Hold the Drugs, Bring On the Intensity
This is a personal birth story shared with us by Liesl Marelli along with the message, “We had a wonderfully empowering experience and hope it inspires & comforts others.”
I opted for an all natural water birth. I never realized how many women define “all natural” as a vaginal birth with pain medication (i.e. epidural). For me, the term “all natural” means just that … no interventions, no drugs and no cutting. Just me, my laboring body and completely free of all medical interventions.
Labor and birth was a challenging experience, to say the least. Furthermore, nothing I read or heard about truly prepared me for process. A few bits of information and advice did help reassure my mind that what was going on was normal … but the information didn’t make it any easier.
What helped? My mom said it would hurt like hell but eventually the pain would stop. There was an end to the labor – no matter if it feels like it is lasting forever, it won’t. She said she got this wonderful advice from her sister in law. The baby will come and when she does, it will stop hurting.
Makes sense. Labor doesn’t last forever – the pain is temporary.
I also learned a few tips from the Mindful Birthing book. They discussed the pain/discomfort of labor and birthing. There is a difference between illness/sickness pain that your body communicates with the brain versus the discomfort/intensity of childbirth that communicates serious effort and physical/mental dedication to the process. The pain isn’t from injury. It’s just letting you know that the body is working … and boy does it!
My labor was fast in comparison with other first-time moms. I thought I’d have a long labor because my mom had a long labor. No such luck. Mine was moderately tolerable contractions for the first hour while I was home chatting on the phone with the midwife but when contractions picked up, it didn’t let down until my daughter was born just four hours later. So, within those 3+ hours, I went from 2 centimeters to fully dilated. To get from Point A to Point B that quickly, my contractions were practically nonstop.
Let me define “nonstop.” My contractions came in a set of 3 with 30 seconds between contractions in the set and each set was about 1.5 minutes apart. That’s very little break for such an intense sensation.
My contractions looked like they felt. If you were watching my stomach during a contraction, you’d see it tighten so much that it looked like it was shrinking before your eyes. I had my hand on my stomach for much of the labor and it really felt odd going from a huge pregger belly to this smaller tightened abdomen. Without even looking at my stomach I can tell you that it looked like it felt for me. Uncomfortable, strenuous, physically demanding and we’ll just throw in the “pain” word for the hell of it.
Now, because I opted for a natural birth, I had my hubbs, midwife and midwife assistant present for the birth. If you aren’t familiar with midwives, let me share my experience with you.
Midwives are very hands off, which I love. They let the laboring Mami do the work and will help guide her and assist her when needed. In fact, they were so hands off that I was checked (vaginally) when I first arrived to the birthing center to confirm how dilated I was, they checked my urine for protein levels (peeing in a little cup that you can’t even see once it crosses the belly threshold AND having contractions at the same time is a rather daunting task!) and then I hung out in my birthing suite. My room, unlike hospitals, is much more like a hotel: a queen (or full?) size bed and large bathroom with an over-sized Jacuzzi tub.
Since the discomfort and lack of breaks between contractions didn’t allow me to rest, the midwives drew me a nice, warm bath, turned off the lights and then sat on the bed outside the bathroom to watch and listen to me as I labored. My hubbs was holding my hand, kissing my head and doing all he could to comfort me.
I’m not sure how much time had passed – I suppose an hour or so before my midwife asked if I wanted to be checked again. “You’re almost fully dilated” she told me. To be honest, I was afraid that she would say that I was only 4 cm dilated and to keep on working my way through the contractions. I was so relieved that she said I was almost ready to go … except I couldn’t help but wonder if I was ready to meet my daughter. It all seemed to happen so quickly! I never realized that I would have a fast labor. I had no idea that my labor would offer such minimal rest between contractions. I never even knew that contractions could come in sets! Yes, there was a lot I didn’t know but either way, my body was getting the job done and clearly, my little girl was on a mission to come out.
The midwife assistant got a bucket of cold water and a wash cloth. She and my hubbs took turns applying the cold cloth to my forehead and the nape of my neck. The lights were off in the bathroom but there was enough light that I could see everything, of course. However, I choose to keep my eyes shut and work through the labor internally.
I changed positions and assumed a squat in the deep tub. The sensations started to change so I whispered to my hubbs, “Ask them if I’m allowed to push.”
“Do you want to push?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Just ask them,” I whispered.
Every time I spoke during labor, it was a whisper. I had no interest in a loud voice, which I naturally have but this voice was for my daughter. It was a soft, gentle voice … this was the voice my body wanted to offer her as she made her way into our world.
The midwives gave the go ahead although I still couldn’t answer the question if I wanted to push or not … until the next contraction came and the urge surfaced. In retrospect it amazes me that my body told me to ask the question just before the contraction hit that made me want to push. It’s amazing how smart the body is.
So, what does the urge feel like? Hmmm … as if the contractions weren’t intense enough, the switch was cranked all the way up to what felt like my body’s threshold for pain ticking out. During previous contractions I’d do deep exhales (thanks to the occasional coaching from the midwives) and I’d say, “Relax, Sofia.” I wanted to remind her that she didn’t have to rush if she didn’t want to. Relax. It’s an easy word to say during an exhale. It’s also a great work to keep in mind during something this intense. I knew that while my body was working hard and so was my baby girl. I was even given some herbs to slow down the labor to ease the intensity. Other than tasting like grossness in a cup, they didn’t do a damn thing unfortunately. My Sofia and my uterus decided on their own to come when they wanted to come. And together they told me, “Your opinion doesn’t count. Your job is to breathe, we’ll do the rest.”
So, the urge to push arrived.
Now, from what I had seen in movies and watched on some of the baby shows on TV, people were always yelling at the laboring woman, “PUSH!!!!! HOLD IT. PUSH!!!!”
That couldn’t have been further from my reality. No one told me to push and no one made me push for any period of time. My body tapped into the urge to push and my midwives told me in a very calm voice to exhale during the peak of intensity. In fact, my mom told me that when I had the urge to push to hold off so I didn’t push too hard and tear. I tried not pushing – the uterus was doing it with or without me. But mannnnnn oh man … there was no fighting the urge.
At this point of the labor, I was no longer in the room. I had fallen inside myself and saw myself through my uterus and birth canal. It may sound strange but I was so focused that I simply withdrew into myself and experienced this unreal sensation from the inside out. I felt the experience through my baby’s perspective. I felt the warmth of my body allowing her to descend. I felt her moving along with the contractions. I no longer felt the exterior of my body. My entire being had gone deep inside myself as I birthed my little girl.
Squatted in the tub, the midwives came over with a flashlight so they could watch more closely. My midwife checked me and said I could feel my bag of water if I wanted since it was bulging but hadn’t yet released. I reached in and touched it. Ughhhhh … To be honest, I’m not sure what I thought it would feel like but I wasn’t a big fan of touching it. Very shortly after (maybe just one contraction later) my water released and I got news that I really could have done without. My midwife told me that the contractions (now that my water had broken) would be more intense at this point — was that even possible?! As it turned out for my body, the answer was “No.” (thank god!) Maybe one or two contractions later, my daughter’s head descended.
The ring of fire. Yes, it sure is!
My mom’s words echoed in my head. “Don’t push even if you feel the urge to push.” I tried to follow her advice. I really did …
Her head came out. “Reach down and touch her head, Mami,” the midwife’s assistant said.
I reached down and there it was … her head. I couldn’t see her but with one hand I reached down and caressed her head. I felt her incredibly soft hair. This was it … I knew as soon as her head came out that I would very quickly get a chance to meet my little girl.
One contraction later, her body gently came out of me and into the water. “Grab your baby,” they said.
I reached down, grabbed her, pulled her to my chest and finally got off my knees and lay against the tub on my back with my little girl on my chest.
She was so calm. No crying. No stress. No drama. We just were, in that very moment, existing together. The umbilical cord still pulsing, the placenta still inside me and my baby girl on my chest in the warm water.
All the pain from the intensely fast labor released from my mind and body. All I could think, feel and attend to was my newborn on my chest. She was here … she had finally arrived! I couldn’t believe the relief of having her outside of me was instantaneous. Sheer joy took over. I was soooooooooo happy to have my little girl. I wished her a happy birthday and told her I loved her. My hubbs kissed me, kissed her and there we were: a family of three. Our lives forever changed for the better. There I was holding an extension of our love in my arms.
To birth my child and reach down to grab her and pull her from the water and put her against my body was the most empowering experience of my life. I am confident that I can accomplish many things in life but no accomplishment comes close to trusting my body, trusting my baby and working together in this tremendous experience to have her the way my body intended.
No matter what I heard about labor and birth, nothing compared to living through the experience. I can certainly understand why some women opt for drugs. I’ll admit, I was far more judgmental about women who drugged them (and their babies in the process) but I now understand why some women don’t want to face the pain … however, I still think that courage and trust are all it takes to get through it. It’s not fun, it’s not easy – it’s labor, after all, but being numb and not getting the chance to feel the experience and feel the relief of the birth … well, it’s just not the same as getting a chance to actively participate in the experience.
My body was far smarter and capable than I realized it would be. It knew exactly what to do the entire time. It told me when to breathe, it told me when to bear down, it told me when to try to relax, it told me when to change positions … It truly was all about trusting what my body was telling me to do exactly when a change was needed. No book gave me that kind of guidance. My body didn’t need a book. It instinctively knew everything it needed to do. Of this, I am in awe. If I was drugged and numbed from the experience, I can only imagine the kind of physical and mental confusion that would have happened in my body and with my baby. The pain is unlike anything I can even describe and I am no champion of pain. I didn’t go into the experience wanting to play the hero card and I don’t think many moms go into the experience that way either. Although getting numbed would make the pain go away, I’d still take the pain of the experience any day because it allowed me to be in the moment with my baby who took the incredible journey of living in utero to in my arms.
My midwife’s assistant told me that of the births she has attended, I was the first to catch my baby. Both my midwife and midwife assistant told me that my birth was very calm and quiet. I had no idea. It must have seemed louder in my head – maybe that’s why I kept whispering anytime I opened my mouth. I didn’t scream or shriek though. I wanted to just breathe – that’s all. I didn’t want to fall into the pain because I knew I wasn’t the only one having the experience. This was my baby girl’s first experience with the world and I was committed to giving her as calm of a transition as I possibly could. Apparently it worked. Even the midwives considered it a calm birth.
I had envisioned having a water birth, having a drug free labor and birth and giving birth to a healthy and happy little girl with the support of by hubbs by my side. I am so grateful that it all came true! I always knew I wanted to labor in the water but I had no idea that I would end up birthing in water. I think the warm water helped make the process just a little easier and comfortable.
Once she was birthed, the midwives assessed her health, I delivered the placenta … we were told to order some food, start breastfeeding our little girl and after eating the meal we were on our way back home. I didn’t realize that people stay in hospitals a long time after birth. We were there about 4 hours after the birth and then were on our way home. It was wonderful to be back in the comfort of our home so quickly after the birth. It was fantastic!
So there you have it, my birthing experience.
I know this route isn’t for everyone but I do hope that healthy, low risk pregnant women consider midwifery as an option. For me, my hubbs and my daughter, it was exactly the path we needed to take. We knew that the ambiance in a birth center with loving midwives and no beeping sounds, no monitors, no nurses and doctors walking in and out, no IVs, no hep locks, no confinement to a little hospital bed, no continuous invasive checks, no mandated birthing positions … these were things that were non-negotiable for us. The same way we shop around for cell phones, clothes and cars is the same thing we should do with our birthing options. A healthy, low risk pregnancy permits the option for a natural birth at home or a birth center. These places aren’t staffed with unskilled “tree huggers” who just sing and chant while a woman labors. They are highly skilled to care for mom and baby, they are affiliated with an OBGYN office, they have an emergency plan with a local hospital if there are unforeseen complications. I’m grateful there weren’t complications with the birth but knowing there was an emergency plan in place helped ease my mind for that “what if” situation. I did appreciate the midwife giving hubbs a head’s up, “If you faint, we aren’t taking care of you. Mom and baby are our priority.” Did she mean it? No clue but it was funny as hell when she said it. And, no, hubbs didn’t pass out anyway.
Peace, love & strength to all the moms, moms-to-be and the supportive & loving dads out there!
Photography © Liesl Marelli | www.GironaConsulting.us
Editor’s Message: We were very touched that Liesl wanted to share her birth story with the Pathways community. We are passionate about sharing these personal stories as a testament to the natural birth process as part of our greater mission of birth education. If you are interested in sharing your birth story with us, please feel free to send me an email: Jade.Spurka@icpa4kids.org