Both of my babies were born in July, so I thought this would be a good month to tell my childbirth stories (since I generally file them away in the “denial” section of my brain and pretend not to remember). I wanted to start today with a photo essay, but I’m having -- well, issues – sorry. For now, here’s “Staci’s General Opinion on Childbirth” (you know you want it). Photos, details and mushy "how much I'm in love with my babies who are now such big boys" crap to follow.
The first time I gave birth it was a traumatic hospital experience, because it ended up including everything I very adamantly had not wanted. The second time I opted for a homebirth. While the second was definitely a huge improvement over the first, if I ever have to give birth again (please, God, let it never be so), I’m going to try a planned C-section.
Well – maybe not, but that’s the nicest way I can phrase my feelings about childbirth. I tried to put on the ol’ “I am Woman Hear Me Roar” face, but in the end giving birth just made me feel so undignified (both times, though much more so in the hospital). Kind of like having a giant, painful defecation on a stage in an auditorium full of a bunch of strangers who are telling you what a great job you’re doing… only slightly more “beautiful,” I guess.
The first time I went into labor I was armed with only one piece of information: women have been giving birth for thousands of years and some have even done it ten or eleven times. Therefore, how hard could it be? Surely, I would be fine. But then I spent fifteen hours in the most intense pain I’d ever experienced (while my husband looked on, in horror, unable to help me because he had the same information as I did), only to be told that the labor was “false” (meaning, the pain notwithstanding, I was still at 1 centimeter dilation - the same I’d been fifteen excruciating hours earlier).
And there went my aspirations for a “natural” childbirth. Had I been in a better mood, I would have French kissed the Epidural Guy. As it was I spent another fifteen hours laying there being pumped full of Pitocin, while someone came in every forty-five minutes to stick her fingers up my nether regions and wonder, aloud, why I wasn’t dilating any faster. Until, finally, two nurses, the midwife and the obstetrician came in to discuss my birth plan. Or, really, I should say, my birth “plan.” (Why does anyone bother telling pregnant women to write a birth plan?) My plan requested no pain relief, no Pitocin, no episiotomy and no Cesarean. I came home one for four, narrowly escaping a C-Section.
To add to the guilt of my “failure to give birth,” my son was blue when he came out, and instead of that beautiful moment when he was supposed to be placed on my naked belly, they ran, full speed, out of the room with him. My serene (and no doubt, glowing) response was to shout at my husband to follow them, “Now!” And when it was apparent that the baby could, in fact, breathe, they left me to nurse him. Only he was breathing so fast that he had to stop nursing every couple of seconds to catch his breath. I was sure this was all my fault because I’d let them break my water (which was NOT part of the “birth plan”) and now he had meconium in his lungs.
When Nurse Ratchet came to look him over and give him a “bath,” we kept nervously asking her if the baby was okay and she continually told us that he was not okay, without offering further comment. He wasn’t crying enough and had low blood sugar, apparently, so she gave him formula (aka poison, according to all the breastfeeding literature I’d read while pregnant), which, I would later be sure, was the cause of the eczema he had for his first couple of years. When, at three, it became apparent that he’d inherited my seasonal hay fever, I was certain the few ounces of formula in his first hours of life were to blame for that too. If he doesn’t get into Harvard some day, I’m definitely blaming that damn formula. And that damn nurse.
After my first birthing experience I was terrified to ever step foot in a hospital again. Irrational? Perhaps – but then, as I've mentioned before, no one has ever accused me of being a slave to rational thought. In retrospect my bad experience was likely less to blame on the evil hospital and more to blame on my lack of knowledge. But it’s more fun to just say that hospitals suck, so I often do.
Nevertheless, the second time around I had a (short) tranquil labor in the bath tub at home where two very calm and peaceful midwives let me do whatever I wanted and told me how fabulous I was (in a very quiet and unexcited manner). It was infinitely more peaceful and lovely than the first time. Well – at least until the last half hour or so when I was alternately screaming, “I’m going to die!” and “I can't do it!” at the top of my lungs over and over. The truth is, the prospect of ever doing that again is not any more attractive than the prospect of lying around in a hospital bed while various strangers look at my cha-cha periodically and inform me what it’s doing.
But one thing I learned from the experience is that many women are really pre-occupied with worry about how other women choose (or don’t get to choose) to give birth. As judgmental as all the “normal” people I know were (the ones who were positively horrified to hear I’d be giving birth at home), they were nothing compared to the people I met through my lay-midwife practice. (As an aside, if you’re a homebirth sort and in the Boise area, I can’t recommend these women highly enough – they are so totally all that, and a bag of (organic) chips.) In fact, one woman there labored at home for three days, before having to go to the hospital for a C Section. And when it was over she told me that it had been kind of a good thing, because now she knew that she used to be excessively judgmental of people who had epidurals. Gees.
But at least I was on her “side” so she didn’t seem as annoying, at the time, as all of the people spouting the gloom and doom of homebirth. Well I know these people who had a homebirth and the baby was born sick! What then? They had to rush to the hospital… Not that I didn’t expect it. I did wait until I was asked a direct question like “WHERE are you giving birth?” before I told anybody. Because even though I’d only been pregnant once before, I knew that people love to give pregnant women grief, and that pregnant women give themselves enough already even without the help.
So which do I think was the “better” way to do it? In the end, I had two good outcomes. Neither birth hurt my kids. Neither birth caused me permanent damage. So I guess each time I made the right decision for my kids and me (and had some good luck too). That’s the best I could have asked for, and even though I felt guilty and cheated for a long time after my first birth, I can say now that I’m truly grateful for both just as they happened. (The good thing about being a writer is bad experiences can always be turned into good stories, after all.) But as I said, I hope I never have to do it again, so I guess that isn’t saying a whole lot, is it?
What most annoys me about childbirth debates is that both sides often defy common sense. Have you ever talked to people who advocate waterbirth? Talk about over the top. I mean, there are a lot of unpleasant adjectives I would apply to my homebirth (that took place on my bed), but “violent” would surely be overstating the case. And can it really be considered an “act of violence” for a doctor to deliver a baby via C-Section? Really the statement is just absurd and it’s this kind of inflammatory and yet meaningless language that’s applied to birth that gets everyone in an uproar. It pits women against each other and scares them into thinking that thirty seconds under water at the moment of birth will actually make all the difference in a person’s ability to cope with life. I mean, get real.
On the other side of that, I am a fan of homebirth, and recently I was having a discussion with a woman I know who happens to be an obstetrician. And (without knowing my personal information -- hello internet! I don't just blab this stuff to anyone!) she said, "A person would just have to be stupid to give birth at home."
And, hey, that's okay. I've been called much worse than that -- I can take it.
(Oh, and just for the record, laboring in water is very very helpful, but it in no way compares to an epidural -- anyone who says otherwise is full of it.)
Giving birth in any circumstance is a calculated risk, but it’s better than staying pregnant forever. A hell of a lot better. By the end of the ninth month I was willing to swim a hundred miles through hot lava if that’s what it took to get those babies out. (That has to be evidence of intelligent design, no?) And no matter how it ends up happening (and no matter how different that was from the “plan”), if everyone is alive and healthy, it was a success.