening to my hypnobirthing relaxation and when my mom arrived at about 3:00 am we started timing my contractions. I sat in a comfy rocker and would say, 'start' and 'stop' when my contractions came and went, all the while doing deep yoga breathing through them and totally relaxing my body. Each contraction felt just a little different and a 3-D mental image would come into my mind of what the contraction "looked" like - the images were bright bursts of light against the darkness of my closed lids. Once there was an image in the form of a butterfly, another time a fish jumping out of the water, but mostly they were just abstract shapes. They would start small and grow as the contraction peaked and then I would blow the images away with my breath. That was something I did not expect but it was pretty incredible and absolutely beautiful what my relaxed state of mind generated. The contractions gradually got stronger and stronger but I never felt any pain, only tightening, a tingling sensation of building intensity, and waves of power surging downward. I began to look forward to the next one.
And then all of a sudden they slowed way down around 7:00 am. This was disappointing but I was very relaxed and didn't feel tired because I had been in a meditative, restful state all night. The slow time ended up being nice because we could freshen up, and walking around and taking a shower got my contractions going again. So back to the rocker it was for another few hours and the contractions continued to get stronger and stronger so I was happy.
Around 3:00 pm we decided to get ready to go to the hospital. On the way I realized I was hungry and got a sudden craving for Subway, so Husband and I ate sandwiches in the car while my mom went shopping for baby clothes. I had some intense contractions in the car that I could tell were making me dilate because the sensation and mental images of those ones were like widening donut rings. It was amazing that I could be that in tune with my body in the midst of labor and still be able to enjoy my sandwich between contractions and chat with Husband.
We got to the hospital at 4:00 pm and first things first I needed the nearest bathroom. I wonder if the lady at the front desk believed Husband when he told her I was in labor because I asked her to direct me to the restroom calmly as if I was just walking by and stopped in to use the facilities. We went up to labor and delivery and they put me in triage. This is when I started getting nervous for the first time and my whole body started shaking - what if I wasn't dilated enough? But best news ever, I was at a six! And then I knew for sure that I was going to do this naturally. It was totally doable. I was more than half way there. I wasn't in any pain. I was relaxed and focused.
They took me to a delivery room and I sat on the bed just like the rocker and breathed through my contractions and two hours later I was at an eight! It was very peaceful and quiet with the lights dim. My mom and Husband took turns rubbing my feet with essential oils and between contractions we chatted with my midwife. I never stopped listening to my relaxation music the entire time and this was key to my staying in control. I could hear everything that was going on around me, but I could slip away whenever I needed. The music easily lead me back into my restful and relaxed state.
Two hours later we hit the first bump in the road - I was stuck at an eight. Lark's head was at a slight angle so we needed to try some new positions to help align her. My water also hadn't broken yet, so we decided to have my midwife break it to help things along as well. I went from bouncing on my yoga ball, to sitting in the tub, to back on the bed this time laying on my side when out of nowhere I got really uncomfortable. I still can't say it was painful but I couldn't get in a position that felt right. I still did deep breathing through my contractions but I couldn't keep my body totally under control like before - I needed to move. And then I remember saying, "I want to push!"
Then I really couldn't find a position I liked. Finally after some uncomfortable contractions in positions I didn't like, I settled on squatting with the end of the bed lowered and I wanted my midwife to tell me when to push since I couldn't seem to figure out how to do it productively myself. Hypnobirthing teaches you to breath the baby down but that was not going to work for me at this point. I was ready to be done and hold my baby in my arms. It had been 24 hours of not physical, but mental exhaustion. I reminded myself to stay calm, it would be over soon and I was praying hard for strength.
I pushed her out in four or five contractions. The amazing thing though was that again, it didn't hurt. I didn't even expect it to hurt. I felt the slightest little sting when she crowned, but other than that it felt exactly like when I pushed my oldest daughter out with an epidural - pressure. Except this time I could feel where Lark was so it was more encouraging because I knew she was almost out. And then all of a sudden it was over and they gave me my squished but beautiful little girl!
In the end I didn't tear, I didn't swell nearly as much as the first time, I wasn't as tired, I wasn't ghostly pale like I was for days with my first, I didn't bleed as much, I wasn't as sore... everything about my recovery was a million times better and easier.
When I compare my two birth experiences it is so apparent to me that the second time around I didn't let fear make my decisions for me and I have never felt more empowered!
Giving birth is natural and beautiful and truly a miracle. And, amazingly, it doesn't have to hurt.