I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. I’ve given birth vaginally to four beautiful daughters over the last 9 years. The last three were drug-free home births and the first was a hospital birth; and that was the one that hurt the most out of them all. Yep, you heard me right. My eldest daughter’s birth took place in a hospital and after an excruciating 13 hour labour – the last 4 hours of which I had an epidural in place for – she was born. Despite me being numb from the waist down I still felt a lot of pain and pressure and pushing her out was not something I ever wanted to relive again. It was fairly traumatic as far as births go: there was little empowerment on my behalf, I felt very awash in a sea of people I didn’t know who took turn at looking at my private parts and the end result was me feeling very much like just a number in “the system” and a piece of meat on the bench. After her birth I went on to develop Post Natal Depression and also Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It took months of psychiatric counselling along with some medication to get me well enough to even contemplate going for a second child and when I did, I made totally different choices regarding my birthing plans.
For my second daughter, after reading about the concept of birthing at home with a registered midwife; I set about immersing myself in information and researched what unhindered empowered birth looked like and decided that was more my bag. With my husband’s support; I interviewed a string of independent midwives and settled on a care provider who I knew would support me to have the birth I wanted. And when the time came to finally push my baby earth side – I did so in the bedroom of my own house, in a candlelit room, with just my husband, midwife & doula present; and it was amazing. There were no drugs needed for my pain because the pain simply wasn’t there: it was what I would describe as just an intensity, instead. Not pain. The things that got me through the labour were my body’s own set of amazing drugs: hormones! I rode the labour waves on oxytocin; and because I felt safe and secure adrenalin stayed at bay. I then went on to birth at home twice more without any complications and I would even regard the fourth birth to be ecstatic. I would describe my fourth baby and my third drug-free birth at home as pure joy; I laughed my way through the contractions that I renamed “waves” and I soared high on my hormones pulling me through and grunted low as I pushed my baby out into the birth pool, catching her in my own hands and bringing her to my chest.
Throughout these experiences as a woman; a few things became very clear to me. The first thing being that fear hinders birth. When a woman is scared or frightened; she isn’t going to labour or birth in an optimal way. Her labour may be prolonged, disjointed or halted entirely. Think of it this way; you don’t often hear of women birthing in the middle of a supermarket and that is because women’s bodies are innately intelligent and they know when a woman is at risk or scared; so labour does not begin. When a woman feels supported, knows & trusts her care providers and can work through any anxieties she may be having as she has them; her birth flows normally and beautifully. The other important thing I learned was no matter how many times people may tell a woman who is pregnant that she “can’t plan everything” or to “take it as it comes” – this is incorrect, and information really is power. When you know about the type of birth you would like to have, and find out exactly how you can have that; you have a greater chance of having that type of birth. I really believe it is important for a woman to remain at her utmost in terms of being informed; so this means learning about delayed cord clamping, the benefits to skin on skin, what physiological third stage of labour means and what type of birthing positions are the best to birth in. Information really is power, and it is ignorant to assume otherwise. The final thing I will say is consider your language closely. You can re-phrase birthing words to suit you. Contractions become waves, pain becomes opening & expanding and I’m telling you that sure, pizzas may be delivered…but babies are born.
If you are pregnant and reading this; I implore you: women, take back your births. They are yours and they will shape you or they will break you. It may sound trite to suggest that they are a sacred rite of passage but this is very true. Your experiences of birthing your baby will remained engrained in your being forever, please do not take this lightly.