Nothing could have prepared me for the pain of natural childbirth. I read Ina May Gaskin’s books, I went to prenatal yoga, and I practiced breathing techniques with my husband. I felt ready. Even, dare I say, excited. Once active labor began, however, I realized that childbirth is no joke. That when you get to seven centimeters and decide you want to tap out, it’s too late. There’s no going back. That the “ring of fire” is not just something funny someone mentioned during a prenatal class. That yes, childbirth is beautiful and life changing, but it is also really messy and hard.
This is probably not news to you, though. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve likely had your own magical (miserable?) childbirth experience. You understand what women simply cannot understand when they’re pregnant: there is no such thing as a “dream” birth experience.
Childbirth, natural or otherwise, is about letting go of expectations. And not just saying you have no expectations in your prenatal class so you look really zen and evolved (like me). It is truly about being along for the ride.
Every birth story is unique, but I’m not going to tell you mine today. People share their birth stories all the time. When I was pregnant, women would literally trap me in the aisles of Whole Foods to share their terrifying tales. I do, however, want to tell you another story, about the waiting game. About the period of time after your due date, when your child hasn’t arrived yet, and you’re in uncharted territory. Maybe if you also had a natural birth you’ll be able to relate to this story. Maybe if you’re pregnant and overdue you won’t feel crazy or alone like I sometimes did. Or maybe you’ll just learn something new, about the (weird) things some mothers do to help bring their babies into the world.
My son was two weeks late. Well, let me be more specific – he was 13 days late. At my birthing center, once the baby is two weeks past the due date your care is transferred to the hospital so that you can be induced. The midwives warned me that first time moms often go past their due dates.
What they didn’t warn me about, until I was a few days overdue, is what I like to call operation natural induction.
I had a very big (irrational, some might say) fear of being induced at the hospital. I’m sure those of you who chose to deliver at the hospital are rolling your eyes right now, imagining me as some super crunchy woman who is also vegan and never wears shoes. This is not the case. I just had an idea in my mind of the type of birth I wanted to have, and a hospital setting wasn’t it. Regardless of where you gave birth, I think you can probably identify with this idea of a dream birth.
Back to operation natural induction – The name, I admit, makes it sound cooler than it really was. Basically, I tried increasingly strange things to get my baby out. It started out simply. I went to yoga, I swam, and I walked miles every day in the sweltering Texas heat (where we were living at the time). No luck, so I took it to the next level.
I tried acupuncture for the first time, and the acupuncturist told me I’d probably go into labor shortly after leaving. I left feeling relaxed and elated. I tried not to scream when the acupuncturist looked surprised to see me again about three days later. Were you as impatient at the end of your pregnancy as I was?
Something about waiting for my baby made me feel like I was losing my grip.
At this point, the midwives got more involved. They gave me small doses of herbs with names I cannot remember and never could pronounce, while I pumped on and off for over an hour. Faint contractions started and then fizzled out. My poor nipples. Then they stripped my membranes- twice. Looking back, it’s hilarious to me that this was very painful. Do you also feel like you have ridiculously high pain tolerance post birth, or is it just me?
At this point I was 41 weeks + 6 days and desperate. My anxiety started to kick in, and the Sudoku puzzles and reruns of Fixer Upper that had been keeping me sane were no longer doing the trick. I am always nervous to give advice, because everyone’s experience is different, but I will say this:
Prepare to be really dedicated if you want to get your stubborn baby out naturally. The final attempt is not for the faint of heart.
I had to drink castor oil. Would you have chosen the hospital at this point, or willingly obeyed the matter-of-fact German midwife whose instructions were to blend it with a milkshake and drink up? Call me crazy, but I drank up with enthusiasm, and waited.
Fast forward about thirty minutes. I was on the toilet feeling like I had eaten bad gas station sushi and my insides were wringing themselves out. Fast forward about an hour more. I was finally at the birthing center in labor. It worked! I was actually smiling between contractions.
Now that my son is one, people love to ask me about Baby #2. If and when I get pregnant again, will I go to such great lengths to have a natural birth? Do I still have that bottle of castor oil? I’d like to be more easy going next time, more patient and content at the end of my pregnancy. Otherwise, I’d probably do it all over again. I’d love to hear more of these stories, about the waiting game, and what it felt like for other women. The truth is, I was dying to meet my baby. When I finally managed to push his giant head out and hold him against me, it all felt worth it. Even the castor oil.