Natural Childbirth: Why Its Right For Me (and Probably You, Too) Part 1, Birth Stories

Happy Momma

Happy Momma

I’ve been asked many times since Bella was born why I chose to have her the way we did. Through this journey of discovering natural childbirth, I have become very passionate that it is possible for women to have unmedicated, intervention free births, and I advocate strongly to avoid these interventions when not medically necessary. I believe the maternity care system in our country is on a dangerous path away from normal birth, and that medical interventions should be saved for when they are truly needed. I believe it is time we discuss and embrace natural childbirth as the way it should be, it is time we reduce the fear of birth among women by normalizing birth, and it is time we make a conscious effort as women and parents to stand up to the dangerous practices some (many, but not all) OB/GYN’s have adopted in the hospital setting for childbirth. It is a sad fact that the ‘norm’ of medicated births have only been brought about because of greed for money and the fear of lawsuits have directed doctors down the path of fear and control. Without further ado, why I chose to make a difference by choosing a midwife……

To tell the story of Bella’s birth, I need to start with the story of her big brother, Jax, and the day he was born. Jax’s birth was very traumatic for me. While at the time I didn’t really realize how much his birth affected me, I knew it left me not ever wanting to have any more children- I swore I would never go through that again. Thankfully this is a story of healing and truth, and not one of being overcome by that fear.

We all want to trust in our caregivers. I think this trust may be an underlying issue of why so many women today are having so many interventions in their births: we send ourselves down the path our caregivers lay out for us, because we trust they know what is best for us.

When I was pregnant with Jax, I did the typical things to prepare for my first baby. I did the registries, I read What to Expect While Your Expecting and all sorts of glossy pregnancy magazines. Where we lived, there was only one women’s care practice and it was 48 miles away down off a mountain road. There was no decision in your caregiver or hospital, it was just where you went. I met the midwife on staff there and liked her, so I continued to see her for my prenatal visits. When it came time to schedule my final visit, I said I’d really like to see her for the appointment. The nurse told me I couldn’t see her for my final appointment and I would need to see an OB. That OB scheduled me for induction two days after my due date, promising it let us “be home in time for Christmas”. Unfortunately, I had no idea of the dangers of inductions- and there were no medical indications of needing induction.

I was induced with misoprostol (generic form of Cytotec), which the doctor promised was very safe. At the time, we had never heard of it, and we trusted the doctors to do what was best. What had promised to be an exciting, thrilling day where we were welcoming our first baby turned into misery and fear. My water broke and terribly strong contractions began less than 45 minutes after the dose of misoprostol. My plan, to labor on a birth ball, and in the tub, was quickly rejected by the OB, and he began pushing for pain management. Because they had given me an IV, they gave me Nubain, which I hadn’t been completely sure about taking. I had a terrible reaction to it, passing out almost immediately. (I now know I cannot have demerol-based or other narcotic pain medications, but this wasn’t the greatest day to find out) Despite it causing me to black out and feeling as if I was nearly unconscious, and it making me throw up for hours, I still felt everything. Mind numbingly painful contractions, extremely strong and on top of each other, were putting Jax into distress. After an epidural, and nearly four hours of pushing, Jax was born by vacuum extraction and was immediately taken for resuscitation. The room was silent for many minutes while they worked on him, and my first glimpse of him was of a photo on my mother’s digital camera after I pleaded to know what was going on.

After what felt like hours, but probably five to ten minutes, my mother came back to tell me Jax was in NICU, where he was having some trouble breathing and with his oxygen levels. He was born dehydrated, hypovolemic, and had a lot of trouble with his O2 saturation. His apgar was a 4. I was finally able to hold him the next day. Jax ultimately spent five days on IV fluids and antibiotics through a central line in his umbilical cord, and NO, we were not home for Christmas. We ultimately struggled and failed at breastfeeding. Thankfully today he is a rambunctious, healthy four year old.

I know a lot of mothers have said the ultimate insult is being told ‘all that matters is that they got a healthy baby’, and I completely understand why they would feel this way. I was so thankful Jax was ok, but at the time I still had no idea how many of the issues arose from the actual induction. (Misoprostol is known for its terrible side effects, I know this now. The FDA refuses to approve it for inductions, and the manufacturer published a letter to obstetricians asking that they Please, stop using misoprostol for inductions).

I thought this must be what birth is always like, and couldn’t imagine why people would ever go through with it- let alone more than once. Even worse, I thought I must be really terrible at giving birth.

Fast forward to the day we discovered Bella would be joining us. I was elated, but I also cried, knowing the end result of pregnancy would be birth. I’ve always been a very self confrontational person, so began questioning why it was like that. There had to be a better way!

I began to gather all the information I could find. Thankfully, I discovered a number of resources for what birth really can be. I learned about the natural process of birth, how and why things happen and more importantly, how to learn how to trust ourselves to give birth. I felt as if a giant weight had been lifted off of me, which I had carried since Jax was born. In the beginning I was seeing an OB for little B and our prenatals, but as the weeks ticked by and the more I learned, I began to search for a midwife. The hospital where I would most likely deliver had one midwife on staff out of the 12 or so OB’s. And at a hospital with a 39% c-section rate, I couldn’t see risking seeing her. There’d be no guarantee of midwifery care once we got there. An alternative hospital had a lower rate of 28%- better but not good enough for me.

I luckily stumbled upon a small freestanding birth center nearby my home. My sister and I went for a tour, and I felt like I had come home when I was there. I knew immediately it would be where I would give birth. At almost 28 weeks, I transferred to the wonderful midwives and never looked back. This pregnancy was a breeze, easy and with no issues. I was happy and at peace with myself and what my body was meant to do. I finally learned to trust myself and to trust childbirth.

Bella came to us on her due date. I had been determined not to go overdue, so this was very funny to me. I had a few strong cramps in the morning about 45 minutes apart. I thought they were different from the many Braxton Hicks I had been having, but I doubted they were early labor. I knew I hadnt felt like eating much. I had been joking with my friends all week about eating as much fresh pineapple as physically possible, walking everywhere, and taking evening primrose every hour (I didnt take that much evening primrose, just once a day, but I threatened to do it hourly, haha!) In reality I relaxed and took it all in stride: my body and by baby would do what they needed to do when they were ready. Dean, Jax, and I went for a walk after they had lunch, and the cramps started coming more often. They were not painful, mostly just tightening, and only very low in my abdomen. I still was telling myself this may not be anything- it would have been humiliating to make a scene only to have this become a ‘false alarm’. Eventually the waves were enough that I wanted to be by myself, whether quietly in the tub, or walking outside in our yard. I reached a point where I finally called my sister and mom, to let them know I had been having waves strong enough to be distractions, although not painful at all. I called the midwife on call and she said we should come in- but funny enough, I didnt feel ready yet! She agreed to let me wait and see how I was feeling in an hour, but would have been fine with us coming in right then. I made sure if we got there and we found I wasnt very dilated I could come home. Later my midwife told me I was one of the only people who have ever tried to negotiate NOT coming in or staying at the birthing center.

I went into the shower, sitting on my yoga ball under the hot water, talking with my sister vibrantly and then quieting each time a wave of pressure came over me. She called the midwife to update her, but left the room to talk to her. Little did I know she told the midwife I was in the shower and “did not want to come out”! “Time to go!” My sister said, matter of factly. This folks, is why I asked her to be there that day. That, along with her immense sense of humor, and innate ability to read me better than anyone else in the world, next to Dean of course.

I dawdled, while Dean and Meg went about packing things into the car. With Dean’s military past, he had the car packed and running within what seemed like seconds, while I was upstairs brushing my teeth and qtipping my ears. Meg gave me a lot of grief about worrying about these things “at a time like this”, but I reminded her, I was in no hurry, and imagine hugging me during a contraction and me having awful breath! It was wonderful to have this different attitude towards birth. I put full trust into myself, and knew it would all happen as it was supposed to. We finally loaded into the car, and wound up stuck behind a police officer on a back road with a 25 mph speed limit almost the entire way. This was a blessing, of course, because I think it was the only way Dean would have kept himself in control with me ‘in labor’ in the front seat! (He actually was just as calm as I was, at least on the outside)

We arrived at the birth center around 5 pm, and I asked to be checked. This was the only time I was checked. I had scolded Dean not to empty out the car until after I was checked- what if I was a 2 or 3? I’d be wanting to go home! Low and behold, I was a 5 1/2, with a bulging, leaking bag of fluids. Needless to say, I was not going anywhere, even if it had been up to me at the time. (: I spent the next few hours walking and in the shower. It was so wonderful to have Meg there to keep the mood light- we were laughing and joking the entire time. I labored in the shower and walked, and spent much of the time in the birthing tub, until I had a few very intense waves of tightening. I told the midwife apprentice “I dont have a nicer way of saying this, but I kind of felt like my ass was going to fall off with that one”. She laughed and told me she likes it when moms say that. I suddenly felt a very intense urge to use the bathroom, practically jumping up in the tub and grabbing a towel at the same time, between contractions, and almost ran to the bathroom slamming the door behind me. (This intense pressure is from the baby moving down, not really from needing the bathroom) My Midwife knocked on the door and said it was okay to be in there but please dont lock the door!! I was shivering and shaking, sitting on the toilet, very clearly in transition. I actually had the wherewithal to tell myself that’s what was going on! I labored through some some very intense contractions, supporting myself on the wall and breathing as calmly as I could.

Finally I felt as though I could come out- I was having a lot of very red bloody shreds of show. I made it to the doorway when ‘the mother of all contractions’ hit me, and all I could do was drop to my knees. Dean tried to catch me as if I was falling and I said No no, please let me down! its alright!! I was completely blocking the doorway- the MW (Autumn) and Apprentice, Allison, were running out the other bathroom door, down the little hallway and into the birthing room to grab extra supplies. Never did they even suggest moving. And suddenly my body began pushing- just as so many others have described it as a ‘throwing down’ instead of throwing up. They gave me a birthing ball to lean on, and after just a few pushes holding Dean’s hands, leaning on the ball and on my knees, I pushed my daughter out. I only once said something while pushing, whispering “oh! it burns!”. Autumn told me to just let my body stretch and let go, and then suddenly she was saying she was going to hand my daughter to me through my knees. I was just so amazed at how surreal the entire experience had been. There she was, perfect and beautiful, and I had trusted in myself to let her come as she had been meant to.

┬áBella was born at 8:55 pm, on August 4th, 2011. I held her immediately, letting the cord pulse, in the doorway of the birthing room. After delivering the placenta, they helped us move to the bed, where we were able to settle in together and nurse for the first time. Allison made me scrambled eggs, a whole grain waffle, and a gigantic glass of iced OJ- and I have to say this was the most delicious meal I have ever eaten (and thats saying alot, I went to culinary school and have worked and dined in many fine dining restaurants). Later she was weighed and examined, and announced perfect. Her apgars were 10 and 10. After resting for a bit, we were cleared to go home when we were ready, and decided we’d take advantage and sleep in our own bed- so we were home by midnight. I really felt fantastic, on top of the world. Talk about a birth high!! How wonderful!

Bella’s birth has been hugely transformative for me. Every child one has, one’s life is changed. I had no idea though, how much giving birth could change my life as well. In childbirth I have found a new passion I know will help shape our family’s future somehow, whether I just share my story or I pursue a career like becoming a doula or midwife. I do know wherever I go from here, there are other mothers out there in the world needing to be healed and needing to know the truth of what birth can be like, and if this story reaches just one, its one step in the right direction.

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Fired Up Friday: The Safety of Co-Sleeping…Why the Mayor of Milwaukee is sending the wrong message…

A blatantly offensive and disturbing advertisement campaign has been released in the city of Milwaukee, lead by the Mayor of the city, Tom Barrett. In an attempt to help lower the infant mortality rate in his city, Mayor Bennett has released this campaign featuring infants sleeping next to knives in beds swarming with blankets and large pillows, stating that the infant is just as safe sleeping next to the knives as they would be sleeping in their parents’ beds. As part of the outrage stemming from these advertisements, parents are being asked to notify the Mayor of his and his campaign’s misgivings:

I’m here to tell you, Mr. Mayor, I am proud to cosleep with my infant daughter, as I did with my now four year old son. The benefits of co-sleeping or bed sharing with infants are innumerable, when done safely and with compassion. I don’t believe anyone disagrees with your intention of lowering infant mortality for your citizens, but there are thousands of cosleeping parents outraged by the images chosen to represent your message. While the city of Milwaukee’s infant mortality rate has proven high, it seems as though a racial disparity is present and a need for education and public health information is needed- without scare tactics and misinformation. A rate of 10.4 deaths per 1000 live births in 2009, according to the health department proved while there were 5.4 Caucasian infant deaths, the rate of African American infant deaths was nearly triple that at 14.1. I believe, as many others probably do, it is commendable to have teamed with the United Way of Milwaukee to target efforts towards reducing the rates and to specifically lower the death rates of specific demographics to align with a lower goal rate overall (reducing the city’s African American rate by 15% and the city’s rate by 10% to reach a historical low by 2017).

This is, however, where I begin to depart from my agreement with the ad campaign for the city of Milwaukee. Co sleeping, or bed sharing, is a beneficial sleeping method for infants and parents alike. It naturally supports the breastfeeding mother, allowing ease of breastfeeding without having to fully waken both mom and baby. It allows the infant to sleep peacefully, rarely crying or startling throughout the night, preventing stress and adrenaline from being released. Adrenaline causes the baby’s heart rate and blood pressure to rise, and long term these can contribute to sleep anxiety. Co sleeping contributes to regulating the sleeping infant’s breathing and heart rate patterns, and has been shown in studies to contribute to the child’s self esteem and emotional well being. More information can be found here, citing several studies proving the safety of cosleeping.

The call to action now is coming from myself and other cosleeping parents to take the opportunity to educate parents, regardless of their demographic, of safe sleeping practices. While information about safe co sleeping can be found in countless places, a clear, concise listing of information can be found by Dr. William Sears, a leader of the attachment parenting world. Dr. Sears, like many others, advocates safe sleeping practices, including taking precautions to prevent baby from rolling out of bed, sleeping next to the mother as opposed to between both parents, and the use of a large enough bed or bedside sleeper. Under no circumstances shall a parent under the influence of drugs or alcohol sleep with a child, and soft surfaces such as water beds, where an infant may be smothered, are dangerous for cosleeping. Another leading expert, Dr. James J. Mckenna, has a study to describe “the relationships between infant sleep patterns, infant sleeping arrangements and development both in the short and long term, whether having positive or negative outcomes, is anything but simple and the traditional habit of labelling one sleeping arrangement as being superior to another without an awareness of family, social and ethnic context is not only wrong but possibly harmful.” (Dr. James J. McKenna, PMID: 15911459 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE])

Please consider the information being shared with you as a means to redirect your ‘Cosleeping Smear Campaign’ towards a healthier avenue of parental education. At a minimum, please consider the removal of such offensive advertisements or reword your advertisements to reflect a message of encouraging safe sleeping practices, over blanket statements implying sleeping with our infants will in effect, kill them. Informed, safe cosleeping provides benefits for our children well beyond the age of infancy. I will urge readers to share their thoughts of your ad campaign as well. They may do so by emailing their thoughts to mayor@milwaukee.gov

Why We Dont Do Time Outs Anymore

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Jax is a professional limit tester. As you may remember, Jax and I were in Massachusetts for some time while Dean remained in Maine- leaving Dad out of the discipline equation for some time. It also meant a lot of Jax’s time was spent in full time preschool or with his Gams, so we’ve been figuring each out all over again. He will go from calm, quiet, and engaged to over the top, excited, even crazy, in seconds. Just like any child, sometimes he goes overboard. Then it will happen- suddenly he’s done the very thing we’ve said not to, and I’m wishing it was appropriate to yell like Charlie Brown: Aaaaggghhhhh! What comes of it? The dreaded TIME OUT.
Time outs used to be effective for Jax. Really. We used to have it all figured out. It was better if we generally avoided moments that escalate to a situation where we need to say TIME OUT!! We all wish we could have angelic cherubs who never need us to count to three, to give final warnings, or to send them off to the hallway, the time out chair, the step, where ever it is they get sent when they just plain old need to knock it off. (!)
Then it happened. The tables turned. With all the changes taking place in our family, and with Jax being fairly headstrong and somehow very well versed at interacting with adults, Jax did what he does best. He pushed back.
He challenged timeouts like we were the lemon juice on his paper cut. He would try to keep his own control in his personal power struggle: putting himself in time out: “Sorry, bud, we’re not going to have a cartoon right now, how about we find something else to do??”
His response would be instantaneous, and would rival the moodiest teenager who was just told her pom poms were being taken away and she could not go to prom: “that’s IT! I’m GOING to TIME OUT!! FINE!! I’ll just go then!!”
Oh boy. The power struggle went on like this. We were dumbfounded- everybody could be sitting together having a nice time, and Mr Time Out would come out like Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Off he’d storm, as far as he could get. Sometimes we let him sulk, but because he’d send himself at any time, we weren’t exactly feeling the effectiveness if we needed discipline. At the same time I’d been renewing some attachment parenting techniques- so it was clear we had an opportunity to make some behavioral changes. AP touts using ‘Time In, not Time Out’- meaning to me engaging your little one in activities and an environment where the behavior doesn’t have a chance to occur. AP also goes beyond this by using ‘gentle discipline’- putting ourselves in the child’s place will at least help us understand how to explain what was wrong and why. Then you may move on to using ‘Yes instead of No’- he MAY do this or that, instead of saying he may NOT do that or this.
Our solution still involves having to sometimes remove Jax from the situation at hand- but we took time outs away from him. The ultimate parental power buy back program? Maybe- at first Jax was really confused. For a few days, all we did for discipline was say, nope, you don’t get a time out! You’ll have to stay here and talk to us instead.
Eventually Dean and I agreed that if Jax needed to, he would go sit on his bed for five minutes. Still the basic ideas really of time out, but the message is a lot different. I still believe he needs a consistent way to learn positive and negative consequences. Sitting on his bed near toys he can’t play with has made a bigger impact on Jax than being somewhere he can argue his point while we’re fumbling over his discipline, and working on different ways of keeping him engaged and to prevent boredom (versus keeping him occupied) has kept him out of there as well.
So how’s it working? So far, so good. Life is never perfect. Jax will still have his moments and we will still have to work at helping him through it. The best advantage to gentle discipline through Attachment Parenting is the trust in each other built around the discipline, rather than the discipline through fear tactic that comes from frustration and ultimatums for behavior. Raising children is always a long term endeavor and we all hope we’re doing what’s right for our children now so they will do well in the future. Until then this is working out great!