Birth One - Firstborn Son in Hospital
I found out I was pregnant during my last semester of college. I was young and birth was the last thing on my mind! I went to the OB recommended by my student health center because I assumed that was the only option. I was given a book at my first visit, and since I was still in the academic mindset, I read the whole thing in one night. At the next check-up, I was over the shock of the unexpected pregnancy and had some questions prepared.
At my tentative suggestion that I would like to try a natural childbirth, the OB (who was very nice and personable) said something along the lines of, "Oh, you women who want a natural birth! Why would you put yourself through that? My wife wanted to have a natural birth, but I talked her out of it." At the same time, my older sister had just had a baby, via c-section delivery after "failure to progress". She had been induced with Cervidil (sp?) and given Pitocin, all before her actual due date. Anyway, I thought the doctors knew best, and I dutifully went along with all tests and procedures. I had two ultrasounds; one was vaginal early on, and then another at 20 weeks. I did the glucose test (even though I was not in a high risk category) and the AFP screen.
My partner and I attended a hospital-sponsored birthing class, where we learned nothing except what types of drugs were available and what the recovery from a c-section was supposed to be like (it focused mainly on the ability to pass gas, nothing mentioned about risk of death, inappropriate incisions, infections, and so on).
At 36 weeks, I was at work and went into labor. I wasn't sure it was labor at first, but left work and so stayed at home for six hours. It felt like gas pains, which everyone assured me was false labor because "true" labor is supposed to hurt in your back. Ha! In the end, we arrived at the hospital, saw my OB and was offered an epidural immediately. I was tired, and none of the nurses was supportive of a natural birth, so I went with the flow. It was in the wee hours of the morning, and the OB and my partner were dosing in their respective chairs. At some point, a nurse came in to check me and told me I was ready.
We had to wake up the OB and my partner and let them know it was time. I was still numb from the epidural, so really felt nothing. They strapped an oxygen mask over my face (still don't know why, except some vague recollection that the baby's heartbeat had dropped).
My darling son was born after 30 minutes of pushes, all directed by shouting nurses. He was immediately whisked away to be measured, and then taken to the nursery. It was hours before I got to see my new baby. The nurses brought him into the room with a bottle of formula, which they insisted he needed because his blood sugar was low. No one suggested I try to nurse him, but I tried on my own. He was very sleepy, so he didn't latch on immediately, and I didn't know any better to try longer. As we were leaving the hospital the next day, a lactation consultant came to visit us. She asked how I planned to feed the baby, and I answered that I was going to breastfeed. She said to me, "You know, he's never going to latch on. He is 4 weeks early and he hasn't developed the sucking reflex yet". I was floored! I was in tears because I couldn't think beyond, "how is my baby going to eat if he can't breastfeed?". She did break down and told me to rent a breastpump from the hospital pharmacy.
That was my first clue to the fact that something had to be wrong with the hospital system if they were willing to send home mothers with new babies in such a manner! There was no support. Indeed, my baby did not learn to latch on until his actual due date. I'm sure if I had had support, I could have achieved it before then, but I just kept pumping and offering the breast before the bottle at each feeding. The whole experience taught me to rely on my own instincts and to persevere even if others were convinced it was the "wrong" way.
Birth #2 - Preterm Labor ending in Roadside Birth
Four-and-a-half years later, we found out we were pregnant again. I was a bit older and wiser, this time, and I knew I wanted something different. I decided that I did not want an OB/GYN to be my exclusive caregiver, especially a male who had never given birth himself. I was referred to a midwife partnership who were associated loosely with an OB. I met the OB once, an older physician who shook my hand and I never saw him again. The midwives were more personable and willing to listen to what I wanted. I still was encouraged/pressured to have all the prenatal testing done, including the glucose screen.
At the time, my husband and I were running our own business, and I was under a lot of stress and wasn't able to take it easy. I wasn't taking care of myself, but I knew the right answers to give when I was asked at my prenatal exams, so no one had any reason to give it further thought.
At 34 1/2 weeks, I went into early labor. Because we lived in a rural area, when I arrived at the hospital, the midwives said that I would need to be transferred to a metro hospital specializing in high-risk births. When I had arrived at the hospital, they had done an ultrasound that indicated my baby girl's weight was around 6 pounds, which was more than my son's weight who was born at 36 weeks. Since almost all childbirth literature focuses on a "normal" birth, I was not prepared for the unexpected complications of a preterm birth. I was given a shot that was supposed to halt my contractions as I was transferred by helicopter to the other hospital.
The ride on the helicopter was interesting - I was riding squeezed up under the "dashboard", which was extremely disconcerting. I had no support with me, and again had to rely on the medical staff and what they told me. Once at the high-risk hospital (referred to in our area as the "baby factory"), I was admitted to the high-risk ward, attended by nurses and doctors I had never seen before. It was a bit scary. I was given magnesium sulfate to relax my muscles to stop contractions, and was hooked up to fetal monitors.
The "mag" was never explained to me, it was only later that I learned how it worked to relax muscles. In the meantime, I was eating hospital food (pretty sure had no fiber or roughtage) that was fermenting in my sluggish digestive tract, and the gas pains I had as a result convinced me I was in labor even though my uterine monitor showed no contractions. I was catheterized upon my arrival, but felt such pain and discomfort that I begged the nurse to remove it. She wouldn't consider it and finally called a doctor to complain about me, and he told her to remove it.
You see, there was no medical need for it, it was just routine procedure meant to make nurses' jobs more convenient. I couldn't move from the bed, so I needed a bedpan, which no one wanted to help me with. My mother took that duty upon herself, which I am thankful for. Another nurse took pity on my gas pains, and concocted a warm drink from prune juice and apple juice mixed with some fiber. It worked wonders, but when her shift was over, I couldn't get another nurse to help me get the ingredients to make another drink.
Finally, I begged to go home. I promised to stay on bedrest since my contractions had ceased. I just couldn't stand the feeling that no one would listen to me and that they were withholding information from me and using fear to keep me where they wanted me. I had stayed in the hospital for four days when they let me go home. I was at home for two days when my contractions started again. It was about 5 AM, and by the time I took a shower (I thought the warm water would ease what I thought were gas pains) and got my 4-year-old in the car, it was almost 7 AM. The hospital was 50 minutes away.
My contractions became more intense and close together. However, since I had had an epidural with my first child, I didn't know how to identify the pain and what the pushing sensation felt like. I told my husband I didn't think we were going to make it, and he called 9-1-1. We were driving through a wilderness area when I told him to pull over. The pain had taken over and I felt the need to do SOMETHING! Thank goodness my DH is so level-headed! He assisted me, and I pushed once, and my water broke. I pushed again, and our daughter was born on a clear, cold November morning. It was surreal to look into her eyes and feel the relief that it was over!
But not quite.
The ambulance arrived with two EMT's, who had maybe read about this kind of situation but had never seen childbirth. One kept rubbing my pubic bone because he thought it was the fundus, which he should have been massaging gently. The other wrapped the baby in a blanket, but then there was a "now what?" moment because they had no one to drive the ambulance!!! They had cut the cord, but didn't know how to tell me to deliver the placenta. And then we had to wait for another EMT/paramedic to arrive to drive the ambulance the rest of the way to the hospital!
Once we got to the hospital, it was much better. My midwife asked me to push the placenta out, but I was too traumatized to put myself through any more pain. I declined to push (!) and so she whispered to her partner to give me something. After a shot in the arm, she waited 10 minutes to ask me to push again. This time I was more obliging, and she was able to examine me and determine that I had no tears and my placenta was normal.
I had a healthy, beautiful baby girl born at about 35 1/2 weeks gestation, weighing 6 lbs. 1 oz and was 19 1/2 inches long. Everyone delighted in telling the story, and congratulated me on how brave I was. It took a while for me to realize that I wasn't brave, I just went with what my body told me to do! Believe me, had I been in a hospital, I would have been begging for drugs to make the pain go away, but I learned that my body could handle it and the peace that came with a natural birth was worth it!