Julia West, BBCI
She came by natural birth honestly- her mom had five unmedicated births and three of those were out-of-hospital births with midwives! When she was younger, she would retell her mom’s birth stories as if she was crazy and honestly she thought she would never be “strong enough” to have a baby without an epidural herself. But when her sister gave birth to her first baby in 2009, her eyes were opened to the downfalls of the modern medical model of care. She was newly wed to her husband, Trevor, and they had no immediate plans to start a family, but her passion for birth was sparked and she began to research natural birth.
This is her story…
My sister has always been a tough cookie. She is eighteen months younger than me, but she’s taken on many challenges I have not. She has always been a hard worker who does what she needs to do without complaint. She married young, became a military wife and moved across the country where she knew no one. She had two babies without having any family nearby. She patiently and prayerfully waited at home while her husband served in Afghanistan. In many ways, I have looked up to this little sis!
She just gave birth to her third baby less than two weeks ago and birthed without medication for the first time. I asked her to describe all three of her birth experiences and am so thankful she was willing to share these intimate memories. I love her and all of her babies!!
First labor logistics:
She got to the hospital before contractions were very painful and was dilated to 1 cm. Her contractions started to hurt right before she got an epidural and then her labor slowed way down. She was given pitocin to speed labor and then felt a lot of pain. She was given more pitocin and more of the epidural throughout labor and her water was artificially broken. She described her legs as “tree trunks” and said they became more numb and heavy as she labored. She had back pain through most of her labor and was especially in pain during the pushing phase and when she was being checked. She was given morphine at the end of her labor but did not know that until after the baby was born. Overall, it was extremely exhausting. Labor lasted 21 hours and she pushed for the last 5 hours, then her baby was pulled out with forceps. Her baby weighed 8 lbs 6 oz and was born 8 days past the expected due date.
WHAT EMOTIONS STICK OUT IN YOUR MIND ABOUT YOUR FIRST LABOR?
I think the thing that was the most hurtful was that I didn’t feel like I had the chance to bond with my baby. I did not touch her until I woke up after the birth. I don’t know how long that was. She had been cleaned up and swaddled- it was obvious that a lot of time had gone by. The last thing I remember was being stitched up and I didn’t stay awake for them to finish…I don’t even know if they gave her a bottle. They may have, or else she didn’t eat for a long time. It was just very weird…When I think back, I don’t think about the pain I went through, I think about the emotional trauma, even though I was in horrible pain the whole time. I just think about feeling helpless and out of control and traumatized.
HOW WAS THE RECOVERY AFTER THE BIRTH ON A SCALE FROM 1-10 WITH 1 BEING THE BEST?
10. I had 9 months of pelvic therapy after that. And I had a very cranky baby. We didn’t get a good start with the breastfeeding. And I really believe that a breastfed baby is a happy baby. We supplemented with formula at first and I got her back to only breastfeeding at 4 months old. I had to pump like crazy and I just had to keep trying. I didn’t want to give up on it.
Second labor logistics:
She labored at home for much of her labor and was dilated to 5 cm when she reached the hospital. She was given an epidural shortly after arriving, but it did not slow her labor. Her water broke spontaneously and during the pushing phase she said she could feel her baby, but no pain. Her labor lasted 11 hours and she pushed for the last 30 minutes. This baby weighed 9 lbs 3 oz and was born 8 days past the expected due date.
WHAT EMOTIONS STICK OUT IN YOUR MEMORY ABOUT YOUR SECOND BIRTH?
The big difference was that he was given to me immediately. I was able to nurse him right away, but I did have to kind of fight them (the staff) off a little. I got stronger about that from the first experience. I remember having a peaceful labor at home and it was kind of enjoyable even though it was kind of painful. Just being at home and laboring was way different. Once I got to the hospital, it became very difficult to labor peacefully and without medication. They wanted me to get on the bed, they wanted to see how far along I was. Being on the bed made the contractions harder to deal with. They wanted to hook up the IV and get me hydrated…The nurses just stood there. They didn’t help with the labor at all. I know they aren’t told to do anything, but there was not any help from them except to offer drugs.
I give the credit to staying home. Because I stayed home, I was progressed enough that the epidural did not slow things down. If someone is going to get it, I recommend waiting as long as you can.
I think it was probably the optimal experience with the epidural.
HOW WOULD YOU RATE THIS RECOVERY?
4 or 5. I had a second degree tear. I would probably rate it better if I had not experienced the home birth. It was so much better than my first but it was still longer than 6 weeks of recovery.
WHAT LEAD YOU TO WANT TO HAVE A NATURAL BIRTH?
Because it went so well with my second, I knew that the reason it was better than the first time, was because I stayed home and labored half the time. Even though I ended up getting the epidural, I knew it could be an even better experience. Obviously, I thought it would be good for me and my baby to not have drugs. Why have drugs if you don’t have to? I know that in our society, we don’t even think about the epidural as a big deal, but it is still a drug.
Third labor logistics:
By this pregnancy, she and her husband were no longer in the military. They hired a doula and a midwife and planned a homebirth. Before labor started, she was dilated to 5 cm. She felt the first contractions around 4 pm and baby was born by 9pm. It was a fast, intense water birth. This baby weighed 9 lbs even and was born 9 days past the expected due date.
WHAT EMOTIONS STICK OUT IN YOUR MIND ABOUT THE 3RD BIRTH?
With hers, I was never afraid. I felt well taken care of. But I went through more pain than I expected. There were definitely points where I was not sure I could do it. I definitely had a lot more pain with my third than my second labor but it was still better. When it was over, I had a 9lb baby and I felt hardly damaged. Everything was still in tact. You can’t beat that.
I had a completely different outlook after my last birth than with the other two. You miss out on those good hormones. With the second, I was definitely happy to see him, but it wasn’t the same. I had more anxiety with him and of course, the first birth. With him, I was still nervous about what all was in store for me next after he was born. With the last, it was like, everything’s over, everything will be great.
I was able to get the best rest afterward that I’ve ever had after having a baby. Even if your baby is not crying in the hospital, sleeping in the hospital bed is horrible. And your husband gets a chair to sleep in. And they’re always coming in to check on you and the baby. Because we were military during the first two, that really changed things. We couldn’t chose our doctor, we did not have a lot of options.
This was a big, life-changing experience. I really had this inkling that it could bring me closer to God and I knew there was something I could learn from it. It’s hard to explain. In the moment, feeling all of that pain, it’s hard for someone to say it will be worth it. When I was going through it, I could not believe anyone would do it. I was thinking, “I can’t wait for this to be over.” But now looking back at it, I would do it again. I would be nervous about the pain again, but I would be excited. I think I could manage it better next time because I kind of know what to expect. I think I will be better able to gauge when it will be over. I never questioned God, but when I was in labor, I thought, “God, how do you think I can handle this? You’re mistaken. This is not what I can handle.” But of course I was wrong. I was thinking, “I can’t do this,” but I knew I had to.
When it was over, I felt really great and accomplished and I felt like I had done something great for myself and my family. I had a better emotional outlook on everything when it was over. I felt like God had shown me I could do more than I thought I could.
HOW WOULD YOU RATE THE RECOVERY AFTER THE THIRD BIRTH?
2. I ended up getting sick in the days after the birth, but it was still so much better. I had no tearing to recover from. She’s way more content, happy, healthy. She’s barely cried. I am really getting to enjoy her.
If I had to relive a birth, it would be hers, definitely.