I guess I’d say clients ask me about my own personal birth stories is about 50% of the time. It’s usually when they have questions about epidurals, or are wondering what to expect when they get an epidural that I let them know I’ve had three of them. Most of the time I see a hint of surprise on their faces because *gasp* a doula had epidurals! (There’s a stereotype out there that we’re ALL ABOUT epidural-free, vaginal births and anything other than that is less than or beneath us.) Curiosity usually follows about my experiences and if I’ve had lasting side effects, or regrets.
On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve also had an unassisted planned home birth—obviously without an epidural. “OMG, how did THAT go?” It was wonderful! All my births were wonderful. And I realize I’m a very lucky person to have the opportunity to say and mean that.
Birth number one was 20 years ago. The hospital had just redone their labor ward so everyone got to have private room—yippee! Their mother-baby unit was a different story. I hope the lady I was a roommate with for 8 hours, and her five loud, cartoon obsessed children are alive and well. I was nearly 42 weeks pregnant, 18 years old, single, and took a hospital-based childbirth class. Probably the only two things I remember from the class is the instructor asking the class what our thoughts were for pain management (if we wanted an epidural), and her candle blowing exercise (take my comfort measures of birth prep class to learn that gem). My answer to the epidural questions was “I’d like to do it without one, but I won’t be upset if I end up getting one.” And it would be my birth philosophy for two more births as well.
I could go into a lot of detail here, but we’ll skip to the labor part. I arrived at the hospital around 8:30 pm. Friends the TV show was on… if you know me at all, this doesn’t surprise you. At some point I was gripping the hospital bed rails so hard my fingers and hands were turning white and a sweet nurse said to me, “honey…..you ready for that epidural now?” and I got the epidural. I don’t really remember much of the in between—I don’t know if they suggested I get out of the bed, or try different positions, or if they tried to get me to relax and breathe….just that the epidural numbed my legs so much I couldn’t move them, but I wasn’t in pain anymore!
I pushed for a little over 2 hours, which is not uncommon for a first time mom, epidural or not. I did have to have a forceps assisted delivery since my baby was “stuck” under my pubic bone. Forceps suck, because it means I needed an episiotomy. Labor was just short of 9 hours total. All in all, I viewed and still view my experience as positive. Recovery was a bitch, though.
My second birth, seven years later, was fast and furious. It started with lots of vomiting, diarrhea, and flu like symptoms. I’m not quite sure if I was actually sick and the intestinal issues caused contractions, or if it was just the hormones that made me feel the way I did. I got to the hospital and was triaged and checked, and they were all set to send me home. I tried to explain to the nurse and the OB that this was real labor and I needed to stay and be put in a room.
It seemed like they didn’t believe me until a few mins later when I puked all over myself, the bed and the floor. I was admitted right then and wheeled into a labor room.
I remember the contractions being un.bear.able. Way more intense than anything I remembered from my first. It was excruciating. It was inhumane. I was sure I was dying. So, naturally….I asked for an epidural. After labs and a bag of fluids, I finally got one. Again, I can’t remember if anyone suggested I get out of the bed, or try different positions. All I remember was laying in the bed, writhing in pain. The epidural was placed and I had a little button to push to dose myself with meds (didn’t have that the first time). Laying in the bed, grasping the bed rails again with one hand, and my other hand clicking the damn button continuously….my nurse says to me….“sweetie, that button only gives one dose every thirty minutes…” my epidural was not working.
My contractions were double peaking, coming hard and fast. I was getting nearly no break in between them. Intense cannot even begin to describe things. Slamming your finger in a car door is intense. This was eleventy billion times worse. One cervical check I was something like 7 cm. Another double peaking contraction and I felt a ton of pressure. Checked again, I was 10cm! With a non-working epidural. Thankfully, minutes later as I got into a more upright position and started pushing the epidural started to work. I was so relieved. I was no longer spiraling and I could finally catch my breath. I pushed for a much shorter time than I did with my first, probably around 20 mins or so. I don’t remember if I needed a repair or anything but the physical recovery was much easier this time. Total time for this labor was about 4 hours from first contractions to baby in arms.
Birth number three is definitely my favorite epidural birth. I again went into birth wanting no epidural, but wasn’t going to be mad at myself if I decided to get one. I thought about hiring a doula and even researched having a home birth but ultimately decided against both. Once at the hospital and once things got serious, I once again said yes when asked if I wanted an epidural—this time it was my midwife who asked if I was ready for it yet. I actually remember having this one placed. The anesthesiologist should have been a doula, haha. He was phenomenal. He was at my back and I was having the hardest time being still and in control, and he 100% coached me through a contraction. I love him for it to this day. He got it placed quickly and the epidural was magic. It was actually working. I could still feel my legs. I could also feel the contractions’ peaks, which I really liked. I was comfortable, not in pain, but could still feel things. I was able to tell my providers when I felt the urge to push rather than them telling me it was time to push. It was literally the perfect epidural. Total time for this labor was about 7 hours.
My fourth is my favorite. It is the one that made me feel like a badass. Strong. Empowered. Everything that birth is “supposed” to make you feel. Again, I don’t regret my epidurals. I believe I had to have those experiences first for me to have lead me to where I am today. I was under the care of a CNM (certified nurse midwife) for my pregnancy, and planned to have her attend my birth at home. I planned on having the birth tub, and hanging up lights and it being “perfect” (baby #4 was due right before Christmas so white Christmas lights were definitely hung in my birth space). It was early the morning of our due date when contractions started. With my previous births, my contractions started and continued in a “text book” pattern getting closer together as time went on, and more intense as time went on. Contractions this time were kind of all over the place; 10 mins apart, 5 mins, 7, 4… I thought it was labor but wasn’t convinced.
It was about 3 or 4am, and everyone else was asleep. I hadn’t woken my husband, my parents who were in town visiting, or the kids. I paced between my bedroom, bathroom and my baby’s room which was right across the hall. At some point, baby #3 who was 22 months old at the time, woke up. So I went to get her from her crib and we snuggled a bit and I held her as I walked around. I distinctly remember sitting her on the bathroom counter, and I had to bend over during a contraction…. The little turd put her hands down the front of my shirt and grabbed my nipples. Nope. Nooooooope. Back to her bed she went! She went right to sleep….smh. Maybe those moments of snuggling with her created the oxytocin my body needed to kick things into gear? I continued pacing for a bit, hearing my midwife’s voice in my head telling me not to clench my jaw (because a clenched jaw meant clenched vagina/pelvic floor/ et all). I was swaying with contractions. I was squatting with contractions. I tried to lay in bed but with each contraction I *had* to get up.
Being able to control every aspect of my environment made a huge difference—I kept the lights mostly off, I got to move when I wanted, and go where I wanted. I kept it quiet. I didn’t have people looking at me. Didn’t have people trying to talk to me or touch me. It was such a welcome change from every other birth experience I had had. I felt calm. I felt in control and at peace. Contractions were bearable. I wasn’t spiraling or feeling out of control.
Eventually I started thinking “omg, what are you doing. You should be at the hospital. You need the epidural. You can’t do this” —which now I know was clearly a sign of transition! And then I got insanely thirsty and chugged two bottles of water. Then I called my midwife.
“ok, I think it is time for you to come…” it was around 6-something in the morning.
There was some quick chit chat, and she asked “do you think I have time to make coffee?”
“No.” I said, and we hung up.
I then woke up my husband, and decided a shower seemed like a good idea.
It. was. the. best. idea. ever. I had several contractions in the shower. I have no idea how long I was in there for….but when I turned off the water, I had another contraction and my water broke.
In my previous labors, my water was always artificially ruptured. Having your water break on its own is pretty cool, lol. At this point, I yelled to my husband to get my midwife on the phone and tell her my water broke, and she asked to be put on speaker phone. She was almost to our house! Another contraction came and I instinctively dropped into a squat, still in the shower. I was starting to feel some incredible pressure. I stood up as the contraction ended, and before I knew it another one came….. and I dropped back into a squat….my body literally began pushing all by itself. Another contraction and I could feel her head. That damn ring of fire….I don’t remember having to actually think about pushing at all. My body was doing it. At this point I was still squatting and another contraction came and I said, “you better catch her… so she doesn’t hit her head” to my husband who was kneeling on the floor next to the tub. And he (barely) did. Out she came. Perfect. Up to my chest she went, and she started crying. Seconds later my midwife came rushing in. She helped me get out of the tub and to my bed where my placenta was delivered. From the time I called her to my baby’s birth was about 30 minutes.
Had I really just labored alone and birthed this perfect baby girl all by myself? OMG, I did! The feeling was incredible. I was in awe, extremely happy, though a teeny tiny bit disappointed I hadn’t labored in the tub with my twinkling white Christmas lights in the background, lol. And most importantly, thankful my baby and I were both healthy and safe.
As a doula, having these various experiences to share often reassures clients that no two births are the same and we do the best we can in the situations we’re in, and the people we have or don’t have in our birth space can have various impacts on our experiences. It also reinforces the idea that no one *needs* a doula to have a baby, or a positive birth experience.
Now as a home birth assistant and midwifery student, I look back and I am *suuuuuuuper* thankful my unassisted birth happened the way it did. After all, it was, in all actuality, wholly uneventful.
I’ve been called to births where I wasn’t sure we’d make it before baby’s arrival. It’s nerve wrecking, and stressful to say the least! We sooooo want everything to go perfectly, everyone be healthy and safe, and to not have to start an IV or give meds for bleeding.
And the majority of the time it does go perfectly and we don’t have to “do anything”.
But because every birth is different, there’s always a chance something could go wrong. And it could be devestating.