“At the moment of commitment, the entire universe conspires to assist you.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
March 31, 2013 – the day I climbed my personal Everest.
I had been training and preparing for this day for the past 9 months. After much researching and thinking I had decided I wanted to have a natural birth. Watching, “The Business of Being Born,” recommended viewing by my friend and doula Casey, was the first time I realized child birth wasn’t an experience to be numbed. Then I read Ina May’s Guide to Natural Childbirth which opened my eyes even more to the possibility of going un-medicated. I started to see there were few reasons to have drugs and that labor was painful but it was not suffering. So, just like putting together a team to hike Everest, I organized a team I knew would see me to the end of my goal. A team that would ensure my success, getting me to the top of the mountain.
Choosing a midwife was the first step for me. As I’ve said before, many people automatically thought that because I chose a midwife I was having a home birth. In fact, people thought a lot of things about me choosing a midwife. I even had a flight attendant say something along the lines of how I probably chose a midwife because it was “cheaper.” It’s actually surprising how little people know about midwives. They can and do everything an OB does but are not trained to perform a c-section. They are natural birth-minded and take the approach that a woman’s body knows what it’s doing from the moment it conceives. There were no invasive cervical checks.
They supported my decision to decline certain after birth treatments for my baby. They supported my decision to encapsulate the placenta. I wrote a birth plan but it turns out I didn’t even really need it because they did everything I wanted them to do.
I chose the midwives associated with Colorado University Hospital because, in addition to having a midwife, I also wanted to try a water birth. After researching I saw they were the only midwife group in the state of Colorado that also had water births. A lot of hospitals will let you labor in a tub but make you get out for actual pushing. I wasn’t sure if the water would feel good or not but I knew I wanted that to be an option for myself.
The c-section rate is abysmally high in the United States; one in three women have a c-section. The success rate for climbing Mt. Everest is about 31%. If I wanted to climb my personal Everest I needed another key support person on my team – a doula.
I don’t think a lot of people understand what a doula is. When I told people I was having a doula they would respond with, “oh well that’s what my husband is for.” Let’s be clear: your husband is not your doula. He can’t be. He is there to support you in your birth but he isn’t a doula. He doesn’t have the knowledge of childbirth a doula has. He doesn’t know the signs and symptoms of labor, the optimal laboring positions or how to best support you in your birth. A doula is the mother to the mother. She is there for you emotionally and physically.
My doula happened to be my best friend of 15 years. We had Casey fly out the Thursday before my due date in hopes that this would give her plenty of time to be here before the birth. I knew having a midwife would help support my dreams of a natural childbirth but a doula was another measure to ensure my success. And having my doula at my house when my labor actually began was amazing.
On Saturday March 30th, I felt a calm come over me. My mother had arrived in town, my doula was at the house, and so were my in-laws. I felt in my heart it was time. Just like the first time I told the baby I loved it, I put my hand on my stomach and talked out loud in private to the baby. I told the baby I was ready for its arrival. I was excited to meet it, and I wasn’t afraid of what I was about to go through. I set my intention not only to the baby but also to the universe. I was ready to start climbing.
On Sunday March 31st at 6AM I woke up having a crampy feeling. Contractions feel like menstrual cramps. And in the beginning they were uncomfortable but not overwhelming. After two or three runs to the bathroom I told Chad to start timing what I thought were contractions. He noted they lasted a minute each and were about 5-6 minutes apart. Chad and I both looked at each other and realized this was happening. I sent my sister a text that said, “I think today is going to be the day.” Then I took a bath and rode out some of the contractions there, followed by a shower, noticing as the contractions grew stronger I would have to lean into the wall or hunch over the tub. I proceeded to get ready as usual, even attempting to blow dry my hair but the pain was becoming more intense. My husband called Casey in after I vomited after a strong contraction. Casey knew that my vomiting was a sign I was dilating faster than even I thought. She suggested we call the midwife. She helped me labor at home for the next hour (the midwife’s suggestion, since after talking to her on the phone she noticed I could still talk through the pain) until I vomited again, and Casey firmly said it was time to go to the hospital. Honestly, I had no urge to go to the hospital. I would have had no idea when it was time. Although we were timing my contractions, and they were close, it still didn’t seem like that day would be the day.
Because my doula was at my house she was able to help me with one of the worst parts of labor which was the car ride to the hospital. I sat in the back seat with her, and she waved a fan on me to keep me cool. She tied bags on the back of the front seat in case I got sick again (I did). And she encouraged me to suck down honey sticks and drink water. Since she was taking care of me Chad could focus on the driving, and I could focus on turning inwards to manage my pain. Casey would make moaning noises to encourage me to make a low “om” sound to get through the pain. It sounds strange but making noises out loud seems a little embarrassing. Even in front of your own husband. To have someone make them with me was like having someone sing along – I didn’t feel so awkward and alone. Once we got to the hospital Chad was able to get the bags while she helped me in. She whispered in my ear, “this is going to be the longest walk of your life. Take breaks when you need to and lean on Chad.” Her advice was amazing because it gave me permission to take my time. I’m probably one of the few pregnant women, in labor, who walked themselves into the hospital and up to the 4th floor to check in. She had my purse with my ID and everything in it so that when we were checking in she could answer questions and let me focus on my contractions.
Once we checked in at the hospital we didn’t automatically go to a birthing suite. I had to go to triage first. Ideally the midwife would have come in and checked me for dilation here before admitting me to a birthing suite. My midwife was attending another birth so the nurse had to hook me up to a fetal heart rate monitor and contraction monitor to see how the baby’s heart rate was and how far apart my contractions were. Here again having a doula was key. The three of us were left alone in the room and lying on that bed was even worse than having to walk in to the hospital. They wanted me to be on the monitor for at least 20 minutes so they could get a good reading. It was 20 minutes of torture. Before this point I was accustomed to doing whatever felt natural to work through a contraction – squatting, getting on all fours, swaying, bending over, just whatever came to me. Now I was tethered to a bed and asked to remain still so they could get a good reading. I vomited again, and Casey was able to capture it before it hit the floor. I found a rhythm where I could roll on my side and hug her while Chad rubbed my lower back. It took two people to get me through. Had it just been Chad and I the situation would have been much more stressful and overwhelming.
Once we moved up to the actual birthing suite my doula took charge.
They were quite busy at the hospital that morning so we were brought to the room and let in and then left alone with the promise that the midwife would be in as soon as she finished with another birth. Chad began filling up the bathtub and Casey went and told my nurse that I was getting in it. Normally they do not want you to labor in water until you are at least 5cm dilated, but we still hadn’t been seen by my midwife for a cervical check so we did what we needed to do. I had a strong urge to get in the tub. I knew the water would make me feel weightless and help relieve the pressure I felt in my lower abdomen. Once I got in the tub I felt the relief of the warm water enveloping me. My labor and delivery nurse came in and set up a pillow for me tethered to the bath rail and then suggested the best thing ever – that some laboring women liked the spray nozzle sprayed on their bellies. So that became my ritual. While Chad or Casey would hold a wet cloth on my head (thank you again, doula, for thinking to bring plenty of wash rags!) the other would spray my stomach with the warm water when I let them know the contraction was coming on. They took turns alternating this, feeding me ice chips and draining the water so I’d stay warm. Chad could not have done this alone, and there’s no one else that would have been there to do this for me at that point. At first I was crying out in pain as the contractions built in intensity but then I began to channel my yoga breath.
Yoga and knowing how to breathe became key at this point in labor. I cannot thank yoga enough for teaching me how to breathe and how to make the most of a full breath. Each contraction lasted about 7-12 breaths. The best way I can describe a contraction is to liken it to a wave. I would feel the wave start to build up, and I would fill up my lungs, then I would exhale fully. I would do this again and again and when I got to 5 I knew that I was on the downhill slope of pain. Chad said he noticed at first I was erratic and then later, as I kept practicing the breathing technique, I became calm. I labored in silence. I would let them know when I felt the contraction start to build and whoever had the spray nozzle would start to spray me with warm water. I don’t know why this felt good; I can only think that the sensation of warm water on my skin gave me a different sensation to focus on other than the pain in my uterus. I vomited again when I was in the tub. It was a good thing my doula was there by my side to catch it in a garbage can.
I had my IV inserted for the penicillin dose for my strep B. Then my midwife came in and checked me for dilation, while I was in the tub, and to everyone’s surprise told me I was 9cm. My water bag had not broken yet. She informed us that I would probably start crowning in the next 15 minutes. There wasn’t time to set up the big water birthing tub but I could push and have the baby in the tub where I was at if I wanted. At this point I had been in the water about two hours. My midwife went to tell the nurses to prepare the room for the baby to be born, and again, my doula took over monitoring me for when I felt my water break. At the suggestion of the midwife I began pushing with the next contractions, which became more intense, and I focused on breaking my water. Chad was able to help me get through the contractions while Casey was the liaison between the midwife and me – relaying information on when I thought my water broke. It was amazing to have two people that were there for me and could help me through the transition to the next stage.
My water broke in the tub and when I was checked again I was at 10cm. I moved out of the tub so they could refill it in case I wanted to push in the water. I labored on the toilet for about 15 minutes and then the midwife wanted to put oxygen on me and monitor the baby’s heart rate better so they had me move from the bathroom to the bed. It took all the strength I had to move and honestly the very, very short walk was a blur. I remember collapsing by the bed and it took Casey, Chad, my midwife, and the nurse to lift me on to it. The oxygen was more for the baby than me because its heart rate was a little low which is pretty typical when they move through the birth canal and get squeezed. I was also hyperventilating with the pushing contractions so the oxygen gave me a burst of energy. My nurse Ann played a crucial role in reminding me to breathe deeply on my rest breaks between pushes – and because of yoga I was able to know how to use my breath fully as fuel for my body.
My pain had been manageable up until this point because I could find a hypnotic rhythm but pushing was by far the hardest and most painful part. Here was the final summit push to the top of my mountain. The part where you know the end is in sight because you can see it but it still seems miles and miles away. Nurse Ann had one leg, my doula had another and Chad was able to stand behind me at the head of the bed and encourage me while keeping a cold rag on my head. My midwife was amazing at coaching and did things while I was pushing that kept me from tearing. Everyone had a different role to play, and they all helped me on the last arduous part of my journey, like sherpas guiding the way up Everest. At my request my doula was also documenting this journey via photo. I told her to not censor anything because I wanted to remember everything that happened. I do not even know how she got half the photos she did while holding my leg and giving me water but she multi-tasked like no one I’ve ever seen do in their life. I didn’t even notice her taking photos because my eyes were closed, and I was going inward and concentrating on Ina May’s biggest suggestion that stuck with me which was, “Let your body do the work.”
Pushing was the only time I wanted to pack it up and go home. It was hard, it was painful, and it seemed to last forever. I didn’t feel like I was making any progress – taking one step forward and sliding five steps back. Anyone that’s ever climbed a scree covered mountain knows this feeling. You are so close yet you feel so far away. I kept asking, “how many more pushes?” and everyone kept telling me, “Just one more!” This was a lie but an effective one.
Yoga and working out were definitely my saviors for this part as well because I am familiar with stepping into and standing in the fire that is my own body working hard. I have held plank in yoga for 14 minutes. I have held a handstand for three minutes against the wall. I have preformed cardio bursts in yoga sculpt to the point of feeling nauseated. My kettlebell training made me want to die. I channeled the physical and more importantly mental strength that I knew I had. There were moments where I said out loud, “I can’t do this, it hurts!”, and my support people would say, “yes you can!” And then it would sink in and I would say, “yes, I can; I can do this.”
When my labor started and I was working through the contractions at home both Chad and my doula said to me at separate times, “remember what you want to do today. Be strong and know you can do this.” Both knew I wanted a natural childbirth, and they supported me from day one, and they kept supporting me through to the very end. I will tell you that the word “epidural” never entered my mind. It was never offered to me, and honestly I don’t think I could have had one anyway with how far dilated I was when I arrived at the hospital. But still I felt no urge to numb the pain. The calmness around me reminded me that my body was made to do this, and it could if I allowed it.
After 7 hours of labor and 1hour 15 minutes of pushing, Charlotte Kennedy was born weighing 7lbs 4oz and 20 inches long. I had reached the top of my Everest. I couldn’t help but cry. When she finally came all the way out the midwife said, “reach down and grab your baby!”, and I opened my eyes for what felt like the first time and put my hands under her armpits and pulled her up to my chest. This was me standing at the top of my mountain. Glory as far as the eyes could see. I felt relieved and overjoyed. They rubbed her back with towels to encourage circulation, and I heard the baby cry out. I could see her purple fingers digging in to my skin and curling around. I then lifted the baby up and saw she was a girl.
“I knew it, I knew you were a girl!” I said and everyone in the room around me laughed.
She was crying, and I looked at her sweet beautiful face and said, “I know baby, I know, it’s been a journey for me too.” We had both been on the journey together, walking up opposite sides of the mountain. She was on one path, and I was on another, but it didn’t matter because we met at the same destination. We cried to meet each other for the first time. Here was the person I had created and carried inside me, and now I knew she was a SHE, and I could call her by name.
My sweet baby Charlotte.
I would like to thank my doula Casey, my husband Chad, my midwife, and my labor and delivery nurse, AND every single person that told me I could not make the journey. When I would tell people I wanted a natural child birth I heard everything under the sun:
“Don’t be a hero, take the drugs!”
“You’ll change your mind once you are in there…”
“I tried and I couldn’t do it so good luck with that!”
“Why wouldn’t you take advantage of modern medicine?”
Well, I’d like to thank these people. Every negative comment, every doubt, every person that shook their head at me, that told me it couldn’t be done, that questioned my sanity and that smirked and looked at me like I was ignorant and said, “yeah let me know how THAT goes” – thank you all because you fueled the fire. I’ve been building this fire inside for the past nine months. Every yoga class, every push on the spin bike, every kettlebell swing, yoga sculpt, burpee, run, every “no you can’t” I turned into a YES I CAN.
I made it to the top of my Everest – having a natural childbirth without any tearing.
I know people say all that matters is a healthy baby but a healthy mom matters too. As my friend Tania says, having a natural childbirth is like eating healthy food, it’s harder to do but the long term benefits pay off. I could walk right after I gave birth. I felt the wave of natural oxytocin overcome me. I was able to breast feed right away. Giving birth, to me, was not an experience to be numbed. To me it would have been like driving a car to the top of the mountain – I would have arrived at the same destination but I would have missed the view along the way. Since I did not have an epidural I could feel everything and knew when to push and how to guide my body. Yes it was pain, but I never suffered.
I know even now that my story is done I might have people say negative things to me. I know that because other people did not have the birth they wanted, they might try to take away from my experience by saying hurtful things. I didn’t write this story to open myself to criticism; I wrote it to inspire other women. To take the fear out of birthing the way women have done it for eons.
When I was pregnant one of the most powerful things I did was to read birth stories. My doula would send me at least 2 stories a week from birthwithoutfear.com about all these women from all walks of life who were able to have natural childbirths. She empowered me and didn’t even flinch when I had her take the placenta from the hospital to the placenta lady to be encapsulated (for more on placenta encapsulation or the wonderful lady who did this for me read here). She cooked for me and cleaned after we came home and even decorated the house to make us feel welcome.
My doula’s encouragement throughout my pregnancy was unbelievable. Sometimes she’d just call to leave me a voice mail saying she knew I was strong and that I could do this. She made me realize that you don’t need a whole world of people to believe in you -You just need to believe in YOU. If you are blessed then two or three other people will do the same. My midwife, my husband, my doula – they didn’t think I was crazy for wanting to climb my Everest. They never told me I couldn’t. They looked at me and said, “you can and you will.”
Right after I gave birth, I looked at my daughter lying on my chest, a new life here in the world that we created, and then looked up at my husband and through tears in my eyes said, “Honey, WE did it!
“No,” he said, “YOU did it.”
Now I just have to think, “What else is possible?”
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About the Author: Natalie Magee writes a regular column for Happiness Series about what motherhood and beyond - from prenatal to postpartum. Her intention with her column, "Baby & Beyond - What No One Else Will Tell You" is to give practical advice and tips to the busy mom and mom-to-be. She also shares her experiences good, bad and ugly as a woman, wife, mom, flight attendant and fitness instructor. Natalie is also a regular fitness contributor on Happiness Series. She will continue to create great, effective workouts for anyone - including the busy moms out there - who wants to get fit and stay in shape.