Our Attempt at a Natural Birth at a Hospital

laborsupplies After reading up and watching documentaries on the increasing interventions in childbirth across the world and specifically in the United States, my wife and I were determined to have a natural birth for our first child.

We were looking forward to all the benefits of going au naturale including:

  • Most natural childbirth techniques are not invasive, so there’s little potential for harm or side effects for you or your baby.
  • Many women have a strong feeling of empowerment during labor and a sense of accomplishment afterward. Despite having to endure pain, many report that they’ll choose an unmedicated birth again the next time. For some women, being in charge helps lessen their perception of pain.
  • There’s no loss of sensation or alertness. You can move around more freely and find positions that help you stay comfortable during labor. And you’ll remain able to participate in the delivery process when it’s time to push your baby out.
  • Your partner can be involved in the process as you work together to manage your pain.

Most of all, we wanted to avoid an unnecessary Cesarean delivery, which is beneficial for the doctor and hospital’s pocketbook, but not the mother or child. There is an oxytocin feedback loop between the mother and child during labor which is all but eliminated if you schedule a premature C-section. There are benefits too to vaginal or transpelvic delivery:

We wanted to keep it natural throughout and early interventions like the drug Pitocin would increase the risk of a C-section. Pitocin is uterine stimulant designed to emulate and supplement the natural oxytocin and it increases labor pain and contraction regularity and our fear was that its use would lead to stronger contractions, which would make the epidural more alluring. Epidurals have the side effect of slowing down labor as a side-effect of making contractions more bearable. These work against each other and if the cervix isn’t ready, stronger contractions keep pushing on the baby and eventually put him or her into distress, which is one of the leading risk factors of surgical delivery.

Early Labor

Not to get too graphic but our doula said that one of the best natural ways to induce labor is to practice our matrimonial sacrament. “What put the baby in also helps to get him out.” Well that worked perhaps too well. My wife started getting regular mild contractions right away Thursday night. That made her uncomfortable, understandably, and she couldn’t sleep the entire night. The contractions started spacing out and by the middle of Friday, we weren’t sure she was still in labor.

The contractions persisted, however into Friday night and prevented my wife from sleeping again that night. Exhausted in the morning after already being up 48 hours straight, she noticed potential leaking from her waters and the contractions started picking up.

After consulting our doctor, he advised going into the hospital. The common practice is for women to admit to the hospital immediately after the water breaks since there is an increased risk of bacterial infection for the baby once the water breaks. Of course, once we got to the hospital and there are people checking the cervix dilation and doing other interventions (such as further rupturing the amniotic sack to supposedly encourage labor), the risk for infection skyrockets. They want you to be in the hospital because there’s a risk of infection but being in the hospital actually increases that risk, especially with all the interventions that they do. This seems to be a case of modern medicine aiming to fix a problem that it creates. The solution seems to be to stay away from the hospital as long as possible.

Once we were in the hospital, the first thing the doctor said was, “Let’s get you on Pitocin.” We wanted to do a natural delivery and we knew that there was a high correlation with the use of Pitocin and C-section delivery so we clearly wanted to avoid it. Our doctor knew our intention to have a natural birth so it was annoying to say the least having the first thing come out of our doc’s mouth. We told him we wanted to wait and see if labor progressed naturally.

My wife took an analgesic to help her rest and maybe get some sleep ahead of active labor. The drug got her high but she didn’t sleep and it perhaps made her more uncomfortable.

Active Labor

Labor hadn’t really progressed by the time the doctor came back and he pushed again for Pitocin. We refused again and what do you know? Labor picked up and once we got my wife out of the bed and walking she was in active labor having regular intensely strong contractions. There was a group of parents touring the hospital as part of a labor class and we no doubt scared them witless as my wife writhed in pain and I held her up.

We got her back to the room and into the shower on a bounce ball. It was more comfortable but the contractions were becoming more intense and the lack of sleep—56 hours at that point—was making it unbearable. Around 5pm the doctor wanted to check her dilation again and after a couple tortuous contractions out of the shower, he told us that the cervix “hadn’t changed”, which was really difficult to believe after a couple hours of active labor, especially since it had been making some progress all along. The consensus among the doctor, nurse, and doula was that we started Pitocin and my wife consented.

Naturally that made the contractions more intense and painful and even after getting back in the more comfortable shower, she couldn’t endure it. She asked for an epidural.

I was resistant and skeptical but acquiesced. It was too difficult to watch my wife in so much pain and it was her decision after all. She was still able to think clearly, so I don’t think she was doing anything she would’ve regretted.

Before this process, I thought that it was a binary decision—Pitocin or no Pitocin; epidural or no epidural. And I had seen video of women who got an epidural and were completely paralyzed from the waist down. Pushing seemed counterproductive when you couldn’t feel the contractions and it just seemed like a horrible condition for the mother. What I hadn’t realized is that you can administer varying levels of those drugs. My wife chose to get the smallest amount of both—she even had control of the epidural drip and didn’t add more to eliminate the pain completely. This was important because she could still feel the contractions coming on, she just didn’t feel like she was being tortured to death every couple minutes. Plus she could still squat during the pushing, which was important and helping her progress.

I want to reiterate this point: you can and should start Pitocin and epidural slow. You can always increase them if things aren’t working but you can never take them away once you’ve given them and they may lead to unintended interventions.

We both tried to get some sleep and with my wife relaxed and resting, the heart rate monitor for the baby alerted us to attention. My wife shifted to her side to allow for better bloodflow and the nurse checked my wife’s cervix. She was fully dilated after a couple hours of Pitocin. It was time to start pushing.

Transition

Little did we know that would be such a difficult procedure. After over an hour of pushing with an awkward laying-down squeeze with arms pulling feet toward her abdomen, I asked if she could try squatting. They got a squat bar and she supported herself on her bent legs wobbly from the epidural. Our baby made some pretty substantial progress from this position and we were able to see his head.

They called the OB in and the “birthday party” came in with all their surgical gear and tools. After some pushing it was clear that we were going to have to cut the opening to help facilitate the delivery. Once he had a little more of an opening, he was pushing through in no time.

After so much pushing, he had some fluid in his stomach and lungs so the nurses extracted the fluid and did several tests, which delayed the skin-to-skin contact we wanted to have with mom right away. Still, he was able to see mom within a half hour and he latched on her breast immediately and sucked for 70 minutes.

The Epilogue

Labor-and-Delivery-NurseI hate the hospital and my experience with delivering our first baby in one didn’t do much to restore my faith in the institution. We had some very good nurses, but also some very bad ones. After 72 hours without sleep, the nurse we had in post-delivery kept interrupting us to check my wife’s vitals and read off a sheet of what services they do. Just because you’re up in the middle of the night doesn’t mean we should be! And can’t we have some biometric sensors that track vitals? It’s 2015 after all!

The worst is the post-natal treatments for our newborn. We wanted him circumcised so they scheduled it for the night after he was born. We decided to go see the setup and were horrified. They had him strapped down on a plastic mold, face covered and numbing cream on his wee-wee. He was crying his head off (no kidding) and they were feeding him glucose water to appease him. It looked like something out of Planet of the Apes where our son was the victim of some tortuous scientific procedure. God knows how long he was like that before the doctor showed up. I can’t imagine that this trauma doesn’t have long-term effects on the baby.

img_0471Then, the next day, they got the results for his billirubin test and it showed high-intermediate. In other words, there wasn’t a dangerous risk, but they recommended billilights and a billipad as treatment, which consists of strong blue lights that evidently help to break down the billirubin. It was another form of torture and naturally, my newborn son hated it. He screamed his head off throughout the treatment so I had to hold him for hours on end under the light. After the treatment, they took another test to see if the billirubin went down. It did, but the next day they reported that it went up and that we’d have to continue the treatment. I told them that wasn’t going to work. I said we’d keep with the billipad but that we weren’t doing the oppressive lights. Thankfully the billirubin level went down after treatment with just the pad, so we were cleared to go home. Only later did I learn that a little exposure to the sun would do the same to reduce the billirubin.

By the end of the stay at the hospital we felt like prisoners. A lot of unnecessary interventions and interruptions. I can’t imagine repeating the procedure and wouldn’t recommend it for childbirth if you can avoid it.

My takeaways:

1. Wait to go into the hospital as long as you can. Once you’re there, you’ll be not-so-gently persuaded to start interventions.
2. Epidural isn’t all-or-nothing: start slow and increase if necessary.
3. Wait as long as you can before starting Pitocin—let nature take its course.
4. Question the medical professionals’ recommendations—they’re not omniscient.

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