By Lisa Lord
After learning about modern medical birth in a college course, I knew for sure that I would one day attend a birth center for a drug-free, midwife-attended natural birth. Over the years, I held numerous other certainties about my future, only to find repeatedly that the universe had different plans for me. My future perfect birth was no exception.
No Birth Centers in Ireland
For starters, my husband and I live in Ireland, and when I became pregnant and began planning for the birth, I found that there are no birth centers here. Although I wholeheartedly support homebirth, I did not feel ready for it myself, not for my first birth, so far away from home and everything familiar. I settled on a local maternity hospital, certain that I would have to fight “the system” for the birth I desired.
Though I started with a big chip on my shoulder, my opinion slowly began to change over time. My doctor was patient, providing thoughtful rationale when we disagreed and willing to honor my wishes when they were not strictly against policy. I think she recognized my need to feel in control of the unknown. On top of that, the hospital was simply more encouraging of natural birth and breastfeeding than I anticipated.
I soon decided to stop creating problems where they might not exist and focus instead on enjoying the rest of my pregnancy, taking a natural birthing workshop with my husband, listening to Hypnobirthing CDs, reading inspirational birth stories, and visualizing my own peaceful birth experience.
Induction at 17 Days Overdue
I had not factored induced labor into my plan, but I was resigned to the idea by the time I was 17 days overdue and showing no signs of impending delivery. A few hours into the induction process, I was happily wandering the hospital corridors, chatting to my husband and having very mild sensations, which I naively believed to be genuine contractions. When my doctor saw the smile on my face, she immediately administered more medication. Within 30 minutes, I could not talk through contractions; 30 minutes after that, I was nearly out of my mind with excruciating pain.
Nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of induced labor. Everything I had learned about breathing, visualizing, and relaxing was useless as my entire body stiffened like iron with contractions coming less than a minute apart. The longest hours of my life slowly ticked by as I collapsed and sobbed on my husband’s chest between surges, desperate for labor to end.
My doctor broke my water late in the day, which seemed to stimulate my body’s natural labor process. The sensations started changing, becoming more like waves than spasms, and my panic began to dissipate.
When I arrived in the delivery room, I felt slightly more in control but so absolutely exhausted that I asked for an epidural.
It felt like heaven when the epidural took effect. Though my body shook uncontrollably with fatigue, I felt relaxed. Despite the medication, I could sense the urge to push once I reached full dilation. I had once thought a roomful of people shouting at me to push might be intrusive and distracting. In reality, the forced encouragement helped tremendously. After an hour, just as I was reaching my limit, the nurse smiled and told me to reach down and feel the baby’s head. This inspired the final surge of strength I needed to push him free.
A Day to Celebrate, Not to Grieve
My first few moments with Colin must have been like those of so many women throughout time — the surreal feeling of meeting a new and yet very familiar being, a sense of “Oh, it’s you!” As we quietly gazed at each other, none of the events leading up to the birth entered my consciousness; my full awareness was on the tiny miracle I joyfully held in my arms.
Although Colin’s birth was replete with medical interventions and very far from my original vision, I do not feel angry or bitter. Maybe labor would have been tolerable if hospital policy allowed a doula to be present or maybe I could have avoided induced labor if I had taken the route of homebirth with a midwife. Perhaps the upcoming delivery of my second son will be the natural birth I have hoped for.
We deserve something better than our modern medical birth paradigm, and we should continue to work for changes that honor women and babies and reflect trust in the birthing process. However, rather than focusing on what I wish had happened and what went wrong with my own experience, I am grateful for everything that went right on that extraordinary day.