One year ago today, I experienced a natural, unmedicated birth for the first time, as I brought our son—and fourth child—into the world.
The memories of his birth are still so vivid; I literally cannot grasp how this year has gone by already. The night before his birth, I had just put our girls to sleep and tried to accomplish some last minute things around the house. At 39 weeks pregnant, I was incredibly uncomfortable and ready to meet this baby boy. With periodic contractions, I hoped for a night of sleep, thinking our little guy would make his appearance soon.
At my last doctor’s visit, I had measured 4 centimeters dilated, and she gave me strict instructions to come straight into the hospital at the first sign of labor. Each of my prior births had been incredibly quick, each one progressively faster than the last. Our third daughter was born in just under 4 hours, from the start of contractions to actual birth, and we almost didn’t make it to the hospital for that one!
Even with fast labors, I chose to have medicated births, as the threshold of pain was more than I could bear. In preparing for our son’s birth, I hoped to be able to labor and deliver naturally, without any medications, anticipating that I could make it through a fourth short labor.
Well, in true fashion of his personality, this baby had a plan of his own. I had been asleep for about an hour when my water broke at about 2:30 a.m. I had a sudden feeling of panic met with reality thinking, this is it, and then a momentary debate with myself about whether I should wake up my husband or not.
My contractions were relatively mild and about 10-15 minutes apart, so I opted to lie down (on a towel) to try to catch a few more minutes of sleep before things got real. Of course, my mind was racing and contemplating what might happen if we didn’t leave soon. I slowly woke my husband and quietly whispered that my water had broken. He sprung out of bed before I even finished my sentence, jumped in the shower, and was pushing me out the door within 10 minutes.
We checked in the hospital just before 5 a.m. where the nurses whisked me off to triage to assess my progress. My contractions started feeling a bit more intense, though I was still only having 3-4 per hour. “You’re at about 4 centimeters,” she informed me after thoroughly poking and prodding. I felt slightly disheartened that I hadn’t made any progress since my last doctor’s appointment, but I thought: Surely, my body would start kicking things in gear soon. My labors had always been speedy—wouldn’t this be similar?
Many people have asked me why we chose to deliver in a hospital when wanting an unmedicated birth with little intervention. We chose to deliver at the hospital where all three of our babies had previously been born, which was also my place of employment for almost seven years. Even though I was in a starched hospital gown standing over sterile floors, it felt comforting to be in a place that was familiar. As the nurse started the process of admitting me and transitioning us into our room, I remember staring at the empty bassinet that stood still next to my bed. I grappled with the thoughts that shortly our son would be here, filling that emptiness … a new life coming into the world.
It was around 7 a.m. at that time, and the nurses were starting to change shifts. Our first nurse helped fill out the information board in our room and asked me what I wanted to do for the pain. I hesitated. Do for the pain?
I hadn’t fully committed to anything yet, so in my mind, I felt unsettled. Pain. Such a fear driving word, but I dug for courage where I felt none. “I think I’m going to try without pain meds,” I spurted out, surprised at hearing my own words out loud. She stopped writing mid-sentence and turned to look at me, questioningly. “Well, I still need to place an IV port, just in case.” Begrudgingly, I accepted, and she did so swiftly.
Then, we waited. We waited as the nurses changed over hands of care. We waited as the sun began creeping through our windows. We waited as people came in and out of our room, setting up tools, blankets, etc. I watched the hands of the clock go around effortlessly, wondering what time our baby would be born. Still, nothing seemed to change in my body. Our day time nurse was chipper and sweetly optimistic. She had a nursing student with her and came in to make small talk. As she filled up my pitcher with ice chips, she noted the board on the wall that said NO PAIN MEDS in black, screaming letters.
“So, are you not wanting any medication for this, honey?”
I winced again, feeling unsure of my ability to muster through this without an epidural, yet part of me deeply wanted to try. Still, uncommitted to any sort of plan, I explained to her how speedy my three previous labors had been and how I wanted to try a natural delivery with our fourth, after receiving an epidural through each previous birth.
She listened empathetically and simply replied, “If you want to do this, I will help you every step of the way.” I was taken back by her confidence but also grateful for her support. In that moment, I committed to birthing our son without medication and began to mentally prepare myself to embrace the fear of pain I was experiencing. Mid-morning, my doctor came in to check me and report that I had still not progressed from 4 centimeters. She explained the increased risk to the baby as more time passed without any progress, since my water had already broken.
“We’ll need to induce you in the next couple hours if there still aren’t any changes,” she said firmly, and just like that, I felt my hope for a natural delivery slip through my fingers. I had never experienced an induction before and only heard stories of the intensity it brings, so I began to feel the dread come over me again like a dark cloud.
Per my doctor’s suggestion, I started walking the halls with my husband, roaming around in circles, hoping that something … anything … would trigger this baby to start moving. We walked on and off for the next couple hours until my next check, but we were met with the same result. The next thing I knew, I was confined to my bed, and my arm port was connected to a Pitocin IV bag. The doctor explained how I may only need a small amount to kick-start my contractions, and I hoped this was the case. I stared at the clock, which now seemed to be mocking me. I thought about what my girls were doing and missed them terribly. I felt defeated before I even started, and I was anxious to hold our baby boy.
I sat in bed, waiting to feel something change in my body as I watched the Pitocin drip slowly into my arm. By this time, it was around 1 p.m., and my husband went roaming the halls to find something to eat. In a matter of minutes, I felt my contractions grow in intensity. It hit me like a wave, and I remember suddenly needing to remind myself to breathe as each one came. I watched the contraction monitor next to my bed, as the readings began to inch higher and higher.
In my mind, I knew I still had the option of an epidural. Before the Pitocin started, my doctor reminded me that I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone and that they could call the anesthesiologist in as soon as I said the word. As comforting as that scenario sounded, especially with the length of this labor so far, I wanted to experience what my body was capable of. I knew my body could bring this baby safely into the world, and I needed the opportunity to try. As the contractions increased in intensity and frequency, my nurse sprang into action. She helped position me off my bed, so I had the flexibility to move around, even though confined to the baby monitors. I felt my body working to bring this baby Earth-side, and it was terrifying and thrilling at the same time.
Standing felt better than sitting in my bed, and I coaxed myself to concentrate on my breathing through every contracting wave. My sweet husband, who had unrelentingly supported me every step of the way, helped put counter-pressure on my back and coached me along. Soon, the contractions were one on top of another, and I could barely catch my breath between the waves of intensity. I couldn’t escape from the pain I was feeling, and it seemed encroaching like it was beginning to overtake me. I remember starting to feel irritated and hot like I wanted to pull the monitors off and run out of the room. I even felt angry at my nurse, who thought I could do this in the first place. Who’s idea was this anyway?
My nurse was even-steady and kept her calm, though I promptly began negotiating with her. I looked at her helplessly and started begging for an epidural. “Is it too late?” I asked, giving in to defeat. There was no way I could make it.
She didn’t answer yes or no; she simply held me up compassionately and said, “I know you can do this. I think you are really close.”
Sure enough, within the next few minutes, I felt an overwhelming need to push, and our doctor made it in time to gown up and coach me through the end. I kept my eyes closed shut and focused every ounce of my energy in getting our baby out. I listened to her voice as she instructed me when to push, and with three pushes, I felt my baby’s body pass through mine. I was so concentrated on pushing, that my doctor had to prompt me to open my eyes, so I could see my son for the very first time.
He was finally here, at 2:34 p.m., and as I felt the weight of his newborn body on my chest, I cried with exhilaration and thankfulness that we both made it through. I gripped my husband as we rejoiced over our son’s life through tears and laughter—the surreal moment of him finally being here with us. I have never before felt as emotionally and physically spent and sheer euphoria as I did in that moment. After we had some skin-to-skin time, they took him briefly to record his weight. He was 9 pounds, 7 ounces—our biggest baby yet. Against all odds, differing circumstances and yes, even my own self-doubt, I was able to bring him into the world as I had hoped.
Having experienced the birth of my babies with and without the assistance of medication, I am incredibly grateful for what my body was capable of doing. Especially as an eating disorder survivor, my journey with pregnancy and birth has allowed me to renegotiate and transform my relationship with my body, from one of self-hatred to appreciation, acceptance and adoration. After everything I had unfairly punished my body with, including years of restricting, bingeing/purging and over exercising, my body had the capacity to heal. And from brokenness, it miraculously birthed life and light into the world.
I am forever humbled by this experience and thankful for this reminder in recounting my birth story. Having a natural birth allowed me the experience of being able to fully trust my body and surrender control completely, something that had been utterly foreign to me through the years spent with my eating disorder. For so long, I hated and mistrusted my body, only to witness firsthand the power in trusting and letting go.
As I entered motherhood for the fourth time, bringing our son into the world helped me to heal and finally make peace with my body. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Send us your birth story! Whether you had a home birth, hospital birth, 37-hour labor or emergency C-section, we’d love to read the tale of your little one’s grand entrance. Write up your birth story (click here for tips on getting started) and email it, along with a few photos, to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll share it on our Birth Day blog and may even print it in an upcoming issue!