When we began talking about Bethany's hopes for her birth, she was a tad skeptical of epidurals and hospitals but certainly felt like it was the best option for her. Being a doula, I don't judge how and where people give birth and so I supported her throughout every decision she made. However, as Bethany's due date came closer - and after an amazing birth education course with Tanya Willis - she realized just how much she wanted to avoid having a medicated birth and decided to switch to a midwifery practice in Princeton, New Jersey.
Sadly, the hospital was a bit too far for me to guarantee my presence at her birth and so we set her up with another doula. But, Bethany took control of her birth experience and gave birth to her cookie just as she wanted - surrounded by love and support, in a peaceful environment and without an epidural.
Bethany allowed me to share her beautiful story with you all. So here it is:
My Birth Story
A number of people have asked me to share my birth story, so I decided it would make for a great blog post to send to folks that are interested in my experience.
For all first time mothers, childbirth can be a really scary experience – we’ve heard so much about it and watched so many movies, but we just have no idea what it will be like. Every woman remembers their childbirth experiences and unfortunately, most of the women who have negative experiences are much more likely to share them with pregnant women than ones who have positive ones. Before I gave birth (yesterday!) a lot of women shared their horror stories, but few shared anything remotely positive.
When we first found out we were pregnant back in January or February, I assumed I would go for the standard U.S. childbirth experience: an epidural, a hospital stay, an OB and none of that hippy shit. My high school best friend became a doula and I warned her that was the experience I wanted, so if she wasn’t on board, I would try to find another doula. I’m not sure I even understood why I wanted a doula, perhaps because I had read up on what they did when she told me she was becoming one. I began seeing an OB practice in SoHo and everything was going swimmingly – the pregnancy, while miserable thanks to extreme morning sickness that never really abated, was going perfectly. Around 20 weeks one of the OBs in the practice pushed me, hard, to take some sort of childbirth class, something Seth and I weren’t in the mood for and certainly didn’t want to pay for. I asked around on Facebook for recommendations and on a local listserve in my neighbourhood for recommendations and via the listserve, over and over moms raved about a particular instructor, Tanya Wills, who taught Bradley Method classes. I had heard of Bradley from a friend, Abby, who is a huge advocate of it and actually began teaching classes after her childbirth experience. Abby was so gung-ho, though, I was kind of convinced she had joined a childbirth cult (sorry Abby!), so I didn’t take her recommendation as seriously as I should have. No other women seemed to have opinions nearly as informed as she did.
Our first class with Tanya I warned Seth not to join the Bradley cult. We were still going to get an epidural, even though the Bradley Method focuses on natural childbirth. I had heard there was enough good information for medicated mothers that it was still worth it, which was the only reason we took the class. After the first class, we were members of the Bradley cult, and halfway through the cycle of classes we were 100% committed to having a natural birth.
What made us join the Bradley cult? In our first class we talked a great deal about medicine in the United States and how warped it’s all become. Doctors practice as much CYA (cover your ass) as they do medicine these days – they have to thanks to lawsuits and schedule constraints. We discussed skyrocketing c-section rates and how childbirth has evolved in society over the last hundred years. By midcycle, we were discussing why that is – how one intervention (medication of any kind to speed up labour, an epidural, etc) often cascades, leading to increased chances of more interventions, each more drastic than the next, ultimately leading to major surgery: a c-section. Even when these interventions don’t lead to a c-section, many of the methods used to assist in delivery can be extremely unpleasant, to say the least. Our instructor brought props with her, most notably a vacuum extractor, a device secured onto the top of a baby’s head while s/he’s inside the birth canal which is then pulled by the OB in order to drag the baby out of the cervix. The chances of a doctor having to use one of these devices skyrockets when women have an epidural. Seth absentmindely grabbed it and affixed it to the inside of my calf and started pumping. While our instructor was talking, I suddenly screamed out in pain as Seth secured the suction cup around my skin. Panicked by my yell, he began to pull, trying to get it off my leg. WIth every pull, I yelled more, something I would never do in public or in private, and with each yell, Seth got more apologetic and frenzied in his attempts to get it off. Finally, the air seal was broken after about three or four tugs. Our instructor laughed and thanked us for the demonstration. That, she said, is what the baby feels on the top of their very soft skull as they emerge from the womb. That is their first experience with the outside world. From that moment, Seth and I looked at each other and wordlessly decided we were on the natural childbirth boat full-on. I barely paid attention the rest of that class, I was googling alternative care providers. We were determined not to deliver with my OB practice in Manhattan. For my last several appointments, I had expressed my desire to at least try for a natural childbirth. Every time I did so, my OBs said “sure, but how do you feel about an epidural?” A very worrisome sign that they weren’t as on board with the experience I wanted.
We quickly settled on Princeton Midwifery, as we had just moved to New Jersey somewhat unexpectedly. Their offices were inconvenient from our apartment and especially from our office. We decided to try to switch as late as possible so that we would only have to go to a handful of appointments before my delivery. We had gone so far onto the natural childbirth boat that we were looking for home birth midwives that were covered by our insurance, but had no luck finding any that had openings and our insurance absolutely refused to budge on covering their services anyway. Princeton Midwifery delivers at Princeton Medical Center at Plainsboro (yes, Dr. House’s hospital), and the facilities are brand new: the hospital was built a year ago. We would have a private room for post-partum, Seth would have a place to sleep and there was even two jacuzzis for labouring women to use. From our first meeting with Peggy, one of the midwives, we knew we had made the right decision. She was totally on board with the kind of birth experience we wanted, and we spent over an hour chatting with her and got the best vibe from the office and from Peggy.
On Friday night, October 11th, I went to bed early after Seth and I finished Shabbat dinner. At 11:15 I woke up to go to the bathroom and thought on my way back into our bedroom that I had peed more then than I had in months, thinking it strange my bladder could be so full while pregnant and just two hours after I had gone last. When I got into bed I realized that I was still leaking and so I ran into the bathroom. As I did so I thought “I can’t stop this leaking. I don’t think this is pee. Oh my G-d this is my bag of waters.” I came back into the bedroom and woke Seth to tell him – he didn’t necessarily need to know, I wasn’t having contractions, but how many times in life can a woman have that dramatic “my water just broke” moment with her husband? Seth, bleary eyed, said “oh okay. so what now?” I told him “I guess we wait for contractions to start.” And with that, he was back to sleep. I went outside into the parking lot and got a random elderly neighbour who was coming home from work to turn my cell phone on (it was Shabbat) and he called my doula. My doula told me to sit tight, get some sleep, and keep her updated. At about midnight I started to have contractions and at 1am, I woke Seth and he packed a bag for the hospital while I puttered around, mostly freaking out. At 3am we went back to sleep and at 8am I was disappointed to realize that while my water was still leaking, the contractions I experienced overnight had ceased. I called my midwives in the morning and they told me that the hospital’s policy was to let me stay home with a broken water for about 18 hours – if contractions didn’t start by 5pm we would have to come into the hospital to try to medically induce them, something we desperately didn’t want. The midwife on call, Grace, suggested we walk around to try to inspire my body to go into labour and to call back in the late afternoon to update her. Seth and I walked for over two hours over Shabbat, all over our town, and while I was having contractions, they weren’t strong and were totally irregular. At 2pm I called Grace back and negotiated to come into the hospital after Shabbat was over around 7pm. At 5pm, our doula arrived and tried using natural ways to induce labour, none seemed to work. After Shabbat ended Seth and I got in one car and our doula got into another and we were off to Princeton hospital. The mood in the car was extremely dejected. Seth and I had this picture in our minds of what the birth would be like, and even before it began it was going wrong. We had imagined this car ride to the hospital so many times, me in transition, screaming like a madwoman, and instead, we were calming discussing the situation as if we were going to the movies. It was a surreal experience and we kept having to remind ourselves that we were on the hospital to have our baby.
We walked into the delivery room and calmly set down our bags and met the nurse who would labour with us all night long, Ellen. She was incredibly warm and to our shock and delight, had already read our birth plan and was totally on board with trying to help us maintain as much of our birth plan as possible, despite the circumstances. Grace arrived a few minutes later and we discussed our options. She told us that she would be putting a chemical on my cervix called Cervadil which would hopefully ripen my cervix and kickstart labour. She was honest though: it almost never worked for first-time moms. It would, however, buy us an extra 12 hours before hospital policy mandated the use of pitocin, a chemical which makes contractions come on, but at a price: it amplifies the pain and intensity of contractions to the point where most women can’t function without the use of medication. Using pitocin, to us, meant that the likelihood of using an epidural was greatly increased. Grace inserted the Cervadil, told us to go to sleep and wake up at 7am to order breakfast. She would be starting the pitocin at 9am. We sent our doula home. I put on my face mask and rolled over to go to sleep. This picture is of me right before I “went to sleep.”